Morning Coffee: Writers Must Write

RevisionsWriters are compelled to put words on paper. If we don’t, our characters won’t let us rest. Their voices become louder and louder, forcing their stories upon us until we relent and write them down. Our characters are our best friends. They can also be our worst enemies. Their homes are our homes, their dreams/sorrows/joys, our dreams/sorrows/joys.

When writers don’t write we become irritated, sad, and sometimes just plain bitchy. Nothing feels right again until we can sit down at our computer, or pen in hand if a traditionalist, and start writing. To put it plainly, when I don’t have time to write I feel lost! I’m not me and I can become pretty difficult to live with.

Since we moved from New York State back to Wisconsin almost five years ago I’ve had lots of time to write. It took me four years to find a permanent job. I did temp work here and there, but I needed something permanent to get me out of the house, to introduce me to new people, and to have a little extra money in the pocket. Then I found the perfect part-time job, 2-3 days a week most weeks. It gave me enough time away from my writing to keep me fresh, yet not so much as to stop me in my tracks. Now I’m working full-time filling in for a co-worker on maternity leave. I know it’s temporary, but it’s really putting a crimp in my writing time and I’m getting cranky. I have to work extra hard at finding the time to work on my novel revisions.

Right now I’m writing new chapters to insert where my timeline has holes. I underestimated how difficult this could be. I have two parallel timelines running: my heroine’s past love with her husband, and her present day with her second chance at love now that her husband has died. Yes, this is a challenging approach for a first novel, but it’s the way Mary Bishop tells me her story and I can’t do it any other way. She won’t let me. She’s a woman who knows what she wants and is not afraid to stand up for herself. I admit, I’m a little intimidated by her strength, and also more than a little in awe of her. (Don’t look so shocked. I already told you our characters are very real to us.)

So, I struggled along writing insert chapter one, two, three, and then I got stuck; as stuck as if I’d stepped into the proverbial quicksand. The more I tried to move forward, the deeper I sank and I was getting desperate. So last weekend I went back to the beginning. It was the only way I could think to get out of the quicksand. I started reading from the beginning; reading, revising, reviewing, and taking notes. My second insert chapter brought a new character into the mix. I had to go back to the beginning to reference her as she was now going to play a key role in Mary’s story and couldn’t just suddenly show up in chapter 22. A dog was added, a dog that would save the life of an important person in Mary’s life. Again, couldn’t just have him appear unannounced in chapter 24.

So, now I’m back on my feet and running, a little wet and dirty for my struggle, but moving forward again, nonetheless, and hopefully avoiding all the other patches of quicksand I know are hiding out there. Unfortunately, right now I must take a break to tackle another obstacle to my writing time. There’s a pile of ironing that’s taking on a life of its own, and a button that isn’t going to sew itself back on my jacket. Mary will have to be patient for just a little bit longer.

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Morning Coffee: Spring Tease

001The promise of spring is being dangled in front of us here in northwestern Wisconsin. One day you can touch it, almost believe you can grab hold of it and keep it, only to have it retreat from your reach the next day.

Birds are returning. We can hear them in the trees above our heads. The ice on the St Croix River is breaking-up with loud cracks echoing off the riverside cliffs. The snow is almost completely melted, only lingering where it’s been pushed in great parking lot piles by the plows. And some days the sun is actually as warm as it looks, tempting us to open our windows and step away from our offices to turn our faces up to the heavens and sigh. The only grumbling I’ve heard is from the skiers and ice fishermen who are not quite ready to end the season that for many had a late start this year.

A sure sign of spring in our neck of the woods is the start of maple syrup season, the time when taps are gently hammered into the thick trunks of waking maple trees and the sap drained into buckets to use in the making of maple syrup. Sugar shacks are firing up their boilers and soon a fresh batch of syrup will be hitting the local shops and breakfast tables. Forget that artificial big corporate brand you buy at the grocery store. It’s nothing more than high fructose corn syrup and caramel coloring. If you haven’t tried real maple syrup, I urge you to do so. There’s nothing like the flavor of natural maple to bring those pancakes (or french toast) to life.

But that’s not the only use for maple syrup. It makes wonderful candy, flavors your baking, even your home-brewed beer. Amazing! Google it and you’ll find so many recipes you won’t know where to start. Here’s a favorite in my house. I found it on allrecipes.com a couple years ago and it’s a keeper. It calls for pan-frying in a little butter and vegetable oil, but I bake them on a sprayed cookie sheet at 350 for about 40 minutes, or until cooked through. Moist on the inside and crunchy nutty sweet on the outside. Mmmmmm! If you try it, let me know what you think. And feel free to send me any other suggestions for what you do with real maple syrup.

Pecan Breaded Chicken Breasts
4 skinless, boneless chicken breasts
2 tablespoons real maple syrup
1 cup chopped pecans
3 tablespoons all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon salt

Combine pecans, flour and salt. Brush chicken breasts all over with maple syrup and coat completely with nut mixture.

Final note to make my point: It was 70° last weekend and now it’s snowing.

Morning Coffee: Humble and Kind

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“Hold the door, say please, say thank you / Don’t steal, don’t cheat, and don’t lie \ I know you got mountains to climb but / Always stay humble and kind.”  Tim McGraw

 

 

Have you heard Tim McGraw’s new hit song “Humble and Kind”? I crank up the radio when it comes on, singing along in a slightly off-key but enthusiastic voice. Words to live by.

We’re in a world where bullies are applauded, where it’s entertainment to watch one person turn on another. Whether you’re a fan of reality television, or glued to the current political campaigns, you are being bombarded with arrogance and cruel personal taunts. I’m not just talking about the Republicans; the Democrats also have their hands stuck deep into that not-so-sweet honey pot. Each one of them could take a lesson from Tim McGraw.

I know what you’re thinking; political candidates who stay humble and kind don’t get the press, so they don’t get elected. True, but again, we have only ourselves to blame. Those are the stories we read/watch and the journalists know this. So do the candidates, so they keep up the attacks. Bad press is better than no press at all, right? Ask any ill-behaved young Hollywood actor/actress. Do we want to read about the actor who spends his weekends working at an animal shelter, feeding the homeless, or do we want to see more pictures of a drunken young train wreck of an actress climbing out of a car in a short skirt and no panties.

Look what’s happened to Dr Ben Carson. An intelligent man whose soft-spoken manner got him over-looked during every debate. He had some good ideas worth discussing, but he rarely got a chance to speak as he couldn’t be heard over the screaming and name-calling. After a recent debate viewers were asked who they thought won. Almost unanimously they said, Governor Kasich from Ohio. He was the only adult on stage, they said, refusing to take the bait. They were impressed by this, but will it make any difference in the polls? Probably not. They were shocked by Donald Trump’s defense of a certain male body part. If it were any other candidate, such a remark would mean the death of his candidacy, but will it harm Trump? No. People say they were disgusted by it, he wasn’t being “presidential”, but will that mean fewer votes? We can always hope so, but probably not. We can’t stop snickering about it. People like to watch bullies beat up on everyone else. Attacks don’t have to be physical, although a couple of women wearing too much make-up and too tight of clothing throwing their wine and clawing at each other always leads to a lot of water cooler gossip the next morning.

Why is a romance writer blogging about this? Because romance is all about the happy ending, and you can’t have that without a little humility and kindness from both your hero and heroine. It’s what gets me out of bed each morning. It’s why I love to read a good romance.

“Don’t take for granted the love this life gives you / When you get where you’re goin’ / Don’t forget turn back around / And help the next one in line / Always stay humble and kind.” Tim McGraw

Morning Coffee: Medieval Courtly Love

Valentine 1It’s the story of kings and queens, knights and lords and ladies. The romance, rules, and art of Courtly Love and the Code of Chivalry were strict, allowing knights and ladies to openly express their admiration and love despite their marital status. It was common for a married lady to give a knight a token, perhaps her handkerchief or a flower, before a tournament to show favor. Love songs and poems were presented to married ladies without worry. A moment of flattery, a bit of harmless flirting, nothing more.

But such fun and games could grow to something far more dangerous, as described in legends like those of King Arthur and his Queen, Guinevere, who fell in love with her knight, Sir Lancelot. Their love brought about the undoing of the Round Table. Many illicit romances were fuelled by the practice of Courtly Love.

The art of Courtly Love was practiced throughout the courts of Europe. It is believed to have its origins in Aquitaine France in the 12th Century and spread to the English court from the 1300’s to the 1500’s. It was a time when marriages were arranged and had little or nothing to do with love. Marriage was a contract used for power and material gain. It was acceptable that romance could be found outside of marriage, but only if the rules pertaining to chastity and fidelity were strictly followed.

The rules of Courtly Love were written by the 12th Century Frenchman, Andreas Capellanus. Reading this list, you can see why playing this game could easily lead to trouble.

  • He who is not jealous, cannot love
  • No one can be bound by a double love
  • It is well known that love is always increasing or decreasing
  • That which a lover takes against the will of his beloved has no relish
  • Boys do not love until they arrive at the age of maturity
  • When one lover dies, a widowhood of two years is required by the survivor
  • No one should be deprived of love without the very best of reasons
  • No one can love unless he is impelled by the persuasion of love
  • Love is always a stranger in the home of avarice
  • It is not proper to love any woman whom one would be ashamed to seek to marry
  • A true lover does not desire to embrace in love anyone except his beloved
  • When made public love rarely endures
  • The easy attainment of love makes it of little value; difficulty of attainment makes it prized
  • Every lover regularly turns pale in the presence of his beloved
  • When a lover suddenly catches sight of his beloved, his heart palpitates
  • A new love puts to flight an old one
  • Good character alone makes any man worthy of love
  • If love diminishes, it quickly fails and rarely revives
  • A man in love is always apprehensive
  • Real jealousy always increases the feeling of love
  • Jealousy, and therefore love, are increased when one suspects his beloved
  • He whom the thought of love vexes eats and sleeps very little
  • Every act of a lover ends in the thought of his beloved
  • A true lover considers nothing good except what he thinks will please his beloved
  • Love can deny nothing to love
  • A lover can never have enough of the solaces of his beloved
  • A slight presumption causes a lover to suspect his beloved
  • A man who is vexed by too much passion usually does not love
  • A true lover is constantly and without intermission possessed by the thought of his beloved
  • Nothing forbids one woman being loved by two men or one man by two women

The ideals of Courtly Love can be seen in the literature of the time. Geoffrey Chaucer wrote of it in Canterbury Tales. The wandering minstrels and troubadours of the Middle Ages sang ballads to it. They were expected to memorize and recite lengthy poems about valor and the Code of Chivalry followed by the knights.

But if you’re looking for a good tale of chivalry and Courtly Love, and you’re not interested in trying to decipher the old English of the Middle Ages, all you have to do is search Amazon for medieval romance or medieval courtly love romance and you’ll be given pages of choice. Romance is not dead, nor is Courtly Love, but I suggest you stick to fiction. Your husband or wife will appreciate it.