Sunday, October 27, 2013

To Grow an Apple

When my daughter was in the second grade, she wrote and illustrated a little book for me for Mother’s Day. In the book, she answered such questions as what is Mom’s favorite color? And what is Mom’s favorite food? She listed my favorite color as purple, and my favorite food as apples.

It’s true. I love apples. If I had to pick only one food in the world to survive on, I think it would have to be apples.

So, you can imagine my joy when two years ago, for Mother’s Day, my husband bought me two young apple trees. We planted them. They blossomed. The bees did their pollinating thing. Six of the blossoms swelled into baby apples. Pretty exciting stuff. The baby apples grew bigger. The trees flourished.

That is, they tried to flourish.

We live in the countryside in a forested area. We have deer. Interview any deer, ask them their favorite food, and I’ll bet money they’d mention apples near the top of the list, too.  

So much for my first apple crop. And so much for my fledgling trees. The deer mowed off the tips, broke branches and ate the leaves as fast as they could sprout. Not just once, but time after time.  

Alpacas to the rescue!

We brought home our first alpacas that fall. As much as deer love apples, that’s how much they detest alpacas. Alpacas have a few things in common with deer – they sway toward the timid side of the gregarious scale. And they also adore apples, acorns and brush. But, apparently to deer, alpacas smell strange, look strange and act strange.

Shortly after we brought the alpacas home to join our menagerie, my husband watched a deer jump the fence into their field. That doe took one look at the curious, long-necked alpacas, launched right back over the fence, and booked off down the road.

In the past two years, my apple trees have once again flourished. The deer damage was so great that we got no apples last year, but this year we got our first crop.

A crop of one.

That single apple was highly prized. I tied a net bag around it when it was still just a tiny pup. My sons and I checked on its progress daily.

It was a September harvest at the Cahill orchard. We picked that apple, carried it carefully into the house. Washed it. Polished it. Quartered, cored and sliced it. And then we partook of the crisp, sweet flesh.

Hands down, it was the best apple we have ever tasted.

Thursday, October 24, 2013

Goal Setting Can Increase Self Worth

Too often goal setting is rife with guilt and game playing.  Somewhere in life, people learn that not meeting a goal is so horrific that they don't make goals at all. Or, if they do, the goals are set at a bar so low that anyone can make them.  I find this truly sad.

Early in life my parents taught me to set goals.  Being the oldest of nine children, I probably felt particularly put upon to also serve as an example for my siblings by meeting my goals. However, that was my own feeling and not reinforced by my parents. Fortunately, my parents' philosophy was that goals should stretch me to reach for the stars--to reach for what I wanted most. Because if I never tried to reach for it I would never get it. They followed up this philosophy be rewarding us equally, whether we tried but failed or met the goal.

I bring this up because two things around goal setting and reaching for the stars are coming up in the next two months.  First, at the beginning of 2013 I set a goal to write 300,000 words this year.  That's because I wanted to complete 6 books by the end of 2013. My books run between 55,000 and 75,000 words. I had one book already started at the beginning of the year, so it really meant completing 5-1/2 books. Some of my colleagues looked at me like I might be a little crazy.  Others applauded the effort but let me know I was unlikely to make it.  I am two months away from the end of the year and I'm currently at about 180,000 words.  I know by the end of this week, I will have at least 10,000 more words. I'm shooting for 20,000. Will I make it? Can I write 100,000 words in two months? I don't know. I've never done that before. But I can sure try.

This brings me to my plans for November. Every year the month of November is dedicated to "National Novel Writing Month" also known as NaNoWriMo.  This is an event where hundreds of thousands of authors (more than 200,000 authors participated last year) around the world set a goal to complete 50,000 words in one month.  Here's the interesting part. About 20% of the participants actually make that goal. I would hazard a guess that almost none of them would have made the goal if they didn't set it in the first place.

This is the first year I'm participating in NaNoWriMo. I figure, if I'm going to make my 300,000 word year end goal this will get me closer.  If I can do 50,000 words in November, then I can do 50,000 words in December and make my goal. What if I don't do 50,000 words?  I'm still happy.  Just trying means I will do more words than I would without the goal. It pushes me in a very public way. Just like posting my progress on my blog is also public. 

Will all my words be perfect? Nope. Not even close. But it's much easier to edit words that exist than a blank page. It's much easier to get a full novel out of 50,000 words, and only have to find another 20,000 than to make it in time with only 10,000 words, or worse a blank page. It may be that on December 31st my goal of making 300,000 words this year will be a dream unmet. However, I can tell you already that the 180,000 I already have is significantly more than I've ever done in one year. I can also tell you that if I don't make my goal, I will renew it for next year. I know I can do it. I know there were many times I could have been writing but I let other things get in the way.  What if I do make 300,000 words? I'll celebrate like crazy. And then I'll decide what my stretch goal for the next year will be.

Whatever your dreams and goals in life, I say reach for the stars. Making the commitment to reach--to try--will get you closer. Celebrate every attempt. If you don't meet your goal, then start again. You will already have a leg up the second time. You will already have ideas about what needs to change to make the goal. When you finally make that impossible dream, take time to celebrate all your hard work. Bask in the glory for a little while. Then make the next goal.

I hope you will root me on to the end of the year. Share some of your goals so I can root for you too. They don't have to be writing goals. They can be reading goals, weight loss goals, exercise goals--whatever you want in your life. Just be sure to dream big!

Sunday, October 20, 2013

Going Against my Linear Self

The current story I'm working on is set in the Yukon during the gold rush or 1898.  I've had trouble finding information about the settlements that were along the route from Skagway to Dawson and then Dawson to St. Michael.  What I have found has mostly been online photos taken 1898 and later. Trying to decipher what I see and then use the little bit I found online, I conclude if they put a telephone in July of 1898 then they should have electricity since in 1899 they were using steam run drills to get through the perma frost to dig to the gold veins.

When I couldn't come up with a concrete answer, I sent an email off to the Dawson Historical Society and while waiting for a reply I wrote two chapters set in Dawson in a hotel using my assumption there would be electricity and running water.

The historical society finally emailed back and they said no, there wasn't electricity or running water. So I asked if they had any suggestions of books that would help me. They gave me a list and I found two of them in the used books on Amazon and ordered them.

The problem with being a linear writer is I either had to sit and wait for the books to continue the story, because I don't like to leave gaps or question marks and move on, but in this case it would be a week before I get the information and didn't want to stop my momentum in the story, so I continued on and should have the book finished by the time the research books arrive. Then I will go back and make revisions on those two chapters to fully capture the living conditions at the time in a hotel, hopefully, if the books I receive will have that information.

This book which I hope to have available in November is going against my usual nature to start at the beginning and keep on writing without leaving gaps in the story. Granted, there isn't a gap because it is filled in, just with inaccurate information but in my thinking that is a gap and there might be something that will happen with the change the could impact the rest of the story. That is what I fear and why I write linear.

As a reader can you tell if the writer is a linear or sporadic writer? If you're a writer are you linear or do you jump around when writing scenes?

Sunday, October 13, 2013

Writer's and Speaking

The day this blog posts I will be flying home from my youngest son's wedding.  I don't have wedding photos to post or stories to tell yet, so I thought I dig into my previous Sunday instead. On October 6th I was fortunate to be a speaker at the Pacific Northwest Booksellers Trade Show in Portland, Oregon. I presented with fellow Windtree author, Paty Jager, on the Power of Author Cooperatives. The presentation was designed for both authors and booksellers. One of the ways I build relationships with readers, booksellers, and vendors is through public speaking engagements.  For many writers, the thought of this is scary. However, learning to be comfortable in public can be useful to your career.

After doing a reading last month at Bards N' Brews in Hillsboro, one of the aspiring authors in the audience later asked me: "How do you get up there and do that? How do you talk to people so easily." So, I thought I would share a few of my tricks.  This was a great venue for reading by the way. It's in a wine store and restaurant, Primrose and Tumbleweeds. If you can arrange it, try to be surrounded by wine bottles. It makes everything look and sound better. :)

Fake it, 'til you make it. My public speaking self is a persona--a character who is confident and occasionally self-effacing. In other words I am acting.  Certainly, I'm still me but I'm a more confident and occasionally even funny me. Not how I perceive myself inside. I learned how to do this at my first professional job in my twenties.  My boss always said: "Fake it, 'til you make it."  In other words, if you act like you know what you are doing people will believe you--even if inside you aren't so sure.  It really is true. It's also true that if you "act" confident enough times, you get good feedback and that builds your confidence.

Think of Everyone Wearing Only Underwear.  This was advice given to me by a speech teacher. I have to admit, it doesn't work too well for me.  I either end up laughing or grossed out. It doesn't help me speak better, but it does help me relax before I do a presentation. Try it. Peak at the first few rows of people and imagine them in their underwear. Unless you are at a celebrity health club, the picture isn't usually hot. In the right frame of mind you will crack up. Laughing is a great mechanism for sloughing some anxiety.

Practice the Whole Presentation. Before doing the reading from my novel, I practiced several times. I wrote notes to myself on the pages. Things like "breathe" and "female voice" and "talk faster" or "talk slower" in order to emphasize things. Writing it down helped me remember it and seeing it on the page was a comfort. When I do a formal presentation with a PowerPoint, I also practice to make sure I have something more to say than reading the slide.

The key to practice is to go through the whole thing, even when you make mistakes.  Do NOT stop and start over when you make a mistake. That solidifies the mistake in your mind. If you go past the mistake all the way to the end, it doesn't seem as big. You will make a mistake. We all do. Mistakes can actually make an audience like you even more, because they an identify with someone who is human instead of perfect. It's only bad if you stop and fall apart. In the beginning you notice every flaw and may feel like you are juggling plates that will all fall at once. Eventually the practice will become memory and, if you keep breathing and move forward, memory will take you all the way to the end.

Smile.  Always smile when you start. Smile when you have a point to make. Smile at the end. If you are kind and friendly, the audience will forgive all kinds of things. You don't have to be young, gorgeous, or a celebrity. Believe me, I'm none of those things. Friendly and caring will win the day.

Now tell me, what kind of underwear are you wearing?

Thursday, October 10, 2013

There Is A Season For Everything

My favorite time of the year is summer. I love seeing the sun every day. I love the warmth. I love
the color of summer. I love unbundling – this is not a word, but I'm using it anyway – and wearing pants that come just below my knees, instead of down to my ankles. But then along comes September. Kids go back to school. The stores fill up with school supplies. Who can resist stocking up? Not me. And inside I begin to get ready for fall and winter as I slowly back into my winter cave.

This year, here's what my winter cave looks like. I've talked about the ugly day job until I'm sick of hearing the words come out of my mouth, so not going there, but there's been an interesting development at the cave on Surface Road. Most days, before starting work, I go to this little coffee shop, called appropriately enough, The Grind. It opens at 6:00am. If I get there by 6:30, I can write for an hour before starting work. It's fun, and productive, and the same people hang out there every morning.

October will be taken up with a class on plotting. It's called, Quilting 101: Patchworking the Perfect Plot (Even if You're a Pantser). The class is taught by Suzanne Johnson. It's very exciting. I'll be working on two projects: Dragon's Keeper, and for lack of a better title, And Then There Were Three. It might be I'll look at a third project, Her Frog Prince. That would give me a lot to work on this winter season.

November is National Novel Writing Month. Writers from around the world take the month off from their everyday lives, and as best they can, write 50K words on a project they'll then spend the rest of the winter sorting out. It's a challenge, but a lot of published books come out of NaNoWriMo. For me, it'll be a great segue into December and January, when my dream is to forget the world, and spend the deepest months of winter, in my cave, writing my heart out.

How are you going to spend this winter season?

You can follow Susan Lute, author of Dragon's Thief and Falling For A Hero, The Anthology, on Facebook, Goodreads, Pinterest, and her newest home on the web, Crazy Hair Publishing.

Thursday, October 3, 2013

Coffee: My Magic Elixir

As of today it’s been two months since I gave up my morning coffee. And even though I haven’t declared myself 100% caffeine free, breaking from my morning habit of decades has been both a hellish and exhilarating.

I never thought I could live without coffee. My first-ever cup of the stuff was at Dairy Queen. Fourteen-years old and desperate to appear more grown up, I hated the taste. Yet I clearly remember the fireworks that went off in my brain as I sipped the hot liquid. I was hooked.

For a short time – a month – I gave up coffee while I worked swing shifts. By swing shifts, I mean 90% graveyard shifts. Luckily, I moved, found another job,  and plugged the coffee pot back in. 

But this summer I had a health concern. As it turns out, coffee has been linked to fibroid tumors.  Given the chance to turn a corner health-wise I figured this was my best option. Total detox.  Beginning with coffee, which I knew I was drinking too much of anyway.  

The new morning routine around is all about decaf tea, and once in a while a an afternoon cup of Teecchino, an herbal “coffee” which isn’t really coffee at all. I miss real coffee.  I don’t crave it like I used to, but as a compromise, I’ve decided two cups of coffee a month – one every two weeks, is acceptable.  A reward for finishing a project, reaching a writing goal… or just celebrating a new haircut.  On those days you’ll find me at Pete’s coffee, savoring every delightful sip of life’s magical elixir called COFFEE. 

Got a vice you can’t give up? Or one that you’ve given up? 
Jamie Brazil is the co-author of The Mayan Sisterhood, currently a FREE download on KOBO. You can find her at