Friday, February 27, 2015

Story Round-Up: Features in The Herald-News, Week of February 22, 2015

And here ya go!

Joliet woman takes her love of giving back to Head Start

What if you could work a paid job that had the spirit of volunteer work? For Judy Easley, Head Start is a dream career come true.

An Extraordinary Life: Plainfield woman and former Joliet teacher loved to serve

It's a love that began in adolescence when she tutored her fellow students.

Joliet-area health experts discuss prevalence of C. Difficile
By Jan Steele

The writer's father died from complications of a colitis previously unknown to her. An interesting story on many levels: well-researched, well-written, and from a writer that used to be the featured editor for The Herald-News for many years, the person who assigned work to me and then edited it. She had never written a health story...and I had the pleasure of editing and praising the work of someone who guided me for so many years.

Plainfield church's game dinner looks at wild side of gospel

An unusual ministry for a population that often gets overlookeed.

Food Network's Alton Brown brings stage show to Joliet

Because I don't watch television, his name was unknown to me, but not to Timothy Baran, who was a tad green I got to interview him.

Thursday, February 26, 2015

BryonySeries Throwback Thursday: Wonderful Writer's Workshop!

Monday, February 13, 2012

Wonderful Writer's Workshop!

One of the leaders of Word Weavers, a dozen or so Christian women writers that meet at the Portiuncula Center for Prayer in Frankfort, Illinois, asked me to share, during a workshop, what turned out to be my rather colorful publishing experiences.

Since I really like meeting and talking with other writers, and the entire Bryony project has been so much fun, I readily agreed. I later learned yesteday's event was the first time this two-year old group had invited a speaker. What an honor!

Not entirely certain what the women might want to know, I simply told my story. I'm an asthmatic that grew up reading and writing; I absolutely dote on pre-twentieth century vampires stories; and I conceived the concept of Bryony nearly thirty years ago.

I talked about writing tmy novel inside out and how, in the process, that one book became four, a cookbook, and a CD. I related my online education about the world of publishing, the submission process, agent querying and small press querying, along with the requests, and rejections, I received.

I talked about editing, self-publishing and ISBN's, the book trailer, the music video, branding, and marketing, and then passed around some laminated Bryony business cards and my press kit. Only when I noticed a few of the women were taking notes did I realize how much I've learned these past few years.

A pleasant surprise occured during the introductions, but first, a digression. This past weekend, while editing Visage, the second book in the BryonySeries, which we hope to release this fall, there's a scene where Melissa is shelving periodicals at the college library. This briefly reminded me of when I had done the same, more than thirty years ago, and a quick memory of my employer flashed through my mind.

So, when a woman to my left began talking about her current project, I immediately recognized her as my former boss. I glanced at her name tag; the name matched.

"Did you work in periodicals at the University of St. Francis?" I asked, extending my hand to the woman, who now look bewildered, but smiling.

She had.

"Denise Schonbachler," I said. "I used to work for you."

Even more astounding, she remembered.

"I grew up," I simply said.

It was a joyous reconnection. She asked me to sign a book especially for her, and someone snapped a few pictures. To top it off, something else happened earlier in the day, which might open some new writing opportunities for me.

I can't provide details yet, but please, keep your fingers crossed, say a prayer, sacrifice a goat, etc., etc. that if the challenge arrives, I'll be prepared to meet it.

Tuesday, February 24, 2015

How I Addressed Last Weekend's Writer's Block

A huge part of writing fiction for me is immersing myself in another time, place, character's head, etc. When writing fiction with strong historical and paranormal elements, that flow of ideas is constantly being interrupted by researching facts, which considerably slows down the process. Obviously, any idea I wish to develop must first be checked for plausibility.

So having been stuck on Kellen's chapter seven for several weeks (which is a long chapter, and it's not like I haven't made any progress, I have) and getting more frustrated by the day, here's what I've done/been doing. Now I'm not really sure if any of it works or will work, but staring at a blank screen isn't helpful either.

1) Surfing the internet looking for visual or written cues to spark inspiration.

    Wasn't effective this time, but I did try.

2) Music breaks.

    Usually works like a charm. Not this time. Although Timothy and Daniel did turn me on to some new songs that I enjoyed.

3) Rereading all the previous Kellen chapters.

    Did this on Friday night. Didn't help the writer's block, but I was extremely happy with what I've already written. I reminded myself all these other chapters were also slow in the making, which did encourage me, even if it didn't get the imagination flowing.

4)  Stepping away to watch "Futurama" with Daniel.

     Could have enjoyed it more, if I hadn't kept thinking, "Damn it, I'm losing the weekend."

5) Breaking down the chapter into manageable scenes and then into more manageable paragraphs, with ap promise to myself that I'd peck at it during the week.

    That is where most of the production happened and subsequent writing happened, this past weekend and the two previous weekends. However, my brain is usually too soft at night for any fiction writing once I get back to Ellis Island. In short, I end up getting pissed off because I know I'm lying to myself even as I'm making the promise.

6) Giving some love to other creative endeavors that have little or nothing to do with writing.

    That is the plan for this weekend. I'm on call, which can be an unpredicably light or heavy work weekend. So Sarah and I are planning to catch up on a visual project I began for a non-profit. Amongst these activities, I'm going to check out those paragraph breakdowns, give myself a deadline (I will write this section in the next hour) and then just DO IT.

If anything, maybe one of these ideas will work for YOUR writer's block.

Friday, February 20, 2015

Story Round-Up: Features in The Herald-News, Week of February 15, 2015

It's been a busy week, and it's not done yet! (WHEW!)

So when I'm not writing vampire tales (which is most of the time), here's how I spend the majority of my writing hours:

Joliet area residents rebuild their lives following the deaths of their spouses

If I would have to point to any one story and say, "I am damn proud of it," it would be this one. The openness and willingness to share that these people had blew my mind and is scarcely represented here.

True love's touch revives Lockport woman

For those that believe in fairy tale endings...and especially for those that do not...

An Extraordinary Life: Former Joliet Junior College program director went above and beyond for her students

It's one thing to connect people with resoures. It's another to babysit their infants while you're trying to do your own job so they can get to class.

Joliet Junior College interior design students redecorate for MorningStar Mission in Joliet

Proof that secondhand doesn't equal secondclass, if it's done right.

Plainfield Congregational UCC and new pastor happy to  have found each other

Meet the new minister at this church. He has a variety of interests, and he uses them all in the best interests of his people.

Company with Lemont ties graces merchandise with artwork created by those with special needs

One cool thing is that this company was founded by - and is run by - men in their very early 20s. The second cool thing is that the work, from artwork to printing to packaging, is done via the special needs community.

Thursday, February 19, 2015

BryonySeries Throwback Thursday: Grandma, Can I Have a Blessing?

Sunday, February 17, 2013

Grandma, Can I Have a Blessing?

That question (minus "the grandma") is a common refrain in our household at bedtime, and one that has been resounding since my oldest child--almost thirty-one and standing nearly six-ten--was eighteen months old and wearing one-piece, zippered sleeper pyjamas with plastic feet.

That's when I was reading a series of child rearing books by 1950's Catholic mother of seven Mary Reed Newland, the best source of mothering wisdom I've ever encountered. In one of her books, Newland briefly mentioned how, after witnessing another family use the custom, she and her husband began giving her children "blessings:" at bedtime, before special events, etc.

The concept appealed to me, so I began adding this blessing prayer with the goodnight kiss:Christopher David, may the blessing of the Lord be upon you always, in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen. While doing so, I traced a little cross on his forehead. Christopher, although non-verbal at the time, was soon babbling back to me and tracing marks on my forehead with his tiny index finger.

As Christopher's siblings arrived, bedtime blessings lengthened and included Sarah Catherine, Joshua Paul, Timothy Michael, Rebekah Anne, and Daniel John. Most of the adult children living in my household still request blessings at bedtime, and I still receive them in return. If our schedules cross, we text them to each other.

As my children began having children, some of most of them continued the tradition, too, which was soooooo cool for me to experience. And of course, when I see my grandchildren, the goodbyes always include a blessing.

Friday evening, as I was walking out the door for the night, my five year old grandson stopped me with a, "Grandma, can I have a blessing?" After I happily bestowed that upon him, I asked him for one in return. I bent low; Ronnie placed his little hand on my forehead and recited the sweetest prayer. Then he gave me a quick hug and dashed away to find Uncle Daniel.

It's such a simple practice, and yet...think of the many, many decades of prayers we have raised heavenward on each other's behalf. The custom has created more than a family legacy, but a treasure whose value we'll realize only in eternity.

Mary Reed Newland, I owe you.

Tuesday, February 17, 2015

Worldbuilding: The Beginning, Not the End, of Storytelling

It's no surprise by now that I like rich layered stories, and my favorite are supernatural, fantasy, historical, and science fiction. I love the unfolding of the seemingly impossible.

Worldbuilding, the creation of vivid settings and multidimensional characters with a factual foundation, is essential to the believeability of all stories, but especially writers who write in these genres. I know writers who take this part very seriously and do vast amounts of research and intense character development to meet this goal.

Your science must feel like real science, and your history timeline must be correct...unless your story has compelling reasons otherwise.

But such steps are only the beginnnig, not the end. The paint and canvas serve the picture, not the other way around. At the core of every story should be a compelling story.

You still need a protagonist your readers will cheer on, an antagonist they will boo, as well as challenges to overcome, dramatic tension to keep the pages turning, victories to cheer, and stakes to raise. If you don't have these, the rest won't matter.

One good question to ask yourself? What is the story I'm trying to tell?

Once you can answer that, the rest makes sense.

Monday, February 16, 2015

Why I Didn't Record It

With images becoming more important to media of all types, I thought back today to Christmas Day 2014, when our church traditionally gathers in the small hall after liturgy to sing Christmas carols.

As we began singing in the kitchen (less of us every year, and that is where the coffee is) i started to instinctively reach for my phone to record it. Then I stopped.

Sometimes, it's simply more important to enjoy the moment than to capture it. Next year, I might feel differently, wish I had, and then record it. Certainly, I'm happy I have photo albums full of pictures I snapped through the years of special and ordinary days, especially during those years I was raising a houseful of children.

But this past time, I just wanted to be part of it, instead of the onlooker preserving it. Not every moment is a Kodak moment or even (GASP!) and Facbook or Snapchat moment.

Just a thought...

Friday, February 13, 2015

Story Round-Up: Features in The Herald-News, Week of February 8, 2015

I'm on a roll with being on time with these! Hope I can keep it going.

It was a week for others to shine, and shine they did. I'm humbled at the opportunity to work with and edit the works of other writers. And so, without further comment, here are:

Double organ transplant recipient from Joliet glances back, moves forward
By Mauverneen Blevins

Fifteen years ago, I had the good pleasure of writing about this woman after her transplant. A few years later, I wrote about the meeting between her and the donor's family. When her mother died, I did An Extraordinary Life piece. Many years and some additional health woes later, see what this marvelous woman is doing now.

An Extraordinary Life: Former Joliet man played accordion in variety of arenas

I received more telephone calls this week than on any other single column ever, very rewarding.

Joliet oncologist consults over conditions based on gene mutations
By Jeanne Millsap

Come see what is new in the field of genetic testing and medicine

Jounrney Pregnancy & Life Hub in Mokena serves the whole person
By Dawn Aulet

With extras such as a boutique and free coffee and baked goods - not to mention a cat on the premises - this is no ordinary crisis center.

Three tribute acts to perform at Joliet's Rialto Square Theatre'
By Sean Leary

If I could afford the tickets, I would so go to this.

Thursday, February 12, 2015

BryonySeries Throwback Thursday: Serving Up Amusement: Hold the Lofty; Keep the Change

Monday, November 22, 2010

Serving Up Amusement: Hold the Lofty; Keep the Change

“What is your goal for this book?” my publicist asked me.

What would other authors have answered? Fame? Money? Best-selling status? Social change? In the right time, place, and attitude, there is nothing wrong with these things, but none of them were the goals for Bryony.

Because of the recession, many people are finding life hard (including me), which makes entertaining distraction attractive. What a perfect time to yank a two-decades old story from my head and copy it on paper (okay, a computer screen).

“I want to have fun,” I said, “and I’d like to sell enough copies to make publishing the next one worthwhile.”

I think my publicist is glad I'm not expecting her to create a blockbuster. Although her marketing background includes corporate and not-for-profit work, she does accept selective creative projects. She has an interesting “artsy” side to her and a natural ability to think outside the oh-so-proverbial box. It makes her a good match for Bryony.

So why do I eschew traditional goals? My "regular" freelance features writing provides the reader information and, at times, inspiration. And yes, I thoroughly enjoy the work. WithBryony, no one assigned it, so there's really no way of perfectly knowing how large or small a market exists for it until it's released.

Of course, I do hope some people buy it, read it, and like it, but I know individual tastes run rampant, and the storyline, characters, or my writing style will not appeal to everyone. Besides, when I first sat down at the keyboard, I wrote to please myself, a very different experience for me.

Still, as we move through the editing and publicity planning stages, more people are reading and enjoying Bryony than I had ever dreamed might. The feedback, good and bad, is delightful to hear. I didn't write for an audience of one, after all.

For me, as a writer, to capture another’s imagination with a story I composed is rather breathtaking. However does one top it?

Wednesday, February 11, 2015

Coincidences...and Being Open

I had not intended to write something wonderful and sublime this morning. Really the goal was more along the lines of posting a cute cat video.

But I had this marvelous - thing - happen to me the other day that I just had to share with someone yesterday, a grief counselor at a local hospice that I interviewed yesterday for a story. She has heard others share similar stories, while others get frustrated and upset when they don't have them, but she stilll marveled at my story.

She added to me, "It's because you're so open."

Honestly, I don't know where I'm going with this post. All my life, I've experienced these sublime occurrences that others call coincidences. Some might call it the Holy Spirit. Others might say I'm psychic.

Well, I have had too many of them to call them coincidences. As a family, we have had so many of them that we actually scoff at the word "coincidence." The Holy Spirit? I talk to God all the time, and I "hear" Him talk to me, so sometimes, maybe even most of the time, yes, it could be the Holy Spirit.

Psychic? Doubtful, because I think psychics have control over it and can summon certain abilities at will. I don't feel as if I have any special abilities, and I can't summon these experiences at will. Maybe it's safe to say I'm simply "listening," to God or to whomever else has something to say to me.

I feel blessed to have this spiritual direction for my life. I'm blessed I'm obedient enough to follow the direction, even when the directions don't, at first, make sense. I can literally "hear the "walk here, because..." and so I walk and then the "because" becomes obvious.

I also hear the "don't walk there!" messages loudly, clearly, succintly, even during those times when a certain path looks like a really good way to go. So I don't go.

Not every good thing comes to pass because God gives everyone free will. Sometimes, when God wants something for you, it doesn't happen because He's allowed someone else to exercise his/her free will by refusing to participate. God then brings another gift to me. What happens between God and the non-participant is none of my business, and I really don't care. I'm too busy enjoying the gift.

Not every gift looks like a gift in the beginning.

Sometimes, I'm simply the channel to be or bring a gift for another, as in this case. But the sublimity of the happenstance blesses me, too. There's something truly magical about God saying, "Go tell so and so this" or "Go do this for so and so" and then feel the joy of tearing down the path to do it.

Trust me, not every incident makes me happy, at least in the beginning. This is not some crystal ball that only tells me what I want to hear. Often, I say "yes" after much debate, clenched teeth, and an angry heart. I've done my share of fist-shaking to the air.

In the end, I trot away in obedience, sometimes still shaking that fist. The awesome thing that happened to me the other day wasn't like that. It left me feeling happy all over, warm and glowing inside and out, like a warm blanket and good book on a cold and rainy night.

You'd think after all this time and a storehouse of happenings, I'd cease to be surprised. But maybe that's part of the openness, that I can still feel wonder and awe, that I don't have the attitude of, "Pschaw, another day, another gift."

Last night, just as I had drifted off to sleep, a rapid series of four texts woke me up. It was from someone that decided to back off a story, one that is due Thursday and is running Sunday. After a brief moment of panic, I "knew" exactly how to approach the story and make it better, without this source. Instead of lying awake in panic and frustration, well, I obviously fell asleep because that is the last thing I remember.

That wasn't the "thing" to which I was referring. That "thing" I'm not sharing here. But the importance of the "thing" is just for a few, so there's really no reason to share it here.

I think maybe the message today is to simply be aware. 

Tuesday, February 10, 2015

My First Reader Review of "Staked!" (Happy dance...)

The same review is also posted on Amazon.

So generally I post a writing tip on Tuesday.

Here is my tip: write a damn good story. DON'T stop working on your story until it is damn good. DON'T think about how many copies you will sell. Just write that story. THEN seek out the readers that will enjoy it.

Or better yet: write a story that's so DAMN GOOD that readers who wouldn't necessarily read that type of story will be sucked deeply into yours.

This last is not only my writing tip of the day, it's my goal, and one I hope to attain one day.

Monday, February 9, 2015

Taking Down the Christmas Tree

We celebrate Christmas longer than most people and keep Christmas decorations up longer than most people. Just last week, I was still listening to and singing Christmas songs.

While the world tends to kick off the Christmas celebration early - by Thanksgiving Day (which is rapidly disappearing as a national holiday) - at the very latest, we don't even start thinking in terms of, "Hey, we should bring out a box or two of trinkets," until after St. Nicholas Day (Dec. 6) at the earliest.

We do, however, engage in a fast (less about food now that I have health issues and more about attitude) beginning Nov. 15, which continues through Dec. 24, to prepare ourselves for the birth of something wonderful and joyous. The Western Christian church has something similar - advent - which is a bit shorter, beginning on Dec. 1.

One Western tradition I adopted and adapted for my children in 1983 when Christopher was only 18 months old, was the Jesse Tree. This is the story of the Old Testament and the events that prophesize and lead up to Christ, told visually and symbolically, with "ornaments" that represent people and events. Instead of the customary four weeks, ours had six weeks of symbols, one for each day of the fast.

I can still recall how, during Christopher's naptime, I wrote lists detailing what to include and how I might represent it. Then, since I had no money, my sister, for a belated birthday present, took me on a wonderful trip to Louis Joliet mall where we searched for items that could fit. She spent a total of $30, and we had a blast finding them. I still have those items, things like wind-up chattering teeth to represent The Tower of Babel. Others were homemade, such as the bag of lentils to represent Jacob and Essau.

It was a marvelous supplement to our home scripture study, a fun was to teach key Biblical events, and a treasured pre-Christmas tradition that only went by the wayside just a few short years ago Each day I would bring out an ornament; a child would guess (taking turns by days as I added children). We hung them on a miniature four foot tree, the only tree standing in our house for most of what "the world" calls the Christmas season.

We took our time decorating, no mad rush to get it all done in a day. The only time I personally have decorated anything was my last year in college, when I impulsively bought a small tree, lights, garland, etc., and ran the garland around all the doorways (my "front" door, as well as the doors to my closet, shower, and bathroom) in dorm room inside the very gothic-y and wood-all-around Tower Hall at the University of St. Francis in Joliet.

The following year, I was married, and Richard wanted to do all the decorating, which he did up until the last year or so of our marriage. Joshua had a wonderfully artistic eye for it, and he assumed the role in Marycrest and nearly all of our years in Channahon. For most of our Christmases, we had a live trees, and as Christopher grew older, he'd take the younger kids and chop one down, with Rebekah doing most of the hanging of ornaments, saving the special and elaborate ones my mother had given me for me to hang. In our last few years in Channahon, we had an artificial tree, as it fit nicely into a corner in our tiny living room.

This year, we almost didn't do anything. We had lost our home and the family life that accompanied it. Three children had dispersed and were making their own lives and traditions. The other three are busy to their eyeballs with work and school. Now that I'm an employee and gone a minimum of ten hours a day, I'm not home to cook, clean, decorate, or moderate the ebb and flow of fasts and feasts that provided the rhythm of our very rich daily lives for three decades. Rebekah felt the lack most keenly, but we didn't have the resources to accomplish much - no money, no time, no transportation.

So one night, Timothy brought home a four-foot tree he had bought on sale at Sears, already lit. That Sunday, we had one ornament to place on it, a homemade one, from a woman in our church, with the likeness of her son, now deceased, to whom we as a family had ministered. Instead of Rebekah mourning the Christmases of her past, I challenged her to make Christmas for us, and she, alone, cooked all twelve traditional Slavic Christmas Eve dishes that we used to prepare together as a family. Joyfully, very joyfully, she Timothy and I partook of them, as Daniel was stuck in Mendota with no ride home.

And that Christmas Eve night, we added one more ornament to the tree. It was waiting for me in a gift bag on my chair when I arrived at work, the first time in my entire life I was away from home on Christmas Eve. Rebekah, who had walked with me to work had urged me to open it right away; indeed, she was more excited than I was. I set it aside, telling her, "It will give me motivation to get the work down. I'll open it after I finish 'so and so.'" And then I sent her home to start cooking.

As I was working, I heard my co-workers, one by one, go into my editor's office and thank her for the gift. That's when I realized who had presented it and decided to open it, so I, too, could express my appreciation that day and in person.

Inside was an ornament she had made, filled with perfectly fabricated strips of stories I had written throughout the year. In the past twelve months, my family and I had taken our shredded lives and were reconstructing them into something new and bright. Now I was holding something my employer had so thoughtfully made for me, something beautiful that literally represented it.

So while the rest of the world takes down those Christmas trappings on December 26 or New Year's Day or January 6 if they are especially pious, we keep ours up until February 2, even though few (if any) Catholic churches still bless candles on that day or if, indeed, any Christian church in this country recognizes that not until this date has arrived - Mary's churching - that Christmas truly has passed.

Oh and, by the way, we don't experience any post-Christmas letdown either.

But we do have packed away, until next year, two very cool ornaments, the foundation of many more wonderful Christmases to come.


Sunday, February 8, 2015

Three Lovely Ladies, Part 1

In my life, I have been blessed with the acquaintance of the most extraordinary people.

Most of them are not lauded in ways the world tends to celebrate people, but they have influenced my life, and I'm sure the lives of others, in very rich and profound ways. 

Three women in particular - all of them passed on - inspired me the most. I'd like you to know them, too. One is celebrating her first birthday in heaven today. Her name is Hollis Ford.

I wote about Hollis many years ago, for the FAITH section of The Herald-News. It wasn't a typical Christian-centered piece, rather it chronicled the courage of this marvelous woman who, after enduring years of abuse on every imaginable level, fought and overcame a brain tumor.

But Hollis' victory was not this triumph over a tumor, especially as her health continued to decline through the years. No, it was the way she tackled a life that hadn't always been kind to her. She did it with her own brand of humor, an upbeat attitude that saw the good in others and the positive in any circumstance, and an overflowing heart of love.

Hollis was never rich the way others count wealth, but she always had something to give, and she gave to me, too: experimenting with various down-home substances and a toothbrush to remove the squueze Parkay stain my oldest son had dripped onto an intricate piece of needlework as I was constructing it to be a family heirloom; a wonderful meal of ham hocks and beans, greens, cornbread, and fried potatoes (with leftover French fries in the mix); and a real joy to see me and spend time with me that no one before or since has shown me.

Because of circumstances not of my making, I didn't spend as much time with this lovely woman as I would have liked. I didn't know until the day of her funeral that she loved to sing, You Are My Sunshine. God blessed that day with plenty of sunshine, and then He blessed a second day with plenty more it, that day in October when I took a letter I had written to her to the cemetary, stood before her smiling photo, and all things I had wanted to say to her in life.

But Hollis had one last gift for me. At the funeral lunch, I didn't know many people. I wasn't family, and I wasn't a close friend. So I finally decided to make the rounds and introduce myself. When I stopped at one table where two older women were speaking, one said she had met me years ago, when I was enjoying a visit with Holllis at her kitchen table.

"I had stopped by," the woman said, "and Hollis had introduced you as, 'My friend, Denise, who works at the newspaper.'"

I was stunned, too moved to speak. Then the woman continued, "She was SO proud to know you."

God, I was proud to know her, too, more than anyone, except perhaps Hollis, ever knows.

Happy 59th birthday in heaven, Hollis Ann Ford!

Saturday, February 7, 2015

Fairies Explained

A good site for descriptions of the different fairies portrayed in Staked!

Be aware that real fairy lore is far different than the sacharinely sweet images that currently are so popular.

Friday, February 6, 2015

Story Round-Up: Features in The Herald-News, Week of February 1, 2015

It's been a busy week (huff and puff), and the catch-up Friday I had planned has turned into a huff and puff already-behind Friday.

But first, a peek back at some of my activities this week, along with a few video "extras" shot by me.

New cookie bakery in Shorewood to participate in annual fundraising chocolate ball
By Dawn Aulet
Two videos: tips for better cookies

A Shorewood resident with a successful homemade, mail order cookie business finds success in her new storefront and will participate tomorrow in a non-profit's annual chocolate ball.

More than a foot of snow recorded in parts of Will County
Also Lauren Leone-Cross
Two vidoes: Joliet resident practices what he preaches. Siblings enjoy the snow.

An Extraordinary Life: Joliet woman never turned down opportunities to help

The original, "Just say 'yes,'" lady, Helen Lakota did it all, from singing in the church choir to serving as sheriff deputy.

Former Joliet pastor explores male stereotypes
By Brittany Keeperman
Video: compassionate advice to boys who are being bullied

Written by a former student of mine, this story is a firsthand glimpse into how male stereotypes have affected Steve Hinkle and his plans to empower men.

Mokena-based band plays with guests and substitutes
By Jeanne Millsap

These guys aren't afraid to mix it up - and their musician pool has some high-profile names.

Thursday, February 5, 2015

BryonySeries Throwback Thursday: Storytelling and Storehouses of Memories

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Storytelling and Storehouses of Memories

Yesterday my oldest daughter recounted a past incident and then remarked how amazed her friends are because her childhood memories extend deeply into her past. I think that's because we are a family of storytellers, and my love of writing only partially explains it.

For instance, both my father-in-law and my grandmother-in-law loved to tell stories about family history. When my oldest children were very young, I didn't have a car, so my father-in-law drove us everywhere we needed to go. As he drove, he talked about his childhood, his military service, his first jobs, and I shared those stories with my children.

My grandmother-in-law didn't drive, so after she retired, she'd sometimes call several times a day just to talk. I'd sit on the floor and nurse the baby, play puzzles with the toddler and listen. I'd share those stories with my children too, and I'm glad I did, for many of these conversations are fading from my memory. I wish I'd written them down, but I had heard them so many times, I never realized I might forget them.

The twelve years our family has delivered newspapers by night has been a rich opportunity for conversation. We talk about the past; we talk about concerns; we talk about future hopes and dreams. Of course, some days are challenging and others just plain silly, but we talk about those things, too.

Naturally, time and perceptions do alter those memories, and these are concepts I wove into Bryony's plotline.

Tuesday, February 3, 2015

SHOW Some Emotion...

...through dialogue, action, beats, and light touches of internal monologue.

A possible reader flipping through your book should be able to discern the feelings of characters in any given scene, even without knowing who they are and the nature of the scene.

How? I'll show you from six random passages in Visage.

John’s car was parked outside the house with its engine running. Melissa slid inside, glared at Cornell, and said, “You better have a good explanation for this.”

Cornell pulled away from the curb. “I already gave you one."

“You haven’t given me a thing. Where are we going?”


“In the middle of the night? Let me out!”

“Don’t you want to see John? He said you like to watch.”

His statement took her breath away. “We’re really going to see John?”


“Is he okay?"

“You be the judge of it.”

“John asked for me?”

“Sort of.”

("Visage," Chapter 30: Last Rights)

"How could you?” Melissa whispered. “Oh, John, how could you?”

“Melissa, he would have died.”

“He did die!”

“But it’s a happy death. He’s as ruthless as he always deluded himself to be.”

Melissa bolted up right. “Promise me you won’t do it again!”

“Melissa, I can’t.…”

“Promise it! No, swear it John! You can take all the blood you need from me, once a day, ten times a day, if that’s what it takes to keep you human. But no more animals, no more ruining innocent lives, no more turning people into vampires, no more....”

She thought about Derek, but fresh, feverish tears stopped up her flow of words. John once again pushed her head onto his chest.

“All right, Melissa,” John said in a weary voice, “I promise. No blood except yours. Unless..."

John’s arm relaxed, and Melissa felt its grip on her loosen.

“Unless what?”

“Unless nothing. Let’s get some sleep. I can’t think anymore.”

("Visage," Chapter 23: No Holds Barred)

The dial tone beep beep beeped in Melissa’s ear. Deep in thought, she returned to the living room. Darlene placed her magazine on the end table and looked hard at Melissa.

“Melissa, it’s time we talked.”

“You know, Mom, I’m really not in the mood for conversation.”

Darlene raised her voice. “I don’t care if you are or not. A week ago, you show up late at night and give us no explanation for it. Twice, by my count, a doctor calls the house. I want to know what’s going on.”

With a sigh, Melissa dropped onto the couch. “I’m not sure I even know.”

“Then let’s start at the beginning. Why did you leave home?”

She hesitated, considering her words before she uttered them. Melissa did not wish to mention John’s termination from Jenson College until she could confirm it. The insinuation had, after all, come from Jill.

“Because, I think,” Melissa said slowly as she assembled her answer, “John is doing some things that are not good.”

“Like what things?”

“I don’t know.”

“Then what makes you think John’s in trouble? Is he sick?”

“I think so.”

“Melissa, you’re going to have to level with me if you expect Steve and me to help you and John-Peter.”

Jumping to her feet, Melissa threw up her arms.

("Visage," Chapter 25: Surrendering to Fate)

Melissa’s heart nearly stopped at John’s unexpected touch. Before she could respond, John took her hand and started toward Katie’s driveway. “Let’s go.”


“I’d like a tour of Munsonville.”

“Now? This late?” Melissa grew uneasy and thought of her friends waiting inside for her. What if this man was John Simons? What if he wasn’t? “Can’t we go tomorrow?”

“I have a seminar in Thornton, remember?”

Melissa hesitated. Was it safe? Yet, how could she miss this chance with John? 

“Um, let me tell someone I’m leaving.”

“Why? They’ll never miss us. Munsonville can’t be that big.”

“It’s one short street.”

“Well then.”

Melissa relented and allowed John to lead her as he staggered across Katie’s driveway and down the hill of Blue Gill Road toward Main Street. The only gleam brightening the velvet night was the occasional living room lamp. Strangely, despite the chilly air, Melissa no longer felt cold. The warmth of John’s hand crept up her arm and radiated throughout her entire body until desire for John, whoever he was, filled her being. She dared not look at him.

They had reached the deserted Main Street. Hand in hand, they walked down one side and then back, with Melissa pointing out the various buildings.

“This is the grocery store. That’s Dalton’s Dry Goods; Ann’s dad owns that one. There’s Sue’s Diner, which Jack’s family runs, and where, believe it or not, the food’s really good.”

John winked at her. “Too bad I’m not staying another day. You owe me a meal, as I recall.”

Melissa blushed, glad this time for the darkness. Was John joking, or was he planning to officially see her again? He was here, now, so didn’t that mean....?

Stop, Melissa told herself. Remember your promise. This time doesn’t count. You didn’t know he was coming to Munsonville. Stick to the facts. John asked for a tour, not a lifetime commitment.

“There’s the library. Inside is a painting of John Simons that looks just like you.”

“How amusing.”

Something in John’s inflection jarred her. He was staring down at her as John Simons had the night he first kissed her, on the balcony at Albert Brumfeldt’s home, after Melissa had panicked at the malevolent beings sharing her dream. She looked up at Professor Simotes. He was John Simons, wasn’t he? Wasn’t he?

“That big red brick building on the end is the school.” Melissa hoped her voice didn’t sound as shaky as it felt. “All twelve grades are under one roof. That’s where I had the English teacher that inspired me to become one, too.”

“Your reason for attending Jenson.”

“Yes, well, I had won a contest that led to receiving a full scholarship.”

Melissa knew she was babbling, but luckily John wasn’t paying attention. Still holding her hand, he led Melissa over the bike trail and past the row of fishing cottages to the edge of Lake Munson. The murky water licked the shore with gentle, easy waves.

John leaned forward for a closer look. “I hear the fishing’s good.”

“It is. So are the leeches. We had a science teacher once bring a jarful to class. He collected them right from this lake.”

They continued in silence along the path. At the woods, John immediately tightened his hold and increased his pace. 

("Visage," Chapter 5: Under the Stars)

Just then, John Simotes and Brenda Garboldi entered the alley. Both wore jeans, and they held hands. John’s striped, collared shirt was slightly unbuttoned; Brenda’s hair was pulled back with a thick, tortoise-shelled barrette, making her look as young as the college girls. Melissa scowled before she realized she was doing it. Why were they here?

Of course, Melissa remembered. As a music professor, John supported the fundraiser. Naturally, he would bring his fiancé. She ducked her head before he could see her, grabbed the ball from Julie, and then scurried back to her seat. By experimenting with her standing position and craning her neck, Melissa obtained a clear view of them.

Julie snapped her fingers before Melissa’s eyes. “Quit daydreaming. Practice bowling has begun.”

“I can bomb without practicing.”

“Don’t be so negative, sheesh.”

That stung, but Melissa still managed only a listless roll. The ball veered straight to the gutter. Discouraged, Melissa plopped on a chair and watched the others knock down pin after pin. They made it look so easy.

She did no better the rest of the game. Between turns, Melissa watched lane eleven with growing resentment. Every time her teacher knocked over a single pin, John high fived her, or even worse, kissed her. Miss Garboldi looked thinner than Melissa, too.

“Hey, Melissa, you got a hundred,” Julie cried, beaming. “That’s not bad for the first game.”

Julie could afford to be generous. She had scored one hundred and fifty three. Then Melissa noticed Julie’s excitement at Melissa’s score, so Melissa resolved to concentrate much harder on game two, for Julie’s sake. However, between rolls, Melissa’s eyes strayed back to Professor Simotes and Miss Garboldi. Why did they have to handle each other so much? By turns, John cradled Miss Garboldi’s waist, draped an arm over her shoulder, or perched her on his lap. Melissa’s stomach began to hurt.

“They’re acting like a bunch of kids,” Melissa said, then caught herself. She hadn’t intended to say it aloud.

“Who is?” Julie picked up a rag and wiped her ball.

“Professor Simotes and Miss Garboldi.”

Julie peered down the alley. “So what? They’re in love. I’ve seen more action in the TV lounge on Friday nights. Come on, Melissa you’re up. Tenth frame.”

("Visage," Chapter 4: Outdated)

She returned to the front desk, gave Johnny a polite, “Good evening,” and rapidly stamped his cards. Melissa noticed both books pertained to advanced music theory.

As Melissa slid a due date slip into the front pocket of the second book, Johnny placed his hand on hers. A flushing warmth flowed through her at his touch. All thought froze; every heartbeat hammered out a single syllable, John. Melissa forgot about Mr. Schmidt, Pat, the cartful of books, and her promises to forsake the Bryony fantasies. Nothing else mattered. John had made contact with her.

“So I turn you down for dinner, and you give me the cold shoulder,” he said in a low voice.

The question only partly jolted Melissa into reality. She looked back at Mr. Schmidt, but he was ruffling through papers. Despite the cantering in her chest and trembling lips, she coldly met Johnny’s keen eyes and asked, “Will that be all, sir?”

He smothered a smile. “Yes,” he said, “for now.” 

Johnny picked up his book and sauntered to the door.

("Visage," Chapter 3: In the Shadow of Bryony)

Monday, February 2, 2015

My Plans at the Top of the Weekend and What Really Happened

I'm a planner and a list-maker.

At the end of each day, I write a list - in order - of things that need to be done. I revise that list during the day as things come up and fall apart.

Knowing I was on call for The Herald News this past weekend, and knowing it was Super Bowl weekend and that snow was a-coming, I planned my weekend like this:

* Leave work early on Friday (I like to stay late on Friday nights and work on feature briefs). My rationale: if the weekend was busy, I could write fiction in Friday night and feel like I had a weekend.

* Saturday - social media postings for two newspapers, keep an eye on email for two newspapers, cover any breaking news, work on short Kellen Wechsler scenes for the Before the Blood (as those could be easily interrupted) during the day and feature briefs that evening.

* Sunday - more of the same, except church instead of fiction.

So this is what really happened:

Friday - Left work early on Friday. Worked out, re-read what I had written last week, watched Family Guy and Futurama with Daniel.

Saturday - work stuff slowed down around noon. Worked on some descriptions and then got lost in developing several scenes that sucked me in. When it became apparent we would not be attending church forty miles away due to weather, I figured I could edit briefs in-between covering breaking news. Scheduled all social media postings in case the morning got busy.

Sunday - Hit the ground running. There was so much breaking news, my editor and another reporter ended up working, too. Walked through the neighborhoods interviewing people. Made phone calls. Shot two videos on my phone. Internet down. Made two trips to The Herald-News to use internet there and climbed through nine inches of snow to get to the door. Along the way, we stopped several times to Daniel and Timothy could push stranded motorists out of the snow and back on the road. Took a short break, updated snow story, shower, dinner (which Daniel made), drowsed through one episode of Once Upon a Time with Rebekah and went to bed dreaming of covering stories.

Total amount of feature briefs edited : 0

Feeling: Thankful I made the decision to give myself some creative time, as it rests and energizes my brain. Excited that I learned some new things. Grateful that I didn't screw anything up in a majorly way. Proud of the men that my sons have become. Confident that God will work out the best time for me to catch hope. Looking forward to tackling the new week.

All in all, not a bad weekend.