Tuesday, January 20, 2015

THE ATTIC by Patricia Anne Guthrie





I thought it about time I posted a short story I wrote way back when--when horror was a genre that interested me. It still does, I write mostly thrillers and romantic suspense/paranormal now. But this was a fun story, so I thought I'd share. It was published in Skyline Literary Magazine back in the early 2000's.                             

 THE ATTIC
By Patricia Ann Guthrie

"Ma  . . . mm . . .eee."  The voice echoed throughout the house, sounding more like an angry hyena than a little girl of six.
            Melissa sat in the middle of her bed,  staring at favorite toys formally displayed on bookcases, rocking chairs, toy boxes and a corner hutch. She didn't feel like playing with any of them. Old Neddie, the rocking horse, once the pride and joy of the nursery, now had a shattered front leg. Pooh Bear, a well beloved antique, had one missing glass eye, and of course Sir Scottie, the stuffed black Scottie dog, had the stuffing torn out and sewn back more times than her mother could count. None of them would do today. They were boring. She bounced off the old‑fashioned sleigh bed defaced from temper-tantrums, and walked out of her room toward the stairs.
            "Mommy?"
            No answer.
            Now, her voice demanded, “Ma . . . mm . . . ee.”
            "Melissa, what is it? I'm busy.” Her mother came to the foot of the stairs, carrying an infant in her arms and pushing a laundry basket with her foot. Strands of dark hair dangled over her face, while dark circles under her eyes emphasized strain. She looked frazzled.
            "Mommy, I'm bored."
            "Your toys, Melissa. Play with your toys."
            "But, Mommy, I've played with them."
            Melissa was getting impatient. She wanted to play with her Mommy, but her mother was always preoccupied with the baby. She hated her little brother.
            "Mommy, why don’t you ever play with me anymore?"
            "Oh, honey, I can't right now."
            "Mommy,” Melissa screamed. She pitched herself forward onto the landing and threw one of the world's greatest temper tantrums.
            "Melissa Anne Greenwood, if you don't stop that this instant, I will really give you something to scream about.” Stepping around the plastic basket and readjusting the baby, she took two steps up the stairsdx. Even through the thick carpet, her feet made an adequate stomp.
            Melissa decided she'd probably better stop--knowing her mother meant it this time.
            "Okay, Mommy.” She forced sobs that didn't quite work, and then manipulated her voice almost down to a whisper. "I'm finished now."
            "Good. Now go find something to play with . . . and, don't go near the attic."
            "Okay, Mommy."
            Melissa went back into her room and, flinging Pooh Bear on the floor, plunked herself down on Pooh's small rocking chair. The chair was too small and cracked under her weight. She slipped onto the floor.
            She looked over her many games, books, toys and stuffed animals ‑‑ her friends until recently. After all, they had always talked to her. They shared secrets about what Mommy did when she came up to her room to clean ‑‑ the things she looked at, and the things she looked behind. Melissa had learned to write certain words like ‘I luv u mummy,' and put them where she thought her mommy would look. It worked perfectly. She got hugs and new toys. 
And the old toys? She’d discarded her old friends when the new ones arrived and relegated them to the attic--yesterday's news. Lately however, even her new toys bored her -- ever since that baby arrived.
            Before her brother was born, Old Ned had as strong a front leg as had ever been carved. Pooh Bear was brand new, straight from Toys ‘R’ Us and, Old Scottie; well, Old Scottie had been her mother’s favorite toy from childhood. All were victims of Melissa's displeasure. She delighted in every tear shed each time Mommy had to sew Old Scottie back together.           
            Melissa felt hateful. 
            "Now, it's your turn.” A vicious grin replaced the pout. "Next week, I'll have my daddy put you into the attic, too. I'll get new toys . . . toys batter’s you . . . way better. Maybe, I’ll even throw you in the garbage.” She looked at each toy with contempt, turned on her heels and started to leave her betrayed favorites.  
            Suddenly, something in the corner of her eye caught her attention and she turned around. She couldn't be sure. Did Old Ned actually seem to rock a little--back and forth-- back and forth? Was Old Scottie attempting to make a sound that said, "no?” And, did Pooh Bear's one good eye appear to widen, just a little? 
As soon as she turned, all stuffed animal activity ceased. No, she decided, it was only her imagination.
            The forbidden attic was the only room that still intrigued Melissa; the only room not explored. It was the place where they put things they no longer wanted. It was where Mommy's stuff was and where they put Nanny's things when she went away.  Of course, she knew Nanny hadn't really gone anywhere. She’d just died.
A set of steep, wooden stairs led from the end of the hall to the attic. Melissa climbed cautiously, careful not to make any creaking noises her mother might hear. The door stood on a small landing at the head of the stairs. Small but determined fingers and arms tugged at a knob that wouldn’t give. Locked. She jerked again and succeeded in hurting her arm.                                               
          Frustrated, she was about ready to turn and go back downstairs, when she spotted a silver key on an antique gold ring, hanging to the right of the door. It was just beyond her reach. She stood on her tiptoes--no luck. She leaped into the air and landed on her rear, crinkling the back of her blue and white play dress.
            "Ouch!” She nearly cried, but decided to get back up, instead. She brushed herself off and started all over again.
             One, two, three leaps later, Melissa was finally able to jingle the key hard enough so that the object of her frustration flipped off the hook and landed onto the floor. She punished the recalcitrant key by viciously thrusting it into the keyhole. Then, smug with the self-satisfaction of a thief who’d broken into an uncrackable safe, she turned the key and finally the knob. She was in.
            As soon as she entered, Melissa noticed the darkness. At the far end of the room, a lone triangular stained glass window had become so dirty throughout the years only a glimmer of outside light could pass through its windowpane. A light bulb hung from the ceiling, but the string was too short for her to reach, and the only other available light poured in from the open door behind her.
            Picture frames, suitcases, furniture pieces and a bunch of boxes containing many old musty books filled the room. A wooden rocking chair held all varieties of stuffed animals, some of which Melissa recognized as playmates from her baby days. She set out to investigate every nook and cranny, touching first this and then that--old clothes, figurines, baby dolls, a stuffed gorilla, an old play cash register, and toy soldiers from her father's day. 
            Melissa was so absorbed in the objects that she backed into a figure dressed in a long black dress with a mink stole. It wore a wide brim hat and had a triple strand of pearls irregularly wound around its neck. The face was a pasty sort of chalk color with cheeks that might have come from a Crayola box and lips that were a deep cherry red. A cavernous hole for a mouth showed marked protruding teeth locked in a welcoming, yet ghastly, smile. She gaped in horror at the apparition of‑‑what appeared to be--Granny.
            Suddenly, the light was gone.
            The attic door had swung shut with such force it knocked something over which crashed against her. She screamed. She tried to adjust her eyes, but it was pitch black except for small pinpricks of red and green lights emanating from the stained glass. A macabre sense of movement coming from all directions seemed to twirl around her, moving faster and faster until she felt dizzy and disoriented. She felt a cold stream of air blast through her, and something wound around her arm, holding her fast.
            She screamed with all her might. "Mommy!” Her voice seemed to resound throughout the room. "Mommy," she cried out again. Then, the other voices started to join in, one right after the other.
            They started as a whisper, "Melissa . . . . Oh, Melissa. We know you're here, Melissa."
            "We know . . . we know . . . ."
            "You don't love us anymore, Melissa."
            "Who are you?” She choked out the words--just barely.
            Then another voice called – cajoling, beckoning. "Melissa, dear Melissa."
            "Nanny?” Melissa murmured, taking in shallow gasps of air.
            "Did you come to play with Nanny?"
            "Nanny . . . .  Na . . .na . . . na . . . Nanny . . . ," the voices chimed in as a chorus.
             "Did you come to play with Nanny?" the first voice bellowed.  
Struggling to break free, she felt her restraint shatter into a thousand tiny fragments, which attacked her from all sides. Terrified, she tried to escape, but tripped over something and fell to her knees. It’s all my toys, she thought, coming to get me.
Getting up in blind panic, she tried to run again, but fingers grabbed her from behind catching her like a rabbit in a snare. 
            Now, voices came from every side. They seemed to originate from forgotten toys and forgotten relatives, their memories trapped in the attic--no differently than her. 
            Melissa screamed in terror, and they laughed in response.
            "You'll never get out of here," one said.
            "This is where they dump you when they don't want you anymore," another said.
            "Like us. Like us. Like us.” Voices echoed.
            "You don't want us anymore, Melissa, but we want you."
            Melissa let out another shriek. "Mommy!” She suddenly felt sorry for every bad thing she'd ever done.
            "They don't want you anymore; they don't want bad little girls,” another voice said.
            "Melissa . . . Melissa.” The voices started chanting--fingers reaching to stroke her face and her arms. "Melissa, Melissa . . . ." 
            She struggled to break free, screaming and struggling, as they also struggled to reach her -- laughing, mimicking and taunting. "Mommy. . . . Mommy. . . . Mommy."
            The whirlwind of apparitional activity escalated. The penetrating cold in the room created frigid chills of pain, as a rush of air blinded her to such an extent she had to keep her eyes closed tight. She thought she felt the clammy fingers of old dolls and the furry paws of stuffed animals choking her, while Nanny's ever present voice uttered,  "Let's play . . . Let's play," followed by an eerie cackle.
            "We want to play," the voice who sounded like Nanny, uttered. "We want to play with the baby, Melissa. Bring us the baby."
            "Nanny?” She shook all over--shook from the cold and from her fear. 
            Just when Melissa became convinced that life as she knew it was over, the attic door sprung open and all activity ceased. She turned in terror and apprehension.
            "My God, Melissa . . . baby. Didn't I tell you never to go into the attic?"          
            As the light poured in, Melissa saw only the old treasures locked in the attic. Grandmother returned to a dressmaker's mannequin, clad in the mink stole, and old-fashioned black silk dress, its high-collared neckline propping up a Styrofoam head adorned with wig and hat. The pearls, however, were no longer around its neck, but scattered over the floor.
There were no apparitions; not one thing appeared sinister.
            Melissa felt a tug at her skirt. She jerked her head around and found nothing -- nothing but a faint echo repeating over and over, "The baby, Melissa.  Don't forget the baby. Bring me the baby. . . ."
            “Mommy, did you hear that?” Melissa whispered.
            “Hear what, baby?” her mother replied, scooping her into her arms. “Shh. There’s nothing here.” 
            Melissa wasn’t convinced. As her mother carried her downstairs, Melissa thought she could hear the choral voices of the past, faintly laughing and mimicking. 
          "Didn't I tell you never to go into the attic? Didn't I tell you never to go into the attic? Didn't I tell . . . ?"
            Later that evening, little Melissa Ann Greenwood wondered how she could drag that stupid baby all the way up those stairs.

Monday, January 19, 2015

Communications


Boy, it's lonely in here. No comments.  

Many people are viewing--watching--waiting.  For what? For that perfect blog that is witty, charismatic and full of profound knowledge? Not me.  I'm not full of wisdom or knowledge. When I write an article, I have to research my topic, find the sources or search the people I know for information. People. Always back to people.

This weekend has been one of nostalgia for me. Like many, I'm downsizing my life. (although you'd never know it by my interest in horses, writing, singing and bible study. (I'd love to do a blog on Mary Magdalene some day. I love her.) What caught my attention was the drawers full of letters and cards I've received throughout the good times and the bad, during the course of my life. There was always someone there, cheering me on or consoling the deaths and good-bad events. Many--or most of these cherished friends are lost from death of losing touch. 

I've always tried to be a good friend. Sometimes I've chosen the wrong people, at other times, I've allowed myself to move on and not look back. No, my friends, at some point, you have to look back. You'll find that those people you've let go are some pretty special people. I've found many in those letters. 

Why did I move on and lose touch? Why do most people in this restless country move on? Job opportunities? Family obligations? Marriage? Divorce? (Just read "Waterlilies Over My Grave" a good example of how one woman moves half way across the country leaving her family and loved ones to escape an abusive marriage).

Back then, you could communicate in two ways. One by expensive long distance telephone calls or writing letters. I wasn't great at keeping touch, a failing I'll always regret. 

Today, we have it so much easier.  We hear all the negatives about the social media--Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter, EMails, Electronic Cards (which are lovely, incidentally. I highly recommend Jacquie Lawson. Her cards are exquisite with beautiful music and animated features.) It's as easy as "write and send." 

Probably why the post office is having so many financial problems. 

We're lucky today. There's no reason to "escape" from potentially great friendships. Yes, we have to be careful of FB, LI, Twitters and Cyberspace in general. That's too bad. But, looking at the entire picture, I think this media is an excellent way to communicate. Just be careful what you say and know who you're saying it to. 

So there. This is my mournful blog for the day.

Meanwhile,  I'm writing for "The Nature Place" http://www.thenatureplace.blogspot.com.  I'm forever working on "Legacy of Danger" my novel that dates back from the 90's. Still trying to get my hero and heroine out of the dreaded castle. Constantly thinking about new topics for this blog and looking for writers who might contribute. So, the best is yet to come.

If any of you have any thoughts please leave a comment. I'd love to hear from you. 

You'll notice I'm blocking my paragraph format. It's much easier than the indents.

Take care my precious world of silent friends. I know you're out there. 

pg  

Thursday, January 15, 2015










CARING FOR HORSES IN WINTER

                                                                     
                                                              By Patricia A. Guthrie

            Horses, my favorite topic.
            
          When you think of horses what comes to mind? Riding on the beach in some warm resort area? Horses blazing down the homestretch toward the finish line? Jumping over a five foot Oxer at a major horse show? Riding along a trail with the warmth of the sun shining down on your face? Or maybe you think about those gorgeous creatures  racing in a snow filled pasture, flakes lining black coats so the horses appear to be appaloosas. 
            
          One thing you might not think about is how to care for your equine companion in the cold weather--in times of sub zero temperatures, icy roads and snow-filled ditches. There’s much to learn about these equine dynamos, but caring for them is probably the most important to keep them happy and healthy, especially in winter.  
            
          Horses are not built the same as us. They handle the cold weather much better. When we start bundling up when the weather turns cold, most horses are perfectly happy to remain without the mittens, sweaters and long coats.  Still, being the domesticated animals they are, we must help them keep warm.
            
          How?
            
          Like most animals, horses grow coats in the winter. How long depends on whether they’re used to being indoors or outdoors, blanketed or not blanketed and the weather conditions where they live.  Their coats start to grow when the days grow shorter and there's less sunlight and to the conditions the horse finds itself.  That sleek creature you’ve been riding and showing during the summer might morph into a teddy bear during the winter with an inch or more fur. Their tail acts as a protection against (not only flies in summer) but the under parts of their body during inclement weather. Oils in their coats helps the moisture slide off their skin and keep them dry.
            
          There's much division in thought about whether or not to blanket your horse.  I've done both. Some owners blanket in sub zero weather when the horses are outside and take the blanket off when it gets a bit warmer. Some keep them blanketed during the whole winter. No matter what your thought, if you blanket in the beginning of winter, you need to keep them blanketed during the course of the season.  If you keep your horse in training during the winter, many owners will body clip their horses. If so, it is absolutely necessary to keep your horses blanketed.  (unless you live in a warm weather climate, and we're probably not talking about you, anyway.)
           
          My horse lives at a boarding stable in a barn that’s kept warm not only by its structure but also by the amount of horse bodies inside.  But, what if you don’t have barn facilities? What if your horses stay outside all year long like many ranch horses or pasture boarded horses?

Shotgun Sock (Socks) in his warm stall 

       

          Horses can live outside and most thrive (the healthy ones at least) in below zero temperatures. However, even wild horses need shelter.  In the wild, horses can roam and find shelter or a wind break. In pastures, they are forced to adapt to parameters of the fence lines.  Pastures need shelter to keep them protected from the elements. Many farms have sheds, three sided structures loaded with hay with the opening away from the wind gusts. Some horse owners keep them out all day and bring them in at night.

          Safety here is important. Watch for ice in the pastures, where your horses can fall and injure themselves.  (true also with riding. Be careful of icy trails and roads if you ride in the winter. There are specially made shoes for winter riding (see photo below.) That horse has cleats on his shoes which grabs through the ice and prevents him from slipping.)  Vaseline and other products help prevent "snowballs" from developing on the soles of their feet.
            
          The most necessary ingredient in keeping your horses healthy during the winter is fuel. Horses don't die in the wild from the freezing temperatures. They die from lack of food, which helps keeps them warm.  Horses do shiver, which burns calories and cause them to lose weight and needed insulation.
                                                                                   


         

           Good and plentiful hay will help keep them warm with unlimited access to unfrozen water.  Keep those buckets free of ice. It's an easy thing to miss if you're not watching.
            
          There is so much to be said about winter care. The most important are adequate food and shelter, keeping water buckets free of ice, grooming (as always), picking out their feet and keeping yourself and your horse safe when riding.  (Notice cleats on this horse's shoes) 

           


Photos courtesy of Microsoft Clip art and my personal horse collection. 

This article will be published in The Nature Place Journal:
https://sites.google.com/site/thenatureplace/
https://www.facebook.com/natureplacejournal
http://thenatureplacejournal.blogspot.ca/

Wednesday, January 7, 2015

INTRODUCING DIXIE


Let me introduce you to Dixie (Mac's Last Gem) a twelve-year-old paint mare who recently came into my life. She goes Western and English pleasure, showmanship and (I think) trail. I'll be doing arena work with her and introducing her to the fields and trails around here. 

Buying horses is such a hard journey. I think I blogged about it a while back. If not, I'll blog again. It's an interesting story, especially if you want to buy a horse. Just think how not to do it and do the opposite. 

This time, I think I've gotten it right. I'll keep our progress posted. Right now, she's in a nice warm stall, and I'm in my nice warm house. Not going out for love nor money. 

Have a great day, stay warm, stay safe. 

pg 

Tuesday, January 6, 2015

SETTING GOALS



Setting Our Goals.  Part 4 
            
          Now that 2015 has hit, and it's cold and snowy,  what a good time to hunker down and come up with a few ideas for our writing careers.
             
          I've brought along my own ideas on the subject, but I've also included Shirley Flannagan's  "Writer's Oasis," Chapter One AOL online workshop members to weigh in with their thoughts. Last night's guest presenter was published author Annie Kelleher, author of "When David Met Sarah," a lady full of interesting ideas. Ms. Flannagan graciously allowed me to incorporate her last night's workshop into my blog, so here we are. I decided when it came to brain storming, many heads were better than just mine.
           
          From my perspective, goals have been simply that--goals. What I intend to do in the future.  On job interviews one question is consistent. "Where do you want to be in five years?" How about next year, or ten years or a lifetime? Most of us have our stock answers ready. (especially if we've gone the job interview process before.)
            
          I thought about that and realized that as a teacher, we have to make long range plans for our courses, in other words what we want the students to learn, then break them down into daily objectives, what do we want them to learn this week.  In the world of teaching, they were called "lesson plans." Setting goals for writing is similar.            
            
          Mine were: to finish "Legacy of Danger" and having finished my preliminary work, start writing  my horse story, write short stories and to create an interesting and diversified blog, inviting authors to write articles and short stories to post.  After pondering how I intended to do that  when I couldn't even get through the escape from the castle scene in LOD, I realized I needed to delve into objectives. In other words break the large pie into smaller pieces. 
          When Ms Kelleher asked our group who made writing goals,  all hands virtually shot up, including mine, but some had reservations on how long they could keep this up, me included. In other words, "the spirit is willing but the flesh is weak," kind of thing.
            
          She made some valid and interesting points I hadn't thought about. She suggested to treat goals like characters from your book who also have to make goals and then overcome obstacles. A benefit from this is it gives us practice in "resolving different levels of conflict."  What those conflicts might be depends on what you want to accomplish and where you want to put your energy.  So here is one:
           
          Common goal: to  give yourself more writing time. Challenge: you have other things to do. (jobs, kids, school, husband, wife) The time challenge is like "the over arching level of conflict" which our characters face in their stories.  
           
          Ms Kelleher states, "in finding time to write, you have to recognize that time is a finite resource. Unless you wrap your mind around that one, it's easy to fall into the procrastination trap."  She ties that in with selling books. "Working writers write and regularly publish."  I'll add trying to find a publisher, agent, good editor.  But, not only do we write, we have to market our books.  The sad state of publishing today.
            
          She suggests her three layers of conflict: character against self, character against character and character against something he or she can't control." She faces these layers and identifies what was against her in each level of writing conflict, then works to address those challenges. She believes creative writing should be fun. If it's not fun, don't do it. That's why she likes the character approach.
           
          She suggests that goals could also be "to figure out what works for you ." For instance, for years I wrote my novel as a "panser" or straight off the cuff. My plots became too convoluted and involved too many characters, details got skewed. Outlining helped me see, at a glance, what was working and what was not. But that's me, it may not work for you.  
            
          For Ms. Kelleher, she sets her goals then figures a way to achieve them. If you're not reaching them, figure out what's stopping you.
            
          She goes on to say "writing is more than just producing chapters. You have to juggle a lot of balls in the air. One of my goals is to continue to build my presence on the social network." I've discovered that fact, and it makes my head whirl.
            
          Getting back to the lack of time, Annie says she "gets up early in the morning." The same time each morning.  That one way to discipline yourself is to write at the same time and for the same amount of time each day.  (good idea, but sometimes I can't stop--then others, I can't start. Go figure.)
            
           Annie is also of the opinion you need to make your goals smaller and smaller until they are manageable. I still call that goals and objectives to each goal. Whatever you want to call it, it's a darned good idea.
           
          A few other suggestions came forward in this group. Neva suggested join writing groups that make you stay on target--in fact, they live for it. Whip, chains and all the rest. (well, maybe not that bad.) 
            
          Pam said she needs to write something every day. I suggest that would be an objective toward the larger goal of finishing her book by the end of this year.
            
          These are some ideas for setting goals for the New Year. Go for the larger picture and break them down into increments. Do something every day. Make each goal attainable, don't be unrealistic. Evaluate where you are in your writing and move forward from there. Need a course in writing, creative or otherwise? Need work on grammar? Need to get a feel for point of view? Try a book in the first person. There are many fine craft books out there. I've listed my favorites on the right side of this blog. That's the section where information stays the same (unless I take out the element altogether. I won't take away my craft books.)
            
          So happy writing in 2015. I hope this four part series has been helpful.  Now, I'm going to finish "Mystery of the Blue Train" by Agatha Christie.

Shirley Flannagan's Writer's Oasis:  https://www.facebook.com/groups/552257888148524/#!/groups/552257888148524/
https://sites.google.com/site/writersoasis1/



            

Sunday, January 4, 2015

Setting Goals

          A follow author will be presenting a workshop on goal setting tomorrow night--Chapter One-- on AOL. I won't be going into detail on goal setting today. I'm hoping she'll share her content on this blog. Meanwhile, here are my goals for the year (so far.)

          Longterm:  Finish "Legacy of Danger" and submit to my publisher (LSP Digital LLC).

          Write the horse story "Stolen Horses: Broken Dreams"

          Keep on blogging, discovering new things about writing, new books to review, find other authors that may contribute.

          Find other blogs where I can have a hand at contributing.

          Learn new ways to market online.

          Those are the goals. The objects are more detail oriented, breaking down the goals into increments.

          Meanwhile, I don't know how you feel about the very, very cold winter, but to me, it sucks. Here's a scene from last year's winter. Hopefully, we won't have to go through that again. But wind chills of 20 below are beyond painful.

Saturday, January 3, 2015

GETTING OVER WRITER'S BLOCK
            
          We've reached part 3. How to defeat the enemy: Writer's Block.
           
          If you can't write you're either stuck in your work in progress, or out of new story ideas. If you empty your mind and watch a few good news shows, you probably can fill that hole up pretty quickly. But real writer's block comes from several places and most are deeper rooted. 
            
          Burn out is what stemmed mine.  Where does burn-out come from?
            
          Trying for perfection: Ugh. If you're a perfectionist and want your characters to have a perfect life, a perfect crime, a perfect solution, a perfect relationship you're doomed. There are few perfect books and those probably exist in the mind of readers rather than their authors .  I can think of hundreds of reasons each and every chapter of my books don't work. Sometimes I'm even right. Perfectionism is a pest and a blight on the creative mind. Write that "shitty" first draft and correct what doesn't work later.  Some writers have worked on drafts multiple times--ten, twelve, I've heard thirty-five and, I think that was Stephen King.  Or, so I heard. Outlining and working on character sketches help too.
            
          I think fear is another. Fear of learning the awful truth--that you're really a lousy writer/author.  Your story idea is lame, overdone, boring, uninteresting to the multitude of would-be fans.  Question: Is it interesting to you? My guess is, if it's not, you're not likely to get through the first chapter.
            
          The grammar police strikes:  "I can't construct a readable sentence."  You use too many ly adverbs (there, I said it) You have misplaced point of views, or some other character got their thoughts in the way, you're grammar sucks, your editor, mother, father, best friend, husband and would-be agent or publisher will hate it. In other words, fear of disapproval and failure.       
            
          Or worse, fear of success. "Oh my God, what happens if I am published? I know nothing about the writing business.  I'm a marketing failure or "what's marketing?"  Selling my book? Speak in front of groups? Network my book? Gasp! I don't have the money for a publicist. How do I know all this? Just ask me. I don't have money for a publicist either.
            
           An other biggie: I don't have the time. My job gets in the way (mine did).  My kids and/or husband, mother, father , siblings won't leave me in peace. Or "I'd write if I could, but I can't, so I won't." So, we procrastinate another day. Of course, we have to make or structure time to write. Some writers work hours before their world gets up.
           
          How do we overcome WB?  Let's get to the root of the blockage. I think my two most obstinate blockers are fear and the perfectionist syndrome.  That's strange, because I'm more of a generalist by nature.  Here are a few ideas  I've heard or read about. (or thought about)
            
          Write. That's right, write. Anything. Maybe keep an alarm clock handy and time five minutes of writing garbage. Even one word over and over, what you did that day, what your dog did that day, what your kids want to do that day. Or write a blog. Why do you think I'm writing this blog? Because, I'm trying to get over my own WB.
            
          If possible, set a scheduled time to write. I think it's a good idea, but I don't stick to it. Perhaps if I did--maybe ....
            
          Read a good book. Many authors fear another writer's voice will get into their head. Probably not so much. Not if you read many authors. Your own writing style is still in the cobwebs of your mind.  
            
          I have a few craft books that, when I choose to read them, inspire me. Bird by Bird by Ann Lamott and Ernest Hemmingway's On Writing are wonderful motivators. I need to re-read both of them.  Get our your favorites:  Mine are: Synopsis by McCutcheon, GMC, Goal, Motivation and Conflict by Dixon,  Finding Your Voice by Edgerton, Writing the Breakout Novel by Maas (yes, the agent) The Writer's Journey by Vogler, On Writing by Stephen King and How I Write by Janet Evanovich. The list goes on and on.
            
          What about reviewing another author's book maybe in another genre? Reviewing is research and entails writing, not to mention, getting your name known. 
            
          Watch a good DVD in your genre. I watch Agatha Christie, Ellery Queen, Nero Wolf, horse videos, HRTV and old Dracula movies and find ideas from them all the time. I got my initial idea for LOD from Dracula and Transylvania, but the story changed so much, the only bloodsuckers you'll find are drug dealer-terrorists.  (and no, I'm not giving away the plot. They're introduced fairly close to the beginning.)
            
          Jeff Goins, in his blog about WB wrote play as a distraction and a way to clear the mind. I disregarded that idea, until I realized I play computer solitaire and Yahtzee games all the time. They help relax and stimulate my mind. Really, they do.
            
          Other ideas might be to brainstorm ideas with a critique group or friends. You don't have to use their ideas  if you don't want to, but it helps build momentum. Only downside, you have to listen to their story ideas too.  If you keep an open mind, some of them might be pretty interesting.
            
          Do other activities. But watch how long you do that. My other activities took me four years of writing downtime.  Here's one. Clean your house. My house never looks better than when I'm writing. Type a sentence, do the dishes. Type an outline, make the bed. Do a character study, clean out the pantry.  You get the idea.
            
          But, mainly write. (see a recurring theme here?)  Freestyle, garbage, writer's block, a short story, an outline, your grocery list, your goals for the day.  Like talking it out, writing can be cathartic.  Don't worry about what you write.  Turn off that internal editor that worries about ever word and write.
            
          Worry will come after you've submitted and wait for a reply. Even then, take away the anxiety and write the next book.
            
          Speaking of goals, next time we discuss setting goals for the coming year.
            
         
Happy writing

Friday, January 2, 2015

FINALLY : PUBLISHED
            
          After the frustration of Legacy of Danger (and about five different titles) I decided to work  on another story. "Guardian Angel" styled in the tradition (I thought) of Harlequin Romantic Suspense.  That didn't work. They don't take stories about Parisian concert pianists turned strippers, even if they're escaping from a mad man. I sent the ms to their critique section and although they told me it would be rejected, they gave me encouragement and helpful tips.
           
          On to Romeo vs Juliette. I thought that a very original title, also in the tradition of Harlequin, but Romeo vs Juliette was a title used many times. (titles aren't copyrighted, so you can use the same title, but who wants to?) After agonies over this, I went back to Legacy and took out half the characters. Another frustrating attempt later, I tried to take a short story, "Willed Accidents Happen" that had been rejected by Hitchcock, and turn that into a novel. It worked as a short story, but unfortunately, not as a full-length mystery novel. Back to Legacy and off to a new adventure. This time I took a discarded character from Legacy and placed her in "In the Arms of the Enemy." She fit. I wrote the book based on horses and insurance fraud,  and pitched it to Harlequin. They liked it and asked for the full manuscript. You had to peal me off the wall, until that, too, was rejected.  They wanted me to re-work it. I did and found my present publisher, LSPDigital, who subsequently published the work.  (Thank you, Linda Daly and LSP Digital LLC)
           
          Back to Legacy. The plot was changing and I was thinking about turning it into a paranormal. Who would be the ghost? Three choices came to mind. Either Alex had a wife who was murdered or Elena had a husband who was murdered and there was Elena's grandmother, Magda, who had been killed by a hit-and-run drive. Accident? I think not. It was murder. I tried Alex's deceased wife and it didn't fit. Kind of like ill-fitting shoes. Elena didn't have a big enough role, and she was the heroine. So, out went Alex's wife. How about Elena having a husband? More plausible. But then, who was Mikhail? Huh? Where did he come from? I had to find out--who was Mikhail?  More self-induced turmoil.

          I slammed the book back into "documents" and worked on "Waterlilies Over My Grave," about story  a psychologist who divorces her psychotic psychiatrist husband and spends the novel pursued by him.  I spent my life adding and subtracting chapters and scenes and put my characters in as much trouble as I could think of.  I finally figured out what worked and submitted. A second novel published.

          By this time, LOD was driving me crazy. I mean totally nuts. This was my third, no fourth version of the story, but it was, slowly, coming together. Meanwhile, school was driving me crazy and exhausted me.  My dog showing days had died out along with my four beloved collies, and even with subsequent (rescue) dogs, I was too tired to go to class, let along show anybody in anything.  My voice was gone from all the talking above the child caterwauling.  And then there was all that marketing. 

          I burned out.  No other word can describe it. Blank pages and plot detections took me spiraling down into a black hole. No matter how I tried to market the published books, they didn't sell well and that sent me into depression.  I stopped and did other activities--horses, other books, watched Agatha Christie, Ellery Queen, Nero Wolf DVD's over and over.  

          I took a good long break. I got over it. (I think)

          To be continued:  Part 3 getting over writer's block.  Part 4 setting goals.

          Have a great day.  

Thursday, January 1, 2015

WRITING GOALS AND OBJECTIVES FOR 2015 AND OTHER THINGS



WRITING GOALS AND OBJECTIVES FOR 2015

Part 1 of 4
           
            Happy New Year. Time for evaluating our past year (or years) and setting goals and objectives for the future.  The difference? Goals are broad--write that novel. Objectives are more detailed--finish chapters 1-3 by midnight tonight. (Yeah, sure.)
           
            I’m a writer with long-term writer’s block. This is my year to smash through that pesky excuse not to finish a project.
            
            For the first seven years I pursued my writing career and worked hard at it (even though I taught school full time, sang in choir, showed dogs and took care of my horse). My craft books became dog-eared.  I entered short story contests, wrote longer and longer stories and discovered the love of mysteries. I wrote a few and submitted them to Alfred Hitchcock’s great mystery magazine, until I discovered my mysteries did not fit in with his type of stories.  I managed to get five or six fiction and non-fiction short stories published in Skyline Magazine a beautiful literary magazine in the early and mid 2000’s, then, had a short story published in L’Affaire du Coeur.
            
           Meanwhile, I started writing mystery novels. How are could it be? Murder and mayhem. What a good idea. No problem. I've read everything Agatha Christie and Dorothy Sayers wrote. So I decided to write about something I knew--horses. I created a bunch of characters, decided where I wanted them to go and dumped them onto the horse show scene. I bumped off a few characters, added drug smuggling and red herrings and voila, I had written my first novel.
            
          Not so fast, you say? Hmm , yes I discovered when I realized my whole first chapter was description of the setting, description of the characters, description of everything. Writing back from the Victorian era. 
            
          Then horrors upon horrors.
             
          I gave up the old 1990 computer/word processor, saved my brilliant novel to A disc floppies and . . . . did you say you have to hit the “save” button? Really? What’s that? Cheerfully, (note the ly adverb) I deleted my computer content and gave away the old computer. I loaded the floppy into my new computer and . . . what happened? Nothing. Absolutely nothing.  Gone. Right into cyberspace. What were we saying about the "save" button?
            
          As I look back, it was for the best.
            
          I knew little about a nuisance called grammar, nothing about scenes, sequels, chapter lengths or endings,  what a point of view was or who should have it and when. In fact, I didn’t have any of the technical knowledge that can help a (sometimes) creative mind craft a readable novel.  So my first novel “Matt’s Murder” rests in peace in the bowels of my computer.  Sigh. Maybe I’ll rework it one of these days.
            
          Then came "Legacy of Danger", which has become my “kick me in the pants and write something else” type of work. In fact, it's been the inspiration to "In the Arms of the Enemy" and "Waterlilies Over My Grave" both of which were published. 

           I've been working on LOD since 1998. No kidding.  It started out as a romantic suspense and evolved into a paranormal. It takes place in Evanston, Illinois and ends in Romania. No vampire Counts. Just a few ghosts and blood sucking terrorists out to stop a nice young lady from inheriting her castle. 
            
          And, this is the end of the bedtime story for today. Tomorrow, we finish my frustrating path to published novels and enter into writer's block.  Then we'll smash into setting goals for 2015.  Happy New Year's Day everyone. Don't eat too much--and don't drink and drive. (the mother in me is coming out.  
            
          To be continued.

Wednesday, December 24, 2014

SANTA CLAUS CAME TO TOWN AND HOW HE GOT HERE

Santa Claus Came to Town and How He Got Here

By Patricia Guthrie

“Twas the night before Christmas, and all through the house . . .” ‘Jolly Old St. Nicholas . . .’ ‘Santa Claus is Coming to Town.’ What images come to mind? A rather chubby, merry and ageless man with a twinkle in his eye, carrying a bag full of toys from a sled, way too small to provide gifts for more than sixty-million children around the world. Nine reindeer, the lead having an overpowering red-glowing nose, paw anxiously, trying not to topple off a steeply slanted roof covered with ice and snow. Realistic? Hell no. Fun? Absolutely.
Does Santa Claus actually have anything to do with Christmas? Nope . . . not really. Christmas celebrates the birth of Jesus Christ, the namesake of its religious beliefs. Except for Easter, it is the most holy of days in the Christian calendar. Christmas is the only religious holiday that has survived the separation of Church and State in the United States, despite many attempts to have it stricken from the federal holiday calendar.
Santa Claus has come along for the ride–and what a ride it has been for all of these years. So what’s Santa Claus all about? How did he get to be so popular? Who is he? Was he even real?

There is some disagreement about that. He is traced back to one Bishop Nicholas of Myra (d350) who, real or not real, became one of the most beloved saints to ever grace the face of this earth. He was revered in both Eastern as well as Western churches, one of the few things they ever agreed on. So loved was he, Emperor Justinian built a church in his honor in 540 AD. It seems the good bishop could do no wrong. He was the patron saint of children, mariners, merchants, countries and cities. He saved dowerless maidens in distress by throwing money into their windows. He is credited with saving ships at sea and somehow or other, saving countries from famine. After he was dead, he was reported to have come down from heaven to distribute gifts to good little boys and girls and, later, seemed to have gained a side kick named ‘Black Peter’ who punished those children who weren’t so good. It was (and still is) a dream come true for parents who could now dangle the proverbial carrot in front of their kids, in anticipation of the arrival of good St. Nick.

Those who disavow the existence of Nicholas seem to think his legend originated from the pagan gods of the pre-Christian era. There were similarities between the Teutonic God Odin, who flew around in the air on a gray horse and wore a long white beard. Thor was another God who seemed to have Nicholas’ attributes, i.e., he came from the North, wore a suit of red, rode through the heavens in a chariot drawn by white goats, and was friendly and cheerful and loved to drop down through chimneys for some reason or other.

When Christmas was settled as a day to celebrate the Christian tradition, the Roman church decided on an old pagan day of celebration of Dec. 25th. There was no way to pin down the real birth date of Jesus, and trying to keep their flock away from paganism, the church decided to bring their religious holiday into the pagan calendar–hoping to wipe out any trace of pagan celebration. The odd thing is, if indeed he did live, Nicholas was a Christian man himself, a bishop of the church and one of those to have been present at the first council of Nicea. That cannot be proved, as his name is not present on the list of attending bishops.

Santa Claus in America

During the reformation which spread around Europe in the sixteenth century, the Feast of St. Nicholas all but disappeared. Christkindl (Christ child) replaced Nicholas as the bearer of good tidings and gifts. The Protestant reformers felt that their children should not spend their time worshiping a bishop, lured by presents and goodies. They thought they could channel their energies instead into celebrating the birth of the Christ child. The custom changed slightly with Christkindl being the main player instead of Nicholas. The practice of gift giving, however, remained. Despite this new emphasis, the Nicholas legends prevailed, especially among the Dutch.

During the 1600s, exchanging gifts or celebrating the Feast
of St. Nicholas was forbidden by the Puritans in America. It wasn’t until the Dutch settled in what later became New York that they brought with them their tradition of SinterKlaas. SinterKlaas was just one variation on the name of St. Nicholas and they celebrated it on the eve of Dec. 6th, the anniversary of his death. Switching the date to Dec. 25th came when the English took over the colony. The English children wanted their own SinterKlass. As the Protestants didn’t believe in celebrating saints days, the date was changed.

Washington Irving, writing under the pseudonym of Diedrich Knickerbocker, mentioned the holiday in his satire, ‘The History of New York.’ Good old St. Nicholas, SinterKlaas, was depicted riding into town on a white horse, which later somehow learned to fly over the tree tops pulling a wagon. William Gilley printed a poem about ‘Santeclaus’ and described him as wearing fur and driving a sleigh, now pulled by a reindeer.
The most famous spin in the history of Santa Claus in America came with the poem written by Dr. Clement Moore, a dentist, who was also a theology and classics professor at Union Seminary. He wrote ‘A visit from St. Nicholas,’ that went on to become ‘The Night before Christmas.’ At last, Santa had a description. He was now a jolly, happy and a rather hefty soul who had a miniature sleigh and eight tiny reindeer named: Dasher, Dancer, Prancer, Vixen, Comet, Cupid, Donder, and Blitzen. Later, Robert L. May created the ninth and most famous reindeer of all. He was the guiding-light of the team and his name was Rudolph.
So far, Santa Claus was pictured as elf-size, fitting in his compact sleigh, which made timely deliveries to all those homes around the world extremely difficult. However, Haddon Sundblom, an illustrator for the Coca Cola Company helped Santa with those shipments when, in 1931, he drew a series of Santa images and pictured him human-size for their Christmas advertisements. Santa’s stature and the ads continue to the present time.

The much loved Nicholas of Myra seems to have gained a reputation that even the greatest and most famous might envy. Larger than life, his saga lives on as the patron saint of almost everybody; mariners, merchants, children, cities (including Moscow) and countries (Greece, Russia, Italy) and seems to have grown year by year. As much as Christmas is a Christian holiday, it is also a holiday that celebrates generosity and kindliness of spirit even amongst those who might have the hardest of hearts during the rest of the year. Despite all the holiday craziness that we must endure, Christmas and Santa Claus go hand in hand in featuring one of the most beautiful and reverent holidays for the human spirit.

A VISIT FROM ST. NICHOLAS by Clement Clarke Moore

'Twas the night before Christmas, when all through the house, not a creature was stirring, not even a mouse.
The stockings were hung by the chimney with care, in hopes that ST. NICHOLAS soon would be there.
The children were nestled all snug in their beds, while visions of sugarplums danced in their heads.
And mamma in her kerchief, and I in my cap, had just settled down for a long winter's nap,

When out on the lawn there arose such a clatter, I sprang from the bed to see what was the matter.
Away to the window I flew like a flash; tore open the shutters and threw up the sash.
The moon on the breast of the new-fallen snow, Gave the lustre of midday to objects below.
When, what to my wondering eyes should appear, but a miniature sleigh, and eight tiny reindeer.
With a little old driver, so lively and quick, I knew in a moment it must be St. Nick.
More rapid than eagles his coursers they came. And he whistled, and shouted, and called them by name;
'Now, DASHER! now, DANCER! now, PRANCER and VIXEN! On, COMET! on CUPID! on, DONDER and BLITZEN!
To the top of the porch! to the top of the wall! Now dash away! Dash away! Dash away all!'

As dry leaves that before the wild hurricane fly, when they meet with an obstacle, mount to the sky,
So up to the housetop the coursers they flew, with the sleigh full of toys, and St. Nicholas too.
And then, in a twinkling, I heard on the roof, the prancing and pawing of each little hoof.
As I drew in my hand, and was turning around, down the chimney St. Nicholas came with a bound.

He was dressed all in fur, from his head to his foot, and his clothes were all tarnished with ashes and soot.
A bundle of toys he had flung on his back, and he looked like a peddler just opening his pack.
His eyes, how they twinkled! his dimples how merry. His cheeks were like roses, his nose like a cherry.
His droll little mouth was drawn up like a bow, And the beard of his chin was as white as the snow.
The stump of a pipe he held tight in his teeth, and the smoke it encircled his head like a wreath.
He had a broad face and a little round belly, that shook, when he laughed like a bowlful of jelly.
He was chubby and plump, a right jolly old elf. And I laughed when I saw him, in spite of myself.

A wink of his eye and a twist of his head, soon gave me to know I had nothing to dread.
He spoke not a word, but went straight to his work, and filled all the stockings; then turned with a jerk.
And laying his finger aside of his nose, And giving a nod, up the chimney he rose.
He sprang to his sleigh; to his team gave a whistle. And away they all flew like the down of a thistle.
But I heard him exclaim, ere he drove out of sight, 'HAPPY CHRISTMAS TO ALL, AND TO ALL A GOOD-NIGHT.’

Published: Skyline Magazine 2003

References:
Bucher, Pastor Richard P. (1999); The Origin of Santa Claus and the Christian Response to Him.
Evangelical Trinity Lutheran Church.
Van der Meulen, Roel; Sinterklaas, A Dutch Tradition, Project Galactic Guide
Religious Tolerance; All about Santa Claus, http://www.Religioustolerance.org/santa.htm.
Goode, Stephen (1996); After 17 centuries, Kris Kringle is still
making his rounds; Insight on the News.
Dodd, Brian (1995); History of Santa Claus, American Origins. Quote from Encarta 95. Http://www.the-north-pole.com/history/