From Tradition to Book – Holiday Anthology

When my parents and I started living fairly far away, we still had a desire for closeness, particularly around the holidays. We started a tradition where my mother would write a story and email it to me, I would create illustrations for it then send the finished pages back over to them, then my father would help bind and ship the story. Usually with sparkly yarn and a fancy cover.  They would go out to all the friends and relatives as their Christmas present.

There were so many advantages to this. The extended family would start calling each other and discussing the story. I got plenty of chance to illustrate things. We all three had the feeling of continuing a holiday tradition that drew us together.

Now, for this year, my dad is the one who wrote the story. I had the idea to publish the last twelve or so stories into one big volume. I also would re-illustrate the stories that needed it.  So “Yuletide Lights” was born. It’s fifteen stories, each one born of personal experience, and filled with the central themes of the holiday season. They stories are in general heartwarming and filled with generosity but in some truly touching ways. Each story is a slice of life, a pair of magic glasses with which you can peep into another life, another way. The story I wrote is about a lost cat in Japan, but even it happens around the Holidays. The little girl in the book my dad wrote might as well have been me, and I remember versions of many of events in these and other stories. Many times I’ve been moved to tears, working on this project.

I had fun preparing, editing and illustrating these stories, as much fun as I hope you have  reading them.

If you’d like to see this volume, it’s available both in paperback and Kindle.


Yuletide lights cover small.jpg

NaNoWriMo begins!

So here’s my obligatory introductory snippet of novel.  It’s going to be a fantasy called Silverwings, a bit low-magic with some thought behind it.  I may make it YA friendly.


Verity looked up, starting to shade her eyes before she realized that was silly. Whatever the thing was above her, it sounded like a huge version of Squawk, the raven.  Like wings, only impossibly large. She startled, realizing what that could mean, and slipped into the trees. She didn’t think it could be a dragon – they weren’t common here, and this wasn’t a known hunting ground. Still, if it was a dragon, she wanted to be able to get away. Maybe if it was a big one it wouldn’t be able to get through the trees very well.

Once deep into the bushes surrounding the Berrywood, Verity looked back for a moment. A whinny, high and frightened, met her ears. Is it a giant bird, perhaps, with a poor horse in its talons? she wondered to herself, panic rising. If it is, I have to find some way to help it… Maybe if I cast a light spell on it’s eyes… Half formed visions of giant horse-eating owls dissipated when she saw what was heading toward the clearing.

There was, indeed, a horse. A fine looking horse, colored silver-white, with an arching neck, a noble looking face with a delicate muzzle, flowing mane and tail, and long, slender looking legs that were caked with mud. It was descending, carried on a pair of huge white wings that looked like they belonged to the biggest hawk who ever lived. The horse whinnied shrilly and landed in the clearing. Still amazed, Verity noted that she was a mare.

There, she looked about her, nostrils flared, her neck and sides lathered. She rustled and folded her wings to her sides, blowing and puffing. Her tail swished in agitation and her ears were swiveling in all directions. There were the unmistakable signs of rope burns about the curving neck and graceful legs.

Verity paused a moment, stunned by the sight. This was the most beautiful creature she’d ever seen. She had the finest attributes of horse and bird, but she was also obviously afraid and in need of a friend. What should I do? Verity wondered. Did she run away from somewhere? And why? Then she saw the lash-marks on the mare’s back and flanks, deeper than the rope burns. Looking more closely, she also saw a fine silvery chain looped around her neck and shoulders, like a harness. Something glinted on it, half buried in the short fur of her muscular chest. It looked like a small stone, also set in silver. The mare didn’t wheel around to kick or run, but just stood here, still blowing, her head held low. She looked exhausted.

Emboldened and driven by compassion, Verity made a soft noise. She imitated a horse’s nicker. Here I am, she said wordlessly. Here I am. I’m not here to hurt you. Then, to show what she was, she called out quietly

“Easy there, pretty one. Easy, now. I’m coming out.”.

Heedless of the leaves sticking in her hair and clothes, Verity came out – slowly, carefully, and not meeting the mare’s eyes, but instead sharing a common direction with her. She nickered again.

The mare stayed still for a moment, then stretched her neck as far as it would go, sniffing Verity, then blowing warm breath at her. Her ears had stopped swiveling but her tail was still lashing her hocks.

Verity stepped sideways, just a bit, and let herself be sniffed. She blew a little breath back so the mare could get an idea about her. Thinking quickly, she grabbed a branch of berries and carefully extended them to the mare.

The Deadly Deadline

Sometimes you have to really bludgeon your brain to finish a job before it’s due.

It can be really daunting.  That deadline’s coming up, whether it’s a project you have to finish for yourself, art or writing you need to complete for somebody else, or just that baffling one word prompt you want to write about before you have to leave for work.

Mix that with writer’s block and you have one frustrating situation!

Don’t take a sledgehammer to your head though, just get around the writer’s block if you can’t get through it.  Think about something parallel to the subject.  Think around the subject, for want of a better phrase.  Start writing about something else, even if it’s totally random.  If you’re an artist looking for ideas, start looking at the world in some way you’ve never looked at it before.  Doodle.  Go get a cup of something hot and caffeinated, but only one, and try again.

The point is, so many times I’ve had terrible creative block that just blew away like a summer breeze when I started creating.  Even if it was something completely other than my main project, it was like my mental machinery warmed up and started creating ideas again.

You can do that too.  No bludgeoning required.



via Daily Prompt: Bludgeon

7 strategies for getting things done

Have you ever started a project and petered out in the middle?
I have. Hundreds of times, maybe thousands.
No one has unlimited energy and enthusiasm. As creative people, we do much better if we treat enthusiasm as a limited resource. We can build it up with use, but it’s still finite.

Here are seven hints to help you use your precious resources well and funnel all that energy where you want it – into your project. This will work for any kind of project but I have one bonus hint especially for writers.
Plan your strategy

If you are an artist, use a concept sketch. If you’re a writer, use an outline. There’s a moment in every project when your idea sits shining, fully formed in your head. Record as much information as you can, while you can. Capture as much of that feeling as possible.

Break up the task

While you are planning, divide the job into pieces. Roughly decide what you are going to do when. Be specific, so if you have to leave the project you can come back to it easily and know exactly where you are. This is great for working opportunistically, especially if you don’t have the luxury of a set working time.

Find the time – or make it

It often seems like we don’t have any time to work, especially distraction free time. However, it’s vital. You might have to tell the kids to go play, feed the cat so she doesn’t pester you, etc. Self discipline is helpful here. Surfing the web when you are supposed to be writing really makes a novel take longer to write, just ask me.
However, even well spent half hour, can be really productive. If you can’t set time aside, work when you can – twenty minutes during a child’s nap, fifteen while the dog is running at the park, an idea jotted down on a notebook while waiting in line at the bank, etc. Get up a little earlier if you have to. Small efforts over time add up. I wrote a novel, at work, between calls.
Treat your creativity and enthusiasm like a finite resource

I mentioned this already but it bears repeating. Don’t pour your enthusiasm into too many projects at once. Focus on a couple of things at a time. This includes things like gaming, social media and work, so balance carefully. If I want to really focus on my next novel, for instance, I’ll cut back on blogging and gaming. That way those mental resources aren’t under so much strain.
Limit brainstorming

This might seem to fly in the face of other advice you’ve read. Ideas are great, vital really, but don’t keep generating them endlessly. If you do, you can feel like you are accomplishing a lot. “Look at all these lists I made,” you may say to yourself. “I’m really making progress.” But, and this is a big “but,” you need to follow through with one of them eventually. Even the best idea means ABSOLUTELY NOTHING unless you follow through.

Don’t talk about your work!

Mention it once in a while if you need, but don’t get into in depth discussions. I’ve found that the more I talk about my latest project, I use up the energy I have to finish it. Everything I have goes into talking about the project so I don’t actually work as much on it. I get tired of the subject faster, I lose enthusiasm. If I stay quiet about it, all that desire to share my project and what’s going on with it gets channeled into the project itself. I get done faster.

Keep going – no matter what

Even when you aren’t feeling creative, don’t quit. If you are writing a novel, try to write at least a few sentences. It may turn into more, it may not, but at least you did something. If you are fixing a car, try to turn at least one bolt. You’ll probably end up doing more. In the meantime, you’ll be developing a good habit. Persistence is more important than talent, every time.

Bonus tips for authors:

Write without editing. Follow your outline, but don’t stop to look at it, just keep going. When I start editing my work before I’ve finis, I end up with far fewer pages than if I didn’t edit. I wasn’t ever able to finish even one novel till I stopped doing that. If you find something that’s a real glaring error, highlight that part of the text or write yourself a note, but MOVE ON. This will keep your momentum up, and then you don’t end up having only a few well polished paragraphs. This helps your “flow” and helps you finish the book.

Wait before you edit. When you’ve finished your project, wait at least a few days before you start editing. Distance is important because otherwise you will miss mistakes. It also helps to look at your project differently. So if you wrote it online, print it out then go after it with a pen. Read it out loud. I catch more mistakes when I do that! Just find some way that your brain won’t be so used to looking at the same words. And don’t forget to refer back to your notes and your outline.


(This article first appeared in another form on, however I reworked it and added new material since then.  So if you’ve read it before, there’s more to find!)

10 ways to add value to your blog

via Daily Prompt: Value

If you add value to your writing,  your readers will be more likely to come back.  My favorite blogs, the ones I bookmark and come back to again and again, offer me fantastic value and relevance in my life.  I want to be like them.  So when I post, I like to think “what makes me want to read a blog?  What is valuable to me?”  And then I try to give that to my readers.

A good blog is like a conversation in that both participants benefit from it.  Both reader and writer find it valuable.  The writer, because they share their messages and ideas, and the reader, because they learn something, are amused, or have their thoughts expanded or provoked.  So when you write, always try to create a connection.

10 ways to add value to your blog:


Relate personal experiences

When writing about your own experiences, think “how can I relate this to others?”  Doing that can create a connection, help people feel they aren’t alone.

Share your knowledge

You might think everyone knows about a certain subject.  However, you might have a perspective or know a particular little tip that no one else does.  You can share that.

Be bold

When writing, dare to go a little outside the norm.  Use an active voice, write thoughtfully, and always be honest with yourself and your reader.

Know your audience

I see this all over the net, but what does it really mean?  Take a look at the blogs of people following you.  See what they write about, what they are interested in.  This can help you see what you can offer them, and also give them some extra clicks and views.

Read, read, read

To be a great writer, you must read.  That will give you more to write about as you ponder the ideas you see in the books and articles you explore.


When writing an article about a particular subject, think “Is there something I can offer that other bloggers/writers haven’t?  Is there a connection I can make here that they didn’t?”  Then include that.  It will really add value and freshness to your blog.

Write intentionally

Even with a daily prompt, or a daily check-in post, think “will my readers be elevated, informed, or entertained by reading this post?”  Sometimes all it takes is a little more detail, a few different wording choices to make this answer “yes.”

Be positive

Even if you write about difficult or negative subjects, keep positivity in mind.  Offer solutions if possible.  Encourage your reader.  Look for the lesson in your work, and gently point toward it without being preachy.  This can be a delicate balance but it can be done, with practice.

Delete if needed

Sometimes, a post just doesn’t turn out the way you wanted.  It’s perfectly okay to go back and delete it later if it doesn’t serve the theme of your blog.  You can archive it of course, for later reworking, but you don’t have to keep it up.

Edit, edit, edit

Take an extra look at your posting before you submit.  Give it a thorough check for spelling and grammar issues.  Simply doing this will create a better product, and add value to your work.  It also shows you care about your ideas and your readers.


If you add value to your blog, and think about these principles as you write, you will have more readers who keep coming back to read your work!



The Magic of Detail

Fox Pond Detail.jpg
A small detail from one of my paintings


Whether we’re talking about a story, an article, a painting, or a drawing, the devil really is in the details. Get them wrong and you have a flop. Get them right and you’ve made something great.

Research is really important to make sure you get those details right. Just how should the knight’s sword gleam? What does a rose smell like, exactly? How does a Great Dane generally behave? What are some of the normal brands of potato chip bought in the East Coast?

Details, and how you portray them, are everything. If you’re writing about an object, the reader should know what it looks like. They need to know the color, make an model of the car the protagonist sees. The scent of the forest as the heroin walks into it. How the fur of the wolf feels as the hero tentatively strokes its ruff.

In a picture, little details can really make it come alive. Say you paint a mountain scene. It’s pretty, but what’s going on? Add a bird, and there’s life. Add a boat and a mysterious head in the high mountain caldera-lake, and you have a story. What creatures populate your woods? Who walks through your cities? What do they wear? How do they live? In a portrait, what favorite piece of jewelry, what sly look of the eye, will the viewer see?

Remember to include these things and watch your viewers, or readers, love you.

13 Ways to Recharge Your Writing Batteries

via Daily Prompt: Recharge


Sometimes, we all run out of ideas.  We feel like a battery run flat.  At that moment, we wish we were like a cell phone – just plug a USB into the side of our heads and let the ideas flow in.  This is particularly bad if we’re working up against a deadline, or only have a little time to write, so we want to make it count.  Here are some ways to recharge!  Please add your own in the comments if I’ve missed something.

1. Meditate.  Totally relax, just for two or three minutes, and let go.

2. Write down ten ideas about something – anything – totally unrelated to your project.

3. Take a walk.  Let your mind wander.

4. Have a cup of tea. L-Theanine is good for your brain.

5. Take a short (no more than twenty minute) nap.

6. Exercise.  It sounds strange, but often exercise brings energy, not the other way around.

7. Play.  Preferably not with anything electronic.

8. Write down a list of things regarding your subject.  Odd little details, the nuttier the better.

9. Get yourself laughing.  Do something really silly, like juggling pants.

10. Blow the screen a giant raspberry and start writing anyway – one word at a time, it doesn’t matter where.  After all, you can always delete later.  The important thing is to get going.

11. Read a lot.  All subjects.  You’ll have more output when you have more input.

12. Keep a small notebook, write all your ideas down.  Look over that when you’re stuck.

13. Stay positive!



(And don’t forget to look at my last post, I really need reader input!)


Sidewalk’s End – or Beginning?

via Daily Prompt: Sidewalk

Life is a mystery.

I loved the book “Where the Sidewalk Ends” as a child.  I really enjoyed Shel Silverstein’s whimsical illustrations and poetry.  Later, the title also made me think of borders, boundaries, limits and limitlessness.

Where does the sidewalk end?  What do you find out beyond the streetlamp light?

The Wild, the Unknown.  Imagination.

I’ve lived in places where sidewalks were an unknown luxury.  Where there were no streetlights, no, not even one.  Once I lived in a place where the stars were dimmed only by feeble kerosene lamps, and the deer grunted out in the dark.

Sidewalks are safety.  Civilization.

I like to write about the places out beyond the sidewalks, beyond the painted lines, beyond the borders and the falsely safe places.

Won’t you join me out there?

No, I won’t dumb my writing down!

Nor simplify it, nor keep it below a 6th grade level!

I’ve seen a disturbing trend among bloggers. One of the tips I’ve seen lately to improve my blog is to lower the grade level needed to read my articles. I’m told that making my blog easier to read will increase my followers, improve my stats, and crown me queen of the blogging world.

Some of the tips I’ve seen make sense – keep my sentences short and readable, don’t repeat myself, highlight keywords, use lists and graphics, shorten my paragraphs. I stop cold at the idea of simplifying my work beyond a certain level. My readers aren’t dumb, neither am I, so why should I dumb things down?

Language can be a beautiful thing. Sometimes the right word is a complex one, or the concept might be something esoteric. I can understand the need for making something readable by a global audience. However, isn’t that why there are online dictionaries?

I don’t use words to show off. At the same, sometimes a long word is simply the best one to use. Longer words are often more specific than simple ones. If you are talking about vermilion velvet, is it enough to just call it red? If you are writing a recipe for quiche lorraine, specifically, is it right to just call it “egg pie?”

Clarity is great.  However, instead of purposely oversimplifying what we say, why not invite others to stretch, grow, and enjoy the richness and eloquence of language?



When you want to publish your book: tips for aspiring authors

The only thing worse than failing as a writer, is failing as a writer and paying someone else for the privilege.  Writing and getting your things published doesn’t have to be hard, though it often is. There are certain things you can do so you aren’t taken for a ride. I’ve watched the publishing industry change over the years, helped publish a few books, and in all of it I’ve seen that certain things remain true. So I have come up with some tips and rules to help protect you from career-breaking mistakes.
Do not ever pay an agent fee or publishing charge. Those are used by vanity publishers and scam artists to separate you from your money and give you nothing.

There is one small exception to this. If you complete the NaNoWriMo writing challenge and earn the 75% off coupon from FastPencil, that’s actually a pretty good value. For around a hundred dollars you get a fair amount of marketing help and wide distribution for your book, as well as a larger cut of the profits. Otherwise, don’t pay agent fees or publishing charges.

Also be cautious of anyone who says “you need to help us pay for a thousand books and you need to do all your own marketing.” Real agents don’t charge the author.

If you are an aspiring writer and want to be published traditionally, do not let your desire blind you to scam artists. Be particularly wary of any unsolicited emails from publishing companies with glowing testimonials, compliments about your work, and promises of big profits. I’m looking at you, SBPRA! Unless you are really well known, publishing houses don’t approach you unasked, and if you are well known, you won’t be needing these tips.
Carefully check any contracts to make sure you retain control over your work. Look for hidden fees. Read them. Reread them. If anyone objects or tries to get you to rush, don’t sign.

Before signing up with any agent or publishing company, check their online reputation. Several good authors groups, like the Science Fiction Writer’s Association, have lists of scammers. No reputation might not be a deal breaker but a bad reputation is.

When you self publish, and even if you don’t, use a beta reader. Have one or more people carefully read your work, looking for typos, misspelled words, awkward grammar, or anything else that will make your work look less than its best. The more eyes, the better!

Write what you love, write what you know, and never ever write something you don’t know about unless you have expert help. That is, talk it over with someone who knows the subject very well, and then listen to what they have to say!

Finally, any time emotion (especially love or fear) is involved, the market is ripe for scammers and they know it. You love your book, you love the idea of success. You fear failure. Scammers know that and they play to your emotions. This is your work, hopefully your best work, and you owe it to your future to let reason rule over emotion. You’ll be thankful later.

If you have any comments or tips, comment here and I’ll add them with attribution.