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.

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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

Morning Coffee: A Never-Ending Process

Healing HeartI recently finished the rough draft of my current novel. Now I can set it aside and work on the final edits for my previous novel in preparation for publication. During this time I will also be doing research and planning for my next two.  Once I get those outlined I will go back to the current novel and start those revisions. You see, by the time I finished this rough draft I came to the realization that it is the first of a trilogy! So by laying out the next two I will have a better hold on what I need to do in my revisions to make for a clean flow. Did you follow all that? It’s fine if you didn’t. Sometimes I have trouble keeping it all straight, too.

You see, writing can easily become a never ending process if you aren’t careful. The more you write going forward, the more you realize you have to change going back. This is good. The problem comes when you don’t know when to stop. Revisions are meant to improve your work, and they do, until a certain point when it all starts going downhill. It is possible to make it worse.

It’s also a never-ending learning curve. When we’re young we learn our letters, how to recognize them and how to write them. Then we learn how to string them together to form words, and words into sentences, into paragraphs. A writer has to know how to put all those paragraphs together to tell a story, and how to tell it well so the reader will want more. I’m still working on that part. I will always be working on that part. The goal is to have every book better than the last.

I’ll be meeting with my editor in a couple weeks to go over her notes for “Mary Bishop” and she’s going to tell me all the ways I can make my writing better, my storytelling more compelling. And, hopefully, I’ll be able to take those notes home and do just that. Then I’ll think about those notes when I’m revising my current rough draft so it’s even better when it gets to the professional editing stage. And at the same time, I’ll be learning how to juggle multiple projects, editing one, while revising another, while researching and outlining two more.

Soon I’ll be learning how to self-publish. I’ll form my own LLC. I’ll need to copy write and register for an ISBN number. I’ll learn how to format the novel, and on which websites, so that it’s accessible on Amazon, Barnes & Noble, libraries. Follow that with learning how to market my books, and how to handle taxes.

The only thing I’m not going to be learning how to do myself is cover design. I’ll pay a graphic artist familiar with book covers to do that for me. Part of the learning process is knowing when something is better off in the hands of another.

Morning Coffee: A Canadian Shore Lunch

003One of the traditions for our annual Canadian fishing trip is shore lunch. If you don’t know what shore lunch is, it’s just what it sounds like…a picnic lunch on shore.

We start out fishing in the morning, then we all meet at the designated spot and time to cook up a wonderful fresh fish dinner. This year it was walleye, baked beans, potatoes fried with onion and bacon, cole slaw, and cookies. It doesn’t get any better, certainly doesn’t taste any better, than when prepared over an open fire and under a clear blue Canadian sky, surrounded by nothing but the sounds and sights of nature. After we’re done eating and cleaning our site (carry in/carry out…take nothing but pictures and leave nothing but footprints) it’s back out on the water to see if we can catch our daily limit.

The ladies in our group have our own tradition that goes with shore lunch, the building of the inuksuk, a man-made stone landmark built by the Inuit people to aid in navigation on an often snowy landscape where everything can look the same. They were also built to mark sacred places.

This year we met on Buzzard Island on a mild early summer day.

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A perfect place for a shore lunch.
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The men will do the cooking.
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While the women do the prep work.
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Mmmmmm! Smells good, guys!
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The ladies are hard at work building the inuksuk.
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Great job, girls!
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Another year over too fast. Fun times spent with family and friends.

 

Morning Coffee: It’s All In The Numbers

003It’s just a number. That’s what people like to say when you get upset about your weight or a dress size. Numbers are unreliable, changing, they’ll tell you. Everyone’s weight fluctuates. Dress sizes change depending on the manufacturer or designer.

But if you ask an athlete or sports enthusiast if numbers are important, they’ll tell you numbers are the most important. A team’s stats determine whether or not they go to the top of their league. A player’s stats are what determine if they play again next year and how much they’re paid to do so. The higher the number the better. Unless you play golf, then the lower the better.

To a mathematician or scientist, numbers are what define the universe and everything in it.

I have been obsessed with a few numbers, myself, the last few months. You see, today is my 60th birthday. There…I said it. 60! The down-side of the hill, so to speak. No other “big” birthday has bothered me the way this one has. Not 40 or 50.

60!

I can’t stop that roll down the hill, but I can at least try to slow it down. So I rejoined WW (the new branding for Weight Watchers) in January. So far I’ve lost 26lbs and I’d love to lose at least 10lbs more. Not only does carrying less weight make me feel better physically and emotionally, it’s helping me to drop some other rather important numbers…my cholesterol. Nothing guarantees how fast you reach the bottom of your personal hill, but being healthy is the best way to try and control your descent, and control just how beat up you are when you do reach bottom. I know when I saw my doctor in February she was pleased to see my numbers had already begun to improve. Yet another case where the lower the number the better.

Then there’s another big number coming up fast. Next month we’ll celebrate our 40th wedding anniversary. (Yes, I was a mere child bride.) Not many people can say they made it that far without throwing their spouse out the door, walking out themselves, or attempting to dispose of a body.

As a writer, it’s about word counts and number of pages. I hope to soon have to obsess over some new numbers…sales and fans. Stay tuned and that will be a topic for future day.

In the meantime, it’s off to Canada to fish with family and friends. A great way to celebrate a birthday. After all, it’s “just a number”, right?

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