Fiction Writing

Update – NJ RWA Conference

Well it seems all the plans I was making were for naught.

I’d hoped to attend my first-ever Romance Writers Conference. This one in New Jersey – a smaller, more manageable conference – as a prelude to Nationals. Daughter wanted to come and even hoped to attend some of the workshops with me. It could have been a lot of fun – would have been.

Alas, children under 18 are not permitted to attend the workshops as some content may not be appropriate for that age. Children of that age are not permitted to ‘loiter’ outside the workshop rooms either. And… children under 18 are ‘discouraged’ from attending meals due to past experiences. Now, I’ve never been to a conference so I don’t know what those past experiences were but I picture unruly youngsters running wild. Daughter is mature and well-behaved, but how could they possibly know that?

And so, it seems, the conference for me has been nixed this year. Hubby works weekends – very late into the evening hours – and so wouldn’t be around, and if I’m a state away for two days and a night, who would care for Daughter? She’s mature, but not so much that she can stay on her own for a weekend.

Bummer.

I will stay alert to opportunity, but with time running out to register, I have to say it’s not looking too good.

The Best and Pests of Summer

I wait for the summer. I love it when I can open my windows in the early morning hours and hear the sweet sound of song birds as a balmy breeze gently stirs the window sheers. I love sitting outside on the porch for breakfast and strolling through the neighborhood after dinner. And I love coming back into the house and soaking in that first cool shot from the air conditioners.

Summer is a happy time with sunlight from early morning to early evening. It’s when i want to purge – toss the clutter and make things fresh and airy again. It’s the time for planning new adventures – and taking some.

That’s the best of summer.

The pests of summer, however, are another story.

I’m guessing you know these pests and have done everything in your power to avoid them, nasty little bastards that they are.

Of what am I speaking? Why those disgusting little bloodsuckers, of course – mosquitoes.

I cannot tell you how vicious those beasts have been this year. And they’re so brazen, too! They must be industrial strength mosquitoes, or maybe they’re just shouldering a higher level of New York attitude. I don’t know. What I do know is that I am one big itch. From the center of my back -just out of reach – to the top, bony part of my littlest toes. Yes – toes. Plural. I have no doubt one little beastie strolled from toe to toe taking nibbles as he went. Dang it all. It’s not even a spot you can really dig in and get a satisfying scratch… and yet the itch is torture.

I’m thinking of buying stock in Benadryl cream. Without that, I’m sure I would have scratched myself skinless by now.

How many bites do I have total so far? Try 25. Yes. Twenty-five. And summer is only half over. Not that I want to rush it, you know. I mean, despite the pests, there’s still the best to look forward to.

Growing as a writer

When I was writing my first story, I thought every word was golden. I thought every moment of my character’s life was worth writing about. And so, I had a lot of wasted words and hardly any forward movement. My stories were big, as you can imagine, but hardly gripping.

Until I grew as a writer.

I’m convinced the best way to grow as a writer is to put your work out there and have others give you honest – sometimes brutal – feedback. The first instinct is to defend yourself and your writing. It makes sense and is a natural reaction. BUT, after several comments leaning the same way – that your work needs to be reworked – it’s time to give credit to at least some of what’s being said.

I used to roll my eyes at my first CP. Actually, she was my former teacher and then my paid editor. She had excellent advice and perception but it was different than mine and so, at first, I dismissed much of it. I thought she simply did not ‘get’ my story. It took quite some time for me to stand back from my work and realize how right she was.

Now… when I put my work out there, I want the honest truth. No pats on the head, no gentle criticism. I think I’ve grown as a writer in that respect, and want only truth in the feedback I receive. After that, it’s up to me to decide if the suggestions or opinions given will enhance or hinder the story I want to tell. Just being open to the possibilities is a major turning point in the life of a writer.

A writer’s ego is a very fragile thing. And yet, while we seek accolades, we – most of us – want them to be honest.

Another way I’ve grown as a writer, is by realizing I need more. Yes, over the years I’ve considered it, but until now, I didn’t do a thing about it. This year will be the start of something, I think. With the New Jersey Conference around the corner and my registration form nearly filled in, I’m making that next big leap in a writer’s life. It’s exciting – which to me, means it’s time. About time.

How have you grown as a writer? Has that professional growth helped you in personal ways as well?

Google Maps

You have to check it out. Google Maps has updated their ‘satellite view’ to see at street level. In fact, they now call it, ‘street view’. It’s a fascinating new way to map things but let me tell you, I found it a bit disturbing to see my own car in my own driveway that up close and personal on an globally accessible website.

Check it out. Google Maps. Put in an address of interest to you – your own, perhaps? – and see what comes up. The option for street view isn’t everywhere – YET – but there’s certainly plenty to see.

Aside from the creepy feeling of seeing my own home at street level, I did find pleasure in touring my country. 🙂

I visited Alaska, LA, Orlando and the New Orleans’ French Quarter. Honestly, touring New Orleans this way was very sad. I started off on Bourbon Street and checked out the buildings and imagined the scent and sound of the place. And then I skipped around and found homes still boarded up from Katrina’s wrath, assorted trailers and piles of debris at curb-sides. Very sad.

But also quite amazing. There I was sitting in my living room, daughter at my side, checking out the devastation – and the beauty – of a place hundreds of miles away. As if that were not amazing enough, I also toured France, Japan and Australia.

Google Maps street view. I’ve yet to make up my mind on this one. I’ve a feeling a love/hate relationship is on the horizon.

Go. Check it out… then let me know what you think.

RWA Conventions ~ To Go or Not To Go

I’ve never attended a Romance Writers of American Convention – neither national nor local. I don’t even belong to a local live chapter. Instead, I belong to three online chapters. Can anyone say, “introvert”?

I love communicating with my online chapter members and do feel as if I know them very well. Wouldn’t I like to meet some of them? Certainly. But leaving my little comfort zone – the spot directly in front of my computer – is somehow less than appealing.

Which is part of the reason I’ve never attended the National Convention. Another reason is cost and another is time. However, another opportunity presents itself annually. I always consider it but never follow through. Will this year be different? Perhaps.

The New Jersey Chapter of RWA has their Put Your Heart in a Book Conference at the Woodbridge Hotel every year in October. New Jersey is home away from home for me – AND the convention is held minutes away from the glorious Woodbridge Mall. <sigh>

There is no airfare involved for me, and Daughter – who will be 13 by then – has expressed a desire to join me. Not only that, but I’ve entered the Put Your Heart in a Book contest and so going to the awards dinner – winner or not – would be a fantastic and glamorous experience. Don’t you think?

So… will I or won’t I, that is the question.

I suppose to decide I will need some input. What are the pros of going and, besides sheer terror with the unfamiliar and overwhelming, what are the cons? Opinions, ladies?

Dangerous Bushisms

“I have a question,” Daughter said as we watched the news last night. “How could a president be so stupid?”

Daughter is a very bright child.

Dubya’s statements are often ripe with gaffs. The incompetent way in which he speaks has come to be one of the few things we can count on with this administration. Well… actually… we also can count on our rights being ripped away – one by one. What right is being stripped now? What gaff has this leader presented? An intentional one. He has been waging a deliberate war for years – not against terrorism – against women.

First he stacked the Supreme Court with extreme-right, anti-choice judges – one (Samuel Alito) who, in 1991, while a judge on the 3rd US Circuit Court of Appeals in Philadelphia, voted to uphold a Pennsylvania law requiring a woman opting for an abortion to first notify her husband. This is how women are seen by this administration and its appointees – as second-class citizens who must seek approval or permission before making decisions based on their own needs or wants. Second, he browbeat the FDA into postponing a decision on the already approved Plan B, forced them to make it available by prescription only, and only after a public outcry and several resignations was that overturned to make it available over the counter to women over 18.

And now this. What is it? It’s Dubya’s new definition of abortion – as if the abortion issue is not controversial enough.

An apparent memo from the HHS reads thus –

“The Department proposes to define abortion as ‘any of the various procedures — including the prescription and administration of any drug or the performance of any procedure or any other action — that results in the termination of the life of a human being in utero between conception and natural birth, whether before or after implantation.”

So… by taking the pill, women are having abortions? An IUD is an abortion? Plan B is an abortion?

You can read the whole article here:

ABCnews

I have a ‘bush countdown’ keychain that actually counts the days and hours before he’s finally out of office. i can’t wait for it to reach zero. You can order yours here – Backwards Bush

Unfortunately, despite the pleasure of seeing his time in office tick away, a lot more damage can be done in these remaining days and hours.

Fortunately, there are still some sane people in our government – few as they may be.

What can you do? You can write to your representatives and tell them what you think of this additional attempt to restrain women’s choices. Women’s rights. And you can think long and hard on all the needs of this country when Election Day comes this November… and every November after that.

Vegetarian Brunswick Stew

I’m trying to make all of my daughter’s favorite foods this week so when she comes home from day camp, she has a good meal to look forward to. She’s starting to enjoy bits of her days at camp now – little by little fitting in with the other kids – but it’s not something, she says, that she’d like to do again.

So… this week, I’ve made zucchini quiche and crab cakes, baked ziti and now, last night, Vegetarian Brunswick Stew, popovers and pumpkin fritters.

The popovers were a delight as always – crispy outside, soft and moist inside. The pumpkin fritters? Well… even with the recipe from the Farnsworth House, I didn’t do so well with them. Crisp and perfect on the outside – raw on the inside. 🙁 They’ll take practice, methinks.

However… this stew is always great if you like vegetables. I got this recipe years ago when we went to Williamsburg, Virginia. In one of the period taverns there – an 18th century rowdy tavern – they served regular Brunswick Stew as well as this vegetarian version. Since we do not eat meat – except on very rare occasions – this has become a staple in our home. It’s delicious, hearty and fairly easy to make.

Vegetarian Brunswick Stew

2 – large onions sliced or diced

4 – cups fresh tomatoes chopped

2 – cups lima beans

3 – medium potatoes diced

2 – 16-ounce cans of corn (drain but reserve liquid in case stew is too thick)

1 – tablespoon sugar

1 – quart vegetable broth

salt and pepper to taste (I omit extra salt because of the broth)

Add vegetables to broth and simmer, uncovered, until beans and potatoes are tender. Stir occasionally to prevent scorching. Add seasonings. Simmer an hour or more, adding liquid as necessary – IF necessary.

“Brunswick stew is delectable if allowed to slow cook. It is said to never be eaten the same day as it is cooked because the longer it sits, the more deletable the flavor becomes.”

While it’s true the flavor is more delectable the next day, if made early enough and allowed to rest, the flavors are delectable enough to enjoy the same day as it’s prepared. That’s what we do. Every time, with no complaints. 🙂

Summer Camp

For the first time ever, Daughter started summer camp yesterday. It’s just day camp and only for this week and next. It’s a sports camp with swimming included daily. We thought it would be fun – of course we did, why else would we send her? She loves sports and she loves swimming. What better way to spend a couple of weeks than doing what you love with like-minded people? Fun, right?

Apparently not. Or so she said.

Sadly, as this is our first experience with summer camp, we didn’t realize that “3rd session” meant kids had already been attending for the two sessions prior, it’s a continuation, not a 3rd of 4 option. <sigh>

And so, friendships have already been formed and Daughter was the odd one out. Not only that, but the ‘sports’ group she’s in includes four children only and only one of them… that being Daughter… is a girl. 🙁

About three hours into her day, I received a phone call from the University where this is held. It was the nurse. Yes. The nurse. Daughter was hit in the face by a soccer ball. Oh… and a football. She’s fine though…

She was fine – just a black eye. <sniff>

Getting her up this morning to go there again was no easy feat. I hope as the days progress she’ll find a way to enjoy it. This was supposed to be a fun time. Not a punishment or taste of torture.

Days 7 – 10 Vacation

What South Carolina vacation would be complete without a trip to Fort Sumter?

On our last day in Charleston, we hustled about the historic district, trying to fit in as many historic building tours as possible. We also managed to tour the oldest original plantation home in the state – Dreyton Hall.

This home was built in 1725 and while it stands empty, it stands. The paint on the walls has faded with time, but the history and grandeur of the home is still quite evident.

We were fortunate to have a tour guide whose expertise was in architecture. The details of the structure were too many to recall but fascinating as they were heard.

The reason this home escaped Sherman’s burning of the city, was because of a sign posted on the property. What was written on that sign? It stated that the home was used as a hospital to treat people infected with small pox. Was this true? Well, we will never know for sure but we are grateful for the sign whether sad truth or ingenious lie.

This final day in the Carolinas was the hottest. Nearly 100. We’re told that’s actually about 20 degrees cooler than it normally is there at this time of year. That worked out well for us, because of all days, we lost our car. <sigh> We must have circled the same area seven times before we finally found it. I’m guessing all the driving, touring and heat finally caught up with us and delirium took over.

However, we found the car and managed to get to our Fort Sumter ferry in the nic of time. NIC of time. What an amazing place this fort is. The outer walls are five feet thick. Mortar shells can still be seen in the walls and the original flags – from Union as well as Confederate troops – are on display in the museum there.

Did you know…

The Union officer in charge of the fort at the start of the war  – Anderson – told his men to sleep in the morning of the original bombardment of the fort by the confederates. He knew the fort was tenths of a mile further than was needed for a cannon ball fired from the mainland to do damage. However, Beauregard, a confederate officer who had trained under Anderson before the Civil War (which in Charleston, btw, is referred to as either The War Between the States, or more often as The War of Northern Aggression) ordered his men to fire up the cannon balls. They heated them to a red glow and fired them off. They didn’t blast through anything but they did start several fires and between putting out the fires and firing back, the limited Union troops were overtaken and Fort Sumter fell into enemy… oops… Confederate hands.

😉

We were up early the next morning, ready for a 9-hour drive up to Gettysburg, Pennsylvania. Our goal was to get there in time to have dinner at the Farnsworth House. If ever you are in Gettysburg (I may have already said this, but it’s worth repeating) GO to the Farnsworth House. Eat in the garden or in the dining room, it doesn’t matter, just eat there and make sure you have their spoon bread and pumpkin fritters. Heaven on earth. With a few ghosts thrown in. LOL.

Seriously, the Farnsworth House is one of America’s top ten haunted inns. We were going to take their ghost tour after dinner, but the screams from the basement while we dined sorta changed our minds. One day…

We barely made it in time for dinner, btw. We hit traffic in D.C. and lost a full hour. Ten hours on the road made us want to drop into bed instead of eat, but we went anyway and were VERY glad we did.

There are over 100 civil war bullet holes in the side of the Farnsworth House. All still quite visible. The food is scrumptious with contemporary fare as well as that of the period. Best of all… I GOT RECIPES!!!! They now offer a cookbook that contains recipes for their famous spoon bread and pumpkin fritters. Of course, just because I can now make them, it doesn’t mean we’ll ever miss an opportunity to dine there… and maybe one day we’ll even work up the nerve to stay overnight at their inn…despite the top-ten haunted inn rating… and then again… maybe not. :-/

The next day, we walked around the town of Gettysburg…

…and then we drove the battlefield with an audio tour CD. Too much information to absorb on one listen, but clearly bloody and disturbing. Then again, it was war.

After the battlefield tour, we drove an hour to Hershey, PA. Chocolate Town! With Hershey kiss-shaped street lights.

The park was a thrill – what amusement park isn’t?

And though it rained on us the next day – so hard at one point, they shut down all the rides – we had a blast.

This vacation put 1804 miles on our car. I drove about 1700 of those miles and loved almost every minute of it. Considering we went from views like this in the south and in Pennsylvania…

To views like this as we neared home…

I’m guessing you can understand which part of the drive I enjoyed, and which I didn’t. 😉

It took us two days at home to recover but we’re raring to go now and already looking ahead to next year. But first… we have over 1,000 photos to sort through and place into albums. So… if I’m AWOL again, you’ll know where I am. Sitting in front of mounds of photos trying to recall every facet of our wonderfully adventurous trip.

Thank you for letting me share my family vacation with you. We, obviously, had a great time and I hope you enjoyed hearing about it.

Day 4,5 and 6 – South Carolina

Well, Thursday evening was slightly stormy here and yet we had reservations for a dinner cruise. It’s always that way when we’re on vacation, so we dressed up and, with umbrellas in hand, off we went to the pier.

Beautiful.

Yes. It rained. Hard at times, but we still had a phenomenal time.

There was a wedding reception on the boat during our three-hour cruise. We had a two-piece band for wonderful dinner music then dancing afterward. The moon on the water was glorious and the food… ah… the food… unbelievably delicious. Mine was a cooked-to-perfection salmon fillet on fresh mashed potatoes with a honey and brown sugar glaze.

To. Die. For.

Dessert? Key lime pie. A perfect, perfect evening.

Friday we headed over to one of the many plantation homes here. Middleton Plantation. The disappointments for us there were many. First, as mentioned in not one of their advertisements that I noticed, various tours of the plantation – including a narrated horse and carriage ride and a slave’s life tour – were given only until noon while the property and house are open until 5:30. We arrived late after enjoying the hotel pool for an hour before starting our day so not one of the extra tours was available to us. Sadly, the cost of admission to the plantation was not a penny less despite the lack of tour ability.

The other disappointment was a biggie – the original plantation house was burned down by union soldiers after the civil war, and so, the only thing remaining from that period are ruins.

This was not mentioned anywhere or at anytime until we arrived at the plantation and paid. However, we did enjoy a tour of one of the later-built flank buildings.

Considering our car was the last in the parking lot at close of day, I’d say we made the most of what was available to us. There were costumed interpreters in the fields, in the barn, the mill and more. And the grounds themselves – acres and acres – were just a wonder to see.

How on earth did one family amass such wealth? Rice. Slaves from Africa brought with them a knowledge of growing that precious grain and then were forced to apply that knowledge for a headmaster who made it into a booming business. A business that has allowed generation after generation to own and operate the property to this day.

After admiring the grounds, the reflecting pool and gardens, we were humbled and saddened to be brought back to the reality of the times. The Middleton family owned hundreds and hundreds of slaves, and a list of their names is posted in one of the still-standing free-slave homes.

Also posted in that home was the 10-pound ‘reward’ notice for the capture of an escaped slave as well as the 20-pound reward for information about who might have been harboring that poor soul. It was amazing and sickening to me to see how important it was to slave owners to not only recapture their slaves but to put double the price on someone who dared to have a heart and give them refuge. I know it was the ‘times’ but it’s simply impossible for me to comprehend.

Today, we toured another plantation – Magnolia Plantation.

Rice was the same product of this plantation. Fortunately, we were able to take a boat tour along what was once a rice field (over 100 years ago) but is now flooded and home to an abundance of wildlife – including alligators.

Alligators! We spent the day before at Middleton Plantation searching for some sign of alligators, then we came to Magnolia Plantation and there they were. Everywhere!

Planks for the alligators to sun on were built when water was drained from the rice fields. This was done because there is a ‘nature train’ that takes visitors through the property and often the alligators would be blocking the road, trying to warm up and dry off. Thinking it better to keep them away from the wheels of the train – not to mention human flesh ON that train – the planks were built in the middle of the fields. Once the fields were flooded again, the alligators started sunbathing there on their own. Win-win.

There is so much more to tell you but I’ll close with an observation – in history and today, humans, animals, and indeed even plants, take advantage of those less able to defend themselves. The European settlers turned on the Indians who befriended them and hoped they’d help protect them from more powerful tribes. Europeans, Americans and more abducted Africans who were less organized and less likely to revolt or commit suicide rather than be enslaved. Slaves threatened their children with ‘hard labor’ if they did not behave… alligators eat ducks, turtles, etc… but when alligators have their young, they must move them and guard them closely because baby alligators are a particular favorite of owls… who move into the area at breeding season.

So I wonder… when the moral compass kicks in and some of us decide not to take advantage of those weaker than us, does that make us the weaker ones? If we were threatened would we fight to the death or bend to the will of those stronger than us? And would we reproduce? Bring children into a world where they, too, would be beaten, threatened, owned? If truly pushed… if our children or our parents were threatened… would we toss that moral compass and become as twisted as those in power?

It’s disturbing to think of the evils man has done to man. It’s disturbing to think we’ve seen the horrors of it in the past… and yet on various levels, it’s still happening today.

These plantations were beautiful – the homes, the grounds, the views – but the way in which they gained their beauty is as ugly as it comes.

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