Friday, October 30, 2015

Three Weeks of Story Round-Up: Features in The Herald-News, Oct.11 through Oct. 30

To say it's been a crazy month is putting it mildly.

The extreme business at the beginning of this month, which slid into a weekend on-call, which slid into my covering a story that a freelancer dropped at the last minute on a Sunday, which slid into an abundance of holiday event information needed to be processed that will likely continue through the end of the year, and the fact I'm shooting more video to accompany those stories (and having fun doing it) - all of these contributed to a sense of not being able to catch-up.

Today, we catch-up.

Sidebar: With a resolve made a week or so ago to spend a little time each morning on Before the Blood, i am happy to report that i have done so each day. Now today might be the grand exception, but as I enter a non-working weekend with an extra daylight savings time hour looming ahead, I'm able to cut myself that slack without resentment.

And now, ahem.

Below are cover stories and the link to the feature briefs and event calendars, which I write/edit. The fourth calendar, Gotta Do It, runs each Sunday and often stays on the home page through the week.

The link to features briefs and calendars:

And as Kate Schott, our newspaper's managing editor would say: Thank you for reading The Herald-News.

Proceeds from Witches Night Out and Witches Ball will help women in need (VIDEO EXTRA)
By Sean Leary

Although the events have passed, read about the cackling good time these ladies provided to the community with a goal of raising lots of funds.

An Extraordinary Life: Joliet woman's spirituality influenced her attitude and actions.

Lucille Smith was ahead of her time in terms of research and social justice. Learn how this woman of deep faith, made a difference in simple, yet profound ways.

Joliet-area oncologist optimistic about new lung cancer treatments
By Jeanne Millsap

Two women, two different experiences of lung cancer. One oncologist discussing the disease and how treatments are changing to affect its course.

Former Illinois state police officer opens Catholic bookstore in Mokena.

It's a longstanding dream job come true - and the two jobs have one trait in common, said the owner.

Joliet Junior College culinary students to offer wine-pairing dinner (VIDEO EXTRA)
By Dawn Aulet

The annual dinner was an outstanding success, due, in part, to the publicity this story provided. See how this little known weekly dinner series the culinary students prepare and serve give them real-world experiences with upscale dining.

An Extraordinary Life: Minooka teacher remembered for strength, humor (VIDEO EXTRA)

She left the world far too soon, but what she gave the world while in it will endure for many lifetimes.

Plainfield man believes his invention will save lives

The challenge is convincing health professionals. Here's the scoop on the invention and a thoughtful perspective from one CEO that purchased a case for his hospital.

Christian tattoo artist is marked for Christ

His work is now his ministry - and he probably removes more tattoos than he provides, for solid reasons.

Joliet Area Community Hospice Guild to host 28th luncheon and fashion show (VIDEO EXTRA)

Style shows are not a quaint relic from the past, not for this guild, but a much-anticipated yearly event that raises thousands of dollars for hospice. Why? How? Read on!

Joliet/Will County Project Pride honors people that make the area a great place to life (VIDEO EXTRA)

See why this recognition organization is still active three decades later, and learn how it plans to stay so.

An Extraordinary Life: Minooka man was giant among men

This big man had a big heart and integrity to match both.

Cancer nurse from Plainfield lobbies for her patients

Learn about a shocking co-pay Medicare patients often pay for a routine procedure, what one nurse did about it, and how you can help, too.

Member of Faith Lutheran Church in Joliet shares experiences in Guatemala and Cuba (VIDEO EXTRA)

This was not the typical mission trip.

Shorewood man honored for his filmmaking (VIDEO EXTRA)

Yes, it's possible for indie filmmakers to get their due. Check out the links to his horror films and the video extras that teach you how to make inexpensive "monster" blood in time for Halloween.

Thursday, October 29, 2015

BryonySeries Throwback Thursday: Why Vampires

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Why Vampires?

I’m not sure why, but of all the supernatural creatures, witches and vampires have held their greatest appeal.

My fascination with witches stretches so far backward in time that it's almost subliminal. I have no idea where or how it began. I only remember wanting to dress up as a witch every Halloween, but my mother preferred less gory attire. I was a cowgirl in kindergarten and a drum majorette for the next couple years, followed by a cleaning lady.

My official introduction to vampires is easier to pinpoint. A neighbor boy was obsessed with monsters and knew all the old movies that had been made about them; he got us hooked. Each summer, one television stationed offered a morning movie series called, “Creature Features,” where, for a week or two, five days a week, it broadcasted those old favorites.

Somewhere, along the way, I decided vampires held an appeal mystique than werewolves (a close second), to Frankenstein, mummies, or Godzilla. I’ve not outgrown that attraction.

Tuesday, October 27, 2015

Do You See What I Did Here?

So in last week's WriteOn Joliet, members shared original pieces that related to the theme "haunted." My co-leader had written a short murder/suicide story without ever describing the murder or the suicide. It was a fantastic example of showing and not telling, as well as subtling inferring. I love writing like that.

Here's an excerpt from Before the Blood. It appears to be a simple adult spelling bee at a Thanksgiving church potluck. Yes, I know you won't be able to follow all the characters as most of them will be new to you.

But among the action, something else happens. I keep the "something" lowkey because the action is being observed by a nine-year-old girl, who wouldn't necessarily grasp it on an adult level, but it's one of those cool things that kids absorb and help for the grown-ups they become.

Oh, and by the way, the prize is a brand-new copy of Webster's Unabridged Dictionary.

"Ladies, gentlemen, children, and the rest of you!" Mr. Munson held up McGuffey's Eclectic Spelling Book as he fairly skipped to the front. "We shall now begin our annual spell-off. Contestants, step forward, if you please."

            The misters Dalton, Fisher, and Hasset, along with Mayor Pike (accompanied by jeers from Mr. Bass) and Harvey Griffith, paraded to the front of the room.

            Mr. Stuart Drake, hands clenched at his sides, grave and unsmiling, looked as mouse-like as he appeared: gray hair, gray eyes, gray pinstriped suit, and a pensive, slightly quivering, gray mustache.

            Even with straightened shoulders and the thick brown coat he was growing to hide his baby face, Mr. James Fisher appeared as young as Harvey Griffith and almost as out of step with the men, as he was not quite average in height and still carried his childhood fat. Like Mr. Drake, Mr. Fisher, who strongly believed in soberly executing God's will in all matters, also didn't smile, but his eyes were merry, and this quality saved Mr. Fisher from becoming as dour as the shopkeeper.

            Mr. Dick Hasset, The Munsonville Times' founder and editor, had a style all his own. He wasn't debonair like Mayor Pike, formal like Reverend, or extemporaneous like other village men, not with a waxed handlebar mustache and expanding collection of loud bowties to decorate his high starched collars. Today's tie was bright red with large white spots, which seemed to proclaim, "This man publishes the truth, but he doesn't take life seriously."

            Mayor Pike, in a tailored dark suit of brushed wool and standing taller than the rest, watched Janet with eyes of deep love and slowly stroked his satyr beard as he gazed about the room, happily waiting for the fun to begin.

            Harvey Griffith, scarcely twenty, fidgeted with the uncertainty of his newfound place among Munsonville's elite. Compounding Harvey's discomfiture was Harvey's old clothes and his rebellious thick hair, dutifully manicured before worship services and now sprouting a meadow of upright hair. Nevertheless, Harvey's uninhibited smile showed he was clearly excited about being included in this year's competition.

            "It's only fitting," Mr. Munson said as he returned to the speller to Janet, "that our own schoolteacher does the pronouncing! Am I right?"

            His response was a hum of agreement, and a few fist thumps of agreement, and one, "Yeah!" from Mr. Griffith.

            Mr. Bass rang out, "Break a leg, Bosie! Ha!" and returned to his applejack.

            "Why doesn't Mayor Pike punch 'im in the noze?" Susan whispered as she slipped in the chair Mrs. Parks' had forsaken.

            "Because Mayor Pike doesn't believe in violets."

            Susan turned to her in puzzled surprise. Bryony shrugged and whispered back, "I heard Father tell Aunt Bertha."

            "Ders violets in de woods. Ain't he seen 'em?"

            "Father didn't say."

            "I'd still punch 'im in the noze."

            "Me, too."

            Smiling at Mayor Pike, Mrs. Pike opened the speller.

            "Gentlemen, you know the rules. Ten second pause, one chance to spell correctly. Rounds will continue until one person wins the dictionary. Any questions?"

            Mayor Pike raised his hand. "Lady Headmistress, will you start off easy, to warm us up?"

            "Oh, for Christ's sake, Bosie!"

            Mrs. Pike smiled and called out the first words: futile, yield, mercantile, bromine, and jugular. The men instinctively thrust out their chests at each correct word, as the words increased in difficulty with each succeeding round.

            Mr. Drake went down first, after spelling egregious as eggregious, and his expression turned from deadpan to sullen. Stuffing his hands in his pockets, he strode through the aisles, jerking his first head at Addison, who immediately grabbed his coat and darted after his father, and then to Mrs. Drake, who already had Norton stuffed inside his little jacket and the baby wrapped in blankets.

            Mr. Fisher loudly spelled egregious and then fecund after that. The rounds continued.

            Mayor Pike fell next, spelling mementos as momenteos, which caused a murmur to spread around the room, and Mrs. Pike to blink, stare at him in stunned disbelief, and then  turn to Mr. Munson, who was leaning forward and frowning.

            But Mayor Pike was cheerfully offhand about his mistake, and with an, "Oh, well, shouldn't have drank that last applejack," headed to the barrel for another, with Mr. Munson's gaze suspiciously following him.

            Mr. Hasset corrected Mayor Pike's mistake and then misspelled harangue by adding an extra "r." This time, it was Mrs. Hasset, carrying a bowl of cobbler back to her place, who stared, obviously mistrusting what her ears just heard.

            "Janet?" Mrs. Hasset asked.

            But Mrs. Pike put a finger to her lips and nodded to Harvey Griffith. He correctly spelled harangue and then verdigris. Only Harvey and Mr. Fisher were left standing. Mayor Pike was happily quaffing his applejack while a skeptical Mr. Munson studied him. Mr. Hasset had joined them, cheeks bright red and grinning like the time Norton had sneaked one of the store's cookies without either Mr. or Mrs. Drake catching him.

            "Comorant," Mrs. Pike said.

            Harvey  slowly called out each letter and then Mr. Fisher did the same with cog noscible.

            Mrs. Fisher jostled Heather up and down the aisles. The baby wasn't fussing, but it gave Mrs. Fisher the chance to beam triumphantly at Mr. Fisher.

            "Talk 'bout puttin' the cart afore the horse," Mr. Parks said in a low voice to Mrs. Parks.

            "I agree, Orville. It's premature for Maybelle to be gloating. James can still lose."

            Harvey spelled rheumatism, and Mr. Fisher spelled sphinx.

            "To Harvey?" Mr. Parks tried not laugh, and apple jack ran out of his nose.

            Harvey spelled mosque, and Mr. Fisher spelled isochronous.

            "Harvey is quite the intelligent young man. And, even if he wasn't, James Fisher isn't invincible, Orville."

            Harvey spelled gondolier, and Mr. Fisher spelled garrulous.
            "Best tell Maybelle that, sweetie." Mr. Bass said.

            Mrs. Bass smirked at her husband. "Some men are true heroes, Teddy."

            "James ain't one of them. He just thinks he is."

            Harvey spelled peremptory, and Mr. Fisher spelled redundant as redundent.

            Maybelle cried, "NO!" and burst into tears. A startled Heather, rudely awakened from twilight sleep by her mother's wails, joined her.

            Harvey spelled it correctly, and everyone clapped, except Maybelle who was sobbing over the applause, even with Mrs. Pike trying to comfort her.

            Dictionary in hand, Mr. Munson dashed up to Harvey, raised the boy's right hand in triumph, and shouted, "I present to you Harvey Griffith, Munsonville's spelling champ of 1884!"

            Harvey stood open-mouthed, pink-cheeked, and bewildered.

            Mr. Munson heartily shook his hand. "Son, treasure this prize-winning dictionary always, for between its pages are the words that literally slew your opponents."

            He tossed back his head and roared at his joke, while Harvey could only blurt out, "Thankee, sir. I will, sir."

Monday, October 26, 2015

Something Cool I Just Realized

So I'm off this weekend, and it's a great weekend for writing vampire fiction.

I can write into the midnight hours on Friday night, which bumps into Halloween, which bumps into costumes and Halloween plans, which bumps into writing into the midnight hours until sleep over takes me with no phone alarm in sight because Timothy will be going out of town on Sunday morning, and we have no transportation to church forty miles away.

A huge chunk of weekend end over Halloween for Before the Blood?

I'm titling it: Witching Hour for the Muse.

So stoked!

Sunday, October 25, 2015

Minding the Shop

Busy weekend - the weekend editor for two newspapers, some of my own work that spilled into the weekend, and catching up on bills and other mundane chores/errands that keep getting pushed back for lack of time.

But my plan this morning is to leave shortly for church (We will miss next week for lack of transportation) and work on four things I really need to have done before tomorrow, if I don't want Monday to be stressful. And hopefully I will be able to help with a bit of the daily housework instead of pushing it all onto Rebekah and Daniel (again).

Although, on the other hand, they often are good about it, since that means I can spend an hour or so engaged with them. But still...

Doesn't sound like a great weekend to you?

Well, here's the deal.

It's been productive. It's not every weekend. And I totally adore this job.

Furthermore, I worked a portion of a scene in Before the Blood that just wasn't coming together. I began the last one in a very long chapter five. Now, I won't get that finished, but I'm hoping to break that final scene into "homework" sections and assign them to various weekday mornings, so I come into next weekend with chapter five complete.

Sounds like a great weekend to me.

Thursday, October 22, 2015

BryonySeries Throwback Thursday: Soup Powder

Thursday, September 29, 2011

Soup Powder

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, October 20, 2015

No-Excuse Writing

Read this quote by "unknown" over the weekend: You always have time for the things you put first.

Don't have time to write? Put it first.

I have found that when I place the things I need/want to do at the end of my day, the day gets away from me. The things I want/need to do are long, and the days (it seems) are short.

So, I have reprioritized and altered my day. It's Day Two of spending a little time with the Before the Blood before I turn to the obligations. Enjoyable obligations, you understand, but obligations.

Certainly, I don't have time to sink myself into the pages. But I can make some progress every morning. I did yesterday, and I did today.

No time to write? We all have the same twenty-four hours. How we choose to spent it is up to us.

Much can be accomplished over time by judiciously using small increments of time. The fabled tortoise knows this as truth.

On weekends when I'm not on call, I can sprint.

The rest of the time, I'll just have to inch my way through. 

Either way, I'm going to write. How about you?

Monday, October 19, 2015

Off to a Good Start

I edited some of the work I'd done this past weekend in Before the Blood.

Since I run out of time and mental capacity at night, let's see if this works better.

Here's hoping! (Raising coffee mug high).

Sunday, October 18, 2015

Cinnamon Coffee Cake

Neither Melissa nor Brian felt at ease during the unfamiliar church services in memory of their grandmother. The array of delicious food at the potluck luncheon that followed was more appealing, including this coffee cake.

Cinnamon Coffee Cake
By Janet Cooney

2 ¼ cups flour
¾ cups sugar
1 teaspoon salt
1 cup brown sugar
¾ cup oil
1 cup buttermilk
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon baking powder
½ teaspoon cinnamon
1 egg

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Stir together flour, sugar, salt and brown sugar. Add oil. Set aside one cup of mixture for topping. In a separate bowl mix buttermilk, baking soda, baking powder, cinnamon, and egg. Add the flour and sugar mixture; mix well. Pour into greased 9x13-inch pan. Sprinkle reserved cup for topping. Bake at 350 degrees for 40 minutes and enjoy! Yield: 20 to 25 pieces.

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

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

Thursday, October 15, 2015

BryonySeries Throwback Thursday: Play Day

Thursday, August 4, 2011

Play Day

Yesterday, I did something I rarely do. I took nearly an entire day off.

A few weeks ago, my mother mentioned something regarding the river walk in Naperville. I nodded politely, and she noticed, perplexed. So, I told her I’ve never been to Naperville, which is about forty-minutes from home.

Stunned silence from my mother, than a shocked, “What?”

I reminded her I spent the first half of my adult life broke and raising six home-schooled children, so our activities were family-oriented (with other families in the same boat) and very creative.

Then I spent several years working from home delivering newspapers and writing) as a single parent. I remarried eleven years ago, but still work many, many hours from home, generally seven days a week. Plus, I’m still home-schooling two teens. My world opens from the computer screen out.

Because my fiftieth birthday fell on a Friday (warehouse day), we delayed the official celebration for two days. Our pastor baked a raspberry cheesecake, and Rebekah baked a piano-shaped cake.

My old asthmatic, but power-walking, lungs blew out all fifty candles to a giant cloud of choking smoke. Then I retreated to the attic and deadlines. Rebekah brought a slice of cake to me. I ate it while I typed.

So my seventy-five-year old mother decided to celebrate my half-century mark with a day in Naperville for a nice lunch, a walk by the river, and the browsing in shops.

I ate chocolate, flipped through books, got some ducks going by quacking at them, and added a crayon picture of bryony vines to a bulletin board of children’s art in a spice shop.

While driving back, my husband Ron called and told us to go straight home; he had already cleaned the warehouse. Christopher had made dinner. Then while I was checking mail, Daniel did all the chores. All that was left was shower and bed.

The best part, is that my sister and her youngest daughter joined us for the day and booked me for another day next week off BEFORE we said our good-byes. We’re going back on Wednesday for a day at Naperville’s beach-like pool area.

My sister is smart, too. She not only asked me while I was there, she had confirmed it by email by the time I was online, before I could schedule interviews and stories for Wednesday.

It’s been so long since I’ve been swimming (and I LOVE the water), that I don’t even own a swimsuit, so my sister’s checking to see if she has anything in my size. I feel SO relaxed right now, I might do this again once or twice in the next fifty years.

Tuesday, October 13, 2015

My Progress on Writing "Voice"

Lately, I've been studying voice-making or the technique of making characters sound different through written words.

Yes, I've done this in previous books, but writing Before the Blood is more challenging because I'm introducing many characters simultaneously and many more after that, part of building an entire village from nearly nothing.

Here's some of what what I'm learning, learning in new ways, and simply having reinforced. Consider:

1) Consider dialects and word patterns

2) Likes/dislikes

3) Mannerisms

4) Interests

5) Confidence level/attitude

6) Word choices appropriate for age, sex, location, time period

7) Back story (the character's, not the plot's).

Although I'm slowly writing new scenes, I'm taking passes at previous ones and strengthening the voices of the characters in those scenes. By tightening those voices now, I believe it will make those characters come even more alive for me and make it easier to write new scenes.

Here's one scene for a Thanksiving potluck in the basement of Munsonville Congregational Church. How am I doing?

Soon Mrs. Parks was filling Bryony's tin plate with salt cod in gravy, boiled beans, browned potatoes, baked carrots, cornbread, and apple pudding.

            "Bertha," Mrs. Hasset said as they reached the end of the serving line. She was a plain, but stunning brunette, serious in all matters, as befitted a newspaperwoman, and the only woman Bryony had ever met that consistently wore high lace collars as well as eyeglasses. "Wherever is Reverend? Will he not join us this evening?"

            Mrs. Pike chose that moment to link her arm through Mrs. Hasset's and lead her away, saying, "Lula, have you seen the latest pattern in 'Godey's Lady's Book?'"

            Bryony's cheeks burned, but Mrs. Parks covered the disgrace with a firm grasp on Bryony's wrist as she pushed past the chairs to where Mr. Parks was entertaining Mr. Bass with another fish story. Reverend never celebrated holidays; he didn't believe in them.

            Mr. Parks' ruddy face gleamed with sweat, and his thick fingers gripped his tin. Mr. Bass sat across from him, red-faced and sipping his drink for a change. His lopsided grin resembled that on a Hoberdy lantern because one side of his "Man in the Moon" face was puffy and bruised.

            "So after I reeled him in, Teddy, that durned walleye..."

            "Orville, please watch Bryony."

            "Sure, Bertha, sure." He glanced at Bryony." Now clean yore plate or no dessert. So, Teddy, that fish likely measured..."

            Bryony untied the yarn, unrolled the strip of gray flannel, and tucked it into her collar.

            Mr. Bass took a longer sip. "Walleyes don't grow more'n a foot ana half."

            "Wouldn't believed it if I hadn't seen it with my own eyes." Mr. Parks pointed to one eye and then the other.

            "But three feet? C'mon, Orville!"

            "Teddy, he'd have sunk the boat if I hadn't thrown him back."

            At that moment, Mr. Munson appeared. He threw his arms around Mr. Parks' neck and kissed the top of his sweaty head. "Now gentlemen, don't be shy. There's plenty of barrels, and we don't plan on wasting 'em."

            Mr. Parks jumped to his feet.

            "Orville!" Mrs. Parks had returned with her own food.

            "On second thought, I think I'll grab some grub."

            "Why, that's just what Teddy was thinking, too," Mrs. Bass smiled sweetly at Mr. Munson  as she placed her plate close to Mr. Bass' right hand. Her cheeks were red like apples, even though she wasn't drinking applejack, and one of her bright blue eyes sported a shiner. "Teddy, please help me with my chair."

            Without looking at her, Mr. Bass pulled it away from the table and  took a swig. Mrs. Parks settled at Bryony's right.

            Mr. Munson, ever the exuberant host, moved down the rows. "Dick, don't be shy! Why there's plenty..."

            "Your wife is right," Mrs. Parks looked sternly at Mr. Bass. "The food is going fast."

            "Don't start, Bertha. I hear enough from her." Mr. Bass jerked his head in Mrs. Bass' direction and finished the contents of his mug.

            "I'm merely concerned for your health, Mr. Bass. I'm sure a great big enormous man like you would die of shame if he fainted in a room full of ladies."

            "And you need someone to shut yer fat mouth, sweetie."

            Mrs. Parks smothered a smile as she wedged the napkin into her collar and picked up her fork. Mrs. Bass also began to eat, but her gaze followed Mr. Munson as he roamed the room.

            "Gus! Why the empty mug?" Mr. Munson's voice rang out over the din. "Don't you see those barrels?

Sunday, October 11, 2015

Meet a Really Outstanding Young Man: Daniel Baran Turns 20

Twenty years ago today, I was recovering from my sixth C/section.

Today, I couldn't be more proud of my youngest son.

For anyone unfamiliar with the challenges we faced with Daniel as a family, challenges that he has overcome, here's a peek:

We won't recoup the horrible years. Let me tell you where Daniel is now.

This young man started taking general education classes at Joliet Junior College at what would have been his junor year of high school. He earned his GED the following fall, as we were losing our home and were officially homeless, is currently enrolled in the school's automotive program, and works in the college's food service. Just last week as I was packing food for work, he read an email someone had sent his boss, praising Daniel's service. Daniel said his boss has received about a dozen others since last April.

This weekend I was the weekend editor for two newspapers. At the moment, we are short-staffed, so while accomodations are made most of the time for life events, that doesn't always happen, so I put on my big girl hat and did it. On Sundays, however, unless news breaks - and that can never be predicted - my duties are social media (which I do during the week anyway) and maybe the editing of a story or two, really nothing that time-consuming.

Daniel really wanted me to watch "Smallville" with him after church. That was his sole birthday request. I figured that's easy. If news breaks, he'll pause the show; I'll address the news; and then we get back to it.

Easy. Yeah, okay.

Because Daniel doesn't like cake, Rebekah, our pastry "chef" made Daniel's two most favorite desserts: pumpkin pie and mint chocolate ice cream. She made enough to share at church. That means four pies and GALLONS of ice cream. 

Good so far.

We got to church for the last fifteen minutes because I was busy with work. They could have left without me, but that's not the type of kids my adult children are. After liturgy, with our 82-year-old pastor Fr. Boris leading the singing, we sang "Happy Birthday" and "God Grant You Many Years" to Daniel. Then Fr. Boris presented Daniel with a $20 bill, adding, "But when you turn 50, just smile!"

Good so far. Remember that $20.

Long story short, someone couldn't cover a story this afternoon, the main story for Monday's paper. So our photo editor was called in to shoot it, and I went to cover it. I could have borrowed Daniel's car, but Daniel insisted on taking me.

It was a 100th birthday party (ironically) and tribute celebration for a founder of a local community. Daniel got to meet a state senator, who was also celebrating his birthday today. That was cool. While I interviewed and shot video, Daniel ran to the mall and surprised me with a Gloria Jean. 

Yes, he suprised me. On his birthday. When no one has money for presents for him, including me. 

Then he dropped me off at work, insisting that I call when done so he can drive me home. I can walk, but again, he insisted.

On the way home, he told me that he gave the $20 away to his oldest brother, who just lost his job, had a baby, and who needed gas money. Then Daniel gave another $20 to a homeless woman with a hacking cough and a cardboard sign. He figured God put him on this earth to help people, what better way than on his birthday?

Then he worried that maybe his motives weren't pure enough, that he did so hoping people would think he was a good person. I told him to let it go and not overthink it.

While I went upstairs to get some more work done, he and Rebekah cleaned the house, so I would have time to watch 30 minutes of something with them after my shower before we all have to go to bed, as we all have to be up super-early. They are finishing up as I write this.

Am I complaining? No. I love my job and don't mind the hours. On that same note, the kids all work long hours and go to school. So we all get it. And we all feel blessed to be so busy with things we love. That just had to be said.

So although what little plans we made for Daniel's birthday went south, he actually had a fantastic birthday.
And I just wanted you to know what a phenomenal young man my youngest son is and how stupid proud I am of him.

Happy 20th birthday, Daniel John Baran!

Friday, October 9, 2015

Story Round-Up: Features in The Herald-News, Oct. 4 through Oct. 9

So this was a nice shout-out to my story on Joliet Area Community Hospice volunteers. I would never have seen this if a bank teller hadn't mentioned it to me last week: Rarely, do I receive such public thanks. It felt good.

Wonder what I do when I'm not writing fiction? Well, here ya go!

Below are cover stories and the link to the feature briefs and event calendars, which I write/edit. The fourth calendar, Gotta Do It, runs each Sunday and often stays on the home page through the week.

The link to features briefs and calendars:

Keeping Brayden's spirit alive (VIDEO EXTRA)

Meet an extraordinary young teen who is coordinating a fundraiser in memory of a boy he never met.

An Extraordinary Life: Shorewood man bid good-bye to the past and embraced life (VIDEO EXTRA)

Haunted by a childhood destroyed by Nazi invasion, Tom Putman found joy at The Timbers of Shorewood.

Joliet-area programs and boutiques cater to breast cancer patients (VIDEO EXTRA)

It's not about vanity. It's about remembering one is a woman first and a patient second, told from the perspective of women - the patients and those that help.

Plainfield Catholic church to show relics of child-martyr Maria Goretti

Why everyone should see her, not just Catholics.

Joliet Junior College art professor felt called to teach and paint (VIDEO EXTRA)

One heck of a nice guy who makes some really cool art.

Thursday, October 8, 2015

BryonySeries Throwback Thursday: Found: The 1975 Home Inspection for Simons Mansion

Thursday, September 22, 2011

Found: The 1975 Home Inspection for Simons Mansion

My father, who is designing a couple of Munsonville "surprises" for Vamp Fest, showed me the file yesterday. Here's what happened:

In the fall of 1975, shortly after Melissa Marchellis and her familiy moved into the servant's cottage on John Simons' estate, the Village of Munsonville contracted with Transaction Home Inspections to inspect the mansion, assess its damage, and offer suggestions for repair and updating.

As I turned the pages, the story sprang to life before my eyes: the actual signature of Joe Roberts, the restoration's project manager; written and visual documentation of the gas lighting, boiler heat, rudimentary wiring, fixtures used; and vivid descriptions of all structures, including the stables. It even referred to damage on the outdoor columns.

Also included in this report were some amazing discoveries: original photographs hidden beneath floorboards, a section on the roof where lightening had struck, and recent fireplace activity (although the house had been vacant for 82 years).

Now, one might suppose such a valuable treasure should be safely secured for future generations, but it will actually be a companion piece to a very cool silent auction item: a gift certificate toward an actual home inspection by Transaction Home Inspections, my father's company.

I guess the art of fiction writing runs deeply in my family. ;)

Tuesday, October 6, 2015


When I was doing the first self-edits to Bryony, I often read the following advice: show, don't tell; more verbs, less adverbs and adjectives.

I've since learned that good stories have a good balance of show and tell, and that sometimes well-placed adjectives and adverbs prevent clumsy construction.


In so many cases, an emphasis on "show" and "verbs" creates more vivid scenes than "tell" and "adjectives." Even when telling, a "showy" tell does a better job of telling than plain old telling.

I'm relearning the value of voice.

In an excerpt from Before the Blood I'd read to WriteOn Joliet a few weeks ago, one person wanted more character description. The basic physical characteristics were present in a previous chapter; reiterating them seemed redundant. I added them, I took many of them back out.

But she was correct in that the secondary characters in that chapter didn't have enough substance to them. The answer, I'm finding, is not in more description, but in action that shows the description and in fine-tuning their distinct voices.

I believe that if the author strips away everything but a quote, that voice should be so crisp, a reader will immdiately know who said it because it will "sound" like the character.

Certainly this is harder than tacking on some adjectives.

So guess what I was doing last weekend?

Monday, October 5, 2015

Determined to Find the Time

One might think that a narrowed field of interest would guarantee plenty of time to pursue those interests, but alas! That is not the case at all.

The challenge, I believe, stems from a passion to fully develop and perfect those interests, which requires copious amounts of time. Moreover, those interests so absorb me that I count months and years the way others count hours and days. Where does the time go?

Somehow, some way, I need to carve some fiction-writing into my days. One day a week isn't cutting it.

But I love the job, too, and get caught up in it. I want to do the "one more thing" here and "a touch more here." Feature-writing appeals to my strong sense of ministry and serving others, of getting local people's information out there and sharing inspiring stories with readers.

The older me feels a stronger commitment to my exercise regime than the younger version ever had, so no compromising here. The domestic me wants not only a clean house, but a cozy one, so those living with me, as well as me, can find preace and rest.

My weekdays look like this: prayer, exercise, work, housework, exercise, and prayer (with interaction with loved ones mingled in the mix).


The creative me shouts out for more expression!


I have twenty-four hours like everyone else. Somehow, I need to figure this out.

Sunday, October 4, 2015

Roasted Root Vegetable Medley

 A little side for a chilly day.

Roasted Root Vegetable Medley
By Sarah Stegall

4 potatoes
2 sweet potatoes
1 large Vidalia onion
1 butternut squash
6 carrots
Olive oil
Black pepper
Chili powder

Preheat oven to 425 degrees. Peel and dice vegetables. Toss to coat in olive oil and sprinkle with spices. Roast for 30 minutes or until vegetables are tender. Yield: 6 to 8 servings.

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

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

Friday, October 2, 2015

Story Round-Up: Features in The Herald-News, Sept. 27 through Oct. 2

All-righty, here we go!

Below are cover stories and the link to the feature briefs and event calendars, which I write/edit. The fourth calendar, Gotta Do It, runs each Sunday and often stays on the home page through the week.

The link to features briefs and calendars:

Great stuff happening in the Joliet area by some outstanding people. See below:

Volunteers maintain gardens at Joliet Area Community Hospice (VIDEO EXTRA)

Part of compassionate care for the dying and their families is adding beauty and serenity. Meet some of the dedicated people who do just that - with so many video clips, you'll swear you were touring the gardens.

An Extraordinary Life: Joliet composer, writer and painter was a good artist and a great man

Robert Baher never pursed a professional career as an artist, but his legacy lives in in perpetuity to bless another who will.

Newly retired addictions counselor at Joleit treatment center shares evolutions in treatment

Virginia Brocks speaks as a recovering alcoholic, too, on everything from alcohol addiction to heroin.

New Catholic high school in Frankfort offers high quality, affordable options

It's a college prep program with an emphasis on academics, theology, liberal arts, and character development. It's missing a few mainstays at most high schools, on purpose. Read on!

House band for Plainfield club plays in and out of the house  (VIDEO EXTRA)

Accomplished musicians every one, these guys just want their audience to have a good time.

Thursday, October 1, 2015

BryonySeries Throwback Thursday: Victorian Tips for Perfect Cake-Baking

Thursday, September 8, 2011

Victorian Tips for Perfect Cake-Baking

To insure success every time:

* The day before you wish to make cake, stone your rainsins and blanch your almonds by pouring hot water on them to take off the skins, and then throwing them into cold water to whiten them.

* Do not use the hand to make cake, but a wood spoon or spade.

* In receipes where milk is used, never mix sweet and sour milk, as it makes cake heavy.

* Butter in the least degree strong spoils cake.

* Always dissolve saleratus in hot water, as milk does not perfectly dissolve it, and thus there will be yellow specks made.

* Make your eggs cold and thus they will stand in a heap.

* A quick oven is so hot that you can count moderately only twenty; a slow one allows you to count thirty, while you hold your hand in it.

* All cake without yeast should have the flour put in quickly, just as it goes into the oven.

* Keep cake in a tin box, or in a stone jar wrapped in clean linen.

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