Photo Challenge: Transition

I found this abandoned church this past January, and try to get back periodically to check on it and photograph it. Haven’t seen it in snow yet, but here it is as I found it in January, again in June, and then back in October (I missed the height of the fall colors!). I think you can also see a bit of a transition in my photography and my willingness to take a few chances.


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church 1 vg

When life hands you kittens . . .

babies 1Tiny:  Hey, Mum, here we are on Day Four, and you know, when you crawled over all those hay bales and climbed down the barn wall to get to us, I figured we were goners – ’cause, you know, our real mom sort of left us. But there you were, and you bundled us up and then climbed all the way back out again and here we are!

Maximus:  First, let me say THANK YOU for finally figuring out my True Name. I mean, the nickname you had for me those first couple of days was cute, but let’s get real here:  my name is Maximus Imperius, not “Dr. Phil.” I yowl because I NEED THINGS NOW.

Tiny:  Ignore him, Mum. He really does know that you saved us. And the way you get up every two hours to feed us – even though we know you’re tired. I mean, our eyes aren’t open yet and we really can’t hear anything, but we know you’re tired. We don’t mean to be problems when we can’t find the eyedropper – that’s just not what it’s supposed to be, you know? But the new formula you crawled out of your death bed and went to the vet to get? That stuff is YUMMY!

I started this blog post seven weeks ago, when these two, Maximus Imperius and Tiny, arrived. (Maximus has the white; Tiny is the solid gray tabby.)

They were premature; a feral momma cat had four babies in the barn, and abandoned them. I found them hours later, nearly frozen to death. Maximus and Tiny survived, although they are still behind on certain things – their eyes opened late, they started crawling and running around a bit late, they’re just now able to sleep through the night without a 2am feeding, and although Maximus is eating canned food like the world will run out in a week, Tiny just discovered how yummy it can be yesterday. THANK GOODNESS. 🙂

It’s been a huge struggle to raise these two. I was already sick, exhausted, and depressed whbabies 2en they arrived. Going four weeks without any quality sleep only added to that. I started a full-time job in August that I am not used to yet and frankly, I don’t feel I belong there, which only adds to the stress. But I could not leave them there to die. And once I’d taken them in, I was in it for the long haul.

For the first two and a half weeks, they were so little that they ate with an eyedropper. And OMG, that was so hard. Lay them in your lap. Hold them just so. Get the eyedropper in their mouth and squeeze, just a teensy bit at a time. Repeat. I’ve raised many kittens, but never from Day 1, and never premature kittens. At nearly three weeks, they finally graduated to the bottle. I almost cried that day!

Today, they are healthy, thriving little things. Maximus has discovered, the last few days, that he loves to sit on my shoulder and survey his domain – my bathroom – while Tiny prefers to curl up in my lap and stare up at me with those huge blue eyes, so trusting and so loving. Though they are seven weeks old, they are really about two weeks behind in development in some areas, as I said, but they are incredibly smart. For instance, I left them out one night to run around while I did a few things and fed the other animals, and when I came back, the bathroom was empty. Just – no kittens! Small panic attack – and then I heard purring. They’d gotten back in their crate, curled up, and gone back to sleep. 🙂 It may take them longer to learn to eat on their own, and they may always be the teeniest, tiniest cats around, but it doesn’t matter.

I really don’t know what the future holds for me at this point. I’m pretty sure I didn’t need two more cats, but sometimes, the universe gives us the things we need rather than the things we want. Our job is just to trust that it’ll sort itself out in the end, I guess. And trust is not my strong suit. But I’m at a point where I look at my life – I look at the things I used to want, and I look at the plans I had, and the things I wanted to do – and I don’t even recognize any of them anymore. I don’t feel remotely connected to anything in my life. I no longer know what I want.

But for the past seven weeks, what I’ve wanted is for these two to survive. So far, so good.



Photo Challenge: Cheerful Trio

I took this a year ago, and it’s still one of my favorites. I found these wildflowers growing alongside the road when I was out on my morning walk, and they were so beautiful and cheerful, I had to save the moment. It’s a nice reminder that even though winter is coming, summer will eventually be here, too.

cheerful trio 2

Half-Baked Cupcakes: Getting Your Characters “Done”

It’s no secret:  I’m a historian, and I write a lot of historical fiction. Even my urban fantasies are infused with history. (Sort of hard not to be, when one of my MCs is an 18th-century ghost, I guess.)

But one thing I’ve learned over the past years is that characters will often come to you fully formed – including backstory – and sometimes, they don’t. They’re like a cupcake that’s not quite done in the center. It looks done; the top has risen, and it looks like all the other cupcakes, but it’s just not. Stick the toothpick in, and you get a gooey mass of unbaked chocolate batter.

So what do you do?

There’s a couple of things. First, figure out what you do know about this character. They came to you, so clearly you need them in the story somehow. They fulfill a purpose. Of course, if this is the waiter that brings your MC a glass of water and we’re never seeing him again, then no worries. Don’t bother. But if this is the waiter that brings your MC a glass of water, and suddenly he pulls out a gun and shoots at the baddie that’s been secretly stalking your MC – wow. He just turned into a Real Character. How’d he come to be there? Why is he packing? How many more tricks does he have up his sleeve, and where did he learn them?

Those are the things you may not know right now. You may be just as shocked as anyone that this random guy has done this. Maybe you meant for something else to happen in that scene. Who cares? Go with it!!!! Because if this character can suddenly insert himself into your novel like that, he’s worth keeping.

So. You can talk to him, of course – do a character sketch, where you let the character tell you about his life. I do this a lot.

But depending on what he says, you may also have to do some research. Let’s say he’s Interpol. Well. What do YOU know about Interpol? Maybe nothing! Maybe you head the term on an old rerun of “Magnum, PI.” So you’ll need to do your research. What you learn in your research will shape who he is. If he’s Interpol, chances are he’s not American – so what is his nationality? That will give you race, religion, ethnicity, beliefs, other languages he speaks, contacts & connections . . . You might even change your mind. You might realize he’s not Interpol at all – instead, he’s Mossad (Israel’s version of the CIA). Or Scotland Yard.

Well, then what?! 🙂 More research!

If you hate research, then better stick to the old adage “write what you know.” But even then, there’s going to be research. Let’s say you’re writing about your home town and one of your MCs is an auto mechanic. Do you know anything about that? Or maybe he’s engaged to a woman who runs the local movie theatre. Or teaches for a local college. Research!

I’m doing this right now with Sarah, my female lead in the historical romance I’m working on. The more I research Massachusetts circa 1774, the more real she becomes.

Another example is Rebecca, from my urban fantasy series. Rebecca appeared briefly in one novel, but I was always intrigued by her and finally decided that she needed her own novel. So I wrote it. It sucked. Mostly because I had no idea who Rebecca was. I thought I did:  I really thought I did, but in reality, she was a caricature. Calling her a half-baked cupcake is a kindness; she hadn’t even been put in the oven yet! In truth, she was missing quite a few key ingredients!

So I put it away, embarrassed I’d even let my beta readers see it.

And then one night – about six months later – I had a very clear scene in my mind. Rebecca, squaring off against her husband, only I knew that it wasn’t really her husband, but something else. I grabbed my laptop and started writing – and from the second my fingers touched the keys, it was her voice coming through. Calm, educated, scared to death. In love so deeply with her husband that she might very well drown in it. And yes, a woman living in the 17th century with powers no one could attribute to anything other than witchcraft. It was that voice I’d been waiting for. It simply took her longer than my other characters to bake.

What’s funny is that there’s another character from these novels. a ghost named Shannon, who came to me 100% done and ready to raise all kinds of hell. But Rebecca was more subtle. I needed to do more research on the time period, read more about the witch trials of the time, review the Malleus Maleficarum. And in truth, there was another character who I needed to know more about – her nemesis. They began to come to me in tandem, telling their stories. In truth, I love her nemesis – he’s an extremely complicated character, and makes no excuses for it. But I needed to research him as well. I needed to know how he came to be in her village, and once I understood that . . . I had no problems.

Rebecca is much closer to being done than she was a year ago. I’m still struggling with how to finish her story and embed it into the existing novel without a ton of rewriting – it’ll involve some experimenting with format, and I’m okay with that. Besides, I’m still doing research for both her and Sarah. And with every new fact I learn, the more ‘real’ I know they’re going to be.

Someday, they’ll be cupcakes fresh from the oven. Fully baked. Ready to be frosted and consumed by readers.

At least, I hope so!!!!

What do YOU want from NaNoWriMo this year? For me . . .

I love writing, but the fact is – my life lately has been unfavorable, let’s say, to finding time for it. No time. No energy. If I’m not exhausted, I’m too busy. Or both.

But. It’s National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo). And I decided that I would try it. Again.

Not familiar with NaNo? Here’s the basics:  you spend November writing 50,000 words on a novel, which averages to 1,667 words/day. If you do it, you win! What do you win? A nifty banner for your Facebook page, and bragging rights (which are pretty damn cool; not everyone can do it!). Here’s the website:

The first time I did NaNo was 2013. I was in the middle of my Young Adult Fiction class at University of Oxford, and our tutor had assigned a discussion:  what is the one thing you would never write about? I said it would be history and especially, race relations in America, because I teach history and I deal with this on a daily basis. Why would I want to spend my precious writing time working on that?

Well . . . the best laid plans of mice and men and all that. That’s when Nicky arrived, and I spent what I still consider to be the best writing month of my life working on a rough draft of his story.

For some writers, NaNo is about writing a novel (although if you consider 50,000 words to be a novel, then okay. I don’t.). For others, it’s just to write. Period. That’s the track I’m taking this year. Although I have several novels started and drafted, and characters hanging on waiting for me to get back to them, it’s been so hard. If I can drag myself out of bed in time to get to work, it’s a blessing. I didn’t make a word count goal for myself. I don’t care about reaching 50,000 words. My goal for this month is to write at least five days week. Word count, schmerd count.

Of course, for others, the goal is to actually get that word count. Some authors do research in September and October, make all their notes, and on November 1, they’re ready to write. They may actually finish an entire first draft of a novel. I know of people who save up all their vacation and sick time so they can do nothing but write during November. Some finish novels they started last year, or at another time; others write short stories.

NaNo is tough. If it wasn’t, more people would do it. There wouldn’t be this great big rallying beforehand, where participants psych themselves up and go in swinging. Those first few days – even the first week – are usually fine. You get about 1500 words a day; you promise yourself you’ll make it up on the weekends. Then . . . life happens. Kids get sick. YOU get sick. Pets need attention. There’s grading to do, projects at work, family emergencies. You start thinking about your novel not as a collaborator (to steal one of Liz Gilbert’s ideas!) but an adversary that must be crushed. Those 1,667 words must be DESTROYED today!!!!!

And then . . . they become an albatross. You think oh, lord, I have to write . . . more than a thousand words . . . even more than fifteen hundred words . . .

The trick is not to get to that point. To keep it fresh and alive. That’s why so many people prep ahead of time by having research done, scenes laid out on notecards, character sketches in mind. So when they sit down, they have a place to start and a place to go. 

There are a lot of novelists who have completed works during NaNo, and then gone on to sell them. In fact, here’s the official list: Most of these were published by small presses – but! See any familiar names here? Erin Morgenstern. Hugh Howey. Carrie Ryan. Sarah Gruen. Were their drafts perfect? NO! Especially Erin Morgenstern – she went through draft after draft after draft. And that’s something that new NaNo writers probably don’t get as much as they should – that when you get to November 31, even if you’ve completed the 50,000 words, you aren’t done yet, unless you just want to put it away and never, ever look at it again. But I guarantee you, that ‘novel’ ain’t done.

That’s why I’m not pressuring myself this year. I have enough pressure in virtually every other part of my life right now. Writing should be an escape. NaNo, for this year, is about reconnecting with my stories and characters. Reminding them that I’m still here. Seeing what they’ve been up to lately. Getting griped out – Nicky’s already been very vocal about how much time I’m spending with my historical romance, and my witch Rebecca keeps reminding me that she’s got powers and she WILL use them if I don’t work with her to finish up her story soon. But for now, I focus on what I can do, and I don’t beat myself up over what I can’t. I’m averaging about 900 words/day right now. I’m not asking for more. I’m not demanding more. I’m grateful for those 900 words.

Because they mean I’m writing again.

And this year, for me, that’s the only thing I want from NaNoWriMo – just to write again.

Here’s a great blog post from Erin Morgenstern about NaNo: