Saturday, May 5, 2012

Muse 2012

What I learned today at this year's Muse and the Marketplace Writing Conference put on by Grub Street Writers in Boston:

1. Grub Street really does a great job in helping writers write and understand the market. I am consistently impressed, every year, with how much thought and care is put into the line up. The conference is big and it is grand. I highly recommend it.

2. Agents and editors are people too. I knew this already of course, but this year I signed up to eat lunch at a table with two agents, an author, and an editor. I thought it might be awkward, but all were warm and friendly. It was perhaps the most comfortable and chatty lunch I have ever had at the Muse. Rotating seats was a great idea too, as the four writers who were at the table to network got to talk to different people. I really think the lunch was the best event of the day.

3. Agents differ in opinion on a lot of things. I was surprised to see two agents disagree on the etiquette of the "no response means no" rule that is more and more common these days. One thought it was down right rude, where as the other defended the need to allocate time where it was most useful. I also heard variances about whether a writer should offer a genre at all or comp titles in a query. It does put a writer in a category that might influence the agent's expectations, but then again if the comp or genre is right on, it might help.

4. I learned that there are debut authors out there who have gone through the slush pile. They experienced the same ups and down I know many aspiring authors do. It was really encouraging to hear their success stories and to feel understood.

5. Authors are much less critical of writing than agents, perhaps understandably so. I attended two "Idol" sessions, where writers submit one page anonymously and it is read in front of a panel of "judges" (authors or agents respectively). They listen and when they feel they would stop reading, each one, individually, raises a hand, two or three and the reader is told to stop and the group explains their reasoning. This was very insightful. The authors were much more inclined to listen to the whole page and then offer positives and negatives, as if they were in a critique group. The agents found fault almost immediately. This give a lot of insight into their mind frame and their process.

6. Lastly, I learned, or remembered, how great it is to go to a conference with other writers and people in the industry. It is rejuvenating and gives me a chance to connect with people who love the same things that I love: books and writing. What a great experience going to a conference is. It is worth it to put your brave costume on and to walk up to an agent and introduce yourself. It is awesome to sit next to an author you admire and talk to them not only about their work, but your own.

I highly recommend that anyone who is writing a book go to a conference like The Muse and The Marketplace. It can add definition, purpose, and knowledge to your endeavor.

Sunday, April 29, 2012

X-ed Off, Yikes!, and Zzzzzz

I admit it. I am pooped. This whole A-Z challenge started with great optimism and high hopes and the challenge certainly lived up to them. My own personal world, not so much. I had some let downs this month and some rough spots, but I am getting my ducks back in a row. Although I am in a state of regrouping, tentatively tipping my toe in the torrent, it does not mean I can't finish this thing. But I am going to cheat. Here goes:

X is for X that one off my list. Has anyone else who is querying come across this disclaimer on agency sites that the querant must acknowledge before submitting?

"Said Agency and/or any of its clients may have created, may create, or may otherwise have access to materials, ideas, and creative works which may be similar or identical to the Material with regard to theme, motif, plots, characters, formats, or other attributes; and (v) I shall not be entitled to any compensation because of the proposed use or use of any such similar or identical material that may be or may have been created by Said Agency and/or any of its clients..."

I know people still submit to these agencies, and perhaps it is totally kosher, but I shy away, even when there seem to be some awesome agents at "Said Agency." Why do they include this? All the other disclaimers seem appropriate, but this just screams, " case we steal your story." Which I certainly don't think reputable agencies would do, but then why include this? What do you think a writer should make of this?

Y is for Yikes! I am going to a pretty big writing conference next weekend, The Muse and the Marketplace. I will probably blog about it. It is very exciting. The attendees get to hob knob with agents and well known writers. There are seminars and panels and talks and keynote speakers. You can meet with an agent for a manuscript consultation. You can eat lunch at an assigned table with editors, agents, and NYT Bestselling authors. It is awesome, but it is also really intimidating. This year my Muse friend is not attending. So, I am flying solo. I have made a plan to approach a few specific people and introduce myself, just to put a face (mine) to a name (my query). I am excited to meet one of my fav authors, Katherine Howe (check out her awesome website), and I am excited to learn about a whole lot of different writing related things. But YIKES! I have to psych myself up and put on my Brave Girl Costume. Do you attend any awesome writing conferences, or other special interest events?

Z is for ZZZZZ. Sleeping is so important and I haven't been doing it well lately. In fact, I have noticed that many of my fellow bloggers and writers suffer from insomnia. Actually, a lot of my students do too. Why is this? Are we over stimulated with electronics? Is the modern world too fast paced? Are we stressed with information overload. I know too much and therefore I worry all the time. Are you a good sleeper?

So there you go. I did it. I made it through, with a little cheating. It was so great to meet all of you knew and interesting bloggers. Thanks for stopping by and visit again soon.

Thursday, April 26, 2012

Western Massachusetts


I have noticed that many of the people visiting my blog are coming from places all of the United States and even all over the world! Since, very few of you are from Massachusetts, and probably think of Boston as the ONLY place in this state, I thought I might tell you a little bit about where I live. WESTERN Massachusetts.

As you will see if you look at the map above and to the left, these people didn't think it necessary to put my town on this map. In fact the entire area where I live has nothing labeled. Find Holyoke (pronounced Holy Oak - not Holly Oky - which I once heard someone say) Springfield and Northampton. Between Holyoke and Northampton is a small set of mountains or really hills called the Holyoke Range. Around here it is known as the Tofu Curtain. South of the Holyoke Range is a very different place than North of it. Northampton is an awesome, hip, college town. So from there, head North. To the left of the Quabbin (more on that later) and keep going. Follow the Connecticut River to the place where Massachusetts and the river meet Vermont and New Hampshire. Now back down a half an inch. THAT is where I live.

Massachusetts is really divided into at least three portions. Boston - urban, cultured, steal our water. Central, MA - a lot of commuters to Boston. Flat. Where I grew up. Western MA - which is really western central - also known as The Pioneer Valley and hill towns surrounding the Connecticut River Valley. This is where I live. Then there are the Berkshires - where the Berkshire Mountains are - & what I see as a place where New Yorkers go on vacation. I can't really speak for any of those other places. But I do know western MA.

I came here for college. UMass, Butterfield Alumni. I never left. I never left because the valley has a much different pace than where I grew up. Though there were rural sections of central Ma, there was still a mall, chain restaurant, fast paced, Boston oriented, mentality. Out in the valley we are much more rural except for our few semi-urban areas. For a long time I lived in a hill town on top of a plateau that was, for most, out in the boonies. But I can tell you, out here, 30 minutes to the store was not much compared to those who live between the hill towns and the Berkshires.

The book and the plow are the emblems of Amherst College and I think that fits this area well. It is both a farming and an academic community. There are professors mixing with good ole boys. The locavore movement is very strong here. Local foods, local products. Small family farms are flourishing and the art community is wonderful.

People in Boston think we are a place to visit. My family, who still lives East of here, always says, I'd move out there, but there are no jobs. Maybe not the kind of urban jobs they think of, but there is a different cost of living here and the slower pace, the organic lifestyle, the prevalence of sheep, chickens, gardens, and sugar shacks (which is where Maple syrup is boiled) is worth it. I am a teacher and my husband works for a large corporation that makes...scented candles. Can you guess which one?
It works out well for us.

In 2006, we moved from the hills into the valley because we were priced out of houses at the height of the boom. We hope to move back up there before too long. But we bought a house in the "city" of Greenfield. It is really a town. We live on a rural highway, but we have nearly two acres of land abutting 60 acres of undeveloped town land and 40 acres of Christmas Tree farm. We have 5 chickens, with three chicks on the way. We hope to have sheep, goat, and alpacas one day - but in the hills.

My husband is a native of the area, and about the Quabbin and Boston stealing our water thing. His family, descended from Salem (one of the executed witches), moved westward and settled in Dana. If you look on a map, you won't find Dana. It is under water. The Quabbin Reservoir flooded a few towns for Boston's water. Those families relocated. My husband's to New Salem, but not before his grandfather was one of the men who dug up the graves of the generations of people who had lived in Dana and moved them. Believe it or not, the people of that area still have a grudge against Boston.

So if you ever visit Massachusetts, don't just do Boston. Come West and stop in the Pioneer Valley.

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Voracious Reader

I am a voracious reader and the book problem is getting out of hand. For a long time I have had the policy that I only bought books that I seriously wanted to own as part of my library, which meant that I usually had already read them. This helped keep the piles down, but lately I have begun to buy books just for the sake of buying them again. This is part of author good karma and I am happy to do it.

I am also an avid library supporter and so I go to the library on a weekly basis and usually come away with an armload of books. I don't always read each one, but, I read until I am bored or it loses my interest. Often, I am reading four or five books at once, and the one or two I keep reading until the end, wins the competition. (I imagine that is what it is like with agents and manuscript submissions).

Also, I have been going to used bookstores. We have some great ones. The Montague Bookmill being one of the best. "Books you don't need in a place you can't find." When I go to these places, I pick up books I have been wanting to add to my collection and books that are just for general interest, especially to visitors.

I love it when I walk into a house and there are piles of books. So, I have started to let that happen in my own home. I am not a clutterbug and I have had people come in to my house and say where is all your stuff. Well, I am letting the books and magazines clutter things. It is worth it. Although I really do just need another bookshelf.

Another spring feeding our Voracious Reading is my husband and I like to support our local book store and even if we aren't buying books, occasionally we go and select a few magazines from their varied collection. I am not talking about Cosmo or Better Homes and Gardens (although I do like that one), I am talking about Writer's magazines, or Beer Brewing magazines, or Farming magazines, or Art magazines. Supporting small publications, small book stores and our interests all at once. It is great. And then I keep them around for others to enjoy when they come to our house.

What do you read? Do you have piles around your house? What is in your bookshelf? I love seeing other people's bookshelves. (Lostinsidethecovers - that is a shout out to you!)

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Unitarian Universalist

I do not ever talk about religion. In fact, I am a "None." In my day job, as a teacher of literature, religion comes into play a lot with the context of many classic works, but I am very non-denominational.

Having struggled to come up with a U post, though, I found myself continuously coming back to the initials U.U. which stands for Unitarian Universalist and since many people do not know about Unitarianism and since I do have a connection to it, I thought I might offer a bit of information.

When I was ten, we moved to a new town. To meet people and become part of the community, my mother thought it would be good for us to join a church. She had been raised Catholic, so we joined the town's Catholic church. I made my first communion, a little late, but when it came time to be confirmed, I declined. I was a teenager and becoming more and more rebellious. So, I did something pretty drastic. I joined the Unitarian Church on my own.

There was a large contingency in my town of U.U. kids and there was a youth group that was very active. This youth group was part of a larger regional youth collective that very much favored free spirits and alternative views. Piercing, tattoos, Doc Martins, dyed hair, boys in hippie skirts, clove cigarettes. That was us. Alternative. It was a very open and accepting community and it fit with my values. People of all sorts were welcome and in a time when the LBT community was still pretty quiet in high schools and such, it was a place where people who identified differently than the mainstream could feel welcome. I approved of this message and was happy to be a part of the community in general.

We would attend U.U. Conferences which would take us to Unitarian Churches around New England where we would stay from Friday night to Sunday morning. There was no religiousness at all, at least not that I can remember. But values of self-respect, community building, kindness, giving, sharing, and understanding were taught via group workshops like Stone Soup, where everyone would bring something (an object of meaning to them) to the "pot" and share it with others. We would take shifts in the kitchen and be responsible for cooking meals and cleaning up. We would stay up all night and make friends from new places. There were no drugs allowed at these conferences and people were generally respectful of that. It was a place where kids from all over got to be different and accepted at once and part of something bigger.

Today, I am not part of the local Unitarian Church, as I said, I am a "none" mostly because I am not a joiner. If I were to attend any church though, it would certainly be Unitarian. Both my mother and my sister have since changed from going to Catholic Church to going to Unitarian meetings. Some U.U. churches lean more towards the Christian side of things, as they are traditionally a part of the Protestant collection. Nineteenth century American thinkers like Ralph Waldo Emerson and Bronson Alcott and Henry David Thoreau were part of the early Unitarian movement. Some U.U. churches today lean to a true universalist meeting where all faiths and spiritualism are welcome and openly celebrated in a mixed forum.

Diversity and cooperative community are the aspects of Unitarian Universalism that I most revere and so, that is my U post.

Monday, April 23, 2012


Are you on Twitter? I have been for about a year now and I have to say I really like it. It is easy to post and easy to follow people. Getting followers is also much easier than Blogger. One of the problems with blogging is that you put so much time into it and then people don't follow. Or people do, but they do in other ways than the Follow button and then you don't really know how many people are following. I try not to dwell on the numbers, but obviously it is something I like, because I like that on Twitter is it easier to garner followers.

The draw back to Twitter is that there are a lot of people who are just trying to sell things- especially their self-published books - which I understand, but still I'd like to hear about the people and their interests too. I alternately leave my feed open or close it to only people I accept as followers. This allows me to decline those who are just trawling.

The other fun thing about Twitter is the focused interest following of political or celebrity personalities. I enjoy seeing Alec Baldwin tween with Mia Farrow about Rosemary's Baby. It makes me feel like I am seeing behind the scenes.

With so many social media outlets, we all have to choose which ones work best for us. Honestly, I started a blog to chronicle my writing journey. If I do "make it," I am thinking an author FB page and a website would be more manageable. And I would keep Twitter, but blogging is like a whole other job and if I had a book published, I would want to focus on the book and not tangential material. I can see why for non-fiction or memoir authors it works well, though.

What are your favorite social media outlets and why? On Twitter? Follow me @AMSwan

Saturday, April 21, 2012

Sass Master and the Stars


So I have been hearing a lot about personality lately. And there is something strange going on. Somehow people are missing my personality. This has got me thinking. In life, I am known for having...shall I say...a strong personality? So, I am going to talk about my personality today. It all begins with my sign.

I am a Cancer on the cusp of Gemini. I also have a Cancer moon and Gemini rising. So - these two signs are me. The problem with being on the cusp is that I have what seems like contradictory personality traits. Half of those being Gemini (the twins) makes it even worse. At heart, I am a Cancer. I love home and food and comfort. I am soft, sensitive, emotional, creative, and easily hurt. I love animals and nature. Like a Crab, I maintain a hard exterior shell to protect my very soft insides. Also like a Crab I can be a bit snippy if I feel threatened and those claws can be dangerous.

Now conversely, on the outside I can appear to be very Gemini - especially in certain situations. I can walk in to a room of strangers and work the crowd. I can dazzle people with my wit. I can make new friends and talk up strangers. I am not afraid to put myself out there. Or so it seems. When I am feeling particularly Gemini-ish - like a bird in motion - my eyes turn green (from blue). No kidding.
When I am feeling very watery - like a Cancer - they are blue as the ocean on a sunny day.

In my professional life I am known for my sometimes biting wit. I am a sass master. I am sharp and quick and a straight shooter. I am the go to person when someone needs to be told something no one else wants to tell them. I say it like it is and I mean what I say. I am articulate, logical and speak with conviction. I am enthusiastic and communicative, helpful, and friendly. But I can be sarcastic with a very dry sense of humor.I am also quiet. I choose my moments.

I am less than five feet tall, but I am a lion, subtle, quick, and either dazzling or dangerous, afraid of no one. I can also be a know-it -all and alternately totally insecure, but I try to keep those moments under wraps. In fact, I have made an art out of hiding in plain site until I want to be seen, because all of my life I have had the unnerving feeling that when I speak, people stop and stare. Somehow I come across as bold and having something to say, even when I don't feel it inside. My voice probably has a lot to do with it, which you don't hear here. I don't mean my articulation, I mean my actual pitch and tone. I have always had a "tone" problem, though I have mostly learned to keep it under control. I think you'd have to meet me to understand this.

So that is my personality. On-line I try to keep it bright and light. As a writer approaching agents and other writers, I am humble, thankful, polite, professional, kind and encouraging and that is a public persona I will always cultivate. In my daily life, I am all of these things too, but like the ocean I am changeable, sometimes like glass, sometimes stormy, and what lies beneath is far deeper, darker, and more wondrous than the surface reveals.

So, hey baby, what's your sign?

Friday, April 20, 2012



So, just for fun, today I am going to fantasize about what I would do if I were rich and I invite you to do the same. If I had a million dollars... (you know the tune, hum along with me)...

After I paid off my student loan and my credit card, I'd build an addition on my house. It would be a family room on the first floor, complete with a pellet stove and a windowy wall for lots  of plants to live. Above would be a master bedroom and another bathroom. Maybe a spiral staircase, a cool cast iron one, to connect the two rooms.

Speaking of bathrooms, I'd also gut and redo both of the ones I have.
I'd buy a pick up truck and new furniture especiaa whole new king bedroom set.
Next, while I am doing the first addition, might as well blow out the kitchen and add some space and a screened in porch on the shady side of things.

I'd build a patio and install an outdoor hot tub. I'd have some serious landscaping done.

I'd go on vacation. To Europe. I'd hike along the moores of England and go to the English seaside. Visit castles and ruins, museums and cafes.

I'd buy tools to keep my husband busy and clothes and new appliances for me.

Maybe I'd just sell my house and buy another one with a barn. Yeah that would be better. We need a barn so we can have animals. Then, I guess I'd buy some animals. Alpacas! Of course this new house would have to have the patio, the porch, the sun room and the hot tub. Not to mention new kitchen and bathrooms.

What would you do with a million dollars or two or ten? 


Thursday, April 19, 2012


So, I am thinking about rewriting my query. It has worked quite well, but I want it to work better. Since, I think I will be continuing on with this current query batch, though the book is out with a handful still, I was wondering if anyone would care to comment. Any thoughts? Advice? Here is my current query:

I am seeking representation for my novel DISTILLATION, supernatural women’s fiction with New England flavor. DISTILLATION would appeal to readers who have enjoyed Alice Hoffman’s Practical Magic and Katherine Howe’s The Physick Book of Deliverance Dane. 

Alice Towne has been trying to get pregnant and to be a good wife, but the smell of the dead is getting in the way. She smells their memories, sweet and sour, essences of life hanging on with the soul. When her husband can’t accept her for who she is and his disdain borders on abuse, Alice finds the strength to leave. With few options, she agrees to do a favor for her mother, caretaking a house in the hills of western, Massachusetts, where she hopes to exorcise her demons and come to terms with her curse in solitude.  

Ashfield is beautiful and quaint, filled with history and an air of enchantment. Everyone in town, however, seems to have a secret to share or one to hide. Alice is wary of the witchy women who own the hardware store, friends of her mother, but knows their spells are what has kept the old house’s past at bay. Alice’s presence, though, seems to wash away that protection. The odor of peppermint lingers in every corner and the spirit of a woman lurks beside the garden, seemingly aware Alice can sense her and waiting to be heard. In the middle of it all, is Josephine, her mother, pushing Alice to stay the course and embrace her gift. But, when Alice unearths the preserved bones of an infant buried in the cellar, and discovers an ancient symbol that ties her own family to the house’s history, she knows she must learn the truth of what happened on Watts’ Hill, if she ever wants to understand herself.
From an alchemist damned, to a distillery that launched a pharmaceutical giant, Alice will sift through history and legend uncovering a betrayal and a love that echo across time. In doing so, she also discovers who she truly is and just what eternity really means.

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Princess Bride


There are many P posts I have thought of. One of them being personality, one of them being persistence, one of them being pain in the ass. But, I thought I would instead go the safe route, forget about my troubles for a while and post about something that has been near and dear to my heart for a very long time.

The Princess Bride. I saw this movie in the theater when it first came out. I owned a VHS copy for years. Recently I bought the 20th anniversary DVD. At the end of the school year, if we finish with time, or perhaps in a study hall, I show the film. Kids of late, boys especially, say, "Oh, God, do you mean The Princess Diaries?" I always reply with something along the like of Peter Falk's line about pirates and giants, sword fighting and revenge. This usually perks them up.

I am known for quoting this film as it applies to life. One of my favorites being an adaptation of Westley saying to Buttercup, when he is in that oh so tricky disguise of a mask: "Life is pain, your highness. Anyone who tells you differently is selling something." I use this a lot with the replacement of unfair for pain, whenever students whine about something being unfair.

In, I think, tenth grade or maybe ninth, I was ejected from Sunday School one day for giddily reciting lines from this film with my best friend. It was making us giggle like crazy. For some reason, I think it was just the name "Princess Buttercup" as said by the Impressive Clergyman Peter Cook. Or perhaps it was Carol Kane saying Humperdinck over and over. Either way, it was worth the reprimand.

I of course loved Cary Elwes as Westley and Robin Wright as Buttercup, but Inigo and Fezzick (Mandy Pitinkin and Andre the Giant), Count Rugen and Prince Humperdinck (Christopher Guest and Chris Sarandon) and of course Miracle Max (Billy Crystal) were just so much fun. I didn't know then, but would later discover that Christopher Guest is of course from then Spinal Tap and now such lovable comedies as Best in Show and Waiting for Guffman.

I even read the book, which had a whole ruse about its creation and the lost pages or something like that. Anyway, here are some favorite quotes.

Hello. My name is Inigo Montoya. You killed my father. Prepare to die.

We are men of action, lies do not become us.

I do not mean to pry, but you don't by any chance happen to have six fingers on your right hand?

Buttercup: We'll never succeed. We may as well die here.
Westley: No, no. We have already succeeded. I mean, what are the three terrors of the Fire Swamp? One, the flame spurt - no problem. There's a popping sound preceding each; we can avoid that. Two, the lightning sand, which you were clever enough to discover what that looks like, so in the future we can avoid that too.
Buttercup: Westley, what about the R.O.U.S.'s?
Westley: Rodents Of Unusual Size? I don't think they exist.

I'm not a witch, I'm your wife.

Prince Humperdinck:Surrender.
Westley: You mean you wish to surrender to me? Very well, I accept.

Westley: Give us the gate key.
Yellin: I have no gate key.
Inigo Montoya: Fezzik, tear his arms off.
Yellin: Oh, you mean *this* gate key.

The Ancient Booer: Boo. Boo. Boo.
Buttercup: Why do you do this?
The Ancient Booer: Because you had love in your hands, and you gave it up.
Buttercup: But they would have killed Westley if I hadn't done it.
The Ancient Booer: Your true love lives. And you marry another. True Love saved her in the Fire Swamp, and she treated it like garbage. And that's what she is, the Queen of Refuse. So bow down to her if you want, bow to her. Bow to the Queen of Slime, the Queen of Filth, the Queen of Putrescence. Boo. Boo. Rubbish. Filth. Slime. Muck. Boo. Boo. Boo.

(There are just too many good ones.)

Since the invention of the kiss there have been five kisses that were rated the most passionate, the most pure. This one left them all behind. The End.

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Owl Lore

I have been interested in owls lately. I am thinking some owl lore will be featured in my WIP. So, I thought for today's post I would share some.

"Owls are one of the oldest species of vertebrate animal in existence, fossils have been found dating back 60 million years, showing the bird to have changed very little in that time.
Throughout the history of mankind, the owl has featured significantly in mythology & folklore. Owls are one of the few birds that have been found in prehistoric cave paintings. Owls have been both revered & feared throughout many civilisations from ancient to more recent times." (source)

Owls are messengers. How appropriate then they carry the mail in Harry Potter. In historic lore however, people being the fearful creatures we are, often they were seen as messengers of death. This may be because of their eerie calls in the night. A voice in the night is always chilling.

"In ancient Greece, owls were often seen as a symbol of good fortune. The idea of the 'wise old owl' may have come into being from the association of the Little Owl with the Greek goddess of wisdom, Athene.

In contrast, the Romans saw owls as omens of impending disaster. Hearing the hoot of an owl indicated an imminent death, it is thought that the deaths of many famous Romans was predicted by the hoot of an owl, including Julius Caesar, Augustus & Agrippa. While the Greeks believed that sight of an owl predicted victory for their armies, the Romans saw it as a sign of defeat. They believed that a dream of an owl could be an omen of shipwreck for sailors & of being robbed. To ward off the evil caused by an owl, it was believed that the offending owl should be killed & nailed to the door of the affected house.

Beliefs on owls varied between ancient American Indian tribes. Some tribes viewed owls as harbingers of sickness & death. Other tribes saw them as protective spirits, others believed them to be the souls of living or recently departed people & should be treated with respect. Some tribes even saw the owls as earthly incarnations of their gods, the Hopis believed the Burrowing Owl to be their god of the dead. The Inuit explain the flat face & short beak of owls, in the story of a beautiful young girl who was magically changed into an owl with a long beak, as an owl, she became frightened & flew into the wall of her house & flattened her face & beak. Some tribes referred to death as "crossing the owls bridge".

Some people believed that owls were particular bad to children, in Malaya it was believed that owls ate new-born babies, the Swahili believed that owls brought sickness to children, in Arabia it was believed that owls were evil spirits that carried children off in the night.

Some people believed that owls had magic powers, in Arabia it was thought that each female Owl laid two eggs - one with the power to make hair fall out, the other with the power to restore it. In Algeria, it was believed that if the right eye of an Eagle Owl was placed in the hand of a sleeping woman, that she would tell everything you wanted to know (now that is stretching the imagination too far).

British beliefs about owls include the Welsh belief that if a owl is heard amongst houses then an unmarried girl has lost her virginity. Another Welsh belief is that if a pregnant woman hears an owl, her child will be blessed. In Yorkshire owl broth is believed to cure whooping cough, amongst other things. Because of its ability to turns its head so far & its habit of watching things intently, it was believed that you could get an owl to effectively wring its own neck by walking in circles around it." (source)

Owls can be symbolic of psychic power, or supernatural knowledge. One site notes that perhaps the glow of an owl's eyes could have been seen as the inner light of wisdom. Owls can also be spirits of the dead especially when heard calling from cemeteries. Owls are old souls. They regurgitate what they have consumed and thus represent a reckoning of sorts.

In one way or another, owls are associated with fate. As night birds, as predators, as beautiful creatures with expressive eyes, it is no wonder they have perched so in our collective imaginations.

Saturday, April 14, 2012

MOJITO - Yay for M


DISTILLATION is all about peppermint. Well, it is about a lot more, but everything centers on the essence of peppermint. In the book there is actually a scene where Teddy, my beloved town historian, makes a mojito. I love mojitoes and drink them all summer. is the recipe. Tried and true.

First of all - you must buy freshly picked or - better yet - grow your own -peppermint. I grow peppermint just for this one reason.

  • Tall glass with fingers full of peppermint leaves squeezed or shredded into the bottom
  • Ice to fill glass 1/2 to 3/4 full
  • Bacardi Rum - a shot and a half per drink - depending on how much of a lush you are.  Pour the shot+ over the ice.
  • Lots of FRESH lime - half to a whole lime per drink - as per your taste. Squeeze the lime over the ice. I like to put the squeezed out lime right in the glass so I can poke it with my straw.
  • 1 Tbs Simple Syrup (make in advance)- take a cup of sugar and pour it into a small sauce pan with a cup of water. Heat on medium low stirring occasionally until the sugar and water are completely mixed. Pour into a Ball jar and let cool. Refridgerate and keep for all the mojitoes you can drink. Pour the syrup over the ice.
  • Fill the rest of the glass with Tonic water.
  • Use a brightly colored straw to crush and stir the whole shebang together and...sip!

Friday, April 13, 2012

Lessons Learned

As you may or may not know, I am a  writer. I started out with nothing but a dream. I wrote a lot in high school and college, but in my early 20s fell out of practice. I was mostly a poet, and honestly sucked at short story writing. But, I had ideas and I am a voracious reader. When I couldn't find books in the genre I loved, I decided to write more of them. And so it began.

This post is about the lessons I have learned along the way. This is only a selected list. I am sure I could think of more.

1) Writing a book is the easy part. Everyone has written a book it seems. The cliche is that every HS English teacher has a novel tucked away in a desk drawer. It is probably true. NANOWRIMO, or whatever it is called, is also evidence of this. Whacking out a "novel" can be done, but making it readable and worthy of an audience is a whole other story.

2) Editing is actually writing. Just when I think I can't edit it any more, I do it some more.

3) Finding an agent is a long process for most. Yes there are those who get one with five queries or in six months. But let me tell you, as agents are of course monumentally busy, the pace of response is geologic. I am not a patient person and at times I have thought I would die from waiting.

4) Karma (see yesterday's post) is real and it is important. Do not think you are the center of the universe - ever.  Be nice and act like a professional no matter how much you feel you've been slighted.

5) A FULL ms request does not mean you are really close to getting an agent. Sorry folks. This is a hard one. Everyone squees when they get a Full request. See Query Tracker. Requesting a full ms is just requesting pages. If you hold your breath, you will die. Write another book and forget about it. (I am still trying to master this lesson myself).

6) Have a thick skin and be ready to walk through the desert - alone. Even those who are supportive will become sheepish or sick of hearing about it as time goes by. If you want to succeed and don't right away, it is you and you alone who has to pick yourself up again and again and keep going. Revise, Rewrite, Write Another Book. Whatever. But you have to make yourself keep going.

7) Listen to your Beta Readers. Definitely have beta readers.

8) Enjoy the process. Love writing for the writing. Create worlds and characters that make the rest of life pale in comparison. Take time to smell the peppermint and drink a mojito for goodness sakes. More on that tomorrow. Love the hope, the lives you create, the small deaths you suffer, and the rebirth, that...if you are a trooper, will happen again and again, until you get it right and reach...Nirvana.

Thursday, April 12, 2012



Karma is defined as the effect of a person's actions during the successive phases of the person's life, regarded as determining the person's destiny. (American Heritage Dictionary Fourth Edition)

I believe in Karma. What goes around comes around. In life, as in literature, what we put out into the world comes back at us. If we are kind, kindness is returned. Not necessesarily, immediately, but it pays off. If we are rude, the same rule follows true.

I think Karma is a word we should all know. It has nothing to do with religion. It is about being a good human being. And when we are wanting, wishing, waiting - it is so easy to get frustrated. It is so easy to be angry. What is hard is remembering that the world does not center on us. You and me are just tiny pin points in a universe of mess. Sometimes that mess gets all over us and we want to splash it back in the face of life and say F-you. Sometimes we actually do.

But today, if only for a moment, consider the butterfly effect. Every action has an opposite and equal reaction. Your energy gets put out into the world and it affects another and they pay it forward. Take a deep breath and think ahead a few steps and maybe your Karma will help win you that simple twist of fate you have been waiting for.

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Jane's Addiction


Jane's Addiction - much love. From commercial to subversive. Beautiful and hard. Central to my 90s teen identity. Two of these songs are Jane's covers of the Dead and the Stones - and they are both covers that stand firmly beside the original as a new and equally powerful version of that song. Perry Farrell - forever.

Summer Time Rolls

Jane Says


Been Caught Stealin' Video

Sympathy for the Devil


Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Initials - what's with the trend in author names as initials?


I have noticed for a long time now, the trend of authors to use two initials in place of a first name. It is not a new phenomenon, but as I have met more people around the blogosphere who are aspiring or debut authors, it seems the trend continues. I wonder why this is.

Here are some example, both past and present.

J.K. Rowling
A.S. Byatt
E.M. Forster
A.G. Howard
E.B. White
C.S. Lewis

Even I, as you can tell by my blog handle, have considered the two initial first name. But, in recent times I have thought I might not use A.M., but just plain Ariel. And what about the first name initial and then use of the middle name. As in F. Scott Fitzgerald. No one called him F or Francis, which was his first name after is ancestor Francis Scott Key. So, I guess it made sense. He went by the name Scott. But perhaps some authors might take that as a cue. A. Marie Swan. Hmmm. No, it doesn't have quite the same ring to it.

I think using the two initials might create a buffer between the reader and the author. It is a bit of anonymity. Although in the Internet age it is near impossible to keep anything secret. Or perhaps people use it because of the air of mystery or the sound of professionalism, since so many great writers have also assumed the initialed name. What do you think?

Monday, April 9, 2012


This is cheating a bit. Heathers came out in 1988, but I am sure it didn't reach me until 89 or 90, so I am counting it as another 90s flashback.

I was definitely young when I watched Heathers, because I watched it so many times I memorized the lines. Incongruously, I can recite almost verbatim both Heathers an The Princess Bride .

The dark angst of Christian Slater and Wynona Ryder and the black comedy of the whole high school farce definitely formed part of my identity. I was not the Rah Rah type of high-schooler. I very much identified with Veronica and was anti Heather and pro JD, even if he was psychotic. Cow tipping meat head jocks were the worst of all. I think anyone in high school can find some aspect of this movie to relate to, because it is about the absurdly disgusting cliquishness, popularity contest, insecurity, and secret desperation that riddles the age.

Even today, as a teacher, every time we have a pep rally I think of this movie. Though I keep my cynical thoughts to myself. But, this film is I think, perhaps even more relevant today than it was in the late 80s or early 90s. Issues of bullying, peer pressure, vacuous parent and teacher awareness, and dangerously marginalized anger are still ever present.

Some Quotes:

What is your damage, Heather?

It's one thing to want someone out of your life, but it's another thing to serve them a wake-up cup full of liquid drainer.

Chaos was what killed the dinosaurs, darling.

Lick it up, baby. Lick. It. Up.

Saturday, April 7, 2012

Garden Time

Yay, it is almost garden time. The smell of damp earth, the caked dirt crammed beneath my finger and toe nails, the aching backs of my legs...wait that doesn't sound so great. Oh, but it is. When the earth is tilled and I tromp bare foot for the first time in a season, I know the true meaning of spring.

Every year my husband and I plant a garden with great expectations. A few years ago we began to focus our efforts and grew mostly a soup garden. Onions, celery, carrots, potatoes, parsley, cilantro, hot peppers, tomatoes, and so much more. Of course there are the obligatory cucumbers and summer squash. They always grow all at once and we have more than we know what to do with. I always loved Garrison Keillor's story about leaving zucchini on the front seat of a parked car. Please take it off my hands!!

Of course, now that we have chickens, the gardening situation is even better. What we don't eat or can't give away we feed to them. Happily they nom nom nom it and then...poop it out again to make excellent fertilizer. Chicken poop really makes things grow. Thanks to them our strawberries and concord grapes are flourishing.

In our yard, we are also lucky to have blueberry bushes, that need some poop this year, and a wicked raspberry patch that does so well and is thankfully controlled by the lawn getting mowed around it. Hint for growing raspberries: plant them out in the open so you can mow around them. It keeps them from taking over everything.

What we don't grow, I get at the local farmer's market (see yesterday's post.) So this is my favorite time of year. Before the weeds begin, before I am cucumber and zucchini-ed out. Before the pumpkins have been eaten by deer. (Yes we also have a pumpkin patch that shares a home with the asparagus patch). The thought of growing my own food, even if it bests me every year in the end, is just the sweetest things about spring and the summer to come.

Do you garden? What are your favorite garden recipes? Have any tips?

Friday, April 6, 2012



Today's post is about one of my favorite things: Farmer's Markets. We have an awesome one here in my small home town. It starts again this month. I am so excited. Every Saturday morning I go with my bags and cash and fill them with locally grown, fresh produce, bread, goat cheese, and grass fed meat. I spend $30-$50 dollars and come away with a priceless feeling of satisfaction and bounty.

Eating locally is something I support and encourage. The Pioneer Valley in which I live is a leader in what Barbara Kingsolver termed the locavore movement. Do you know that buying a one pound bag of shrimp at the grocery store "costs" one ton of fuel! Every tomato or nectarine you buy in the grocery store has usually come from very far away and the fuel costs and carbon emissions that come with it certainly add to the price of that produce exponentially. I am sure you have all heard of your carbon foot print. If you want some ideas on how to reduce it, go here. Buying local food as well as growing and storing your own food (even in a little bit of space) are great ways to conserve and get some enjoyment out of it too.

Also: here are some books you might like that encourage small food production and local eating.

               Tart and Sweet: 101 Canning and Pickling Recipes for the Modern Kitchen
Do you have a local farmer's market that you support? Would you like one? Do you garden? What do you grow?

Thursday, April 5, 2012

E is for Expectation


Today I want to write about the rule of rising expectation. The idea is that once you achieve what you have been working towards, say landing a literary agent, the joy of the success is washed away by the the roar of the next hurdle, the next expectation you need to meet. So, first you say, "All I want is to write a novel." Then: "All I want is to get an agent." Then: "All I want is to land a book deal." Then: "All I want is some good reviews." You get the idea.

In some ways, I think this is inevitable, especially for a person who is motivated to succeed. Always we are looking  for what comes next. That is how we get things done. There are other kinds of people who only focus on the task at hand and don't even think to look for what else has to be done in order for general goals to move along. (My husband is a person like this. I say, put the bowls from dinner in the dish washer and run it. So he does, leaving a forest of dirty glasses on the counter. But I digress.) I envy people like this a little, because I am a worrier. I am always fretting over the next stage of things, long before they happen. This is my way to prepare and consider necessary plans of action that need to be taken to ensure success.

But as I work towards getting an agent and hold my breath each day for an email of new import, I hope that I will take the time to enjoy the success of each stage as it happens, if it happens. It is important to stop and smell the peppermint before it bolts and fades. Take time to enjoy a mojito for goodness sakes.

Mmmm...mojito season is coming. More on that later.

Wednesday, April 4, 2012

D is for Doc Martins

 Another 90s flashback for you. The hip combat boot for the alternative teen. Do you wear them now? I remember my first pair of Docs. I learned to hacky-sac in them. Wow, the blisters were bad, but then I wore them religiously for years along with my flannel shirts. At some point I started alternating them with Birkenstocks. I was one of those grunge, alternative, somewhat punkish hippies. Well as a teen styles change with the wind. Right? I have always been a person that didn't do well with styles though. I was never able to have all the right paraphernalia, the exactly right outfit, the perfect image. I was always just sort of me and I guess I still am. That, I think is the best style to be.

Did you wear Doc Martins?
What was your teen style?

Tuesday, April 3, 2012

C is for Comparative Titles

When a writer queries an agent, he or she should identify a work or two that an agent can think of as comparative to your work. The work of Alice Hoffman long ago inspired my own writing, though my book is different than her style for sure. I actually began to write a book when I struggled to find more books to read that were in the genre of what I call supernatural women’s fiction. So I wrote the book I wanted to read. In the time since, as I was writing my book, lots of stories have been published that share some element with DISTILLATION. But it seems nothing is really like it. Maybe that is good, maybe that is bad. But here are some books I can recommend or am looking to read that fit somewhere in the genre:


Have you read any of these books? Can you recommend a good
ghost story, a story of past lives, or story with literary witchy magic?

Monday, April 2, 2012

B...Believe in yourself


B is for Believing in yourself. As an aspiring writer, this is something I have had to hold to. When others don’t understand what I am trying to do, or they hint that I should give up or take an easier road to publication, I just smile. I believe in myself and I am making progress. That doesn’t mean I never have doubt, but I never stop believing that no matter what, I have already succeeded just in setting out to write a novel and getting as far as I have has meant success.

Here are “9 Principles for Success” as written by a man named Terry Dean. You can find his original site here. I think they are right on.

1. Set Goals. Set aside any negative thoughts and write down the goals… map your course... and follow it.

2. Become A Problem-Solver. Never believe any problem is unsolvable…Stay away from negative thinkers.

3. Be Confident. If you believe you can’t achieve something, you probably won’t…Train yourself to believe you can achieve and you will.

4. Be a Possibility Thinker. Think big! The only thing holding you back is you.

5. Don’t Worry About Failing. …Trying to do something great and failing could be one of the best things you have ever done in your life. Failure is not failure to meet your goals, but the failure to reach as high as you possibly can.

6. Take Action. Just get started…TODAY! …Don’t be a dreamer…be a doer. (Those who want it, find a way, those who don’t find an excuse.)

7. Be Enthusiastic!
8. Maintain A Positive Attitude.
9. Never Give-up.

How about you? What do you believe in?

Sunday, April 1, 2012

A is for ...Ariel. Nice to meet you. What is in a name?

Yay! It is day one of the A-Z challenge.
A is for Ariel. That’s me. And the question for today is: What is in a name?

My name, meaning Lion of God, has always served me well, except for maybe when that pesky Disney mermaid stole it. When the cartoon came out I was 13 and I did not want to be associated with a mermaid princess. However, when I got married, my name became Ariel Swan and it seems the mermaid princess thing was inevitable. Though I am neither a mermaid nor a princess, people do tend to live up to their names. I think Lion suits my personality well.
But what is in a name for writers? Why do writers choose pen names? Is there a benefit to having your name start with a certain letter? I remember reading, though I can’t find it again now, that the most frequent starting letters for bestselling authors' last names fall between M and S. Do you think this is true?
And what about character names? A character's name can define his or her personality and existence. Sometimes I choose them for meaning, especially main characters. (This post could also be A for Alice Towne, my MC). But secondary characters, I sometimes pick at random.
What about book titles? Certainly much lies in the name of a book. It sets the tone, it implies plot, it creates mood.
So: What do you think is in a name? Introduce yourself and your work too, if it suits you.

For fun, you can try the Lulu Title Scorer to get an idea of how your WIPs title might fare. DISTILLATION  scores a 63% chance. I’m happy with that. I wish they had an author name scorer too.

Saturday, March 31, 2012

A-Z Challenge Start Tomorrow!

The A-Z Challenge begins tomorrow and I am going to give it my best shot. I look forward to making some new friends and really pushing my blogging skills. I have not decided on a theme yet, though I did just launch a 90s nostalgia theme for my blog in general as a brainstorming tool for my upcoming WIP. But I think I might be a little more random. We shall see. In any case, I look forward to it. Let the fun begin.

For more information on this blog hop go here or here.

Monday, March 26, 2012

"Hello, you've reached the winter of our discontent." Reality Bites - 90s Nostalgia Begins

For research purposes, I have decided to do a few blog posts here and there about the decade in which I came of age and the decade in which my next WIP is going to take place. A decade that looks like paradise compared to the misery wreaked upon us since 2000. Y2K was real, except it wasn't what we thought it would be.

So, I invite you to join me in the reminiscing, if indeed you can remember and relate to the gloriously...what...? cynical, languid, dark, dreamy, grungy, retro, heroin addled 90s.

I will start with a film that was meant to characterize generation X, which I think characterizes a group a little older than me. I was generation XY. I think. Who cares? Reality Bites (1994) was a film filled with angst, grunge, arty malaise, guilt ridden casual sex and, of course, cigarettes. I was 17 that year. I liked it and in some ways I aspired to be those characters. Yet, I also remember thinking it was lame. I guess because I was supposed to, being an angst ridden anti-establishment teenager of the day.

I remember thinking it was totally wrong of Wynona Ryder to even consider dating a stiff like Ben Stiller - their characters I mean. Who wouldn't have, in the 90s, lusted after the sulky, selfish, grungy Ethan Hawke. We all knew he had a heart in that player costume of his. He was just damaged, like everyone else.

"Did he dazzle you with his extensive knowledge of mineral water or was it his in-depth analysis of Marky Mark that finally reeled you in. I just would have liked to have been there to watch how you rationalized sleeping with a yuppie-head cheeseball..."

There's no point to any of this. It's all just a... a random lottery of meaningless tragedy and a series of near escapes. So I take pleasure in the details."

"Troy, aren't you excited? Troy: I'm bursting with fruit flavor. "

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

waiting, dreaming of owls, and the weather

Hello readers,

I am really trying to post more these days, but I have such a hard time getting into it after work. With my fiction writing, I save up. I am able to work on it in other ways. I dream. I imagine. I listen to music that inspires me to think up new worlds and to envision the problems of characters who are just growing and yet to hit the page. I imagine symbols and themes, conflicts and resolutions. But all of that can be done when I am driving home from work or in the shower. Then, when I hit a vacation, which as a teacher, come pretty regularly, I start writing and usually get somewhere fairly fast. Blogging. Not so much. I think of ideas and then they fade away. BTW: Thank you to those who took the Lucky Seven meme bait.

I am dreaming of owls right now and I am waiting. The great honed owl that has been lurking around my yard is waiting too. He is like a vision, a harbinger of something to come. Of what, I do not know.

DISTILLATION  has been in a round of querying since September and there have been many full requests. Recently I was asked to revise with an offer of notes from an agent. I took it, feeling like those revisions were right on. That agent has, even more recently, as geologic time goes, replied. She likes it and will keep reading. She asked if other agents had the book. Yes they do. So, I wait. And wait. In the meantime more requests have come in and the owl hoots from inside the fog that has settled on my little town.

I am really trying hard to think about the next WIP and April vacation can't come soon enough. I am trying not to obsess. I know they will all get there when they do. Agents are busy and their clients are their first priority. I have paid attention, after all, all these months in writer school .

But is hard. The fears and fantasies fly like that owl in my mind, wings whipping up dreams and nightmares alike.

To make things even more strange, the weather in Massachusetts is just bizarre. Today the temp was double what it should be. It is summer in March. I hope it is not a 120 degree summer when the real one does actually arrive. Combined with daylight savings time, I don't know what month it is, what time it is, or what is happening. Overall this is really a bit disconcerting.

But I wait, knowing that everything will be all right. Because things move and the world changes, but really everything is still the same.

Monday, March 19, 2012

The Lucky 7 meme

I’ve been tagged by the awesome tfwalsh for The Lucky 7 meme. It is a fun little thing where you get to post 7 lines of your WIP. Just a nice tantalizing little tease. So don't forget to leave a comment on my seven lines of DISTILLATION, which is having a good run with some agents right now (*visualize me praying it comes to a great end - I need the luck right now, I think*) After that, stop by some of the blogs below and don't forget awesome tfwalsh, who I thank for tagging me in her meme.

A 7 line excerpt from my paranormal women's fiction DISTILLATION:
"Why would anyone bury a child in their cellar?” I cried. “It doesn’t make any sense.”
“Yes. It does to the old world mind, Alice.” Lydia crossed her arms. “There is an archaic belief that burying a still born child in the hearth will bring good luck to future births.”
I dropped my head into my hands. It was hard to focus. “But I heard it crying.” I sniffled, swatting at my wet eyes with a sleeve, trying to steady myself. “It lived.”
Lydia, who was gazing now out into the night, snapped her head around to look at me. “You heard it?”
I guess that's a good place to hop in to the story. It is refering to the discovery of the bones, which is my hook.

Now for the basic rules of this meme:
1. Go to page 77 of your current MS/WIP
2. Go to line 7
3. Copy down the next 7 lines, sentences, or paragraphs, and post them as they’re written.
4. Tag 7 authors
5. Let them know
So, now I have to tag seven more people. And here they are:
Jayne at  A Novice Novelist
Brenda Drake Writes
Handling My Dream
Inner Owlet
Kate MacNicol's Blog
JuneBug at My Blog
So there it is. Sorry if I surpised anyone. I am trying to get better at being less of a lurker. LOL.

Monday, March 12, 2012

She's dead...wrapped in plastic

Long before there were vampires in Washington, there was a dead girl, found wrapped in plastic, whose dark secrets unfolded like a night lily.

For research purposes, I have dug this old gem out of my book shelf. Yes, I own and once devoured The Secret Diary of Laura Palmer. Even now, I open to any page and know exactly why.

Do you remember Twin Peaks? I was thirteen years old the year it came out and they had me at “She’s dead.” I can’t believe I was that young. I first typed fifteen, and then I researched the series. Nope. 1990. This explains a lot. Exposure to such dark underpinnings, mystery, and melodrama tainted my imagination for sure. The sordid and bizarre tales of small town life undoubtedly informed my understanding of the small town I lived in and most definitely influenced my future as a writer.

Laura Palmer and company were to me what Diana was to Anne of Green Gables. (Irony intended)Though my life was definitely not filled with abuse and addiction like Laura Palmer’s, I related to her character, or rather those characters that told us her story as they lived in a place of deep forests and black nights where secrets and lies abounded.

I knew well that whispering of the trees that foretold of omens and possibilities. I knew what it was to walk the woods at night and to keep secrets. I believed in magic and the veil between two worlds. I saw omens and signs in nature. I knew good people gone bad and bad people who were really good, and most mesmerizing of all I coveted the idea that one could walk that line.

According to Wikipedia “Twin Peaks explores the gulf between the veneer of small-town respectability and the seedier layers of life lurking beneath it.” And this, dear readers, is what I too am setting out to do. Long ago, Laura Palmer and her friends focused the world I saw in my small town into a heightened and somewhat fantastical focus. Everything seemed laced with import. We were young, we were the center of our own universe, every possibility of success and failure was in front of us. Sexual, psychotropic and identity exploration, as well as ironic lessons learned from adults living in the real world, spiraled around us in an enchanted universe. And, that view, that spectral dark sparkle that coated everything in those days has a story in it. A fictional story that will try to capture how the world looks through that lens, walking a forest path just on the line between light and dark, fire and water, good and evil.

Sunday, March 11, 2012

Life is Good

Simone - my love (Tortie Point Siamese)

Today was beautiful here in western MA. I spent the day in the yard, picking up sticks and pruning grapes (a little late on that). The Siamese and the chickens were glad to help. The cat playing a game where she would sit on the stick gathering tarp eagerly waiting for my next arm load dump and then she would sprint away with excited glee. Then she would come back and wait to do it all over again. The chickens love to dig, so they helped with raking the perennial patch, I suspect eager to snack on the early shoots hiding beneath. But, Helen, our golden arricauna did not hesitate to insert herself into the pile of brush I was building. She climbed right inside and sat there, perhaps looking for a new nest. She was not please when I took her freshly laid, still warm egg this morning. In fact she hopped up on the coop and investigated with some agitation. We don't even have a rooster (he was very mean and then tasty) so no chicks would come of her endeavors anyways. I told her, that is the way it goes chicky.

It was a beautiful day and I am looking forward to spring. Daylight savings is nice in that I will be able to go for walks more often after work and the days will get warmer. Husband wanted to drain the snow blower of gas today. I thought, not so fast. April Fools 3 foot snow storms are not unheard of.

I hope everyone else had a lovely day and a has a great week ahead.

This is Helen sunning herself

Saturday, March 10, 2012

Are you in my novel?

After just posting that last blog post, and sharing it to FB, I was thinking, I need to write a post for family and friends. The writing process isn't interesting to non-writers. What they might be interested in, is what sometimes people ask, but mostly they just wonder, if they have a writer among their peeps. Am I in your novel?

So, I thought I would just write a quick note about that. The answer is…yes you are.

In writing a DISTILLATION, it took my husband a while, if he even ever did, not to see the male lead as himself. And people of course see a bit of me in my main character, Alice, though really I tried to make her as different as I could. Still she shares a lot of my personality, obsessions, anxieties, and fears, though in a fictionalized form. But the truth is, yes I use everything and everyone I have ever known or met in the creation of my characters and plot. Much of DISTILLATION centers on a world I once inhabited; the world of Ashfield. So, the places are clearly inspired by reality as is some of the story. But the people are ALL based on people I have known.

Often my characters are conglomerates. A gesture they make might come from an old friend, a parental situation from another. Their personalities too are usually caricaturized hybridizations. Does that mean any of you are directly translated onto the page? No, probably not. But might you recognize a bit of yourself, a laugh, a point of view, a family structure, an adventure we had together in my story. Perhaps.

Gathering Up Wind and Laying Down Stones

Right now, I am gathering dreams that blow in on the wind: ideas, images, quotes, small points of character, simple twists of fate, and otherwise tiny shards of a brewing story.

I collect these mementos of imagination in a black book. In the past, before I was writing seriously, this was a major outlet for my expression. I collected and pasted all through college, and the years after. I'd cut images from anywhere. I'd copy poems from books, horoscopes from the local newspaper, headlines, fabrics, photos. Whatever struck my fancy and got me thinking. In my travels, I would jot notes about strange folks lurking on a street corner or sipping bourbon at a swank bar. I made up lives for them, channeled their (imagined) thoughts, and surmised their deepest secrets.

Once I started writing DISTILLATION though, my collection practices became a bit less artistic and more focused. I used two different notebooks to record research and ideas. In the early drafting stages, these were similar to the collections I'd done before - character sketches, meaningful lines, images, plot points, poetry - all to nourish the seed of an idea into a vibrant bloom.

By the time the first draft was finished though, and then revised, folders and mounds of paper had sprouted like mushrooms all over my office. Photocopies and sketches of architectural designs, descriptions and drawings of essence stills, photographs of peppermint and a particular town's rural landscape and cultural landmarks, renderings of allegorical alchemical art, information on archaeological digs, and (most creepy) a detailed sketch of the bone and cartilage structure of an infant and a description of infant remains unearthed at a real historic burial site. There are notes, notes, and more notes on tarot, on genealogy, on plot. These were the tools in my toolbox.

As I wrote and revised, rewrote and revised again, I found that revisiting these collections, helped me to find my path again and again. I look back at them now and realize how much research and planning went into writing DISTILLATION. It is evidence of the process of constructing a story's path.

A favorite question for writers is: "plotter or pantser?" A plotter being someone who plans his or her story, either before or as they write. A "pantser" (which to me sounds like someone who pulls people's pants down) is a person who just writes and sees where the story goes. At least I think that is what it is. I am a plotter, but I also follow the wind. And so I wonder, can someone be both?

For me, it all starts with a feeling in the air, a smell on the breeze, an image, a sound, a phrase, the inspiration that starts me dreaming. Sometimes that is when I start collecting - as with DISTILLATION. Other times, as now, I first come up with the premise, then start gathering. The collection doesn't have to get very large before I start writing, at least a first scene or some moment. Once I get a scene, then I plot. I am a list maker. Lists fill my notebooks and computer.

These lists are, for me, akin to the laying stones. Piece by piece I construct a path with the bits I've gathered, a road for my story to travel. But I only build this path a few steps at a time. I write a scene and then list the next steps. Often, I need to back track and reconsider the direction I am traveling. Did I actually step on all those stones? Is there one I forgot and want to add in? Is there one I left out and for good reason? Sometimes I need to locate a missing stone, and it is common for the path to take a whole new and unexpected turn. At that point, I start a new list.

And so, yes I plot, but only a few steps at a time. Often, I know where I want to end up and so the stones I've laid must eventually lead me there. But often that end-point is vague and will only come in to focus once I've followed the path and come out on the other side.

Friday, February 24, 2012

Blogging for Readers?

Over the past year, I have not been blogging much, though I am vowing - again- to start back up. One thing I have been thinking about is the kind of audience I, eventually, want to cultivate. When I started blogging, it was to connect with the writing crowd, to follow others on their journey to getting published and to share my own. I am still on that journey, but hope eventually to be using social media for self promotion.

This spring, I will again be going to The Muse and the Marketplace conference in Boston. This time, I will not be meeting with an agent. This was a tough decision. I am currently in a query and submission phase and, well, I am hoping by the time of the conference I won't be needing to meet another agent face to face about a query. I am hoping I will be thinking about how to use social media to advertise my book. Of course, that may not end up being the case, but then I can still meet agents. I will be having lunch with a few, plus an editor, plus an author and so I will have opportunity to schmooze. But what I am hoping to do at the conference is find out more about self promotion.

One needs a book published, and readers, of course, in order to blog about the book and the readings and the what-not. But what else can a writer blog about to appeal to readers once they have a book out there? Here are my thoughts (and I am really brainstorming here, and hoping for advice.)

Since my book is fiction, I don't have a specific platform to build on, though my book is very much about place and it is based on a real place. I was thinking maybe video blogs about some of the real spots featured in my novel might be interesting, of course with me talking about their relevance to me and the story.

Also, I think my novel portrays a pretty specific life style. I live in western, Massachusetts and I write about the life styles I see around me. We have a very earthy, organic type environment with a lot of farmer's markets, small farms, and salt of the earth type people. But, we aren't just hicks out here, contrary to what people in those big cities east and west of us might think. I live in the Pioneer Valley and it is actually quite an intellectual community, there being 5 colleges and universities in a thirty mile radius. The area is also steeped in history, some of which I feature in my book. So, back to the blog ideas, I could write posts featuring some of the area flavor and history, especially the elements that fit into my story, but are also a part of my life. For example, our local farmer's market where there is blue grass music and artistry, gorgeous foods and colorful people. I think people who like my book would find that world I take part in, and which provides the values found in my story interesting. Again, the video idea could work with this too, especially for the unique festivals and such.

Talking about writing process isn't probably so interesting to readers, but perhaps something more on the characters and their creation. Who they are beyond the words, where their inspiration came from. I don't know, that one sounds kind of lame.

I am really into the video idea and I think taking video at readings or book signings might be interesting. Maybe even interviewing people who liked the book. Maybe there would be legal issues with that, I don't know. Also of course, time. But I am sure my husband wouldn't mind being my assistant. ;)

My story also features ghosts and witches. Local stories and legends as well as information on those topics, I always find interesting, especially if it is tied to a book I love. I also love old houses, and this is a topic in my book, how could I work that into a blog?

What do you think, fellow writers and readers? What would be interesting to know about a book/author you have enjoyed? What do you like to see on the internet from them? Do you follow or "Like" them on Facebook? On Twitter? What makes for interesting posts and links? If you are a writer, how do you feel about your internet presence? Is it working? Do you make videos? If so, what kind of camera and software are you using?

Disclaimer: I realize I am putting the cart before the horse here, but being a writer, imagination is one of my best attributes and being a teacher, planning my work and working my plan is my motto. So why not think positive and think about the possibilities before I have to put them into action?