Taking writing on the road

Writing can be a solitary business. When I’m working on a writing project, as I am now with my novel in progress, I get to my keyboard each day by 9 a.m. and do my best to stay on task until noon. I dive headlong and alone into my story – forgoing phone calls, emails, social media and texts. For the past couple of months, I even set aside blogging. (Did you notice?)

I was urged out of my writing isolation by an invitation from Janet Givens who offered her home on Chincoteague Island, VA, as a retreat space for writers she’s come to know via social media. Since my writing friend Mary Gottschalk and I love a good road trip; we love talking writing; and we love the inspiration that inevitably results from our time together, we loaded the car and headed out.

Friends & writers - Mary, Shirley & Carol

Friends & writers – Mary, Shirley & Carol

We looked forward to joining the authors on Chincoteague Island, but the journey to get there was an equally important part of our experience. In Harrisonburg VA, we spent a night with Shirley Showalter, author, friend, dairy farmer’s daughter, and co-founder with me of I Grew Up Country. The beauty of the Shenandoah Valley grew more vibrant in color and meaning as Shirley and her husband Stuart shared their Mennonite and family history. Thoughtful conversations about next stages in writing and life made it difficult to move on.

Natural beauty deep in the earth.

Natural beauty deep in the earth.

After a morning at Luray Caverns and an afternoon in the Shenandoah National Park, we were welcomed to Charlottesville, VA, by Joan Rough and her husband Bill and their dogs – Max and Sam. In between tours of Monticello and the University of Virginia, we tucked conversations on Joan’s upcoming memoir, Bill’s playwriting, and art in general since Joan’s creative talent manifests in many directions.

Making avatars into real people. Mary, Carol & Joan.

Making avatars into real people. Mary, Carol & Joan.

Monticello in spring

Monticello in spring




Finally on Chincoteague, we joined Janet, poet Merril Smith, memoirist Marian Beaman and author/nurturer of women’s voices Susan Weidener. Loosely structured, the retreat became whatever each of the authors wanted. Blogs. Poetry. Editing. Essays. Marketing. Technology. Who knows what will result when a group of creative minds come together? Friendship. Sharing. Support. Inspiration. Synergy, for sure.

Synergy: the creation of a whole that is greater than the simple sum of its parts.

Every day of the trip brought new thoughts, new inspiration, new friendships and richer understanding of renewed friendships. I hope you’ll take a moment to look into each of the women from this writing journey. You won’t be disappointed.

Cooking together deepens the writing experience.

Cooking together deepens the writing experience.

Even though writing can be solitary, I’ve never felt alone. The synergy of weeks like this are one reason why. As I return to working on my novel, I’ll do it with renewed enthusiasm and insights ignited by this trip.


One bit of Synergy: Our discussions of social media techniques led me to make a couple of changes. I added a box you can click to notify you of responses to comments you make. And, I moved the share buttons to the handy position below. If you find these posts interesting or helpful, please share with your friends.

Cleaning out, letting go, starting fresh

Photo courtesy of: MorgueFile.com

My office bookshelves were nearly this bad. Photo courtesy of: MorgueFile.com

I ended the old year as I often do – by cleaning out my office. This December gave me an even better opportunity to clean out, though, since my husband and I agreed to tackle remodeling my office – the last room in our house to get a new ceiling, new flooring, new paint. Since every surface would be new, every single thing had to come out before we could begin.

Touching every item twice – going out and going back in – as well as the weeks when boxes filled our bedroom and furniture distributed through the rest of the house, gave me ample opportunity to consider what was there and how much of it I really needed.

It also allowed an opportunity to look at my life and how it has changed – or stayed the same – over time. From this exercise I observed:

Letting go takes time. When my mother passed away in 2007, many of her things came into my office. Everything from memory books to hats to estate documents. For the first time, looking at these things, touching them, remembering, did not leave me in tears. I was able, finally, to give away, to throw out, or to consolidate the memories to a couple of small boxes. There may be a time to let even these go. Maybe in another 10 years.

The same could be said for the books and files from my 30-year career in public relations consulting. I finally admitted that if I hadn’t looked in these files for 14 years, it was unlikely I ever would. Out they went.

Themes arise. I found no fewer than 10 sketch pads of various sizes, each with less than a dozen pages used. Since childhood, I have yearned to draw. I hadn’t realized how persistent that yearning has been over the years. It may be time to act on this interest in a more purposeful way. Drawing and writing are not far apart, I think.

I kept all of the sketch pads and all of the drawing materials, consolidating them into one place. I should not have to buy new when I take up drawing again.

Losing pounds. Like many, I often think about losing a few pounds at the end of the year, though I commit to that idea about as well as most and with less vigor each year. In December, I succeeded in spades. I estimate I shed a good 50 pounds, probably more, of books and files. knickknacks and gifts never given. I was stern with myself, and I think I did a pretty good job. Not the pounds I usually think of shedding, but even so, I now walk into my office feeling ‘lighter’ with all the clean, open space. It cheers my mind to realize that I know what I have and where everything is.

I spent almost no time at all writing in December, giving myself over happily to the holidays and family and remodeling the office. Now I start the new year fresh, with a new coat of paint, new clarity, and new purpose. I hope last year ended as well for you and that you, too, look forward to 2016 with optimism.

Writing from a place of hope – Rachelle Ayala

I’m delighted to welcome author Rachelle Ayala to my blog today. When I met her this past year, I was attracted first by her willingness to help a hopeless social media newbie (me). In addition, I’ve been blown away by her prolific creative output; she published three books (including the just introduced Hidden Under Her Heart) representing three different genre’s in less than two years. Whew!  I had to know more about her, so I invited her to share a little about herself and her writing.

* * *

Hi, Rachelle!  Welcome.  I know you’re busy, so I’ll jump right in. You’ve written across several genres – historical fiction/Biblical, technothriller and women’s fiction. How do you approach the challenge of building a market for three such different novels?Hidden_Under_Her_Hea_Cover_for_Kindle

Hi Carol. Thanks for having me here. Everything is new to me and I’m new to the readers. I’m not too concerned about crossing genres because I write what I’m interested in. I have found readers who like my storytelling and are eager to read my books regardless of the stated genre. One reader called it the “Rachelle Ayala” genre. In her words “It is almost magical, maybe mystical, the way she can intertwine a few different types or genres, into one book.” [link] By writing three novels that are so different, I avoid limiting myself to certain audiences. The common thread in my writing is deep identification with a flawed female protagonist as she works through untenable problems and falls in love. It appeals to readers who are compassionate and willing to immerse themselves into another person’s life while suspending judgmental attitudes. Another reviewer said she should dislike Jennifer Cruz Jones (Broken Build) for the mistakes she made, but something drew her to feel for her.

Since we’re all flawed in some way, I just say, thank heaven for compassionate friends and readers! The volume of writing you produce is inspiring to me. It makes me wonder what inspires you to write?
I write because I have hope. I hope for a better world, kinder people, and understanding. People cannot really understand what motivates someone else without walking in their shoes. While we personally cannot have every experience possible, fiction is the closest in getting ourselves into someone else’s life. By exploring their motivations, desires, fears and hope, I can lead the reader into situations where she can experience the emotions of the story characters. This hopefully leads to acceptance of people who are different or have had different life experiences from the reader.

Experiencing other lives is one of the things I like best about reading fiction. Writing and publishing are fraught with possible pitfalls. What’s the part of the writing process that gives you the most trouble?
I pretty much enjoy the entire writing process, including giving and receiving critiques. I suppose it is obsession. It takes me time to get into character, but once I’m in, I see almost everything through their viewpoint. For example, after writing Maryanne Torres, a nurse who is pregnant from rape, I am now joining pro-life groups, including those who advocate for rape babies. I never gave much thought before about the rape and incest exception. But now that it has touched my character who is so close to me, I’ve gained a new perspective. My new character is so different from Maryanne and right now I’m trying to change myself into someone who does not want love, who avoids commitment and does not easily trust. My family has to suffer through these mood swings and personality shifts. Ha, ha.

My husband struggles with my mood swings as I write, too.  But he’s really happy when I complete a project. Where do you find the most joy in your writing?
The entire creative process. I daydream and get a lot of ideas when I’m out walking or jogging. Now that I’m writing, I look forward to visiting new places and noticing details. I never have to force a story to go in a prescribed direction. But I do like to challenge myself with seemingly impossible situations, where I write myself into a corner and plausibly extricate my characters and plot.

You do have an amazing ability to get your characters into and out of trouble. Speaking of getting characters out of trouble, you’ve helped me more than once to navigate the world of social media.  In fact, you’re one of the most knowledgeable and helpful social media people on the planet. How do you find time for it?
*Blush* You are too complimentary. Having a computer background helps. I pretty much grew up with the computing industry and the Internet. I’ve always been comfortable meeting and interacting with people online when it was only USENET newsgroups and e-mail digests. I enjoy social networking so it is relaxation time for me. I learn from others as much as they learn from me and believe that sharing information makes us a true online community.

It has been fun to learn at your knee and now be able to pay it forward. So, what’s next for you?
I’m working on a story about a woman who is hardened toward feelings and emotions. The last man she said “I love you” to was her father right before he jumped off the Golden Gate Bridge. This will be a romantic suspense and involve a past and current mystery. I’ll also touch on physical disability. The two characters I have in mind are hard to love. This will present a challenge with reader identification, but I’ll worry about that later. First, get the story down, right?

Get the story down. I agree that’s the first and most important task. No matter the genre. I wish you well, Rachelle, as you continue on this remarkable writing journey filled with hope.  Thanks for talking with me.

More about Rachelle Ayala:

Rachelle Ayala was a software engineer until she discovered storytelling works better in fiction than real code. She has over thirty years of writing experience and has always lived in a multi-cultural environment.

Rachelle is an active member of online critique group, Critique Circle, and a volunteer for the World Literary Cafe. She is a very happy woman and lives in California with her husband. She has three children and has taught violin and made mountain dulcimers.

Visit her at: http://www.rachelleayala.com or follow @AyalaRachelle on Twitter.

Rachelle Ayala’s books: Michal’s Window,  Broken Build and Hidden Under Her Heart
Rachelle’s blog: http://rachelleayala.com

The new generation mothers

Dee and Hannah & Eliza

When I think ‘mom,’ my first thought is of my own mother. But today, I’m shining the light toward the newest generation of moms in our family – my nieces and my daughter-in-law. There have been a lifetime of changes in expectations and attitudes about mothering over three generations.

I many ways, my mom fit the June Cleaver model. She cooked the meals, kept the house, raised the kids. She deferred to Dad, playing the helpmeet in all ways. But unlike June Cleaver, Mom worked outside the home. She worked on our family farm, milking cows alongside Dad, working in the fields, and gardening. So we definitely had a model of hard-working wife and mother.

Cena, Andrew & Ashley

My sisters and I grew up in the 60s, seeing ‘Leave it to Beaver’ on TV but hearing, seeing, and thinking women’s lib. Stepping across that divide was a long stride. I was definitely pulled into the world and expectations of the Enjoli super woman, ‘who could bring home the bacon, fry it up in a pan, and never let him forget he’s a man.’ The challenge, the requirement, the expectation to ‘do it all’ was monumental.

It’s been gratifying to see the next generation of women make career and family choices. My niece – Cena – followed her mother into nursing. Cena and her husband have two children. They arranged work schedules so one of them was always there for the kids. It was a long time before the kids encountered a babysitter.

Cena’s sister Clo is the CFO for the Colorado county she lives in with her husband and two daughters. She and her husband both work 8-5 jobs, so the kids learned daycare from the get go.

My daughter-in-law Dee was a tech wizard working for a university IT department until she and my son started their family. With the first child, they chose to have her stay home and raise the girls.

Clo with Abigail and Samantha

As I lay all this out, I realize many things about mothering are the same across all generations. The big difference is in society’s expectation of mothers, and society’s acceptance of those who mother. That’s evolving. No single approach is right for everyone. Each of these families made choices about how they’d raise their children that were right for them. The children benefit from having mothers who are happy in their choices.

Happy Mother’s Day to all moms and all those who mother!

My Mom: My Inspiration – My Nag

“You’re a writer. You can write our stories.”

I can’t tell you how many times my mother said that to me. It made no difference to her that I was a business writer, not a creative writer. When she got an idea in her head, she didn’t let it go.

Turns out Mom intuitively understood one very important thing about effective communication. Research shows that you have to say something three times for a person to remember they heard it at all. You have to say it an average of seven times before a person will act on what you’ve said. Come to think of it, all moms may come with this knowledge programmed in their DNA.

As a public relations person who told clients that very thing about repetition countless times, I somehow overlooked that it applied to me, too. But Mom got it. She was persistent in the way my mother was always persistent. I could do what she asked sooner or I could do it later, but I was going to do it.

Because of Mom, I wrote my memoir, a collection of stories about growing up on a family farm in the middle of America, in the middle of the 20th Century. Mine was a happy childhood on a farm like the farms people these days like to idolize.

Every time I share ‘growing up country’ stories with a group at a library or conference or book club, I give thanks to my mom who was my inspiration, my communication teacher, and–let’s be honest–my nag.

Thanks, Mom! Because of you, I got a lot of things done!

The importance of a smile

Mother’s Day is Sunday. How could you miss it with all the advertising these past weeks? 

In honor of my mother and moms everywhere, I’ve joined with a group of indie authors to celebrate all mothers. Our little group will be blogging for the next five days about our moms and assorted mom topics.

In addition, we’re offering an ebook from each of us for 99¢ at the usual online booksellers. Our genres run the gamut from memoir to adventure to thriller. This promotion–and the special price–are good from May 11-May 15. The list of authors, books, and links to points of sale are listed below.

If you’d like a give a gift to your mom or grandmother or aunt or sister or neighbor or dad or someone else this Mother’s Day, you might find one – or all – of these books the perfect gift. How can you miss when you can load up their e-reader for $5?

My mom - Ruby Denter

To get the blog ball rolling, I’d like to introduce you to my mother – Ruby Belle (Jensen) Denter. She lived life fully for 91 years. Raised in town, Mom found herself tied to country life.

She taught in a one-room country school for several years. When she married a farmer, she quit teaching (of course, that’s what you did in 1942) and committed herself to being, in her words, “the best farm wife I could be.” She raised three daughters, milked cows morning and night, made garden and canned or froze most of the food we ate, cooked three meals a day, and sewed most of our clothes.

This picture was taken the day before she died in August 2007, and it shows just what a full life she lived. She was canning tomatoes that morning. She was always fond of flowers and usually had a bouquet of some sort on the kitchen table. Because she had macular degeneration, I’d brought her this big bouquet of black-eyed susans. She liked them in particular because yellow was a color she could still see well.

Mostly, notice her smile. She loved to have company come visit and she always made them welcome with a smile and something to eat. As her eye sight failed, she believed her smile was more important than ever. Though she could see well enough to know that someone was approaching, she couldn’t see well enough to know who it was.  She said, “I smile so they’ll know I’m happy to see them whoever they are.”

That’s having a good attitude, don’t you think?

Happy Mother’s Day, Mom!

And the winners are …

April was a month of giving back to readers. And giving back drew me into a month of ‘first’ experiences that were rewarding on every level.

World Book Night: I joined more than 25,000 other volunteers in giving out 500,000 books to light readers as part of World Book Night.  This was the first time World Book Night was held in the United States. I know I’ll do this again–talking about reading and writing with enthusiastic kids was just too much fun to miss. I’m hoping the visibility the event garnered in this first year will encourage more people to volunteer in 2013. Goal: give away 1,000,000 books!

Kindle Free Days: April marked my first ever Kindle Free days. I drew on the knowledge of World Literary Cafe and a raft of Twitter friends to maximize awareness of these days. The result was  a great success as I wrote earlier, putting the ebook version of my memoir in the hands of thousands of readers. All at no cost to them.

Facebook Book Launch Party: Children’s author Cindy Springsteen, writer of just-released WAFFLES & PANCAKES, held a day-long Facebook party and invited authors to participate. I gave away copies of my books as prizes to party goers who participated in what turned out to be an hilarious ‘caption this photo’ contest. Here’s the picture. The winners–both from Missouri–wrote these captions: “Little Molly moo-moo, please don’t make a poo-poo,” and, “Pa said that was a pile of (insert bad word). The kids decided to see just how much a pile of (insert bad word) weighed.” I’m still chuckling!

Goodreads Giveaway: I organized a giveaway of three signed copies of my memoir on Goodreads. This week, I put books in the mail to Canada, Florida and Massachusetts. During the month of April, more than 700 Goodreads members added my book to their TBR lists.

I’ve always believed that the more you give, the more you get, and my experiences in April reinforced that belief. In April I gave away books. I had fun. I learned a lot. I met fantastic new people. The effort was moderate, the cost minimal, the payback: priceless. 

First blooms in the prairie

All signs of the prescribed burn we did on the prairie a month ago are gone. With each rain, each wind, each day that passes, the burn is less visible. In fact, only a few blackened stalks remain. New green growth rules. But each plant is discrete. This early in the season, patches of the ground are clear.

As I walk the prairie now, it’s encouraging to see now-familiar plants emerging–coneflowers, asters, cup plant, blackeyed Susans. And my favorite from last year–rattlesnake master–is there, too.

But the prairie is full of surprises. The first blooms of spring aren’t any of the plants I recognize. Instead, the first bloom is an entirely new plant to me.  Golden Alexanders.

When I first saw them, I feared we had an infestation of wild parsnip–a plant that is noxious and actually dangerous if you get the sap on your skin. But I took my trusty prairie wildflower book to the prairie and made a positive identification. Leaves and flower formations all confirm these plants as Golden Alexanders, a member of the parsley family.

My book notes that early pioneers thought the plant would cure syphilis.  One has to wonder how they may have come to this conclusion?!?

Another new resident in the prairie this year is a bluebird. We put a bluebird house at the edge of the prairie last year, but too late to attract anyone interested in nesting.  This year, a bluebird moved in right away. When I walked by the birdhouse, thinking I’d take a peek inside to see if anyone had taken up residence, the mama came flying out. I quickly walked away. Now that I know she’s nesting, I’ll give her a wider berth.

The prairie is an endless source of learning and surprise. I’m glad it’s spring in the prairie yet again.

Old dog, more new tricks

“Maybe I can retire before I have to learn this.” That’s a thought that actually ran through my mind in the 1990s when the Internet was new and I was struggling to figure out the brand new technology. 

That memory popped to mind this past week as I struggled to figure out Twitter. I signed up for Twitter because I know social media is critical to effective book marketing these days.

From a book marketing workshop run by Melissa Foster, I learned that effective tweeting requires posts a dozen times a day! And your Twitter effort can be accomplished in 30 minutes a day. Ha! Ha!  Just thinking of a dozen worthwhile things to say in a day boggles my mind. Melissa provided tips and tools (Tweetdeck) and a community (World Literary Cafe) to help make the task doable.

Right now, I’m bordering on overload. I spend more like an hour and a half a day on Twitter, which does not count the time I lay awake in the middle of the night trying to think of ways to fit my normally wordy self into 140 characters or fewer. Egads!

But, I did learn to use the Internet and from there, I set up my own website – a must for any author. Then I learned Facebook. Then blogging. With each new platform came new vocabulary and new skills. Now Twitter. I must believe I’ll learn this one, too. And still find time in the day to write my novel.

I’ve always said that every day that I learn something new is a good day. I guess this has been a really GOOD week!  Now that I have the Internet, I could no more imagine living without it than I could live without breathing. And that’s hardly an exaggeration.

Will Twitter be like that? As I prepare another round of Tweets, I can only hope so.  In the meantime, I’d be honored if you followed me on Twitter – @CABodensteiner

Melissa Foster is a best-selling author of several books, including  COME BACK TO ME. She founded World Literary Cafe, a supportive on-line author community,