Morning Coffee: Christmas is Coming

You read that right. I said, Christmas is coming. Now, before you get all riled up, I do realize it’s not even Halloween for another week. But, as I sit here watching our first measurable snowfall of the season, I am painfully aware that Christmas is truly just around the corner.

The holiday season won’t be quite the same for many of us this year. Thank you very much, COVID! Family celebrations are going to be smaller, with a more carefully selected group of people. Some will choose to limit gatherings to immediate family . . . which could mean only yourself, or you and your spouse.

Downsizing the holidays could be a very positive experience. The holidays are a stressful time. No matter how much you enjoy them, there’s all the pre-planning, and, often, a lot of last-minute scrambling. 2020 has already been a stressful year. I suggest everyone make a concerted effort to simplify so we might spend more time appreciating what the holidays truly mean.

You can still have your favorites for dinner, but do you really need three kinds of vegetables and five kinds of pie? A ten-pound turkey cooks faster than the twenty-pounder. With few, if any, houseguests, you don’t have to worry so much about the cleaning. Perhaps a smaller tree that takes half the time to set-up and take-down so you don’t resent it more than enjoy it. Put more decorations outside than inside. That way your neighbors can enjoy them, too. Especially those who are feeling the loneliness more acutely than others this year.

Leave yourself plenty of time to watch holiday movies and listen to your favorite holiday music. Curl up with your sweetie in front of the fire with a bottle of wine instead of fretting over all your half-done lists.

And read some of those books on your shelves instead of worrying about dusting them.

Speaking of books—they make great gifts. Easy to wrap. Easy to mail or fit into a suitcase, even if flying. And think of all the starving authors you’d be helping. This has been a tough year for the independently published who saw all their big author/reader events cancelled.

Here’s where I throw in a little shameless self-promotion. “Mary Bishop” is available both online and direct from the author (me). Check it out. You won’t be disappointed.

Morning Coffee: The Hard-Won Fight

feetOn August 18, 1920, the 19th Amendment, making it illegal to deny any citizen the right to vote based on their gender, was ratified. On August 26th, just over 100 years ago, it was certified by the US Secretary of State, officially enacting it as the 19th Amendment to the US Constitution. Another election is fast approaching and the women’s vote is still the much-coveted block of support sought by every candidate. It can make the difference between victory or loss.

But the battle for this right began long before then. The first generation of suffragettes met in the village of Seneca Falls, New York, on July 19th and 20th, 1848. Among their numerous demands: a woman’s right to own property, to keep the money she earned or inherited, court-awarded custody of her own children in the case of divorce, equal educational opportunities for girls, and dress reform. Attendance included such notables as Susan B Anthony, Elizabeth Cady Stanton, Lucy Stone, and Lucretia Mott. It was Elizabeth Cady Stanton who offered the most controversial demand, that of a woman’s “inalienable right to the elective franchise,” something not agreed upon by every woman in attendance. Lucretia Mott, a Quaker from Philadelphia, feared “thee will make us ridiculous.” Thus, began a seventy-year battle by women to win a voice in government.

On May 21, 1919, US Representative James R Mann, Republican from Illinois and Chair of the Suffrage Committee, proposed the House resolution to approve the Susan Anthony Amendment. It passed the House 304-89, 42 votes above the two-thirds required majority. On June 4th, the Senate passed what became known as the 19th Amendment 56-25, just 2 votes over the two-thirds required majority. It then went to the States for ratification. Thirty-six States would need to ratify for the 19th Amendment to become law, a three-quarters majority.

On June 10th, Wisconsin beat Illinois by only minutes for the honor of being the first State to ratify. The story goes that State Senator David G James from Richland Center hand-delivered the documents to Washington DC on June 13th. He was walking out of the office of the Secretary of State with the signed certification as the representative from Illinois was walking in. Eight states would vote to reject (Georgia, Alabama, South Carolina, Virginia, Maryland, Mississippi, Delaware and Louisiana) before Tennessee became the thirty-sixth and final State to ratify – by just one vote!

On August 18th, 1920, Tennessee met in special session in Nashville to consider the amendment. Those in favor wore yellow roses. Those opposed wore red. The State Senate had already voted to ratify. The final decision was up to the House. One red rose wearing member, Harry Burn, carried a letter from his mother in his pocket. In it, she wrote: “Dear Son… Hurry and vote for suffrage and don’t keep them in doubt…Don’t forget to be a good boy…” With his mother’s words echoing in his head, Harry Burn cast the tie-breaking vote to ratify.

Ladies, on November 3rd, remember the many who fought for our right to go to the polls and have our voices heard. Democrat or Republican, it doesn’t matter. Don’t let anyone deter you from voting your conscience. Be careful—wear a mask, keep a safe distance, follow all the pandemic safety rules put in place by your local poll workers—but cast your vote with pride, and without fear.

Susan B Anthony and Frederick Douglas

Susan B Anthony and Frederick Douglas, Rochester, New York

Morning Coffee: Book Signings in the Age of COVID

blessing journalWhen I was ready to put “Mary Bishop” out for the world to see and enjoy, one thing I was really looking forward to was book signing events. Both the big ones where many authors get together, and the small hometown ones where only a few authors, perhaps only one, are showcased. Unfortunately, my release date fell very close on the heels of the COVID19 pandemic. One event after another was first postponed, and then cancelled, as it became clear this virus wasn’t going to have a fast and brief pass through. This was particularly hard on debut authors like myself, writers who don’t yet have a large fanbase.

My friends and I recently put our heads together and came up with a great way to hold a book signing while continuing to practice safe social distancing. We had it outside, in my front yard, offering both drive up and walk up options. Masks were encouraged and there was plenty of room to spread out.

DSCN2588It proved to be a perfect evening with wonderful weather and lots of friends and neighbors stopping by. I even sold out and had to start a list for delivery once my new order arrives. I wore the outfit I wore on the book cover and displayed my father’s working replica of the 1860 Army Colt featured in the story. Lemonade and individual water bottles were available for refreshment.

DSCN2596If there’s one positive thing that comes out of crazy, trying, times like these, it’s the ingenuity displayed finding a new way to go forward in life. Restaurants never equipped in the past for take-out or curbside pick-up altered their menus to keep business going . . . albeit under a much smaller model. Distilleries converted to making hand sanitizer. Car manufacturers switched to making ventilators. The most difficult transition has been how to educate our children. That’s still in the trial and error stage.

The human brain is pliable, inventive, ever-learning. When we can keep our spirits lifted, our potential is never-ending.


Morning Coffee: Small World

SummerA writer’s world is a small one . . . with a strong magnetic core that seeks out all other writers. As soon as you write a book, you learn just how many people in your town have done the same. Especially now with so many self-publishing options.

This past week I learned just how small it is. A friend posted a picture of two locally written books on her Facebook page. One was mine, the other I didn’t recognize the author’s name, but the title made me stop. I remembered a contest entry I judged several years ago. It was anonymous, so I didn’t know the author’s name, and I couldn’t remember the title, but it sounded like the same plot. I went to the Amazon link and read the blurb. The contest was for the first 1500 words of an unpublished book and I knew it was, indeed, that same book.

And to think, she lives in my town!

I contacted her and we arranged for her to stop at my house with a copy when she was out and about later in the day. We got to talking and, to add to my small world line of thought, she learned about the contest from this blog.

So, to recap: She reads my blog and learns about the contest. She enters the contest and I end up being one of her randomly selected judges. She lives in my town. And, it turns out she was my niece and nephew’s school teacher; as well as a mutual friend of so many of my friends.

While I don’t remember all my judging comments, and I didn’t keep them once the contest ended, I do remember I liked what I read and wished at the time I could have read more. I bought a copy of her book that day and will begin reading it as soon as I finish the current novel I’m reading. I can’t wait. She’s already reading mine.

The book is “Brenda’s Motel”, and the author’s name is Barbara Trombley. Even though I haven’t read the entire book yet, I feel confident recommending it.

You can find her on Amazon.

Morning Coffee: The Importance of a Good Editor

blessing journalI enjoy reading debut authors, especially indie authors. I’m an indie author. There are a lot of good ones just waiting to be discovered, but there are also not so good ones. Some of the latter need to work on their overall writing skills. But sadly, many of the latter only need a good editor.

When an author publishes the traditional route, they’re assigned an in-house editor to help clean-up the manuscript before it goes to print. If an agent is involved, that person will often make editing comments, as well. Indie authors, however, need to find our own editor, and they come at a range of prices. The right one is worth his or her weight in gold . . .or, should I say, weight in sales.

I thought “Mary Bishop” was ready to go numerous times. I edited . . . submitted . . . edited . . .  submitted . . . and then edited some more. I believed it was almost perfect. An editor would be assigned to me and we’d just file down a couple rough edges before it hit the shelves and became a New York Times bestseller. As you know, that did not happen. When I decided to change course and self-publish, I made certain to find myself a good editor. Two rounds of her edits later and I was amazed. Not that the book was bad to begin with, it wasn’t, but there was still so much room for improvement.

I recently finished reading an indie book that could have used a good editor. Sad thing is, it’s not his first book. The story was good, the characters intriguing, so I did finish reading it. (Sometimes I don’t.) I had to know how it ended. But with every typo I cringed and sighed. It’s easy to miss a couple, even after multiple rounds of edits, but the closer I got to the end of the book, the more typos I found. Clearly the first half of the book had undergone more rounds of editing than the end. Very disappointing. And it didn’t have to be that way.

A good editor makes us look like the professionals we ought to be. So, if you’re thinking of writing a book, or maybe you already have and you’re chomping at the bit to get it out there, STOP. Stop and think and find yourself a knowledgeable editor you can trust to help you polish your baby until it shines. Your readers will be left begging for your next great read.

Morning Coffee: Being Thankful

blessing journalThese are tough time to be thankful. A pandemic brought down our economy and took our employment numbers to new lows. Many fell ill and many died. Legal justice protests have been hijacked by opportunists looking to riot, loot, and burn. Watching the television brings new word and visuals of violence every day. It’s no wonder depression and anxiety are on the rise.

There are a number of ways to help keep the sadness and fear at a distance. First, turn off the television. Limit yourself to just enough time to see if there’s anything new you need to know, maybe check the weather forecast, but don’t get drawn into hour after hour of video and dire warnings. Instead, read a book. Second, prayer. We need it now more than ever. No matter your religious beliefs, pray for our leaders, for our police, for our citizens.

Then there’s a third way. Every day think of one thing that you are thankful for, one blessing in your life. Write it down in a journal, or on a small slip of paper to put in your “blessing jar”. On those days when you feel like there’s no hope, remind yourself of one thing that makes you happy, makes your day shine a little brighter. If you’re having trouble coming up with something, look back. There’s no expiration date on a blessing.

In this difficult year, I’ve had two big blessings in my life. My daughter is marrying a wonderful guy next year. We’ll be gaining not only a new son-in-law, but a sweet step-granddaughter. And our son and his wife are giving us a grandson in December. Prayers answered to hold close to our heart. Happy memories to look forward to.

This week, a friend gave me a belated birthday present of a blank book to write my blessings in. While I have a separate journal for my thoughts, I will take this opportunity to have a place where I list a daily blessing . . . starting with good friends.

Morning Coffee: “New Normal”

SummerIt’s a term we’ve been hearing a lot lately. Personally, I hate it. I don’t want a new normal. I want my old normal back. To me it reeks of government control and the nanny state. But, right now we really don’t have a choice. The trick will be, finding that balance between living our own lives, and being aware of others, until this virus threat has been controlled.

For the foreseeable future, it will mean wearing a face mask when in a crowded public situation. It means putting a little distance between you and the next person, maybe waiting instead of everyone trying to cram into the same elevator. Holding off on shaking hands, or hugging. These are things I can live with. With a little imagination, a mask can become a fun fashion accessory. Just check out all the options popping up for sale in Facebook ads. I’ve never been comfortable in crowds, and don’t get me started on men who shake hands like they’re trying to crush a beer can. What are they trying to prove, anyway?

I do worry about the business owners, though. Running a successful restaurant is near impossible. Their overhead is tremendous. If they can only seat half as many people, at most, many are going to disappear. The same with numerous other small neighborhood businesses. The American Dream is under threat.

We’re going to have to start running businesses differently. There will be more online shopping. This growing trend is already putting a strain on our delivery services. Drive-through and curbside are also options. But it’s the walk-in clientele that make-up the majority of profits for many of these businesses. Fewer customers mean fewer jobs mean fewer businesses and choices.

We’re also going to have to get creative in our role as consumers. The big box stores are going to do fine. There will always be customers for Walmart, Publix, Menards, Best Buy, etc. Amazon will always manage to turn a profit. It’s the small businesses, the ones owned by our friends and neighbors, the kitschy little shop with the unique gift ideas down on Main Street, that need our help. When you’re spending your money, if you can, go first to your local restaurants and shops.

But when you do, be sure and respect the owner’s rules for masks and safe distancing, whatever those rules might be. The more conscientious we are about living the “new normal”, perhaps the sooner we can get back to our “old normal”. Humans are a social animal, and I know this social animal doesn’t want to live the isolated life any longer than necessary.

Morning Coffee: Isolation During the Pandemic

feetBack in 2016 I wrote a blog entitled, “Lonely vs Being Alone”. I’ve been thinking about that lately while staying “safe-at-home”. My point was that being lonely wasn’t the same as being alone. As a writer and an introvert, I’m often alone. When it was first announced in March that our Governor was going to be mandating a stay-at-home policy for Wisconsin, which has since been extended through Memorial Day weekend, my thought was … no problem. I can do this. In fact, I was actually looking forward to it. You see, if both the Governor and the President said I had to stay at home, then who could insist I had to take time out of my day to do all sorts of other things they thought more important?

I have since come to realize staying at home because I want to is a lot more fun than staying home because I have to. Now I can come up with all sorts of places I’d rather be, people I want desperately to see and spend time with in person. Phone calls are great, Zoom has been fun, but they’re not the same as pouring a couple glasses of wine and visiting with someone who’s actually sitting right next to you.

I remind myself I’m not technically alone. My husband’s here with me. Oh, we do our own thing at our own computer in our own workspace, but he’s still here. And as annoying as this can be at times, I’m lucky to not be totally alone. I have a number of friends who are going through that right now. I can always go off in a different room for space, but I also know he’s always just feet away if I don’t want to be alone anymore.

So, even if you’re like me and occasionally wish your significant other would go away during this difficult time, remember those who don’t have that luxury. Make a phone call. Wave to him or her from their front yard. Also, don’t forget about all those lonely people out there you don’t know. Say a prayer for their health and safety.

If you are one of those people who are truly alone right now, or maybe you’ve never felt so alone, call someone. Reach out. Loneliness is a very real and growing problem right now.

Remember, this will end. We’re going to be all right. Not overnight, but we are a strong country and we will come back.

Stay safe!

Morning Coffee: What To Do In The Time Of COVID19

SummerWhen talk of shut-downs and quarantines for the coronavirus first began, I thought, “No problem. I’m an introvert who stays inside much of the time anyway. This way there’ll be no pressure to be out and about doing other things.” But I’ve discovered that’s not the case. You see, I like being inside and alone by choice, not because someone has required it.

I made a list of things I could be accomplishing. While this has helped, I’ve certainly been working on the list, it’s not always as much fun as I thought it would be. Here’s my list:

• Do additional research to flesh out my already roughed draft of my next book.
• Write a synopsis of each book in this trilogy so I know where I’m going when I start editing book 1.
• Rewrite Prologue of book 1 to give it more action, make it more engaging.
• Keep blogging!
• Read fiction, not just nonfiction research. It’s a great way to get away without leaving your home.
• Clean the house.
• Stock the pantry, best I can, and cook good meals.
• Go for walks…alone, unfortunately.
• Work on that big x-stitch project.
• Catch up on some Netflix. Again, a good way to get away.
• Call the friends I can’t see to keep in touch and make sure everyone’s all right.

Many things are cancelled. My Weight Watchers meetings have gone virtual. Church is now a weekly email with readings and a sermon attached. My hair is getting shaggy and my roots are showing!

These are trying times and keeping busy isn’t always enough. Depression can set in, even for those of us not prone to such feelings. For this reason, we have to make more of an effort to take care of ourselves. Showering regularly and not putting on the same grungy clothes every morning just because no one’s going to see us is a start. If you look better, you’ll feel better. It’s tempting to eat all the junk food we would normally try to avoid because, again, no one’s going to see us and, hey, these sweat pants still fit. (Wear your jeans now and then to make sure they still fit.) We might be tempted to drink more. Eating a quart of ice cream and polishing off a bottle of wine in your stained sweatpants while binge-watching your new favorite Netflix series in the dark is not a good idea . . . even in the best of times.

That’s why I must emphasize a couple items on my list more than the others. 1) Get outside, whether for a walk or to do yard work, weather permitting. It’s a great way to clear your head of the cobwebs and get a dose of vitamin D. 2) Call your friends, family members, your older community members who may be unable, or too afraid, to go out. Just talking to someone can brighten your day tremendously. You can laugh together at your excitement over finding the elusive toilet paper. (Honest to God, it felt like Christmas!) I talked with a writer friend/editor for over an hour yesterday. We’re putting together a group of us to do one hour of writing sprints at the same time every morning. A couple of us started today. A text tells us when to start and when to stop, then we check in with each other to report our progress. I wrote four pages, just over 1000 words, this morning. I hadn’t written anything new, except blogs, in a couple months as I got my book out, went on a three-week road trip, and then the disruption of the pandemic. I tell you, it felt really good. I know I’m not the only writer who feels her creativity had been suffering with all the routine changes. Not anymore.

And don’t forget your local small businesses that are allowed to be open but are struggling. Order take-out, then walk there to pick it up. And be sure to tip. Especially don’t forget your health care workers and first responders. Maybe that police officer patrolling your neighborhood would like a fill-up on his coffee. A friend of mine said she’s baking cookies to share. Others are sewing face masks and gowns. Stop them (but keep your 6 feet distance) and say thank you. A smile and a wave as they pass by. That might be enough. If you see a truck driver trying to get food but not being allowed to walk up to a drive through, stop and drive through for him. With so much closed, our truckers are struggling to keep the all-important supply chain moving. Helping others can quickly make your own load so much easier to bear.

What are you doing to get through these trying times? You might have an idea someone else never thought of.

Morning Coffee: When I’m Not Writing

20200305_091544What do writers do when they’re not writing? What have I done these past three weeks after the rush of publishing my first novel? I went on vacation.

My husband and I took a road trip…and we both arrived safely home without killing each other. We were gifted one week in a Sedona timeshare so we thought, why not make a road trip out of it? We’ll take our time going south, stopping wherever the interest strikes us. We’ll stop and surprise our pastor and his wife from our time in western New York. (They move to Arizona a couple years after we returned to Wisconsin.) We’ll swing down to Phoenix and take my nephew out to lunch, catch up on his schooling.

We spent the first night in Independence, MO, where we found a fantastic little BBQ roadhouse I swear is only known to the locals. We visited the Truman House, and then the Noland House across the street. (President Truman’s cousin lived there.) We stopped at the Federal Reserve Money Museum hoping they passed out samples. Unfortunately, not. But we did get a free little bag of finally shredded old money.

We were surprised to discover the WWI museum right next door to the Federal Reserve. What an amazing place! We could have easily spent several days there, but had to settle for one afternoon. I was particularly excited because my next book is set in 1918. Two of my three male leads are returning from the war to find their hometown besieged by the Spanish Flu Pandemic. I took many pictures from exhibits and bought two new research books.

On our way to Pueblo, CO, we came across a museum for Fort Wallace, KS. Pueblo turned out to be kind of cold and windy with warnings of snow coming over the mountains. But, in the end, the snow itself did not fall past the peaks and we were able to spend a relatively nice Sunday walking along the historic Riverwalk in downtown Pueblo, stopping to eat at a local brewery. Have you ever heard of a mimosa flight before? I hadn’t, only beer flights, but I thoroughly enjoyed mine.

The next day we wound our way over one of those snowy mountains to check out Golden Sand Dune Park. Ever-changing hills of sand along the base of rocky/snowy peaks. Awesome!

20200305_105636We continued on, staying in Santa Fe, NM, Pinetop-Lakeside, AZ, Flagstaff, AZ, before getting to Sedona. We made stops at the Petrified Forest and at the Meteor Crater. We visited a number of museums related to both the indigenous peoples and the pioneers.

Once in Sedona, we spent most of the week hiking (climbing) one beautiful red rock trail after another. When we weren’t hiking, we were enjoying all the different local restaurants. And I didn’t gain a single pound, despite the wonderful meals, desserts, and specialty margaritas!! I guess that whole exercise thing works.

What do writers do when they’re on vacation? They still write. When they’re not writing, they’re thinking about writing, planning what they’re going to write, reading what other authors write. There were some long days in the truck. I caught up on my trade magazines. I wrote four pages of notes planning my next three books, and I reread a favorite classic, “Giants In The Earth”.

So, I guess the answer to my question is, writers are always writing, even when only in their heads. But now I’m home again and the real work starts. My first box of copies has arrived and it’s time to start selling, planning signing events. There’s bookkeeping to set-up in preparation for all the money that’s going to start pouring in…I hope. There’s this blog to write.

And there’s the next book. There’s always the next book.