Morning Coffee: Caribbean Vacation

Carnival Magic 2019I just returned from the first of three vacations that just happen to fall within a six week time period. The second two are annual plans, a girls’ trip with my sister and a couple’s fishing trip to Canada with friends and family. This first one, though, was more last minute when my daughter needed someone to take over a cruise ticket when traveler number four fell ill and couldn’t go.

I’ve never been on a cruise before so this was a great chance to get away and try new things (something I’m not terribly good at, being somewhat of a worry wart). So, on Easter Sunday I boarded the Carnival Magic in Miami with my daughter, her boyfriend, and his daughter, for a fun week in the Caribbean.

11a Katy and Jane zipline at Amber Cove Dominican RepublicOur first port was Amber Cove in the Dominican Republic, where I tried the zip line…twice. Even though my harness fell off as I approached the cable for the first time!! Yes, I did have a moment of rethinking my position, but decided it was no doubt a fluke or someone would have shut them down by then. Good thing I was right because I had enough fun to do it a second time.

 

17b Jane and Katy Coki Beach St ThomasOur second port was Coki Beach on St Thomas. There I tried snorkeling with my daughter’s help. That did not go as well. I’ve never felt as claustrophobic as I did when I strapped on that full face mask. I was warned that it would feel like I had no air to breathe when, in reality, I did, and they were right. But I just couldn’t let go of the feeling the mask was smothering me. I did manage to put my face in the water long enough to watch the fish come to eat the bits of bread my daughter dropped in the water for them and that was pretty cool, but that was it. The soft sand slid under my feet and every wave then lifted and pushed me away from my daughter’s grasp. Then, somehow, a little salt water found its way inside the mask and into my eyes. I don’t think I’ve ever removed something as fast as I removed that mask. I don’t know if I’ll be able to try that again, but I’m keeping an open mind.

Our third port was San Juan. My daughter and I went on a five hour bus tour of the rain forest and old fort. If you get a chance to go to Puerto Rico, do. Despite the damage they suffered under Hurricane Maria, they are open for business. The tour guide told how the entire island was brown after the storm. Not a single leaf or blade of green. But the island is once again a brilliant green. Their plants regenerate faster than any others and the result is beautiful! The Puerto Ricans count on tourism and there is so much to see and do you will not be disappointed.

55a Grand TurkOur fourth and final port was Grand Turk, another beautiful beach with amazing clear blue water. This time I stayed on shore and watched my daughter and her boyfriend snorkel. It was too soon to try that again.

Vacations are meant to be a getaway from our every day work. Think of it like a computer re-boot. I spent my time reading or soaking in the sunshine and all the beautiful tropical life around me. The only writing I did was in the airport. Next week I leave for a week on South Beach and then Key West with my sister. I suspect it will be much of the same. By the time June rolls around I’ll be chomping at the bit to get back to my work in progress while enjoying nothing more than the quiet beauty of my own backyard.

69 mother and daughter fun on board

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Morning Coffee: A.I.S.

Healing HeartAnyone who’s a fan of “Everybody Loves Raymond” is familiar with the term A.I.S. It means “ass in seat” and was how Frank Barone raised his two sons. If he said “we’re leaving at 9:00, A.I.S.” you better be sitting in the car by 9:00 or you’d be left behind. Raymond tried this with his wife, Deborah, when she habitually kept him waiting. Invited to attend an important industry dinner, Raymond did not want to be late. He set the time and told her to be in the car and ready, A.I.S., or he would leave without her. The night in question arrives. Raymond’s downstairs, pacing, groaning, checking his watch. Finally, unable to stand it one minute longer, he leaves. Meanwhile, Deborah is upstairs getting ready for the party. She checks her watch and proudly announces to herself that she’s ready with minutes to spare. She stops for one last look in the mirror. Deciding she has plenty of time, she picks up her hot curling brush to tweak an errant curl. As always happens when you’re in a hurry, it gets twisted in her hair and she can’t get it out. She tries and tries until it’s too late. Raymond left without her. She’s furious and, of course, a fight ensues when he arrives home. Raymond seeks his father’s backing only to learn Frank never dared to A.I.S. his wife!

A.I.S. became a favorite saying among “Raymond” fans everywhere. And while it’s funny in a television sitcom, it’s unlikely to turn out well for anyone who actually tries it with a loved one.

The one time it can work, though, is when you have to make a deadline. Whether that be for school or work, it isn’t going to get done unless you A.I.S. yourself. That’s the first piece of advice we give when someone asks how we manage to finish writing a whole book. Sit yourself down and force yourself to write. Even if you’re afraid it’s trash, just keep writing. You can fix it later. That’s what the revision process is all about.

That’s what I’m doing right now. I needed to come up with something for this blog posting and was having a terrible time. I took time away from my computer to refresh my brain. I watched television, played hours of Candy Crush and Words With Friends, and surprisingly (not!) couldn’t come up with a single idea. So I sat myself down in front of my computer, told myself “A.I.S., girl”, and it came to me. A.I.S.!

Now, if I could only ignore email and Facebook and work on my book.

Morning Coffee: Spring Renewal

001Spring is a time of renewal. The sun seems a little brighter, definitely a little warmer. The snow is melting, filling the air with that smell of fresh wet earth. I saw my first robins this past weekend. Amazing how one little bird can make me so happy. Imagine what it will be like when the humming birds return!

Soon the spring flowers will start peaking out of the ground and trees will begin to bud. The bears are awake and the little spotted fawns will arrive just around the corner. Sap buckets hang from the maple trees.

Winter is finally over (hopefully, it has been known to make a final in-your-face return in April…just because it can) and spring has returned to lift ours spirits. The winter blues are gone.

I’ve been on Weight Watchers since January and have so far lost 20lbs. But, as I’ve told you in the past, I’m not a winter person so I’ve had to rely solely on changes in diet in order to lose weight. A very necessary first step but now I can add exercise because it’s warm enough that I want very much to get out for long walks. And before you know it, the golf course will be open!

It’s been a long winter. We’ve had bone-chilling cold weather and lots of snow and ice. My brain, like the bears, gradually went into hibernation. I thought I’d be able to accomplish a lot of writing all cozy at my desk with a blanket on my lap and a steaming cup of something hot by my side. In the beginning that was true, but over time I’d become sluggish. Not just physically, but mentally. I’d gotten to the point where I’d rather stay in bed and read someone else’s book than get up and work on my own.

But no more! With fresh air to wake up my creativity during a morning walk, I expect to return home ready to write! No more plopping down in front of the television in my bathrobe to watch hours of reruns on cable. I have a rough draft to finish!

Morning Coffee: Contests

Healing HeartA great way for romance writers to get feedback on their work-in-progress (WIP) is to enter one of the many contests offered by Romance Writers of America and their various chapters. You don’t have to be a member to join, but if you are it will cost you a little less in entry fees.

Unpublished or published, there are many contests from which to choose. This is my fourth year entering WisRWA’s Fab5 contest. The first year I entered “Mary Bishop” in the historical romance category and placed in the top five. The second year I entered it in the women’s fiction with romantic elements category. That time I scored in the middle of a group of very competitive entries. Last year I entered my current WIP, “The Healing Heart”, in the historical fiction category and again placed in the top five. This year I’m trying it in the women’s fiction with romantic elements category. Judging has begun and first round results will be announced mid-April. That’s when the top five in each category will go on to the second round. The final placement for each category will be announced in June.

First round judges are published and unpublished peers. This is where you get detailed comments with your scores. I’ll received scores and comments from three judges, with my overall score/placement based on an average. If I make the second round, then I’ll be judged by one publisher and one literary agent. Their scores will determine the final order of the five entries. They might also request a partial or full manuscript submission, and that could lead to publication. So far I haven’t received a request from the second round judges, but again, I received some very helpful comments.

Entry requirements are different for each contest. For the Fab5 you enter the first 2500 words. Others might request a certain number of chapters, and some will also require a synopsis so judges can see the full storyline. WisRWA does not.

Prizes vary. WisRWA awards a plaque. As I said, the real prize is given to all entrants… comments! There’s nothing that will keep you going on a slow or discouraging day like knowing other writers enjoyed reading your work.

This will be my third year volunteering as a first round judge. I’ve judged both historical romance and women’s fiction with romantic elements, depending on which of the two categories I did not enter that year. I love being a judge. Even the entries that are clearly from beginners are a joy to read. I’m grateful for the chance to give my time to help other writers in the same way others have given their time to help me.

This past weekend I received eight entries for judging in the historical romance category. They’re printed, along with score sheets, and ready to take to the cabin this weekend; the cabin, where my phone reception is spotty and no one is coming to the door. The cabin, where I’ll have plenty of quiet time to give each one a careful first read and take notes that I’ll go over again later, before making my final comment/score decisions. I know how much I’m going to rely on the comments/scores I receive back on my entry and I want to give that same consideration to these eight writers who are, no doubt, anxiously waiting to hear what the judges have to say about theirs.

Morning Coffee: Support Your Favorite Author

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As writers, we rely on our readers even more than our writing skills to produce a successful book. Here are some ways you can help your favorite author.

 

 

  • Obviously, first thing you can do is buy the book.
  • Then, tell your friends to buy the book. Or, buy it for them as a gift. Rave about it. Hand it to them so they can see the cover, read the back blurb. Tell them how wonderful it is and how you know they will absolutely love it.
  • After raving about it to the people you know, write a review online so you can rave about it to the people you don’t know. Book selling sites have a way for readers to write reviews. Even if it’s not a 5-star review, that’s fine. Reviews help sell more books.
  • Suggest it to your book club. And when you’re all done reading it, discussing it, and carrying on about how much you loved it, tell them to recommend it. And be sure to tell them to write a review.
  • If the author lives in the area, maybe she/he would come to your book club and lead a discussion. We love to sign books and hear people tell us personally how much they love our book. We’re even willing to discuss the parts that confuse or fail for our readers. That’s how we learn. Writing a book takes a lot of work. It’s a sometimes agonizing process that can leave a writer wondering if it’s worth the effort. Kind words from our readers make all the hard work worth it.
  • Check out our websites, our blogs. Sign up for the newsletter, if they have one. Follow us on Facebook, on Twitter, on Instagram, and any other social media site where you might find us. Go to book signing author/reader events and bring a friend…or two.

I’ve written many reviews for other writers. Some are personal friends, some are not, but I’m always honest while being fair and kind. If you truly disliked the book, you can still write a review. Just say why you disliked it, why it disappointed you in some way, but in a manner that’s neither rude nor hurtful.

This weekend I wrote a review for another Wisconsin author. I read her book in one day because I couldn’t put it down and I said as much in my Amazon review. If you like medieval Christian romance, check out Olivia Rae’s The Sword and the Cross Chronicles. I didn’t start the series until book 5, Adoration, and I just finished book 6 (the final book), Devotion, without feeling like I missed anything by not reading books 1-4 first; although, I will probably read them now. Olivia Rae takes you into the characters, into the time period, and never lets you go. She’s a master storyteller that I highly recommend.

Morning Coffee: Give Yourself a Valentine

Valentine 2Today is Valentine’s Day. It’s the day when women everywhere wait anxiously to see what their love has in store for them: flowers, chocolates, jewelry, dinner out, and, of course, a schmaltzy card. Some will be happy with what they get, others not, and then there are those who spend the day feeling sorry for themself because they don’t currently have anyone to be their valentine. And it starts as early as kindergarten! Remember covering a shoe box in construction paper hearts, cutting a slot in the top, and then waiting for it to fill with funny little cartoon valentines? Remember feeling hurt when others received more than you?

Why do we do this? Why do we rely on someone else to make us feel worthy? I say, give yourself a valentine!

I don’t necessarily mean a card, although you could, if you wish. I’m talking about doing something special for you. Treat yourself to a dinner out and a movie. Or, you could get your favorite take-out and binge watch whatever Netflix show currently has your attention. Dip your own strawberries in chocolate and pour yourself a glass of wine. You could take a bubble bath with candles and nice music. Book a spa day. Throw a party for all your friends who also have no valentine this year. There’s no end to the ideas.

And there’s no reason to limit this to one day out of the year. Do something special for yourself every day. One little thing, that’s all it takes, to remind yourself that you are special. You could go for a walk or call an old friend you haven’t talked to in a long time. Set aside a little time to read a favorite novel and escape any of the worries that might be haunting you.

Make every day Valentine’s Day, and be your own valentine.