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Creative Balance   Leave a comment

Are adverbs really the devil? If they sneak in occasionally, does it mean the writer is lazy?

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Stephen King says,

“The road to bad writing is paved with adverbs.”

Soon, all good writers have to a avoid adverbs like they’re some sort of flesh-eating microbe. We just know that we’re failing — ourselves, our readers, our editors — if we use adverbs.

Sure, Stephen King has written a lot of best-selling books that give people the willies late at night. Do those books contain adverbs? Maybe a few. I’m thinking it’s pretty hard to completely eliminate one of the four building blocks of grammar and still write that many novels, but even if King is not a hypocrite, he’s still not the boss of me. I don’t buy that all writers must write like Stephen King. If only for variety’s sake, Stephen King should write like Stephen King and you should “do you”. I should “do me”. Other writers ….

You get the point.

Adverbs are overused in bad writing

Most adverbs modifying verbs are unnecessary. Consider this —

  • The radio was blaring loudly.
  • The radio blared loudly.
  • The radio blared.

Just reading those three sentences tells us all we need to know. We don’t really need “loudly” to understand that a blaring radio is loud. It’s “blaring” after all, and the connotation of “blaring” includes loud. This is an example of a poorly-used adverb.

For subscribers to the “show, don’t tell” school of writing, writers who use a lot of adverbs evidence weak writing skills. Adverbs carry strong descriptions, preventing writers from expressing themselves clearly. Use an adverb like “angrily” and you don’t need to describe what actions a character engaged in that showed they were angry. The reader is just given the information that the character is angry.

“Joe angrily mopped the floor” tells the reader Joe was angry, but “Joe slopped soapy water over the floor, slamming his mop into the corners while muttering under his breath” shows the reader Joe’s rage. It’s more work, but it engages the reader in a more visceral experience.

I don’t hate on adverbs and I agree we should do the extra work to show rather than tell.

Not All That Bad

That doesn’t mean adverbs are literally the devil and we writers — particularly novelists — need to avoid them at all costs.

Adverbs are often redundant. “This is very heavy” is a great example of an adverb that is unnecessary because it’s modifying a adjective that doesn’t need to be modified. Heavy is, well, heavy. However, there are times when redundancy is a useful tool for a novelist or someone trying to make a sincere apology.

  • “I’m sorry.”
  • I’m so incredibly sorry.”

Depending on what the character has done, a simple apology won’t be enough. Red Kryptonite Curve ends with Ben telling Peter they can no longer be friends because his drunk driving hurt someone. Do you think Peter can go to Ben in “Dancing the Centerline” and say “I’m sorry” and all will be forgiven? He’s only going to have seconds before Ben walks away from him. “I’m so incredibly sorry” might give him a moment’s pause and Ben might listen to the next sentence or two if he emphasizes that he’s not just a little sorry for not listening to his friend in the previous book.

“I paid for the ticket. I’m attending the concert.” Okay. That conveys the meaning, but consider this —

“I paid for the ticket. I’m definitely going to the concert.” Technically “definitely” is an adverb, redundant, and unnecessary, but think about the meaning it conveys. It actually strengthens the feeling the character is expressing.

Most often, adverbs weaken the verb it is conjoined with, but not always. Sometimes, an adverb carries an emphasis that conveys a stronger sense of meaning. If you take “eliminate adverbs” as axiomatic dogma, you will miss the exception that might prove useful.

Gray Amid Black-and-White Rules

A rule that says “don’t ever” is black-and-white and traps us in corners we might not want to be in. Writing has no rules, unless you are a writer with a weakness you want to correct.

In truth, “don’t use adverbs” is a mutation of some excellent writing advice “be precise in your wording.”

  • The watermelon is very big.
  • The watermelon is enormous.

The second example is clearly more precise than the first. “Very big” is sloppy writing and doesn’t really give the writer the information he or she needs to know — that the watermelon is too big to lift. Both words are adverbs. One has a powerful place in the sentence while the other is filler.

At the risk of derailing this article into a discussion of passive versus active voice, the sentence would be better in active voice.

  • The enormous watermelon threatened to tip the wheelbarrow.

Although you could write the sentence without “enormous”, the adverb strengthens the image the sentence conveys. It doesn’t leave the reader wondering if the watermelon is just poorly placed. You know the watermelon’s size is the problem.

Adverbs can be important to the sentences we write, so long as we give them a role rather than use them as filler.

Adverbs are one of the four main parts of speech, together with nouns, verbs, and adjectives. They each perform a special purpose. We construct sentences using these basic building materials. When we omit all adverbs from our writing, we struggle to give important information about not verbs, adjectives and other adverbs.

Adverbs are often thought to end with “ly”, but any word or phrase modifying a verb, adjective or adverb is an adverb:

  • Rick smashed the zombie’s skull until his arm burned and flecks of rotted brain covered the sidewalk.
  • After surviving the exodus from New York, Joline would never trust another soldier.
  • Gregor stumbled back, avoiding Ilya’s grasp.
  • Janice faced forward because riding backwards made her motion-sick.

Almost no one objects to those adverbs because they convey necessary meaning in the sentence. Even “ly’ adverbs, used judiciously, can be powerful. Consider:

No live organism can continue for long to exist sanely under conditions of absolute reality; even larks and katydids are supposed, by some, to dream. Hill House, not sane, stood by itself against the hills, holding darkness within; it had stood so for eighty years and might stand for eighty more. Within, walls continued upright, bricks met neatly, floors were firm, and doors were sensibly shut; silence lay steadily against the wood and stone of Hill House, and whatever walked there, walked alone.

The Haunting of Hill House, Shirley Jackson

That’s from the opening of a novel that is considered one of the best setting paragraphs ever written and look at all the “ly” words. They convey incredible meaning to the point where I don’t think the paragraph would have the same impact if they were eliminated.

Adverbs mean everything if you’re writing to a specific word count. As a novelist, Stephen King can describe events in detail. Short stories often need adverbs to stay under a word count, as do magazine articles. Journalists use all words judiciously because they have a tight word count (typically 350 words) and they use adverbs when it carries important information. If you wish to convey a clear meaning and place your sentence in a particular context, adverbs are a useful tool.

Dialogue with Adverbs?

Consider the difference between these two sentences:

  • You missed the train.
  • Clearly, you missed the train.

By reading the first sentence, we know that somebody missed their train. The narrator could be anyone – a ticket officer, a friend, a random passenger.

The second sentence shows a degree of criticism. The adverb clearly, when used in this context, can show some level of scolding or disapproval because the person missed the train. If the writer wishes to convey such a meaning then the adverb is preferred.

  • Diana is an emotional person
  • Diana is an overly emotional person.

Most human beings are emotional, so the first sentence really conveys irrelevant information. Who knows if Diana’s emotions are a good or bad quality. We can’t determine the narrator’s opinion on her emotional state.

In the second sentence, the narrator clearly believes Diana is emotional to an excessive degree. It makes all the different in the narrative.

Break the Rules When You’re Ready

I’m an overly educated writer (who just used an — gasp — adverb). Do you think I didn’t run across hundreds of rules while getting a Master’s degree in Journalism? Of course, I did.

Some people, especially editors, treat writing like there’s a checklist of dos and donts that must be followed. There are rules that are useful and then there are rules that render us weak writers writing weak books.

Of course, we should know the rules and make use of them to improve our writing. Of course, we should take advice from bestselling writers like Stephen King. There’s nothing wrong with that. I have a checklist of my known weaknesses that I use to improve my self-edits. Again, there’s nothing wrong with that. I also keep a list of items to bring with me on business trips, so I don’t have to waste a lot of time going “Do I have everything I need?” Checklists are useful tools.

The trouble comes when an established writer’s experience (or the experiences of many established writers) becomes dogma. You need to “do you.” Establish your own style rather than copying King’s. Hemingway wrote in a specific style that I admire, but I don’t write like him — unless my POV character is that sort of person. See, how that works?

Writing is an art and art has “suggestions”, not rules. Whether it’s Stephen King who has sold millions of books or me who has sold somewhat less (currently), our “rules” are just advice and, yes, some advice is worth following. Correct spelling, for example, is highly useful for conveying meaning to readers. Using active voice rather than passive voice will almost always create a better story. Don’t overuse adverbs is equally good advance. Don’t use adverbs at all is a bridge too far. Rules are sign posts, common elements we find in great stories, but there are also amazing stories that break some of the rules, rejecting conventions when it makes sense.

Be aware of the rules and the risks inherent in breaking them, but remember, you’re an artist. Trust your intuition and don’t be intimidated by the clipboard Nazis with the checklists who think stories should all be alike. Consider what they have to say because they may be catching problems you don’t, but don’t take their advice as gospel. Enjoy your creative freedom while remembering that rules can be parachutes that will save your life.

See, balance! As important in writing as in trapeze acts and checkbooks.

Sky Dancer Clan   9 comments

As a writer, what would you choose as your mascot/avatar/spirit animal?


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A Word on Spirit Animals

Spirit animals are an important part of Wyandot culture (my mother’s culture). Our tribal clan system is designated by animals. The Wyandot tribe was anciently divided into 12 clans, which each had a local government, consisting of a clan council presided over by a clan chief (sachem). The names the clans called themselves were:

Big Turtle, Little Turtle, Mud Turtle, Wolf, Bear, Beaver, Deer, Porcupine, Striped Turtle, Highland Turtle, Snake, and Hawk.

The order was important for the line of travel and for tribal encampments. On the march the warriors of the Big Turtle Clan marched in front, those of the Little Turtle Clan marched next to them, and so on down to the last clan, except the Wolf Clan, which had command of the march and might be where its presence was most necessary. The tribal encampment was formed “on the shell of the Big Turtle.”. This means that the tents were arranged in a circular form as though surrounding the shell of the Big Turtle. The Big Turtle Clan was placed where the right fore-leg of the turtle was supposed to be and the other clans were arranged around in their proper order, except the Wolf Clan, which could be in the center of the enclosure on the turtle’s back, or in front of it where the turtle’s head was supposed to be, depending on what the Wolf clan decided. In ancient times all Wyandot villages were built in this order, and in the tribal council the clans took this order in seating themselves, with the sachem either in the center or in the front of the door of the council chamber.

Most of the clans are extinct now and a lot of Wyandot who claim to be members of an extant clan are really more Caucasian and a mix of Wyandot clans, but the animals they were named after were meant to be the totem of that clan – your spirit guide, to use modern terms. Supposedly, the spirit behind the totem animals gave Wyandots power and comfort. I seriously looked into this as a teenager and college student, before deciding that as a born-again Christian, I could not partake in it. My only spiritual guide is Jesus Christ and I make nothing equal to or greater than Him. I don’t need to. He is more than sufficient.

What others do is not my concern. That’s just a personal decision on my part, and explains why I’m not going to select a spirit animal for this exercise.

Mascots and Avatars However …

But there’s another way of looking at it. The animals were not spiritual guides, but symbols for the tribe – avatars, if you will. After all, my high school had a mascot. The malemute is a husky dog that is very popular here in Alaska. There’s nothing spiritual about it. And, for years I have used the avatar of the aurora borealis on my social media sites.


It’s a long complicated story involving a nickname given to me by a college professor – the Aurorawatcher. I’ve shared it before. You can find it here.

I wouldn’t claim an animal as my mascot just because — well, it is just too close to the totems of my tribe and that kneeling at another altar thing, but I do claim the aurora as an avatar. Why?


It’s beautiful and majestic and ethereal. It changes. You could watch the aurora every night for decades and never see two that are alike. And, they are mysterious. There’s a lot that’s known about the sky dance today, but there is a great deal that isn’t known. And, above all, if you haven’t experienced the aurora for yourself, I can only give you a taste of what it is like to stand out in the cold and stare up at the sky. It’s changing, whipping across the black velvet sky, sending out long tendrils, sometimes moving fast and sometimes barely moving … pulsing colors and flickering white and … and they can last all night or fade after a few moments.

It reminds me a lot of Christian faith, which is another thing you must experience to understand. I can only give you a taste of it if you haven’t experienced it for yourself. That’s not a failure of the faith, but a testament to it not being made up. It easy to explain that which is manmade and so much harder to explain that which is transcendent of human minds.

The aurora’s dance is also somewhat like how I write my books. I’m a discovery writer. I experience the stories as I write them. I rarely know where they’re headed before I get there. It’s only on rewrite that I can (somewhat) herd the story. I know the high points of a series, but I can’t tell you when my creative mind might fling out a pulsing arm of color that will surprise me as much as it surprises my readers. The dance of the northern lights has the same unpredictable, genie-in-a-bottle feel. Beautiful, mercurial, hard to capture. It’s not static, it’s always changing, and when it fades tonight, I know it will be back tomorrow.

Posted November 11, 2019 by aurorawatcherak in Blog Hop

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What They Say About Me   4 comments

Do you Google yourself?


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You can’t know where you’re headed if you don’t know where you are.

Apparently, most Americans don’t google themselves, but they probably should. According to a survey I read, 24% of adults and 43% of millennials said they’d been negatively affected by online information about them. While few actually searched for themselves, when they did, 20% found inaccurate information, 33% found their content had been shared without permission, and 12% said they were unpleasantly surprised at what they found.

So do I google myself?

Of course I do. And, I’ve discovered some interesting things. My husband’s uncle is a famous guy. His name is tied to 911. We have the same (married) last name and so — yeah, there’s stuff out there under my married name that is inaccurate and libelous. The frustrating part of it is that it has nothing to do with me or even Brad, but to do with my uncle-in-law who had to make a government decision during a crisis that some (not most) people disagree with and insist is evidence of some vast government conspiracy.

That experience is why I chose to use a pen name. The prospect of my creative work being forever linked to a terrorist attack I had nothing to do with didn’t appeal in the least. When I google “Lela Markham” I’m pleased that what comes up are almost always book/blog related or it’s one of my Facebook conversations. I totally own those. I’m proud of modeling what civil social media behavior ought to look like – civil, polite, principles-based and letting other people be wrong without ascribing evil, insanity, or stupidity to them. If my opinions make other people mad because they want everyone to agree with them, then they need to evaluate their own attitudes. But that doesn’t mean I want to be linked to 9-11 or my uncle-in-law, who is really a nice guy who did a heroic thing, but — yeah, the world we live in today …right? Brad and I and our kids are not him and he is not who the conspiracy theorists think he is … but in our modern world of virtual “reality”, it doesn’t matter what the truth is. And, although the things they’ve said about us, we’ve been able to shrug off (mainly because they were clearly untrue and living in Alaska makes it easy to PROVE you weren’t where they say you were at that time they say) there have been some younger family members denied coveted college entrance or jobs because of what was written about them. So, you’re darned right, I google myself and my children and I address what I find. And, yes, I have a lawyer if a warning from me doesn’t suffice.

I had a long career in administration before I published 9-11 and before publishing my first book so I didn’t need to worry that the google stakes get high if you’re job-hunting. According to an article on the website, 70% of recruiters have turned down candidates based on information found online, and 84% believe online information will affect hiring decisions all or most of the time over the next five years.

Yet despite all these valid concerns, few of us do much to monitor our online reputations. Sixty percent of respondents admitted they never do searches on themselves, and of those who do, 47% do it only once or twice a year. That’s, by the way, is about as often as I do it because I have plenty else to do. This makes me a decided minority among those who’ve already been harmed by online information. Seventy-seven percent of those who’d had that unpleasant experience reported they now regularly check for online information on themselves. I have novels and blog articles to write and don’t choose to go to battle more than twice a year.

I regularly google my name(s) 

I check my online reputation by entering my name into Google, Bing, or another search engine. If your name isn’t as unusual as (both) of mine, try adding your employer, home town, organization where you’re active, or other extra information into the search.  

Particular Attention to Social Media.

This is slightly more time-consuming, because you’ll want to check Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter, Tumblr, and Pinterest. Reputations are so often made and broken on Facebook, so remember to check your friends’ walls, your apps, events, etc. My author persona deliberately starts conversations about controversial topics, so I strive to be civil. You don’t have to agree with me — that would defeat the point, actually, but I want to know if what people are saying about Lela Markham is accurate. It’s okay if they disagree with me. I just want to know what I might need to defend myself against.

Check court records. 

This part of my online investigation started after my mother-in-law falsely accused me of domestic violence. In many places, including Alaska, public records can be found online, and even if you’ve never run afoul of my husband’s mother, you might want to check that your name hasn’t been attached to any bits of legal unpleasantness to embarrass you. What can you do about it? That’s tricky. My mother-in-law accused me of domestic violence back in 2010. Thirty days later, the case was ruled moot, meaning the judge recognized my mother-in-law lied. Three years and two strongly-worded attorney letters later, Alaska Courtview finally listed the court decision as “moot”. But if I weren’t checking regularly, I wouldn’t have known when that changed because the State of Alaska never notified me or my lawyer of the change. Brad and I have a friend whose Social Security number got switched for someone with a similar name and it took him a half-decade to force the State of Washington to rectify its error, so this happens more often than many of us realize.

Fix it.

If you yourself posted whatever it is that’s embarrassing you, then it’s usually a fairly straightforward matter to remove it again, although it can take a while to actually disappear, and even once it does people may still find it in cached pages. Moral of that story is – think hard before you hit POST and maybe stay off social media when you’ve had anything to drink. There are consequences and with Way-Back, they can come back to haunt you.

If the unpleasant information was posted by someone else, you will likely have to contact whoever put it there and ask that person to remove it, although Facebook and Google do have procedures for removing inaccurate or inappropriate content on your own.

And needless to say, if someone posted a piece of writing such as a blog post, or a photo that you took without your permission, that’s a copyright violation that should be rectified quickly once you point it out.

Overwhelm the Bad with Good.

You may not be able to remove all the reputation-damaging material you find about yourself online. Certainly my husband’s uncle cannot. Because the decision he made affected millions of people, he instantly became a public figure and the Supreme Court has ruled that public figures have less of a standing against libel suits. Still you can make things better, by raising your online profile in a positive way so that anything bad is pushed further and further down in search results. Contribute content to industry publications or websites, or local publications. Post regularly to social media in a way that reflects well on you, such as to note your own accomplishments, congratulate your friends and colleagues on their successes, or share valuable content.

And–if you haven’t already–consider creating your own website and/or starting your own blog – because that’s content you completely control. Why wouldn’t you use that kind of positive power if it is available to you?

In my case, you can read my books and find out what I stand for.

Wall of Despair   6 comments

September 30, 2019

How do you move past writer’s block?

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Being Honest

I don’t really believe in writer’s block. Every time I hear someone describe it, this little voice in my head goes – “Oh, they’re freaking themselves out. Don’t do that. Stop doing that. Move on, folks.”

I think every writer experiences inevitable moments when their prose are mushy and they can’t find a creative bone anywhere in their body. I’ve experienced that. I just don’t consider it a time to panic. It’s not writer’s block so much as it is often writer’s boredom.

Sometimes it’s not the right time to write about the story I want to write about. Maybe my ideas need to marinate a little longer before I can write them down.

Sometimes, if I’m really honest with myself, I am afraid to put my ideas and myself out where everyone can critique them and me. After all, who really wants to walk into the middle of a wolf pack with nothing between them and those teeth but a shield of toilet paper and a lace dress? Right?

Today, perfect is not an option – what a relief! But it’s still a struggle to want everything to be just right before you even put pen to paper or touch a keyboard. We all want that smashing-GREAT first line. I never write it in the first draft and that’s okay because that’s what second drafts and even third drafts are for. What a relief!

We all have self-defeating habits and fears that can tangle us up in personally-created red tape. Are there solutions to that dark night of the writer’s soul? Sometimes. I know what works for me, which is why I can say I don’t really believe in writer’s block.

I feel it. The huge brier wood of writerly complications that I must hack through to get the story I want to write. I hear the whisper of the voice of defeat every now and again. But instead of letting it block me from my goal, I start hacking away at it. The trick is to find something that works for you — this time.

“I’ve often said that there’s no such thing as writer’s block; the problem is idea block. When I find myself frozen–whether I’m working on a brief passage in a novel or brainstorming about an entire book–it’s usually because I’m trying to shoehorn an idea into the passage or story where it has no place.” Jeffrey Deaver


What I don’t do — what I know will backfire every time — is to refuse to write until I feel “inspired.” Inspiration is the stuff of movies. Writing is work. It’s work I love, but it is still work. I don’t want for “inspiration.” I don’t feel sorry for myself. I don’t procrastinate and make excuses. Yeah, yeah, yeah – I don’t feel creative. So what? Create anyway.


So I’m all bound up and I can’t create? Naw, maybe I just need a break. I go for a walk (up to a three-day hike). I make some coffee (or tea). I read someone else’s book for a while (I’m using “The Cold Dish” by Craig Johnson as my current distraction-cum-relief valve). I call an old friend. I spend time with someone who makes me laugh (Brad needs to come back from Texas). I go to the coffee shop and set up my computer there.

It doesn’t really matter what you do, so long as it works for you and it creates momentum. I have been known to write nonsense. After all, it’s just pixels. No harm, no foul, I can erase it later. Once you start heading in a direction — any direction — it’s easier to pick up speed and to guide yourself to the path you should be on. I never have just one writing project going. I have a primary, secondary, and tertiary project currently and I also have WIPs that aren’t anywhere near seeing the light of day — and it’s all fine because if I get bored with my primary project, I can switch to one of the others and still be writing — still making progress. And, in a few hours or a day or a week, I’ll come back to my primary project and, viola, I’m ready to write it again.

The fail-proof solution

You might already have guessed what my fail-proof strategy for overcoming writer’s block is. I write. I start somewhere, anywhere. I write a few lines. I say anything. I see what happens. I don’t think about it too much. Sometimes I write nonsense. I don’t try for the next great American novel. I just write. It probably isn’t eloquent or presentable. It’s just words on a computer screen — or sometimes a notebook. I write for the joy of writing, because writing is what I do. It’s how I talk to myself.

The fact is – if you’re not illiterate, you can write. Don’t make it harder than it needs to be. Just type a few words and get past the hump. You can fix it later. It’s something I learned in journalism. The difference between professional writers and amateurs is both encounter obstacles to writing, but one pushes through to the other side while the other gets paralyzed and stops writing altogether.

Vulnerable Doesn’t Equal Victim   9 comments

August 5,2019

What is your writing Kryptonite?

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I LOVE this topic because it bumps up against a theme in my work in progress “What If … Wasn’t.” More about that in a few paragraphs.

On the surface, kryptonite is easy. It’s what makes Superman weak. But of course, there’s several different kinds of krytonite. All of them affect him in a negative way, but red kryptonite makes him feel strong as it also overwhelms his morality. Interestingly, green kryptonite is the anecdote – judiciously applied, of course. You don’t want to kill the superhero while attempting to save him.

“It’s your krytonite,” Ben observed.

Peter sipped coffee, frowning.

“Not unless it’s red kryptonite. I feel so strong and capable when I drink. I can fly and take on that dude from the Phantom Zone.”

“Colonel Zod.”

“Yeah. It’s a powerful feeling.” Peter smiled at the memories, and then shivered. “And then the consequences hit.” He looked haunted.

“Are the consequences your green kryptonite?”

“That’s where your metaphor breaks down, Ben. Green kryptonite only affects Superman. It doesn’t kill humans. Mine does.”

Peter’s self-hatred oozed from every word.

“I don’t have a future as a comic book writer, but — Peter, it seems to me you’ve learned to leave the red kryptonite alone. Five years sober! That’s odds defying, from what I’ve read. So why can’t you forgive yourself?”

Peter sighed, looking for answers in the bottom of his coffee mug.

“Maybe that’s my green kryptonite – shame. As long as I take a dose of it everyday, I leave the red alone.”

“Maybe, but I’d recommend you reduce the dose below lethal levels.” Peter rubbed the back of his neck, clearly uncomfortable with the suggestion. “Isn’t there a happy medium between red kryptonite ego-maniac and green kryptonite self-hatred?”

Peter shrugged, then shook his head in self-mockery.

“If it exists, I wouldn’t recognize it if it bit me on the ass.”

The last of Ben’s anger at Peter dissolved like ice in the hot sun, scorched by Peter’s brutal self-assessment.

“Do you trust your friends enough to recognize it for you?”

“Do you trust me enough to be my friend again?”

For the first time, Peter made eye contact with Ben. Telling the truth was hard for him because it made him vulnerable and right this moment, Ben had never seen Peter more vulnerable. Shame wasn’t his only green kryptonite.

From “What If … Wasn’t.”

Krytonites exist all around us and I think we humans have a lot of individual kryptonites — that which makes us weak and those may be far less dangerous than that which makes us feel strong, but will also kill us. I could spend several novels exploring the various kryptonites that affect a whole range of characters.

So the question is, “What is my writing kryptonite?” and clearly I’ve recently given some thought to the kryptonite subject … but not so much as it relates to writing.

When I googled the topic of writer’s kryptonite, the first five articles said “distractions connected to the Internet” (e.i., research that becomes online shopping, social media, etc.) And I admit, I do get distracted that way sometimes. I start to do research and I answer a comment on Facebook and I get back to writing hours or days later and look what time I’ve wasted.

The sixth article mentioned worry about what people will think of your writing or the story you share. Yeah, that’s there too, but I’m a writer who hopes to be a bit subversive, so I recognize the desire to live in the good estimation of others as a green kryptonite and I’ve learned to recognize its effect and either move away from or overcome it in order to be a published author.

Too much creativity has been a kryptonite for me in 2019. Yeah … TOO MUCH creativity. I’ve started about six books, including choosing to develop “What If … Wasn’t” into a series, in the last eight months, interfering with my ability to write my primary project “Gathering In” (Book 5 of Transformation Project. (The manuscript just went to the beta readers yesterday. I’m only a month behind. It’ll be fine.) Creativity surge-tides are definitely a red kryptonite because I have thoroughly enjoyed the process of creative genesis. I’ve just had to force myself to concentrate where my focus needs to be. Book 6 (tentatively “Winter’s Reckoning”) may have a different schedule to accommodate my new projects. Sometimes kryptonite shows us where we need to adjust our course a little.

Transformation Project and “What If … Wasn’t” are teaching me that my true kryptonite is vulnerability. When we bare ourselves in our books, we risk ending up covered in goose flesh and embarrassment, which might be why too many people use fake vulnerability to garner attention as a victim rather than a purveyor of truths that should be revealed. Victimhood acts like fig leaves, leaving our vulnerability inadequately covered by the flimsiness of sympathy. Truth should always provide some nice leather garments to strengthen us in our weakness, so we can move beyond the pain and hopefully bring the reader to the point of empathy, which is so superior to sympathy.

The end of “Gathering In” is all about grieving and the next book will build on that by exploring the pain of post-traumatic stress disorder. “What If … Wasn’t” is all about the consequences of bad decisions. At every creative turn, I am called to be vulnerable through my characters while I don’t naturally want to be vulnerable because I long ago decided that my life is not about being a victim. Yes, I’ve experienced pain. If I’m honest, I’ve experienced a lot of tragedy in my life. No, I am not a victim. I’m a survivor and survivors don’t ask for tea and sympathy. Overcoming tragedy has made us strong and we have developed scar tissue that makes us seem invulnerable. And yet, good novelists expose our vulnerability through our characters. We open up the scar tissue to reveal our innermost frailty and, if we have truly learned the lessons of adversity, we can show where strength comes from.

Whether in writing fiction or interacting with the people around us, when we are vulnerable, we give someone else a piece of our self, not knowing how it will be received or reciprocated. We’re opening a vein to another, hoping for appreciation or empathy in return as we reveal the tragic beauty of a beating heart — hoping our readers won’t run screaming in the other direction.

Some people will run screaming, by the way. The world is filled with shallow people who only want to interact with shallow ideas. How dare I ruin their apocalyptic fiction with feelings. My vulnerability through my characters risks them feeling vulnerable and entertaining thoughts they’d rather not have. But I’m banking that some people will thrill to the vulnerability of an “invulnerable” character like Shane, because it makes him human and if they stick around, they might get to see a phoenix rise —

IF I don’t kill him, because nobody is guaranteed to live through my apocalypse – well, except JT Delaney who has opened every book with thoughts on what went wrong and is clearly writing from the future. Who is this person? It’s a mystery. I’ll give you a free e-copy of “Gathering In” (when it publishes) if you can guess. Email me at if you want in on this guessing game.

And Peter of “What If … Wasn’t” — vulnerability is the only way he can move beyond the consequences of his past to reconnect to other human beings again. He doesn’t have strength to rely on. He’s vulnerable because he’s broken, but what he’s done means he can’t claim to be a victim. He’s not allowed to feel sorry for himself. He has to be a survivor because no one will ever forgive him if he claims to be a victim. Writing him in his vulnerable state is scary painful, but it also makes me feel wholly alive — invigorated by a kind of truthfulness that you just can’t convey without bleeding a little of your soul onto the page.

When we’re vulnerable with others, we create an imbalance in the relationship. We admit we struggle in some way, knowing that truthfulness might engender ridicule, fear or dislike of us or our characters. That imbalance, however, leads to connection and connection – that’s where novelists should live. We become more compassionate human beings when we share stories of pain and struggle. Not all people can be the creator of such stories, but if the writer shares with the reader, the reader reaps the benefits of our honesty.

But I don’t want to be vulnerable. I don’t want to get naked before my audience. I don’t want to shine a bright spotlight on the beauty and sorrow of my humanity. Like everyone else, I prefer to be invulnerable — the superhero of my own life — and many of my characters wish the same. I have to force vulnerability on them for the sake of the story, as other writers have forced it on their protagonists.

Consider these scenarios:

  • Without the potential for contact with kryptonite and the dilemma of juggling two identities, is there any conflict or tension to Superman’s story?
  • Without the looming possibility of Holden Caulfield’s suicide, would we care about his whiny school-trip diary?
  • Without Romeo’s often-blind passion, wouldn’t we just wince at his and Juliet’s inevitable teenage romantic train wreck?

Our characters must be compelled by a need or desire they are desperate to fulfill. That desperation, the willingness to risk everything, is vulnerability. Readers delight in character kryptonite. Journeying alongside a vulnerable character as they find their way toward peace and healing allows us to experience uncertainty and risk without having to abide it in real life. Writers really are doing the human race a solid by giving our readers the opportunity to experience vulnerability without the personal tragedy.

And, yet, being vulnerable is my real-life kryptonite, which means I must willingly expose myself to that which makes me feel weak in order to be a stronger writer.

Selecting Roses   19 comments

How do you select the names of your characters?


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I admit I’m a name geek. I’ve always loved looking up the meaning of names. There’s an old Celtic tradition that your name gives power to those who know it. That might actually be the origin of nicknames – a name you use every day that doesn’t have the power of your true name.

I chose names depending on the setting of the book. So, for example, Transformation Project series is set in rural Kansas. I chose a town that really exists as my exemplar so I could research utilities, civic buildings and history. Although I renamed the streets, I use the map of the existing town for the most part. Emmaus is not that town, but it seemed smart to have a real-life research focus.

While I was at it, I took advantage of the local online telephone book to pick a lot of the last names. Often the cultural background of that last name dictated the first name of the character. It made sense that the Delaneys – Jill Faraday married to an Irish-American with an American Indian ancestor — would favor Celtic names – thus Shane and Keri. I researched for Celtic names and I just liked those. Shane’s character predated the book and the name. I didn’t like the name my daughter gave him on our road trip where the character was created, so I found one I liked better. Keri is the name of a daughter of a friend of mine. I liked the Celtic origin, but I changed the spelling. Cai is a nickname for Malacai – a Biblical name meaning “message bearer”. I was scanning through the baby name book and saw that, thought it was perfect for a lawyer who is also a faithful evangelical Christian, but then the full name just felt too heavy and Cai goes back into Celtic traditional names.

I decided the Lufgrens would favor Biblical names. Why? It was just a decision. I could have chosen Swedish names, but the family is Deaf, so I posited they weren’t attached to their Swedish heritage. But I decided Alex’s mother was an outlander – Dad brought her home from Deaf school and so she named her children differently from the other Lufgrens. Poppy because I found it in that telephone book and because you have to be an awesome young person to carry a flower name and I gave it a backstory of a famous Deaf woman in the town’s history – I might use that someday – and Alex because it sounds heroic and I envision Alex as being a sleeping hero who will one day show Shane what a true hero is.

A nearby town had a lot of Polish names and so I picked first names that came from Polish heritage for a lot of the people living in Mara Wells, also loosely based on a real town.

I have some Hispanic characters and their names also come from the baby name book – except Javier (Javi) whose name was borrowed from one of my son’s friends. I just like the nick-name, so I used it.

On the other hand, it is sometimes fun to play with names. For example, I know a real life person who was born in Columbia whose name is Kenji. Yeah, that’s a Japanese name. Put a name on a character that doesn’t match their ethnicity and you can add immediate mystery and hint at a back story. In Transformation Project there is a character who seems to have three names — different people call her two different names and she calls herself another. Why? Ooo, yes, there’s a back story. She’s not a major character so I may never get to it, but it’s there for exploitation if I ever want to use it.

People always ask me where I got the name Jazz for Jessica Tully. I worked with a Jessica who was called Jazz because her older brother couldn’t say Jess right. I liked the sound of the name and I liked the spirit of its bearer, so I borrowed it for the character who is not based on this woman I know, but who has a similar gutsy style. I even borrowed the mispronunciation as the back story on her nickname.

In my fantasy series Daermad Cycle, the names of the Celdryans also come from a Celtic region of Europe, and so I get the names from a baby name book, but then I tweak them slightly to meet the naming conventions I made up for Daermad. The Kin have very long complicated names (based on Asian naming conventions), but I try to keep their first names in view to cut down on reader headaches.

In other genres, I mainly just select names I like, often names I would have used if I’d had a dozen kids. I still go back to the baby name books occasionally for inspiration and to wonder if the name I want to use suits the character.

After all, if names have power over us, it probably matters what you name a fictional character you actually do have power over.

Posted June 24, 2019 by aurorawatcherak in Blog Hop

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Finding Time   10 comments

If you didn’t have to sleep, what would you do with the extra time?

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This is kind of an easy question for me because I can almost not sleep during the “midnight sun” period of May 15 through July 15. I can sleep two or three hours a night and feel just fine, energized by the sun, which only goes below the horizon for about two hours a night. We barely experience civil twilight.

Unfortunately, it’s a trick you can’t sustain. You do have to sleep occasionally. The human brain requires sleep because you need to dream. If you don’t dream while you’re sleeping, you’ll start to hallucinate while you’re awake. So while you can stay awake fairly easily here above the 70th parallel during the summer, sooner or later, you have got to sleep to replenish your acetylcholine levels. If you don’t do that, you’re going to end up in the psych ward. It’s usually what happens to bipolars who crash and burn.

I only need about six hours of sleep a night and I can function just fine. In the summer, that stretches to two or three hours a night with about every third night needing six hours. A psychiatrist I worked with in Community Mental Health had a theory that people like me can short ourselves on sleep because we are very imaginative and that is sort of like dreaming while awake. And maybe that’s what’s going on. I don’t know for sure. During those times when I’m not sleeping and other people are, I am … of course, writing or researching for writing. Sometimes I’m reading a book by another author.

The Alaska lifestyle is a little different. It’s not unusual for us to get off work at 5 pm, grab some food from the grocery store and set out on the hiking trail. The wilderness is so close here, we can be in the woods within an hour. And we can hike until midnight because the sun doesn’t go down until about 1 am during the solstice. Then we’ll flit home and sleep until 7 am. It’s not unusual. Lots of people walk around with that glowy look that says they haven’t sleep a full night in weeks. It’s just the way it is.

Therefore, if I didn’t have to sleep at all, I’d probably expand what I am doing now – read, write, research, hike, maybe quilt (in the winter) – although maybe our lawn would get mowed more often or our car washed occasionally. Eight hours more of life would be quite a gift. And, I would definitely need to build some more bookshelves because I’d spend a lot of that extra time reading.

I wonder what my fellow authors would be doing if they didn’t need to sleep.

Posted May 13, 2019 by aurorawatcherak in Blog Hop

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Oh, What a Boring World!   3 comments

December 3, 2018

What would you do if you knew you could not fail?

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That sounds like a boring life. I don’t think I’m in favor of total-transparency living, but I agreed to do the topic, so ….

  1. I would testify more boldly of my faith to everybody I care about knowing they will not reject my testimony. Then I would testify more boldly to strangers as well.
  2. I would continue to advocate for smaller government and no government, knowing that I will one day be successful.
  3. I would invest in a startup business that I believe in knowing that it will grow and become a business that can support me through investment income.
  4. I would advertise my books in a big way knowing they will become best-sellers that will support me in retirement.
  5. I would invest in my daughter’s musical career in a big way knowing that my investment will assure her success so that she can return my investment.
  6. I would invest in my son’s rock-climbing interest in a bigger way for the same reason.
  7. And, judging from the photo above, I might go sky-diving.

Generally, I think I’d be more willing to try new activities and ventures because I would know they wouldn’t become a waste of time since success would be assured.

But I also think I would eventually become bored and stop trying new activities because the assurance of success would take away some of the enjoyment of the attempt.

Posted December 3, 2018 by aurorawatcherak in Blog Hop

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Transcending this Lifetime   6 comments

What do you want people to remember about you?

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We all hope to leave a legacy. It’s sort of a human ambition to leave behind something that has people remember who we were a decade after our deaths or a century. It’s mainly only the infamous who are remembered millennia after their deaths. Alexander the Great is not remembered because he was a good guy who promoted peace and love, for example. Had George Washington not headed the Continental Army during the American Revolution, he would be no better remembered today than Lemuel Haynes or Roger Sherman.

Proverbs 31 womanAt not-quite-60 I probably have another 20 years to forge my legacy (my mother’s family routinely push 90 when they pass to the next realm), so I am thinking more and more of what I want people to remember about me. I don’t do bucket lists, but today’s post calls me to consider this, so, here goes!

I would want people to remember me as an imperfect (that’s actually important) mother who loved her children enough to let them find their own paths, but who imparted saving knowledge of Jesus Christ to them. If our daughter ever fulfills her potential and God’s leading, you will know her name and not because she’s infamous. To say more would sound arrogant, but there are reasons having nothing to do with me or her for why I believe she could light up the world stage … or that she might be one of those people who is not famous in her own lifetime, but whose work will transcend her own life.

When folks stand around at my memorial service, I hope they remember my faith was in Jesus Christ and that I lived that out in my life even when it was sometimes hard and I wasn’t rewarded for it. Yeah, I think I’m on a theme here.

I would like people to remember my books. I put a lot of myself and my faith into them and so, of course, I want them to live on beyond my lifetime.

Last, I hope my blogging is remembered by the people who have read it (or might read it in the future) and that it helped them to see new and better ways of doing things that leads us away from the current vitriol and insanity of our present schizophrenic society. I’m not alone in occupying a 3rd way that is neither Republican nor Democrat, but seeks to align with economic reality and individual liberty and I pray God that people turn more in that direction before the whole mess slides off a cliff.

So, I think that’s about it. A faithful Christian, an effective communicator, an entertaining novelist and a good mom. Basically, I want to be remembered as a humanized Proverbs 31 woman.

Alaska Chic   8 comments

Featured Image -- 57641July 23, 2018
Let’s talk wardrobe. Do you gravitate to one color? What is your go to style? What shoes do you prefer?

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Alaska is still a frontier and so, like many frontier folks throughout time, we tend to dress casually, in keeping with the lifestyle we lead. In fact, my office is so casual that we have dress-up Mondays because a Jeans Friday would look like any other day. There’s really no place in the Interior where there’s a dress standard – no restaurants that require you wear a tie, for example. Such a restaurant wouldn’t have any customers, so they wisely don’t think too highly of themselves.

Glacier ChicWhich is not to stay that we don’t dress up if we feel like it. This week is our version of Founders Days – we call it Golden Days, and men and women both dress in the clothing that was fashionable in the 1910s when Fairbanks was founded. I am walking in the parade tomorrow and will probably wear my Golden Day dress, but I’ll wear tennis shoes under my shirt. That will be the most dressed up I’ll go all year … probably. (We woke up to the brightest and hottest day of the summer so far and so I wore shorts and a sheer blouse because, much as I celebrate our town’s past, I celebrate not getting heat stroke more).

I really am not a big “style” person. I’m small for one thing, so finding clothes that fit and don’t wear me instead of the other way around is a challenge. I’ve never understood some women’s obsession with shoes. I own about three dozen, but that includes summer shoes (can’t be worn in winter), hiking boots (two pairs), and winter boots (five pairs, including bunny boots and muck boots). My dress shoes might have a kid heel, otherwise I prefer flats or a slight wedge. I made peace with being 5’1″ a long time ago and decided to be kind to my spine, knees and phalanges.

Bunny bootsI have two very different styles for work and leisure and they vary by season because we have real winter and real summer here and transition seasons that last about a week each. Additionally, my job interacts with the public, so though the office culture is casual, I feel personally responsible to present a professional appearance. In the winter, that means business casual suit jackets over a nice top and slacks. In the summer, that means a dress or a nice top and a skirt. I dress these up with scarves. But I do relax my standards for Fridays, though I doubt more than my coworkers notice because I basically dress like they do. On dress-up Mondays, they dress like I do on a standard day.

Fabrics are important in a town where there is always construction in the summer — so even my officewear is machine washable. It’s just too expensive to dry-clean outfits every week. We do have a couple of women in the office who do that, but I prefer to spend my income on something that doesn’t need to be done again next week.

During my off-hours, I wear jeans (or shorts in the summer) and t-shirts with sweaters or fleece over that for the winter. I generally wear this casual attire everywhere — including church because I feel I’ve done my time with dress-up at work and Alaskans are so casual about clothes that people in three-piece suits will sit non-judgmentally next to someone in jeans. My favorite color is green, but shades of orange are a close second and blue is a close third. Often, I mix these colors together and I like bold shades to offset the prohibition against ruffles and strong patterns that overwhelm small people.

Fox trappers hatRounding out any Alaska woman’s wardrobe is outerwear – coats, hats, gloves, etc. And we really have three seasons for that — summer, fall/hunting and winter. I don’t have a distinction between work and casual in this gear — except for fall. I would refrain from wearing my blood-stained hunting jacket to the office — though some of my male coworkers would not. In the summer, I usually carry a sweater or light fleece jacket with me because even on hot days, you just don’t know that the weather might turn or that a public building is overdoing the air conditioning. The sun is up most of the night around here, so you can go to a movie at 7 o’clock and it could be 90 degrees out. Inside the air-conditioned theater, you need a sweater. Then when you come out at 9:30, it’s still 75 degrees, so you take the sweater off.  In the fall, that sweater gradually gets layered with another sweater or maybe a water-resistant jacket. And then winter comes and it’s time for the heavy coats – usually hollofill coats to my knees with hoods. But I also have a Carhhart coat for outdoor work and my own pair of bunny boots.

But no Alaska woman’s wardrobe would be complete without fur. I do occasionally wear the mouton parka I inherited from my mother (pretty heavy), but my fox trapper’s hat is only appropriate when it’s really cold out, I’m going to a dog mushing event or I want to tweak the political sensibilities of people who really need to mind their own business.

Now for a funny Alaska story – too bad I don’t have a photo.

We went to an orchestra performance one really cold January. Cold to us is -20*F (-29*C). It was colder than that, maybe -40. I wore a green woolen dress, fancied up with an ivory scarf. Under it, I wore my thermals and a pair of my daughter’s leather boots with wool socks (because her feet are two sizes larger than mine so I could actually get the wool socks in the boots and because it was COLD). There was this woman down by the stage dressed in a glittering red sequined evening gown. She really looked the part with a fur coat and jewelry. But during the interlude, we met in the bathroom and I looked down to realize she was wearing bunny boots. She blushed and laughed and explained she’d left her shoes at home by accident and so it was either wear her outerwear boots or go barefoot. To which I said “It’s Alaskan chic. We should have the consignment store feature it as a hot new trend.” Apparently she told that story enough that it got around because a local boutique actually did feature that as a display the next winter with the caption “Alaska Chic.”

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