Morning Coffee: What I’m Thankful For

fallIt’s Thanksgiving, the day we gather with family and friends to eat too much turkey, and toast the things we’re most thankful for with too much wine. This year I’m most thankful for my external hard drive.

Wait! What did she just say? She’s thankful for her external hard drive? Yes, you heard right.

A week and a half ago, my much loved Toshiba laptop, after 10+ years of devoted service, crashed. We knew it was coming. There’d been talk of replacing it, but, of course, we put it off. Now I go back and forth between working on my husband’s desk top for the printer connection, and my daughter’s old laptop where I have an email connection. Meanwhile, the search is on for the best option for my new laptop in the Black Friday tech sales. Another thing to be thankful for, Black Friday! Never thought I’d ever say that.

Here’s where my one great saving grace comes into play. My external hard drive. I had backed up my files and pics before shutting down for a trip a couple weeks before, so all I lost were a couple reports I had emailed to others, allowing me to retrieve them.

This could have been a catastrophe. Instead, it’s merely an inconvenience. I’m thankful that I learned after my last hard drive crash that I need to have something larger than a memory stick. And, I need to do more frequent back-ups.

Computers are a double-edged sword. On the one hand, they make our work lives more productive. On the other, going paperless is a daily risk of losing everything. Even back-up systems can fail. (I keep copies of my writing on the external hard drive, a memory stick, AND hard copies!)

Of course, I’m also thankful for friends and family. I’m thankful for good health, a roof over my head, and food in my cupboard. But, right now, the writer in me is very thankful for her external hard drive.

Thanksgiving-free-clipart

Morning Coffee: Winter is Coming!

halloweenAnyone familiar with Game Of Thrones knows this warning. I read several of the books, but have not seen the HBO series. It’s a warning of bleak, dark, dangerous times ahead. That pretty much sums up what I think of a Midwest winter.

When I was a child, I wasn’t fond of the cold but it didn’t matter as much. If it was a weekend, or a snow day, we’d bundle up and go sledding without much thought. There were snowmen, snowballs, and snow angels to consider. But now…well…all I know now is it’s going to be cold, and if I fall on the ice I’m liable to break a hip.

This is a list on how I know winter is coming.

  • Temperature’s dropping
  • Leaves are falling
  • Golf course has closed
  • Ski resort is making snow
  • Soups and stews are becoming the dinner of choice
  • Hunting season is upon us
  • Rutting deer make night driving scary
  • Next week is our annual lefse making day
  • Today is Halloween, yet Christmas has been making an appearance for weeks
  • Hallmark and Lifetime are playing their Countdown to Christmas movies
  • Facebook posts are reminding us we need to be thinking Christmas shopping/decorating
  • I’m beginning to panic about Christmas!!
  • I’m beginning to dream more and more about Florida

Yes, winter is coming and there’s nothing we can do to stop it, so I’m going to have to find a way to make the best of it. It is a good time to tackle the to-be-read books stacked in my bedroom.

Here’s an exciting thought about something great to look forward to this winter. “Mary Bishop” is in the final stages of publication preparations. I returned my revisions to my editor after her first round of notes and she is now reading. (Word is, she’s pretty happy with what I sent.) And I’ve begun talking to a photographer and graphic artist about my cover. My plan is to have it ready for publication late January or early February 2020. Stay tuned!

Morning Coffee: The Negativity Virus

halloweenIt’s the time of year when we start talking about the current flu vaccine. Have you had your shot yet? There are vaccines for almost everything: pneumonia, measles, chicken pox, hepatitis, mumps, you name it. What we don’t have is a vaccine for the negativity virus.

What is the negativity virus? It’s a nasty little fast-spreading bug and, thanks to social media, it’s infecting all of us. One negative comment by one person and soon people world-wide are griping, grumbling, hollering even. Before you can stop it, this little one-celled creature has grown and mutated into anything and everything that’s been lingering at the back of your mind since you were old enough to remember. There is no vaccine, but there are plenty of natural remedies.

Did you have to cancel your tee time because it’s pouring rain? (I know this one well.) There’s nothing you can do to change the weather so why complain about it? Curl up with that book you’ve heard so much about. Pour yourself a coffee, tea, or glass of wine. Better yet, call your golf buddy(ies) and arrange to meet for lunch or a movie, instead.

Were you bullied in school? (Another personal gripe.) Well, if this just happened yesterday, fight it. But if you’re 60 years old, I suggest you start by going to your next class reunion. I’d be willing to bet those people have changed, too, and now you might even be friends. In the meantime, use your own experience to protect the current generation of victims.

You don’t like your current state or federal representative? (This one is a big pet peeve of mine.) Campaign for the person you do like, and then vote! You can’t complain if you didn’t bother to vote. Forget about the mean or silly memes and tweets. They don’t change anything, and they are the fastest way to spread the virus.

You see a pattern here? If you can do something about it, then go for it. If you can’t, then let it go. We’re all carriers, but we don’t have to spread it to others.

The best way to fight off the negativity virus is to not get involved in the first place. Smile and change the subject, or, if need be, walk away. You’ve heard the old saying, “When life gives you lemons, make lemonade.” Well, here’s a toast to plenty of lemonade in our future.

Morning Coffee: Good Friends

fallEveryone needs good friends. Even those of us who are absolute, die-hard, introverts need friends.

I spend a lot of time alone, by choice. I like to read and write; both generally solitary activities. I’ll also go for a walk, play a round of golf, or even go to the movies by myself. After all, you’re supposed to watch the film, not have a conversation.

But sometimes even these normally lone activities are better done with a friend or two. I love to sit by the pool with my sister, each of us quietly reading a book. I get some of my best recommendations from her. My writers’ group plans at least one retreat a year. We set goals, go off to our separate corners to write, then come back and discuss how it went.

I recently returned from four days visiting with old friends, also writers, back in Rochester, New York. It had been four years since we’d been together, and every moment was gold. I won’t let it go that long again. Earlier this week I played a round of golf by myself, but today I played a round with a friend. After, we commiserated over a beer in the club house. Next week I’m set to play with my sister-in-law. I’m going to see “Downton Abbey: The Movie”, with friends next week, as well. But, in-between I’ll spend a lot of time on my own, working on my edits. Some things need to be done alone in order to do well.

Good friends keep us grounded. They remind us that we’re not alone in the world, and our lives have meaning beyond our own needs and desires. Good friends are the only people you can count on to tell you the truth, whether you really want to hear it, or not.

Friends are for making memories. Memories are those things we cling to when we’re alone, but don’t want to be. They’re the stories we share over a glass of holiday cheer, or over a box of tissues at a funeral.

We live at a hectic pace. Don’t let all the everyday chores and worries keep you from remembering what’s really important in your life…your friends. Studies show friendships can help you live a longer, healthier, life. You’ll have plenty of time to dust and vacuum later, or not at all, if you choose. You’ll just have to do it again in a few days, anyway. So, be sure and make time for your friends. No one ever said on their deathbed that they wished they’d spent more time dusting and vacuuming.

Morning Coffee: Another School Year

fallSummer is over and another school year begins. I’m no longer in school, and neither are my children, but I remember the excitement like it was yesterday. I can’t speak for the rest of you, or my children, for that matter, but I couldn’t wait to go back to school. Not just elementary or high school, but college, as well. When the professor passed out the syllabus and I saw all the books we’d be reading, all the papers I’d have to write, well…my heart raced, and it was off to the book store.

By the middle of August I was bored. I was anxious to wear the new clothes and shoes in my closet. School supplies lined the store shelves like candy at Christmas. All I needed was a list from my teacher to tell my mother what to buy. Remember book covers? The five of us sat around the table cutting up brown paper bags and decorating them. I’m still drawn to all those colorful, blank, notebooks just waiting for me to write something in them. Packets of new pens…don’t even get me started.

And then there was my teacher. Who would be my teacher? We all had our favorites, but you didn’t get to choose the one you wanted. You had to take the one they assigned you. My children received a letter in the mail, along with their supply list. When I went to elementary school, we reported to the school gymnasium that first morning and waited while each teacher took their turn calling out the names of his/her students. Every child on those bleachers sat with their fingers crossed hoping they’d, at the very least, be assigned to the same class with their friends. As each name was called students lined up to be led to their classroom, until the gymnasium was empty and the new school year was officially underway.

School started in our town this week. The district campus is just a block from our house and I can hear the children on the playground and the school bells ringing. Lines of yellow buses can be seen through the trees. Soon there will be football games and homecoming. The nights are already getting colder and I’ve seen a patch of color here and there in the leaves. Halloween is just around the corner.

I wrote this poem some years back. It was originally published in the Wisconsin Fellowship of Poets 2016 calendar, and I included it in my August 25, 2017, blog.

Autumn Soup
By Jane Yunker

Fresh pressed uniforms
Shiny Mary Janes
Clean spiral notebooks
Frosted window panes

Smooth orange pumpkins
Apples, red and green
Bright leaves drifing
Slowly from the trees

Cinnamon and nutmeg
Glazed donut holes
Cider and hot chocolate
Warm our chilly bones

Crisp brown cornstalks
A ghost’s whispered flight
Clouds gray and heavy
Mischief’s out tonight

Perhaps a horse-drawn hayride
Or haunted mansion scare
Trick or treat, smell my feet
A spider in your hair!

Morning Coffee: All You Need Is Love

Valentine 2“All you need is love”: lyrics from one of my favorite Beatles songs. Also, it appears, perhaps, the campaign slogan of democratic presidential candidate Marianne Williamson.

Love: the reason I like reading and writing romantic fiction. No matter what the conflicts, there’s always love to bring people back together. Love: something that seems to be dwindling today. Love has gone out of style.

Have you heard the saying, hate the message but love the messenger? It seems today we can no longer agree to disagree. If we disagree with the other person, we’re supposed to hate them. Republicans think democrats are evil, and democrats think republicans are evil. Christians think atheists are evil, and atheists think Christians are evil. The examples are endless.

Instead of debating our viewpoints, we scream them at each other. We cut people off mid-sentence and tell them why they aren’t allowed to speak. Instead of trying to lovingly educate someone who espouses a mistaken, maybe even disturbing, point of view, we label them with one or more of the ever-growing derogatory names available at the time. My mother taught me you can catch more flies with honey than vinegar, an old proverb that never loses its relevance.

I started this blog with the intent of never making it political, but this week dozens of people were killed in two different mass shootings. The only stories of love I’ve heard are those coming from the people who risked their own lives to try and save others. Parents using their own bodies to shield their children; witnesses rushing toward the shooting to pull out anyone they could reach; the police officers who responded so quickly to disarm the situation. The rest of us, instead of sitting down together to discuss what we could do to hopefully prevent these in the future, all stand around pointing a finger at everyone else. It’s not OUR fault. It’s YOUR fault. Remember, every time you point one finger at another, you’re pointing three fingers back at yourself.

August is Romance Awareness Month. When I tell people I write romantic fiction, I inevitably get a snicker, a smirk, sometimes a sneer. “Sex books,” some giggle. “Mommy porn,” others call it with disdain. Yes, some of the books have sex, but not all. What they do all have is love.

And what’s wrong with that?

Morning Coffee: What makes you stop reading?

SummerI’ve been contemplating this question in anticipation of a meeting with my writer friends this weekend. We have a different topic every month, and this month it’s what makes us stop reading a book. The hope is to learn what mistakes not to make with our own work. For me, it could be a number of reasons. A few examples:

I like to take advantage of an e-book sale to try new authors. A year or so ago I bought a paranormal romance. This isn’t a genre I’d normally read, but I do like a good ghost story. And this one promised a pirate ghost. The description on Amazon assured me it wasn’t a book number two or three of a series where I’d be forced to buy others at full price to understand what’s happening in the plot. Yet, when I tried to read it there was definitely a lot of back story I was missing. Either it was, indeed, a subsequent book in a series, or the author dropped me down right in the middle of something without enough explanation. I was confused. I tried to keep going, to give it time, but I couldn’t get far and it just wasn’t worth even the $.99 I spent on it.

Then there was the book that came highly recommended. They even made a movie out of it. It was set during WWII in Germany and I’d read and enjoyed many others set during that time period so I was excited to read this one. I really wanted to like it; but, unfortunately, I didn’t even finish the first chapter because I disliked one of the characters that much. Now, I wasn’t supposed to like her. She was clearly the bad guy, but she was so awful, so mean to a child, I refused to read any further. And since the book was borrowed, I gladly returned it unread.

I was tempted to do the same with the book I recently finished. But I kept reading because it was a novelized version of true historical facts I’d never heard before and I wanted to know why it turned out the way it did. So I forced myself to keep reading. The problem was, it took place during colonial times and the author wrote in the style of the time. She freely used slang terms that were, no doubt, common at the time, but were completely unknown to me. The author did this to make it sound authentic. She also included excerpts from letters and newspaper articles of the time, so she wanted (I’m guessing) to make the novelized portions flow. All it did was make the reading laborious at times. But the storyline was interesting, so I continued until the end. Had it been complete fiction I wouldn’t have bothered. There’s a big risk anytime the author includes too much slang, stiff formal sentence structure no longer in use, or writes in such a way as to try and mimic a heavy accent by throwing in odd spellings and word contractions.

As writers we have to catch our readers’ attention from word one. The opening scene has to grab their attention and keep them reading through to the last page. No one has the time, or the money, to force their way through a long boring tale or, worse yet, one ridden with typos. If they don’t finish it, they certainly aren’t going to recommend you to a friend. They aren’t going to leave that all important good review that will help strangers make the decision to take a chance on a new author and buy your book. And they definitely aren’t going to anxiously await your next book.

I have too many books I want to read, and too little time to read them all, to routinely force my way through something that doesn’t excite me from page one. Have you ever given up on a book? Have you ever told yourself life’s too short? I know I have, many times.

Hopefully I won’t make the mistakes that lead my readers to say the same about my books