Morning Coffee: Friends

Revisions“Make new friends but keep the old, one is silver and the other gold.” Remember that song from Girl Scouts? At least, that’s where I learned it. It made for a great campfire round, but is there any truth to it? Are old friends better than new ones? Or, for that matter, are new friends better than old?

I’ve lost track of some of my oldest friends, the ones that go back to childhood. Some I know where they are but we don’t talk anymore, and some I have no idea where they are now. The beauty of Facebook has been the ability to reconnect with old friends. I’ve “friended” old classmates I would not have necessarily considered a “friend” back then, but that I do now. Does that make them a new friend, or an unrecognized old friend?

Then there are my somewhat old friends, the people I grew close to when living in western New York State for 30 years. Between Facebook and email and ever expanding/improving cell plans they’re easy to keep in touch with…although, even then we’re not always good at it.

Now I’m making new friends here in northwest Wisconsin. Some are neighbors, some fellow church members, co-workers, and many are also writers. I’d have a hard time if required to label some of them as “gold” and some of them as “silver”, especially if based solely on how long I’ve known them. My friends are my friends and I hold them all equally close to my heart.

Mary, the heroine in my novel Mary Bishop, is struggling with feeling alone now that her husband has died. She has formed a friendship with the minister’s new young wife, Frances, but mourns the loss of her friends from her past in Virginia. Some died during the War, while others moved on after the fighting ended and she no longer knows where they are, or if they even still live. But there is one, her friend Sarah, who did keep in touch after moving west. Mary wonders why they eventually stopped writing, and is her friend still living in Minnesota? She writes Sarah in hopes of finding her old friend. She thinks her old friend will be the answer to her problems, more so than her new friend. Does that make Sarah a “gold” friend and Frances a “silver” friend? Especially once she finds out the role Frances played in bringing the two back together.

Perhaps the label of “gold” or “silver” changes with the moment. Perhaps which is your answer depends on what is your question.

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Morning Coffee: The Year of Jane

RevisionsI was talking with my sister on the phone the other day, telling her about the recent success of my book, and she reminded me of something rather prophetic that I said to her during our annual Vegas weekend in January. I had announced several times that this is “the Year of Jane”. Some of you may recognize that phrase from the successful CBS sitcom “The Middle”. Last season Sue Heck declared her senior year of high school to be “the Year of Sue”. Everything she did that year was the culmination of all her past years, and the catalyst for what was to come…college life.

For the Year of Jane, everything I’ve done in the past to hone my skills as a writer has been in anticipation of this year, 2016, the year I publish my first novel. No, I don’t have a contract yet, but I have known from the moment I started writing this one that it will be published. I have never referred to “if” I publish, but always “when” I publish.

My blog is a success and I’m up to 121 followers with readers from all around the world. My Facebook author page is growing, as is my Twitter feed. (I’m finally getting the hang of using those hashtags!) Then last week the highpoint of my writing career so far. I get the phone call that tells me my book is a finalist in the historical category of WisRWA’s 2016 Fab Five competition.

WisRWA is the Wisconsin chapter of the Romance Writers of America, and the Fab Five is their annual competition for unpublished romance writers. To enter you need to have a completed romance novel and to have not published a romance novel before. I have a completed novel, Mary Bishop. Yes, I’m in the middle of some extensive revisions, but it was what I considered complete until my critique group pointed out some holes in my plot line. So back in February I submitted the first 2500 words of my novel. Lucky for me, this included my one-paragraph prologue and all of my first two chapters. Each chapter introduced one of my two timelines that run throughout the book so it was a good introduction for the judges. The first round is judged anonymously by my peers and the top five (Fab Five) from each category are chosen to continue to the final round. The final round is judged by an editor and an agent who work in that romance subgenre.

This is a huge opportunity to be read by someone in the industry, and possibly have my entire manuscript requested and, ultimately, my first novel published. You can see why I’m insisting that this is, indeed, the Year of Jane.

Morning Coffee: Lonely vs Being Alone

RevisionsWe all know what it’s like to feel lonely. You can be in a room full of friends and family, people you love, and feel lonely. They can all be talking, laughing, having a good time, and you feel like you’re outside looking in through glass. Being lonely is not the same as being “alone”.

I’m “alone” right now and enjoying the solitude, regenerating in the quiet. It’s Sunday the 10th and my husband is on a road trip across Canada to Alaska with his cousin. I finished my errands yesterday and I don’t go back to work until tomorrow, so I have the treat of a day just for me. I spent the morning cross-stitching, drinking coffee, and catching up on some DVR’d shows. For lunch I finished my Chinese leftovers from last night out with a girlfriend (dinner and a movie). Now I sit at my computer drafting this blog and then working on my novel revisions. Classical MPR (Minnesota Public Radio) is playing in the background, a cinnamon-scented candle is lit (leftover from the holidays, but who cares), the sun is shining outside the sliding doors, and I’m enjoying every minute of it. Temps are supposed to be in the 50s today so I’ll even try opening those sliding doors to listen to the breeze tickling the still leafless trees, and the birds singing that spring is near. I don’t get many days like this. If I make good progress on my writing this afternoon my reward will be a bubble bath with wine and a good read. Does it get any better? I doubt it.

We all need a day like this now and then, a day to ourselves where we can shut out all the worries and concerns of our everyday life. Some people like a long afternoon nap, others a walk in the woods. Doesn’t matter how you unwind, the point is we all need to unwind…alone.

But I would argue being alone is even more important to writers. This is the time we can most clearly hear our characters speak. This is the time we can let our muse take over our thoughts, the time we can allow our plot to percolate through our brains and out our fast-typing fingertips. Writers are by nature solitary creatures. Oh, we do seek each other out from time to time to compare notes, share tips of the trade, and to reassure ourselves that we aren’t truly alone because all mankind has perished except for us and we somehow missed it while we were being alone. My local chapter of the Wisconsin Romance Writers of America (WisRWA, Chippewa Falls) is sponsoring a one-day workshop in Eau Claire this coming October the 8th and I’m looking forward to meeting others who feel the creative urge the way I do. It’s also why I attend my critique group in Amery one Monday a month, and continue to correspond and share my writing with my old critique group back in western New York. These are the people who help me remember WHY I write, but most of the time I need a quiet day like this one to ACTUALLY write.

Alright, the door has to be closed. The breeze is still a little too cool and those birds are distracting me from writing.

Morning Coffee: E-Books or Traditional?

RevisionsBooks have been a part of my life for as long as I can remember. I come from a family of voracious readers. My parents are retired school teachers and there were always books, magazines, and newspapers in our house. I remember being read to as a child and couldn’t wait until I was able to read for myself, starting with Golden Books, Raggedy Ann and Andy, Uncle Wiggily, Little House series, and oh so many more I can’t even remember them all. My parents censored what movies and television shows I watched, but they never censored my reading. While I wasn’t allowed to watch The Exorcist, I was allowed to read it; the same with Helter Skelter and In Cold Blood. But I also read, by choice, such classics as The Scarlet Letter, Silas Marner, The House of Seven Gables, and, of course, poetry.

And for as long as I can remember, I have made up stories. Not in the naughty child sense, although I’m sure that probably happened a time or two when I’d been caught doing something I wasn’t supposed to, but out of the desire to share with others all those characters living in my imagination. The desire to explore the places I knew certainly must exist outside my own little world.

As for the question of e-books or traditional, I read them both. I love my Kindle for travel. I love how it doesn’t close and make me lose my place should I fall asleep while reading (not an unusual occurrence). However, I would never take my Kindle into the bathtub with me. For bubble baths I tend to stick to magazines. They’re light weight, I can hold them in one hand, leaving the other free to hold my wine, and if a magazine does by chance fall into the water I’m not going to cry or get angry.

My Kindle is great when I want to read something particularly trashy and don’t want everyone in the airport or the park to know, such as Fifty Shades of Grey (book 1 only, too trashy even for me). My Kindle is perfect when I decide it’s time to read a great Russian novel like War and Peace or Anna Karenina because it’s not near as heavy as the traditional print version. But when I’m researching my current work-in-progress, or something I might want to write in the future, I need to have a traditional book so I can highlight passages and write notes in the margin and dog-ear important pages. I know you can do all these things with an e-reader, or so I’ve heard, but it’s not the same. And studying maps, diagrams, and charts just doesn’t work as well on an e-reader, especially if you have to flip back and forth to refer to them while reading.

When the sale of e-readers and e-books began to take off, the media predicted traditional publishing houses would soon be a thing of the past. No one would want printed books when they could get the same thing in a lighter, cheaper, electronic version in a blink of an eye, with just the push of a button. Why go out into traffic and/or bad weather to find your nearest Barnes & Noble when you could sit back with your bunny-slippered feet propped up all warm and comfortable while you drink wine (I’m beginning to see a pattern here) with one hand and browse your e-reader store with the other. You can make a selection, press the “buy now” button and there it is, ready to be enjoyed without having to leave your home.

Then the great publishing apocalypse never happened. The traditional publishing houses are all going strong. I could quote you statistics on the matter, but you can Google those for yourself if you’re that interested in the numbers. Suffice it to say, I am not the only person who continues to read print books while also enjoying my e-reader. Plus, e-books have opened up the publishing world to a much wider range of writers. While some, if truth be told, would be better off waiting until they’ve honed their skills a little more before making their debut, most are gems who would never even get noticed, never get read, because they’re not quite good enough for the big houses.

As for our young readers, the children just being introduced to the world of books, I believe we should stick to print. Let them feel the paper in their hands, smell it, experience the beautiful art work in all its brightly printed glory. They spend enough time in front of digital screens.

Morning Coffee: April Fools’ Day

RevisionsThe exact origins of April Fools’ Day, or All Fools’ Day, are unknown. Celebrated for centuries by many different cultures, it is a day for telling jokes and playing pranks. Remember elementary school and all the silliness? The jokes that were only funny to other children your age? Tell the little girl who sits behind you there’s a spider in her hair and she might start screaming and swatting at her head. Tell your mother the same thing and she’ll just look at you with mild amusement and respond, “I don’t think so, but nice try.” Coat the edge of a quarter with pencil lead and bet some little boy that he can’t roll it down the center of his face without dropping it and before you know it he’s grinning at you, unknowing, with a black line dividing his face in two, certain he’s just proved you wrong while you and all your friends point and laugh. I got caught by that one.

Of course, pranking is not just a past time of the young and silly, it’s also enjoyed with great relish by some you would think too old for such nonsense. There’s the rubber spider on a co-worker’s chair, or the pool of fake spilled coffee across their desk. Playing pranks can be fun for all ages if done sparingly and with careful thought to the recipient. It’s only funny if the person being pranked thinks so.

Elaborate hoaxes have been played on the public over the years, often meeting with an unbelievable level of gullibility from the people. The media have reported outrageous fictional tales with great success. In 1957, the BBC reported Swiss farmers were having a record spaghetti crop and showed pictures of smiling people harvesting strands of pasta from the trees into over-flowing baskets. In 1985, Sports Illustrated amazed many of its readers when it ran a made-up article about a rookie pitcher named Sidd Finch who could throw a fastball over 168 mph. Does anyone remember 1996, when the Mexican fast food chain Taco Bell announced they were buying the Liberty Bell and renaming it the Taco Liberty Bell? How many of you, just for a brief moment, were horrified and outraged before you realized it had to be a hoax? In 1998, Burger King advertised a “Left-Handed Whopper” and scores of clueless customers tried to order the fake sandwich.

All done in the name of fun, good, clean, harmless fun. Do you have a favorite prank from your past? Or perhaps you’re planning your best one yet for this year? Tell me about it. Maybe I’ll tell my supervisor, the one who’s out on maternity leave, and the office manager that I’m quitting. Act all outraged and see if I cause a panic. (She has two weeks of leave to go before she comes back.) No, I better not. That could backfire on me. They could say fine, if that’s how you want it you can leave right now. That wouldn’t be very funny. Not funny at all.

Perhaps I should work an April Fools’ Day joke into my book. I think Mary would be a very good sport about it. She might even be the instigator.