Saturday, May 23, 2015

Part One: From Quill... by Victoria Chatham

I think I’m slipping into retro mode and I blame it on technology.  I appreciate the convenience of my Kindle when I travel, and the laptop on which I write but if my thoughts don’t flow quite as easily as I’d like when I write, I revert to paper and pen. A spiral notebook that is and often a fountain pen.  But from where did these materials originate?

My earliest recollections of school was the stone wall around our playground the dry, chalky  atmosphere of the classroom. At first we were only allowed to use pencils for writing. I was so proud of my pencil box with the rose printed on its sliding lid. I was even more proud when I progressed to a real pen and ink, carefully dribbled out from a ceramic jug into the inkwell in the corner of my desk by the ink monitor of that week. The honor of that, along with milk monitor and classroom monitor, was bestowed and withdrawn based on good or bad behaviour.

I find it strange that many school districts no longer teach cursive writing. In the great scheme of things, what if there wasn’t just a power outage but a power stoppage? How many young people today would know how to communicate without the technology that seems to be in their DNA? I loved the feel of the nib running over a clean sheet of white paper, the art in the curve or an S or the clean cut of the V.
We practiced hand writing on a daily basis. Back then my handwriting was almost Victorian copperplate and later I learnt the art of calligraphy. My favorite pen today is my gold Schaeffer, a 40th birthday gift from my daughter, much easier to use than the earliest known reservoir pen dating back to the 10th century.

Fatimid, Caliph of Egypt, wanted a pen that wouldn’t stain his hands and clothes with ink. The mechanism for this pen is unknown. Not so the pen developed by Daniel Schwenter in 1636. He used two quills, one being a reservoir for the other. In 1663 Samuel Pepys, he of the famous diary, referred to a metal pen in which to carry ink and in 1809 Bartholomew Folsch patented a pen with its own reservoir.

By the 1850s more than 50% of the steel-nib pens in the world were manufactured in Birmingham, in the UK. During this time there was also a steady stream of fountain pen patents but it wasn’t until the invention of the iridium-tipped gold-nib, hard rubber and free flowing ink that fountain pens gained popularity.

During the 1870s Canadian Duncan MacKinnon, living in New York City and Alonzo T. Cross from Providence, Rhode Island, created stylographic pens which are now mostly used for drafting and technical drawing. The 1880s were dominated by the mass production of pens from Waterman, also of New York City, and Wirt in Bloomsbury, Pennsylvania. Walter A. Schaeffer’s lever filler in 1912 and Parker’s button filler of about the same time changed fountain pens forever. Along with those names already mentioned, add Montblanc, Cartier, Van Cleef and Arpels and Pelikan.

The development in the 40s and 50s of ballpoint pens looked to oust the fountain pen but in May 2012 Steven Brocklehurst, writing for the BBC News Magazine, reported that sales of fountain pens were rising and who knew that the first Friday of November every year is World Fountain Pen Day? Along with Cross, Waterman and Schaeffer, fountain pen aficionados will recognize  the names Montblanc, Cartier, Van Cleef and Arpels and Pelikan, all makers of exceptionally fine pens. As part of its branding program Montblanc, in January 2014, appointed the actor Hugh Jackman as their non-US ambassador.

Montblanc, with its distinctive white star on the end of the cap and the numbers 4810, the height in metres of the famous European mountain, also produces the Writers Edition line. Each year Montblanc commemorates the life of a particular writer with their signature engraved in the cap of the edition. Who would like the Dostoevsky pen at $950 USD on Ebay, or the Daniel Defoe 2014 edition at $1,110 USD? Track down the Ernest Hemingway, Agatha Christie or Oscar Wilde.

Mark Twain is reputed to be the first author to write a manuscript on a typewriter, but consider that other most prolific 19th Century author, Rudyard Kipling. All his newspaper articles, short stories, books and poems were written in longhand. Try writing Mowgli or Bagheera or Baloo in longhand. The feel for the character becomes more so as you envision it from the ink flowing across the page.

As an ex-colleague of Kipling’s stated. . . ."he never knew such a fellow for ink—he simply revelled in it, filling up his pen viciously, and then throwing the contents all over the office, so that it was almost dangerous to approach him”. The anecdote continues: “In the hot weather, when he (Kipling) wore only white trousers and a thin vest, he is said to have resembled a Dalmatian dog more than a human being, for he was spotted all over with ink in every direction”.
            A fountain pen today is something of an anomaly. Often used for show or signing important contracts and documents, there is something quite special about a quality fountain pen. Whether you own one, choose to use one, or simply collect them for the works of art they are, there is nothing like a good fountain pen.  

More about Victoria Chatham at;

Friday, May 22, 2015

Hey There's A Weasel Eating My Editor

Hey, There's A Weasel Eating My Editor

It's been mentioned that in the art of writing a novel only five percent of the work is the actual writing. The other (I see everyone caught off guard except for those income tax gurus who do numbers in their sheep, reaching wildly for their calculators) ninety-five percent is editing. Okay I meant sleep, but even the sheep jumping over the fence don't get any breaks from the taxman. I know, I got busted for declaring three stamps purchased for personal use.
            Okay back to the serious side of writing. It is true that what a lot of writers don't realize is that the bulk of time in writing a novel is indeed editing, re-editing and after setting the novel aside for a while, another read through and usually more editing. Then off it goes to a publisher where they usually go through another couple of rounds of ....
... well it ain't washing laundry. More editing. I've been told a thorough editing job is like washing your clothes after you've been out hiking in the backcountry for two weeks. Which for some of us writers is what writing a novel is like; disappearing for weeks on end, scribbling like mad or pounding away on a keyboard. Before returning to the real world of hungry cats and a very cranky ignored wife or hubby.  Next step is digging out the bible of all editors everywhere, that thin little book, Strunk and White's 'The Elements of Style'. I can say my copy has suffered some ignoble fates, like being hung from trees dipped in birdseed, so Crows and Steller's Jays could peck at it. I've counted how many flushes it could take before separating from its bindings (surprisingly, thirty-eight).
            So, as you might have gathered, editing, for writers, is like taking showers when you're a kid. I remember the time when I was eight and we'd been camping for about two weeks. My mom said, "You need to take a shower at least once before we go home. Your feet are smelling so bad, you'll attract wild animals from miles around, maybe even a bear. They can smell a dead animal carcass from across a valley." I promised I would.
            In the middle of the night I awoke to a rustling noise. I peeked bravely out of my pup tent, armed with a bag of marshmallows, my beanie cap with a twirling propeller and my water pistol, only to watch a weasel gnawing away at my heel of my shoe. The next morning I hobbled humbly into the showers cringing in my shoe and a half. I hated those showers in the campsites. Usually getting one that either released a mere trickle, that couldn't drown a housefly, or one that produced cascades that could replicate the Niagara Falls.  Or the one I picked, screaming as the ice water hit me and yelling fifteen minutes later, when the hot water finally kicked in. All fifteen minutes of it, as if built up behind some pressure valve and scalding me to near the consistency of boiled potato.
            But I knew I didn't want to spend the rest of my life limping around with one shoe half eaten by gangs of weasels armed with plastic forks and knives (I hear they have this allergic reaction to metal forks and knives).
            So when the publisher sends back your manuscript for another editing go around, remember this positive affirmation if you don't want them or yourself being attacked by wild gangs of prowling rodents. "I'm a Writer, I Love Writing. I'm a Writer, I Love Writing." Repeat about twenty times behind gritted teeth before getting out the old Strunk and White and getting on with it.

Buy Raven's Lament

Thursday, May 21, 2015

I Wish I'd Taken A Parenting Class By Sandy Semerad

A woman handed me a flier with the headline, “May is for Mom’s.” It advertised a class for parents, “who desire a healthy future for their children.”

I wish I’d taken this class when my daughters were babies. My main source of instruction came from Dr. Benjamin Spock’s Baby and Child Care.

I have made plenty of parenting mistakes, no doubt. A major boo-boo was trying to raise my daughters differently from how I’d been brought up.

Looking back now, I’m grateful for my upbringing, although I deeply regret losing my dad when I was seven. A heart attack killed him.

After Dad died, I worried about Mom. Alice Larson Hodges was eccentric and talented, adventuresome and unpredictable.

She paraded around Geneva, Alabama in bright clothes, big hats and jewelry. “Gossips be damned.”

She wore loud bracelets. They clanged as she played the piano at the First Baptist church. She often sang louder than the choir.
 She took me and my sister out of school in the middle of the year and drove to New Mexico from Alabama to see the Caverns in New Mexico. During the summer, she stuck us in camp while she studied art.
She was the oldest daughter of Norwegian immigrants and once told me she married Daddy because he promised to buy her a piano and teach her to drive. After Daddy died, she never married again.
She loved water and painted beautiful pictures of water, but never learned to swim. Yet, she encouraged me and Alice Kay to become good swimmers.
She raised two daughters alone while preaching: “Cleanliness is next to Godliness. A stitch in time saves nine. Early to bed, early to rise, makes a woman health wealthy and wise. Do unto others as you would have them do unto you. You won’t like most of what you do every day, but if you do one thing you like, you should be happy.”
She seemed fearless.
She single handedly drove us to New York City to see the musical “My Fair Lady.” During our trip, we toured the Empire State Building and the Statue of Liberty.
When we arrived in New York, in the middle of the night, Alice Kay and I were asleep in the back seat. At the Brooklyn Bridge, she awakened us, shouting, “Wake up, girls, New York City.”

I could go on and on about her. How she filmed us as if we were movie stars. Thank God, we were able to salvage the rolls of film.
Alice Kay had some of the film spliced together, chronicling our lives as children, teenagers, young adults and mothers. In the beginning of the video, Mother is young and beautiful, smiling for the camera. My father is dapper and handsome, puffing on a cigarette.
One thing’s for sure, Mother never failed to surprise me. She seemed to embrace spontaneity.
I’m a little spontaneous, too, along with having a highly developed imagination. I escaped reality by making up stories in my head, which eventually culminated in writing novels. But the novel writing began years after she suffered a stroke and was in a coma.
The doctors offered little hope of her recovery. Refusing to accept this diagnosis, I kept talking to her.
She eventually opened her eyes and said, “I’m so proud of you.”
Mother is no longer on this earth, but I feel her spirit every day, and I know she did her best, without the benefit of child-rearing classes.
And I’m grateful I had an exciting mother. She taught me, by example, how to live outside my comfort zone. I might not have learned to take risks if Mother had been overprotective and fearful.

I never doubted her love, although she seldom said the words, I love you. I suppose that’s why I never miss an opportunity to tell my daughters, Rene and Andrea, and granddaughter Cody how much I love them and how proud I am of them. They’re extraordinary, despite my lack of parenting lessons.
For more information, visit my website: Sandy Semerad 

And here's my latest novel, A MESSAGE IN THE ROSES, only .99 today:

Wednesday, May 20, 2015


As if writing a book isn't a daunting enough task, an author then faces the task of finding a publishing who actually likes it. Once you've accomplished that major feat and think you can take a deep breath, think again. Reviews! Just the mention of the word makes me shudder.  Don't pull your hair out just yet.

Reviews are as varied as book topics and movie
themes. The future sales of one's book or cinemascopic wonder depends how a written assessment slants. If the reviewer doesn't like ONE particular thing in your story, and focuses on that, your sunk. Then, there are some reviewers, it seems, who feel the need to annihilate other people's work. I've been on both sides of the fence--author/book reviewer. I'm not always crazy about the entire content, but I at least try to focus on the positive aspects of the book. There had to be some or it wouldn't have been published or, in the case of movies, millions spent to film it. Face it!

The reason I'm addressing this issue is the reviews on the movie, Australia. When the movie came out, I suggested to my sister we go see it. She's very in to reading reviews to help her decide if she wants to spend the money for a ticket or read. Thank God, not everyone does. I give very little credence to the opinions of others when it comes to books or movies, because opinions are so subjective. Imagine if the success or failure of Hugh Jackman or Nicole Kidman depended on the following comments taken directly from Yahoo Movies:

The film was poorly shot with horrendous transitioning between digital animation and live scenery. "Australia" also took a long time to develop the storyline. The plot was predictable and feebly attempted to chase several "rabbit trails." But the most irritating part of the film was it's failure to end! On multiple occassions, I expected the film to wrapping up only to realize there was more. I found myself begging for the credits.

Terrible in every sense of the word. The screen writer simply could not settle on what plot to write about. One moment, they were herding cattle. The next, fighting Japanese invaders. Unfortunately, these two stories didn't connect in any way shape or form...and it was 3 hours of my life that I will never have back.

Hugh Jackman was ok. The film suffers from bad editing, a stupid ending, and the lacking ability to really draw the viewer in. Stunning visuals cannot save this film. It's like LION KING:THE MUSICAL, meets MOULIN ROUGE, meets PEARL HARBOR, meets THE THORNBIRDS, meets THE MAN FROM SNOWY RIVER.

This movie was a mess. Worst I have ever had to sit through, and I almost walked out. Stupid plot, bad acting (Jackman did okay), worse dialog, ridiculous soap-opera close-ups, just plain awful. A poop-pile of the worst parts of Titanic (cheesy rich girl-poor boy love story), Mary Poppins (aghh the singing), Pearl Harbor (war mixed with gooey love scenes), Quigley Down Under (look at me I'm Aussie!), Cold Mountain (Nicole Kidman again), Josey Wales (the stupid ending), City Slickers (cattle drives!), Indy's Temple of Doom (rescue the children for the village, Indy), and Commando (worst villan attempt of all time). You should miss this movie at all costs. 

Okay...would you go see it now! Remember there are people who sat in the theater and saw a completely different film as evidenced by:

WOW!! I really can't say enough good things about this movie. Everything was well done. The story line, the visuals were outstanding. It doesn't surprise me that the critics didn't really like it, but why would they when there was truth in what was being told. A definite must see.

I don't write reviews ever but this one is worth taking the time and telling the world they must see this movie. My family spent time in Australia in 2006 and seeing this movie made us all feel home sick. This movie was exactly what Australia is like. Beautiful but harsh and full of unknown history. This movie covered so much of the life of Australians they way they lived and the way things are now. I can't say enough. You must go see.

I see many movies and some leave no impact on me at all. This movie I will mevr forget. Nicole Kidman played her role to the max. Hugh Jackman was good also. But the one that touched me the most was the little boy he was excellent. If you enjoy a movie with a believable story,good acting and beautiful location settings this is your movie. It was well worth the 2 1/2 hours of running time. I never once looked at my watch thats how much I was into this movie. Go and enjoy this epic they are not made like this any more in Hollywood.

this film is oustanding! critics take themsekves to seriously. the movie had it all, love, action, comedy, and adventure. i loved it. it may be 2 hours long but it is worth it. go see for yourselves. it is truly an epic!

To say that reviews are confusing is an understatement. I've been fortunate to have received mostly positive reviews, but I've had my share of unfavorable ones that make me wonder if the reviewer even read my work.  I've also seen crucifixion of books and movies  I thoroughly enjoyed and experienced extreme shock in seeing others didn't find the joy or excitement I did, but that's life.

Don't let another person's opinion decide for you. That's my point. Be your own judge and jury. The same goes for critics have caused the demise of some great eateries all because their taste buds were out of whack on one particular evening.

Isn't it sad we give someone that much authority over our lives? Like I'm going to put a lot of stock in the fact that Joe Blow doesn't like a particular artichoke dip or spinach souffle. I'll be my the master of my own cuisine...reading tastes and movie preferences, too. If this sampling of reviews doesn't prove my point...then nothing will.  I urge you to make your own decisions.

I'd love for you to decide on one of mine.  You can find them all on my Amazon page.

Tuesday, May 19, 2015

A True Ghost Town by Stuart R. West

My wife grew up in Oklahoma. So we make frequent trips there to visit her family (I drew the lucky straw there. Awesome in-laws!). On one of our first treks, she drove us through a small slip of a town named Picher. Set just off the highway, if you blink it’s possible to miss it completely. It can hardly be considered a town any longer. What few residences still exist are dilapidated, sad, empty domiciles stitched together by cobwebs and memories. Buildings slant, leaning lazily, victims of nature’s strokes. Only the foundations of some buildings still exist. Trees bend in the same direction as if bowing down to some unseen force. Stores are torn apart, trash and rubble scattered across the floors. Rather enigmatic graffiti decorates the still standing walls, warnings and farewells. In one particularly
macabre touch, a store-owner had hung his bath robe in the store front along with the ironically jolly sign, “Sorry! Closed.”

Of course I had to get out and investigate. Turns out that wasn’t the brightest idea. What very few residents who still live there apparently aren’t the friendliest bunch. They’re easy to spot, most of them hauling serious speed in pick-up trucks sporting confederate flags emblazoned on the side and gun racks raised high. Make of that what you will. They’re called “chat rats,” very territorial and scary guys, practically living out their lawless Wild West fantasies. I suppose they’ve picked the right place as Picher is little more than an old ghost town.

Above all of this sad devastation looms the primary cause. The chat piles. Miles and mountains of earth dug out and abandoned in man’s quest for lead and zinc. The mining had also poisoned the land, the water and the air of Pitcher, Oklahoma. Most reasonable people have long moved out (excluding, of course, the aforementioned chat rats). Or died off. But the mountains of toxic waste remain behind. You could practically smell the toxicity. Needless to say, I got in the car fast.

But Picher stayed with me. A sad, dead town that haunted. And I knew there had to be a story in there.

And there was, too. I discovered quite a tale involving dubious mine owners, Native Americans, violent union strikes, corporate greed and town destroying tornadoes. What was once one of the most prosperous mining towns in the country had been reduced to rubbish. It's now the oldest and largest environmental Superfund site in America.

I turned my research into Ghosts of Gannaway. Now of course I embellished the tale with ghosts and other fictional conceits. And an undying romance that spans decades. But the saga of Picher is sadly unforgettable.

Coming soon from Books We Love: Ghosts of Gannaway by Stuart R. West

Monday, May 18, 2015

Interviews...Friend or Foe? by Nancy M Bell

Hello again, thanks for stopping by. As I write this post I'm getting ready to do a Blog Talk Radio interview to promote Go Gently, the third book in the Cornwall Adventures. For no good reason, I always get nervous before an interview. It doesn't matter if it's face to face, over the phone or the internet. There's no good reason for it, I suppose. Left over angst from my 'fat kid' childhood maybe. I'm always thinking in the back of my mind about what people will think of what I'm wearing, or if they actually like the book, or are just being kind. Sometimes you wonder if the interviewer even read the book. But, then again, that's just my own inner critic rearing its head.
Even though outwardly it appears I have no trouble speaking to a crowd or facilitating an event, inside I'm triple thinking about what I should or shouldn't say or do. Silly, I know. It's like there is another person inside who takes over and just speaks naturally and comes up with concise and well thought out answers to questions. I used to teach riding lessons for a living, over 70 students a week. I always got a bit a stage fright, even though I loved what I was doing. The behaviors we learn in childhood never really leave us.

I recently released the third book in the Cornwall Adventures series. Go Gently is available from the publisher, Books We Love and major distributors everywhere. While I'm extremely proud of the books, it's almost like they are a separate entity from me and their success is somehow their own and not mine. Weird. It's okay to crow about the books, but I would never crow about me, tiny voices whisper my grandmother's words - "Don't be bragging, it's unbecoming of a young lady." "Quit thinking you're so smart or your head will get so big it won't fit through the door" Or my mother - "I can never find nice things for Nancy, she's just so big for her age. I can always finds such cute things for Wendy (my younger sister) She's so tiny and blonde."

I realize none of that actually defines me or indeed really has anything to do with me. It's their view of the world, not mine. But in times of stress, up they pop.

The funny thing is, I really do enjoy the interview once I arrive or it begins. I love talking about writing, the process, and the craft. The magic of putting words on paper that evoke a reaction and emotions from others. It is magic and I love it. When the interview is over, I'm always riding a bit of a high and wonder what the heck I was so nervous about beforehand. Giving interviews or readings is a great way to connect with people. A reader will often pick up a book and buy it if they feel a connection with the author. Reaching out to them through interviews is a great tool. With the internet today, you can instantly connect with readers on a worldwide scale. It boggles the imagination of a child of the 1950s, that's for sure.

Summer Solstice Sunset 2012

I know, I know, picture has nothing to do with content of my post, but I love the colours. It's taken from my back yard over the rolling prairie. Home of my heart.

Okay, the interview is over and it was fun. Now, if I could just remember NOT to say Ummm so many times. LOL

If you want to listen to the interview (and count the Umms LOL) click here

For more on the latest Cornwall Adventures book, Go Gently, please visit my author page at Books We Love. It is also available in ebook and print online and at bookstores everywhere. Thanks for visiting. See you next month on June 18th. Until then be safe and be happy.

Sunday, May 17, 2015

Casting Your Characters with Janet Lane Walters - Taurus

Her mother was a hired nanny and her father the Mellwood Bank. This is the way Taurus Laurel Richmond describes her family. After burning out as a nurse with an international health agency, she returns to Eastlake, the one place she where she felt connected. She studied nursing here and made a number of friends. Her one problem is her wealth. Soon she will receive a fortune. But money hasn’t given her the things she wants, a home, a family and love. Since a chance visit after summer camp with a friend made there, her idea of a man to love has been Alex Carter.

Alex Carter is a Scorpio, a single dad with a five year old son. He’s a general practitioner at Eastlake Community Hospital. While attracted to Laurel, he has one problem. His ex and now dead wife had a lot of money and little sense. Drugs and her fast friends were her life. She abandoned their son who cried for hours until his father returned. Alex has no love for women with money. Attraction or not he refuses to admit he’s falling for Laurel.

With the help of Alex’s son, Laurel sets out to prove to Alex she’s in town for the long haul and she will make the perfect wife and mother.

Janet Lane Walters has written a charming tale.
As a child, Laurel Richmond was trapped in a car with her dead parents for hours. After losing them, Laurel's next of kin was a bank. Laurel hides her immense wealth, traveling internationally as a nurse, helping the sick. She decides to settle in Eastlake, a small community.

She once summered with her friend Megan, developing a huge crush on Megan's brother, Alex, who is now a divorced doctor raising his young son Johnny. Alex is leary of wealth because his rich ex-wife had no time for him or Johnny, but Johnny takes to Laurel right away.

The glimpses of a family life that Laurel experiences with Johnny and Alex leave her longing for her dreams to become reality. Can she get Alex to realize that money may bring power, but love offers peace? 

The Taurus Sun character - This is the inner self they may or may not show people. These are self-reliant people who are determined, persistent and cautions. They have a low tolerance for physical pain. Of a patient nature, they are willing to wait a long time for their plans to mature. Think of the hero or heroine who has loved someone forever and is plotting on how to get the object of his or her affections. While this person can seem gentle, do not make them angry. They become furious to the point of being headstrong and unyielding. They are also practical. They are lovers of art, music and literature. They can become healers.

Taurus Ascendant -- This is the face shown to the world. They come across as self-reliant, persistent and willing to work hard and long to see a project finished. When provoked they're like the bull when something is flapped in the face. Run, don't walk. This person possesses a magnetic quality that draws people to them and often has a calming effect on others. If they undertake a project they will finish it no matter what stands in their way. When angry they aim for the gut.

Moon in Taurus -- The emotional nature -- Cautious but affable. They are drawn to friendship and marriage. They are ambitions and want to excel. They can be acquisitive of friends and possessions. They are sympathetic and intuitive. The inclination for pleasure and luxury can be taken to the extreme.

Stillwaters Run Deep, Book One: Raven's Lament

Stillwater's Run Deep  Book One Raven's Lament Frank Talaber, The Writer: Mad muse inside keeps my pencil writing...