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Unpublished or published, there are many contests from which to choose.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


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.

Morning Coffee: The “Eyes” Have It

Healing HeartWe’ve all heard the old saying, “The eyes are the window to the soul.” The proverb can be traced back to Cicero (106-43 B.C.), Roman statesman, orator, lawyer and philosopher, who served as consul in the year 63 BC. He is quoted as saying “Ut imago est animi voltus sic indices oculi”…”The face is a picture of the mind as the eyes are its interpreter.”

The eyes can tell us everything about a person. They show love, hate, anger, happiness, confusion, sadness. Mothers only have to look into the eyes of a child and know when that little person is lying. And the child only has to look into the mother’s eyes to know she knows.

A simple look from an emergency room doctor can tear your heart out. While the look from the person you love can make your heart race with passion.

We describe people by their eyes: “kind eyes”, “shifty eyes”, even comical but expressive “puppy dog eyes”.

Actors know the power of the eyes. I was recently watching an old “All In The Family” episode I hadn’t seen in many years. The one where Edith Bunker is sitting at the bedside of one of the patients at the Sunshine Home, listening to her tell why she’s ready to die, how she’s had such a wonderful life. Jean Stapleton was a master character actress and when she teared up watching her friend pass, so did I. I wanted to reach out and console her. The look in Edith’s eyes made me care.

It’s the same with a good book. I haven’t watched any of the “Outlander” television shows yet as I’m currently reading the books. But I don’t have to see the way Jamie looks at Claire to know how Claire reacts to his gaze. Diana Gabaldon’s words take me there. I feel every heart-skipping, breath-catching, moment as his soul touches hers.

A good writer, like a good actor, never forgets the power of the eyes.

Morning Coffee: Hygge

feetPronounced “hoo-ga” or “hue-gah”, this Danish word has no single definition. It’s not about a thing, but about a feeling, a sense of well-being. It’s about enjoying the simple things in life that make us feel content and it’s a trend taking off world-wide.

Hygge can be a solitary experience, or one shared with friends and family. During these long cold winter months in northern Wisconsin I find hygge in a book with a cup of coffee, tea, cocoa, or a glass of wine. If it’s not too cold, I will enjoy a long walk on the wooded trails behind our house, or snow-shoeing in the woods behind our cabin with my husband. Counted cross-stitch while watching a movie and drinking coffee is a great way to start my day, while a hot bubble bath with candles and soft music is a very relaxing way to end it.

Jig-saw puzzles are a fun winter activity, alone or with friends. This week we hosted our monthly card night. The six of us enjoyed a meal of hot soup and bread, followed by a rousing game of Hand And Foot with wine and chocolates and lots of good-hearted ribbing. New Year’s Eve it was Trivial Pursuit, women against the men. This year we women skunked the men both times! Game nights are a great way to spend an evening with family and friends.

Hygge isn’t just for the winter months. It should be a year-round goal. Once the weather turns nice again I’ll enjoy more frequent walks, many rounds of golf, days spent at the lake boating and picnicking, and even some fishing. The county fair is a great way to relax and have fun. And, of course, a good book is enjoyable any day. But in the summer you’re more likely to find me sitting on the back patio with a cold drink within easy reach.

Hygge isn’t about what you can buy, or one-upping the next guy. It’s about what makes you happy. It’s about sharing a cup of coffee with an old friend while remembering the goofy things you did together as kids. It’s more about jogging for the peace and quiet you feel while doing it, and not about running a race for the blue ribbon at the end. It can be as simple as ditching the bra and too-tight pants for sweats or pajamas at the end of the work day. It can be your feet in a pair of your fuzziest, warmest, socks.

How do you find hygge in your life?

Morning Coffee: Saying Goodbye To Another Holiday Season

winterAnother holiday season has passed and, like so many of you, I’m ready to see it go. If you consider as far back as Halloween, it’s been a little over two months of sweets, parties, family dinners. Add to that the presents that need to be purchased and wrapped and ultimately opened and then put away (if not returned or exchanged), the cards to be addressed and mailed (I make all of mine and write the verse), the decorations inside and out, cookies and special desserts to be baked, candy candy and more candy…well, you see what I mean.

I’m exhausted and I still have to look forward to putting away all the decorations. But we’ll leave that for next week because with all the holiday prep and celebrations, I haven’t written anything new, other than this blog, in a month.

Don’t get me wrong, I love the holiday season. But I can go a long time now without hearing another Christmas song. Not even “Grandma Got Run Over By A Reindeer” can raise a smile anymore.

And thank goodness the Christmas cookies and my special double decker peanut butter fudge guaranteed to spike your blood sugar and put your doctor into a panic are almost gone! Now to hide any unopened chocolates I received as gifts until a later date because, while I’ve somehow managed to stay on an even keel with my weight through the holidays it’s time to work at losing a few…actually, more than a few…pounds.

The one downside of the holidays being over is that winter is NOT almost over. Now we enter the three to four months of snow and cold. As I’ve written in past blogs, I am not a winter sport enthusiast. I tried downhill skiing when I was young and foolish and quickly knew it wasn’t for me. I tried cross-country skiing after we moved back to Wisconsin from New York State, even bought the expensive equipment, then injured my tailbone falling on the raised ice track. I kept trying that winter, convinced those who told me in time I’d get the hang of it were right…but I didn’t. Those skis now sit in the basement collecting dust. And forget about ice skating. I’ve never had the ankle strength for balancing on a single blade. That leaves me with bundling up to walk our beautiful wooded trails. Even with the cold, I have to admit the snow-covered trees sparkling in the sun are nice to look at. And snow shoes are actually quite easy to use! If I do fall in those, I don’t flounder in the snow like a fish out of water while trying to regain my footing.

There was a time I didn’t understand why people would go to Florida in the winter. I would miss the snow! That was back when I was a kid. Back when Saturdays and school snow days meant sledding. When it was fun to build snow forts and hold snowball wars. When it was fun to actually lie down in the snow and make angels. When we’d compete to see who could build the best snowman. Now I sit at my computer and stare out the window at all that cold whiteness and listen to the Siren call of the snowbirds as they try to tempt me away. Some year in the maybe not so distant future I will answer that call and head out for at least a month of warm sunshine, sand between my toes, and the sound of gulf waves and palm trees blowing in the breeze to encourage my creative muse. Until then, I remain seated at my computer, staring out at the cold, and telling myself at least the snow looks pretty in the sunshine.