YOYO Dinners

It’s been a couple of weeks of day and evening meetings. I’ve only been home for dinner once. It’s just that time of year. My husband has had way too many YOYO dinners (You’re On Your Own.) By last Friday I was ready to slouch on the couch in my yoga pants and have a glass of wine in front of the fire.

IMG_0807

These are the Christmas treats I made for Santa’s Wonderland at Christmas in St. Michaels next weekend. This is the first time I’ve volunteered to help with the kids. I know they will be adorable. Then I thought about those runny noses. I don’t have a lot of interaction with little children any more so we don’t get the twenty-four hour flu that used to rampage through our family or the upper respiratory viruses that turned us all into mouth breathers. Oh, well, too late now. I’d probably scare the little darlings if I wore a face mask.

These no-bake “cookies” were  easy. Put a pretzel round on a baking sheet. I used a sheet pan with sides because the rounds are slippery. I didn’t want the batch to end up on the floor. Put a Hershey’s kiss (unwrapped) on each pretzel and put in a 350 degree oven for 2 minutes. Take them out and push an m&m into each soft kiss.

There was no room in my fridge so I cooled mine in the garage and then bagged them in the cello bags and tied them up with red ribbons. Very festive. I might do a gluten free version of this with a gluten free pretzel although, truth be told, neither one of us needs the calories. Unwrapping the kisses and sorting out the red and green m&ms took the most time. This would be a fun project if you have young children or grandchildren.

One of the nights out was my Working Writers Forum. Another night out was an Eastern Shore Writers Association Board meeting. Tonight it’s a meeting of the Bay to Ocean Writers Conference group so another YOYO dinner for the husband. Thank goodness he doesn’t mind leftovers.

Last Thursday was our dining out group – five couples who dine together once a month.. We had dinner at Scossa in Easton. We love that restaurant. One of our group had brought flashing Rudolph noses for the guys and Santa ear headbands for the gals. I never want to grow up. Wednesday night we are having a gathering of writers at our house. I might just wear that flashing Rudolph nose.

IMG_0802

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Paris and Back

I’m back from ten days in Paris with my husband and a Montana granddaughter. We saw all the sights. The Eiffel Tower at night from a river cruise…

Eiffel tower at night

We took a cooking class. That’s Chef Constance in the red apron. We went to the markets, bought fresh ingredients, came back to cook and then ate the best meal we had in Paris. I learned I’d never cooked mushrooms properly.

Ellen cooking

We walked and walked and walked. Took the subway and rode buses. My FitBit was still on East Coast time, but clocked one day at over nine miles. The granddaughter got oriented right away and after two days I think we could have turned her loose and she would have found her way back to the hotel.

We love Paris, despite the drama two years ago when Roger’s leg was broken in the subway and he had to have emergency surgery. It was so much fun to introduce the City of Lights to our granddaughter. She’ll go back at some point and explore. We were thrilled to be able to open that door for her.

IMG_3020

Now that I’m home there are things to accomplish.

While I was gone both Laura and I both were elected to the board of Eastern Shore Writers Association. We had lunch last Thursday with the incoming President, Mindie Burgoyne, to plan strategy. The Association needs to revisit what it’s members want it to be. That process will begin in July. I am the new Parlimentarian. Robert’s Rules of Order is on its way from Amazon. Laura is the new Secretary.

Bay to Ocean Writers Conference plans continue. We have most of the speakers lined up but need commitments from a few more. Then work on the website begins. Registration for the early March conference begins in October. We always sell out and have a long waiting list.

I’m involved in the annual summer Membership drive for the Eastern Shore Writers Association. There are labels to make from the database for the renewal letters which go out in mid July. Then work begins on the Member Directory as the renewals come in.

Laura and I are planning to publish our screenplays (and one play) on Kindle. I was working on the formatting before this trip. We need to decide on a strategy. All of them at once? One a week? And, of course, how to let the world know they’re out there.

We’ve had lots of rain and the helicopters from our six maple trees are sprouting endlessly. If I wasn’t pulling up the baby trees, our lot would be totally overgrown in a couple of years. When I get over my jet lag and am feeling less like I barely survived the Zombie apocalypse, I’ll spend some time every day pulling weeds.

My bed at the St. Michaels Community Garden is doing well. Eight Roma tomato plants and a couple of rows of beans. That bed gets more sun than my raised beds at home, although I have tomatoes here as well. I’ve already eaten a few Sungold cherry tomatoes and have fruit on all the other tomato plants – the heirloom Nebraska Wedding plants I raised from seed and the Costoluto Fiorentino given to me by a yoga class friend. She had been in Italy and said there were only two kinds of tomatoes in the markets. Romas (paste tomatoes) and these ridged Costolutos. She tracked down seeds, started them and I was a lucky recipient. Canning tomato sauce will begin by the end of July.

For now, between ticking off the list, I’m trying to keep up the walking. Those croissants are going to take their toll if I don’t. Paris was wonderful, but it’s good to be home.

Bloody Point 1976

Another author in our Working Writers Forum, Brent Lewis, has just published his first novel, Bloody Point 1976. Wednesday night he had a signing at The Crab Deck on Kent Island. Brent told me he was a bartender here twenty-five years ago. This is the place to go for crabs on Kent Island.

Brent Lewis book signing

I got there early as I was on my way back from Baltimore. Brent told me he didn’t know why he looked so distressed in this photo, but he wondered if he was concerned nobody would show up. Book signings can be awful, but Brent’s peeps showed up and he sold 125 books in two hours. That’s frigging awesome!

Here’s the back cover blurb: Fourth of July, 1976. Tooey Walter, a young Chesapeake Bay waterman on Maryland’s rural Eastern Shore, is hired to retrieve big shot Harris Bradnox’s rebellious daughter Dee from The Block, Baltimore city’s grimy and notoriously dangerous red-light district. Thrown into a menacing world of vice and violence, with hometown goon Clacker Herbertson on his tail, Tooey collides into a lineup of mind-blowing strangers, including: Salt Wade, Dee’s murderous “manager” and his mysterious case; Dr. Merriman, the fallen from grace, drug-addled “Block-doc,” and Amy Ruari, the red-headed waitress with a carbonated personality who might know more than she lets on. A coming-of-age crime adventure mixed with an epic quest and garnished with a funky slice of Bicentennial Americana; told with fishhook-sharp dialogue and a boatload of twists, Bloody Point 1976 is a rowdy and racy tale of unforgettable characters born of voice, humor and truth, trying to navigate their survival in a changing time and place.

And talented Laura Ambler did the cover!

bloody point cover bigger

Laura and I were mentioned in the acknowledgements because Brent Lewis is in our Working Writers Forum critique group. That’s twice this month we’ve been mentioned in new books. Forum has been reading chapters of Bloody Point for two years and we couldn’t wait to find out what happened at the end.

Brent’s writing has a wonderful Eastern Shore voice and he is a master storyteller. Put this book on your reading list. It’s a page turner.

 

The Messenger – a Spirit Guide

Helen Delaney, a member of our Tuesday night Working Writers’ Forum, has had a spirit guide for years. Last Tuesday she came in carrying a box. Her face was alight with excitement as she handed us each an inscribed copy of her new book.

Messenger cover

Helen has been working on this book for a long time, and our Forum has seen it evolve over several years. We even critiqued versions of her back cover text below. It just makes you want to read this book.

“Helen Delaney is in a railway book store, inconsolable and suicidal after the death of her son. A book at eye level catches her attention. She touches it, and it falls off the shelf, into her hand. It is a set of instructions on how to connect with a spirit guide. Thus begins The Messenger, the true, intimate story of a grieving mother, a gifted medium, and the spirit guide, Lukhamen, who keeps her alive by recounting the story of his life.

It is 214 AD, and the Egyptian city of Luxor is ruled by Rome. The last vestiges of Egypt’s glorious past are discernible in the deteriorating temple dedicated to the god Amon, and its high priest, Lukhamen’s father. A Roman centurion, hopelessly in love with the wife of the high priest, becomes governor. A sadistic Roman underling seeks to unseat him, while lepers and beleaguered Christians struggle to survive in this unprecedented account of the end of an era. Above it all, and against the tide of history, Lukhamen, nine years old when the story begins, is expected to be the next high priest, and a light unto his people.

The author duly records Lukhamen’s memories, barely noticing that a healing has begun. By chance, she is sent to Cairo on business. From there, it is a short trip to Luxor, where an internal, unerring compass leads her to the places Lukhamen has imprinted upon her consciousness: the river road, the temple of Amon, a garden two thousand years old, and a Christian church, hidden by time. There, in the ancient city of Luxor, flooded with memories and emotion, one thing becomes clear: she has been there before.”

One of my favorite books over the years is Mika Waltari’s The Egyptian. So any story of ancient Egypt hooks me. But Helen’s book has two stories: that of the grieving mother and the Egyptian story  channeled to her by a spirit guide. Both are compelling in different ways.

When Helen first brought chapters to Forum it was just the Egyptian story. It took her awhile to share that the story was about her own experience. Laura and I were hooked. We even went with Helen for readings by the psychic she’s gone to for years. That was something on my bucket list. He told me our scripts would sell soon. Well, it hasn’t happened yet, but Helen tells us that time is fluid for psychics.

Our advice to Helen, once we knew this all had really happened to her, was to include her story in the book. She found it difficult to expose her raw emotions, but she was convinced her story might help others who had suffered terrible losses. Ultimately, both Helen’s and the Egyptian story are stories of grace and healing.

But here’s the best new thing. Laura and I (and the rest of the Forum) are mentioned in the author’s acknowledgements. That’s a first for me and for Laura.

I encourage you to buy Helen’s book. If it were a work of fiction, it would be a great read. The fact that it actually happened makes it remarkable.

Getting Into the Zone

market umbrellas

In our last Working Writers Forum one of the members talked about getting into the zone with his writing. He said when he was in that place he seamlessly moved forward. Wikipedia gives this definition: zone is the mental state of operation in which a person performing an activity is fully immersed in a feeling of energized focus, full involvement, and enjoyment in the process of the activity.

I’m working on the third book in my Caribbean romantic suspense series, but getting in the zone has been difficult. In part because it has been ten years since I wrote the last of book. It’s set in the Caribbean on the island of St. Lucia. We had a home there for many years and I was on the island frequently. It was easy for me to imagine the settings, the smells, the sounds. We sold that house about the time the second book in the series was published. It’s harder to get into the Caribbean zone now.

My other problem is that my zone doesn’t happen all in one stretch. It comes and goes. Something like what happens to our Direct TV when we have a heavy rainstorm. This morning at my yoga class we settled into savasana, the deep relaxation at the end of the class. Suddenly I was in St. Lucia, in the Castries market place on a busy Saturday morning. This was not relaxing! I walked through the outside venders, past women under colorful umbrellas, piles of produce arranged around them. Past the fish guy, his cart full of this morning’s catch. Inside the market building, I headed for a booth in a dark corner where an old woman was selling herbs and bush remedies. I seemed to know where I was going. Clearly this was a scene I’m supposed to put in the book. Bush medicine is part of the story. But, accessing the zone during savasana?  Hello, Brain. You are not cooperating.

Why can’t I be more in the zone when I’m at my computer? Why do those moments seem to happen in the middle of a steamy shower, at 3 in the morning when I’m snugged into a warm bed, or on a long walk when I’m a mile from the house with no paper or pen in my pocket? It’s probably left and right brain issues. I’m wondering how I can make my computer space more Caribbean. Maybe that would help get my zone on a more reliable schedule.

Critique Groups

I have been part of a writing group since shortly after we moved to the Eastern Shore. An announcement in the local paper indicated several local writers were getting together to form a writers group. I’d never been part of a writing group, but it seemed like a way to meet people, so at the appointed time, I showed up.

The writer’s group had people who were working on a first book, people who had written for their jobs, who had been published academically and a couple of people who just wanted to start writing. At that point in my writing life (always an adjunct activity to my professional life as a Clinical Social Worker) I had published children’s fiction with Doubleday and non-fiction with Bruner/Mazel. Not too shabby. My first novel had been self-published the previous year and a second was at the printers. Yet, it took me almost a year to put something out to this new group for critique. The members weren’t mean when they critiqued. We had some guidelines about saying positive things before we made suggestions for improvement. I understood all that, but I still couldn’t get myself to submit anything.

Others seemed to have an easier time. I suppose I had to get to know the group and really trust that they would “consider” my writing. I’m not sure what I mean by “consider” but it seems like the right word. When I finally got up the courage, the feedback was enormously helpful and I wondered why it had taken me so long. Almost seven years later I am still part of this writing group and now have no problem submitting work for critique. The group has evolved over the years so that everyone involved “works” at writing either professionally or personally and everyone has been published in some way. A few of us are from the original group and as new members join, the trust issue (for me) seems less fraught.

Laura took a screenwriting class at Johns Hopkins and with other students from that class formed a critique group that met weekly in Baltimore.  That group lasted one year and then reformed and met for five more years in Annapolis. She had a weekly drive over the bridge (at night) to meet with people whom, she told me, only made her cry twice. A weekly critique group is a true commitment to one’s writing.  But, if my writing group had ever made me cry they never would have seen me again. Laura joined my Easton critique group a couple of years later, after learning about it at the Bay to Ocean Writers Conference. Much of what I submit now is something she and I have worked on together. Perhaps there is more confidence in work that has essentially already been critiqued by your writing partner.

The whole experience has made me wonder why we writers are often so emotionally fragile about our creations. Even when we try to think about writing as a “business” we never seem to be prepared for the rejection letters (now emails) from agents. If not many people buy our independently published books, as least the process of getting there is not so painful and we can tell ourselves we didn’t do a good job of marketing. It must be fear that someone won’t love what we’ve created as much as we do – a rejection of our most inner selves.