Friday, September 30, 2011

Going Outdoors (hey, it's a stretch for me!)

I'm not an outdoors kind of person. Even when I was young, if I had a choice between going outdoors to play or reading indoors, I'd always choose the indoors activity. It's not that I don't like being outside; it's just that it doesn't occur to me to go outside when there's so much to do inside the house. Of course this affects my health. There is a lot more of me than there should be, and my doctor keeps telling me I need to exercise more.

This summer when a high school friend posted on facebook that she wanted to start a morning walking club, I knew I needed to join her. Not wanted - NEEDED. I need to move. So this summer we logged a lot of miles, sometimes walking the beautifully shaded Kent Trails, and sometimes hiking up and down the hilly rural roads through Jamestown. It's been really wonderful reconnecting with her. Dawn and I were good friends all through grade school, junior high and high school. We went our separate ways after graduation, but now live only a few miles apart! Our children are about the same ages, so we've had a lot of the same experiences. So we have a lot to talk about on our hikes.

My daughter has inspired me to walk in 5K events, and so I have to walk regularly to be able to complete the entire distance without falling over. We recently signed up for our second "race" to take place at the end of the month. She told me that in order to get an official time, we have to complete the course in 45 minutes. Oh boy. That's going to be a much faster pace than I take now!

Sometimes it's hard to squeeze walking time into my crazy schedule. And when Dawn went on vacation last week I walked only once. But I need to do this. The three or four hours a week I spend walking are work, but they're necessary. And the benefits are endless. I feel so much more energized after walking, and I've spent time with a dear friend. What could be better?

I took the picture above during our walk yesterday morning. It was a foggy day, and we passed a farm with some very friendly horses! I guess they need their exercise, too.

Friday, September 23, 2011

Sweet Saturday Samples

This conversation follows the scene from last week's sample. Again, it's from my historical, set in Japan in the 1870s. My main character is a former samurai soldier.

"You could afford to stay in the finest hotels, and learn about farming from a wealthy landowner," Hanako argued.

“But the wealthy landowner would not be able to show me the pleasure of working with the soil, of creating something from nothing. He would not show me the beauty of the sunrise, the wonderful fresh smell after a spring rain or the musical melodies of the insects in the evening. If I stayed in a fine inn, I would not understand all the difficulties you face and see how you manage in spite of them. You are a far better teacher than any moneyed landowner, and your lessons are worth far more than what I have paid for your livestock and taxes.” He stopped speaking then, realizing he had said more than he’d intended. He stirred his culinary creation then pulled two new bowls from his bottomless pack and scooped a generous portion onto one. Then he brought it to her, with a new pair of chopsticks.

Hanako was stunned at the novelty of having a man serve her, as well as the poetic way Hiro had described her life. Could it be that he understood why she stayed here, despite all the hardships and advice against it? Was it possible that a man who had been raised to destroy could actually embrace a life that celebrated growth? Could she trust him? But no, he wasn’t offering a lifetime. He was only here temporarily. Soon he would pack his swords and leave. If he wanted to continue farming, he would purchase his own land, and she would go back to her dreary existence. She refused to think of that.

Instead, she simply smiled and said, “I am glad that you are pleased with your experience here. I will work hard to ensure you learn enough to make it worth your investment. But I insist that when the harvest is in, you must share in the profit.”

He regarded her silently for a moment, and then turned to fill his own plate. He took his time pouring himself some tea and carefully brought his meal over toward her futon. He settled himself on a cushion and began to eat. Hanako wondered if he planned to ignore her assertion and was about to repeat herself when he finally answered. “There is one way that we can settle the matter of money owed and profit shared.”

“How is that possible?”

“We could marry.”

Thanks for stopping by! The characters above say "honor", another of the samurai virtues.

Be sure to check out more Saturday Samples by clicking HERE:

Making Time for Music

Recently I decided to add another weekly event to my already crazy schedule. I truly think I was busier when the kids were young, but of course, I was a lot younger then too! Anyway, I finally decided that I needed to dust off my oboe and join a band. I don't like the thought of auditions (been there, done that), so I found a local community band rehearsing about a fifteen-minute drive from my house.

I think it's been over a year since I played my oboe. The thought was kind of depressing. Back in high school and college I would play two or three hours a day. After I started teaching, I played in a community orchestra, and I taught private lessons, but having a full time job cut back on my playing time. It was more like four hours a week.

But then the children arrived. My priorities changed, and I stopped playing in the orchestra. I kept my union membership (I'm actually still a member) but other than the occasional gig on the Fourth of July or a random church that would call and ask me to play, I didn't put my time into it.

So now the kids are all grown up. No more excuses. I don't get too many calls to play (I did play on the Fourth of July, but was asked to bring my clarinet instead of oboe), so I finally decided I needed to go back to the basics. And I went to the first rehearsal of the season. I was a little worried I'd forgotten everything I learned. But the fingers remembered where to go, and I didn't get lost trying to read the music.

My chops (lips) were another story. After not playing for so long, that tight embouchure (the way you set your mouth on the instrument) was torture. The rehearsal was only an hour and a half - not very long by rehearsal standards - but by the time it was over my jaws and lips were HURTING!!!

Am I going to quit? NO!! I'm going to go back and do it again. It's kinda like walking that 5K last month. Now that I know I can do it, I have to make a habit of it. I always loved playing and making music. And now I have the time to do it again. What could be better? It's not fattening, immoral, or bad for my health. So I can keep going with a clear conscience.

Now if I can just remember where I put my glasses...

Saturday, September 17, 2011

Sweet Saturday Sample

Here's another sample from my historical romance, set in 19th Century Japan. It follows the scenes shared in my samples for the last two Saturdays:

As she drank the light green liquid, she watched in amazement as he made himself at home in her kitchen. How had he learned to cook with such mastery and flair? He reached for her knife and carefully sliced the vegetables. These were placed in the hot grease to cook. When the food began to sizzle, he told her about his mission in Hakodate.

“I visited the Office of Finance. They were interested to hear about your visit from Ishikawa-san.” He paused as he concentrated on cutting a slab of beef into paper-thin slices. “It seems that he did work for their office, but that he was dismissed from his position more than a year ago.”

“A year ago? But the message came only last fall.”

“Yes. Apparently he took several items with him when he left the office, including an official signature stamp, some papers, and the enclosure ribbon. He has used them to send tax notices to people who will not question authority - widows, small business owners; anyone he thinks will take him seriously. The directives instruct the victims to send the ‘taxes’ to his own address.” He took the vegetables out of the pan and added the meat to the sizzling fat.

“He kept the money himself? How terrible. But how did you know that the bill was not official?”

“I wasn’t sure, but I became suspicious when I read the message and saw the money was to be sent to him, at an address that was not near the government offices. I paid a visit to my cousin, who is with the Department of Justice. He was able to get an edict for his arrest.”

“So I don’t have to pay the fines and taxes?”

“You do have to pay some taxes, since your husband did not pay them before he died, but they are not nearly as high as the amount Ishikawa demanded of you.”

“How much will I owe?” A knot of unease started to grow in the pit of her stomach.

“The amount was so minimal, I paid it. It will be easier for you to repay me than to send the payment to them.” He tested the vegetables to be sure they were done, and then added the beef.

Her unease flared into irritation. How could he be so arrogant as to pay her bills and demand payment? “Repay you? How can I do that? You know that I will not have any money until the harvest!”

Thanks for stopping by! The character above says "justice", one of the samurai virtues. Please leave a comment, and be sure to check out the samples offered by other great authors. Click HERE.

Friday, September 16, 2011

Quiet, Please!

There are exactly two people left in our house. That means the noise level around here is a lot lower than it was five or ten years ago. So I've been able to get a lot of the "want to do" things on my list done in the last few years. This is really nice. I can enjoy the kids and grandkids when they're here, but I can wallow in my pretend worlds when they're not.

Except the darned television and radio. The other person in my house likes to have noise around him. He's very cooperative about not talking to me when I'm trying to write, but he's got to have other voices around. So as long as he's awake, there is some sort of electronic device going, blasting music or talking (usually very opinionated politicos or sports commentators) going on. I can usually turn off most of the talking, and the music is nice, but the sitcoms get a little annoying, especially if I've already seen them several times.

I've tried going to one of the bedrooms or the living room to work. But then he feels guilty and offers to turn off the television. And then I feel guilty and tell him I just need to do some cleaning in the other rooms (this is actually true, but it doesn't happen very often). One of my daughters suggested I turn one of the extra bedrooms into a study. Not a bad idea. Maybe after I sell my blockbuster novel I'll actually do it.

I've tried putting on headphones and listening to music. Classical music works best for me. Unfortunately, the other person in my house doesn't hear too well, so his electronic devices are turned to volumes that overpower the music on my playlist. I need those special headphones that deaden the outside noise. Again, this is on my someday list.

If you're thinking I'm ungrateful he's here, I'm not. He really is a nice guy. And he's a great cook. I don't want him to go away, and I don't want to leave. I think I'm just more comfortable with silence than he is.

Right now, I've resigned myself to getting more work done when he's not awake. He goes to bed early. So I ask him to turn the tv off. And then I can play my solitaire games in silence. Oh, and write.

Friday, September 9, 2011

Sweet Saturday Sample

Here's another glimpse at my historical novel, set in 19th Century Japan:

"The Office of Finance has realized this farm has not been registered properly in the court records. You are thereby required to pay a fine, plus the taxes due for the past five years.”

He heard Hanako’s gasp of dismay, and gave her shoulder a squeeze before bowing to the man. “Ishikawa-san, I am afraid there has been a mistake. My name is Tanaka, and this is the widow of the land owner. I am sure that she was unaware of the registration requirement, as well as the taxes.”

Ishikawa was undeterred by Hiro’s pronouncement. “Nonetheless, as the widow, she is responsible for the debts incurred by her husband. She must pay the fines and taxes, or the prefecture of Hokkaido will take ownership of the land.”

“How is it that Hanako-san was not notified of her husband’s oversight?” Hiro persisted. “She cannot be held responsible for fines of which she was never made aware.”

“She was notified by courier last fall. The missive specifically told her she had one year to pay all debts.”

Hiro turned to Hanako, who seemed to have shrunk even smaller. “Do remember receiving this message?”

She turned sad eyes up to meet his. “I remember a courier came with a message, but I had no idea that it was a demand for money. It was… just after Kenji was killed in the raid and our crops were all destroyed.”

Indignation rose in Hiro, and he inhaled deeply to keep his composure.

“How dare you come here, demanding so much from a woman who has nothing? Has she not suffered enough?” His words whipped at Ishikawa like steel shards, and the courtier stepped back as if to avoid their sting.

Backing up to his waiting chair, Ishikawa delivered one last blow. “She can have four more months, but the debt must be paid.” He scrambled into his chair and squeaked a command to his lackeys to return him to the city. His head appeared through the window as he issued a parting threat. “I will return after the harvest.”


Thanks for stopping by! By the way, the character above says "samurai". Please leave a comment, and then enjoy more Sweet Saturday Samples by clicking here:

Thursday, September 8, 2011

The "I've Always Wanted to Write a Book" Conference

I am getting excited about the "I've Always Wanted to Write a Book" Conference hosted by GRRWG (that's Grand Rapids Region Writers Group) coming up in October. This is my first writers' conference since being published, so I'm going with the goal of promoting, rather than searching for a publisher. There is going to be a booksigning event, and I hope to participate (that's paperwork in my "to do" pile).

It's going to be a great time! Even though the conference is a whole 13 miles from my house, I'm spending the night at the hotel, so I can mingle with my writing friends. We'll have some great speakers, and a lot of give-aways (otherwise known as SWAG – Stuff We All Get).

I wanted to add something to the goody bag, so I made a bunch of pseudo-book thongs out of stuff I already had. I used my business cards, some ribbon, and some paper cutouts (they're cheaper and easier to handle than beads). On the back of the business cards I attached a sticker (address labels from Vista Print) featuring a picture of my book cover. I hope people like them! The picture above isn't a great shot, but you get the idea.

So anyway, if you've always wanted to write a book, go to the GRRWG blog and register online! Here's the link:

Friday, September 2, 2011

Sweet Saturday Sample

Welcome! Today I'm sharing another scene from my historical novel, set in 19th century Japan:

Hanako turned to look at the owner of the voice. The stranger stood head and shoulders above the unsavory Sato-san, with muscles born of hard physical work, yet his facial features radiated intelligence, and his bearing hinted at an aristocratic upbringing. The fact that he wore two swords identified him as one of the mighty warriors of the samurai class.

“I am Hiromasa Tanaka. Since I am not familiar with the merchants in this area, I sent my intended to find the livestock and supplies we need. If all is ready, I will pay you, and we will be on our way.”

“Your intended? But this woman just told me she is still grieving for her late husband,” Sato-san sneered.

“Yes, she still grieves. It is normal. But her husband was a cousin and a longtime friend. I promised him I would care for her. When she is ready, we will marry. Until then, I will take care of the business of the farm.”

Before Hanako could blink, the stranger completed the purchase and was leading the cow from the stockyard. Ignoring her frustrated glare, he indicated with a nod of his handsome head for her to pick up the cage of chickens. Without a word, he began walking down the road leading away from the village. Helpless to do anything else, she followed at the customary three paces behind him. He had the animals she wanted. Nothing would be gained by making a scene here.

Thanks for stopping by! Please leave a comment, and then sample some more great excerpts at Sweet Saturday Samples!

The Phone as a Research Tool

Lately I've read two great posts from author friends who have blogged about interviewing people who can give you details about the subjects and scenarios in your book. Maris Soule wrote about several people who have helped her create believable scenes and characters in her novels. And Bronwyn Green wrote a hilarious account about a man who was good enough to give her the information she wanted, and was a great sport about the ribbing he got when named as a source in her book.

So I decided to follow their examples. After all, they're both great authors, and I want to be like them when I grow up. I'm starting on a new project in which one of the main characters is an ice sculptor. (The reason for that is kinda long and convoluted, so I'll skip that.) I know nothing about ice sculpting, so I went to my usual sources – the library, and the internet. No luck. There's very little out there on the process of ice sculpting. So I asked my fellow writers if anyone had an acquaintance I could interview. And I looked online and found a local company. It happened that the fabulous Tanya Eby knew someone – and that someone owned the company I had already contacted! So I asked for someone I could interview, or at least send a list of questions to. And I got an answer – with a phone number and invitation to call!

I took a week to get my questions in order, and when I had full pages of them, I called. The time I called didn't work, but he gave me another time to call – and I kept my appointment. I had a wonderful half hour conversation with Randy Finch, co-owner of Ice Sculptures, Ltd. Randy and his company were featured in several episodes of The Ice Brigade, airing on The Food Network. I was so impressed by how friendly and open Randy was. He answered all my questions – even the silly female ones, such as "What's the difference between a wood-cutting chainsaw and an ice-cutting one?" It turns out Randy has co-authored a book about ice sculpting, which is used as a textbook in culinary classes. So he's definitely an authority on the subject.

I feel great about this interview. I learned so much, and I can now say I've had a conversation with a television personality. Now I just need to find a physical therapist, a snowplow operator, a caterer, and a wounded veteran. And then I can finish the details on this story.