Tag Archives: imagination

Secret Lives by John E. Stack

Children always seem excited when they see their teachers in a different environment outside of school.  They often wonder if teachers do anything other than teach and grade papers.  They always ask teachers what they do in their off-time, because in the student’s mind the teacher lives at the school.  Even though it really seems that some do, most of us lead exciting lives, married, raise kids, and work other jobs (is writing another job?). 

What if teachers did do more than teach?  What if the middle schoolers we worked with were actually alien rather than just acting as if they were from another planet? What if….?

The above is the proposed forward to my latest submission, Secret Lives (of Middle School Teachers).  Secret Lives is my first attempt at something like a novel or rather a story other than a picture book.  We are always told to write about something you know or you are interested in.  So I did.

Let’s see, I have spent ten months a year for the last eighteen years teaching in the same middle school.  With that, I have worked around a lot of the same teachers and many new teachers that rotate through our school.  Some of the personalities are unique.  Sometimes the faces change, but the personalities stay the same.

I’ve taught close to two thousand students.  I would try to describe the normal student, but who is to say what is normal.  I have had parents ask “What happened to the sweet, little girl I used to have?  It’s like some alien sucked her brains out and didn’t give them all back.”  Or, they wonder why their sons stopped taking showers and why hygiene now means nothing.

So, I took a handful of experience (eight four-day trips to Washington, DC with four bus loads of eighth graders gives some experience), several teacher personalities, and a fascination with astronomy mixed them all together with a little humor and came out with something like a story.

God gave me a little leeway and allowed me to create a planet system around a known star.  In that system is a planet named after an Englishman named Nigel that I go to church with.  I got to determine what the people looked like and the environment in which they lived.  I also got to develop worm-hole technology.

My aliens are called Nigelians (Nigel) and they are very humanoid.  The only differences are their lack of noses and ears.  While on Earth they wear assimilation suits to disguise their differences.  They also have tufts of hair rather than a full covering.  There are other differences, but maybe you can read about them later this summer.

If you have ever been to Washington, DC, you may have passed by the Old Post Office.  I have been to the building once and even took a group of students up into the clock tower.  Most of the story takes place in DC, but the Old Post Office became the home for our school and was the center for a lot of the action in the book.

I also tried something that I haven’t really attempted since I was a boy (and that was a long time ago) — free-hand drawing.  In the military, I was trained as a architectural draftsman.  I learned straight lines and right angles.  This was something different.  I did sketches, perspectives and some doodling.  Eventually, I completed all the drawings except for one, which was submitted by a student.  I did make some changes, but gave her the credit.

I have to admit that completing this book was a lot more fun than the picture books I’ve been doing.  There was more freedom in writing, in the ideas, and my thought process felt more alive.  I also got to learn a lot about DC.

When we continue to try something new we continue to grow in our art.  And, as long as we enjoy what we do it is not a job. Keep an eye out for my new adventure.  Read, write and enjoy.

***John E. Stack is the author of Cody’s Almost Trip to the Zoo, Cody’s Rescue Adventure at the Zoo, and Olivia’s Sweet Adventure.  He is also the author of the upcoming books Cody and the Great Zoo Escape and  Secret Lives (of Middle School Teachers).

 

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Strange Times and Weird Holidays

 

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Billy Pilgrim came for Thanksgiving then swiftly became unstuck in time. He travelled onward… or back.

Those of you who remember Kurt Vonnegut’s Slaughterhouse-Five know that when time came unstuck for Billy, he could spring forward to a happier place or he could fall back to appalling happenstance, like the bombing of Dresden during World War II. Billy had no say when it came to the matter of time. We, however, have a modicum of control over ours.

We even time travel- to an extent, not physically like Billy, but we can remember… relive what that shiny red bike looked like on that best Christmas ever, recall what it felt like to hold a newborn. We think ahead, hope for better, and manifest our dreams. The Pilgrim within gets to choose where we travel. We don’t have to visit any of the ugly stuff, past present or future if we don’t want to.

In one of my favorite parts of Slaughterhouse-Five, Billy’s fiancé flashed her diamond ring at Mr. Rosewater, “Billy got it in the war,” she beamed. Did she know that the gem came from rubble which once was Dresden; the rock was a spoil of war? To her it was a symbol of love, her dream of upcoming happiness, her time travel forward.

Mr. Rosewater’s reply could not have been challenged, “That’s the wonderful thing about war. Everybody gets something.” I get it, Mr. Rosewater. Some people get diamonds and others get dead.

Without understating the sufferings of war by comparing them to holidays, I have to admit that similarities do exist… especially this particular Holiday Season.

And as I travel back to our family holidays, they were like a series of tiny Napoleonic battles. We shouted, pounded on tables, about politics, social issues… religion, we dug up past resentments… said hurtful words. There is no doubt that we loved each other, we loved each other like mad, but with the collective holiday anger of my crazy family? Unite us, add one case of brandy, a few bottles of Ouzo and we could have invaded Canada.

That’s the thing about holidays, everybody gets something. Some get arguments and some get loved, some get the Lexus and some stand in line for a meal. Some children get a bike and others get shot.

So as the month of gratitude gives way to peppermint truffles and decadence I will live my moments more deliberately, select my thoughts carefully, choose the kindest words possible when speaking about our world as it is. And with my memories, I guess, I’ll be selective. After all, those impetuous relatives are sorely missed now. So it goes.

I look forward with hopefulness, to a time when peace on planet earth is achievable. I’ll dream that everyone everywhere has food, clothing and shelter. I’ll imagine that it’s so. And I will accept what I get this year (thank you very much for the lovely brown socks) with grace.

I hope for patience and tolerance from all of the people I love. No gifts for me this year, there’s nothing I need, except one favor from all. I need an advance on forgiveness, like a caveat, a hall pass or a ‘get out of jail free’ card. Those will do very well for me, please. Because I, like Billy Pilgrim, have a history… and probably even a genetic pre-disposition to becoming unstuck… just a little.

Happy Holidays to everyone.

Enjoy Christmas present.

Take time for love!

Slaughterhousefive

And maybe re-read an old favorite,

 

Jonna

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Why do I Write in the Fantasy Genre?

At recent book reading for Dormant, someone asked  why I write fantasy novels. My gut answer was that I’m all about escapism and what better way to escape than by hiding in another world?

As I thought about it, I realized there’s a longer answer. I write fantasy stories because of the world building, the chance to create the rules and structure the characters inhabit. To me, a good fantasy story balances between describing the world and describing the characters’ journey — it’s not always an actual journey, of course. For that matter, it’s not always another world. Many wonderful fantasy novels take place in our world…with a twist.

In each world, there are rules that define how life works. The rules can relate to magic — does using magic make a sound that other magic users can hear, can only certain people use magic, or are only certain locations magical?  Where does the power comes form — is it an inherit ability, or does it come from a magical object?  Are you born with the power or does it turn on like a flipped switch? Does magic come from a fragile balance between man and nature that can break without explanation?

The writer defines the rules — she must follow those rules or else build the story around why the rules are suddenly suspended. It’s both fun and daunting to face creating a world with certain guidelines. Staying within the rules can be just as frustrating for the writer as it is for the characters. However, rules must exist because if the character can suddenly change within the story to resolve an issue then there is no conflict.

In The Well World series by Jack Chalker, he creates a planet where the rules change geographically by creating hexagonal like worlds with the major world. The rules of one hexagon might allow magic while the next one over doesn’t. Machines work in some hexagons while they don’t in others. It’s one of my favorite series simply because the rules can change so quickly but within the construct of each little world, the rules are absolute. Machines go from useful to lumps of useless metal just by crossing a border, geography deters poisonous gases, and an extreme patriarchal society borders a hive world run by a queen.

Sometimes people assume authors spend time creating the rules before starting to write the story. Obviously, everyone has a different process but many writers develop the rules while writing the story. I began Dormant with some basic rules — you’re born a supernormal with basic package abilities (super speed, super hearing, super strength, etc.), your significant ability manifests at age thirteen and you don’t get new abilities once you’ve grown into the significant ability. This means I can’t decide Olivia’s ability is fire and then add the ability to fly because it would be an easy away to get her out of a sticky situation. Other rules of the supernormal world inhabited by Olivia and her family evolved as I wrote the story.

As I write Root, the second book in the series, I’m having fun defining more rules — for supernormal beasts, for Ben’s mind reading ability, and, well…you’ll just have to see when Root comes out later this year.

What is your favorite fantasy novel and what are its rules/laws?

LeeAnn Elwood McLennan 05 Color (2)LeeAnn Elwood McLennan is the author of Dormant, the first book in the Dormant Trilogy available on http://www.secondwindpublishing.com, Amazon and Barnes and Noble. She’s diligently working on Root, book two in the trilogy. Follow LeeAnn on Twitter @atticusmcl and on Facebook at LEMWrites.

 

 

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Have We Completely Run Out Of Ideas?

I was watching television the other night and saw something so incredibly bad that it drove me to wonder how it came to be before me in the first place.  How was this horrific concept presented and who listened to this half-thought out lunacy and thought, “Hmm.  Its better than anything I’ve heard recently.  Let’s pump a few million into it.”  What were they listening to, I wonder?

I remember Bewitched. A fun sitcom about a mixed marriage between a witch and a mortal. I liked how Darren used his position as an ad exec to explain the weird goings on in the Stevens household. He and his boss would pop in and find a unicorn in his living room and Darren would, after a few exaggerated facial expressions, smile and introduce his boss to the new image for a car they’re representing.

“How about the Unicorn, Larry? Legendary gas mileage. Pretty great, eh?”

It wasn’t. Now every time I see a commercial or concept so inexplicably bad that I’m driven to wonder how such an atrocity ever made it to public airing, I call it a Darren Stevens. Something truly bizarre must have happened to allow this to seem like a good idea. Witchcraft, maybe. That would almost explain such concepts as casting Pierce Brosnan in a musical.

Movies, you see, have often crossed the line. I was appalled by last years’ release depicting Abraham Lincoln as a super hero vampire killer. I’ve written some pretty good stories but still had to fight my way through the thousands of other good stories to try to get a publisher’s attention. This is because there are good writers with new thoughts to be expressed in abundance. So what enormous bet must someone have lost to allow this laughable excuse for a storyline to find its way to the screen? Is this any way to pay homage to one of the greatest figures in American History? Is this a direction we in the creative or entertainment world want to take?

My fear is that this may spark a trend of salvaging truly bad scripts or manuscripts by recasting the lead as a pre-accepted historical figure. The public already likes them so the hack story has a foot in the viewing or reading audience’s door despite the total lack of credibility, creativity or talent.

But perhaps I’m being overly cynical. Perhaps this is why so many creative works never see the light of day.  We may simply be trying too hard.  This substitute for talent and hard work may in fact be a new and viable form of creativity. Perhaps exploiting the memory of historical heroes for a cheap buck is a good thing. Think of the endless possibilities.

Young George Washington tells his father, “I cannot tell a lie, Father. I chopped down your cherry tree… when my space ship crash landed on your planet.”  Washington – ET Patriot!

“I have a dream… of driving all the demons out of the White House!”                                                                                                                                                                Martin Luther King – Presidential Exorcist

“Old Soldiers never die… Until I chop their zombie heads off with my magic sabre”                                                                                                                                       General Douglas MacArthur versus the Army of the Undead!

 The possibilities are endless. And America doesn’t hold the patent on greed, bad taste and sensationalism. Britain has every right to jump onto the bandwagon.

This is England’s finest hour…  I know because I went back in time to diffuse Hitler’s bomb and change the course of history!”                                                Churchill- Time Minister.

Hey. That’s good. I’m calling Paramount right now!

You can find more about Donovan Galway at the Second Wind Publishing website http://www.secondwindpublishing.com/#!donovan-galway/c1ap8 and the usual places. Amazon, Google, or by liking Donovan on Facebook.

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Out My Back Door — by Norm Brown

My backyard consists of a five foot wide strip of San Augustine lawn that abruptly drops away down a rocky brushy hillside. Sometimes it’s surprising what appears just beyond my rear deck. Over the years I’ve spotted deer, raccoons, armadillos, and coyotes from the porch or through my kitchen window.

Twin Fawns

Twin Fawns

Usually this requires seeing the wild animal before it spots me and runs away. This spring, however, I had a brief visit from a little critter that apparently came to my yard specifically to see me. It was a bit strange, but touching in a way. Outside the light was dimming as the sun was about to set. I had just settled down in my easy chair to search for something worthwhile on television, when motion outside drew my attention. I stood and looked out through the glass backdoor. At the bottom of the steps to the rear deck the fuzzy little face of a gray fox was looking back at me. I turned and went for my phone, thinking I might snap a quick photo before he took off. When I turned back I was amazed to see the little gray and tan animal actually walk right up to the glass door and briefly look at me inside. He turned and went back down the steps as I approached the door. At this point most wild things would be long gone, but when I quietly stepped out onto the porch, I was shocked to find him sitting peacefully on his haunches beside my birdbath. I moved right up to the wooden railing and tried a couple of shots with the cell phone. The light was too low to get anything but a fuzzy blur with the phone’s camera, but the fox continued to gaze calmly back at me. I hurried back inside and upstairs to retrieve my Nikon camera. Unbelievably, when I returned to the deck he was still sitting there, as if posing for his close-up. We were not more than fifteen feet apart. I snapped away, even talked to him. The usually invisible focusing beam from my camera twinkled brightly from the eyes of this nocturnal forager. Even when I used the flash, the little animal never flinched.

Evening Visitor

Evening Visitor

As the light completely faded he finally got up slowly and strolled into the brush down the hill. It seemed to me the fox had been trying to communicate something to me, sitting there looking me in the eye like a puppy. Later, while uploading the photos to my computer, it occurred to me what this visit had been all about. The day before I had decided to throw away a loaf of white bread that had been in my freezer for weeks. Before it hit the trash can, my son suggested I put some of it outside for the birds to eat. Nothing seemed to touch it during the day, but the scraps were all gone the next morning. It was pretty clear then that it hadn’t been a bird that scarfed down the tasty treat during the night. The fearless little fox had returned in hopes of getting more. Although I don’t make a habit of putting food on the lawn to attract who knows what, I couldn’t help but regret that I hadn’t understood what my patient visitor was trying to communicate to me: “Got any more of that stuff?”
A few weeks later I saw the fox once again during daylight hours, trying to catch a squirrel or other small rodent behind the house. He must live somewhere nearby. I hope to see my tiny neighbor again.

Fox from kitchen window

Fox from kitchen window

 

“Bother me tomorrow.
Today I’ll bear no sorrow.
Doo…Doo…Doo…looking out my back door.”

John Fogerty and the Creedence Clearwater Revival

Norm Brown is the author of the suspense novel Carpet Ride, published by Secondwind Publishing, LLC.

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Questions you might get asked when people learn you write any kind of romance novel

I was talking to some friends/acquaintances the other day and I was asked why I have a different name on my Facebook profile. When I explained that I write and set up my Facebook page under my pen name, then the questions started. I am used to most of the common ones like “how do you find the time?” or “is anyone we know a character in your books?” or “where do you get your ideas?” but the latest ones were around how hard it is to write a sex scene. (No off color puns intended.) So, for giggles, how many of you romance writers out there get the same questions and how far out of whack are my responses?

Question: “Do you get embarrassed writing that stuff?”
When I first began to write, yes, I did. In high school, two friends and I would write steamy love letters for our classmates to give to their boyfriends. One girl provided the imagination courtesy of a purloined (from her parents) copy of The Joy of Sex, the other relied on her own experiences and a facile understanding of common jargon and street slang. I was the grammarian who kept the purple prose flowing and reasonably well written. Was I embarrassed? Oh yeah, but I learned a lot from a theoretical perspective. It all came to an end with a very uncomfortable conversation with the head mistress of the school, a rather dour nun, and my father when one of the letters was seized during the exchange of money for the letter. Yep, I was the one caught selling the goods. My accomplices got away but I was left with a rather unsavory reputation since it was assumed I had been relying on my own (nonexistent at that time) expertise in the area to create such “disgusting and sinful” letters that would ultimately see me writhing in the fires of hell, or so Sister Mary David assured me. My father’s response out of earshot of the nuns was to laugh but he did step up his intimidation tactics of any poor guy who tried to date me.

Later on, my very first romance story (which will NEVER see the light of day unless it is published posthumously and I hope I have burned every page of it well before then) was a sweet little formulaic “bodice ripper” tale that took the better part of 2 bottles of wine and much giggling between me and my best friend to get the scenes correct. I think the giggling was more from the wine than the topic though.

Between then and now, I have read a lot. I’ve read books that were full of vague euphemisms (“mutual splendor” anyone?) to raw and raunchy porn for women. What I have come to realize is that it’s more embarrassing to write something that takes a reader out of the story to think, “Wait, what? Is that even physically possible?” or “Where did that extra hand come from?”

Question: “Do you write about your own sexual experiences?” aka “Have you really done THAT??!!!?”
The short answer is: sometimes yes and sometimes no. Everyone has heard the old saw of “write what you know” so they assume that if you write it, you’ve done it. I always caution people, especially my husband who is fond of raising an eyebrow and remarking that he can’t recall us every having done whatever my characters happen to be doing, that writers have very fertile imaginations. Let me repeat that. We..have…very…fertile…imaginations. We also know how to do research and the internet is full of research material if your imagination fails you.

Would you go up to a friend who writes a crime novel and automatically assume she/he knows how to violently kill, dismember, and dispose of a body based on personal hands on experience?

I rest my case.

Question: “Why didn’t you make it more/less explicit?”
Well, here’s the rub. (Again, no pun intended.) In my opinion, different stories require a different approach. I know I get annoyed by a certain popular romance author, who shall remain unnamed, because the last four books of hers were more or less recycled sex scenes from her prior works. Change the names, change the locations, and change the villains, then presto – new book and more royalties. Otherwise the sex was a cut and paste. If nothing else, I do not want to annoy my readers. Especially, since I do not have a large following, yet.

When I write, I pay a lot of attention to what makes sense and what is in character for the players in the scene. I let their personalities shape how explicit – or not – the scenes will be. The language used to describe body parts and who is doing what to whom will be pretty character specific. If my hero is an edgy bad boy, then there may be some explicit language and it’s not going to be a tame scene. If the heroine is shy and virginal, she’s probably not going to know exactly what she wants or to be comfortable talking like an experienced woman.

If a scene isn’t racy enough for you, use your imagination to figure out what the characters may or may not be doing out of your eyesight. Likewise, if it’s too racy, skip the next couple of paragraphs or pages. Sex scenes, even in my romance novels, are not the main attraction. At least I hope not because I put a lot of thought into character and plot development.

Question: “Don’t you worry about what your family/friends/co-workers will think of you if they read your books?”
Not really. I do write under a pen name to somewhat shield them but anyone with even basic skills of internet research could figure out who I am in real life. I also rely on the fact that: (1) I am not a widely published novelist at this point, (2) it is fiction and anyone who knows me is aware that I am very imaginative and my mind can go in some pretty odd directions at times, and last (3) if someone wants to make assumptions about who or what I am based on my writing, it’s their problem.

What other questions have you had to field about writing romance novels?

Mairead Walpole is the pen name for a somewhat introverted project and contract manager who has 20+ years of business and technical writing under her belt. In her spare time, Mairead writes paranormal romance among other genres. Her first novel, “A Love Out of Time” is available through Second Wind Publishing (www.secondwindpublishing.com) or Amazon.com.

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It’s a Mystery… or Ding, Dong the Wicked Witch is Dead! by Sherrie Hansen

Lately, everyone’s been asking when my next book is coming out. Blue Belle, the second of my Wildflowers of Scotland novels, should be ready in 60 – 90 days. All it needs is a serious going over and a new ending and it should be ready to send off to my publisher. In the meantime, I took advantage of NaNoWriMo to get 40,000 words into Shy Violet, the third in the series, so there should only be a short wait between the two books.

BBI Spring 2012

Some of you know that my primary distraction from writing is a bed and breakfast called the Blue Belle Inn B&B. For the past few months, my two passions have come together in a unique way.  In August, I decided to write a series of what I like to call fractured fairy tale style murder mysteries highlighting the storybook themes of each of our guest rooms at the B&B is named after.

BBInn - PC Tree 2010

I started out with our “On the Banks of Plum Creek” room and wrote (with apologies to Laura Ingalls Wilder), “Little Oops On The Prairie”. It begins when Nellie Olafson’s somewhat eccentric, mean-spirited cousin, Nutty Olafson, is found face down at the supper table. My tagline read: Something smells fishy on the banks of Plum Creek – is there a wolf in sheep’s clothing lurking in the Big Woods or a little killer loose on the Prairie? Suspects Nellie Olafson, Visiting Professor Jerald Jill of Iowa, Quick Draw McNutt, local football hero Big Brawny, and the much loved but tragically flat-footed Insoles family are all in for a Long Winter in the pokey unless the true murderer can be uncovered. I also planned a theme dinner which included Ma’s Bean Soup with Bacon, Chicken Pie with Baking Powder Biscuit Crust, New England Pot Roast with Potatoes and Carrots, and Roast Pork with Milk Gravy and Mashed Potatoes.

MM - Little Oops cast

We’ve been doing murder mysteries at the Blue Belle Inn for over 20 years now, at the rate of 4 to 9 times a year. Although I have several sources for purchasing the “whodunit” mystery games that become the basis for our dinner theater productions, it’s become increasingly harder to find fresh material that’s well-written.  The actors would often complain about how flimsy the plots were, or that there just wasn’t enough material to work with. Often times, I would spend hours fleshing out the plays I bought online with an opening  dialog, opening and closing statements, and so on, while the actors frequently had to unscramble plot elements that just didn’t make sense.

When I first started writing books, they were pure romance. I thought I’d never write novels that contained murder and mayhem, but in my last two books (Love Notes and Wild Rose) and the ones I’m presently working on (Blue Belle and Shy Violet), there are bad guys who are truly twisted, evil and bent on hurting people, a kidnapping, gunshots, and even a murder. As I worked on the motivation and chaotic situations caused by the suspense element in my novels, it occurred to me that I could just as well try my hand at a murder mystery. (Not to worry, there are still plenty of sweet, romantic moments in my novels, too.)

I also thought, if I wrote my own mysteries, that it would be fun to incorporate some local color. Some of our local spoofs include the World Famous Miracle Whip Clinic in Rochester, MN, where miracle cures abound, and our locally manufactured breakfast cereals with a pirate named Captain Crunch. Because murder mysteries are tongue in cheek, humorous and very irreverent, you can really toss in whomever and whatever you feel like. It’s also great fun writing parts that specifically match our actor’s best (and worst?) features. If we can’t laugh at ourselves once in awhile, what fun are we?

MM Never Ever Land cast

In September, we performed our second original mystery, “Footloose in Never Ever Land”. The intro read: Who will be next to walk the plank in Never Ever Land? One thing is sure – it won’t be poor Woody Stuck, an old hippie who was stuck in the 60′s, because he was found belly up in the Lagoon a few hours ago. Now the clock is ticking and we hope you’ll help Peter Pun and the Lost Boyz find out who is guilty – is it Captain Crunch, the pirate with the biggest chompers ever, Rev. Hal Fyre and his crony, The Church Lady, free-spirit Windy, Fancy Free Willow Tree, Crocodile Rock, who has a scaly skin condition, or Stinker Belle, the church secretary? The theme meal included Gems of the Sea Puffs Mornay with Shrimp & Crab on Scallop Shells, “But Spinach is Good for You, Peter” Chicken with Spinach Artichoke Dip & Italian Cheeses, and The Church Lady’s Sunday Roast Beef with Mashed Potatoes.

MM - Sherwood Forest

In October, we did “Shenanigans in Sherwood Forest with Robin Love & His Band of Unmarried Men”. The write-up says:  Relationships are complicated in UnTie the Knotingham, a small but wealthy kingdom where the divorce rate is extremely high. Thus, it came as no surprise when Richie Rich, a philandering playboy, was found dead on his wedding day. The question is, who killed him? Wife #7 – the former Maid Mary Ann, Ginger Root, wealthy nobleman Henry the Eighth, Friar Luck, Viking warrior Little Johnson, or Robin Love – a poor, mild-mannered attorney who has devoted his life to championing the underdog in divorce cases far and wide? It’s up to you to unravel the mystery before anyone else loses their head and does something crazy, like getting married. SHERWOOD FOREST CUISINE featured Cottage Pie with a Thatched Roof, and Fruits of the Forest Chicken with Mushrooms, Apples, Berries and a Splash of Brandy.

That left “Anne of Green Gables”, “Sleeping Beauty”, “The Secret Garden”, Madeleine L’Engle’s “A Wrinkle in Time”, and “Heaven to Betsy”, from Maud Hart Lovelace’s Victorian era Betsy Tacy books, for future mystery dinner themes. At the rate of one every 3 – 4 weeks, by the time we finished one mystery, my brain has already been working on the next, envisioning characters who tesseract, wear pompadour hair styles and floppy hats and climb big hills with the Crowd, or hob knob with princes and princesses and wicked witches and maybe a giant bunny rabbit or two.

MM - Dudley Do-RightMM - Anne Green

In November, for our Anne of Green Gables Fans, we premiered a mash up Lucy Montgomery’s Anne books and Gone with the Wind. “Anne Green and Dianna Dingleberry’s Most Excellent Adventure”. The lead-in read: When cold-hearted Rachel Bag O’ Wynde, the neighbor from down the lane, is found dead, every one thinks she choked on an artichoke heart. But one person knows how she really died, and it was no accident. Help Anne Green and Dianna Dingleberry find out who is guilty. Is it sour old Marilla Lemon, Matthew Chokecherry, obsessed with being best Gilbert Plum, Southern belle Scarlett Pimpernel, the pasty faced schoolteacher Ashley Grey, or Rhett, the Butler? Dudley Do-Right of the Canadian Mounted Police even made a guest appearance.The custom menu included PEI Potato Soup, Ingleside Inn’s Fried Steak with Cheesy Onion Gravy and Red Potatoes, and Anne and Dianna’s Most Resplendent Raspberry Cordial Chicken served with Cavendish Creamed Potatoes and Peas. The featured dessert was Bread Pudding with Caramel Whiskey Sauce – sans the mouse.

MM - PCharming

In December, we tackled Sleeping Beauty with “Will the Real Prince Charming Please Stand Up?” My teaser read:  When game show host Alec Quebec is found dead, everyone on the latest episode of “To Twist the Truth!” is a suspect. Who is guilty? Is it one of the esteemed panel of judges – Sleeping Beauty, Snow White, wicked stepmother Eveele O’Gress, or Glimmer, the Good Fairy? Or is it one of the contestants – dashing Prince Charming, Hermie, the Outcast Elf wannabe dentist, or Dopey the Dwarf, who was last seen clutching a ruby red slipper and looking for Cinderella? Or is it Kermit, a spirited frog that keeps hopping around the stage? The made-to-fit menu included Bavarian Hunter Schnitzel on Homemade Spaetzle Noodles, Cinderella’s Pumpkin with Pork and Parmesan Filling, and Snow White’s Special Apple Pie.

MM - W in Time

Our January premier was “Who? Whatsit? Which Wicked Witch is Dead?” a mash up that featured childhood favorites “A Wrinkle in Time” and the “Wizard of Oz”. My teaser read: When a Wrinkle in Time causes Camazotz and the Emerald City to collide, the witch is accidentally squished. Or was it Mrs. Which? And was it really an accident? Follow the yellow brick road with Meg Dorothea Ditz, Charles Wallace Wiz, Mrs. Whatsit, Mrs. Who, the creepy computer guy nobody likes – Jay I.T. Bug, Glinda the Good, scary mafia man Scarface Crow from Central Intelligence, and nice guy Calvin Tim Mann, who wears his heart on his sleeve, to find out which one really did it. I had fun with this meun – Emerald City Soup with Green Broccoli & Garlic Herb Toasts, Over the Rainbow Fruit Wand, Starry, Starry Night Steak with Green Peppercorn Sauce, Aunt Beast’s Best Ever Vegetable Cheese Puff, Out of this World Salmon with Seafood Stuffing, and Mrs. Murry’s Bunsen Burner Beef Stew with Biscuits on Top.

Blue Belle winter

On February 7 and 8, we’re looking forward to presenting another original murder mystery entitled “Betsy and Tacy Go Downton” – a mash up of my favorite books, the Betsy Tacy books by Minnesota author Maud Hart Lovelace, and the popular British TV series, Downton Abbey. Here’s what guests have to look forward to: When Betsy Ray’s British cousin, Matthew Crawley, fakes his death in a car accident and comes to Deep Valley, MN because he needs a break from Downton Abbey, a round of parties is planned to introduce him to the Crowd. When Lord Grantham and the Dowager Countess cross the pond to put an end to his lark, the unthinkable happens and Matthew is murdered. (Yes, this time, he’s really dead.) Did someone tamper with his dance card, hot wire his motor car, or spike his punch? Or could he simply not tolerate the caterwauling during the Cat Duet? Betsy, Tacy, Tib, Bad Boy Tony, Busty Bonnie the Minister’s Daughter (who we’ve never quite trusted), Joe Schmo, and Thomas, the Valet are all suspects. The menu includes “Onion Sandwich” Soup a la Mr. Ray, Betsy’s Heart of My Heart Chicken with Garlic Rosemary Cream Sauce and Artichoke Hearts,  Tib’s Beef Rouladen with Bacon & Onion Gravy on Homemade Spaetzle Noodles, Tacy’s Irish Meat Pie with Pork and Potatoes, and Lady Violet’s Elegant Roast Beef with Chardonnay Cream Sauce, Gorgonzola Cheese and Red Potatoes – and of course, a bite of the Crowd’s Famous Fudge for dessert.

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A tale based on the book “The Secret Garden” is next, in March or April, and will probably feature a mad Farmer MaGregor and that rascal, Peter Cottontail. After that – who knows? It’s been an absolute thrill to see the creative costumes the actors have come up with for each of my mysteries and watch the way they’ve brought my characters and words to life. My only regret is that I’m usually working in the kitchen and don’t get to see much of the performances. Our actors are some of the best and so creative! John Deyo’s portrayal of a hopping, green frog / Prince Charming and Lisa Deyo’s rendition of Sleeping Beauty were amazing and very memorable. Mel Schroeder has done everything from A to Z including a one-legged pirate. My favorite of Deb Stickney’s roles to date is The Church Lady but she also does a great German accent. My husband, Mark Decker, makes foaming at the mouth and dying look so realistic that it’s scary. Neil and Terri Hernan, Mark and Ken Borchardt, Phyllis Ruehlow, Brenda and Michael Esdohr, Julia Crail, Tiffany Adams, and so many more who have filled in for us on occasion are some of the most versatile, slightly crazy, very silly actors ever.

I’m thrilled to say that our new, original mysteries have been getting rave reviews from our customers, including my mother, who said, “Are all those crazy things really in your head?”, to which I replied, “They kinda are.”

If you live in northern Iowa or southern Minnesota and haven’t been to one f the Blue Belle’s mystery dinners yet, it’s high time! Like I always say, at what other event does the guilty perpetrator of a dastardly deed get a round of applause? And as always, if you guess correctly or solve the mystery, you could get your dinner free.

One of these days, I’ll get around to finishing Blue Belle and Shy Violet, but in the meantime, if you’ve wondered what I’m up to – this is it! I hope you’ll also watch for another instance when my innkeeping and writing worlds are scheduled to collide… Second Wind Publishing will be hosting a Pitch the Publisher event at the Blue Belle Inn B&B sometime this summer or fall. Stay tuned for further details!

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Physical Traits

Traits

Image courtesy of Billy Frank Alexander Design

In my own writing, the topic of the day is: How and when is it important to know your character’s physical traits? Do you decide these early on, or as you go when the plot or character needs them?

I am currently working on a fiction piece, writing characters who have been evolving in my mind for years, who are currently only “souls” I’ve imagined.  I have some general sense of what they may look like in the human form, but not concrete enough to share in the writing.  Recently I decided it might be nice to try and find actors/actresses that I have an affinity for in light of the “feeling” these “souls” give me when I think of their situations and end game.  I’m thinking that it may have been good to figure these out before I got too far down the road with their development.  At the very least it would have given me a reference point to either agree with later or change as these characteristics are exposed through the story telling.  I think I might know them even better had I gone that route.

Assuming that the three of the most important things about the character are known when we meet them in our imagination, (sex, age, name) these are a few other things I am considering.  Of course if the trait already matters to my plot, I will spend more time on that characteristic.

Trait 2Image courtesy of sxc ba1969

Height______  Tall?  Short?  Average? .

Weight/Shape/________ Flat?  Flabby?  Rolls?  Pudgy?  Protruding?  Jiggles? Fat?  Athletic?  Big/Tall or dwarfism?

Hair color/Length_______  Crew cut? Ponytail? Bald?  Lost to cancer? (I admit, I knew this when the characters came to me.  Do they come immediately for you?)

Facial and body hair_________ Beard?  Mustache?  Back hair?

Eyes ___________  Color? Too close together?  Crossed?  Lazy?  Bloodshot?  Almond?  Glasses?

Eyebrows_________ Full?  Thin?  Fair?  Dark?  Wide spread? Connect in the middle?

Skin_____________ Tone/Color? Flabby?  Wrinkled?  Acne?  Birthmark?  Tattoos?  Scars? Body piercings?

Ears __________ Small?  Large?  Stick out?  Ear rings?  Hairy?

Nose____________ Does it turn up?  Is it broad?  Flat?  Crooked?  Nose rings?

Lips _____________Narrow?  Full?  Painted?

Teeth___________Missing?  Bucked?  Yellow?  Straight?  White?

Chest ________ Voluptuous? Flat?  Muscular?  Large?  Hairy?

Some of my characters are fully fleshed out so to speak when I create them, and others take time with lists like the above for some guidance.

How do you go about determining your character’s physical traits?

Trait 3

Image courtesy of Billy Frank Alexander Design

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My Hat’s Off to You by Sherrie Hansen

 

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I wear a lot of different hats in my life as a writer, the owner and manager of the Blue Belle Inn B&B and Tea House, a pastor’s wife, and a daughter, sister and aunt. And I don’t get it from strangers. My Grandma Hansen loved wearing hats. During the depression, she and my Great-Grandma Danny used to make matching mother daughter dresses out of feed sacks. They would go to the feed store with Grandpa and root through the pile of feed sacks until they found enough in the right fabric to make two dresses. They sewed the dresses on a treadle sewing machine. I remember pumping my short legs back and forth on it when I was a girl. Grandma told me once that she never minded wearing a feed sack dress as long as she had a pretty hat to make it an outfit.

Rose - hat

So she would take a few pennies of the money she raised selling the eggs her chicken laid (their only source of cash during the depression) and drive to the Millinery Shoppe in St. Ansgar to buy a hat.

Zion - Hollyhocks

Grandma Hansen was a multi-tasker, and a wearer of many hats, just like I am. She cooked enough for a threshing crew even when there wasn’t one, had a huge garden, entertained family, friends and neighbors on a regular basis, taught a Sunday School class, and always seemed to find time for a game of Aggravation or Sorry with the grandchildren.  She taught us how to make hollyhock dolls (with pretty little hats) and pick eggs and butcher chickens. She was a woman of many talents. But no matter how busy she was, she always had time to tell us a story.

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When I think of how tired Grandma must have been at the end of a long hard day washing clothes on a wringer washer, sewing on a treadle machine, cooking over a wood cook stove and standing on her head out in the garden, it amazes me that she had the energy to tell us bedtime stories, And never just one… My favorites included Little Red Riding Hood, Cinderella, The Little Red Hen, The Three Little Pigs, and Chicken Little with Henny Penny, Ducky Lucky, Goosey Loosey, and Turkey Lurkey. There were also stories about our dad when he and his brother and sister were little. And there were stories from the Bible, stories about Jesus, and people he knew, like Nicodemus, Peter, and Mary, Martha and Lazarus. Grandma wove her stories with Billy Goat Gruff’s deep, scary voice, and Goldilocks sweet soprano. She held us spellbound for hours, telling stories that were new each time we heard them even though we had heard them hundreds of times.

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So it seems that I got not only my love of hats from my Grandma Hansen, but the gift of storytelling. As a writer of novels, I’ve spun tales of pure imagination in Night and Day, Stormy Weather, Water Lily, Merry Go Round, Love Notes, Thistle Down and Wild Rose that I hope would make her proud.

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When I put on my chef’s hat and go to work in the kitchen of my B&B, I tell people how the Blue Belle Inn came to be, and how I concocted their favorite recipes, how I met my husband and what interesting guests we’ve had that week.

Sherrie - Mark

I really do wear a hat to church most Sundays, when I dabble at being a pastor’s wife. And I tell the old, old story with my hands and voice, as I play the piano and help lead worship. When I’m with my nieces and sometimes my nephew, I tell stories about their daddy when he was a baby, and about what happened in our family before he was born. I’m 16 years older than my brother, and someone has to pass down the stories and legends and funny family tales. Who better than I, the oldest daughter of the oldest daughter of the oldest daughter for generations back? It’s a sacred calling.

Danish Girl

I used to wish I had one outstanding talent that would propel me to some sort of greatness. I play the piano plenty well enough for our small church, but a concert pianist, I’ll never be. I was a straight A student, but I’m no rocket scientist. I am good at a small dabbling of different things instead of being great at one thing.

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As I’ve gotten older, I’ve decided I like wearing different hats – my purple one to parties, my velvet one to church, my straw hat to tea and my floppy Florida hat with the big brim to the beach. What I once rued, I’m now thankful for. I’m a storyteller, a preserver of legends, a mind set free to fly anywhere in the world my imagination may take me.

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So thank you, Grandma Hansen, for telling me about Indians and horse-drawn sleighs and one room schoolhouses and eloping to the Little Brown Church in the Vail, and all the stories of your life. My hat’s off to you.

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Return to the Scene of the Crime — by Norm Brown

Way back in May of 2000 my son and I took a long cross country trip in a rented RV. We camped in some awesome national and state parks and took in a lot of tourist sites along our trek from Austin all the way up to southern Oregon. As in all great vacations there was one moment that stuck most in my memory. It was an awe-inspiring scene, but not in the photo taking sense like Yosemite. In fact, relatively few people have ever seen this sharp blind curve where inches from the edge of a one lane road the mountainside drops away for thousands of feet. There was no guard rail and the worn asphalt actually sunk down toward the drop off. As I eased the 25 foot long RV around the curve, I was convinced we had made a serious mistake in taking this route through the Siskyou National Forest between Galice and Gold Beach, Oregon. It was hard not to vividly imagine what would happen if we couldn’t make that turn. What if I met an oncoming vehicle or something blocked the way in the middle of the curve?

If you have read my novel, Carpet Ride, you will recognize this situation as the opening scene of the murder mystery. All those years ago, this is where I got the initial idea for the plot. It was a real place and inspired real fear. We made it safely down to the coast, but I have always had a clear image of that remote spot in my mind.

 A couple of weeks ago I took another RV trip in Oregon, this time with my brother. Older and maybe a bit wiser, we flew to Portland where we rented an RV and a small car for sight-seeing. This was a much better arrangement than having to drive the big gas-guzzling camper everywhere we went. So when I suggested we take a day trip over the wilderness road to the coast, I was actually thinking that the route would seem very different, maybe even a little disappointing. After thirteen years, the road had probably been drastically improved and the steep curves wouldn’t be challenging at all for a small car. Turns out I was wrong on both counts.

As before, we started out on a nice two-lane paved road through the tiny town of Galice. My GPS, which was something I didn’t have back in 2000, reported that we were quickly gaining altitude. By the time we were breathing thinner air at over 5,000 feet above sea level, the road had changed dramatically. Just as I remembered, the route rapidly deteriorated to a one lane, occasionally dirt, road. For me it was like stepping back in time. The only improvement I could see was the existence of a few warning signs along the way. At the highest elevations, the road literally sagged down toward the edge on one side and those drop-offs seemed even more spectacular than I remembered. Or perhaps my view just wasn’t as limited by the tunnel vision I suffered while steering an RV with overheating brakes. According to the GPS the entire white knuckled journey was only 46 miles as it roughly followed the Wild Rogue River through the mountain range. Averaging only 15-20 miles per hour much of the time, it took us well over two hours to reach Gold Beach, a seaside town on the Pacific Coast. I was only able to take a few photos along that beautiful stretch of rocky coast, which actually had been my main goal. The sun was quickly sinking and we had to turn around and do that whole drive again to get back east to our camp. Who knows, maybe traversing it in the dark would have inspired another story. I didn’t choose to find out. Luckily, the July sun sets pretty late in Oregon.

Oregon Wilderness Road

Oregon Wilderness Road

Somewhere along that trek, I guided the car through the exact curve that was seen through the eyes of the main character in Carpet Ride. But there were so many, each scarier than the last. I couldn’t point it out. As we came back down toward civilization, my brother, who just recently read the book, said, “You weren’t exaggerating, were you?” You know, before this return to the actual scene, I sort of thought I had.      

 

Norm Brown is the author of the suspense novel Carpet Ride, published by Secondwind Publishing, LLC.

 

              

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