This week I’d like to write first about TV shows that expand my imagination. Everyone benefits from new ideas, and writers thrive on inspiration. I especially enjoy science programs, because there is almost always something that triggers an idea for a plot or storyline.
One of my favorite TV shows is How the Universe Works. Scientists are making many discoveries that can add fuel to science fiction writers’ imaginations, because what we are discovering “out there” is often more strange and bizarre than the most vivid writer’s imagination. I also like Secrets of the Earth, because even our own world is far more active and volatile and less safe for many of us than we like to believe. From tornadoes to floods, from wild fires burning out of control to the latest volcanic eruption, the mostly safe world we knew before is starting to fight back.
National Geographic, NOVA, and the Science Channel all offer insights into this wonderful world we live in. When I see the beauty of nature and the abundance of myriad creatures that surround us, I realize how fragile the world is that has been created here.
Magazines offer a great deal of information I find interesting, too. I’ve always been fascinated by earlier cultures and civilizations, and Archaeology magazine delivers the latest discoveries and updated opinions about what transpired before our own civilization progressed, from hunter-gatherers to farmers, to the beginnings of our first cities.
Discover and Smithsonian magazines always have articles I find interesting in a social context, as well as nuggets of some new piece of information I can use to think about as a writer to further a story line or create another plot for a new adventure.
My oldest and dearest friends are the many books I’ve read over the years. Besides a love of art and music, I developed an early interest in science as well. I always loved adventure stories, and the magical fairytales collected by the Brothers Grimm. The books of Elizabeth Peters’ Amelia Peabody series are very entertaining stories of mystery and archaeology, which have always appealed to me. Other favorites include books like The Tao of Physics by Fritjof Capra, and Steven Hawking’s A Brief History of Time. In Search of Schroedinger’s Cat, by John Gribbin, afforded me an introduction into the strange and unpredictable world of quantum physics. So, you can see how I wove all the threads of what I learned over the years into my magical adventure series Alex Cort Adventures.
I believe research can be fun. If you are reading about something because it interests you, chances are it will be interesting to friends or your readers as well. At the very least, you will always have something new to talk about!
A number of movies have been inspiring and entertaining over the years as well. Who doesn’t love Star Wars and Indiana Jones. And now there is a new take on an older story, A Wrinkle in Time.
Tell me about your favorites — I’d love to know! Where do you get new story ideas?
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This week, I’d like to talk about the things I love most. The things that make me happy, and what I miss when there’s not enough time in the day to enjoy them.
I’ve always been an artist. I like working with my hands, so drawing came easily when I was still very young. I started out drawing rearing horses, because, like most young girls my age, I loved horses. We were lucky enough to live in the country outside San Diego, and my family always had a variety of pets: dogs, cats, rabbits for 4-H . . . even guinea pigs, and a white rat named Lightning. I just naturally came to love animals of all kinds, and that led to me wanting to draw them.
I started out with pencil sketches, then later charcoal drawings led to oil painting, and finally I discovered bronze sculpture. I always focused on animals as my subjects because of their sweet natures, and they were my friends. Living near the San Diego Zoo gave me the opportunity to study wild animals, and now I enjoy capturing their expressions in two-dimensional bas-relief sculptures. I did create a number of three-dimensional freestanding pieces, but I found it was their faces that interested me most.
At about that same time, I saw a TV program featuring Andrew Rodriguez. He is from New Mexico and created bas-relief images of Indian Spirits emerging from a flat background. His technique captured my attention, so I started experimenting with his style. I tried to make my images impressionistic, as his were, but I kept going back and adding more realism, until I developed my own style. It was an enjoyable journey of discovery!
The joy of playing music came to me later in life. I took piano lessons for seven years, and that gave me a good background for learning other instruments. I saw a video of a concert by Yanni called “Live at the Acropolis.” It changed my life. A woman in a red dress played her violin with so much joy and enthusiasm that I said to myself, “I want to do that!” I persuaded my husband that I really, really wanted to learn how to play like Karen Briggs, and he gave me a gift of a beautiful violin.
I started out learning to play Irish music, because that is one of my family’s histories. It is joyful music, and it’s a lot of fun to play with other people. I learned to play classical music because it is important to learn to play the violin correctly. There is a lot of technique involved, from holding the bow and violin properly, to learning how to play “up the neck.”
I always loved the sound of a banjo, and I just got it in my head that I wanted to learn to play the three-finger Earl Scruggs style. I think it was hearing Steve Martin play “Rocky Mountain Breakdown” that motivated me! I love that tune, and took some lessons to get started. I also love Bossa Nova, and when my husband got a guitar to accompany me, I “borrowed” it to teach myself that beautiful music with several instruction videos.
That’s all for now. See you next week!
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I named him Barnabus. Probably not the best name for one so majestic and regal.
He appeared larger than most of his species and darker in color, with a rounded, brownish-gray streaked chest and banding on the tail. These physical characteristics and the artful way he soared low through the forest canopy identified Barnabus as a juvenile Broad-Winged Hawk.
I first caught sight of him while sitting on my back deck in Georgia one late spring day. He perched on the gate of my wooden fence just beyond the treeline, watching me as curiously as I watched him.
Spring turned into summer, and visits from Barnabus became a daily occurrence. We would sit “together” and gaze at each other for 20 minutes at a time — he on the gate, me on the deck. No more than 10 yards separated us. This was unusual behavior for such a raptor, as they are known to avoid human interaction.
His magnificence entranced me. I often wondered what he thought of me?
On occasion, he brought a girlfriend. I named her Angelique. Both would rest on the gate until, by some unspoken agreement, they would turn to the woods and fly off together through the trees.
To me, we felt like old friends by the time summer passed. When autumn arrived, Barnabus and Angelique disappeared, I feared forever. But when the warmth of summer returned, so did my glorious hawks. Our gazing sessions resumed, just as before.
Many times I was tempted to photograph one or both of them. I did so only once, though, and that image is shown here. It felt like a violation of trust, somehow, so I didn’t attempt it again.
Soon it will be summer once more, and I will be there on my deck, waiting and watching for my two special friends. But even if they don’t return, they have left me with a sense of peace and gratitude for nature in all her grace.
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Photo: Kathleen Carper
I’m changing topics this morning to share with you 12 funny error messages that were seen on Japanese computers a number of years ago. Some were written in Haiku, and they’re really pretty funny, unless, of course, it’s happening to you. Our computers are more reliable now, but these sayings still make me laugh!
Aren’t these better than less imaginative phrases like, “Your computer has performed an illegal operation”?
12 Funny Error Messages
1. Chaos reigns within. Reflect, repent, and reboot. Order shall return.
2. Program aborting. Close all that you have worked on. You ask far too much.
3. Windows NT crashed. I am the Blue Screen of Death. No one hears your screams.
4. Yesterday it worked…. Today, it is not working. Windows is like that.
5. Your file was so big. It might be very useful. But now it is gone.
6. Stay the patient course. Of little worth is your ire. The network is down.
7. A crash reduces your expensive computer to a simple stone.
8. Three things are certain: Death, taxes, and lost data. Guess which has occurred?
9. You step in the stream, but the water has moved on. This page is not here.
10. Out of memory. We wish to hold the whole sky. But we never will.
11. Having been erased, the document you’re seeking must now be retyped. (Not so funny!)
12. Screen. Mind. Both are blank.
These still make me laugh, and I’ve read them quite a few times. I hope you enjoy them, too.
Next week I will share books, magazines, and TV shows I find inspiring. Feel free to message me with those things that have inspired you!
Until then, I wish you happiness.
I am honored to be a guest on your blog, Joan. Thank you for inviting me to share about my award-winning novel, Davida: Model & Mistress of Augustus Saint-Gaudens.
To begin with, I want to share a little about me. I was born and raised in San Diego, California, but when I was 16, I moved in with my dad who was living in Hollywood. I walked to school every day going past Grauman’s Chinese Theater, past Hollywood and Vine, and occasionally saw some movie stars.
After marriage, we moved to Minnesota and lived there for 40 years before retiring in Florida. Here we live on a beautiful lake, which I can look at from the sliding doors in my office.
I became a published author shortly after being diagnosed with ovarian cancer. I had journaled since I was a young child, which is something I continue to do. My first book was a result of my journal notes. I am grateful to be a 10-year survivor. I have two blogs, write articles, volunteer, speak publically, and advocate for ovarian cancer awareness.
Davida: Model & Mistress of Augustus Saint-Gaudens is my second novel, and has won two awards. It is based on a true story about my great-grandparents. There is very limited information about his model Davida, so I had to create her based on my imagination, photographs, and biographies about my great-grandfather, Augustus Saint-Gaudens. He was the premier sculptor in America from 1880 until shortly after his death in 1904. He is most well known for his design of the $20 gold piece, which is considered to be the most beautiful coin ever minted in the United States.
Here is a brief excerpt from the book:
We agreed to visit Mr. Saint-Gaudens’s studio the following week. The Sherwood Studio Building was located at Sixth Avenue and Fifty-Seventh Street. Mr. Saint-Gaudens’s studio space inside the building was small but filled with various pieces of plaster, mounds of scattered sheets of paper with drawings, and a few men who were working on smaller pieces. I gasped in awe and squeezed Mother’s hand as I tried to take in all that was before me.
In the center of the room was a massive piece of white marble with ladders and scaffolding around it. Two men hammered against chisels, breaking off various sizes and shapes of the marble. Their work appeared haphazard to my uneducated eyes, but the man directing them appeared to have confidence in what they were doing. This man had the same stature of Mr. Saint-Gaudens, except his hair was a dark brown and he had no beard. There was a similar look and a nervous energy to his movements.
Suddenly, we heard Mr. Saint-Gaudens’s voice saying, “You are watching my brother Louis, who is my right-hand man and an artist in his own right. Come—let me introduce you.” He extended his left arm, inviting us to follow him.
As we neared, I could hear the brother’s baritone voice shouting instructions: “Take a little more there” and “No, Samuel—strike the chisel firmly but gently” and “That is good, very good.” He waved his arms over and around as if he were conducting an orchestra. I found it magical.
“Louis, my dear brother, stop your work for just a moment, please.” Mr. Saint-Gaudens said these words with such love in his voice. After introductions and some small talk, Mr. Saint-Gaudens went on, “This is the young lady I was telling you about, the one I would like to sketch. Do you agree she is perfect for the Vanderbilt project?” The two brothers walked around me while never taking their eyes off me. They exchanged their impressions and thoughts sometimes in English, but mainly in French. I heard phrases such as “angular head,” “high cheekbones,” and “vibrant eyes.”
I felt a mix of embarrassment and pride. My cheeks were warm, my heart beat fast, and my knees began to shake. I had never experienced such attention. Once again, I asked myself the same question: “Am I really pretty?”
I glanced over at Mother, who was watching and listening to the brothers, trying to understand their words and gestures. Then I was suddenly brought out of my dreamlike state when I
heard Mother say, “Come Albertina. It is time to go to work.” She turned to the two artists and said, “Perhaps you will come to our home on Sunday at four o’clock in the afternoon to discuss your ideas for Albertina. I want my sister, Ingrid, and her husband to be a part of whatever decision we make. They have lived in this country long enough to have a good command of the English language. Besides, they are my only family, and I trust their judgment in all things.”
Mr. Saint-Gaudens bowed and replied, “Of course, madam, I will be there. But before you leave, I would like you both to meet my wife and have some tea. Our home is just a short carriage ride from here.” Mother responded, “We met Mrs. Saint-Gaudens at the Christmas party, but the meeting was brief. We will be honored to meet her again. However, we will not be able to stay long. We have been away long enough, and we need to return to the inn. Time has by gone so rapidly.”
I have a new experience to share with you this week. I needed to make a visual presentation so that readers of A Shadow Away, the first book of my “Alex Cort Adventures” series, could know more about me as the author.
The process started with arranging for a photographer or videographer and deciding on a location to display examples of my bas-relief pet portrait sculptures, musical instruments, and silk floral designs. I wanted to show aspects of my other interests, and you can do that, too. Choose examples of your hobbies or crafts that you enjoy. If they make you happy, others will find them interesting as well. If you prefer, you can display examples of your product.
A good way to memorize what you intend to share in your video is to start practicing early. Decide on about 5 questions that you think will interest your readers for a three-minute video, and then write out your answers to those questions. Break those items down into segments and memorize them individually, rather than trying to memorize the whole page at once. Be kind to yourself if you can’t remember everything right away. That’s what the practice is for! Little by little, the pieces will come together.
Here are 5 example interview questions. These are designed for writers, but can be altered to suit almost any kind of business venture.
5 Useful Q&A Questions
1. Tell us about yourself.
2. What do you want readers to know about your books (business)?
3. What inspired you to write your stories (start your business)?
4. Describe the characters in your book. (Tell us about your product.)
5. Any final thoughts you’d like to share?
I hope these can help you get started on your way to making a video of your own to share with others who will be interested in learning about you and about your business. The process of publishing a book is a business. It takes dedication and many hours devoted to making your book or business visible in this world of information overload. The secret is to love what you’re doing. That will make all the difference in the months ahead when you are ready to share your book, or business, with the world!
When you’re filming your video — Relax! Be yourself, because that is who your readers/business clients what to meet. Be prepared by practicing what you want to say out loud. The words may sound fine in your head, but speaking them makes the words real.
I hope these ideas help you succeed in whatever venture you are embarking upon. Good Luck!
Another hummingbird gets to live a long and happy life in gardens and at hummingbird feeders thanks to a neighbor who warned me another baby was trapped in an entranceway.
She helped me get the tallest ladder out of the garage, then held it while I climbed several steps higher than I ever want to go. The baby looked like it had been there a while, but still had enough energy to flutter against the glass ceiling trying to get out.
I climbed the last two steps — don’t do this at home unless you are very sure-footed or have someone to help with the ladder — and reached up to gently gather the little bird in my hands. As scared as it was, somehow hummingbirds know I am trying to help them. Sometimes it takes a while, but sooner or later, they flutter down to the ledge where I can reach them. One little guy clung desperately with his little toes, so I waited for him to relax then carefully lifted him off the ledge.
The tricky part is getting down off a tall ladder while holding a bird in your hands. I take my time and the hummingbirds stay still inside my cupped hands. They all seem to know they are being helped and don’t struggle at all. As I always do, I spoke to him softly, warning him (it looked like a boy) not to come close to houses anymore because they are dangerous. He, and all his relatives before him, watched me as I whispered to him. None of them show any fear, and one was so tired he stayed on my open hand quite a while before he caught his breath and took off. This one only took a few moments before it was ready to fly away home.
Hummingbirds are wonderful little birds. They have feelings and personality, as do all of the creatures in this world. I’m not even afraid of spiders anymore, unless they’re too big! Even they show fear, and I wonder, if they can be afraid, what other feelings might they possess? I must say one thing about a terrible picture I saw of a trapped monkey a couple of days ago. He had to bend down because his arms were tightly tied behind his back. That picture still haunts me, and I wonder how mankind can be so cruel.
I ask all of you to realize how close we are in many ways to the creatures who share this world. Please be kind.
If you have saved an animal in need of your help, please write me. I’d love to know your story, and if you choose, perhaps we could share it here in a future blog.
A Shadow Away, which became the first story in a planned six-book series called “Alex Cort Adventures,” almost came about by accident. Several articles I wrote had been published before, but I never thought of writing seriously.
In the beginning, my objective was to create a world for myself. A magical world of adventure with people I liked and wanted to spend time with. It’s been a while now, so I don’t remember exactly how I got started, but I do remember that things of interest I’d read before started to present themselves as scenes and parts of a story. Then plot ideas and dialogue unfolded in a smooth stream from my imagination. There was a story I wanted to tell. Everything I’d learned and studied that I found of interest, I wanted to share.
That formed the gist of the story that became “A Shadow Away.” Once I had the main character in mind, which was Angel, the rest of the story and characters and dialogue just came easily as I listened to them bring the story to life. Angel called herself a witch and she had her own kind of magic. With her I could write about other dimensions, fantasy, and the supernatural.
I studied archaeology and have been interested in it for quite a few years. Many facets of science and exploration interested me, too, so I read books and subscribed to magazines, and learned about everything from quantum mechanics to the universe. Now in this planned magical adventure series, eccentric archaeologist Andrew Seaton lets me share all kinds of interesting topics from scientific discoveries to superstition. Alex Cort was basically me in the beginning, someone with a curiosity about this world and its myths and legends.
I think the clue to writing an interesting story that will appeal to your readers, is to write about what interests you. If you find it interesting, and write about it creatively, others will want to read your work. A lot of advice is given to write about what you know. It’s a good place to start, because when you know a subject well, you can add depth to your story.
That reminds me of another thing I learned about writing on the fly. The story may come to you easily—that’s great! Just remember that the first draft is only the beginning. Set it aside for a while when you’re done, then go back and read it through. I know, you’ll think it’s perfect, but as you read it again, you’ll see places where you can improve the dialogue, flesh out one of the characters, or fix a hole in the plot. Everyone you show it to from friends, to editors, to beta readers (people who critique your story before its published) will have an opinion. So, show it to people you trust, then analyze their comments and take what rings true for you.
I’ve enjoyed this time with you. Write me back with any questions or comments, or tell me a story about your own journey!
Last week we talked about what it takes to create a plot and write your story. This week I’d like to share what I’ve learned about the next big step on the way to being published. We are lucky with the newest technology making it possible for you to decide whether to pursue the traditional publishing route, or take control of your destiny and publish the book yourself. Both routes involve the spending of money, so for the sake of argument, we won’t discuss that part.
Traditional publishing involves query letters and the search for a literary agent who likes your book well enough to approach established publishing houses on your behalf. When that is accomplished, it would be a good idea to engage an experienced lawyer who will mediate your discussions with the publisher about your rights. These topics will most likely include everything from what they intend to name your book (it may change from the name you chose), how the cover and the book will be designed, whether you retain foreign publishing rights, film rights (that could happen!), and many other details for which you will want legal guidance.
On the other hand, there is the option to indie publish. It’s good to know the standards for, and the acceptance of, self-published books is steadily rising. Indie publishing got off to a shaky start in part because new ideas are hardly ever accepted in the beginning. A second problem happened because many new authors skipped the important editing portion of the process and posted first-draft level stories. Things are slowly changing, though, and indie publishing is gaining status in the world of books due to the better-written stories now being offered. So, if you do plan to publish your book yourself, make it the best possible version you can. And get professional help. It’s important!
If you like being in control, it might be a good idea to look into publishing the book yourself. There are people available on LinkedIn and online for every aspect of indie publishing, from branding your image to marketing before and after your book is launched. Even if you go with a traditional publisher, you will still be responsible for marketing your product. I, and others, have said before, “Writing is the easy part!”
Here is a brief run-down of the steps I have encountered on the way to becoming published: After your story is written, the real work begins when you present your book for professional editing. This step could happen several times as your story is refined with re-writes. When that stage is complete, Beta readers will offer their comments and suggestions. This will probably involve another round of re-writes. Everyone will have an opinion! By this time, you will probably have decided which route you want to travel as far as publishing. Either way, the journey is a long one. But if you enjoy the trip, it will be worth it.
Next week I’d like to share with you some interesting people and books that inspired me. I’d love to hear what inspires you!
It’s not easy finding quiet time to collect your thoughts. If you work all day, whether it’s at home or in the office, it’s hard to find enough time, right? I found the best thing to do is jot down ideas when they come to me, so I can add them to my manuscript later.
I chose to feature the picture of my cat in this post because even when you do manage to make it to your writing table — something will always pop up to distract you. My cat is one reason my work doesn’t get done! He just likes to sit in the middle of whatever I’m working on, wherever that is. You probably have pets that need your attention, or kids, a ringing door bell, or a spouse who wants you to help them “just for a minute.” But those of us who have the passion to write for the enjoyment of others, somehow find a way, don’t we!
First you must decide on the type of story you want to write, the genre. That will set the tone for how you will write your story. The next step is to decide if you’re a “seat of the pants” type of writer where the storyline, plot and dialogue flow through you to the computer screen or the written page. Perhaps you’re the other kind of writer who needs structure for you to build your story.
My first book, A Shadow Away, came to me the first way. I chewed gum as my mind churned out ideas, but I don’t recommend it. The images came easily, and the characters came to life for me. Their dialogue flowed so quickly, sometimes I had to scramble to keep up! If there was a glitch in the plot, I’d give it some time to unwind itself. And many times, the solution came from the adventurer Alex, eccentric archaeologist Andrew, or even my witch/person Angel herself.
The idea for this kind of story writing is to let your thoughts flow as the story almost seems to write itself. Even this way, though, you must follow the basic rules of story writing. Plot, character development, and a hundred little things that go into the making of a great manuscript are true for every style of writing. There are many books online and in your local bookstore that describe these and everything else you can learn to make your book a success. Do your research! It’s important.
The second way to write a story is with a “Story Board.” I use a white board from an office supply store and magnets to hold my scraps of ideas in place — which I number! One number for each magnet for every step of my story. I paperclip my notes together, too, in case they get knocked off the board. There are four basic plot points to build your story around. Some books say there can be even seven to twelve points and describe the different breakdowns. Choose the layout that works best for you. Plot development is important for both kinds of writers, and with a story board, which is what I use to write now, I can separate the plot point sections with different colored magnets. Works for me!
If you have anything to add or something you’d like to share, please feel free! Have a question? I’d be happy to answer the best I can. See you next week!