Archive for the ‘#openbook’ Tag

Road Trippin’ the Blue Highways   7 comments

This week’s blog hop topic is – “What Is Your Bucket List?”  What kinds of things do you want to do before you kick the bucket? Dream big. Life is full of exciting things to do.


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So the last time the blog hop visited this topic, this is what I had to say about it.

I haven’t really changed my mind about living my ordinary life rather than trying to fill a bucket list. We’re still debt-adverse, so we have to save for trips. I still have a job and Brad still has his business and  we still live in a state most people come to to scratch it off their bucket list.

We weren’t able to drive the Tanana Road last year because a forest fire delayed construction the year before, but we’re talking about doing it this summer.

I still itch to drive the “blue highways” of the United States, especially along the northern states. My daughter Bri, the gypsy bluegrass musician, might be willing to act as my guide in this since she’s been on a lot of them.

We all know Route 66 because of Grapes of Wrath and a television show, bu there are others out there. One is Route 20, which I’ve been studying for Transformation Project (how exactly do you get across the United States when the major transportation hub cities have been nuked and the military has shut down the interstates for their own use?). My fictional town of Emmaus is just off I70, but this route paralleling I90 is really pretty cool.

Route 20 bridgeI would start at Boston on the 4th of July and watch the fireworks over the Harbor. As you move west from there, parts of the Route 20 follows the path of the old Boston Post Road, which used to carry mail between Boston and New York City in the 17th and 18th centuries. It was also the route Henry Knox dragged the Ft. Ticondaroga cannons to Boston. Through its easternmost section, Route 20 passes through a number of “frozen in time” small towns whose Main Streets haven’t changed much since the 1950s.  We might visit Old Sturbridge Village again since we’ll be so close. The typography of Western Massachusetts promises windy routes that would invite us to slow down and take our time.

I’m looking forward to the photographic opportunities of New York State’s Finger Lakes Region. It’s named after 11 lakes, formed by glaciers thousands of years ago, which provide the setting for all sorts of activities and scenic views.

Image result for gary indiana picturesWe would have to stop in the Sandusky area because this is an important region for my mother’s tribe and also because I have an alternative historical fiction short story that I want to develop into a full length novel and so wandering around in the area would be a good way to get a feel for it.

I love historic architecture and small town ambiance, so would definitely slow down for Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore. I might even take part in a geocaching expedition. Then we would enter a belt of heavily-industrialized cities like Gary, Indiana, and Chigago’s South Side. I’m equally certain there’d be a different sort, but equally compelling opportunity for photographs.

As we pass into Iowa and Nebraska, we would find the flat, wide-open spaces that are a necessary element of a classic American road trip.

school bus on Loop RoadI’ve been to Wyoming before, but I know certainly that I didn’t truly see it completely before, so I would love to go there again. Our trips have never allowed a visit to Yellowstone National Park. We’d probably have to break from Route 20 for a slight detour to really take in Montana — birthplace of my mother and my daughter’s avowed “favorite state”. Then we’d head on to Boise, the otherworldly landscapes of Craters of the Moon National Monument and the beautiful Lost River Range.

I’ll be wishing there was more time to explore, I’m sure. Although I’ve been to Idaho before, it has always been on the big highways with little time to explore off the beaten track. I want to change that.

Image result for image of lost river rangeRoute 20 crosses the Cascades and the Oregon High Desert before moving though the remote Central Coast Range and the Willamette Valley.

We would definitely plan to camp most of the trip. Being used to the rough backcountry of Alaska, we’d keep our load light with a regular passenger car and a tent. My daughter has apparently become quite acqainted with off-the-beaten track camping locations. This would allow us more time to really take in the scenary rather than just feeding the motel chain beast.

We’d pack a lot of picnics, but if we can find any classic diners, I’m there … I swear. Daughter of a diner waitress, here! Gotta brake for pie!

#bloghop, #openbook, #roadtrip, #usroute20

Posted May 22, 2017 by aurorawatcherak in Blog Hop, Uncategorized

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Seeking Inspiration   6 comments

This week’s blog hop topic is “What inspires you, and why do those things inspire you?


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Inspiration surrounds us. All you need do is open your eyes and your imagination and let it in. Inspiration comes from the words of your favorite author to the leaves blowing across your path on your morning commute.

Image result for image of inspirationSometimes it’s hard to see the muse while you’re living your daily life. My husband Brad wonders how I can spend my workday planted in front of a computer screen writing for other people and then come home and write my own stories. And, I can’t really explain what’s going on in my head while I’m doing the mundane parts of my job and my standard life. Exactly what is it about filing or data entry that gets the creative juices flowing?

Inspiration is innate — intimate — to a writer, I believe. I know there are people who do their best thinking while lying awake in the middle of the night, but I do mine in that margin between when I lie down and when I go to sleep. It’s about a half-hour where I can daydream without interruption and those are often times spent at the inspiration well. I’ve trained myself to remember so I write down what I learn later.

I find inspiration in the everyday. I’m fascinated by relationships – happy ones, complicated ones, weird ones, even painful ones. My writing is often an attempt to dissect the meaning behind an event or to describe a particular feeling or emotion.

I’m inspired by things I face and work through in my daily life. The news is a constant source of inspiration for my apocalyptic series Transformation Project. Sometimes when I’m reading or watching television or doing research, ideas will fall on fertile imaginative soil and slowly a story will spring forth, again while I’m doing something completely unrelated to “being creative.” My most recent book, the novelette Hullabaloo on Main Street was inspired by a Washington Post article about how Democrats in Wisconsin were shocked that their neighbors had voted for Donald Trump, but when I opened my imagination to it, I overheard dozens of conversations by people from both sides of the aisle. Yes, I’m inspired by eavesdropping too. Connor’s observation about how his conservative and liberal neighbors asking for help differently is actually inspired by a liberal coworker’s observation about that dynamic.

Living in Alaska is a powerful inspiration. Long walks just through my neighborhood brings me in contact with nature right on the edge of a vast wilderness. I see colors that I want to describe, smell fragrances that want to be put on paper, watch my neighbors do things that just must be captured in word pictures.

I’m inspired by investigating my life — taking it apart at the seams and seeing what’s inside. How did I become who I am? How did someone who shared their story with me become who they are? I look beneath the surface of this visible reality and find places that are more felt than seen.

The creative process itself brings me to a place where I am often in that world and the process itself is inspiring. The act of having to type words slows me down and connects me to emotions, places and characters in a way where I feel what they feel, see, hear, etc.

I’m inspired by challenges. When I reach a point in a book’s narrative where things are hard, I love the feeling of finding the just-right turn of a phrase that solves my characters problems … or drives them forward to face those problems. Don’t we just wish our own lives were that easy?

(Note – not really. I’m pretty mean to my characters and I would not want anyone to treat me that way.)

Although the sources of my creativity are many, back of it rests the one main foundation of my life … my faith. I find literary themes and ways of addressing problems on the page in the words of my Savior. I learn ways of seeing things that are different from what is “normal” because of the tenets of my faith. Writing fiction somehow draws me closer to God and allows me to not only say, but sometimes realize insights through my characters that I’d feel awkward and foolish saying myself.

Inspiration comes in many forms and myriad sources. It’s kind of cliche to say that inspiration is everywhere, but I get my best moments with my muse when I’m filing paperwork or scrubbing the tub, so I think that “everywhere” is about right.

#openbook, #bloghop, #mondayblogs, #amwriting


Posted May 15, 2017 by aurorawatcherak in Blog Hop

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What’s on My Kindle?   6 comments

Do You Have A Reading List For The Year? What is it and why?


Let’s start with the fact that I don’t have a Kindle. I still prefer to read books that have that paper and ink aroma to them. Amazon might make more ebook sales if they attached an aroma therapy app to the books. But I do read some non-fiction and ebooks that lack physical copies on my laptop.

But I do read some non-fiction and ebooks that lack physical copies on my laptop.

So, what’s on my reading list for 2017? I will dispense with the bits and pieces I read as research for novels and blog posts. You have other things to do today than read about my reading list and that’s just too big of a library.


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In 2017, I’ve already read North to Alaska, a history of Alaska Statehood by my former editor, Dermot Cole, and Ravi Zacharias’ Jesus Among Other Gods (this is a re-read).

I’m currently finishing Mockingjay, third book in the Hunger Games trilogy.

If George RR Martin comes out with another book in the Song of Fire & Ice series, I’ll read that. It’s not that I love Martin, but having come so far in the series, I want to know how the stupid story ends.

Brandon Sanderson’s Oathbringer“, third book in the Stormlight Saga, comes out in November. I’ll pick it up as soon as it’s available, because I love this series, but November is kind of late in 2017 to make the list.

Image resultI am having another go at Terry Brooks’ Shanara Chronicles. I couldn’t get into them in the past, but the television series has made me think I’m being unfair, so I bought The Elfstones of Shanara because that was available at Barnes & Noble, not realizing that The Sword of Shanara comes first. (Could it be that I couldn’t get into this series because I tried to read them out of order? Distinct possibility). I will read that before I read Elfstones. I just picked it up at the bookstore a few days ago. That’s a huge series, so that could easily overlap into 2018 … assuming I can even get into the first book because I’ve failed to connect with his story in the past.

I’m also trying to read Kate Elliott’s “Black Wolves” series, but might not get to it until 2018. Kate Elliott is a favorite author, though not all of her series get my attention.

Over on the non-fiction side, I’m planning to read Frederic Bastiat’s Economic Sophisms and Henry Hazlitt’s The Foundations of Morality, but I am currently reading Lawrence W. Reed’s Great Myths of the Great Depression. Expect to see some blog posts on that in the near future. I also pulled out On Walden Pond the other day and am thinking it would be a great time to renew my acquaintance with Thoreau.

I also found a couple of Agatha Christie books at the used book store a while back. I’ve been trying to write a mystery and it might help to really get into the mindset.

And then there are all the books my writer friends ask me to read and sometimes review.

My reading list is not set in stone. I revise my goals depending on all sorts of variables. For now, though, these are what I hope to read this year.

REVISION: I should also add that I get a lot of indie requests and I belong to an author’s cooperative publisher, so I will definitely be reading some indie books this year, including folks from this blog hop. I am notoriously glacial at reviewing, so I don’t like to list people who covet my reviews on their toes so to speak while I take months to post a review. I owe too many authors reviews now without making promises for 2017.


Dream Team   4 comments

This week’s blog hop is “Pick Out 3 Creative People Who Inspire You And Think About If They Collaborated To Make A Product—What Would It Be?”
If those three people created something awesome with all their skills, what would it be? Create that and then share your process and inspiration.


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I read this article in Harvard Business Review about how artists are often uncomfortable with sharing their creative process with other people. We don’t do groups, essentially. I believe this is very much true. I cannot — have tried — to co-write. I never like the outcome. My daughter, an artist, gets grumpy if you offer suggestions while she’s creating. My husband, a musician, will stop playing the guitar if you suggest another chord might work better in that melody.

Image result for image of the dagger of amon raMy son, who will likely grow up to be an engineer, is the most introverted person in the family, so you would think he wouldn’t like to work on teams, but that’s not the case. He’s very comfortable with accepting feedback from others. When he was on the robotics team, he started a project, someone else completed it and then he was the driver, working with others, at the competition. He can draw, play the guitar and write and he doesn’t care if you critique him. He’s happy for the input. He’s a techy, not a creative per se and there is something different about his brain than ours.

Some people are just better at cooperative efforts than others. As a writer, I can see the reason for wanting to maintain control of my project, and yet, I do recognize the value of input from others. This is why I ask others to edit my material and, although I design my own covers, I ask for input from others.

I don’t really do fangirl star-struckness, so it took me a while to figure out how to write this article. For example, I admire the paintings of Andrew Wyeth, but I don’t necessarily admire Andrew Wyeth. So, given that mindset, who would be my creative dream team if I could make other creatives do what I wanted?

There’s a spot of abandonware out there that I would LOVE to see given a modern makeover. The Laura Bow series by Sierra was my first real role-playing computer game. The Colonel’s Bequest had Laura as a journalism student traveling to a creepy mansion outside New Orleans and getting involved in a murder mystery. I’m really good at mysteries,  but I never did solve it. The Dagger of Amon Ra had Laura in a museum, also with a murder mystery. Same thing. I never could solve it. I know whodunnit in both cases (those darned Internet sites), but I would still love to “solve” the mysteries myself. You can run the games today on most computers with a special mod, but it’s a pretty miserable experience. The technology of the day wasn’t great, the graphics suck and the great stories and hard puzzles aren’t really enough to overcome those obstacles.

After they’ve seen Paris, it’s hard to keep ’em down on the farm ….

So, if I had my way  ….

Roberta Williams, the original designer, would definitely need to be involved because she wrote the original stories. She’s retired these days and can’t do modern coding, but the project would definitely require her as a consultant. Otherwise it would end up like all those television shows they try to redo that turn out nothing like the show you loved, so you don’t watch them.

Then, I would like to see Her Interactive pick up the project because they do such a good job with the Nancy Drew mysteries. They have great writers and wonderful designers. Unfortunately, I couldn’t find their names on the website. Combined with Williams’ original material, I trust the company’s team to do a great modernization of the tech while keeping the classic 1920s mystery and feel.

Cities Skylines cover art.jpgThen, just because I admire their entrepreneurial chutzpah in taking the disaster of Sim City’s turn to the dark side and subsequent death spiral to create a great game that I’m willing to plunk down coin to play, I would ask Colossal Order to come alongside the Laura Bow project and push it out to the public. Again, there’s no single person I would target. This company has a great team and I would want their collaboration.

I can imagine this cooperative effort yielding a game that is true to the mysteries of Laura Bow while featuring great graphics, maybe some cool music and some new fun features that weren’t possible back in the 1980 and 90s. And, I would not be surprised to see Her and Colossal Order come out with new Laura Bow games if this project found success.

While I’m not convinced that creative collaboration in novels yields better results than lone-genius efforts, I do see the benefits for projects like computer games, music and murals. A team approach can reveal insights and practical strategies that can enable all kinds of talent to flourish and create value together. Original writer and designer, new writer, new design team (that’s how they usually do computer games these days and a marketing team that has shown it knows how to come from behind with limited resources and take the market by storm —

That’s the definition of a dream team.

Distractions   6 comments

This week’s blog hop topic is “What Are Your Top 5 Distractions And How Do You Deal With Them?”

Distractions aren’t fun, but sadly we have them a lot in our lives. Especially with the Internet. There’s always a distraction waiting around the corner.  
Do you have a way of holding the distractions at bay? If so, share your tips.


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No kidding! We live in a distracting world and writers are not immune to the siren cry of that other thing we could be doing.

Related imageMy mother operated a daycare in our home when I was in high school and college, so I’m not really distracted by noise or activity from other rooms. I’m able to mentally screen it out and can write while in the living room watching movies with the kids. This came in really handy when I was a journalist writing in a bull pen. Conversations between my coworkers didn’t really bother me.

These days, my #1 distraction is the Internet. Social media has this crack-like effect on just about everyone I know, including me. I know I should be writing, but I’m in this intriguing conversation about politics … or Alaska … or writing … or quilting … or cats … or whatever. I’m “networking”. Uh, no, probably not. It’s a distraction.

I can’t really stop using the Internet because I use it for research, marketing and, yeah, I do network with it. These days, you have to use the Internet to publish. So, turning it off … even just for yourself, isn’t really possible.

My #2 distraction is television. We live in the age of binge watching, right? Everybody needs a break now and then and sometimes I get good ideas for my books from the shows that I watch. No, I’m not stealing ideas. I get inspired more by television failures than by their great ideas … and so I try to improve them.

Image result for image of distractionsMy #3 distraction is video games. Do you note a theme? I love to play games on the computer, especially long complicated role-playing games. Next thing you know, I haven’t written anything in two weeks and … yeah, I still want to play more.

My counter to these distractions is to turn them off and walk away. I don’t leave social media up on my computer while I’m writing. I limit my television viewing when I’m working … or I write while I watch, which really does work for me … most of the time. I allow myself a nice juicy video game when I’m between books, but try to say “no” when I’m working. That’s not always easy because Brad loves video games too and those role-playing games are fun to do together. He adventures and I solve the mysteries that get us into be best adventures. But, no, just say “no” when I’m working.

My #4 distraction isn’t a problem in the winter, but it’s headed my way like a runaway train now — summer in the Great Outdoors is where it’s happening for Alaskans. Which is why I have got to finish the first draft of A Threatening Fragility this month, because adventure will be dragging me out the door by late May and I might not wriggle free before August.

You notice I don’t count my family or other people in general as a distraction. I am blessed to have Brad, the kids and the dog, and other people are a great source of writing material, so I don’t find them distracting at all … unless they’re social media. That’s a hard one to separate, but sometimes I just have to know when to say “no.”

My best tip for how to deal with distractions is to schedule them. It’s fine to indulge in something other than writing from time to time. It’s essential, actually. It’s a great pressure release valve. But you should make some rules and stick to them. Don’t let social media consume all your writing time. Same with anything else. Say “I’m doing this for an hour and no more” and mean it. Walk away. Turn it off. Don’t waste your talent in fruitless pursuits. The cat pictures and political discussions will still be there when you’ve finished the first draft.

I promise.

Tapping Into Nature   7 comments

This week’s blog hop is “What Would You Love To Learn How To Do? Share pictures and what you’d like to learn, then go out and try that thing. Share an update of your experience with your followers.”

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One of the things I love about the modern age is that learning things is so much easier than it used to be. I tried to explain this to my son a while back … we actually had to go to the library to access reference material back when I was in school. He thinks we were so deprived back in the day.
I more or less agree with him. I’m constantly learning new stuff these days because it’s so accessible via the Internet.

So what would I like to learn to do?

Image result for image of tapping birch trees in alaskaI can think of a lot of things I want to learn to do, but this spring, I actually have something I’m planning to learn — How to tap birch trees for syrup.

Did you know you could make a great tasting syrup from birch tree sap? I grew up here and didn’t know about this until about 10 years ago when a friend gave us a pint. Birch syrup is a truly unique Alaska flavor and quite rare. At this time the only commercial production of birch syrup I can find in the world is in the Matanuska Valley, but here in Fairbanks, there’s a newly-formed cooperative that is making use of a commercial kitchen at the University of Alaska to evaporate members sap into syrup.

The sap, containing only 1-1.5 percent sugar, looks and tastes like sweet water right out of the tree. Concentrating the sugar to 67 percent by evaporation gives the syrup its color and distinctive flavor. It’s sort of a spicy sweet flavor. The Alaska paper birch starts in early April in Matanuska, but here in Fairbanks we’re just figuring out the best time. Most of us think it will be May 1 or thereabouts. The season lasts 2-3 weeks, until the trees bud. Each tree will produce approximately 3/4 to 1 gallon of sap per day. We have 20 trees in our yard, so we anticipate 200-300 gallons of sap.  It takes an average of 100 gallons of sap to make 1 gallon of birch syrup. (Maple syrup, by comparison, averages 40:1). So we might get three gallons of syrup, but we’re donating three quarters of it back to the cooperative an exchange for the evaporating, so we’ll get a 2-3 quarts.

Brad has attended the classes discussing how to tap the birch and set the spouts. I’ll be his assistant. We’re just using the trees in our yard this year.



Posted April 17, 2017 by aurorawatcherak in Blog Hop, Uncategorized

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Good Friday Sacrifice   4 comments

What’s the one thing you look forward to most on Easter?


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Easter is the high holiday for evangelical Christians like myself. While Christmas gets all the flash and bang by society, Easter is the pivot point of our faith. The entire life and work of Jesus Christ, right up to and including His death on the cross, means nothing outside of Easter. None of it would have had any effect had He not risen again.

Image result for image of the Lord's Supper

For me, Easter starts a couple of weeks before the actual date. Baptists don’t celebrate Lent … actually, I’ve never really understood that word “celebrate” in connection to Lent, which is a time of self-deprivation. I tried it one year with some friends as an experiment and, while dealing with the sudden cravings for chocolate that I’d never had before I chose to give it up for Lent was interesting, but I didn’t have a spiritual experience from it. My pastor at the time suggested this was because Baptists already practice self-control in many areas that society thinks are odd, so saying I wasn’t going to eat chocolate for 40 days was simply just practicing a skill I already possessed. Maybe.

But back to the subject. Once a quarter during the year, our church does the Lord’s Supper and Good Friday is one of those times. I do a more relaxed format of this every quarter, but Easter is when I really try to be formal with myself. A couple of weeks before the Lord’s Supper, I essentially start a Step 4 inventory of my life and sins. I try to be ruthless with myself, digging deeply to jot down people I owe amends to, which includes God. As I write out my list, I am constantly offering prayers to Him for what I know to be failings in my walk with Him. Over the years, my list of people has grown shorter just because I practice self-control more in my personal and thought life. Yeah, sometimes the people who are on my list have no idea that I owe them amends because the sins I’ve committed against them were inside my own head. Yes, I still list them because whether they know it or not, God knows it and that’s the real point of this exercise.

My goal is to be done by Palm Sunday, the list written out, sometimes my apologies made, occasionally my amends underway. It’s not always as clean as that because life is messy, but I try to be at peace with God by the time I approach the Lord’s Supper table. In this, I fulfill Jesus’ instructions in Matthew 5:23-24 – “Therefore, if you are offering your gift at the altar and there remember that your brother or sister has something against you, leave your gift there in front of the altar. First go and be reconciled to them; then come and offer your gift. (Matthew 5:23-24, NIV).

There are some people who will always be on my list because reconciliation is impossible with them. It may be that they wouldn’t accept my overtures or it could be that they have done something for which there can be no reconciliation. This doesn’t mean that I don’t take the Lord’s Supper or that I feel like I am taking it unworthily. Ultimately, Christian salvation is the sole work of Jesus Christ and not at all dependent upon me or my efforts.

There are things in life that we can’t fix. Very likely, if I’d had a wonderfully spotless life, I wouldn’t be a writer. The point of the process is to bring me to self-awareness and forgiveness … both my forgiveness of others and God’s forgiveness of me. There are relationships that can’t or shouldn’t be mended. There are people I have forgiven for things they’ve done to me who I have no intentions of reconciling with because it wouldn’t be healthy for me to do so. There are sins in my life that were a part of my life the first time I worked through this process and will still be struggles I have when I stand before the Bema Seat. The point of the exercise is not to become sinless, incredibly self-aware or to feel like I’m worthy of God’s grace because those things are impossible goals. The point is to stand before God, knowing what I have always known … that my salvation relies wholly on Him and none of it on me.

For me, the best part of Easter is right after I’ve taken the Lord’s Supper on Good Friday, when I know that … at least for a short period … I have laid the burden of my ongoing sins at His feet, secure in the hope that I have perhaps moved a little closer to where my Savior wants me to be as a believer. Once again I feel the way I felt the day I accepted Christ, awed and humbled by His grace and mercy to me who does not deserve it.

Posted April 10, 2017 by aurorawatcherak in Blog Hop, Uncategorized

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