Tuesday, August 30, 2011

In Your Dreams?

Have you ever come up with a story plot through a dream? I did today, and I'm kind of hoping I'm not insane for pursuing it. But ever since I woke up this morning, this idea has been bouncing around in my head, and I feel like I have to run with it.

I've mentioned before that I have been in a bit of a slump all summer, and I can't seem to get anywhere on my WIP. But this dream has given me a burst of inspiration for the story, and in fact has made me change it a great deal. I'm still keeping my main character, and I still want to write a psychological suspense story, but I'm also adding a paranormal element to it. So I don't know what genre that is, but I do know I'm excited about the novel for the first time in months.

But because I'm a bit confused about genre, I think I have probably signed up for too many groups at the Platform-Building Campaign. I honestly couldn't decide what group would fit me the best, so I just signed up for several. I hope I haven't made a mistake, but I can't deny that I have a bad habit of getting carried away. ;)

On the plus side, being part of a variety of groups will give me a chance to connect with more bloggers, so I hope it will all be for the best.

Thanks to everyone who has already stopped by from the Campaign! I will be making the rounds starting this evening, and look forward to visiting all of your blogs.

Back to the title of this post, please tell me I'm not the only one who has had this kind of inspiration. I can't help but think that this dream was my brain's way of telling me I needed to change my focus. Or, maybe I'm just crazy. :D

Either way, it's nice to feel inspired again. Especially as it comes just in time to hit the Campaign trail. :)

Monday, August 29, 2011

Joining the Campaign at Rach Writes

I initially resisted joining Rachael Harrie's Platform-Building Campaign, as I was afraid I might be biting off more than I could chew, and I didn't want to end up over extending myself. But as I have read more about the Campaign, and seen so many bloggers signing up and sharing their past experiences as Campaigners, I decided that this opportunity was too good to pass up, and I was sure I would regret it if I let the Campaign come and go without giving it my best shot. So, I'm officially in as of today!

I know there's still a chance I am biting off too much, but I had to remind myself that I felt the same way about the April A-Z Challenge when I signed up for that, and the A-Z turned out to be the best blogging experience I have had so far. So I decided to jump into the fray again, and I am really excited to participate and meet more wonderful bloggers.

Between the Campaign, Alex J. Cavanaugh's Insecure Writer's Support Group, and getting my new blog The Pet Parent Diaries up and running, I know I have my work cut out for me over the next few months. But, I have been in such a slump lately that I think this is just what I need to get back into the groove, and regain the focus and energy I lost over the summer months.

So I want to say a huge THANK YOU to Rachael Harrie, and I am looking forward to connecting with my fellow Campaigners!

Friday, August 26, 2011

Flash Fiction Friday: "Miss Mary's House"

I learned about Flash Fiction Friday thanks to Cherie Reich and her #flashfiction tweets. I have to admit, I'm still learning about the ins and outs of Twitter and the use of hashtags, but I'm finding the whole Twitter world more and more addicting. :)

Anyway, I decided to join the party myself, and give Friday Flash a shot. I wrote this story a few months ago, using a first sentence prompt from The Writer's Toolbox, one of my favorite toys. The prompt caught my interest as I found the line so dark and chilling, and I ended up with this story as a result. Hope you like it!

Miss Mary’s House

I put gardenias under her pillow, and then I set fire to her house.

I figured Miss Mary would want to be surrounded by her gardenias. It only seemed right. Nothing in this world meant more to her.

She planted her gardenias every spring and fall, making sure they got just the right amount of sun. She lovingly coaxed the bushes into bloom, and tended to the flowers with the devotion of a mother caring for her newborn. Miss Mary cut the most fragrant blossoms and placed them in glass bowls around her house. Her visitors were always greeted by the sweet scent of gardenias.

Everyone said Miss Mary had the most beautiful gardenias in six counties. Hell, they'd put her garden up against any in the country. Just driving past those flowers could brighten your day. 

Miss Mary played the organ every Sunday at church. She organized the hospitality guild, and she always had a smile for newcomers. She ran the flower guild. The pastor said he was sure the church wouldn't be able to function without Mary. Indeed, they said. We're so lucky to have her.

They rarely talked about me.

When they did, they spoke in hushed tones in the church hall or the grocery store or the teacher's lounge.

“I don't know how Mary puts up with that foster child.”

“Incorrigible, that's what he is.”

“You'd think he'd be grateful she took him in.”

 “A saint, that's what she is.”

I tried to tell the teachers and the social workers about the beatings with a belt. About the cigarette burns, and Miss Mary's laughter as the tip of her cigarette singed my skin. I tried to tell them about the pitch black closet she locked me in for days on end while she drank bourbon until she passed out.  I tried to tell them.

“There you go, making up lies again.” That's what they told me.

Miss Mary always kept me out of school when the bruises were at their worst. She sought guidance from the pastor and the school counselors on what to do about a child who harms himself with cigarettes. She fretted with the church ladies over lunch.

“You're doing all you can,” they said. “The child is lucky to have you.”

Miss Mary sighed and lit a cigarette, her hands trembling from the stress of it all. The church ladies shook their heads and patted Mary's hand.

“There, there. We're all here for you.”

Miss Mary loved her cigarettes. And not just for burning me. As the townspeople put it, smoking was Mary’s only bad habit. They wished she'd stop, for her own good, but surely she deserved this one vice.

When the fire marshal came to our school and talked about fire safety, I didn’t pay him much mind. Until he talked about the leading cause of house fire fatalities. Do you know what that is? Cigarettes.

I walked home after school and looked around at the upholstered furniture in Miss Mary's living room. The fire marshal had said that a lit cigarette can set a couch on fire in the blink of an eye. I glanced at the silk curtains covering the windows behind the couch, and I heard the fire marshal's voice in my mind.

“Silk, cotton... natural fabrics like these are highly flammable.”

That night, I stayed out of Miss Mary's way as she drank herself into a stupor and stumbled upstairs to her bed. I waited until I heard her snoring.

I went outside, and I cut every last one of her beloved gardenias. I scattered them around the first floor before I headed for Miss Mary's bedroom.

I took Miss Mary’s bourbon glass from her hand and placed it on her nightstand.  I arranged the gardenias, making sure to put a few extra under her pillow. My stomach lurched and I nearly vomited as the cloying smell of the flowers mixed with the stench of the alcohol.

I lit one of Miss Mary’s cigarettes, and took a long drag to steady myself. I breathed out the smoke, and dropped the burning cigarette onto the carpet.

I ran back downstairs, cigarettes in hand. I lit another, and tossed it onto the couch cushion. I waited until the upholstery ignited, and I watched as the flames shot up the curtains and spread along the wall to the ceiling.

And then I walked out of that house.

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Favorite Summer Reads Blogfest

It's time for my second blogfest of the week, the Favorite Summer Reads fest, hosted by Cherie at Surrounded by Books.

Since Cherie is hosting this Blogfest to celebrate the first anniversary of her book review blog, Surrounded By Books Reviews, I wanted to say Happy Blogoversary to Cherie before I get to my summer reads choice. Congratulations, Cherie!! :)

Now, to the fest, I couldn't really think of a particular book that I would consider my favorite summer read, so I decided to pick the book series I spent most of this summer reading, the Sookie Stackhouse series by Charlaine Harris.

I first tried reading this series back when I watched the first season of True Blood. Before that, I had never even heard of the books or of Ms. Harris. When I tried to read the first book I didn't care for it at all, and I don't think I even finished it. I quickly gave up on the idea of reading the books.

But this summer I decided to try them again, as I've continued to watch the show and wanted to give the books another shot. I picked up the fourth book in the series, Dead to the World, and started from there. I admit, my primary (okay, maybe only) reason for starting the books again was because I have a great deal of affection for the vampire Eric Northman.

I ended up reading the rest of the series, up to the most recent installment, which is the eleventh, and to me the books were all what I would consider a perfect summer read. Not great literature by any means, but they are fun stories with likeable and quirky characters, and they are quick reads. And, best of all, they have Eric Northman. :D

So that's my summer read. Thanks to Cherie for hosting this fun fest!

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

The Spark Blogfest

Thank you to Christine Tyler at The Writer Coaster for hosting this awesome Sparkfest!

Here are the three prompts Christine provided for the Sparkfest: 

What book made you realize you were doomed to be a writer? 
What author set off that spark of inspiration for your current Work in Progress?
Or, Is there a book or author that changed your world view?

I decided to answer prompt #2, as it is the easiest one for me. The author who set off the spark for my current WIP is Elizabeth George, author of the Thomas Lynley mysteries. 

I started reading the Lynley novels way back in the 90s, and I have loved them from the beginning. I love psychological suspense, and I love mysteries that focus as much on character development as they do on the mystery plot. The best series to me are the ones that take the reader through changes in the protagonist's life as the novels progress, and this is exactly what happens with George's books. 

While the main character in my novel has nothing in common with Lynley beyond the fact that he is also a detective, I was still inspired by Lynley when creating him in my mind. I wanted to write a flawed protagonist who doesn't always have the best judgement, and isn't some kind of Superman who can instantly solve a case without any mistakes. 

My character's name is Danny Fitzpatrick, and he is a Los Angeles detective who is originally from Chicago, but transferred to LA to start a new life after a tragedy in his personal life. While I am in the very early stages of writing about Danny, my dream is to be as prolific as Ms. George has been, and have Danny's life play out in a series just as Lynley's has. 

I know that writing a best-selling series that spans decades is a tall order, but I figure if you're going to dream, you might as well dream big. :D

I recently learned that Ms. George was 40 years old when the first Lynley book was published, and she had a completely different career before she became a success as a writer. This made her even more of an inspiration to me, and there's no doubt I would love to follow in her footsteps.

Thanks again to Christine for this fun Sparkfest, and I'm looking forward to hopping around and reading all the responses! :)

Monday, August 22, 2011

Back from Break, and Rolling Out a Second Blog

I'm really glad to be back from my blogging break, and wanted to send out a huge thank you to everyone who stopped by with good wishes and kind words about my dad. I'm relieved to be able to say that the surgery went well and, in spite of some complications that made for a stressful week, things are now back to normal. Or at least as normal as things can be when caring for elderly parents! Thanks again to all for your good thoughts! :)

Due to last week's circumstances, I've spent a great deal of time lately in hospitals and medical offices. And one thing I have noticed about hospital waiting rooms is that they give you a great deal of time to sit and think. In order to keep my mind off my concerns about my dad, and to block out the shrill sounds of the Today Show on a television that was turned WAY too loud, I used the time to think about my blogging and writing goals, and assess my progress now that I am more than halfway through my first year of blogging.

Ever since I joined the blogosphere and started reading writing-related blogs, I have read continuously about the importance of building your own platform. I was completely confused about this in the beginning, but I think I finally have it figured out. And to help with my own platform, I have decided to start a second blog.

As anyone who has read my blog knows, I am a huge animal lover and my primary interest for non-fiction writing is to write about animal-related issues. In addition, both of my articles that have been accepted for publication this year have focused on animals. And my volunteer writing is for two animal organizations. After much careful thought in the hospital waiting room, it came to me that my platform should focus on animals. As you can see, there's nothing slow on me. ;)

To that end, I have started a pet blog that I am calling The Pet Parent Diaries. I am still going to continue with this blog, as I am very attached to it and would never want to give it up. And, I want to maintain it to focus on my writing goals, and on any other topic that strikes my fancy.

In addition to my platform building goals, my decision to devote a blog to pet parenting is also related to a personal issue of mine. For most of my life, I wanted to be a mother, and when I finally had to come to terms with the fact that parenting was not in the cards for me, it was a painful pill to swallow. But in the spirit of acceptance and focusing on what is instead of mourning what isn't, I have tried to find some humor in the situation, and realize that it may be for the best. The reason for that is because I am such a worry-wart and so neurotic when it comes to caring for my pets, if I had had a human child I probably would have been a basket case before the kid was out of diapers. And when it came to parenting a teenager, I imagine I would have had to make an open-ended reservation for a padded room.

So this new blog is not only a chance for me to join the wonderful community of pet bloggers and establish a pet-related platform, it is also an opportunity for me to poke a bit of fun at myself and my admitted neurosis, and deal with something that was a significant loss in my life. I love to write with a touch of humor, and I find that a little self-deprecation can actually be therapeutic.

I know that managing two blogs will be a challenge, but I feel like it will be a good one for me, as I enjoy blogging so much and have developed such affection for the wonderful bloggers I have met in the blogosphere. I'm excited about the chance to get to know even more, while also keeping up with the great blog buddies I have already met here.

So I am back with bells on, and very anxious to get caught up with all of the blogs I have missed. I'm also looking forward to participating in this week's blogfests, and will post my first entry tomorrow.

Thanks again to everyone for your well wishes about my dad! And to all the animal lovers out there, please stop by and visit me at my new second home, The Pet Parent Diaries. I know that Nate and Clancy would love to see you there. :)

Friday, August 12, 2011

A Celebration of Assistance Dogs, and A Short Blog Break

As I have mentioned before, I blog (and also Tweet) for Circle Tail, the organization that I adopted Clancy from three years ago this month. While I adopted Clancy through Circle Tail's rescue program, their primary focus is on providing assistance dogs to individuals with hearing or mobility-related disabilities. Since this week is International Assistance Dog Week, I couldn't resist giving a little shout-out to this amazing organization and their equally amazing dogs. (Photos are the property of Circle Tail)

I love all of the photos of the dogs on the Circle Tail site, but this one has been my favorite since I first discovered the organization. This is a dog named Coda, and she is apparently very good at helping her partner Marlene with household chores.


This photo never fails to bring a smile to my face. I've told Clancy he really needs to take note, and start earning his keep around our house.

Another photo that is sure to bring a smile is this one, of a dog named Chester who is now retired from service work. He is shown here pushing the elevator button, something his partner was able to do for herself, but Chester was so proud of his ability, he insisted on doing it anyway.


I've always been touched by the bond between humans and animals, but learning about these extraordinary dogs has given me a new appreciation for just how much animals can add to our lives. 

If you're interested in the Circle Tail Assistance Dog program, click here to meet more of the dogs, including the adorable student dogs in training, and to learn all there is to know about the program.  

Also, I will be taking a short blog break next week. My father is having surgery on Monday and, while it is supposedly a simple procedure, there is a risk of complication due to his age. I am hoping for the best, but also preparing for the worst, and assuming I will need to help my parents quite a bit after the surgery. Between this and the upcoming start of the new school year where I work, I know next week is going to be crazy. I am not going to be online much, so I am taking a break from blogging. I am looking forward to being back for the upcoming blogfests, and catching up with all of your blogs then!

I hope everyone has a wonderful weekend ahead! :)

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Three Fun Blogfests, and One Fun Blog Party

I don't know if it's a result of my summer sluggishness, or just laziness in general, but I've been having a terrible time coming up with post topics lately. So I was glad to come upon some fun blogfests, and a great blog party, to give me some inspiration. I thought I would share in case others have not seen these fests and want to participate.

1) First up, The Spark Blogfest at Christine Tyler's The Writer Coaster.

These are the prompts for the Sparkfest:

What book made you realize you were doomed to be a writer? 
What author set off that spark of inspiration for your current Work in Progress?
Or, Is there a book or author that changed your world view?
I love this fest because you only have to answer one of these prompts to participate, and you can post any time over the four day period. In addition, Christine is offering great prizes! So, it sounds perfect to me, and I'm interested in reading the responses of the participants. And in coming up with my own answer, as I'm not even sure at the moment what that will be. 

2) Up next, the Favorite Summer Reads blogfest, hosted by Cherie at Surrounded by Books.

Cherie is hosting the blogfest to celebrate the one year blogoversary of her book review blog Surrounded by Books Reviews.

Here is Cherie's description of the fest:

All you have to do is post on your blog between August 24-27 and tell us what is your favorite summer read. Please post a picture of a book's cover art, a description of the book and why it is your favorite summer read. Then we can hop around and find great books. 
Once again, I love that participants will only have to write one post in a multi-day period, as that is just the right speed for my summer laziness. :D 
And, Cherie is also offering great prize packs to participants! So I'm happy to have the chance to win a great prize, while possibly learning about some great new reads.  
3) To end the summer, Karen Gowen at Coming Down the Mountain is hosting a virtual blog BBQ over the 4-day Labor Day weekend, September 2nd through the 5th. Karen started this tradition last year, and the virtual BBQ was such a success she decided to host another one for 2011. I'm glad, as I wasn't blogging last year and am looking forward to the chance to participate in the fun now. 

This blogfest is very simple, as all you need to do to join in is share a comment with your yummy contribution to the BBQ, and follow at least three other participants. If you want to sign up, stay tuned to Karen's blog for more details. I think it will be fun to say goodbye to summer and welcome fall with my fellow bloggers!

4) Finally, I'm looking forward to Talli Roland's blog party to celebrate the launch of her new book, Watching Willow Watts. Yay, Talli!

Talli is throwing a party on September 14th, the big launch day. To go along with the theme of the book, the party is called "If I Could Be Anyone, I'd Be...."

All you have to do to participate is post a photo of the person you'd choose to be, and your reasons for your choice. Talli is going to share the links to all the participants, so everyone can hop around and party all day with other bloggers. And, Talli is also offering great prizes, so there's nothing to lose and lots to gain by signing up and helping Talli celebrate her book launch!

Thanks to Christine, Cherie, Karen, and Talli for these fun opportunities!

Monday, August 8, 2011

Travels With Clancy (Minus Clancy): Clifton Gorge

I had a day off work last week, and visited Clifton Gorge Nature Preserve with a friend. Clifton Gorge is about an hour and a half from Cincinnati, in the town of Yellow Springs, Ohio. Pets are not permitted in the preserve, so Clancy sat this trip out and stayed home. I don't think he minded, as the heat is still a nuisance for him, and he's happy staying inside in the air conditioning and hanging out with Nate.

Clifton Gorge is a National Natural Landmark, and, according to the state website, it is "one of the finest examples of post-glacial canyon cutting." I can't really attest to this, as I don't remember a thing I learned in high school geology, but I can say that the Gorge is a beautiful place for a hike.

I think this is a case where pictures speak louder than words, so I just wanted to share a few of the pics I took at the Gorge as we hiked along the Rim Trail. The trail is not an easy one and, as usual, I had to be very careful so I didn't slip and end up falling down to the water below. But the walk was worth it, as the Gorge is definitely one of the most beautiful places I've visited so far. The sound of rushing water that accompanied the hike merely added to that natural beauty.


At one point along the trail, we came to this "slump-block cave." (I only know the type of cave because of a nearby sign.)

You couldn't have paid me to go in this cave anyway, but I still had to chuckle at the sign. It warned hikers to stay out of the cave, as it is home to bats and amphibians. They definitely didn't need to tell me twice. I am scared to death of bats and, as I freaked out a few years back when a bat decided to fly around inside my home, I would not want to invade their space. Fair is fair.

After a great hike, my friend and I headed to nearby Young's Jersey Dairy for lunch. Young's is a small, family-run dairy farm, and has some of the best ice cream I've ever tasted, as it is made right on the premises.

The ice cream is definitely tasty, but my favorite thing about Young's is the goats who call the farm home. The Young's folks provide feeding stations for the goats, and these guys are always ready for some food. While it is primarily intended for children, I couldn't resist joining in myself. What can I say, I love goats.


All in all, it was a great day filled with wonderful scenery, yummy food, and cute animals. It's hard to ask for much more than that.

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Guest Post at Carol Kilgore's Under the Tiki Hut!

I'm hanging out Under the Tiki Hut with Carol Kilgore today for my first ever guest post. Carol is a fantastic hostess, and I'm so grateful to her for having me as her guest.

I signed up to do a guest post back in June, when August seemed very far away. I can't believe it's here already!

Carol asked all guest bloggers to use this Tiki theme for our posts:

"You brought your laptop to the Tiki Hut for some peace and quiet.
What drink do you order? Any snacks?
You're writing away when something catches your eye.
What is it? How do you stay focused on your writing."

To see my take on that theme, come visit me here, and join Carol and me for some Mojitos on the beach Under the Tiki Hut! :)

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Before Ever After Release Day!

I'm breaking out the champagne and throwing confetti to say CONGRATULATIONS to Samantha Sotto on the release of Before Ever After! Woo-Hoo, Sam!!

It's been such fun to follow Samantha on her countdown to publication, first at her blog, The Slight Detour, and now at her official site. I'm so happy for her that the big day has arrived, and her book has been officially released here in the US. I ordered Before Ever After from Amazon and should have it today, I hope so as I can't wait to read it.

It's great to see such a nice person "living the dream," and I wish Samantha all the success in the world. Congratulations, Sam!! :)