Tag Archives: Exploration

Writing Forts

Nothing screams “summer blog post” more than a hulking, stone fort, am I right? Suuure. I can see the heads shaking. What you’re probably asking yourselves is: What does a fort have to do with writing? Well, let me tell you about that.

I’m always on the hunt for relevant writing-life ideas to blog about, things both useful and personal. I hope you learn something fun and different after reading my posts, that you engage in your own writing or reading in a new way, become inspired to change something in your writing repertoire or habits. See things from a fresh perspective.

So to find ideas, I check out the holiday calendars to see what’s going on, I read other author blogs (check out this list for some cool ones, but be warned, some links are out of date), I review Writer’s Digest and other online sources for inspiration.

And sometimes I simply walk outside and see what my imagination fires up. In the case of this month’s post, “Writing Forts,” my inspiration was two-fold: calendar spark and walkabout spark.

One of the many things I love about St. Augustine is its history. One big chunk of that history is the Castillo de San Marcos, a National Park, located at the northeastern edge of historic downtown. With July named as National Park and Recreation Month (the calendar spark), and me so enamored of this massive fortress—also a designated National Monument—I knew I had to blog about it.

Which leads me to spark number two, the walkabout. Because I’m fortunate to have this historic fort in my backyard, I’m free to wander the grounds for inspiration whenever I’m able to go downtown (and able to find parking).

Water in the moat of the Castillo de San Marcos
The Castillo at night, with visitors.
Canon fire at the Castillo

Those of you who’ve read my previous posts know how much I love being outdoors, love Florida’s warm, mostly sunny weather. I carry my notebook everywhere, and I love writing longhand outside. Weather permitting, naturally, but also in the rain. As long as I’m covered and my notebook is dry, I’m good.

Sometimes, writing in the rain is actually better, depending on the scene. A moody, rainy day can be perfect for stalking, murder, surprise attack, even simply an eerie feeling or two. I think you get my point. Writing outside or somehow exposed to the elements, exposed to the ambience of a historic space, imbues my writing with a vitality I can’t always capture when sitting at my computer behind a desk and gazing through the window. Kinda like life, you know. Sometimes you have to stop reading and writing about it and go out and live it.

Now, about this fabulous fort. I’m intrigued by history (I’m not a buff, mind you, but forever learning). Those of you who’ve read Emerald Obsession know that while it’s a contemporary mystery, it has its roots in history. The Castillo has survived over 300 years as the oldest masonry fortress in the United States.

Rambling over the fort grounds, reading the educational material the park rangers offer, climbing stone steps to look over the Matanzas River and all the way to the Atlantic Ocean, steeping myself in the environment and knowledge of its age brings the fort’s history to life, helps me imagine what living there centuries ago could’ve been like.

Being able to experience such a unique piece of history firsthand is extraordinary. When I walk through historic places, I feel the weight of time surround me. I feel the lives and deaths of those who passed that way before me. A quiet settles in, respectful and deep. I knew the fort would find its way into my writing somewhere, somehow.

And here’s where I get to tease a little info about Treasure Bound, Book Two in my Found Mystery Series. I’m so excited. This story follows up Emerald Obsession to continue Lexy and Jack’s treasure hunt, and part of the story takes place in St. Augustine. Surprise, there’s also a scene or two set at the fort. Hope I do it justice.

To learn more about the Castillo de San Marcos, click here. It’s one of my favorite places in St. Augustine. And don’t forget to take your writing outside! You may not have a fort at your disposal, but any outdoor spot will offer a new angle and enliven your writing.

As ever, to weigh in on this or any of my posts, please share, share, share in the comments section, or on social media. You can find me in all the usual places. Thanks again. : )

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Stability in a Whirlwind

I’m not one of those bloggers who writes articles in advance and has a stash ready to go at a moment’s notice, aided into the etherworld with the assistance of some tech-savvy social-media-managing app like Hootsuite. I’m one of those think-of-an-idea-then-write-it-when-I-make-time bloggers. Which is why—when generalized mayhem strikes as it did this lovely month of March (some good, some bad)—I found myself ill-prepared to post either of my two blogs-to-be this month.

Well, sort of, since—if luck/determination/the internet all cooperate with me—this post will hopefully go live on my website on March 31. Thereby letting me say at least one of my March blogs posted this month.

I’ve mentioned before how blogging doesn’t come easily to me, but that I enjoy it for the most part (best of all when I feel I have something fun and/or useful to share). But I like to take time to think over what I’m blogging about, make sure I feel it’s relevant to my readers.

So, why did I choose to add yet another serving to my already-full plate? Because that’s exactly what I’ve done.

In the form of starting a new part-time job in February. Man alive, I’m still shaking my head at myself, wondering whether adding such time-consuming madness to my life was smart to do.

So here I am, one(ish) month later, and going strong. For the most part. I’ll share a little bit about the decision without naming names because I’m still in the trial phase as far as I’m concerned.

Friends and readers, you know I like to learn new things. Pretty much all the time. So when I heard of the opportunity of a part-time job at a company I like, whose products I use often, and where I stood to learn a great deal about subjects of interest to me, I jumped. And by that I mean I applied, talked things over with my hub, aced the interview and was hired in a matter of a few days. Hello, whirlwind.

Whirlwind!

There are other layers of logic to my decision besides wanting to learn, though, not the least of which is dropping a few extra bucks in the bank. Having worked from home for the past four years, I also looked forward to a different job environment and new people. And I relished the idea of committing to a real schedule again, something that often proves difficult to maintain in the home-office world.

And that, dear readers, is proving the most challenging part of this. I enjoy the job, all that I’m learning, the people (most of them, let’s be honest), the environment. But the schedule … that leaves much to be desired. To say it’s random is an understatement. Erratic and changeable are better words by far.

Which leaves me with a potential problem. Those who follow my blogs and Facebook and Twitter posts know I’m struggling to complete the sequel to Emerald Obsession. I’m near the end of writing the first draft of Treasure Bound, but after that I have months of editing and other work.

Well, I’m someone who often reacts better to exterior deadlines than self-induced ones. My thought process behind starting a new part-time job included the belief a more structured daily routine would benefit my writing; it would super-charge my daily habits and keep my writing time regimented and productive.

Sadly, I’m not sure that’ll prove true. Though I’m game to keep working for a while longer. Five weeks isn’t enough time for me to feel I’ve gotten the entire job/schedule picture, so I’ll continue to test the waters. But I fear the inconsistent nature of the company’s scheduling, which I wasn’t clear on at the onset, won’t jive with what I need from a part-time job right now.

Either way, readers and friends, I’ll keep you posted on how things go. March had so many other things happening concurrent with starting the new job that maybe April will bring a settling down to life.

Either way, I’m a blessed person. My mom just left after a fun visit, today would’ve been Fodda’s 86th birthday; the sun shines bright in the morning sky, the hub smiles and things are right in my world. I hope they are in yours, too. Keep on, right? I’ll just keep on, keeping on. See you again soon.

Mellow rocks
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Is a Writers Conference Right For You?

Each September for the past nine years, St. Augustine, Florida, has hosted the Florida Heritage Book Festival and Writers Conference. Since I’m fortunate to have my lovely, artistic town present this writers conference and book fair, I do my best to attend. I’ve made it two out of my three years here (couldn’t last year, as the hub and I were full-on into our house renos).

Let me give a quickie explanation: The FHBF is both a writers conference and a celebration of books and authors Floridian. It’s organized around critique sessions on Thursday, a full day of conference workshops and lectures on Friday and a series of author talks on Saturday.

I decided to attend only the Friday conference this time around. My Saturday was full-up with another FWA meeting (great tips and tools for writing press releases, courtesy of Nancy Quatrano) and more house-y everything. Yep, one year later, and we’re still finishing the renos. You know, those whole-house remodels really take some time when you’re not working on them full-time. Here’s hoping we’re done before next September. : )

As many of you know, when I’m not renovating, I’m writing my second adventure-mystery novel, the sequel to Emerald Obsession. I’ve been struggling with it here and there. Partly from a time perspective, partly from an exhaustion perspective, partly from a distracted-creative-brain perspective. I think many of you can relate; we all have things we like, want or need to do, but we don’t necessarily have the bandwidth or energy to do them (or do them well). At least, not as much as we’d like to. The rest of life often disrupts our best intentions: family, work, home, friends … all grab and hold our attention, stealing it from our other endeavors.

Well, that’s where a writers conference can help. I’ve mentioned on a number of occasions how incredibly helpful my critique group is. Well, picture a writers conference as a critique group on crack. Super-charged and offering valuable advice and information.

FHBF Sign
FHBF Sign

This year’s FHBF conference offerings resonated with me, and I knew attending would fire my imagination and rev up my commitment to writing. Several sessions were geared toward: scene development, plot building, and characterization, as well as writing strategies and book marketing. Two presenters I enjoyed for their engaging, entertaining and truly informative presentations were Roy Peter Clark and John Dufresne. So glad I heard them, but sorry I couldn’t make the concurrent sessions. So many workshops, so little time. ; )

So, is a writers conference for you? Obviously, I can’t make up your mind, but hopefully these few items in a “pro” list will help you decide in favor of attending:

  • You’ll learn so much on a wide range of writing topics. The whole idea of a conference is to share ideas and knowledge. You want to be a better writer? A single conference can cover a huge spectrum of information; it’s like one-stop-shopping on both the craft and business of writing. Fabulous!
  • You’ll meet lots of people with the same interests, so networking and sharing ideas can happen almost automatically, even for introverted writer-folks such as we may be.
  • Being with other artists can energize and inspire you and your writing. Plain and simple.
  • The experience of a new place can provide excellent writing material. And even a familiar location can come alive when you view it with a new perspective.
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Stairway at Markland House, where sessions were held.
One of the classrooms; caveat, this photo is from a previous conference.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

No surprise, there are more factors to consider when deciding. Two important points are location and cost. But something to keep in mind is there are many conferences of varying sizes and across hundreds of locations for you to choose from. You may even find free workshops or seminars to get you started. By the way, don’t forget to talk to your accountant, because you may be able to write off your conference expenses.

Here’re three good conference listings to get you started: http://writing.shawguides.com/ and http://thewritelife.com/28-fantastic-writers-conferences-authors-bloggers-freelancers/ and https://www.awpwriter.org/wcc/directory_conferences_centers. But be sure to google for yourself, especially based on the type of writing you do. And don’t forget to check your local library for info.

Another big thing to consider is what each conference offers. Most present a broad variety of activities to participate in, but among the usual suspects are: focused lectures, keynote speakers, workshops, critique sessions, agent and/or editor appointments, discussion panels, author signings, writing prompt activities and pitch sessions.

With so much fun and thought-provoking stuff going on, you’ll wish you could attend every conference. : )

How about you, friends and readers; have you been to a writers conference? If so, which one(s) and what was your favorite takeaway? : ) Please share your experiences in the comment section. I’m looking forward to hearing what you’ve found helpful.

Thanks for hanging, and don’t forget tell your friends about my website, so they can sign up for my newsletter and read all the latest. See you again soon!

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6 Easy Travel Activities to Enliven Your Writing

August is a popular time to travel, and the hub and I jumped on the bandwagon this month. Our recent trip to see family and friends in NYC allowed us to revisit old haunts and try new ones on for size.

Freedom Tower and Empire views from the SI Ferry
Freedom Tower and Empire views from the SI Ferry

The trip prompted me to write this post about my version of travel writing.  : )

I love to travel. It’s one of my favorite things, right up there with eating, sleeping, reading, writing … you get the idea. The thing is, travel is an incredible learning experience. It gives you the opportunity to discover so much about other places, other people and cultures, other ways of life. And you can learn a great deal about yourself along the way, too. Bonus.

On top of those—in my opinion, fabulous—reasons to traipse the globe, there’s another. If you’re a writer like me, when you return from your adventures, you have the incredible opportunity to share them through words. Which is one of the reasons I call the books I write “adventure mysteries.”

I love incorporating elements of travel, food, people into my stories to add character and depth to the tales. To add a greater level of intrigue and excitement a reader might otherwise not get, or expect to get, from a book.

In my first novel, Emerald Obsession, Lexy explores a Bahamian island, Eleuthera, then returns to Manhattan to solve the mystery of cursed pirate jewels. How fun for me that my vacation in the Bahamas sparked an entire novel. Of course, when you see photos from my stay, you’ll understand the inspiration. Check out this picture, then click the link to my Photographs page for more.

Eleuthera Sunset 2
Eleuthera Sunset

I’m continuing the trend with my second book—still called TB for now—which is set in a couple of fun places, namely the Turks and Caicos and St. Augustine, Florida (shocker, right?). Wait till you read it! ; )

In the meantime, have a look at these six tips for bringing travel to life in your writing.

1—Take lots of photos. They capture the essence of a place, a people, and will refresh your memories and evoke the emotions you experienced while traveling. Besides, you already carry your smart phone, right? So snap away. ; )

2—Keep a travel journal. I find this easiest when I journey solo, but even noting in your cell where you went and when is a good tool for setting scenes, recalling distances and understanding time. Jot down relevant details and pull them out later for a dose of believability.

3—Become a temporary locavore. By far my favorite. Eat, eat, eat and savor the unique flavors and spices, colors and scents of the regional food or cooking style. Use them to saturate your stories with local authenticity.

4—Meet the locals. When possible, have a resident show you around their hometown. Who better to give the inside scoop on all the fabulous particulars of a place than someone who lives there?

5—Stop by specialty events and places; do things you can’t elsewhere. Walk the High Line, a park built on a section of elevated former rail line on Manhattan’s west side. Take in a free beach-side rock concert. Unique experiences are everywhere.

6—Track your journeys on a map, either digitally or old-school-wise on paper. Use your cell’s GPS to get up close with where you’ve been, or stick pins into your wall map to plot your journeys for a great overview.

Brunch
Brooklyn-born brunch
Ferrara
Ferrara’s, Little Italy

 

Night skyline
Night skyline
Ft W
Fort Wadsworth and the Verrazano-Narrows Bridge

And here’s an extra tip for when you can’t get there in person: use Google maps and zoom in to the street view to get a feel for a place. A note of caution: though maps are accurate, the street-view photos can be out-of-date, so double-check your findings with a second or third source. Try Trip Advisor. So many travelers there, happy to share their favorite, current photos. Have fun with your online journey, too.

Now that you’ve heard my tips for using travel to enliven your writing, please tell me about your experiences. What’s your favorite destination? Or your favorite thing to do while visiting a new place or an old fave? And always a good question: where are you going next? More than half the fun is in the planning and anticipation, right? : ) Share your thoughts in the comment section. I can’t wait for some new travel ideas.

Please tell your friends about my website so they can sign up for my newsletter to read all the latest. And stay tuned for more travel adventures!!

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What Are You Reading?

People often ask what I’m reading. Who my favorite authors are, what topics I like to read about. Unequivocally, I love reading mysteries, because I love solving puzzles, unravelling riddles. My love of mysteries started young and hasn’t stopped. And I suspect that won’t change any time soon.

But that aside, I enjoy reading other works by a variety of authors. Experts say (and I agree), reading in quantity and breadth will improve your writing. Since I’m all for refining my skills, I read as much as I can.

The month of May opened with two cool celebrations, Children’s Book Week and Teacher Appreciation Week. Stories in the news and online made me think of my childhood reading habits and how they affected where I’m at today.

I don’t remember a time when books didn’t surround me. Thank goodness. My mom and dad read me so many wonderful stories: Francis the Bear, Curious George, Just So Stories. And my dad made up incredible tales of his own. He captivated my brothers and me with sagas of The Land of the Kingdom of The Land of the Kingdom of Wuff, fruit that fell upwards off trees, tse-tse bushes and elves. I remember we’d beg him every night to tell us more about his make-believe world.

First my parents and later my teachers helped grow my love of reading, learning, adventure. Sure, as a kid I had my moments, but then—and now—I put my nose in a book when I want to learn something new, experience a new location or solve the mysteries of someone’s life.

What began as a child’s obsession—I fell in love with the Nancy Drew mysteries (with a penname of Carolyn Keene, how could I not?)—continued as a young adult’s, then a grown woman’s. After I tore through those teen adventures, I moved on to Grandma’s Agatha Christie and Ellery Queen novels. Hooked from the start, it seems.

Don’t get me wrong. I don’t believe reading is a substitute for living; it simply opens up worlds I might otherwise not experience first-hand. Reading is a door to new discoveries. In many instances, though, I learned how to do new things, then I went out and did them. Now in writing about those experiences, I can share my adventures and maybe encourage someone else to explore.

Take Emerald Obsession. Six years ago, I found myself in dire need of a relaxing vacation. I’d read about one of the Bahamian Out Islands, Eleuthera, and decided that would fit the bill. Did it ever! It remains one of the most beautiful places I’ve ever visited. And its beauty, culture and vibe inspired me to write Emerald Obsession, which became my first published mystery novel. Talk about freakin’ cool.

Eleuthera Sunset
Eleuthera Sunset
Sharks in Eleuthera
Sharks in Eleuthera

I’m in the throes of writing Book 2 in the Found Mystery Series. I’m calling it TB for now. This, too, is partly set in the Caribbean, and all I can say is the more research I do, the more I’m jonesing to travel again. I can’t wait!

So, before I sign off and head back to the Turks and Caicos with TB, I’d like to leave you with two thoughts.

First, a couple of my favorite* reads: And Then There Were None, Agatha Christie. Rebecca, Daphne du Maurier. The Murders in the Rue Morgue, Edgar Allan Poe. Everything written by Michael Crichton. Along Came a Spider, James Patterson. Ice Cold, Tess Gerritsen.

(*Hard to say “favorite,” because I have so damn many.)

Second, this weekend marks the celebration of Memorial Day, the unofficial start of summer here in the States. For many folks, this translates into the first weekend to laze on the beach with a good book. However, Memorial Day is also a time to reflect on the lost lives of the service men and women who fought for our country’s freedom. Whatever your beliefs, men and women died fighting for us and our country, and I respect and am grateful for their service.

I wish you all happy and enjoyable weekends. And please consider sharing your favorite books and what you’re reading now in the comment section below. I always appreciate suggestions for new reads. : )

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