Tuesday, March 31, 2015

Tips to Avoid a Sagging Middle

The other day, a writer posted in WriteOn Joliet that she does a great job with beginnings and endings and not-so-well the parts between them.

We've all heard about how important it is to snag your reader from the beginning. But how does one keep that reader stuck to your story until the end? How does THE WRITER keep him/herself stuck to the story until the end?

In short, how does one keep the spring in your story and prevent the midsection from drooping?

For me, the answer is an outline, not the dreadful (or dreaded) outline many of us remember from our grade school days, but a tailored-to-you type of outline that keeps your thoughts organizedand ideas happening. For me, outlining is a process of visualizing the entire story and then breaking down the tasks into tight components. I actually do something similar when writing feature stories, although the process is brisker and, at time, nearly simultaneous, since those stories are short and dealine is often tight.

1) Write a one-sentence summary of your story. The writer should always be prepared to give a one-line summary of his story. At The Herald-News, that one-liner goes into our daily budgets. If you're pitching to agents and small presses, especially at conferences, that one line might be the only opportunity to grab someone's interest. Know your story well enough that you can pitch it in a single sentence.

Example: "Bryony" is the story of a '70's teen that trades her blood with a Victorian vampire for a trip back into time.

2) Write a back cover summary of your story. If you self-publish, you'll need one anway. This helps provide the details (or summarize them, if you already know them). If you query agents and small presses, you can use this material there.

3) Write a three-page synopsis of your story. This helps expand the details and gets your idea rolling, and, again, if you plan to pitch to agents and small presses, you might be asked to provide this. Writing it now will put you on top of the process.

4) Decide how many chapters you want in your book. Open separate files for each and name them. This mentally formulates where the details of your story will go.

5) Write the first few sentences and the last few sentences of each chapter. This ensures that the beginning and the end of each chapter is compelling and flows well into the next, keeping the string of interest tight. It also narrows what information will and will not go into each chapter.

6) Make notes in each chapter about the details of that chapter. This not only helps with plot and pacing, it gives your a framework for character development. It also lets you know where research is necesasry.

7) Write the chapters. The writing is now simplified, almost like a paint-by-number book, because much of the advance thinking is already done.

8) Refine as needed. As you write, you may decide to change elements of the plot or characters that aren't working, or you may expand parts that are. That's perfectly fine! An outline is not meant to be a static rulebook of adherence, but a flexible mold to get you started and unleash the muse.

And there ya go! :)

Monday, March 30, 2015

Eternal Memory

For the wise, like the fool, will not be long remembered; the days have already come when both have been forgotten. Ecclesiastes 2:16

The Twilight craze has passed and so has the fervor for Old Curiosity Shop by Charles Dickens.

I can see you blink and say, "Huh?"

Not too many years ago in the eternal perspective, loyal fans of this latter serial waited with as much anticipation for the next installment as Edward/Jacob devotees yearned for the next movie. Victorians gathered at harbors to meet English ships for one reason, and it wasn't greeting family and friends. They just had to know: "Is Little Nell dead???"

Most of us will never be as famous as either Stephanie Meyers of Charles Dickens, and the memory of their accomplishments will fade, has faded, and is fading from the forefront of most people's consciousness. Think of all the schools that are named for esteemed educators and then ask schoolchildren (and their parents and teachers) to give a summary of that educator's life.

So what does that mean for the rest of us, who lead more ordinary lives between the here and then gone?

Two things happened to me on Saturday that inspired this post. One is a friend grappling with that question. The other is the former marketing director for the BryonySeries, who left a voice message for me while I was in a meeting.

Eight years ago I had interviewed her for a Herald-News story before and after she had brain surgery to remove a meningioma. The second interview was at her home, while she was recovering. Because this woman is creative and spiritual, I impulsively stopped at a religious goods store on the way to her house and purchased a lace banner for her, with the phrase: "Be still and know that I am God." Psalm 46:10.

The story was published, and in 2010 I hired her for marketing until the budget for marketing was gone. End of story.

Until Saturday.

She still has that lace banner. That banner still inspires her. On that particular day, she was writing a euology for a relative's memorial service. She called to let me know that she was using this banner as the foundation of her eulogy, and that it still meant something to her eight years later.

In the Eastern Orthodox church, we conclude our memorial services with the phrase, Eternal Memory. 

I believe that as the sharp particulars of a person's life soften and fade from the mind of loved ones - because they will, as much as that might sting our pride - they increase in warm, strength, and value in the spiritual realm, much as a candle flame enlarges as it burns. In this case, it's a flame that eternally grows and burns, one that is never extinguished or forgotten.

Our names, the details of our works, these are not the important things and won't be much remembered except by God, but that's the remembrance that ultimately counts.

But the impressions of love and joy we make upon others, the example of our character and the way we choose to live, these DO affect others, who will take up the torch and light the way for generations to follow.

That's what it's alll about, Alfie.

Sunday, March 29, 2015

Roasted Pig

 The little bit of fiction - still in chapter eight of Kellen's story in Before the Blood, that I squeezed in amongst the work this weekend reminded of Meliss'a exchange with Kellen at the Smythe's dinner party, which reminded me that I hadn't shared any BryonySeries recipes for a while. Here's one for roasted pig straight out of the nineteenth century and served at that infamous dinner party.

Roasted Pig

1 small pig
1 pound cold meat, any kind
¼ pound salt pork
Sweet herbs
½ tea cup butter
1 egg
1 pint water
Mix of salt and water
Butter, for rubbing

Take a pig that weighs from 7 to 12 pounds, and as much as 5 weeks old. Wash it thoroughly outside and inside. Chop twice as much bread as you have meat, and chop the meat and the salt pork and mix it all together, adding sweet herbs, pepper, salt, butter, and egg. Stuff the pig with it, and sew up tight. Take off the legs at the middle joint. Put it into a dripping pan with crossbars or a grate to hold it up, and with the legs tied, pour in the water, and set it in the oven. As soon as it begins to cook, swab it with salt and water, and then in 15 minutes do it again. If it blisters, it is cooking too fast; swab it and diminish the heat. It must bake, if weighing 12 pounds, 3 hours. When nearly done, rub it with butter. When taken out, set it for 3 minutes in the cold, to make it crisp.

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

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

Irish Rain by Michele McLaughlin from A Celtic Dream

Friday, March 27, 2015

Story Round-Up: Features in The Herald-News, Weeks of March 15 and 22 2015

Okay, vampire fans, time to catch up!

It's been a busy couple of weeks. Here's a round-up of my work at The Herald-News - my stories and the stories I've been privileged to edit:

Former educator for Joliet Public Schools District 86 repairs and donates toys
By Mauverneen Blevins

An ordinary trip with his wife to Good Will to buy clothes turned into a whole new avocation.

An Extraordinary Life: New Lenox man was so enamoured with the drums

While playing for fun and profit, as well as teaching children the skill, Tom Goodwin managed to put family first.

Lockport woman begins grassroots ministry
By Sean Leary

She has one goal: to give and praise to God and encourage others to do likewise.

Joliet photographers' gallery works a very mixed bag
By Brittany Keeperman

For forty years, Bob Campbell has been shooting portraits in his unique style, and that career began with a Beach Boys concert.

Joliet neighbors are hobby bird breeders, toymakers

In a story reminiscent of If You Give a Mouse a Cookie, the venture started more like this: if you take a friend to a bird fair...

Stroke response care and neuro care available in Will County
By Jeanne Millsap

Ten years ago, neurosurgeons that performed cranial surgery had vanished from the area, due to unafforable malpractice insurance premiums. Today, hospitals in Will County offer university-level care at the community level. Read one woman's amazing story...

Two Joliet pastors form community initiative to stop gun violence

One reached out to New Town after the school shootings, another has been the victim of gun violence. But both pastors are saying, "Enough is enough!"

Retired Mokena pastor teaches adults to play at Joliet church

Nancy Pfaltzgraf believes the secret of youth is not in jars and creams, but in a child-like, playful spirit.

Thursday, March 26, 2015

BryonySeries Throwback Thursday: Meet James Onohan: The Musical Sound of John Simons

Meet James Onohan, The Musical Sound of John Simons

By Denise M. Baran-Unland

Self-taught pianist and composer James Onohan produces music that sounds like John Simons played it, but his resemblance to Bryony’s fictional lead vampire doesn’t stop there.

Not only is Onohan close in age to Bryony’s main vampire, but he’s a perfectionist whose happiest moments are onstage performing and whose best creative moments are alone, in a nearly dark room.

“I just close my eyes and play what I’m feeling,” Onohan, 30, of Indiana, said. “That’s how the best pieces come out, from somewhere inside me. It’s something I have to do. It’s like I’m in a whole other world. I wait until everyone is sleeping, put down the lights really low, close my eyes and just play. When I listen to some of the recordings I’ve made, I don’t think I could ever duplicate them.”

Onohan is creating 10 new songs for a CD called The Best-Loved Compositions of John Simons. This CD is mentioned in Bryony when Melissa borrows it from the Munsonville Library.

Included on those tracks is, Bryony. the piece Simons created as wedding present for his young bride and played at the conclusion of every practice and concert. Onohan has already composed that piece and is working on the rest.

Bryony’s web administrator, Sarah Stegall, of North Carolina, found Onohan and his music on YouTube when she was seeking classical piano music for the Bryony website (http://www.bryonseries.com/).

Stegall felt the site needed “samples” of Simons’ work, but the only non-copyrighted music she found was organ music. She heard Onohan’s most popular selection, One Last Time, on YouTube and loved it, so she immediately located Onohan’s website and sent him a message.

“I had sat for hours on YouTube and various websites listening to out of copyright classical piano that we could use for Bryony. Nothing fit,” Stegall said. “I was listening to Debussy and I was clicking randomly on the side links. I almost clicked out when I heard James and realized, ‘Oh wow, he's what we are looking for!’

“The enchanting sounds he was plinking out were so captivating, I could see why Melissa played her music box over and over. I immediately found his website and listened over and over. He became my John Simons that night. However, I had quite a few problems. The biggest was that he wasn't out of copyright. I sent him a brief email wondering if maybe, just maybe, he would let us market his songs under the book.”

To her surprise, Onohan responded almost as quickly. Stegall explained her project and quickly summarized the novel for him. Her original request was permission to reproduce some of his musical clips on the website, but Onohan had a better idea. Why couldn’t he write the book’s theme song and create the CD Melissa checked out from the Munsonville Library?

“When Sarah called me about the book deal, I was very surprised, very flattered and very happy for the opportunity,” Onohan said. “I had been finding it hard to get the inspiration to write new music, so doing the songs for this book has gotten me past the writer’s block.”

Onohan and music go so far back in time, he can’t remember when his love for the medium began. His earliest musical memory was sitting near his father while he played organ and picking up one of the music books and flipping to the back. Depicted there was a keyboard marked with the notes. Intrigued, Onohan used that tool to teach himself how to read music.

“Reading music helped me in band and, when I was able to play the piano, in learning more complex pieces,” Onohan said. “When it comes to playing by ear, I’m not that good. I can’t hear something and reproduce it like some people can, except when I’m creating my own music. I just hear it in my head and play it from there.”

At age 8, Onohan learned clarinet for the school band. He later swapped instruments—flute for clarinet--with his best friend. “My voice has a nice vibrato, so it gives the flute a beautiful sound,” Onohan said. “I really liked the music I produced with it.

Each weekend, Onohan and his father traveled to Chicago for sheet music. During one of those times Onohan, now 12, picked up a book of Mozart selections and began learning them. He played one of those pieces to several thousand people as part of a city festival and liked it.

“It was the best day of my life,” Onohan said. “I was overwhelmed by that performance and have wanted to relive it ever since. Just to get onstage and play my music for an audience has been my dream.”

Onohan continued with the flute and band during high school, although he did play piano for the high school jazz band. He also participated in all-city competitions and talent shows.

Eventually, the piano became Onohan’s primary instrument, although he does still play flute. “I’m not a guy who works well with words; I don’t talk a lot,” he said. “The piano lets me express my feelings without speaking. The ideal is for me to feel what I’m playing, so I can pour out my emotions through my fingers.”

After high school, Onohan enrolled in general education courses at a local community college, but his heart gravitated toward a fulltime music career. Eventually, he convinced his parents to let him attend VanderCook Music College in Chicago. He lasted three months.

Once there, Onohan realized the program was slanted toward those that wanted to teach music, not perform it. “It was no the environment I wanted to be in,” Onohan said. “I didn’t want to play music anymore and when I don’t play music for awhile, I’m not at peace with myself. I’ve never regretted leaving.”

Instead, Onohan joined the police force and recently celebrated his ninth anniversary with it. Onohan then bought a fancy keyboard, continued to compose and play—he compares his style to Yanni—and began recording his music and creating sheet music, which helped him recreate his own music. Within eight years, Onohan wrote and recorded over 35 original compositions—many of which are found on his three CDs-- and recorded a Christmas CD.

Although his CDs and sheet music are now selling modestly well online—One Last Time and Only You are his top sellers—Onohan’s first audience was his family, friends, and fellow police officers.

“I sold CDs by hand and passed out CDs to everybody in my academy classes,” Onohan said. “Talk about a bunch of grown men getting copies of romantic piano music! But I got really great reviews from these men about how great my piano music was. That was really flattering.”

Although getting married and starting a family were personal high points in Onohan’s life, it was a dark time for his music, he said, due to lack of free time. “I didn’t even think about playing,” Onohan said, “and then one day, a couple of years ago, I met a producer who had her own little studio. That inspired me to build mine.”

In addition to composing music for Bryony, Onohan’s current projects including writing original music for vocalists and other new artists. He plays only his original music for weddings and other events. Onohan still dreams of the day he becomes a fulltime concert pianist. For now, he is content that others are enjoying his music.

“My biggest fulfillment is when people respond and I read how my music is affecting other people’s lives,” Onohan said. “I know it sounds corny, but that, to me, is priceless.”

For more information and to purchase Onohan’s music visit http://www.jamesonohan.com/. Onohan is also featured on the Bryony website at http://www.bryonyseries.com/.

Tuesday, March 24, 2015

First Person, Third Person, POV...and What in the Heck is Third Person Perfect?

Who will tell this story? What will be the point of view? (POV)

That is one of the first decisions a writer will make for his novel. Not only who, but how?

Last night on the WriteOn Joliet Facebook page, one of the members asked this question: "What are your thoughts on first person vs. third person writing?" 

So here's some thoughts on both, along with one many writers often don't consider: third person perfect.

First person: The story is told from the point of view of one character. Advantage: The writer and readers can get inside the mind and heart of that character and identify strongly with said character. Disadvantage: The writer cannot stray from this position. If the first person character does not experience something, it cannot be added to the point of view. For writers that desire a lean focus for the story, first person is the best choice.

Example: Just as I rounded the front of the old house, there was a crunching of tires and a bright beam of light. Had the girls called the police? As my eyes adjusted to the scene, I saw the vehicle was not a squad car. Snowbell

Third person: The story is told from multiple points of view and has an objective narrator that ties those views together. Human interest stories are told this way. Advantage: The reader gets an overview of all the experiences and can enjoy those experiences from multiple perspectives, while getting glimpses of how they form a cohesive entire story. Disadvantage: Although your reader may be emotionally invested in the story and become attached to certain characters, the identification may be weaker than in first person, the difference between living inside one own's head and that of a good friend. For writers that wish their readers to see many impressions through the guidance of a narrator, third person is a good choice.

Example: The clerk behind the drugstore counter questioned the authenticity of a $100 bill – and it was a counterfeit – but Bill Patrianakos had a ready answer.

His boss had paid cash, he told the clerk about the bill he had forged.

But as Patrianakos hurried through the parking lot to his car, he heard a voice calling after him, “I got you boy! I got you boy!” Terrified, Patrianakos sped home, chopped his printer into tiny bits and waited for the police to arrive. They didn’t, and Patrianakos continued using heroin.

“I thought I was the exception, not the rule,” Patrianakos said. “I was not the poor minority in the inner city. I was just a normal kid in the suburbs." Joliet local shares heroin recovery story, The Herald-News, Jan. 21, 2014

Third person perfect: One that is not used as often and, as an editor once told me, the hardest of all to pull off. So given my natural tendency to make everything complicated, I, of course, used third person perfect for the BryonySeries, as I wanted my readers to identify with Melissa, while not necessarily agreeing with everything she thought, felt and did. Third person perfect has elements of both first person and third person. Advantage: As in first person, the story is told through the eyes of one character, but from a slight distance. This gives the reader the opportunity move with the character's perceptions, while noticing things the character does not or having the ability to interpret circumstances in a different way than the character does, since the reader is not dependent upon only the character's viewpoint. Disadvantage: Can be tricky to pull off. When giving the reader a wider impression of the story, the writer must be careful not to reveal anything the character is not noticing or experiencing, while still showing the larger horizon the character might be missing.

ExampleShe never imagined a vampire attack could be so wonderful. Better yet, John Simons, the vampire, was beginning to look like the John Simons of her dreams, even when she wasn’t dreaming. Could that mean her blood was helping him?
Maybe Ed Calkins is right, Melissa thought. Maybe, John seems handsome, now, because I kissed him. Maybe, it’s because I made a deal with him that someone else, seeing only his vampire side, would not have made.
The carriage lurched, and Melissa’s eyes flew open, but John’s countenance remained frigid and impassive, causing her to shiver. She took one wistful look at John, hoping he might warm her under the folds of his cloak, since she dared not ask him. She much preferred a substantial bleeding than his continued contempt.
When John did not move, Melissa resignedly closed her eyes and contemplated Henry’s confrontation. He was mistaken about John and her, despite John’s present detachment. Like Colpa, she thought, I do see the potential in John, and once he is human again, he’ll come around. It will just take some time, that’s all. Bryony, Chapter 20: Confusion in the Closet

Monday, March 23, 2015

In My Absence...

...I worked at work, and then I worked a church fundraiser.

I also managed to squeeze in a bit of a weekend, yesterday afternoon into early evening, which meant time spent with Before the Blood.

And that's it, vampire fans.

First, the fundraiser...

This was our church's 50th annual dinner (St. Nicholoas Orthodox Church, Homewood), and if we never have another, this was a good way to end it. We have, at best, twenty active members at our church. With the exception of three adult children, there is only one member younger than I, and that is not by much, and his health is fragile. The rest are over sixty (including both priests, with our pastor being eight-two), and most are over seventy and eighty.

That was our work crew. Now, no one has said we will not have another dinner. But I am a realist. And next year's dinner is a year away.

Was it hard work? Of course, but there is a special sense of serene stillness and profound joy that happens when you can bless those that have first blessed you. Add to that mix the opportunity to watch the children you have raised do likewise, and the serenity becomes elevated to high praise to a God that allowed you to share in the building-up of such character. Acts that seems ordinary - kitchen prep work for four hours, running the raffle for five, and another two of tear-down, not to mention missing most of liturgy the next day to help in kitchen clean-up - take on a level of extraordinary when performed in that spirit.

Did I mention that most of our spaghetti dinner patrons were also elderly?

In short, we served - and we made people feel like a million bucks. It was a fantastic weekend.

Now for some self-ministry, which is important for we love others with the same measure that we love ourselves. Three weekends back, I was on call; two weekends back, we moved; and last weekend was a hybrid of various activities, which did include some writing. Next week, I am again on call. The following weekend is Pascha.

When life is busy, it's easy to cast aside one's personal needs in favor of more pressing duties. But never addressing yours can produce internal resentment and exhaust the spirit, never a good thing.

So yesterday afternoon, I claimed the room I share with Rebekah and tackled chapter seven of Kellen's story that has stubbornly refused my attemps at rapid completion and worked out the last couple of scenes, leaving only several miscellaneous paragraphs for short bursts of tackling, when time is brief. At that point, the muse had kicked in, so I proceeded to chapter eight, and wrote half. I saw the time, reluctantly shut off the flow, and made some notes of what to write when I return, whenever that is. Although actual minutes and hours were less than I would have liked, the production reflected the opposite and altered my perception of  Monday morning.

This means that, instead of starting the new week a bit weary and frustrated with lack of "me" time, I'm actually rested, refreshed, rejuvenated, and renewed, ready to begin a round of work that won't really pause until the first weekend in April, and happy to be of service, wherever I am called.

And wherever I can squeeze in a bit of vampire fantasy, trust me. I'm gonna do it!

Thursday, March 19, 2015

BryonySeries Throwback Thursday: "Bryony" Prequel Research List

Tuesday, January 31, 2012

"Bryony" Prequel Research List

The maxim "write what you know" delivers some truth, but since my experiential knowledgeconcerning many of the topics assigned to me or elements I'd like to include in my fictional pieces is sadly limited, I spend a happy chunk of my job in research.

As I sloooooowly work on Before the Blood, Bryony's prequel (Oh, for a nice-sized grant to sit in a wooded cabin for a couple of months), here are some of the items I'm investigating and/or refining in regards to any firsthand knowledge I might have (obviously, I have no firsthand knowledge of Victorian living):

   *  music schools, consevatories, and halls

   *  19th century Massachusetts

   *  19th century inns

   *  19th century Roman Catholic churches, New York area

   *  30 Years War

   *  herbal lore

   * Victorian love letters

   *  19th century home environments, all societal classes

   *  oil painting

   *  horticulture

   *  horses and not just Arabians

   *  19th century medicine and diseases

   *  Scandanavian culture

   *  baby names of the various time periods

This is not to mention the wonderful fun of deepening the personalities of existing characters and expounding on their back stories, as well as introducing an entire new cast of secondary places.

Truly, this is a most delightful way to pass the time. :)



Tuesday, March 17, 2015

Making Gossip Work for Your Story

We've all been taught not to do it, but, let's face it, many of us do  it. So why not use it to your advantage?  You can share quite a bit of character information to your readers  by having other characters talk about them behind their backs.

I submit Kimberly Whitney and Lauren Cooper.

Kimberly Whitney from Bryony:

“Tell us about your famous musician,” Kimberly Whitney had said, her blue eyes glinting with uncharacteristic interest. She claimed not to wear contacts, but Melissa knew she was lying. Nobody’s eyes had color that clear. (Bryony, Chapter 2: There's No Such Thing as a Ghost)

“What does Kimberly look like?” he asked.
“Like us, I guess, except she has straight blonde hair and blue eyes.”
“Long lashes, too,” Laura added. “She’s really pretty.”
Officer Will quickly looked down, but Melissa swore she first saw a glimmer of recognition in his eyes. “She’s only seventeen?” His voice shook, but he cleared his throat twice and added, “Was she down on Main Street with you tonight?”
“Yes,” Laura said. “Is that important?”
His cheeks turned bright pink, but he only said, “When did you last see her?” (Bryony, Chapter 8: the Night is Darkest)

That night, on her way to bed, Melissa heard Steve say, “The poor kid,” so she tiptoed to the door.
“I hate to be callous, Steve, but Kimberly’s pulled other stunts like this.”
“She has? And Melissa associates with her? That doesn’t sound like you.”
Kimberly had often boasted how hitchhiking was easy, if you swindled the right sucker. Could Kimberly have outwitted the wrong person?
Her mother sighed. “They’d been friends since kindergarten, so Frank saw no harm if they stayed in a group. I guess we were wrong.” (Bryony, Chapter 8: The Night is Darkest)

Lauren Cooper from Staked!

Before heading toward the nursing home, Melissa stopped at Taylor’s for John-Peter’s school supplies and replacements for the clothes he’d outgrown, but this last was the easiest part of the day, since all he required was jeans and plain T-shirts: green, brown, red, orange, or yellow.  
            “Well,” Melissa said as they waited to check-out.  “When Ann calls to complain, I won’t be able to relate.”
            “Lauren is the little fashion princess, is she not?”
            Melissa grinned as the cashier moved the items down the belt. “Trenton’s demands are not far off either, from what I hear.”
            “Trenton’s style suits the future neurosurgeon. Lauren copies the pseudo-trendy.” (Staked! Chapter 5: The School Physical)

The bell rang. Trenton did not move. John-Peter picked up his tray and headed to the garbage can. Courtney Rogers, the mayor's daughter, sidled up to him. Courtney was Lauren’s best friend, which meant she only talked to John-Peter when Lauren was not around. (Staked! Chapter 6: Outcast)

“Hey, John-Peter,” Trenton said, deftly catching the apple without looking up, “did you know acoustic neuromas grow on the eighth cranial nerve in the inner ear?”
            “I do now.”
            “You’ve got to be careful removing them, too, or you can damage the seventh cranial nerve, maybe even cause hearing loss. Boy, I wish I had that now.”
            “An acoustic neuroma?”
            “No, hearing loss. I’m tired of listening to Lauren’s obsession with Curtis Chandler. She hangs on the phone all night yakking about him.” (Staked! Chapter 10: Teacher's Pet)

“John-Peter, I can hear the weeping now. I’m going to have a bad night.”
            “You broke your forceps?”
          “No, Curtis Chandler broke Lauren’s heart. Haven’t you noticed him hanging all over Karla?” (Staked! Chapter 11: A New Friend)

“Too bad you’re not going, John-Peter,” Karla said. “You should see my dress. It’s lavender with..."
            “Listen to yourself. You sound like Lauren Cooper.”
         Karla giggled. “Lauren Cooper is hopping mad. She got invited to the dance more than anyone else—a couple of guys from Jenson High even called her—but she turned them all down, because she was convinced Curtis was going to change his mind about taking me and ask her instead.” (Staked! Chapter 12: Last Choice)

Karla pushed in and tugged the boy's ear.
    “John-Peter, you listen to me. Lauren Cooper coaxed Curtis into coming home with her after the picnic. One thing led to another and…well…she threatened to tell the whole school what happened if he took me to the dance.” (Staked! Chapter 13: The Mad Scientist)

Monday, March 16, 2015

Why I Disappeared For Two Days

It started off as Facebook's fault.

Lenten services in the next town followed by dinner out with friends has made Friday nights late before taking fiction into account. Then on Saturday, I had to be up especially early for a doctor's appointment with Daniel.

I settled down at the computer with my coffee for a quick few postings and off I went. When I returned, I found that the posts hadn't posted. When I tried to repost, they wouldn't. I logged in and out, and then logged in and out from different browsers. 


I couldn't post, and they hadn't posted. So I texted Sarah. She said the posts were there. I checked. Rebekah checked from her phone. No posts. So Sarah screenshotted it and texted it to me. The text didn't come through. So she texted it to Rebekah. The text didn't come through.

Sometimes I really hate technology.

But there was nothing I could do about it. If it persisted, I could contact Facebook, but I've been doing social media long enough to realize glitches occur. I decided to "wait and see" first.

I wrote, went bowling with Daniel, and wrote some more, about a thousand words in a chapter in Before the Blood I've been pecking out little by little as my muse has been stubborn. It finally woke up the next morning on a very full day about twenty minutes before I had to leave for church. Figures.

I could either post or spill those words onto the page. I did the latter.

This morning, Facebook is behaving itself...so far, but it's early.

Happy Monday!

Friday, March 13, 2015

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

A smorgasboard of writers and stories this week, as I struggle on with IT problems at work, grrrr....

Joliet diocese mission trip provides perspective to college students
By Brittany Keeperman

And here they thought the only ministry was the one they were providing.

An Extraordinary Life: Joliet dentist valued faith and family

And golf. Do not forget about golf. ;)

Pets of the Week (complied by me)

Live in the Joliet area and seeking the purrfect furry companion? Look no further for canines and felines.

Lewy Body Dementia - indescribable, heartbreaking
By Sean Leary

Often misdiganosed in its early stages, Lewy Body Dementia is as devastating as Alzheimer's.

The Priests bring its unique music ministry to the Rialto Square Theatre in Joliet

Timothy first introduced this trio to me on the route. What joy to throw newspapers in the middle of the night to such glorious refrains! He really, really wants to go and take me along, but we just moved, and the money, I fear, is not in the budget.

Plainfield artist offers art and culture in a fun, hands-on way
By Brittany Keeperman

Dottie Mueller's talent and teaching abilities are diverse. But perhaps the most intriguing part is that she teaches others how to be good, too.

Thursday, March 12, 2015

BryonySeries Throwback Thursday: Every House Tells a Story (by Sarah Stegall)

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Every House Tells a Story.

I stepped back into history last Saturday morning when I stepped forward into the P. Seth Magosky Museum of Victorian Life. With the exceptions of brownies in the parlor and the filmming equipment in the sitting room, nothing appeared to have been changed in over 100 years! Pat Magosky even offered me tea!

A few members of the Bryony team, author included, were there for the filming. I felt like such a celebrity being fitted with a microphone and sharing news about the first book in the Bryony Series. And lets face it, I did fly almost 2,000 miles in two days to bowl in the fundraiser for Big Brothers, Big Sisters and for this book interview. After wrapping up the final take, I got to explore this beautiful house. Ever hear every house tells a story? Well this one can fill its own library.

In the basement you had the servant's quarters and what was once the kitchen, now boasting a bar with tables around the fireplace. On the main floor, when you enter, is the gorgeous staircase, the parlor, sitting room, the porch, a modernish bathroom, and the dining room which features a grand piano (I played it). On the second floor there are three bedrooms a sitting alcove, the library and a bathroom. I spent more time than I should have ooohing and aaahing.

On the third floor, I was enthralled in the "doll room." It might have once been a toy room from the look of it, but now it features dolls from all over, most of them very old. In the ballroom, I played Bethoven's "Ode to Joy" on the pipe organ (coincidentally the only song I've ever been taught) and imagined what life would have been like over 100 years ago.

There was one thing I would not partake in. On the third floor, there is a spiral stepping, (no banister) which has lots of movement. Pat Magosky offers all guests the opportunity to climb up and see the view of Joliet, IL. It's about twenty feet up... I climbed a third of the way up, but I was overwhelmed with more than nagging thoughts about my little boy who I was already missing. I didn't want to put myself in any conflicting situations so I climbed down. (This does say quite a bit about my changed character, because a decade ago I would of raced up those stairs, high heels and all).

As I made my descent down from the third floor I felt a bonding with Bryony's main character, Melissa Marchellis. I could easily see myself living between two time periods. As I felt the polished banister beneath my hand, an overwhelming sense of sadness enveloped me. This house boasts a beautiful history and I wonder how many people will never see the inside, where the rooms come alive, their stories lingering on every object.

Sarah Stegall

Tuesday, March 10, 2015

A Change in Setting

“You know, John-Peter, this is what pleases me about Munsonville. Nothing ever changes. Look at this snow. It snows like this year after year. I have no reason to expect that this winter will be any different from all the other winters I have known. Munsonville is safe, dependable, just like God.” Staked! Chapter 17, The Gift from the Grave

If any words were so untrue, it's these. Munsonville, like any locale, DOES change.

By the time Melissa experiences it for the first time in Bryony, it's changed. The background chatter is all about how the village wants to restore parts of the Simons estate for tourism. 

Of course, John Simons taking up residence in the village changes it, as we eventually learn in Before the Blood, but don't worry. You'll be able to see Munsonville even before John's appearance. 

By the end of Bryony, the landscape has again changed and so has Melissa.

It's a different Munsonville in Visage. In Staked!, we find John-Peter and Karla naively unaware  that the Munsonville they inhabit is not the same Munsonville the readers have previously experienced, and even that is changed by the end of the story.

Again, so is Melissa. And then it, and she, changes again.

Setting is not static, nor should we, as fiction writers, write it that way. Show the changes, subtle or not. Show how those changes affect your characters, subtle or not. Our suroundings shift and change. We cannot help but shift and change to accomodate them.

This past weekend, we moved, the fourth move in less than eighteen months. 

We broke down our Channahon house, disposed of most of our belongings, stored the rest in a 10' by 10' foot storage unit - yes, the lifetime possessions of four people - and moved into a relative's home that we "affectionately" called Stalag 17.

Nine months later, the four of us moved into a four-room apartment we dubbed Ellis Island - the transition from one life to the next.

A month later, we broke down the storage unit and tossed away more stuff. The remaining items went to the apartment.

And here we are, seven months later, moving into a townhome across the street from the apartment. We have a nickname for this place, too.

We're calling it "home."

Never did the four of us think that we, together under one roof, would call a place "home" again. We're all adults now and moving at a steady pace into new lives. But God had one more transitional surprise for us. It feels good. We like it. We're happy.

Surprise your characters. Surprise your readers. Shake up your landscape.

Grow and change them all. 

For more ideas: http://blog.nathanbransford.com/2015/03/the-importance-of-change-in-setting.html

Friday, March 6, 2015

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

On a roll these last few weeks. Without further ado, a bit of the fruit from this week's labors.

Joliet surgeon strives to be capable, compassionate
By Sean Leary

Talk about cutting edge! This doctor is young and a powerhouse of skill and caring when it comes to plastic surgery, and no, I'm not talking body sculpting.


An Extraordinary Life: Homer Township's Larry Berg was quite the man

He beat the odds to success and built community wherever he went.


Joliet orthopaedic surgeon works to reduce pain, restore movement

He's second in the state for an unusual procedure.


Grace United Methodist hosts fresh telling of a familar gospel

Biblical storytelling group will present the entire book of Mark this Sunday.


Joliet Fransiscans will host art celebration on March 15

As part of its 150th anniverary year, the Sisters of St. Francis of Mary Immaculate will pay tribute to its art legacy through displays and musical performances. Be sure to click on this story. The attached video of the chime choir is just too cute.


Thursday, March 5, 2015

BryonySeries Throwback Thursday: Snowbell

Wednesday, October 27, 2010


One of my favorite childhood novels--the title escapes me--was about a girl who raised a white Persian stray that her siblings called a "ghost cat."

The story opens when the girl--I think her name was Gloria--stands outside a house rumored to be haunted and waits for the ghost of Miss Nancy Rose. This was a woman who was accidentally shot dead while carrying a bunch of lilacs and running outside to meet her lover. I don't even remember who shot her, but her ghost was supposed to appear around dusk.

Anyway, Gloria is half-hoping, half-not hoping to meet this ghost, either to prove or dispel the legend. Of course, no ghost appears, but as Gloria turns to leave, this white Persian cat emerges from the lilac bushes. In stunned disbelief, Gloria takes the cat home, wondering if it's a real cat of the ghost of Miss Nancy Rose.

This was the inspiration behind Brian's cat, Snowbell. The cat's exact role in Bryony is nearly as mysterious as her sudden appearance at the Marchellis' back door. To the people who have previewed Bryony, Snowbell has represented different things and all of them are different from my intention for the cat.

As I've moved through the editing process, I've considered strengthening my point of view regarding Snowbell, then discarded the idea. Hearing everyone else's take makes Snowbell a satisfying, shadowing character. I like her that way.

Denise M. Baran-Unland

Tuesday, March 3, 2015

Personalize Your Novel: Motifs and Epigraphs


A motif is a symbol or collection of symbols and ideas that are repeated throughout your novel that enhances your theme and conjure up your book(s) to readers long after the last page is read. In the BryonySeries, these include:

* mist

* The song, Bryony

* the music box that plays, Bryony

* purple roses

* a flock of crows (otherwise called "a murder")

* the exchange of blood in many forms AND

* the emphasis on food and eating (think about that)

* the mention of fairies and fairy tales

* limericks

* bryony (vine and name), vines, and herbs

* Irish soda bread

* vanilla ice cream

* white cats

* leprechauns

* writing, literature, especially Charles Dickens' Tale of Two Cities

* Henry's love of quotes

* predators of varying kinds

Even my repeated dedication: This book is lovingly dedicated to the reader, whoever you might be

An epigraph is a quote used at the beginning of your book or preceding each of your chapters that ties into its theme. Examples from my books include:

Bryony: Bryony is a rapidly growing invasive perennial vine, with dark green, palmate leaves and a thick, extensive rooting system. Its round berries are poisonous to humans and animals. (epigraphish)

Visage: There are a sort of men whose visages do cream and mantle like a standing pond, and do a willful stillness entertain, with purpose to be dress'd in opinion of wisdom, gravity, profound conceit, as who should say, "I am Sir Oracle, and when I open up my lips no dog bark!" William Shakespeare, Merchant of Venice

Staked!: Think now and then that there is a man who would give his life, to keep a life you love beside you!" Charles Dickens, A Tale of Two Cities

Monday, March 2, 2015

Modest Success with the Writer's Block

Skipping over a few passages and returning later to fill in the blanks, in a paint-by-word fashion, seemed to help, at least for this particular "Kellen Wechsler" chapter in Before the Blood.

It also meant I could make progress while not getting too drawn into the story, since I was the editor-on-call this past weekend.

What's now remaining in chapter seven is several scenes that go together (where inspiration is still slow to materialize), and several smaller exposition sections that I broke down into a couple paragraphs each, and then assigned each grouping to a night, Sunday through Wednesday.

And then I didn't get Sunday's section written, LOL.

However, I also sifted through nearly one thousand backed-up emails on my AOL account. including some very important ones that were overlooked amongst social media notifications, doubles I had ignored, items that needed to go into community calendars, etc.

While doing so, I'd handed off the fabrication of last night's dinner to Daniel, who didn't fabricate nearly as quickly as I could, so I wound up helping out, and suddenly, POOF! It got late.

Still, despite missing church again, it was a rather productive weekend, overall. I'm also getting a little more confident "minding the shop," as it were. Some things that would have rattled me just a few months ago, I now handled with ease.

Of course, I still have much to learn, and I'm eager to learn it. In addition, from a writer's block point of view, I learned several things.

One: It's okay to procrastinate in front of the computer if your brain is simmering at the same time.

Two: Just like insomniacs are told to get out of bed if they can't fall asleep, I now try to walk away from the computer if ideas are just not generating and find something else (i.e. a non-writing activity, and yes, they do exist) to do.

Three: Skipping over details that need research and coming back to them later serves two purposes. It doesn't stall the muse when it's working at warp speed, and it gives you something to do when the muse is taking an extended nap.

Four: Breaking up troublesome passages into smaller, easier-to-manage scenes helps to coax a reluctant muse into action.

So, overall, the view over the top of the coffee mug (a white one with blue letters saying "The Herald-News," a gift from our marketing manager) on this brisk and chilly Monday morning is a sunny one, and I'm joyfully anticipating a new week.

Hope you are, too. (Raising coffee mug). Happy Monday! :)