Tuesday, December 30, 2014

Is Your "Show" Working? One Quick Trick

Ask someone who knows nothing about your work-in-progress to read a portion, oh, let's say about a thousand words or so. Tell him nothing about the plot, the people involved, the story's premise. Just hand off an excerpt.

Can that person picture the setting and discern the time period? Can he visualize your characters, get a feel for their personalities, their ages, their physical appearances (This one might not be exact depending upon what portion of the story you share, but your reader should be able to make reasonable guesses) and their relationships with each other? 

Yes? Good job!

No? Back to the writing board...

Monday, December 29, 2014

Recap of Rebekah's Christmas Challenge

In an earlier post, I had written how my twenty-year-old daughter Rebekah was lacking in Christmas spirit due to our family situation being vastly different than in Christmases past.

So I challenged her to "make" Christmas for us, without spending money and with using only the resources in these four rooms that comprise our latest home.

Since Rebekah decided to recreate our traditional Eastern European Christmas Eve feast (a modified version), I softened the "no money" edict to allow her to purchase a few key ingredients we did not have. While items were baking and simmering, Rebekah gave Ellis Island a nice cleaning, too.

She ended up making bread (no dairy, flavored with olive oil), bobalki (bread balls i a poppyseed brown sugar syrup, yes I know honey is traditional, she forgot to buy it), pirohi (dumplings stuffed with potatoes and cheese), mushroom soup (button mushrooms, sauerkraut, barley...and hers was better than mine!), spiced apricots, as well as banana bread and chocolate chip cookies for our church's annual in-house caroling party following liturgy the next morning.

She bought two types of olives, sparkling grape juice, split pea soup, baked beans, smoked sausage.

The result was a nice surprise when Timothy came home that night. Stupid us, we forgot to remove the lids before we snapped the picture!

Sunday, December 28, 2014

There's a Time to Quit and Pursue Other Things

Really, it's been quite the productive weekend, over 7000 words and that includes re-readings, self-editing and research. I haven't had words flow that well, fictionwise, since 2009.

I've spent the afternoon trying to outline my next scenes and wound up wasting most of the afternoon, as my brain is feeling rather depleted, at least where Before the Blood is concerned.

Besides, I have other things to accomplish on my weekend list, and, considering it's late in the day and dark outside, it's time to close the files, let the mind lay fallow, and tend to other fields. Other than spending half the day at St. Nicholas in Homewood today (Divine Liturgy, board meeting), I've done little else these past two days.

Tomorrow night I'm supposed to meet with the artist for my first Cornell Dyer middle-grade novel and review cover, chapter heading, and logo art. I can't wait!!!

Friday, December 26, 2014

Several Weeks of Story Round-Up

As promised...

Do I expect you to read each one? Of course not, but do persue. Something might catch your eye.

State agency honors Plainfield man for industrial chemist work
By Jeanne Millsap

Meet the rather enterprising Walter Voygt, who's dabbled in a bit of everything. I found his work with UVA rays most fascinating, as I am allergic to the sun. I think Jeanne, who loves science, found this to be an all-around fun story to interview and write.


An Extraordinary Life: Former Joliet resident loved history and shared that love in many ways.

Pity kids today don't memorize passages as in days past. When we homeschooled, my kids did. Read on, if only to learn what she memorized as a child and where she recited it.


Presence Care Center in Joliet to offer new clinical trial
By Jeanne Millsap

If you like science and health-ish research, it's a pretty cool story, especially since Joliet got this before the universities did (and the public relations person offered this story to me before she submitted a release to the other newspapers. I then, in turn, gave it to my freelance writer that loves all topics health and science).


Wilmington nutrition coach recommends a plant-based diet

I think she was suprised at the vastness of my nutrition knowledge. Years ago, one of my doctors suggested I take the test to be certified because he needed a dietitian in his office. But I was expecting Rebekah and homeschooling four (at the time) children and wasn't interested.

BTW, this nutrition coach does not necessarily promote veganism. So what does she promote? Read and see (recipes included).


New Lenox church hosts annual community Thanksgiving

For some people, it's the only way to spend Thanksgiving...and I'm not talking about the guests.


Plainfield pastor seeks to capture elusive details

His art is breath-taking and thought-provoking, especially the African river scene.


Persistence leads to support groups finding new home at Easter Seals.

I learned aboyut Leeza's Care Center (and yes, I have interviewed Leeza Gibbons, just not for this story) years ago when I was caring for a man with a traumatic brain injury. At the time, the center did not have a support group for a brain injury, but it did form one (with a brain-injured woman making it happen) after his passing. Of course I wrote about it. Because I was on the newsletter list because of Matt, I learned - and wrote about - all the wonderful programs this center offered to the community. When the center closed, it's former leader worried about where clients would find the support they needed. Kathy Miller not only found a solution, she may have found an opportunity for new expansion.


An Extraordinary Life: Joliet woman modeled love and strength for her family

The table runners her daugher made for the funeral luncheon feature this woman's motto.


Joliet woman organized blood drives for her 40th birthday in memory of her husband
By Jeanne Millsap

And she did so for one very good reason.


Joliet and Morris dietitians offer tips for safe Thanksgiving feasting

These tips are good year-round, not just during the holidays. Slash fat, save calories, and still eat well.


Lockport women coordinate annual blanket distribution for the homeless

The reason why they do so will touch your heart.


Trauma nurse starts over after bus accident

A tale of three stories of courage and triumph by three writers for The Herald-News. I am one of them.


Rabbi from Joliet Jewish Congregation discussesw giving thanks from a Jewish perspective.

I'll admit, this twist for a Thanksgiving story for the newspaper's Faith page was partially motivated by selfishness. I so love conversing with this rabbi, it's hard to look away from an opportunity to do so.


New Lenox Catholic Church offers Chicago-quality music performance.
By Sean Leary

The performance is past, but the spirit and dedication remain. Read to see what they do each year.


Braidwood woman educationg others about heart pump
By Sean Leary

CPR can actually be dangerous in the face of it. Do you know why?


An Extraordinary Life: Trustee for Joliet Public Library loved history and community

He also taught his high school students a skill that is lacking among many youth today.


Morris hematologist explains blood transfusion risks
By Jeanne Millsap

Blood transfusions can be lifesaving, but they do come attached with uncommon, but serious, risks.


Joliet vocalist makes and shares potica from his mother's recipe

He also shares a terrific recipe for beginners. As we talked, it turned out we are related through marriage. Small world!


Homer Glen dance theater troupe adds Catholic spin to classic Dickens story.
By Sean Leary

How did it do that while remaining true to the story? This story tells how.


Joliet festival of gnomes still the same, yet ever evolving
By Dawn Aulet

Although, sadly, this year's show lacked one important element.


New Lenox woman with rheumatoid arthritis has led class at YMCA for over 30 years
By Mauverneen Blevins

Learn what led her to do so...and where her arthritis is now.


An Extraordinary Life: New Lenox church hosts cantata in memory of minister

This was no ordinary minister. Think "prison ministry," "civil rights marches," and "motorcycle gangs."


Lockport teens fights complicated heart condition while striving for Eagle Scout
By Jeanne Millsap

Hospitalizations are normal life occurances for him and another opportunity to get homework done.


Filipinos in the diocese of Joliet celebrate traditional novena and foods
By Dawn Aulet

Ever hear of Simbang Gabi?


Plainfield parents share their faith journey

Is raising a child with a rare syndrome a blessing or a curse? The thoughts of this mom and dad may surprise you.

Up and coming country singer to perform in Shorewood

Yes, the concert is now past, but if you like country music, keep your eye on this guy. He's making a name for himself and without a record label to back him.


Cancer patient donates tree for Joliet cancer center

Some people are a joy to meet. This lady, battling lung cancer at age ninety because she has too much to do yet, left me grinning as broadly as she.


An Extraordinary Life: Joy and caring ruled Plainfield woman's life

She live with cancer. She lived despite cancer and presented her hospice nurse with one special gift.


Morris gastroenterologist offers new hemorrhoid treatment
By Jeanne Millsap

A painless treatment, he said, and a patient echoed that statement.


New Lenox church hosts living nativity
By Mauverneen Blevins

And just what is that? A play? Well, not quite.


New DVD from Plainfield fiber artist adds new dimension to handmade quilts

If you like to quilt, or are learning to quilt, this artist will help you think past simple squares stitched together.


Annual caroling tradition benefits clients of Joliet recovery facility and Joliet nursing home residents

Yes, the carolers are individuals in recovery...and what a joyful noise they make!


An Extraordinary Life: Morris man adopts residents at Saratoga Tower in Morris

He left them proceeds from all his possessions, too...and he created one very valuable and unique possession.


A guide for the journey
By Jeanne Millsap

Breast cancer patients in the Joliet area now have access to a service that eases the treatment process.


Pastor of small Joliet church reaches out to people society often forgets

Read about the special Christmas gift she gave to people at a lesser-known nursing home.


Visually and hearing impaired Shorewood woman creates art

This story has to be read to be believed.


Wednesday, December 24, 2014

The Only Ornament I Need

Rebekah confessed to me the other day that she really is not in the Christmas spirit, an interesting comment, because Timothy and I had recently discussed our high level of Christmas spirit this year, quoting Dr. Seuss' "The Grinch," about how, for us, Christmas will be coming without "boxes and bags" and how Christmas is "a little bit more."
Being a wise and discerning mother (wink), I immediately sized up Rebekah's plight. We kept very little when we lost our house, as we could take only a few necessities to my mother's and, thus, stored anything else we wanted to keep in a 10 x 10 storage unit, which we purged further when we rented the apartment last spring and consequently let the untit go (for financial reasons). 
So, basically, the lifelong possessions of four people are in a two-bedroom apartment. Anything Christmas went to Joshua's, Complaining? Hell, no. We still have what's important, our family in all its two and four-footed memebers.
This year, Timothy even bought a four-foot tree, on sale and with lights that were supposed to blink and don't but he was too "meh" to take it back - especially since Midnight is thoroughly enjoying climbing the darned tree. We have a couple presents under it from my mother, and that's it. The children and I celebrate our family Christmas on January 7, and it will be a stretch for all of us to fill even those traditional St. Nicholas stockings at a $20 limit per person. But that's not why we celebrate, and we rarely go nuts on gifts anyway.
But Rebekah is finding it harder to bear because she liked all the wonderful Christmas-y things we had done in the past. The boys would go to extrememes in decorating - inside and out - we did tons of cooking and baking, for church, for us, for gifts. To her, this year appears bleak.
So I challenged her.
Now that she's off work and school for a couple weeks, it's her turn to play 1940's housewife and make Christmas happen for the rest of us. She objected that she had no money. I knew that, reminded her of all the warm and fuzzy Christmas stories of poor people we had read in the past, and added a few conditions to the challenge.
No trinkets.
No presents.
Nothing, except inexpensive raw materials and what's inside these four rooms.
It kept her mind busy yesterday, and we talked last night and made some lists. Her plan will definitely keep her busy today. I can't wait to come home from work tonight and see the results.
So back to the ornament, the title of this post.
On Sunday, one of the women of the church approached me. Nearly a decade ago, Timothy, Rebekah, and I consistently and regularly prayed for three addicts (Matt, Frankie, and Jerry), two at our church and one for whom I was a medical and spiritual advocator. Two have since died addiction-related deaths, and one struggles with recovery.
The woman at our church is the mother to one of the three that had died. In the time we had known him, he had gone to prison twice (and we had attended his court hearings, Timothy, Rebekah, and I, and they were young), and we had the youth group write to him. Occasionally, he wrote back.
And his mother, on Sunday, gave us a homemade ornament with his photo on it, which she was distributing to people she felt were important in his life. And we were one of the recipients of these ornaments.
The simplicity of our little tree is not depressing. Without all the extras (and trust me, I love a beautifully decorated tree with all the treasured ornaments from years past adorning it as much as the next person), this "Jerry" ornament really stands out, a stark reminder of why we do this whole Christmas thing anway.
Truly, it's the only ornament I need.

Monday, December 22, 2014

Hunting Down Story Links

So I finally spent some time (a couple of hours, to be honest) hunting down story links from the last six weeks, resolving (yeah, right) to "copy and save" each day for Friday's round-up, and wondering why I fail to remember to do so.

Mostly, I believe it's a cross between lack of habit (I try to establish habits for things I wish to accomplish; by rote, for me, is more productive than spontaneity) combined with a touch of distaste for self-promotion. I do like words to speak for themselves, but, sheesh, I could further the process by at least putting the works out there.

Amongst all the posts of vampires, fiction-writing tips, and anything that interests me or pertains to the series, is the work I do each day. Posts on homeschooling have dropped to nearly nothing after my two youngest earned their GED's last November, which left the features writing/editing portion of my day to, if not increase, than to shift focus in my life and receive more of my time.

I am exorbitantly proud of the work I do, not because of a twisted sort of self-inflation type of pride, but because of the humbling awe in talking in-depth to people on a regular basis, hearing their amazing life stories, and then retelling them in a way that lends itself to newspaper publication and a desire by readers to, well, read them.

I also have a passionate attachment to The Herald-News, which I have read from my youth. It's a local newspaper with a strong community chain, from staff to readers, that has made all my jobs through the years connected with it (selling it, writing for it, and delivering it) a joy to perform.

To have passed so many hours and days and weeks and months and years in such a fashion is a blessing that defies defining - and to now have the privilige of making editorial decisions and working with other freelancers as other editors have worked with me - is also a tremendous blessing. When I post story-rounds, I'm sharing the work of other writers, too, something I really need to keep in mind.

This may explain my preference for fiction that borders on literary, well-defined characters that move the plot, rather than novels that require only a few standup paper dolls to keep the pages turning at a rapid rate. I've nothing against genre fiction, as long as characters have substance and shape. It's the integrity of features writing that drives my fiction, with fiction being an extremely minor part of my life.

To combine all of these reasons into a weekly post of story round-ups is, I feel, reasonable. So I really need to get my shit together.

Sunday, December 21, 2014

Victorian Minced Pie

My recipe is much better (says I), but here is a nineteenth century version, which was served at John and Bryony Simons' Christmas Eve wedding reception.

Adapted from Miss Beecher’s domestic receiptbook: designed as a supplement to her Treatise on domestic economy.

Minced Pie

2 ½ pounds tongue or lean beef
1 ½ pounds suet
8 good-sized apples
2 pounds raisins
2 pounds sugar
2 gills of rose water
1 quart wine
Salt, mace, cloves, and cinnamon, to the taste

Boil the meat and chop very fine. Chop the suet and the apples very fine. Stone the raisins, cutting each into four pieces. Dissolve the sugar in the wine and rose water, and mix all well together with the spices. Twice the quantity of apple improves the pies, making them less rich. Line your plates with a rich paste, fill, cover, and bake. Measure the spices used, to save tasting the next time, and to prevent mistakes.

From "Memories in the Kitchen: Bites and Nibbles From 'Bryony'"

All proceeds benefit Big Brothers Big Sisters of Will and Grundy Counties. www.bbbswillgrundy.org

Order the cookbook at www.bryonyseries.com/Dalton_s_Dry_Goods.html

Friday, December 19, 2014

My Favorite Christmas Story

So at last night's WriteOn Christmas party, Tom Hernandez asked us to bring (and read) a favorite Christmas piece, not our own work.

Now it was too noisy for reading, but here is what I brought. In the Eastern Orthodox church, we chant everything, so I was actually prepared to chant.

The people walking in darkness

 have seen a great light;

on those living in the land of deep darkness

    a light has dawned.
  You have enlarged the nation
    and increased their joy;
they rejoice before you
    as people rejoice at the harvest,
as warriors rejoice
    when dividing the plunder.
  For as in the day of Midian’s defeat,
    you have shattered
the yoke that burdens them,
    the bar across their shoulders,
    the rod of their oppressor.
  Every warrior’s boot used in battle
    and every garment rolled in blood
will be destined for burning,
    will be fuel for the fire.
  For to us a child is born,
    to us a son is given,
    and the government will be on his shoulders.
And he will be called
    Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God,
    Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.
  Of the greatness of his government and peace
    there will be no end.
He will reign on David’s throne
    and over his kingdom,
establishing and upholding it
    with justice and righteousness
    from that time on and forever.

Isaiah 9:2-7

Thursday, December 18, 2014

BryonySeries Throwback Thursday: Soup Powder

Thursday, September 29, 2011

Soup Powder

Cooling temperatures as we move into fall makes me long for homemade soup simmering on the back of my stove (Actually broke down and made sausage and bean soup the other day) and steaming up the windows.

This combination of herbs and seasonings sounds appealing. I'm wondering if I can persuade my chef-in-training to mix some up.

From "Miss Beecher’s domestic receiptbook: designed as a supplement to her Treatise on domestic economy."

Dry, pound, and sift the following ingredients together. Take one ounce of each, of lemon, thyme, basil, sweet marjoram, summer savory, and dried lemon peel, with two ounces of dried parsley, and a few dried celery seeds. Bottle it tight. Horseradish can be sliced thin, dried and pounded, and kept in a bottle for use. Mushrooms can be dried in a moderately warm oven, then powdered with a little mace and pepper, and kept to season soups or sauces.

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Crafting Believable Dialogue

When I first began writing features, one of my editors talked about my emerging "voice." I only vaguely understood what she meant at the time, but with more assignments, her words grew clear. I also happily noted my ability to craft a story in such a way that the reader could hear the "voices" of my sources.

I wasn't too far into writing Bryony when I realized, with dismay I must admit, that my job was to create distinct voices for my characters.

In previous posts, I've mentioned how to use dialogue to allow personality to shine forth. The reverse is also true. When contemplating a particular character's words, considering certain character traits will not only help you decide what he should say, but how he should say it.

For instance, John, who is naturally introverted, uses the fewest words possible, when he uses them. Henry, an exuberant storyteller who likes the sound of his voice, freely spews them. Melissa, with youthful animation, has plenty of rambling internal monologue.

An exchange between John and Melissa (one from Bryony, and one from Visage) and then one between Henry and Melissa, from Bryony.

She was just about to touch him when John, still playing, said, “Melissa, I don’t have time tonight.”

He had called her Melissa! She glanced at her coral gown. No, she was Bryony. She smoothed her skirt and sat on the bench beside him. “John….”

John struck a wrong note. The music stopped. He turned brutal eyes at her.

Melissa’s heart sank like lead. She had not expected this reaction. What should she say to him now?

“The other night….” she began.

“Thank you,” John said. “Truly.”

John also vetoed Melissa’s suggestion to spend their wedding night at Munsonville Inn, something Melissa had intended as a surprise for John. The surprise backfired. John had discovered her arrangements, canceled them, and then coldly accused her of deception.

Stunned, Melissa had vehemently protested her innocence and defended the lodging as a quaint romantic venue for their first night of married life together. As she continued to jabber, Melissa watched the fury on John’s face settle into a maddening, condescending calmness.

Not until she sputtered into silence did John speak. “What is your preoccupation with that village?” 

“I just don’t get him!” Melissa finally dropped onto the settee. “Where is he?”

“Our John is attending to other matters tonight.”

“Like what?”

Henry pretended to be shocked. “Melissa, really! There are some things a man won’t bring into his home.”

“You mean, like other women?”

He laughed again, less heartily this time, almost as if he sympathized with her. “Is that what you think, Melissa?”

“I don’t know what to think. Why orchestrate all this, if he doesn’t….”

“Doesn’t want to be with you? You’re not the meal, remember?”

Melissa did not say a word. She sure felt like the meal last night.

“Now, if you’re talking about delicate matters of the heart, then you surprise me.”

“Stop making fun of me!”

“I’m not teasing you, Melissa. Women are the fickle ones. They profess undying affection for a man one day and fall in love with another tomorrow. We men are different. We love only once, for life, and close our hearts to other women.”

“What a lie!”

“I said ‘hearts,’ not other parts. There was only one woman for John. You’re deluding yourself by thinking otherwise.”

“He wants a second chance!”

“At music, nothing more. John would rather touch a piano than a woman.”

When setting up your dialogue, even when furthering your plot or providing pertinent information, consider also the relationship between the people talking. Obviously, people who like each other will speak one way, and people who do not will speak another. But although those differences are clear, they are often subtle, especially when one is subordinate to another. Here's an exchange between a barely eighteen-year-old John and his father from Before the Blood.

   John waited until the accountants had departed for the night before approaching his father, sitting like Vlad Tepes on his throne, eager to mete out impalements.

   "You must terminate the Gibbs family immediately," John said.

   "Why?" Abbott asked, as he peered through his reading spectacles at a report.

   John straightened his shoulders. "Insubordination."

   Without looking up, Abbott reached for an envelope and handed it to John. "You're leaving for New Haven at the beginning of next week."

   "New Haven?" John asked, annoyed that his father had so easily dismissed his request. "Why?"

   "Ever hear of Warren Holloway?"

   "The robber baron for the New England railroads?"

   "Yes. He retired a few years ago and in the vicinity of Spencer Inn."


   "So he caught a bad cold last winter, which he didn't survive. His widow has hired someone fulltime, but he can't start until autumn. She needs help with the stock and grounds for the summer. Your grandfather asked if you were available."

   "And you said, 'yes.'"

   "When you return, I'll set you up in business."

   "And if I don't comply?"

   Abbot raised his eyes. "You'll no longer have a home here."

Utilizing those personality traits is especially helpful when, at first glance, characters have plenty of similarlity. In Bryony, Melissa is often hanging out with her friends, all girls and all the same age. Of course, judicious use of tags with their names helps differentiate them, but so does keeping in mind the differences that make them unique. Ann is intellectual, quiet, and fanciful; Julie is smart, confident, and authoritative; and Katie, the baby in a large family, often behaves immaturely for her seventeen years.

“I can’t see why the grown-ups are so bent out of shape,” Julie grumbled. “You’d think they’d want Munsonville to progress.”

Katie wound a strand of Julie’s hair over a roller.

“I don’t care,” Ann said with a yawn. “I’m won’t be here in a few years.”

 “Me neither,” Julie said. “The trouble with Munsonville is that no one thinks past fishing boats. I want something more than night crawlers and dead carp.”

“Like what?” Katie reached for the comb.

“Like anything that requires some brain power. Like a car, maybe.”

Melissa was surprised at Julie’s scornful remarks. She thought all the villagers  lived contentedly in Munsonville.

Ann turned a page. “I’ll be too busy traveling around the world.”

 Julie tossed her head and snorted.

“Hold still!” Katie struggled to fasten the roller.

“Not if,” Julie snapped her fingers, “Jack Cooper looked twice at you.”

Ann blushed, still looking down. “That’s not true. I’m marrying someone so rich and ambitious, I’ll own homes in three countries and eat gourmet food every night.”

“I’d rather get a job and make my own money, thank you.”

“Can’t you get a job?” Melissa then remembered Munsonville had no industry.

“Not unless you slave for a family business. My mom works the information desk at the nature center, and my dad sells used cars in Jensen. By the time they restore Simons Mansion, I’ll be in college, thank God.”

Katie rolled another strand of hair and secured it with a pin. “Do you think the ghost will attack once they start fixing it?”

Ann’s blue eyes were stern. “There’s no ghost. Grow up, Katie.”

Julie shook her head in exasperation and a roller fell out of her hair. “You’ve got to keep an open mind. What about the stories?”

“Mass hysteria,” Ann said.

“Maybe, except for the evidence backing their claims.”

Melissa stiffened and held her breath. Did Julie mean Kimberly?

Ann down her nose at Julie and snickered. “Not nutty Tina Swanson?”

“Who’s she?” Melissa said.

“Last summer,” Ann said, “Tina’s family rented one of the lakefront fishing cottages. No one liked Tina because she bragged that her red hair made her psychic, After a month, Tina’s parents went to Uncle Gabe. Tina said a dark man in black broke into her room while she was sleeping. So, he posted a guard.”

“Did they see anyone?” Melissa asked.

“Of course not,” Ann said, giving her a funny look.

“My parents said Tina was just spoiled and looking for attention,” Katie said.

“Or maybe she did have ESP,” Julie said. “Maybe everyone missed what she saw. How do you know nothing comes into your room at night?”

            “I hope not!” Katie shuddered.

And finally, one from Staked! where the distinct voices of John-Peter and Karla, as well as their close relationship, are obvious, even during a minor conflict.

           He had strolled through the motor home’s side door as he did nearly every afternoon and found Karla slumped at the dinette table, head buried under her arms, sobbing inconsolably. The boy had scooted past her to the refrigerator for Katie’s soy milk before dropping into a chair, still gulping, and wondering what had happened. Karla was not a crybaby.    

          “You’re rather gloomy today.” John-Peter eyed her as he downed the carton.
           Karla raised a tear-stained face. “Oh, John-Peter, I can’t stand it. Amy invited me to go to the movies with her on Saturday, and I can’t go because of this horrid crystal ball lesson.”
          “Who cares about a sappy movie?”
           She narrowed her eyes. “You’re not getting it. Why can’t I be normal for just one afternoon?”
           “Normal like Amy? Come on, Karla, she’s a goon.”
           “It’s so tiresome to be special.”
           “You should embrace your greatness.”
            “You don’t have to sit through math class without sharing the memory of Mr. Andrews’ morning quickies.”
             “A perspective infinitely more thrilling, to be sure, than his wife’s.”
             “I knew you wouldn’t understand!”
              John-Peter catapulted the carton at Karla where it bounced into her lap. She slammed it on the table and glared at him.
             “You have a gift,” he gently said, ignoring her outburst.
             “Sometimes, I don’t want it.”
             “That’s the trouble with your gifts. They have no exchange receipt.”
             “I said, ‘Sometimes.’”
             “Well, clear your mind. You won’t master the lesson when you cloud your mental faculties with a trivial emotion.”
              “Spoken like a real boy. Emotion, for your information, weirdo, is not trivial.”
              “I never said it was. But self-pity won’t get you to the movies.”

Hope this gives you some ideas. Happy writing! :)

Monday, December 15, 2014


Last vacation day, and it's a full one!

Went to bed earliesh last night - with both phone alarms shut off - slept somewhat restlessly, but slept in. :)

A much-delayed art project/appointment this morning, fiction (and a stopping by of my oldest son with my new phone) this afternoon. This evening? Probably a bit of transitioning into work and working out, but we shall see. If my muse is active, might skip the former and suck it up tomorrow morning. I'm on call next weekend and hard to know what that will bring.

Saw initial sketches for Cornell Dyer and the Missing Tombstone last night. A few tweaks, but the illustrator, overall, really did an outstanding job.

Peeking at Kellen's story in Before the Blood before I scoot out the door...

Have a terrific Monday, all!

Sunday, December 14, 2014

Yep, Story Links Went by the Wayside Again

And yep, I really do suck at self-promotion.

It's been a wonderfully busy weekend. What little is left will be spent writing, not hunting for links.

I'm thinking I'll do it (hopefully) tomorrow...evening...

But on a writerly point of view, Kellen's portion of Before the Blood is shaping up nicely. I have less done than I had hoped, but what I've written is better done than I had realized. I also didn't take into account the tremendous amounts of reading and research that has gone into Kellen's story thus far.

And on a publishing point of view, I met with an illustrator today for the first book in The Adventures of Cornell Dyer spin-off series. She sketched a concept for a branding logo (I like!), and then did some extremely rough drafts for the front and back covers, as as the cover for book #2 in the series. We also discussed twelve chapter heading images.

There was also church and not one, but two dinners to attend, a memorial one at church, the one-year anniversary of the death of our friend and Pearl Harbor survivor.


The other is an annual dinner with Rebekah. More on this tomorrow.

The result is that I am very full, too full, I think, for working out tonight.

Boy, did I drink an awful lot of coffee today.

I didn't have the weekend I'd planned. But I definitely had a very nice weekend.

Saturday, December 13, 2014

A Quick Chat With the Steward of Tara

So I'm all for giving someone his space, but this morning, in an "enough is enough" moment, I called Ed Calkins.

He was in the middle of suiting up for a Santa gig, but we chatted for a few moments with the goal of talking longer later in the week.

Yes, he is still going through a rough time - as just about anyone working in the newspaper industry is - but was very, very, very happy that I called.

I then spent six hours with the fiction writers, but it had been long time, so we had some catching up to do. I still email and one phone call, but after that...seventeenth century Germany here I come.


Friday, December 12, 2014

Fruit Fritters

So all the focus on last week's WriteOn Joliet means I'm woefully behind in story links again, sigh!

Although one would think it would be easy to simply save a link a day (my resolve), I really do suck (vampire pun intended) at self-promotion and miss ye olde marketing team. Really, I'd be just as happy if readers simply visited The Herald-News site everyday, since the newspaper does have an amazing staff of writers who writer amazing stories.

That said, the features section does spotlight equally amazing people. So I've posted this huge reminder at my computer to hunt down my activity over the past few weeks on Sunday (after meeting with an intersted illustrator for Cornell Dyer, hip, hip hurray!) and share those links. Promise (I think).

In the meantime, if you have room in your wallets, please remember the BryonySeries charity (Big Brothers Big Sisters of Will and Grundy Counties) during this holiday season with a donation or a purchase of our fundraising cookbook. 

Even if you don't like cooking, Memories in the Kitchen: Bites and Nibbles from "Bryony," makes for fun browsing. If you've read the story, it's a nice backward glance. If not, perhaps the book snippets will whet your interest. 

Either way, it's intriguing to see what Victorians ate and how they prepared it, especially considering many recipes' lack of complete instructions, like this recipe below, which was served at the John and Bryony Simons' Christmas Eve wedding reception. Figuring at some point one would add the flour and salt...

The following recipe is adapted from Miss Beecher’s domestic receiptbook: designed as a supplement to her Treatise on domestic economy.

Fruit Fritters

1 pint milk
1½ pints flour
2 teaspoons salt
6 eggs
A pint of cream (or milk with a little butter melted in it)
Fruit (can be blackberries, raspberries, currants, gooseberries or sliced apples or peaches)
Sweet lard
Wine, nutmeg, or grated lemon peel

Mix eggs and cream with the fruit. Mold into small cakes and fry in lard. Eat with a sauce of butter beat with sugar and flavored with wine, nutmeg, or grated lemon peel.

From "Memories in the Kitchen: 'Bites and Nibbles From 'Bryony'"

All proceeds benefit Big Brothers Big Sisters of Will and Grundy Counties. www.bbbswillgrundy.org

Thursday, December 11, 2014

BryonySeries Throwback Thursday: The Most Convenient Kitchen Utensils...

Thursday, December 30, 2010

The Most Convenient Kitchen Utensils...

...according to Miss Beecher's domestic receiptbook: designed as a supplement to her Treatise on domestic economy.

Certainly, Simons Mansion boasted no microwaves or slow cookers. So, in addition to the ice box, what other items might Melissa have seen inside the kitchen? Note: The comments in parentheses are mine.

1) Tin Baker or Reflector: for baking breads, cakes apples, as well as an oven (I had to read this twice. Who would bake an oven?)

2) Footman: made with brass or sheet iron to heat irons.

3: Balances: for weighing cakes (What else?).

4) Dustpan: so one doesn't have to sweep the crumbs across the carpet (Obviously invented by someone whose kids did the sweeping. We have two dustpans, but I'm always finding the bulk of kitchen debris underneath the garbage can).

5) Saw Knife: a saw on one side and a knife on the other. Useful for cutting meats.

6) Lemon Squeezer

7) Case for Lamplighters: to receive the remnants of extinguished matches.

8) Meat Mallet

9) Egg Beater

10: Apple Corer: In 1860, this cost only a dime.

11) Gridiron Scraper

12) Rolling Pin

13: Fish Kettle

14) Preserving Kettle With a Cover: a cover best preserves the flavor of the fruit.

15) Preserving Kettle Without a Cover: shallow, so as not to crowd the fruit.The best are copper or bell metal. Porcelain ones are apt to crack.

16) Cast-iron Sauce-pan with Lid: (I only cook with cast iron. I'm still using a set that cost $28 in 1982 when my oldest son was born).

17) Tin Sauce-pan

18) Copper Sauce-pan. Every household needs at least four different sizes of saucpans. The copper ones are best and most durable. The iron lined with tin are next best. The tin are the poorest.

9) Trivet: for heating articles over coals without burning. Three or four of different sizes are needed with an open fire. Food cooked for the sick demands them.

20) Tin Bonnet: very useful to keep articles warm, to roast apples, and to warm plates.

21: A brush made of bristles twisted into wire to clean bottles.

22) Tin Safe: To preserve food in hot weather and to protect it also from mice.

23) Refrigerators: to keep meat, milk, butter, and cream during hot weather. Instructions are provided for making an inexpensive one. (Something to remember next time I need to replace a refrigerator).

A note from Miss Beecher's domestic receiptbook: designed as a supplment to her Treatise ondomestic economy: "A housekeeper who choses to do without some of these conveniences, and spend the money saved in parlor adornments, has a right to do so, and others a the right to think she in this shows herself deficient in good sense."


Wednesday, December 10, 2014

The Best Christmas Book Ever

When I was growing up, I liked flipping through a book on my mother's bookshelf, one, to my knowledge, my mother had never read. It reminded me of those books one might receive with a book club membership or as a gift, a compilation of customs, traditions, recipes, gift ideas, and short stories.

As a child with an eternal penchant for making, creating, and giving, I was always drawn to the craft and homemade gift section of this book, and daydreamed about the day I would raise a large family and engage in these activities with them.

I remember one year, my sister and I spent weeks coloring and making decorations as a Christmas morning surprise, rising in the middle of the night to tape them to the family room paneling, and then - once reality set it - (My parents would not have enjoyed them, trust me) sneaking back when my mother was preparing breakfast to remove and discard them all.

As an adult, with my children and with the children I have mentored, we engaged in plenty of reading, creating, cooking, and baking. Indeed, our best memories ( Christmas, other holidays, and not) centered around these activities.

But it wasn't until over thirty years ago, as a newbie adult expecting my first child, that I read the recipes and short stories. Not much gathering in the kitchen to prepare meals and goodies with love was part of my childhood, although that, too, was an element I had wanted to incorporate into my home. So aroundThanksgiving 1982, when morning sickness that was really 'round-the-clock sickness had somewhat abated, and I could read about food without becoming ill, I checked out the recipes in the book.

I mean, what did people make and eat for the holiday? Thus, I educated myself...and dreamed...

And because I was also an introvert, serious about the business about growing a family and legacy, as well as not feeling well, I also had time on my hands. Because I had been so sick, I had stopped working and had dropped most of my classes at the University of St Francis (Really, what was I going to do with a journalism degree when I really wanted to grow a family?), except one. I filled much of the time with reading. So I finally checked out the poems and short stories along with the recipes.

Between the pages of that book, I discovered the best Christmas short stories ever. Ever!

So when Tom Hernandez suggested, for our WriteOn Joliet party next Thursday, that we read, not our own works, but a favorite one by another author pertaining to Christmas, I knew exactly where to find them, inside a tattered book, covers long gone from wear and much use over the years.

I store that book in my ministry cabinet (The backstory story of that piece of furniture and the origin of its name is for another post), but yesterday morning, when I went to grab it, Daniel had stacked a couple of laundry baskets in front of it, and he was sleeping. (For those who don't know, our family went through a period of homelessness; we are living in a two-bedroom apartment near work and school; and Daniel took possession of the living room as "his" room). Not wishing to disturb him, I decided the book could wait until after work.

A quick search later that night proved futile. The book wasn't there.

I asked Rebekah if she had seen it. She said Timothy had thrown it away during the move. My oldest son's cat had a marking problem, and the book, apparently, had been a target. Rebekah said she had begged him not to throw it away as the fudge recipe she made each year and gave as gifts was in that book. But, as I had told the kids to be mercilless and heartless when parting with possessions during the move - for out situation had been quite bleak, and we could keep but little - he had dutifully tossed the book.

Celebrating Christmas without that book was unthinkable. Rebekah asked me for the name. I hadn't a clue. I only thought, due to design and illustrations, that it had been published in the 1950s. So we did an internet search and viewed hundreds of book covers from that era. I racked my brain for the title of one of the less common stories, something other than O. Henry's Gift of the Magi or WHO A Miserable, Merry Christmas (both are in that volume), one of the two I had wanted to read.

Finallyi, it flashed in my brain: As Ye Sow, by Dorothy Canfield.

We did a search on Amazon, and three choices popped up. One was a reprint of that beloved book...unavailable!

But now armed with a title, Rebekah did a further search and found it on several other sites. She's planning to order it today and hoping that book will arrive before December 18. As Ye Sow is a little long-ish, but since I rarely read at group, I figure, what the heck? Any member that has ever been a parent (most of us) will enjoy it. Part of what makes this story special to me is that I had read it while anticipating my first child, so that now, at a different place in the journey, it has a different poignancy.

I might even be selfish and read my second favorite, too, an impossible story about miracles, unrelatable at the time, so very relatable now, as my life has been filled with miracles.

For you non-WriteOners, dying to glimpse this book, here'sa link: