Friday’s Fun Find: We Have a Winner!

2014-08-12 15.16.02Libby often joins me when I’m reading on the deck and I thought I’d let her pick the winner of There’s a Hamster in My Dashboard by David W. Berner. Wouldn’t that just be cute as a button?

But Libs (formerly known as The Tiny Terror) hasn’t quite got going this morning. Not to put too fine a point on it, but Libs is scrunched under her covers, snoozing away. And lest you think that I’m just being a meanypants, let me say that it’s 10:15 here, people.


And so Libs (now known as Lazy Bones) did not draw a name. I had to rely on who (that?) fortunately is always awake and rarin’ to go. And so this terrific book of essays goes to…Kidlit Gail!

I am thrilled that Gail won this book as she just recently got a pet of her own, a beautiful black lab known as Pippi. But that’s another story, friends, and maybe someday, Gail will write it for us!

A Labyrinth, A Writing Tip, and Cathy-on-a-Stick

So…the writing retreat in Alabama at the convent. I thought I was going to take all sorts of pictures because, really, it was lovely out there. And I thought I’d gather all sorts of writing revelations to share with you.

The convent grounds included a labyrinth and I am fascinated by labyrinths so I dashed back to my room for camera and Cathy-on-a-Stick:

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Unfortunately, I remembered too late that I’d dropped this particular camera and broken the zoom so it’s a little difficult to see Cathy-on-a-Stick but she’s there, leaning against a brick. I’d like to say that she and I walked the labyrinth but as it was 212 degrees in the shade, I determined to come back later for a walkabout.

And then I saw this stand with ribbons:

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A friend and I talked and decided that they were prayer ribbons, meant to be carried as one walked through the labyrinth, meditating and praying. I like the idea of prayer ribbons–they remind me of the Buddhist prayer flags–and perhaps you’ve come across them in your town or travels. (You can read about one such place here, at Spiritual Travels.) The ribbon helps one to focus (as well as the twists and turns of the labyrinth) and several writers said they walked the labyrinth, focusing on a story problem, hoping for a solution.

Freeing your mind by concentrating on a simple task–like walking a path or washing your hair–often releases creativity. I’m a strong believer in showers (or a long bath) to get a story unstuck and I’ll bet you have a favorite go-to to get unstuck, even if you’re not aware of it. Washing dishes, maybe, or working in a garden, walking a treadmill or cleaning a tub. The routine of the task doesn’t require a lot of focus and so your mind can wander and explore. Try doing something dull and tedious the next time your plot gets into a rut and watch how you dig yourself out with a brilliant idea!

As for me and my brilliant ideas–um…those are the only pictures I took. And that’s pretty much my only writing revelation. But it’s a good one, right? (Cathy-on-a-Stick thought I made a couple good points.)

(P.S. Last chance to be included in the giveaway of There’s a Hamster in My Dashboard by David Berner. Zip over to this post and leave a comment!)

Did I Tell You The One About…?

2009-06-16 10.50.44Shoot! I cooked something up at The Muffin and I completely forgot to mention it last week!

I’m blaming it on the heat, or the summer lazy thing, or the hours on the road, or the beach or the convent in Alabama–I’ll let you pick the excuse you like best–but I hope you’ll take a moment to see how you can get a writing retreat in, even if you’re stuck at home with the kids and the heat and…

Come to think of it, with the crazy heat and the pop-up thunderstorms, maybe it’s the perfect time to plan a writing retreat. You can be nice and cool and productive and you don’t even have to spend any money. You just need to throw a couple ingredients together and start writing!

Oh, d’oh. I almost forgot the post! It’s “Recipe for a Winning Writing Retreat (Serves One to Twenty). Lots of yummy stuff, and if you have a minute, let me know what you’re working on this summer and we’ll all cheer you on!

Assuming the heat and such hasn’t melted you yet.

And you can remember it.

(And P.S. Don’t forget to sign up for the giveaway of There’s a Hamster in My Dashboard over at this post. Gee, I sure hope I remember to draw that name. And tell you about it. Maybe somebody holler at me if I do?)

There’s a Hamster in the Dashboard (And a Bit of Writing Advice, too)

dog coverI’m so happy to have David Berner here today, along with his charming book of essays, There’s a Hamster in the Dashboard (A Life in Pets). Every essay is a charmer, for sure, but I’ll sappily admit that he had me from the very first story he told, about his boyhood pet, Sally. Because as many of you who’ve followed me for years know, Sally the Crazy Dog was Youngest Junior Hall’s pet, and even though it’s been three years, there are moments when I forget and think Sally is under my desk.

As I read about dogs and cats and a squirrel and even ants, I remembered all the pets who’ve padded through my life, and my children’s lives: Albert the cat and Sally, Fluffo the rabbit, Hermie the hermit crab, and even the not-named-but-still-pet horny toads (that’s what we called the horned lizards we found in our yard in Texas).

It was nice to remember some of my best friends, and I loved hearing about David Berner’s friends; I loved his voice as well as his viewpoint. And when he sent me some writing words of wisdom to share with my readers, I loved that, too. (And I kinda needed some of that discipline, here in the middle of the summer. Bet you could use a little, too!):

Here’s the thing about wanting to be a writer…you have to write.

There is no way around it.

You want to eventually run a marathon, a 5K, or just jog around the block? You have to train for it; get up and do it. So you run. A lot. You want to play better golf? You have to play the holes and go to the range and you have to do it often. You want to lose weight, get in shape? You have to workout and you have to do it on a regular basis, even when you don’t feel like it.

David Berner

It’s the same with writing. There is no muse to wait for, no inspirational moment that hurls you into the work. It’s hard. And just like your day job, sometimes it’s tolerable, sometimes it’s arduous, sometimes it’s a very nice experience. And if you’re lucky, sometimes it’s utter joy.

“There is nothing to writing,” Ernest Hemingway said. “All you do is sit down at a typewriter and bleed.”

That may be hyperbole. Let’s put things in perspective. Writing is not digging ditches, not physically. But maybe it is metaphorically and emotionally. You are digging holes to find your best words, your best narrative, and to find the time.

So, how do you find time?

Just like running, golfing, or working out, you have to make the time. There is no mystery. Get up an hour earlier each day. Got to bed an hour later. Write during your lunch break. Write while you wait for the commuter train, while you wait at the doctor’s office, while your children are on a play date. Keep a notebook and write when something interesting comes into your head, when you overhear an attention-grabbing conversation. Write it down. All of it.

I have a friend who wrote an entire novel on small slips of paper he kept in his shirt pocket. Little by little, when he had five or ten minutes, he would write. When he had hundreds of those pieces of paper, he organized them on his laptop into a story, a full-length book. It took a long time, but he did it, inch-by-inch.

I wrote the personal essays in my latest book—There’s a Hamster in the Dashboard: A Life in Pets—one small story/chapter at a time. I squeaked out an hour over a weekend, week after week, until a draft was complete. Any Road Will Take You There, my memoir of a father-son road trip was written on consecutive Sunday mornings for more than a year. A couple of hours just as the sun came up. I was lucky enough to finish the manuscript as a Writer-in-Residence at the Jack Kerouac House in Orlando. But you don’t need that opportunity. It’s nice, certainly. A luxury. But writing it still about finding the time and sticking to it.

You have kids? A spouse? A job? Still, find a sliver of time that is yours. Tell your family that during that one hour, you will be locked inside your room with a laptop and unless the house is on fire, do not bother me. This is YOUR time. They may moan or complain, but they’ll get used to it. And when you have some tremendous stories to share, they will be amazed, proud. They will envy your discipline. My first book—Accidental Lessons—about a year teaching in a troubled Chicago-area school district was written when my children were young. But I got up before six o’clock on Saturdays and wrote for an hour or two until I heard the tapping on the door and the whisper, “Dad, are you up?”

There is no secret formula for finding the time to write. You just have to decide if you are willing to make the sacrifices. For me, it was worth it. And if you are one of those writers who feels you must write, that you don’t feel complete unless you put words on paper, then certainly find your little moments in your busy day and write, write, write.

So here’s the official book summary if I haven’t sold you yet:

A book of essays by award-winning author and journalist David W. Berner is the next best thing to storytelling around a bonfire. In There’s a Hamster in the Dashboard, Berner shares stories of “a life in pets”—from a collie that herds Berner home when the author goes “streaking” through the neighborhood as a two-year-old, to a father crying in front of his son for the only time in his life while burying the family dog on the Fourth of July. And from the ant farm that seems like a great learning experience (until the ants learn how to escape), to the hamster that sets out on its own road trip (but only gets as far as the dashboard). Along the way, Berner shows that pets not only connect us with the animal world, but also with each other and with ourselves. The result is a collection of essays that is insightful and humorous, entertaining and touching.

And here’s where you can pick up your own copy of There’s a Hamster in the Dashboard:

Print or Ebook: Amazon

Print copy only: Dream of Things

But I’ve got a surprise for all of you who’ve read all the way to here: I’m giving away my copy of There’s a Hamster in the Dashboard! If you leave me a comment about one of your pets, I’ll enter you in the drawing (You must be a continental US reader). And if you share about the book on Twitter (#HamsterDash), I’ll add another entry for you. In fact, if you mention David and his book anywhere, I’ll give you another entry. Just let me know where you shared. I’ll keep the drawing open till Thursday and post the winner on the last day of July for Friday’s Fun Find.

‘Cause really, y’all, I found a true gem when I opened There’s a Hamster in the Dashboard (My Life in Pets).

Five Questions With Debut Romance Author, Lisa Ricard Claro

LBTL-Final-188x300On Tuesdays, I usually toot my horn for Cathy C. Hall but not this Tuesday. This Tuesday, I’m celebrating my friend and debut romance author, Lisa Ricard Claro!

(Honestly, I wanted to put at least ten more exclamation points there, but that might embarrass Lovely Lisa.)

Lisa has written Love Built To Last and…you know what? I’m going to just zip over and grab my review from Goodreads for you ’cause a. I kinda like my review, and b. it sums up the novel nicely!

Another man might be put off to find that a pretty, young widow believes her dead husband still communicates with her. But not Caleb Walker, the handsome and hunky carpenter that Maddie Kinkaid hires to renovate her kitchen. He’s a widow, too, and though he’s protective of his son, he’s not quite able to protect his heart from Maddie’s charms. But Maddie’s torn between the new feelings stirred up by Caleb and the comfortable feelings she carries still for Jack, the man she lost. And just when Maddie thinks this new romance might work out, catastrophe strikes. Is Maddie’s dead husband, Jack, keeping them apart?

Or is it Maddie?

In Lisa Ricard Claro’s debut romance, LOVE BUILT TO LAST, the author deftly crafts a sweetly Southern story of holding on and letting go. And you’ll want to hold on to Maddie and Caleb, plus the whole cast of characters, including the charming rescue pooch, Pirate, long after the last page. (Good thing it’s the first in the Fireflies series!)

And now, on to the five questions! (Don’t worry, there are no spoilers, just juicy tidbits and writerly tips!)

I know that LOVE BUILT TO LAST was originally a short story—a story that garnered a first place award!—but still. How did you take 2,000 words and grow them into a 90,000 word novel?

First, thank you for inviting me to your blog!

You know how your best ideas come to you in the shower, Cath? For me, it’s immediately upon waking. I’m an early riser—4:00-5:00 a.m. whether I want to or not. I’ve found that after I wake up, if I snuggle back down and think about my stories and characters, the ideas roll freely. Whole scenes and dialogue play like a movie. One scene leads to another and the next thing I know I’ve got some great key scenes, and I’m ready to outline and flesh it all out. My only complaint is that sometimes I’ll play out great dialogue in my head, but then I can’t remember it later. *sigh*

(Well, duh, it’s FIVE IN THE MORNING, LISA.)

So, one of the bigger plot points revolves around your female protagonist’s belief that her dead husband communicates with her. Is this mostly fictional, or do you believe that loved ones will always find a way to communicate with us?

Both. I do believe that our loved ones don’t completely leave us. I want to believe that they will communicate with us if they can, though I’ve never experienced it myself. I wrote a blog post about this recently, and a few commenters mentioned dreams. I hadn’t really thought of dreams as being part of that communication, but after thinking about it, I have had some dreams involving my parents that I’d like to believe were gentle visits.

In Love Built to Last, as in the two books that follow, I carried that element through as part of the theme. In each case I tried to present it in such a way that it is left up to the reader to decide if Jack—the deceased—is really communicating, or if it’s wishful thinking by the characters. I’ve asked a few readers what their take was, and the split is about 50/50.

Lisa-Ricard-Claro-pic-2sm-247x300You also have a rescue animal (I love Pirate!) that plays a major role in the story. Did it just happen as you wrote the story or did your own love of animals guarantee that you’d somehow get a rescue in there?

I have a huge heart for rescues and animal companions are natural characters in my world. I believe that in fiction, as in life, you can tell a lot about people/characters by how they treat animals. So, yes, I made the decision to incorporate rescued pets in every book. In Love Built to Last, the rescue of the mutt, Pirate, figures prominently, but in the third book, Love to Win, Pavarotti the cat is already in his forever home. His rescue is mentioned, but only as backstory.

Your three-book series is with Black Opal Books. Can you share a little about this publisher and how you came to connect with them?

I learned about Black Opal Books on the RWA (Romance Writers of America) PRO forum. Black Opal is a small publisher, has been around about seven years. Before signing with them I contacted a number of authors who had published with them—a few who were in the midst of working with them, and a few who had published books with them but had moved on to other publishers. In all instances I received only positive feedback. Now that they’ve published my first book and I’ve been through the process with them from start to finish, I can honestly say they’ve been professional, cooperative, and quick to respond to questions and/or concerns.

Thanks for the insider info, Lisa! Speaking of those three books, I’m sure it was a challenge to get your first contract and end up with a series! How have you managed this challenge, and would you do things differently next time around?

To say I was surprised to be offered a three book contract is an understatement. In many ways it took the pressure off. Even though I was then committed to writing two more books in relatively quick succession, I felt a certain freedom with them. I didn’t have to worry and wonder if I would ever be published again. I knew going in that these three books had found a publishing home, and I could focus on the writing without stressing over the query/submission aspect.

As far as what I’d do differently, that’s an easy question to answer. I’d spend less time stressing and more time enjoying the process. When book two releases this fall, and then book three in early 2016, I’m not going to worry about things I can’t control. Instead, I will open a nice bottle of wine and celebrate!

(And I, as one of your closest and dearest friends, will join you. Um…you might need one of those BIG bottles.)

Big thank you to Lisa for sharing all her writer wisdom and behind-the-scenes info! Now, often, I give away books I’ve read. But I’m sorry, y’all, I can’t give away Lisa’s book. It’s on my Friends-Who’ve-Written-Books Shelf, and it’s waiting to be signed. But I know where you can get your own swell copy of Love Built to Last!

To purchase your copy of Love Built to Last in eBook or print, go to AmazonBarnes & NobleBlack Opal BooksKobo, or AllRomance.

I hear that romance is good for your heart, and it sure makes my heart feel pretty darn good to see Lisa Ricard Claro’s book out there. And honestly, you’re going to love her book, too!!! (So I added a few more exclamation points–Lisa’s probably blushing, but I’m okay with that.)