Thursday, January 31, 2008

The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly

by Jennie Bentley

My long-distance friend and critique partner emailed me earlier this week to tell me about a writing contest she’d entered (and exited). Her manuscript didn’t do as well as she’d hoped, and she was a little disappointed, but – thankfully – a lot more amused. One of the comments she had gotten, from some no doubt well-meaning soul, was that she should learn to write before entering any more contests.


It brought me back to the first contest I entered. It’s a few years ago now, back in the days when I thought I might want to write romance novels. My local RWA chapter was announcing their annual contest, and because I wanted validation, and also because I wanted to see whether I could write something that someone might be interested in reading, I decided to enter. I didn’t have anything written at the time, but that didn’t stop me. All that was required was a first chapter, so I came up with an idea – actually two – and wrote a first chapter for each of them. Then I sent both off, with the appropriate fee, and sat down to wait.

A couple of months went by, and then the finalists and winners were announced. All of us who had entered the contest received copies of our judging sheets, the ones from the preliminary judges – our chapter mates and peers – and for the finalists, the final judging by the professional. And boy, were they eye opening!

Admittedly, I was a rank beginner. This was the first time I had shown my writing to anyone outside the family. Some of the judges were wonderfully encouraging, pointing out everything they liked, everything that worked, everything positive... while carefully, gently, letting me know where I’d dropped the ball and how I could improve. But there was this one judge who kept harping on my punctuation. I’d put the commas and periods outside the quotes when writing dialogue. Like this:

“I’d like to kill her”, I said. “I really would”.

It was consistent throughout – consistently wrong – and obviously I needed to be made aware of it. She wasn’t the only judge to point it out, by any means. Most of them did, in some form or another (although the rest of them managed to refrain from circling every misused comma or period with a red pen). But for this woman, it became something that overshadowed everything else, good or bad, about the story. And then she made the same kind of remark that Allie heard. Come back when you’ve learned how to write.

I got my revenge, I’m happy to say. Both of my entries in that contest became finalists, and the one she objected to so strongly actually won its category. The big-name New York editor seemed perfectly capable of looking past my punctuation faux pas to see some merit in the rest of the entry. The fifty bucks went into my Christmas fund that year, and the certificate is sitting in a folder somewhere. I’m not sure what I did with the judging sheets, but I did learn to properly punctuate my dialogue. I also learned that I could write something that at least a few people enjoyed reading, even if everyone didn’t. And I learned to take critique with a shaker of salt, which I think is something we could all benefit from. After all, if someone could say about Fred Astaire – arguably the best dancer Hollywood has ever seen – that he “can’t sing, can’t act, can dance a little,” talent truly is in the eye of the beholder, isn’t it?

So what about you? Do you enter contests? Do you have any horror-stories to share? Any I-just-can’t-believe-she-said-that feedback you’ve ever gotten? (Or given; let’s not be prejudiced here!) What nasty comment did you have to rise above to get to where you are today, wherever that is? And how did you get even, which is, after all, what it's all about? Inquiring minds want to know!

Wednesday, January 30, 2008

Bring on the Stupidity Police

by Annette Dashofy

I’m composing a list of new laws that should be enacted. I’m not saying they will be. Or that it would matter. People break the law all the time. But either I’m getting cranky in my old age or society is getting ruder and I’m fed up with it.

So here’s what I’ve come up with so far:

Pedestrians vs. motor vehicles in inclement weather—persons in motor vehicles in
parking lots must yield to pedestrians when the weather sucks. Be it snow, bitter cold, or wind and heavy rain, if you are in your car, you are dry and warm. The mom with two little kids in tow waiting to cross in front of you is not. Stop and let her go!

Children in restaurants—at no time should a child be permitted to run loose in a
restaurant unless they are in a play area such as at McDonalds. In a real restaurant, a kid running free because the parents can’t bring themselves to deal with their little darling another moment is likely to trip the waiter who is carrying around large trays of hot food and beverage. Such a trip can potentially cause grave injury to whomever ends up wearing the soup. That probably won’t be the child because they’re too fast and will be gone before the china hits the floor.

Long check-out lines—if only two check-out lanes are open and the line for both stretches back into the merchandise, the store manager should be required to open up additional lanes or face stiff fines and penalties.

Illegal cart parking—okay, yes, I’m dumping on retail establishments, but that is where I tend to get the most annoyed. People who leave their shopping carts unattended in the middle of a narrow row so that no one can get around them without physically moving the unattended cart should be ticketed and fined.

Addendum to illegal cart parking—people who double park their carts in the middle of a crowded aisle to visit with a long-lost pal while oblivious to other shoppers trying to either get around them or trying to reach a product that they are blocking should also face penalties. Find a wider aisle for your chat or, better yet, arrange to meet at Starbucks later.

Okay, that’s a start. Now it’s your turn to add to the list. What offensive offenses would you like to see outlawed? What bits of common courtesy need to be legally required?

We'll worry about how to actually enforce these new laws in another blog.

Tuesday, January 29, 2008

Patry Francis and The Liar's Diary

by Martha Reed

The Internet has done more than make each of us more visible - it has made each of us more accessible. I don’t want to talk about how much of my personal information is out on the web, whether I want it there or not; I want to talk about the way cyberspace has made it easier for us to meet people outside our usual circle of friends. It is nothing now to chat up a mystery fan living in Sydney as easily as someone I meet locally on the 93A commuter bus.

Last year we heard the frightening health news about Elaine Viets almost instantly via listserv emails and blogs. Honestly, at the time, my reaction was ‘That’s a shame but what can I do about it?” and then I saw an amazing thing happen: writers used the Internet not just to market their latest material but to support one of their own. Crackling across cyberspace, the word went out, and writers across the country offered to take Elaine’s place at book-signings or to act as her proxy at author events. Within days, the idea snowballed into something huge. I attended one event, The Festival of Mystery in Oakmont, PA, and I can remember thinking, “I’m seeing something new here. This is a cyber-community, and people are stepping up to help.” There was a generous, swelling upsurge, and I wondered if I was seeing a one-time event.

I got my answer, because here it comes again. Earlier this month, word went out that Patry Francis, author of The Liar’s Diary, needed our support. What impressed me this time is the speed and agility of the cyber response: instead of ‘How do we do this?’ I see: ‘Of course we can do this. What can I do to help?’ Folks, if we carry on this way, things might actually improve for the outside world. What an idea!

Today we blog to support the paperback release of Patry Francis’ The Liar’s Diary, a thriller involving a mysterious stranger, an unlikely friendship, a murder, and two conflicting versions of the truth. Click this link for the YouTube video:

Of course, the easiest way to show your support is to buy a copy of Patry's book!

Monday, January 28, 2008

Real Estate Deflate Part 2

by Brenda Roger

I’ve done some investigation into the house on the corner. In my last blog, I shared my theories on the uninhabited suburban house on my street. Since then, the magic of technology has allowed me an opportunity to tour the house.

Last week, there was a u-haul parked out front. When I drove by, the door of the u-haul was open and a man I have never seen before was loading things into the back. I saw one of those generic vintage framed posters of a liquor ad, and some other items that immediately screamed, “props!” So I had a theory that the house was staged by a company hired by the realtor.

Another kind of woman would have walked three doors up and talked to the man in the u-haul, but I read mystery novels and I know what happens to that woman! So I had to turn to technology to find some answers.

The real estate sign says “sale pending”, so the house must be under agreement because it was not on the multi-list. I had to search the name of my street, which led me to the house number, which led me directly to the link for the virtual tour! Why didn’t I think of that before?

Luckily, David and I toured this exact house before we bought ours. It was a spec house by our builder, so it was our best guess at the quality of his work. In this case, it gave me a basis for comparison in my neb-nose scheme.

Now the juicy part…. the house looked uninhabited. The furniture looked staged, indeed. Every room on the virtual tour was immaculate. There wasn’t a single indication that anyone lived there for the past three years. The only thing on the wall was the poster I saw in the u-haul. There are glass shelves in niches on the first floor of the house and they were completely empty. The only sign of life was a computer in one of the bedrooms. It was a whole set-up with a printer.

I think the computer was the way that the people using it as a safe house stayed in touch with the underground network. Not that I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about it or anything……

Saturday, January 26, 2008

The Thrilla' in Manilla (Folders)

by Brian Mullen

I come up with ideas faster than I can write their stories. While this is undoubtedly a blessing in the long-term, in the here and now, I suffer from guilt. They sit in their respective manilla folders, shoved in a plastic filing case, and they stare at me. "When are you going to write about me?" they cry. "I'd make a great novel, wouldn't I?"

"Yes, you would," I think, "but I just don't have the time to dedicate to you just now. I've got to work on this other story first."

"That's what you said two stories ago." And that's the truth. The list of my projects gets larger and larger but my time just seems to get consumed in too many other things.

Last month, while taking a quick lunch-time walking break at work, I thought of a scenario for a short story mystery. Ideas just kept popping into my mind all day and, when I got home, I cranked out a first draft of the first "chapter". I passed it to my critique group and some friends and family over Christmas. Earlier today my mom called. "When do I get to read the next chapter?"

"I, uh, haven't written it yet."

"Well, get to it. I'm intrigued and want to read more."

But I'm in the middle of a project. A very long project but my interest is high and I'm trying to stay focused on it. But I want to know how that story will play out too. "What about us?" cry the files.

I just need a little more time.

Friday, January 25, 2008

The Power of Print

by, Kathie Shoop

While I’m still working toward the publication of a novel, I have published essays and articles and written for textbook companies. I have one article coming out in the February issue of Pittsburgh Parent (Yay!). It’s always a thrill to submit the finished product and nothing beats the surge of happiness when I actually hold the printed piece in my hands. I can only guess what that must feel like when a full length novel is wrapped in hardback and on the shelves of the local bookstore. Besides imagining my own books published I love to buy those of my friends and acquaintances, seeing their hard work laid out for the world to enjoy.

But, what’s beginning to surprise me is the reaction I get when people read my articles in print versus when they read them in manuscript form. There is a gap in between the time someone might have proofed my work until the point it shows up in print so I’m not surprised a reader might not remember every little thing in an article. But I repeatedly get calls from proofers to tell me they liked the article and they go on, their words painting a picture of not having ever read the work before. These people are the ones who have read the exact piece that is later published. And they aren’t wimpy, yes-men types of readers. They give faceted, pointed feedback—they’re actually reading the stuff, thinking about it. So what accounts for them experiencing the piece in such a different way?

In a scientific, data-grounded sense, I have no idea. But my guess is there is something powerful and different about words once they appear in a valued source. People read the article differently. Perhaps there’s a filter on when we read something in print—the idea that the work’s been vetted is fixed in our subconscious? Does that allow us to be gentler readers?

Don’t get me wrong, I’m not under the allusion that everyone in the world is reading my work, falling in love with it, thinking I’m a great writer. I can hear the criticisms—I know my weaknesses as a writer, the things that bug readers about my work. But my writing gets an instant influx of power merely by having been printed off someone else’s printer. And that’s intriguing.

How about all of you? Have you noticed this? Some version or aspect of this? Or is it just me?

Wednesday, January 23, 2008

Virtual Reality

by Jennie Bentley

Last week, I had occasion to write a bio. No more than 100 words, to present myself – i.e. my alter ego – as well as my new series of DIY Home Renovation mysteries to the world.

For those of you who have never tried, let me tell you that it’s a lot harder than it seems. So much hangs on those few words, and the pressure builds and builds until you go find a bag of cookies and dive in. Maybe it’s just me – my writing style tends to be chatty – but the shorter it is, the more difficult it is for me to do. I mean, why use ten words to express something that can be expressed so much better with twenty?

So it took me most of the day, much longer than it should have, but I did it, eventually. (If you feel so inclined, you can read the final masterpiece here. And if it seems to you to be just a smidgeon longer than 100 words, you’re right. I did my best, but I can’t do miracles.) And when it was finished, I sent it off to our brilliant web maven, whose job it is to put it on the ITW site. And of course, because that’s the way I am (insecure), I sent it with an apologetic email telling her to rewrite it any way she wanted.

She wrote back that she wouldn’t change a word, that it’s witty and charming and expressive... just like me.

We’ll take a break here, to let that sentence sink in, and to give all of you who know me time to recover.

When I had picked myself up from the floor and gotten my hysterical laughter in check, I set her straight. I’m not witty or charming or expressive at all... in person. That’s why I took up writing. It’s easy to be witty, charming, and expressive on paper. Just like it’s easy to be witty, charming and expressive online.

I like to think of it as being virtually charming. We have virtual flowers and virtual cocktail parties and virtual birthday cards, right? Well, I’ve decided I have virtual charm. In person, not so much. I’m a bit of a wallflower, to tell the truth. I do all right when there’s just me and one or maybe two other people, but I avoid parties like the plague, and I’ll go to great lengths to avoid speaking in public. But online... oh, baby! Online, I can be anything I want to be. Charming, check. Witty, no problem. Expressive... hey, I can take as long as I want to choose the right words and put them together in the perfect sequence, and it’s not difficult to be clever under those circumstances.

So what about you? Do you have a virtual personality? One that’s different from the personality you have when you’re dealing with real people in the real world? Do you find it easier to be funny, charming, and clever when it’s just you and the computer? If so, welcome to the club. There are a lot of us out here. And if not, if you’re one of those naturally witty, self confident, charming people, be warned: the real me could seriously learn to dislike you.

Jack of All Trades

by Annette Dashofy

With two completed manuscripts in the hands of my agent and a new one not yet started (other than notes and notes and more notes), I keep coming face-to-face with the ugly question of what story am I most qualified to write? Agh!

Some writers have a built-in area of expertise. Lawyers are shoe-ins for writing legal thrillers. Doctors have the inside track for medical thrillers. Cops know the scoop for writing police procedurals. But what about the rest of us who live boring lives? What about those of us for whom the most exciting part of our day is what happens inside our heads?

I guess it’s the book marketing class I’m taking that has me contemplating this subject. My mystery series is about a veterinarian at a Thoroughbred racetrack. Yes, I know horses. Yes, I have some inside information about that world. I have a groom’s license. I am NOT a vet. I do have retired racetrack vet who serves as my technical advisor. But if I need to write articles about veterinary care in order to promote this book…well, I’m screwed.

So for the new book, I’m asking myself in what area can I think of myself as an expert?

HA! I’m the proverbial jack of all trades, master of none.

But that also poses the question: WHAT IS AN EXPERT? How much “expertise” must you have to be given that title?

Years ago, I came to realize that the term “expert” is relative. I was working at a camera shop, selling all sorts of photographic paraphernalia (way before digital) when a gentleman came in and asked me if I was an expert at photography.

Hmmm. Well, it depended. If this guy were some Joe Schmoe who’d only handled a point-and-click Kodak, then YEAH. I was an expert. If he were Ansel Adam’s protégé, NOPE, I was a rank amateur.

At that point, I realized that an expert is anyone who knows more than the person they’re talking to.

I actually said that to a self-proclaimed art expert at a neighborhood festival a few years later. He didn’t find me amusing.

The problem then becomes “who is reading my stuff?” We all dread having someone approach us and tell us we got it all wrong. I’ve ordered my veterinary technical advisor to be brutal when he reads my drafts. Don’t let anything slide. And still, I worry.

But what can I write about next? Okay, I’ve taught yoga for almost ten years, but I have to tell you—yoga instructors as protagonists are a real snooze. We mostly go around telling people to relax. I ran a photography studio for five years, along with working in the camera shop. But advancements in technology have made my expertise in that field woefully outdated.

How about a retired photographer who takes yoga classes and works odd jobs to make a few bucks?

Hmmm. Nah. Back to the drawing board.

So what about you guys? Do you rely on your personal expertise when you write? Or do you do research until your head explodes? As a reader, do you get completely annoyed when the author gets it wrong and you know it? Or are you willing to forgive a minor slip-up if the characters and story are otherwise compelling? I want to hear from the experts out there!

Tuesday, January 22, 2008

January reflections

by Mike Crawmer

None of what follows is new to most, if not all, of you. But the cold, grey dreariness of January prompts me to reflect on my writing. So, some thoughts.

1. Be careful what you use to describe setting, character, mood, etc.

In my first (unpublished) mystery, I relied on a cliché to identify the wealth of a key character: a Range Rover. Back then, when the dollar was worth something, Range Rovers carried a certain cache. They were both practical--as was my character--and expensive--she could afford an entire fleet. Range Rovers were seen as tough, rugged, powerful, all words that described this character.

If I were to rewrite that story, I’d have to eliminate the Range Rover in favor of a private landing strip big enough to accommodate her private jet, which, of course, she could pilot on her own. And her parties--well, no mere barbecues with white-coated servers for her. Like a wealthy Chicago resident I read about recently, she’d hire jugglers and acrobats to entertain the guests, and arrive at the “picnic” perched atop an elephant.

Wealth and its display today, even in these troubled economic times, is quite different from that of just 15 years ago.

2. You can toss out that beloved first chapter.

You’ve worked on it for weeks, months, maybe even years. You couldn’t see your story opening up any other way. You’ve tweaked it and massaged it and sweated blood over it. But, you know what? It’s there to serve a purpose, and once you realize it no longer does that, well, out it goes.

That’s what I did with my WIP. For the longest time I couldn’t imagine changing that riveting (well, it was, once) opening chapter. Or so I thought. Then one day I realized that the chapter didn’t really serve the story all that well. In fact, I had to admit that it was simply all wrong.

So, out it went. I’m happy with its replacement for lots of good reasons--reasons that I couldn’t apply to the original. The only thing that original first chapter had was the fact that I liked it. When I realized that the story I was trying to tell was more important than some scene, well, it was like I’d stepped through a magical vortex and saw everything in a new and promising light.

3. Don’t limit yourself. Let your imagination be your guide. Plot all you want but trust your instinct. See numbers 1 and 2 above.

Now, to revisit a previous blog: Last month you kindly tolerated my whining about a dearth of good reads. Well, my malaise has been cured. It began with an Australian PI novel recommended by Mary Alice. The plot of Peter Corris’ “The Coast Road” is formulaic, but his voice, characters, setting (Sydney and the coast south of it) and language (quaint and amusing, like “flannie” for flannel shirt, and occasionally befuddling) were enchanting. A good read all around.

Then, in as drastic a literary switch as you can make, I began Cormac McCarthy’s “The Road.” (Something about the word “road” in titles, obviously.) At first I found his prose off-putting: What’s with all the incomplete sentences and erratic punctuation (“hadnt,” “didnt,” but “there’d”)? But without realizing it, I was soon swept up in the beauty of his writing and held spell-bound by the dread and heartache of the story. His scenes haunted my dreams all night; when I woke the next morning it was the first and only thing on my mind. BTW, I think Viggo Mortenson is perfect for the movie version, soon to be shot in and around Pittsburgh. Wonder if the producers need any extras?

Monday, January 21, 2008


by Gina Sestak

[Another digression from my posts about prior jobs.]

There is a fundamental difference between writers and other people, I've been told. That difference is that writers write. By "write," I don't just mean the act of putting pen to paper or fingertip to key. I mean the magical alchemy by which we transmute human experience and ideas into words.

For me, this usually involves translating whatever I'm experiencing into nouns, verbs, adverbs and adjectives while it's still in progress. No matter what is happening around me, be it flower petals wafting on a zephyr or a distracted driver trying to merge into my car, somewhere in the back of my mind I'm crafting sentences to describe what's going on.

This isn't always a good thing. When I stood beside my aunt's deathbed putting words to family tragedy I felt like a ghoul. But those sentences formed the core of my essay "Breathe Out" that won second place for non-fiction in Pennwriters' 2004 contest.

I was thinking about this last week when I had the flu. You have to understand, I had it bad. Vomiting, diarrhea, chills. Three days without eating. Too little energy to feed the cats. [Don't worry. They had dry food available.] Part of me was thinking, "Am I going to die?" while another part, the writer part, was putting the sensations into words.

I'm not going to record that graphic description of my symptoms here, but I suspect I'll use it somewhere. I've often wondered whether Anne Rice was sick while she was writing "The Tale of the Body Thief." [!!SPOILER ALERT!!] In that book, Anne Rice's protagonist Lestat (a vampire) is tricked into trading bodies temporarily with a human, only to discover that the human body is infected with a disease meant to kill it, thereby allowing the human trader to retain Lestat's vampire body. Anne Rice gives us detailed descriptions of being ill from the perspective of someone who hasn't had so much as a cold in centuries. Another part of the same book made me wonder whether or not Anne Rice had recently acquired a dog.

Does everybody else do this, too? Do you find yourself in traffic, in nature, or in bed(!) putting everything you experience into words? Please let me know.

Saturday, January 19, 2008

Will the Real Jennie Bentley Please Stand Up...?

by Jennie Bentley

I’ve always had a pretty healthy self image, I think. At least I used to believe so. But I’ll freely admit I’m starting to feel a little schizophrenic.

It all started when I began negotiating with my editor at Penguin-Putnam about generating a series of cozies for them. (The first, FATAL FIXER-UPPER, will be released in November. It’s about a home renovator, and it has those cutesy tips for Do-It-Yourself projects in the back. It also has two cats, a hot handyman, missing heirlooms and a few dead bodies. But more about that later.)

We had established that I was qualified to write the books, that I wanted to write the books, that I was willing to write the books for what they were willing to pay me... and then my editor said, "Oh, by the way... we’d like you to use a pseudonym."


Now, it wasn’t like it was unexpected. I have an unusual first name. People mispronounce it all the time, and nobody would be able to remember how to spell it, so Google wouldn’t have any idea how to find me. (I’m going on the assumption that sooner or later, someone would have to use Google to find "those really fun DIY Home Renovation books that that woman writes... you know the ones I mean, with the cats and the hot handyman... what’s her name again?") My last name is Irish, courtesy of the love of my life, whom I married a while back, and it’s also easy to misspell. The juxtaposition of the two is interesting, to say the least. Not best-selling author material, though. At least not according to Penguin, who suggested I come up with something different.

Hence, Jennie Bentley. Bentley because it’s close to my first name and Jennie because... well, really just because I thought they sounded good together. (The runner-up, in case you were wondering, was Crafton. I had just visited Pittsburgh when the name-issue was brought up to me, and I thought Crafton would be an appropriate name for someone who writes home renovation mysteries. Someone suggested Charisma as a first name, and but for the grace of God, I might be writing this as Charisma Crafton. My editor stepped in and said that Jennie Bentley sounded more approachable, and if I’d been in New York at that time, I would have kissed her.)

So here I am, pretending to be someone named Jennie, and let me tell you, it’s freaky. People think that’s who I am. They email me, saying things like, "Hi, Jennie! I saw your profile on Crimespace," or "Jennie, I was visiting the ITW Debut Authors page, and discovered your series," or – alternatively – "Jennie has just thrown a sheep at you. Throw a sheep at Jennie!" (That’d be Facebook, in case you were wondering.) I just know that one of these days I’ll be walking across a hotel lobby somewhere, and somebody’ll yell, "Hey, Jennie, hold the elevator!" and I’ll let it shut in their face just because I don’t realize that they’re talking to me.

I know that there are benefits to using a pseudonym, and the misspelling nightmare is just one of them. Dean James’s fans no longer have to wade through pages of hits on a certain 1950s teen idol to find out about his books, and during the time Rhonda Pollero wrote her books as Kasey Roberts, it was that much harder for the recently paroled to find her. (She has a sizable fan base among the prison population, I’m told. Poor girl.) And of course there’s the reason my agent brought up: "If the series bombs, the Bookscan numbers won’t go against your name, sweetie."

Of all the excuses, that may be the best one yet.

So what about you? If you’re a writer, do you use a pseudonym? Would you choose to, if you weren’t required? Why, or why not? And if you’re not a writer, what do you think of the whole idea? Do you care what your favorite writer is named? Would you read a book, or not read it, based on the name of the author?

And while you’re at it, why don’t you help me figure out who this Jennie Bentley chick is, who has taken over my computer. Because I’m sure she isn’t me. Pretty sure. I mean... she’s not me, right?


Friday, January 18, 2008

The D & J Show

by Cathy Anderson Corn

A breathtaking scene awaited me from Dad's dock on Lake Pierce, near Lake Wales, Florida. To my left, light shimmered on the water and danced with pure joy. Graceful birds--white egrets, a great blue heron on the dock next door--added to the portrait. The breezes teased my hair and sun warmed me as I turned back and barely glimpsed the roof of the ranch house Dad built nearly thirty years ago. His yard rivals any nature preserve, with huge oaks towering above encircling banks of giant philodendrons. The Spanish moss hung slack and gray and spooky from the trees.

A power spot, a special place, and a tribute to Dad and Mom's life there together. But all that was changing. I'd been denying it for several years.

Mom and Dad were getting old.

It hit me like a speeding semi truck, the revelation, a lightning realization. A no-brainer for anyone else other than their daughter and possibly the two sons. They're both 78, but the numbers can be deceiving. Their friends Charley (90) and Vera (86) go bowling and square dancing when they aren't traveling.

This descent into old age began two years ago when Dad was diagnosed with Parkinson's Disease. He faithfully took his medications and focused on his illness, telling all who would listen, "I'm failing. I'm not much good any more."

You get what you focus on, yet he's still fairly mobile. He drove my mother crazy as he obsessed about his illness. I swear my mother's problems began so she could go down with the ship. They're rarely apart, like Siamese twins. If he was going to "fail," so was she. Her hip pain began last May and progressed to a total hip replacement this past December 12. Mom will ride along with Dad on the final roller coaster to the next adventure on the other side. At the rehab facility, Mom talked about living in a nursing home, an idea outlandish to her before.

So my trip a few weeks ago gave moral support to Mom and Dad as she transferred from hospital to a rehab facility. We fondly refer to them as D and J (Dale and Janice). Their exploits entertain and frustrate us as we attempt to help them on this last leg of their journey.

Last May I sent a gift card for Dad to buy a mobile phone; his muscles had locked trying to get out of his boat, and he stood frozen there until someone found him several hours later. A phone might have been nice. He announced to me he bought pants and tools with the card (what!). Then, when their new mini-van arrived, it had an Onstar phone. They were so excited about the phone, that I bit my tongue hard enough to leave scars.

So we call it the D & J Show and laugh instead of screaming. Of course there are lots more episodes.

Yes, the D & J Show's still playing, and we hope there'll be many more seasons to come. Dad's stopped talking about Parkinson's as he works at the rehab center every day, usually a 12-hour shift, attending to Mom and overseeing her care. He hasn't had much time to be sick himself.

So the scene from Dad's dock with life abundant says it all. Life goes on. And there's joy even in the trying times.

What are your stories of aging parents and how you cope or coped?

Thursday, January 17, 2008

A Hoffa Sighting

by Joyce Tremel

Well, not exactly.

I read an article a few days ago about the FBI stopping a bank robbery in Fayette County last Thursday. The man who was arrested, William James Hoffa Jr. admitted that he also robbed another Fayette County bank on Christmas Eve. For the second robbery, Hoffa recruited a getaway driver, who in turn told the feds Hoffa's plans.

All this is pretty standard stuff and probably would have just gotten a passing reference in the newspaper. What made it newsworthy is that William James Hoffa Jr. claims to be related to long-missing Teamsters boss Jimmy Hoffa.

I never knew much about Jimmy Hoffa other than the fact that his body was never found. He went missing in 1975, the year I graduated from high school. The only thing on my mind that year was who was buying the beer for the party at Clair's house on Friday night. If you asked me about Hoffa back then I would have said, "Who?"

My inquiring mind did a little research this week. From what I've read, there doesn't seem to be a whole lot of difference between organized labor and organized crime. At least there wasn't back then. Hopefully, things have changed. Hoffa's dealings with organized crime are well documented and he spent time in a federal penitentiary for fraud and jury tampering until he was pardoned by Richard Nixon in 1971. Authorities believe Hoffa's disappearance was connected to his efforts to regain power.

As recently as 2006, the FBI along with forensic experts and anthropologists did an extensive search and investigation at a horse farm thirty miles from Detroit, Michigan. Theories abound as to the whereabouts of Hoffa's body. One says his body is mixed into the concrete used for the New York Giant's stadium. Another says he's buried in a gravel pit in Michigan owned by his brother, William. (The father of William the bank robber?)

Unsolved cases like this fascinate me. I can't help wondering what really happened. I'm pretty sure if I was a detective instead of a writer, an open case would drive me nuts. At least when I write about murder, my detective always solves the crime. How about you? If you were writing a disappearance like Hoffa's into your novel, how would you solve it?

Wednesday, January 16, 2008

In the Moos

By Annette Dashofy

It’s not been a good couple of weeks to be a bovine
in rural southwestern Pennsylvania. First came this news story about a guy from Westmoreland County who decided to demonstrate his unhappiness with regards to his wife’s affair by sending the boyfriend a cow’s head.

Perhaps I should go back and re-watch my old gangster movies, but isn’t it supposed to be a horse’s head in the bed? Not a cow’s head in a box thawing on the front porch. I’m still perplexed as to what message he was trying to send. Apparently, though, whatever the message, it worked. The wife reconciled with the sender of the head. I guess she was mooooved by his romantic display.

Sorry. I couldn’t resist.

Then there came this story from neighboring Fayette County about two step-brothers (STEP brothers,
not biological…can’t say stupidity is a family trait) who killed four cows on the first day of deer season. It was after dusk and they were using a spotlight to hunt by and mistook the cattle for deer.

Ahhhh, yeah. Right. FOUR of them.

Plus, it took them ten shots to kill the suckers.

Oh, my, where to start. Okay, first off, IT WAS DARK. If you need a spotlight to see something, it’s too dark to be hunting! And four? I can maybe accept shooting ONE cow by mistake. But deer are skittish creatures. They bolt at the sound of a twig snapping. Cows amble. Cows lumber. That makes them easy targets. So what were these kids thinking? Oh, boy, Bubba, I got me one! And the rest of ‘em ain’t runnin’! Let’s shoot some more! Them ‘re some big ol’ bucks, ain’t they? Bet I’m gonna win the buck pool!
Sorry. Cows don’t have antlers!

Personally, I think these kids heard about the guy with the cow head and thought they’d found a way to make some extra money selling dead livestock parts to jealous husbands.

Tuesday, January 15, 2008

Living in the Parallel World

By Martha Reed

“I live with the people I create and it has always made my essential loneliness less keen.” - Carson McCullers

Four times a year, my day job gets red hot, and I have to focus all my energy into getting the job done over the course of about ten business days. It’s stressful, complicated work, with late hours and a tight deadline, but I’ve learned to put in a supply of frozen dinners and my family has been trained not to expect too much participation out of me during our quarterly print run.

I used to worry about what I was going to do when and if I got to old for this financial publishing gig, but it seems like I’ve managed to keep up with the technology and I can always find someone who will sign a paycheck with my name on it, so I must be doing something right.

Lately, though, I find myself increasing stingy when it comes to giving up my writing time each quarter, even though I know the pause is only temporary. Is it because I’m currently tapping into a really great storyline, with characters I can’t wait to learn more about? Or is it because I’ve reached a point in my life when I want to say, enough is enough, I’ve been working for Corporate America for 30 years, it’s time, I’d like to do what I want to do now.

I can remember talking this over with my friend Celeste, another writer, and asking her, ‘Weren’t we sort of promised, back in school, that if we did everything we were supposed to, if we were good girls, we would eventually get to do what we wanted to do?” Once Celeste stopped laughing, she replied: “I know. I fell for that one, too.”

“Many writers who choose to be active in the world lose not virtue but time, and that stillness without which literature cannot be made.” - Gore Vidal

When it’s full on, I find it very hard to break away from the creative process. It’s all so vivid, so cool, like watching a movie only I’m the director, and although I haven’t read the completed script yet and we're shooting, that’s okay; I still get to guide the action as best I can.

My process takes me to a very quiet interior place. It’s a parallel world, a strangely exotic land, and I love being there. At first, I had to learn not to be afraid of it, because I seemed to be intuiting things I didn’t know from my real world experience and it scared me a little. I’m not afraid anymore.

I’ve learned to set aside the same amount of time each weekend, and to go to that quiet place and relax, and let the storyline pick itself back up from the threads I left behind the last time I visited. It’s no surprise to pick up my mug and find my tea has grown cold, or that it’s dark outside and the day has passed. My sister, the mother of two, was sharing her experience of childbirth with me, explaining that during the contractions she would go to ‘her quiet safe place’. Trying to connect, I jumped in with an: “Oh, I know that place, and sometimes when I come out it’s two or three hours later!”

“Marth," she replied, gently. "I don’t go in that far."

Sunday, January 13, 2008

Real Estate Deflate

by Brenda Roger

A new real estate listing is sucking all of the fun out of my life. When I tell you that I am neither buying, nor selling a house at the moment, then it seems like it isn’t possible for a real estate listing to do such a thing to me.

About two years ago, the house on the corner was sold for a price that was about $30,000 under market value. I found this to be extremely irritating because I was about to have our house appraised and the house on the corner would have come up as a “comparable” and dropped the appraisal on our house. We heard that the house was sold as part of a divorce, so the sellers probably just accepted the first offer and walked away.

We expected to get new neighbors. Instead, we saw a red bench appear on the front porch, and occasionally there was a truck in the driveway, but no signs of life. I have spent several years now fantasizing about what the house is being used for.

My first guess was a meth lab. Now, you must understand that I live in the whitest of white bread, suburban neighborhoods. When Diana Vreeland said, “people who eat white bread have no dreams,” she was talking about my neighbors, and with the exception of a few women having unfortunate relationships with Capri pants, there isn’t much going on. It is, in fact, the least obvious, and therefore most ideal, spot for a meth lab. The aforementioned red bench on the porch could be some sort of signal. It is there sometimes and not others. I think it is a sort of sign saying, “fresh meth here!” Also, the truck that was occasionally parked there had the logo of some sort of motorcycle magazine on it. Now we’re on to something! A hell’s angels tie-in. Yeah, baby.

Time passed and there weren’t any arrests, explosions, or guys in haz-mat gear, so I dropped the meth lab theory. Then, one day, I saw a woman and a teenage girl leaving the house. A new theory was born. It was a safe house, and the disappearing red bench was a signal of some sort. Perhaps it was owned by women who were operating an underground railroad that helps women escape from abuse. Yeah, yeah, that must be it. Now it is on the market because it was “found out” too many times and it is time to find a new safe house.

When a nice nuclear family moves in and plants their trampoline in the back yard, I’m going to have to take up lawn darts or bocce to fill my summer evenings, which is going to suck all of the fun out of my life.

Friday, January 11, 2008

I Have a Dream

By Lisa Curry

Back in the mid- to late ’80s, I watched President Ronald Reagan deliver a speech on TV. I don’t remember what he talked about, but I do remember that whatever he said moved me to tears.

I was blown away. All I could think, as I sniffled and wiped my eyes, was that if he could make me – a Democrat who didn’t vote for him and couldn’t stand him – all weepy, he must have one hell of speechwriter. And what a fine thing it would be to write words as powerful as that – words that could motivate, inspire, and move the unwilling to tears.

So for a time, I toyed with the idea that I might someday move to Washington DC and become a political speechwriter. The closest I ever came was writing a few speeches and a campaign brochure for my uncle when he ran for commissioner of Butler County, PA. (He was elected, so I guess I didn’t do too dreadful a job.)

Instead, I stayed in Pittsburgh and became a catalog/marketing copywriter, which isn’t all that different, really. My goal is to write powerful words that motivate, inspire, and move the unwilling to purchase my client’s latest widget.

I hadn’t thought about my one-time aspiration to be a speechwriter in years. Maybe that’s because I haven’t heard a really moving speech in years. (Sometimes our current president makes me want to cry, too, but not for that reason.)

But then I got drafted into producing the monthly PTA newsletter for my kids’ elementary school. Like most other newsletter editors, I suspect, I’m chronically lacking enough submitted material to fill an issue and forced to write my own content in addition to editing and publishing the darn thing. I decided this month’s issue really ought to include something on Martin Luther King Jr. in honor of MLK Day, which will be observed January 21.

In researching Dr. King, I discovered that you can see and hear him give his “I Have a Dream” speech on YouTube. He made that speech on August 28, 1963, shortly before I was born, but I’m not sure more powerful words have been delivered since. And yes, it moves me to tears, no matter how many times I watch it.

So even though we’re four days early for his birthday and ten days early for his holiday observance, click here to celebrate Martin Luther King Jr. and the power of words today.

Thursday, January 10, 2008

Reader Lost

Felicia Donovan is the author of THE BLACK WIDOW AGENCY series of mysteries featuring four raucously funny gals who use computer forensics and women’s intuition to help other women. SPUN TALES – A BLACK WIDOW AGENCY MYSTERY, will be released in July, ’08 from Midnight Ink Books where the girls will again, fight chocolate cravings, hot flashes, and people bearing ill will.

Two books published, one book ready to go to the publisher, two more in progress. Not a bad run for the last three years. Of course, that comes after a lifetime of dabbling none too seriously in writing and thinking how nice it would be to get published. Good stuff happens and sometimes it happens literally, overnight. I’m thrilled that THE BLACK WIDOW AGENCY series is doing so well. What a kick it was when just the other day, a friend recounted that she was on a bus to the airport and saw someone across the aisle reading BWA.

Ah, this writing life… We spin words, create new worlds. We twist endings and create characters that are charitable, dastardly, devious, heinous. It’s exhilarating. It’s exhausting. And it takes an awful lot of time…

I never quite realized just how much time it would take between writing, editing, marketing, more marketing, signings, even more marketing, and trying to always keep a work or two “in progress.”

When life forces a schedule where you have about an hour a day to dedicate freely to your craft and you’re trying to keep on a schedule of at least one book a year (if not more), finding time to read is one of the first pleasures to go. It’s not that I don’t have books to read. I have plenty. I just don’t have the time and that’s not a good thing. The day job is very demanding. Life is demanding. Family, dogs and house are demanding, but I think I’ve done a pretty good job of keeping my priorities straight – family first, everything else second.

Mind you, I love to read. I grew up in a household of voracious readers in which books were considered as necessary as the linens on the beds. Like most writers, books hold a special emotional appeal. They take me to places I’ve never been, evoke feelings I’ve never had, remind me of the existence of good and evil and the struggles of humanity. They make me laugh with tears, cry with tears and stimulate my brain into existential realms, flights of fantasy, murderous mysteries.

But now I find myself in the strange dilemma of not having time to read and that bothers me…a LOT.

Last year, I tried to make amends by taking a “book-a-day” vacation. Every single day I had off, I read a new book. My mind was refueled, restocked, replenished – but I didn’t get much writing time in and one week later, it was back to the old grind.
For a while, I took advantage of audiobooks and listened to some wonderful stories while driving, cleaning the house, working out, but even that seems to interfere with the time that I’m usually plotting and thinking about a story idea.

Surely I can’t be the only author facing this situation. Does your writing life interfere with your reading life? Do you find yourself torn between the paperback lying on top of the TBR pile and the laptop waiting to be turned on? Does your TBR pile spill out across the nightstand onto the floor collecting dust and fighting for attention? Is there nothing more frustrating than to have these literary carrots dangled in our faces and not have the time to chew on them?

Felicia is a recognized cybercrime and law enforcement technology expert who has assisted the FBI on cases involving child pedophiles. She has used computer forensics to recover deleted files from computers involved in cases. She is a member of Mystery Writers of America, Sisters in Crime, the International Association of Crime Writers, the New Hampshire Police Association and the International Association of Chiefs of police. She is also the founder of CLEAT (Communications, Law Enforcement and Technology).

Visit or for more information.

Wednesday, January 09, 2008

Working, Learning, Loafing...

By Annette Dashofy

…while these three seem to imply totally different things, I am attempting to rationalize that an activity which ordinarily might be considered “loafing” could also rank as “learning” and perhaps even “working.”

Or I may be following in Nancy’s shoes and just trying to avoid working on the new book.

For Christmas I received the first three seasons of HOUSE on DVD. I love HOUSE. But somehow, I frequently miss it when it’s on TV. So now I can catch up and fill in the blanks as well as re-experience my favorite episodes.

I’ve been engaged in a HOUSE marathon for the last week or so. Instead of reading, I watch an episode. I hit “play” while I’m fixing supper. Can’t sleep? Pop in another disc.

So the loafing part is pretty clear. However, I am not watching mindlessly. I’m studying the construction of each episode. I’m paying attention to things like plot twists and red herrings. Since HOUSE is based on Sherlock Holmes, I figure it’s a great tool for learning the craft of writing mysteries. Take our protagonist. He’s flawed. Seriously. Physically and emotionally. But he’s brilliant. He’s cranky, yet strangely likeable.

How can I write a character with those kinds of complexities?

And each member of the supporting cast brings out a different aspect of House’s personality (prickly though it may be). They are all flawed in their own ways, too.

Lesson: Secondary characters must be more than window dressing.

There is usually a subplot that somehow plays into solving the main mystery of each episode. And often, the episodes carry a theme. More often than not it’s some variation of “Everyone lies.”

That being the case, we must solve the mystery by looking for clues which are skillfully hidden amongst the dialogue. Or search out evidence in test results. A simple observation is made early on and is either overlooked, ignored or discounted. But it ends up being proved as the key element to diagnose the illness.

Can you tell I’m taking notes?

Often, the illness has been diagnosed halfway through the episode. Well, of course it hasn’t really. It’s an hour long show (forty-some minutes on DVD without the commercials). At mid-point, the patient takes a turn for the worst or develops a new symptom and the whole story does a U-turn.

Yes, I’m claiming my HOUSE marathon is actually Mystery Plotting 101. I’m not loafing. Really, I’m not.

Now, how to also rationalize my HOUSE fixation with work? That’s a little tougher. But since I’m currently in the plotting/planning phase of my new book, my brain virtually explodes with inspiration and ideas every time I watch a new episode. Okay, I may not be writing a medical mystery (one of the main characters is a paramedic, but that doesn’t count), but the skill in which the writers hide clues in plain sight and distract the viewer with red herrings gives me grand ideas about how to do that in my own work.

Stuck on a plot point? Oh, well, gotta go turn on the old DVD player.

Or I might just be procrastinating in a big way.

Hey, I’m almost through Season One. Two more seasons and my Mystery Plotting 101 course will be over. Then I guess I’ll HAVE to focus on things like who gets killed in Chapter One and why.

Monday, January 07, 2008

Tupperware & Re-writing

by Nancy Martin

In February, we think of pink hearts. In April, it's spring showers. May flowers. June brides. When October rolls around, it's pumpkins. But the symbol for the month of January has got to be the Tupperware container.

I don't know about you, but one Christmas is over, I get the urge to put away all my cluttery holiday decorations, re-organize my storage shelves and streamline my life. If this sounds to your suspicious mind like a writer's varying methods of procrastination---well, let's meet for a long lunch to discuss it.

The Tupperware container is a crucial part of the January cleanup--a time to stow the junk in our lives. The great thing about Tupperware is that it's clear and allows us to see what's inside. I have to see it, you see, or my junk is lost forever. My husband prefers to packs stuff tightly into cardboard boxes (they're free, he says, and tight packing saves space) whereupon the stuff disappears and we have to buy new stuff because we can't find the old stuff. Which is why we have three watering cans. (I'm still annoyed that he lost a collection of little diamonds that I had hoped might make a nice ring for me on our 25th wedding anniversary, but to make up for it, he says, I have extra watering cans.)

Maybe it's because my house has been under construction for a couple of months, but after Christmas I couldn't wait to get my life organized again. I became a cleaning fanatic. I packed up the decorations, polished the silver one more time before putting it away, took down the wreaths and stowed them in the garage.

Then once all the tinsel was put away, I realized it was high time to repaint the red corner cupboard in the kitchen. And once you start painting, all kinds of things look dull and dinged by comparison, so I opened a can of white paint and painted some more: Baseboards and door jambs. When I finished, I noticed I had gotten a splurch of paint on my fingernail, so I had to do my nails all over again.

While I painted Sally Hansen's Aura on my nails, I glanced up to admire my red cupboard, and I reflected on what rewarding work painting is. How nice to see the shiny new paint cover up all the scratches and scuff marks! And as I had painted, I could plainly see my progress, which spurred me on. It made me want to stick with the project to get it all finished up.

Then, with the cupboard and the baseboards and the door jambs newly painted, my nails done and the Tupperware put away, I realized the floor needed a real scrubbing. I mean, the down-on-your-creaky-knees and using-a-bristle-brush kind of scrubbing. (After finishing this job, I realized why so many of us have that flabby skin under our upper arms.--We don't scrub our own floors enough!)

As I scrubbed, I thought about how proud my mother would be to see me down there grunting and sloshing Mr. Clean around. My mother is still a demon about house cleaning. She actually has a collection of toothbrushes dedicated to various cleaning chores--bathtubs, golf shoes, hubcaps, etc. Growing up, I came to know the cleaning schedule by heart: Mondays were laundry day. Tuesdays for ironing. Wednesdays were dusting and sweeping. On Thursdays we scrubbed floors. And on Fridays the cleaning lady came. Yes, Mother is still one of those women who cleans before the cleaning lady turns up. I try to tidy things the day before Patty comes to my house, but I'm lucky if I get the dishes out of the sink and into the dishwasher before she taps on my back door.

But lately, I've been thinking that manual labor is underrated.

Oh, the joy of seeing progress made! And once a floor is scrubbed, it doesn't need to be re-written----er, re-scrubbed a hundred times. It's a pleasure to sit down and admire that spanking clean floor and know you've done a good job the first time around.

No, I'm not going to fire Patty anytime soon. Because if I didn't have Patty, I can see myself doing housekeeping chores all day long, just like my mother does.

But I have to get back to writing. No, really, I do. No more procrastination. No more avoiding the fact that writing is frustrating and difficult and time consuming. It's hard to see the progress while you're in the middle of a writing project, but that's why people say things like, "It's the journey that's important, not the destination."

But now and then, I just want to go out and buy some Tupperware, fill it up with junk and store it on a nice, clean storage shelf. Simple work that gives a simple pleasure.


by Gina Sestak

Another year has come and gone, and now we're into 2008. Since mid-2006, I've been blogging every two weeks or so about various jobs I've held. So far, I've covered 29jobs, ranging from actress to zombie (actually, that was the same job, see my post of 9/23/06). For each job, I've tried to convey how it felt to do that work, and what that job experience has added to my life and writing. I'd like to take today to ask whether or not you've all gotten tired of hearing about all these jobs. In other words, it's survey time!

Do you want me to continue writing about jobs? There are still quite a few that I haven't yet blogged about.

If not, do you want me to write about random things, as I do on occasion, like Harry Potter (8/29/07), dreams (7/11/07), or trying to get published (5/18/07)?

Or would you rather I just not bother to blog at all?

Please let me know.

Saturday, January 05, 2008

Nobody's Talkin'

by Annette Dashofy

A while back, I wrote a post about an old high school chum who shot a kid in the back. The kid and his buddy had been trying to rob him and had beaten him with a baseball bat. The second kid fled the scene.

In the days and weeks that followed, the second kid was caught. Both boys (aged 15) were charged as adults with aggravated assault, conspiracy to commit aggravated assault, robbery, having a prohibited offensive weapon, loitering, terroristic threats, reckless endangerment, disorderly conduct, and prowling at night.

The fellow who was being robbed and who took the law into his own hands after being intimidated by these young men on more than one occasion was charged with attempted homicide, aggravated assault and reckless endangerment.

Reaction to the situation was mixed. Many, myself included, felt empathy for the guy. I wondered what a jury would do with the case.

Turns out we’ll never know. This past week, all charges were dropped against all three. They all refused to testify against each other, invoking their Fifth Amendment rights.

On the one hand, my old friend has avoided a criminal record. His attorney feels the kids learned their lesson, stating, “One of the boys lost a kidney.” The arresting officer in the case disagrees. He feels the kids will face no consequences for their actions.

So the case is closed.

Or is it?

Washington County has a new District Attorney now and there is talk of refiling charges.

What do you think? Was justice served in this case by dropping the charges? Or should further legal action be taken and charges refiled?

Thursday, January 03, 2008

Skeletons Under the Bed

by Joyce Tremel

The other day this article caught my eye: Infant's bones found in dead woman's suitcase.

The adult children of a deceased 80 year old woman found an old suitcase under the woman's bed. When they opened it up, they found the skeleton of an infant wrapped up in some clothing. They had no idea of who the child might be, or where he/she came from. They called the police.

According to Dr. Cyril Wecht, who performed the autopsy, the bones were most likely placed there 50 or so years ago. He couldn't determine a cause of death, but it appeared there was no trauma to the bones. From his description, it seemed they were placed there almost lovingly, arms folded and in a fetal position.

Wouldn't you love to know the story behind this? Right away, my writer's mind went to work. Who was this woman? What happened to the child? Was he/she killed? Stillborn? Died of natural causes?

Let's try something different here today. I want everyone to imagine who this woman was and try to build our own little plot (like we did at Vicky Thompson's workshop). Who wants to go first?

Wednesday, January 02, 2008

I Resolve...

by Annette Dashofy

Ah, January second. The partying of New Year’s Eve is over. Hopefully, we’ve all recovered from our hangovers. Maybe the Christmas decorations have been put away. Maybe not. It’s time to put the holidays to bed and get on with life.

How many of your resolutions have you broken yet?

I love New Year’s Day. It’s a day of infinite promise. It’s a clean slate, a day full of hope. And, yes, a few resolutions, although I prefer to think of them as goals. It’s that one day when the future spans in front of us with the possibility of all of our dreams coming true.

And then along comes the other 364 days. Oops, make that 365 days. This is a leap year. Reality sets in. We rediscover that meeting those goals takes work. LOTS of work.

But what the heck. Let’s go for it.

I will confess right here to all of you that I did not meet my goals for last year. Well, I guess, maybe I did in a sense. My big writing goal last year was to make money on my writing. And I did. Sort of. I made $60. Part of it was payment for a short story I sold the year before, but only received compensation for it in January of 2007. The rest is prepayment for an article I have yet to write. Good thing I still have the yoga teaching gig.

The big problem was I didn’t succeed in following the path I had mapped out a year ago which was intended to lead me toward that goal of making money on my writing. My intension was to write one new piece each month and submit one piece (either a new one or resubmitting one which had been previously rejected) each month. I researched markets and had a whole plan laid out.

Then life got in the way. I didn’t get anything sent out in January. So I figured I’d double up and submit TWO pieces in February. I think I managed that. Then, it all went to Hell in March. I won’t tell you how many new pieces I wrote or how many I submitted throughout the rest of the year. Too depressing. But, hey, I finished my novel manuscript and got it sent off to my agent. I don’t want to sound as though I didn’t accomplish ANYTHING last year.

Still, I think the general idea for last year’s writing goals were good. So I’m going to stick with them. Here goes:

My goal/resolution for 2008 is to make MORE than $60 on my writing. I will do this by writing one new piece, be it short fiction or article or essay, each month. I will submit AT LEAST one piece each month. I realize I have no control over whether those stories get accepted or rejected, but I certainly won’t make any money if I don’t write/submit/write/submit. I also intend on starting a new novel in the next week or two.

I am, however, hedging my bets. I plan to teach one or two more yoga classes a week beginning in March and I intend on holding a yoga workshop in February. For the time being, I still need my yoga income to support my writing. But I’m working on it.

I also resolve to eat better and work out more to reach my goal of getting back into my skinny jeans.

That’s also a repeat from last year. And the year before…