Making way for new – Prairie & Writing

We lost a grand old willow tree a year ago. Age and weather took their toll, and it finally had to be removed. Though losing the willow with all the associated memories was sad, the newly opened space made room to expand our prairie. As I’ve worked on this new project, I’ve seen many parallels to my writing life.

The willow made way for the blank slate of a new prairie patch.

The willow made way for the blank slate of a new prairie patch.

The idea of expanding the prairie has been simmering for some time. Yet, establishing the new area has not been as smooth as I’d hoped. Step one required killing off the grass. The herbicide we’d been using with good effect in other applications all of a sudden didn’t work. Ultimately, we invested in Roundup. One application and the grass was gone – along with all the prairie plant seedlings that sprouted in the spring.

Now that the grass is gone and new growth is coming on, I’m reminded of things I learned with my first prairie planting – and now must re-learn – with this new space.

  • There are plenty of seeds waiting for their chance. Even though I killed off all the desirable plants that emerged in the spring, more emerged mid-summer. Some may even bloom this fall, though they’ll have to survive the deer who relish these tender shoots.
  • Weed seeds are also waiting for their chance. Rounds two, three, and four of dandelions, pokeweed, and thistles keep popping up.
  • There’s always something new to learn in a prairie. At this point, the difference between invasive and non-invasive plants. An invasive species pushes out and replaces a native plant. A non-invasive plant may move in but won’t take over.
Mullien appear invasive at the moment, but they'll move on.

Mullien appear invasive at the moment, but they’ll move on.

Mullein, is one non-invasive plant. The new prairie is awash in these wooly-leaved plants. Even though they are plentiful now, I am not concerned that mullein will crowd the prairie next year for two reasons. (1) This season’s plants will not have time to seed before winter, and (2) Even though there were a dozen or more mullein plants in the old prairie last year, only one returned this year. Invasive plants like Queen Anne’s Lace will crowd out all else if you let it. Pretty though that flower is, I pull these out as soon as I see them.

Prairie & Writing Parallels

I’m at a point in my writing life where I’m looking ahead to what’s next. Looking at the prairie and my writing, I can make these observations:

  • Like the prairie seeds, there are plenty of new ideas waiting to sprout. In only a few minutes this week, I recorded half a dozen ideas for writing projects ranging from memoir to novels to children’s books.
  • As I work through editing my work in progress, I find weed seeds in the form of crutch words: “that,” “just,” “seem,” “very.” It takes diligent maintenance to root these out and keep them from marring an otherwise well written story.
  • In the prairie and in writing, I’m always learning something new. If I took up the children’s book idea, for instance, I’d be learning an entirely new genre.
  • Ideas for writing projects pop up and move on as do plants like mullein. In this case, however, I’m looking for that invasive idea – the one that will not let go of my imagination – the one that stimulates my writing passion. Unlike invasive weeds in the prairie, the writing idea with staying power is one I’ll nurture and grow.
    Prairie beauty - coming in two to three years.

    Prairie beauty – coming in two to three years.

Both prairie and writing take time and hard work. Both may yield beautiful results if I’m wise in choosing and have the patience to nurture.

So that’s what I’ve been thinking about – in the prairie and with my writing life. What’s going on in your creative life? And how does nature inspire you?

The Mystery of a Mystery – M.K. Tod

M.K. Tod wrote and indie-published two successful historical novels set during World War I. Her newest novel Time and Regret – published this month by Lake Union Publishing – stays true to Tod’s historical expertise while branching into new territory – mystery.TodMK-TimeandRegret-22790-CV-FT

Writing in a new genre stretches an author, and as a fan of her historical writing, I’m pleased to report that Tod not only stays true to her historical fiction core but also does a fine job weaving in a mystery. To read my review, click here.

I asked her to share her thoughts on why mysteries are so appealing and how she worked that into her new novel. This is what she said.

The Mystery of a Mystery
by M.K. Tod

Attracted by the front cover, you take the book off the shelf, peruse the brief description on the back and decide, yes, this is my type of book. A mystery.

Mysteries conjure excitement, the thrill of danger, the nail-biting question of will they or won’t they solve it in time. And then there’s the thrill of sleuthing as you become the detective, the cop, or the amateur accidentally stuck in the midst of a crime.

My new novel – Time and Regret – is a mystery with multiple timelines and a romance to sweeten the deal. In writing it – my first mystery – I’ve had to think a lot about this genre’s enduring appeal.

What is it about mysteries that makes them so satisfying? Why do some people read almost nothing else? Author Melissa Bourbon Ramirez offers this opinion: “I think one reason people love reading mysteries is because they are a safe thrill, kind of like roller coasters when you’re a kid.  They’re a safe adventure, as well.  Just as in any other type of book, we get to visit exotic or interesting places.  You can see the dark side of people, but you know that justice will prevail.  Good will overcome evil.”

Author Nancy Curteman has a different take: “Mystery readers are intelligent people. The mystery story appeals to their sense of curiosity. They enjoy action. They love to analyze the psychological makeup and motivational drives of characters. Most mystery readers are as interested in how and why a crime is committed as they are in who committed it. Sifting through clues and red herrings as the story progresses adds challenge.”

Other reasons have been put forward: to understand the behavior of criminals and the criminal mind; to live the intense emotions involved in crime; to vicariously experience a world of suspense, secrets, excitement and danger; to create order out of disorder and justice out of crime.

And then there’s the detective—typically a flawed but heroic figure who overcomes major obstacles while often making a mess of his or her own life. We can see ourselves in this individual and we root for them to successfully solve the crime while resolving some of their own life problems.

Here’s the premise of Time and Regret.

Time and Regret: A cryptic letter. A family secret. A search for answers.
When Grace Hansen finds a box belonging to her beloved grandfather, she has no idea it holds the key to his past—and to long buried secrets. In the box are his World War I diaries and a cryptic note addressed to her. Determine to solve her grandfather’s puzzle, Grace follows his diary entries across towns and battle sites in northern France, where she becomes increasingly drawn to a charming French man—and is suddenly aware that someone is following her.

When I set out to write Time and Regret, I didn’t fully appreciate the expectations involved. Gradually, I added more to the story: more subtle clues, more plot twists, more danger, more violence, more dead ends. I made my heroine more conflicted and gave her a difficult childhood and I added flaws to my other characters. I wrote and rewrote and rewrote the ending.

Does it work? Will it satisfy the needs of mystery readers? Readers will be the judge because another thing I’ve discovered is that no two readers are the same—and that is the biggest part of the mystery of writing.

Find Time and Regret on Amazon:

Amazon US 

Amazon Canada 

Amazon UK 

M.K. Tod writes historical fiction and blogs about all aspects of the genre at A Writer of History. Her latest novel, TIME AND REGRET was published by Lake Union on August 16, 2016. Mary’s other novels, LIES TOLD IN SILENCE and UNRAVELLED are available from Amazon, Nook, Kobo, Google Play and iTunes. She can be contacted on Facebook, Twitter and Goodreads or on her website www.mktod.com.

Happy birthday, National Park Service

The National Park Service marks 100 years this week. One hundred years of preserving our amazing natural resources. One hundred years of educating people on our great outdoors. One hundred years of giving joy to the millions of people from all over the world who visit the parks each year.

It’s a good deal when the one having the birthday gives the gifts, though that’s what the National Parks are. A gift. To celebrate this anniversary, here are pictures from my recent visits.

Bryce CanyonUtah boasts a multitude of striking natural landscapes. Wind carves away earth to reveal the tall, skinny spires of rock called Hoodoos at Bryce Canyon National Park, Utah.

Canyon Lands UtahLooking down on Canyon Lands National Park, Utah, one gets the impression a dinosaur left its footprint.

Great Smoky Mountains National Park, TennesseeA mama black bear and her two cubs meandered in front of our car at Great Smoky Mountains National Park in Tennessee.

Acadia National Park, MaineAcadia National Park, Maine, offers rugged Atlantic Ocean views and tasty crab rolls in local restaurants.

Shenandoah National Park, VirginiaThe Shenandoah National Park, Virginia, provided beautiful vistas, hiking, and a whole lot of wind. I’m not posing so much as trying to control my hair.

Glacier National Park, MontanaGlacier National Park, Montana, in June? Maybe not the best choice. Snow clogged mountain roads while rains closed valley roads, keeping us indoors much of the time. Cloaked in mist and clouds, the mountains were still beautiful. And we did spot both a bear and a moose.

Death Valley National Park, CaliforniaWater should not have been a problem in Death Valley National Park, California, but a record-breaking rain of 1/4 inch the day before we arrived flooded the valley. This impressed on me better than any ranger talk that Death Valley has no river outlet. Rain sheets off the mountains and accumulates on the floor with nowhere to go.

Badlands National Park, South DakotaStriations in the hills of the Badlands, speak to millennia of geologic history. The first time I visited the Badlands – 40 years ago – I thought this must be what the moon surface looks like. At that time, there was no visible greenery. Since then, invasive plants moved in and patches of green are everywhere.

White Sands National Monument

Though White Sands National Monument, New Mexico, is designated a monument, not a park, it’s one of the most visually stunning places I’ve visited in the past few years. Wind moves the dunes a few inches every day, often covering the roads, which have to be plowed to enable traffic to move. The white sand created a visual/mental disconnect for me since I visited there in February when we still had snow in Iowa. It didn’t help to see other visitors snowboard and sledding down the dunes.

Since the National Park Service was established, it’s grown from the one park – Yellowstone National Park – to include over 450 parks, monuments, parkways, historic sites, and seashores. Whenever and wherever I travel these days, I check to see if there’s a national park or monument along the way. They’re always worth the time.

Are you visiting the National Parks? If you haven’t, I hope these pictures whet your appetite. If you have, which have you enjoyed the most? Please leave a note. Then go have a piece of birthday cake.

The Seven Year Dress – Devastation & Resilience

Today, I introduce you to Paulette Mahurin and her new WWII-era novel, The Seven Year Dress.

The Seven Year Dress covers one of the darkest times in human history from the perspective of one Jewish woman who lived to tell her story.TSYD-FRONT COVER The Seven Year Dress KINDLE(1) copy

The narrative tells how teenager, Helen Stein, and her family were torn apart as Hitler put in motion his plan to eliminate the Jews and other undesirables. With the help of one of those “undesirables,” a German boy who was also homosexual, Helen and her brother went into hiding for several years. Ultimately, they were discovered and Helen was interred in Auschwitz.

It was in that death camp that Helen suffered persecution, torture, and devastation at the hands of the Nazis. It was also in the death camp that she encountered compassion, selfless acts of kindness, and friendship. Ultimately, this is a story of the resilience of the human spirit.

The atrocities committed by the Nazis against the Jews aren’t easy to read about, but the story Mahurin tells in The Seven Year Dress is too important to miss. Click to read my review.

Telling stories for a purpose

Mahurin has written a number of books, most of them historical fiction. Her passion for telling stories supports another of her passions. The profits from all her books go to help rescue dogs from kill shelters. She tells me that so far this year, sales of her books have helped rescue 79 dogs.

More about Paulette Mahurin:

Paulette Mahurin lives with her husband Terry and two dogs, Max and Bella, in Ventura County, California. She grew up in West Los Angeles and attended UCLA, where she received a Master’s Degree in Science.

While in college, she won awards and published her short-stories. One of these stories, Something Wonderful, was based on the couple presented in His Name Was Ben, which she expanded into a novel in 2014. Her first novel, The Persecution of Mildred Dunlap, made it to Amazon bestseller lists and won awards, including best historical fiction of the year 2012 in Turning the Pages Magazine. Her third novel, To Live Out Loud, won international critical acclaim and made it to multiple sites as favorite read book of 2015.

Links to Mahurin’s books & more

Purchase The Seven Year Dress on Amazon

Check out all of Paulette Mahurin’s books on Amazon

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Learn more about Mahurin’s efforts to help dogs