Archive for the ‘writing’ Tag

Stay Tuned for Writing Wednesday   1 comment

There’ll be an interview and …

Maybe an article on writing, and …

Oh, yeah! Life As We Knew It is on sale — only 99 cents — this week.

Posted July 19, 2016 by aurorawatcherak in Uncategorized, writing wednesday

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The Radicals’ Rancorous Rage | Becky Akers   Leave a comment

I ran across this Becky Akers article discussing the Radical Patriots, who are featured in her book Abducting Arnold, which is on my winter reading list.

Source: The Radicals’ Rancorous Rage | Becky Akers

Becky’s is a refreshing alternative take on Benedict Arnold that brings in some little known American history.

Friday Writing Den   Leave a comment

I took the day off for a quiet day of writing at home. Brad is deforesting my brother’s backyard, Kris is at school, the daughter is doing whatever gypsies do, and I thought “Bliss!”

Beautiful weather, pretty warm, everybody in the neighborhood should be at work or out enjoying the return of fall.

But ….

During last week’s snow storm, a neighbor’s tree fell over and our neighborhood professional wood-burner volunteered to clean it up for him. Jim has chosen today to process said tree.

So, here I am, trying to write to the sounds of a roaring chainsaw.


  • Go to the coffee shop and fight for bandwidth and electrical outlets with everyone else? Uh, NO!
  • Go out and chop wood so that I feel like I’m included in the noise-making? Tempting, but NO!
  • Shoot the neighbor? I could. I own guns. And any one ruining a writer’s concentrated writing day surely deserves the writer going Zelda on him. But then the world would be deprived of Jim’s wonderful presence and I would be in jail. So — nice writerly daydream, but NO, although some character will shoot Jim’s avatar in a novel sometime.

My solution?

Shooting muffs! Noise? What noise? BLISS!!!!



Posted October 9, 2015 by aurorawatcherak in Writing

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Watch for Writing Wednesday   Leave a comment

I’m finally interviewing that North Pole Alaska author I mentioned a couple of weeks ago. Stay tuned!

Head Space   5 comments

Before I get started, I suggest you go over and check out what PJ Fiala has posted on her website. This is also a good way to follow the hop until I get home and can post the actual link.


When I first started writing, it was in a spiral-bound steno notebook, then computers came in and I started writing at a rolltop desk that for many years lived in the livingroom, but then we moved it to the family room when the kids became less distracting. I gave up my writing desk a couple of years ago. The rolltop desk became a multi-use space for (mostly) sewing. My husband studies technical manuals on it and our son occasionally does homework there. The desktop computer now lives in our son’s room and I write on the laptop these days, which gives me a great deal of flexible function.

I can join the family in the living room to write while watching television. Yes, I can do both, sometimes better than when I try to write as a singular focus. I can go out to the deck and write in the sun or to the kitchen table where I can jot things down between cooking procedures. I can take it to Barnes & Noble which has a great reading pit around a gas fireplace or to the bleachers at the pool where my son swims for the highschool team. I can write in the bedroom where it’s quiet and the dog can curl up by my feet.

Sometimes I go back to the desk because it’s the right mood. At some point, I print out my latest WIP (work in progress, for non–writers), put it in a binder and sit down to edit/proof-read. That’s when the desk feels right. The photo on the left is what it looks like when it’s cleaned up. The typewriter belonged to my mother and I used it all through college. It still works when I can find ribbons for it. Right now it is sitting on the floor beside the desk because my husband is studying continuing education for his electrical license. The desk itself is in a construction zone because that’s what we do with our winters in our house, we find new and unique ways to rearrange walls rather than furniture.

My most common writing space nowadays is the bedroom where I can up put my feet, play music, and keep a huge mug of tea or coffee or jug of water on the night stand. Sometimes when I’m writing Transformation Project, I like to listen to talk radio because it’s a great source of ideas for how the United States might end. My dad’s ancient Telefunken sits on top of my husband’s highboy for that purpose. It’s where I listen to Patriot’s Lament on KFAR on Saturday mornings. That’s what is lovingly known as “Anarchy Radio” here in Fairbanks.

I usually put the laptop on a pillow on my lap and I lean back against the headboard. The yellow lab puts her back against my feet and I swear she provides me inspiration for writing … or at least warm feet. The mismatched night stands hold matching ceramic lamps that look like old oil lanterns. Mine has books stacked under it and his has the humidifier and a trash can. There’s a me-made quilt in shades of blue, peach and green (or blue, green and red — I’ve made two) on the bed and white lace curtains on the window, but the bed is a really masculine rubber-tree headboard and footboard and there are a set of old-fashioned wooden snow shoes on the wall above it. There’s also two red barn lanterns hanging on black iron hooks to either side because you never know when the power is going to go out or you might just want a more relaxed lighting scheme.

The room (walls and ceiling) are painted tarn blue (Google that term “tarn” if you’re unfamiliar … everyone should know that word; it’s one of my favorite English language words). There are red carnation silk flowers in a dented brass vase on one of the wooden dressers. A fanciful wind chime hangs over the foot of the bed winter and summer, so that it can catch the breeze on a summer’s evening and it’s glittery finish can catch the light in the winter. The closet has striped blue and floral curtains instead of a door (because doors make banging noises and we hate banging noises). These days the floor is bare wood painted white because our elderly dog ruined the carpet with old-lady leakage and we can’t agree on what to replace it with. I like cork; he likes carpet. Besides the lamp and whatever not-mine novel I’m reading currently, my nightstand holds a chipped ceramic cup with some pens in it alongside a spiral bound notebook (yes, the steno notebook is still around) for taking notes.

(Call this an ADD moment: No, I don’t own a Kindle or Nook, though I do read ebooks on my laptop. I much prefer print books and own a huge collection of mostly paperbacks that will eventually be reshelved in that room we’re remodeling.)

When I’m rewriting the Daermad Cycle books, there’s a digital recorder on the nightstand so that I can read portions aloud to get the lilt right. My continuity notebook now lives with that book stack under the night table, which is where the laptop goes when I’m done using it. Usually, the curtains are pulled back so I can stare out the window when I need to. It’s a second story room overlooking birch trees so it’s like being in a tree house.

As a writer, most of my process occurs in my head, so I have never felt an overwhelming need of a special writing place. The laptop is comfortable and portable. It reminds me of the freedom writing had before I was bound to a desk by the computer. That works for me and a writer should use whatever process works for her.

PJ Fiala has written some great romance novels centered on the motorbike culture. Check them out.

Posted September 29, 2015 by aurorawatcherak in Blog Hop

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Vacationing on the Extreme   4 comments

Do you like to read? Wouldn’t you like to know more about your favorite authors? Well you came to the right place! Join the MMB Open Book Blog Hop each Wednesday and they will tell all. Every week we’ll answer questions and after you’ve enjoyed the blog on this site we’ll direct you to another. So come back often for a thrilling ride! Tell your friends and feel free to ask us questions in the comment box.’

Topic: It’s the time of year for vacations (Holiday for our UK friends). Share your favorite vacation, your dream vacation or anything in between.

Hi, welcome to the blog. If you’re hopping over from Traci Wooden-Carlisle‘s blog, I’m sure she had a great story to tell. While you were there, did you check out her books? Thanks, Traci, for the introduction. If you’re joining midstream as it were, follow the link back to check out what she’s up to.

This week’s blog hop topic is dream vacations. I have all of the same dreams as anyone. I’d like to visit Switzerland, Iceland and Australia sometime, and take a cruise of the Caribbean. I want to drive east to west across the United States, both across the north and south and take time to savor the experience. I want to return to Hawaii, see the Big Island and Molakai, and return to Maui. I’d like to drive and hike the old logging areas of the Olympic Peninsula and visit Yosemite.

But the fact is … everybody has some version of those dream and I’m an Alaskan, so we already live an adventure. Most of the vacations we’ve enjoyed have been less than dreamlike during the actual event, but we remember parts of them with warm affection now, so they are all dream vacations in their own way.

A lifetime goal was finally filled last year when my son and I took the Alaska Marine Highway out the Aleutians. Lest you misunderstand me, AMHS is a ferry system that covers the south coastal area of Alaska, where there are no roads.

It’s a four day journey that carried us nearly 900 miles from Homer, where we embarked, to Unalaska, which is actually the start of the Aleutians.

The ferry Tustamena served as our transportation and campground as we took this journey, which our son (Kyle) says may be the safest camping he’s ever done. Normally we camp in the Alaska wilderness where we keep a gun tucked in the tent bag in case the wildlife attacks. While we saw seabirds, seals, whales and sea lions on our trip, we never once worried about a moose stomping the tent or a bear eating one of us while we were answering nature’s call.

Yes, we tent camped on the ferry. This is considered perfectly normal behavior on the week-long round trip as cabin space is limited and expensive. The Tustamena has showers, a lovely observation lounge where you can get in from the chill and food service … though we actually didn’t use that very often. We brought MRE’s (military-surplus meals-ready-to-eat) which use CO2 warmers. This novelty provided a great deal of entertainment for the tourists.

A part of the fun of the trip for Kyle was that he got to be the expert for the tourists who were also attempting to camp on the ferry. We are old hands at tent camping in high winds where rocky ground prevents staking the tent, so the Tustamena’s deck was not a problem for us. We know how to weight the corners with personal items and we brought along an air mattress (a luxury for us because the weight is not worth it when you’re hiking) to get us off the hard deck. Kyle spent a lot of time showing men twice his age (he was 15) how to “stake” their tents to the deck with duct tape. I’m sure they wondered why we didn’t do the same, but it was because we came prepared.

Although teenagers are great tent warmers, it was freaking cold outside the tent at night and one night the waves were up and we witnessed several of our fellow travelers break tent poles in the wind. For Kyle and I, it was all part of the fun. We brought winter sleeping bags and ours is a three-season wind-resistant tent. It was a luxury for us to roll out of the tent and be able to take hot showers, although the morning I had to take a dash through freezing rain to the shower, I wished we had a cabin. Nothing that a hot shower followed by some fresh coffee in the cantina didn’t cure. The kid even learned to appreciate coffee on this trip. Neither of us is prone to seasickness, though at one point on that stormy night I woke up thinking we were being sucked to the bottom of the deep blue sea.

We spent a day in Kodiak, because the ship stopped there for about eight hours, and we hiked with friends who live there. We then spent four days wandering the ship, taking photos of the passing landscape and talking to strangers about Alaska. We got off in Sand Point, Chignik and King Cove for short periods. I made a couple of new friends who I continue to converse with over Internet, and I learned a great deal about the King Cove to Cold Bay Road and why it essential this vehicle-capable trail be built.. The ocean trip was extremely relaxing, occasionally boring, but broken by periods of unique experience as seals swam alongside the ferry and whales breached no further away than our neighbor’s house in Fairbanks.

Neither of us knew what to expect of Unalaska or Amaknak (the island home to Dutch Harbor proper), but once we got there everywhere we went, we saw tangible reminders of Aleut history, Russian Orthodox culture and the tumultuous years of World War II, which opened door after door for reflection and education. We chose to stay overnight in Unalaska rather than continue with the AMHS for its turn-around, so we had time to explore.

The Unalaska/Port of Dutch Harbor Convention and Visitors Bureau has made a concerted effort in recent years to encourage extended exploration by visitors. Cruise ships have begun making ports of call. Originally settled centuries ago by the Aleut People who led a true subsistence lifestyle, the Aleutians are a harsh, beautiful land.  World War II shaped the future of Unalaska, at least in terms of infrastructure and topography. In 1940, the United States Navy appropriated Unalaska and Amaknak islands as a fortification against potential Japanese attack, which started June 3, 1942. While no actual battles were fought in the Dutch Harbor area, two days of bombing and an eventual presence of Japanese forces in Attu and Kiska at the western end of the chain kept up to 40,000 American soldiers, sailors and airmen stationed in Unalaska until the war ended. One of those sailors was my brother’s father, who was a photographer and so I had seen some black-and-white photos of his time stationed in the Aleutians.

The concrete and steel remnants of a world at war do not easily yield to time. Most of the gun turrets have been removed, but we saw evidence of them everywhere. Unlike sites of major battles or well-known commemorative memorials, little has been done to mitigate the eventual overgrowth of crowberry bushes, grasses and a variety of animal and bird life, which I found more affecting than what you see on the Mall in Washington DC.

The arrival of World War II meant the construction of roads, both in town and beyond, totaling 38 miles. Today, those same dirt roads lead to generally unmarked trails that, once explored, open a chapter of history that cannot be replicated in any classroom. It’s a fisherman’s paradise, but we had no way to preserve any fish we caught, so we didn’t fish.

Knowing we were going to want to hike, we had already secured a recreational land-use permit from the Ounalashka Corporation, land owners of nearly all of the Dutch Harbor area. It’s $6/individual or $10/family for day use. Corporation headquarters on Salmon Way also provides detailed hiking maps, berry-picking guidance and an excellent display of Aleut baskets, sculptures and art.

Trail options are plentiful even within the boundary of town, but we had limited time, so we hiked Bunker Hill on Amaknak, which was a wonderful place capture our first sense of the U.S. military’s attempt to establish itself as a protectorate. Accessed near the Small Boat Harbor, this old military road is closed to motorized vehicles, leaving a wide switchback trail that winds up and around the hill, past abandoned tunnels, bunkers and a concrete turret that overlooks town. Making our way back to town, we discovered a series of carefully dug trenches in geometric patterns, designed to prevent Japanese troops from advancing overland.

Mount Ballyhoo overlooked our journey each step of the way. Ballyhoo is the site of Fort Schwatka. Almost unseen by the casual observer, Fort Schwatka provided housing, medical care, offices, communications bunkers and a series of tunnels running back and forth through the hillsides. Like many military-themed hikes, Fort Schwatka feeds the imagination. Although this remote military installation provides proof of worldwide conflict in a different era, it’s also a reminder of the people stationed here — young, naive soldiers who may never have traveled before being dropped on this chilly northern equivalent of a desert island, watching and waiting for an enemy known for stealth and surprise. When the wind blows hard enough, whistling across the summit of Mount Ballyhoo, or clouds blow a misty breath across the open front of half-buried turrets, it’s easy to visualize and difficult to comprehend just what it must have been like when this was truly the end of the world.

Unalaska’s lush treeless hillsides begged us to hike the island’s steep, windy slopes. Most trails are old military access points. Others, like the Ugadaga Trail, are historical thoroughfares of the Aleut people. Camping is allowed in designated areas, provided a land-use permit has been obtained. A map of the area, provided by the Ounalashka Corporation, is a must, as many trailheads are only vaguely marked.

We only had the one day and night, so we didn’t bother to sleep since it was mostly daylight and we knew we could sleep on the ferry when we got back on), so our last hike in Unalaska was the Ugadaga Trail. Plunging 800 feet toward the opposite shoreline, this is a 1.5-mile hike tackled by families. It only took about two hours and the sun was nice enough to come out and make us hot as we hiked.

We saw fox, ground squirrels, nesting eagles, rock ptarmigan and so many types of wildflowers that I lost track. We also encountered a lot of wet, slippery conditions and other hikers who were alarmed that they couldn’t get cell phone or Internet in many parts of Unalaska. We had locked our electronics in the trunk of the car in Homer so were not really concerned with the loss of connectivity. We brought MREs, water and layers of warm, weatherproof clothing. We also stopped for breakfast at Amelia’s.

The best part of this trip was that Kyle and I spent an entire week together, enjoying each other’s company. We played a lot of cribbage and took some great photos, met some interesting people and got to see a part of Alaska that even most Alaskans never see. Brad (husband) and Brianne (daughter) were unable to join us for this journey, so we will probably go back, at least to Kodiak, but I’m also curious to explore King Cove and Cold Bay. This is not a trip for everyone. It pays to have experience in shoulder season camping and stomachs not easily upset by rolling waves, but it is definitely something that’s been on my life list since I was in college and the State first opened the route there.

So now that you’ve been way off the beaten track with me, you should go on and see Stephany Tullis‘s vacation stories and perhaps take some time to check out her inspirational books.

The Agony of Criticism   Leave a comment

Willow Branch Blue White Recreation CoverThere are writers and there are authors. Unlike some in the publishing field, I am not convinced that all that separates a writer from becoming an author is publishing a book. I think some unpublished writers are authors in progress while some published writers will never be authors.

It’s a painful truth, but one does not simply sit down and write a good novel. There’s research, there’s writing, there’s rewriting and editing … and more than anything else, there is critique.

How you accept critique is part of what separates writers and authors.

I’ve been scribbling stories since I was 12. I had some critique on my fiction in high school from my teachers, but for most of the decades between then and publishing my first novel I was writing fiction for my own amazement. Then I decided I really wanted to advance a book to publication and I started to submit it to friends to read.

I guess my friends love me. They all said pretty glowing things about the manuscript that would become the seedbed for Daermad Cycle. Somehow I knew that wasn’t completely honest. I went one step further and submitted it to the writers site Authonomy. Mostly I got good reviews and that felt a little bit more honest because these people didn’t know me. Some of the reviewers gave minor critique — moves a bit slowly, takes a long time to get to the point, it’s awfully long — but I wasn’t really sure what to do with that critique.

Then it happened. Somehow I attracted the attention of a notorious misanthrope on the site and he (or that iteration was a she, I think) decided to critique my book.

If you’ve never been run over by a Mac truck, I don’t recommend it.

I knew this was a mean, mean person, but her words bit deep. She (or he) really hated my book. Worse, though a truly miserable human being, this person was also a great writer.

There are three ways to handle that sort of critique:

  • throw the project in the trash bin where the critic suggested … thereby proving that you’re a writer and not an author in progress;
  • ignore the critique and keep the project as it is … also suggesting that you may not be an author in progress;
  • learn from the critique what is worth learning.

The author in progress does the third thing. After I got done being mad and sad in cycles, I resolved to come back to the critique in a while (that turned out to be three months) and mine it for what was worthwhile. Because this person had a history of being deleted from the site, I printed out the critique and put it away for later consumption. In the meantime, more nicer reviews came in that sort of agreed (in a nice way) with the mean review. I recognized that this mean critic had given me solid advice in a truly despicable manner and her critique was really not substantially different from the more soft-soap critique of the nicer reviews. He was brutally honest and that was exactly what I needed.

I went back to the book and applied the critique in a reasonable manner. I broke the manuscript into smaller more manageable portions (thereby creating a series, which is almost never a bad thing in epic fantasy). I was honest about how slow it was and I resolved to change that. I included death and mayhem much earlier than I was comfortable with. I excised the info dumps and limited the beautifully detailed descriptions I like. I added more complex characters, including some actual bad guys. And I got a better book, which got better reviews, but I also gained the confidence to pick a date to publish. You see, buried in that really mean review, was a off-hand statement that I had to mull for a long while and when I came back to it after the rewrite of the book that would become The Willow Branch, Book 1 of the Daermad Cycle, I realized that it was a very subtle compliment. Nasty guy actually thought there was a kernal of something in the book worth saving.

But if I’d done what I thought he was advising — burn the manuscript, eat dirt and die — I never would have come to that realization and either one of two things would have happened. Either The Willow Branch never would have been published or … I shudder to think this — the book entitled that would have been a mediocre book that should not have been published.

One of the major things separating writers from authors in progress is how they handle critique. All critique is useful to those who are willing to use it.

Lela Markham is the author of two published books The Willow Branch (Book 1 of Daermad Cycle), an epic fantasy, and Life As We Knew It (Book 1 of Transformation Project), an apocalyptic headed toward dystopian.

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