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Golden Hours

September 8, 2014

220px-James_Matthew_Barrie00“You must have been warned against letting the golden hours slip by. Yes, but some of them are golden only because we let them slip by.”
 -James M. Barrie 

Being by nature a daydreamer, I savor quotes like that. They give me permission to do what I’m prone to do anyway: let time just slip by. That usually makes me feel guilty so I was glad when I came across the quote by Barrie. The man who created Peter Pan and granted him the pleasure of perpetual childhood surely knew the value of time. I’m sure there were some who thought dreaming up fantasy adventures was a silly way for a grown man to spend his time – until he succeeded. Success has a way of validating silliness.

People who are good at math are fond of telling us how many seconds/minutes/hours we are given every day. It’s a formidable number. Granted a large portion of that time is spoken for. We all have things we have to do: a paying job, children or elders to care for, meals to prepare, a house to maintain, commitments to worthy organizations … the list goes on … and let’s not forget sleep. Still, if we’re honest, most of us can do all these things and have at least some time to call our own.

If we choose to spend every second engaged in a productive endeavor, imagine what we can accomplish. On the other hand, what if we put the “to do” list aside, slowed down, sipped lemonade, read a frivolous book, or lay on a quilt in the back yard Hourglass front viewand watched fireflies while the time slipped by? What would happen? I’m pretty sure the world wouldn’t end. In fact, maybe the idea for an ingenious invention would germinate and grow from those idle moments. Maybe we’d be inspired to create a soulful poem or a great painting. Maybe we’d write a blockbuster novel and make literary history. Or maybe not. Maybe we wouldn’t accomplish anything tangible. Maybe we’d just be … nicer (not an insignificant accomplishment).

So, do yourself a favor. Slow down. Daydream. Let the time slip by and don’t feel guilty about it. Remember … you have the opportunity to create a golden hour.

Summer Afternoons

August 30, 2014


“Summer afternoon – summer afternoon: to me those have always been the two most beautiful words in the English language.” Henry James

I came across this quote recently and am ready to change my opinion about Henry James. Not that I don’t already admire him for the characters he created, but I never thought of him as a summer afternoon kind of guy. Fairly or not, I think of him as a character in one of his novels – living a life bound by rules and tradition (though his writing certainly shows that he understood and sympathized with rule-breakers).

Look at him. I don’t know about you, but I find it hard to imagine anyone setting out to enjoy a summer afternoon looking like that. Though I guess that’s due mostly due to the changes that have occurred in dress codes since Mr. James’s day.  I suppose if he were alive today, he’d don flipflops, shorts and a tee shirt. Hard to imagine, isn’t it?

Why these thoughts now? It’s Labor Day Weekend, the official end of summer, a summer that seems to have flown by. We’ve had more than our share of perfect days – warm, but not hot; low humidity – the kind of days you wish would last forever. At least that’s the case here in the southeastern corner of Pennsylvania. I know many parts of the country have had devastating weather events during the past few months. I hope the end of summer brings an end to the chaos for them – that it gives them perfect conditions to start rebuilding.

I view this weekend with mixed feelings. On the one hand, I’m sad to see the season of lazy days end; on the other, I’m excited by the prospect of change that a new season brings. To me, September has always seemed like the beginning of a new year, much more so than January. I think that’s because it marks the beginning of a new school year and, as such, a chance to start anew. Back in my school days, I began each new year with resolutions for a perfect year – perfect attendance, perfect grades, a perfect me. I was eager to see who my teacher would be, to meet any new kids who’d moved to the area since the old school year. That’s changed, of course, but not too much. In September, I resume activities that I’ve taken a hiatus from for the summer, and I look forward to that in much the same way I once looked forward to the new school year. In other words, I’m eager to discover what the new season will bring.

So, to all of the readers of Birth of a Novel, I wish a happy Labor Day Weekend, one filled with … whatever you want it to be. And, once this weekend is over, I wish to you, a new season filled with many discoveries – happy ones, of course.


A Few Words from Norma Huss

August 18, 2014

Cherish12-1-2013-Front-400I’m pleased to welcome Norma Huss as a guest blogger this week. Norma calls herself The Grandma Moses of Mystery. The original Grandma Moses was a primitive artist who only received recognition when she turned eighty. She continued painting until she was one hundred one. Since Norma’s first book was published a month before her eightieth birthday, she qualifies on one end. Since her mother lived one hundred three years, she has every hope of qualifying on the tail end. Norma and her husband sailed on Chesapeake Bay and beyond for many years, which is why she set her first two mysteries in that location. Her non-fiction, A Knucklehead in Alaska, was written with her father many years ago, in his words, telling the story of a hot-headed nineteen-year-old who went to Alaska hoping to earn college money.

Today, Norma’s going to tell us a little something about her most recent work, Cherish.

Back in the day before e-books and accepted self publishing, I thought of many ideas for novels, and wrote several that failed to find a publisher. Most were for children or young adults, since my own children were only beginning to outgrow that stage. Then I switched to writing mysteries for my own age group and finally found a publisher. But my grandchildren were great readers, and an audience I wanted to reach before they got too old.

I pulled out those dusty pages so long forgotten. So outdated. But I found a germ, a spark, that kindled a new idea. An updated idea. Yeah, that teen doesn’t dig up a skeleton—there isn’t really a skeleton after all. There’s a ghost. Yes. A ghost from the past. Cherish, a tormented ghost, in fact, a ghost who doesn’t know where her body is. A teenage ghost from…where?

Hey, I know about teens from World War II and shortly thereafter. I was there. But how did that teen die in 1946? And what was her life like? She was a high school sophomore, just like the current teen who sees the ghost. But her life was so different. No cell phone. No TV. An ex. G.I. in her Lit class, finishing high school on the G.I. Bill.

So I did it, wrote a story for today’s teens (with technical help from the younger generation). I placed a teen from today into her grandmother’s world. Of course, I had to reverse that as well, placing the teen from 1946 into a world of grungy jeans, cars with seat belts, and no trick-or-treating by anyone over twelve. (Or is it ten now?) And, would I find a way to bring today’s teen home? That could be a problem.

I needed plenty of help with today’s technology. I needed help with my memories of 1946 as well—readily available on the Internet. Some things I relearned played into my plot. Mention of the Nuremberg trials of war prisoners worked for one character’s paranoia. The OSS (Office of Strategic Services-later the CIA) was cited by another character’s rumors. But the teen, with memories of the war years, the rationing, the shock of men she knew dying in battle, the lack of coupons for new shoes, wanted to ignore those background noises, just as today’s teen would. She lived in the moment without thoughts that her words might lead to danger.

 Cherish (A Ghost Mystery) was a lot of fun to write. I’ve just revealed the cover on Goodreads (and here). Publication date is September 1, 2014, right in time for a pre-Halloween read. Early readers have enjoyed it. In fact, they think this book is the perfect grandmother, granddaughter read. The two generations will each discover much about the other generation. (Might I be a bit egotistical and agree? Why not? One must believe in her own work!)

One certainly must! You have every right to believe in your work – and to be proud of it. Cherish sounds like a great story. I love the idea of different generations reading it together and learning about each other through its pages.  Thanks for sharing your news and a bit about yourself with the readers of Birth of a Novel.

Readers, here are some links if you’d like to learn more about Norma and her books:

Amazon author page: 

Fortune Cookie Wisdom

August 6, 2014

fortune cooky stripsI always save the little strips from fortune cookies. Sure, they’re generic but, simple soul that I am, I can usually find wisdom in those few words. At the very least, they provide good conversation – usually accompanied by laughter and some gentle teasing. Here are a few samples from a recent family dinner at a local Chinese restaurant:

 Do not mistake temptation for opportunity.

I assumed this one wasn’t intended for me, so I passed it along to my son, who, in turn, passed it across the table to his son. On second thought, though, maybe it’s advice we can all use. Temptation does indeed often seem like opportunity – and actually sometimes it is. Sometimes yielding to temptation reveals a new path, which could be good or bad. The advice both my son and I hoped to convey to my grandson is to stop and think before acting on temptation – and maybe, just maybe, he’ll avoid some of pitfalls offered by the wrong path.

It is sometimes better to travel hopefully than to arrive.

No argument with this one. We love taking long car trips, always with the hope of seeing something new and surprising – and we’re seldom disappointed. A journey, begun with hope,  is one of the best experiences life has to offer. Not that arriving is bad, but  journeys are full of promise.

 Don’t be surprised by the emergence of undiscovered talents.

Since I’m deep into a new book – at the point where I need to deliver on the promises made in my riveting (typed that with crossed fingers) first chapters – this is a most welcome thought.

 There will be many surprises; unexpected gains are likely.

Another welcome thought for the reason mentioned above. To tell the truth, I have no doubt that at least the first part of this prediction will come true. There are always surprises in writing, moments when one of my characters surprises me by taking over the reins and leading me where I need to go. Love it when that happens! Almost as much fun, sometimes I’ll surprise myself with a description that reveals something about the plot that I wasn’t aware of before. As for the second part, that unexpected gains are likely – crossing my fingers again.

Stop wishing. Start doing.

Okay. No need to interpret what this one means. It’s just good, solid advice – and a message to me that it’s time to uncross my fingers and get to work.

One  final thought, not from a cookie, but from the heart: wishing good fortune to all who read this.



And the Winner is …

August 1, 2014




Judy Alter was the name I pulled from my imaginary hat filled with the names of those of you who were kind enough to leave a comment this past week. A million thanks to all of you. I know that time is a precious gift and I do appreciate your using some of yours to read this blog and leave a comment.

print version

Judy, I’ll get in touch with you privately so you can let me know where to send a copy of LOVE AND NOT DESTROY.


Exploring an Unexpected Path

July 24, 2014

?????????????There are few things more exciting – or unsettling – to a writer than admitting you’re not in control of your story. Most of us like to think we’re in control of our lives, but, deep down, we know that’s only partly true. In reality, our lives are subject to a million and one curves the universe can throw at us. As writers, though, we’re dealing with a universe of our own creation, so we should be in control. Right? You’d think so. But, as in other aspects of our lives, it’s not always the case. Sometimes a character or even the story itself throws us a curve.

I wrote LOVE AND NOT DESTROY as a stand-alone – or so I thought. It’s the story of Peace Morrow, a young woman who was abandoned as an infant and adopted by a strong, loving woman who gave her a nearly perfect childhood, but still, Peace can’t help wondering about her biological parents.

Thinking back over it, I remember that my original intent was that she would never discover who her biological parents were. The idea was that she would come to realize that it doesn’t matter whose blood flowed in her veins. She is what she makes herself.  Somewhere along the line, I realized that it was unfair to the reader and to my protagonist to leave that part of the puzzle unresolved and, truth be told, I wanted to know myself. So, by the end of the book, Peace has learned that her father is dead and her mother is someone she doesn’t really even like. That’s a complete turnaround from my original intention. The story took over and told me what needed to happen. I thought I’d tied up enough loose ends that the story was finished.

But Peace’s situation haunted me. I had to know what happened next and, unless I wrote the story, I’d never know. So, there you have it – I’m writing another Peace Morrow book. I planned to write about Peace’s relationship with her adoptive and biological mothers, and, almost as important, the relationship between the two mothers. It seemed like an interesting premise for a book. I had what I thought was the perfect title: ALL THAT I AM. I felt confident that I could make an interesting book out of this situation. I wrote a couple of chapters, introducing new characters as necessary to flesh out the story and, since I write mysteries, I inserted a mystery element into the book  … and, wham, the story took over. I realized the new characters’ lives were impacted in ways that could not be ignored. Peace and her two mothers are still there, but the focus has changed.

That’s where I am now. I’m being led down an unexpected path by characters who I thought I’d created, but who have assumed lives of their own. That’s what characters do; they demand that their story be told and even reveal to those of us who consider ourselves their creators what that story is. All we have to do is find the right words to do justice to the lives of these people.

Writing is an unpredictable endeavor – sometimes unsettling, always exciting.


Amazon Kindle:
Barnes and Noble: 

Leave a comment by August 1 and you could win a copy of LOVE AND NOT DESTROY.

Putting Your Ego Aside

July 5, 2014

It's Raining MenHave you ever collaborated with another author to tell a story? I haven’t actually done it, but the process fascinates me. A friend of mine, Beate Boeker, recently teamed up with another writer, Gwen Ellery to write It’s Raining Men. 

Since I’ve known Beate for a while and have read quite a few of her books, I thought I’d be able to tell which chapters she wrote. I was wrong. It’s Raining Men has all the trademark humor and mischief I’ve come to associate with Beate, but since I’m not familiar with Gwen’s other work, I can’t say how much her input affected the style. The two of them did a good job creating one voice. I had fun trying to figure who wrote which chapter, but there was only one chapter I was sure had been written by my friend and that was because of the setting, not the voice.

As I said, the collaborative process fascinates me. I think of writing as a deeply personal experience and can only imagine the patience and discipline it must take to shape the visions of two individual writers into one cohesive story. The closest I’ve ever come was several years ago when a group of then-Avalon writers decided to write a joint novel for our Avalon Authors blog. Since Avalon Books no longer exists, the blog has moved on (we’re now Classic and Cozy Books) , but the old blog and our collaborative book, Along For the Ride, are still floating out there in cyber space. Here’s a link if you’re curious:

If you’d like to sample It’s Raining Men, there’s an excerpt on my website –

I can think of two other writing  teams whose work I enjoy. One is the mother and son team who write the Bess Crawford series and the Inspector Ian Rutledge series as Charles Todd. The other is the sister team, Loretta Jackson and Vickie Britton, who write the High Mountain Mystery series. I wonder if being related makes it easier or harder to put aside one’s ego. That, I think, must be the key - being able to put ego aside for the good of the story.

Link to It’s Raining Men:

Any other collaborators out there? I’d love to hear from you.



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