What I Write and Why I Write

I read to escape and I write to do the same. I’ve devoured books since I was a child and discovered the joy of writing in middle school. I wrote articles for our local paper for several years focusing on school events and happenings. As I look back, I never considered writing as a career. It was always a fun hobby but not something I thought of as a real job. I retired a few years ago and have since dedicated myself to a second career as a novelist. I write in two genres–women’s fiction and mystery. I love the escape reading a great book offers.

I find the same enjoyment when creating characters and stories. My women’s fiction series is set in the San Juan Islands, off the coast of Washington state. While on a trip to the area, I saw a woman on the ferry with a golden retriever. As I watched her, the beginning of the story for my first novel, Finding Home, took root. In the Hometown Harbor Series, I created a community of people in one of the most beautiful settings I’ve visited.

Each of the stories features a different woman, who is in the midst of a journey of self-discovery. I love to read series and enjoy novels in which characters are intertwined and appear throughout. In these works, I’ve tried to create a place readers want to visit. They’re the type of books readers can curl up with and get lost in, while sipping a cup of tea. I also purposely created characters that were a bit more mature than those in many modern novels. The women in the series are easy to relate to and have problems readers in their forties, fifties, and beyond will find familiar.  The fifth book in this series, Finally Home, releases on June 20th.

My favorite types of books to read include mysteries and thrillers. While on a trip to Nashville, the idea for a mystery series was hatched. I created a lovable bachelor detective who lives with his aunt in the exclusive Belle Meade area in Nashville. My main character, Coop, and his dog, Gus, along with his right-hand woman, Annabelle, find themselves in the midst of twisty murder cases. I released the second book in the Cooper Harrington Detective Series, Deadly Connection, late in 2016. I find writing in the mystery genre to require a more detailed outline and process than the more character-centered women’s fiction genre. I enjoy the challenge of creating a twisty, but believable plot for the murder mystery.

I’ve discovered visiting new areas and travel inspire my ideas. I love character creation and spend a lot of time interviewing my characters so I’m able to develop them for my readers. I’m also a people-watcher and pay close attention to how people act and what they say. It’s a great exercise for building characters or coming up with a new personality.

In person I like no drama. Creating stories and characters fills the void in my otherwise predictable and prosaic life. I’m having much more fun in this next chapter of my life than in my pre-retirement years. I wish you the joy of finding many good books to fill your days. I’d love to hear from readers, so please connect with me by visiting my website at http://www.tammylgrace.com/.

– Tammy Grace

(Tammy L. Grace writes romance and mystery books. Visit her at http://www.tammylgrace.com)

 

April Is the Cruelest Month, but It Brings Lilacs

Lilac bushes present their flowers profusely in spring, most often in April. For Colorado, this means the grandiose display might fall victim to late snows and freezes. The unstated counsel from the annual spectacle of cascading buds points out that for life to continue, lilacs, as well as all living things, have to face risks. So lilacs bloom according to their nature and occasionally lose the race to obtain sufficient warmth and water to strut their stuff.

Lilacs possess a special attraction for me. I don’t know why, have tried to analyze it to see how the feeling of joy that swells in me when I spot the lilacs might be transferred to other situations. Although I’ve been unsuccessful, I think it has something to do with childhood.

My strongest memory of the flower is from about the age of six. My family was living with my grandfather in a tiny Minnesota rural town. The lilac bush grew beside his small two story frame house, which lacked an indoor toilet and potable water. It compensated by having a glorious plant, at least eight feet tall (remember, I was probably three feet tall at the time), and eight feet in circumference. If I shoved through the first layer of branches in grasping distance, I could push them aside to reach a hollowed -out interior. A secret house, a retreat, a place to hide, where the scent of the lilacs surrounded me. There I would host parties for my dolls and build creations from twigs, stones and scraps of this and that.

I wasn’t alone in this belief that lilac bushes were places of enchantment. They lent their presence to stories and poems, such as Louisa May Alcott’s novel Under the Lilacs. Because lilacs are so ubiquitous, growing in nearly every area of the US except the South and places that lack a cold winter, readers immediately recognize their beauty and familiar comfort. They’re a common symbol for spring, for rebirth, for determination.

Somehow, over the years, it seems to me lilacs have toned down their persistent awesome fragrance. Decades ago one early morning while taking a walk, I was struck by their delicate scent wafting at least a block in all directions. Since then I’ve wondered if I’d been up especially early when the cool air was friendlier to the perfume or had there been less traffic exhaust than usual through some fluke? Ever since then I’ve had to step close, to bury my nose in the blooms in order to catch the bouquet. Another victim of ever-increasing population growth and traffic.

Lilacs are glorious. When I see them, I want to embrace them, bury my body in them. I wonder what passersby in the local park think when they see me standing motionless deep within a bush, clinging to an armful of branches. Talk about tree-huggers! No other plant inspires in me such intensity. I’m a victim, just like the Greek who created the story about lilacs.

According to Greek mythology, the enchantment of lilacs began when Pan, god of forests and fields, spotted a gorgeous nymph named Syringa (lilac’s botanical name). Captivated by her beauty, he chased her through the forest. Frightened by Pan’s affections, Syringa used her powers to turn herself into an aromatic bush, thus escaping him. The plant, which we refer to as lilacs, symbolize in the language of flowers, the first emotions of love (purple), while white lilacs represent youthful innocence.

Enhancing and enlarging upon the varied emotions I associate with lilacs is an unforgettable statement by T.S. Eliot from his masterpiece The Wasteland. He magically combines thoughts of beauty, life, death, and pain into one soul-shaking phrase. “April is the cruelest month, breeding lilacs out of the dead land, mixing memory and desire, stirring dull roots with spring rain.”Bring ‘em on. I welcome lilacs.

How Love Gives Foster Children Hope for a Better Future

Over 400,000 children are living in foster homes in this country. I know two special people who have shared their home and hearts with fortunate foster children, my brother Jim and his wife Marty, two remarkable people from South Carolina who willingly gave shelter and hope to 32 foster children over 15 years. In addition to loving and guiding foster children; these special people raised five children of their own who, like their parents, are doing extraordinary things with their ordinary lives.

People become foster parents for many reasons. Jim and Marty’s started as an act of love. They love children, and theirs were almost grown. With only one daughter at home, they still had lots of love to give. They found recipients for all their love in the constant need for foster parents.

The strains of parenting can take a toll on foster parents, mandating an occasional break. At times the need to pause occurs after a painful ending, such as the return of a child to an abusive parent. Following a recharge of their emotions, they resume foster parenting because they believe that God creates every child for a special reason, their motivation to continue. The couple want their foster care babies to know how much they are loved. After a year of constant love, most children are better able to cope with their life circumstances.

Among the many rewards to foster parents when they give themselves to their children is the knowledge they are opening new doors for the children, providing a window to a new world, a gift perhaps greater those the children receive. Jim and Marty recall many special moments over the years. Their extended family shares in their love of each foster child, and foster kids go to the beach for a week with the extended family, where they are embraced by friends and family alike.

The sharing and the love continue in their church when babies are passed around. People like to hold them and love them. This sharing is especially heartwarming since some babies, not conceived in love, are smothered with love while being fostered. As a result of their participation in foster parenting, Jim and Marty have facilitated several successful adoptions and still get pictures of these kids as they are growing up. The couple say that it is wonderful to see them so happy.

Foster children often have been through bad experiences that stay with them for their lifetimes. A welcome in a safe and loving home starts them on a different path, reassuring them that times will get better, they are lovable and loved. They learn problems at home are not their fault.

Foster parents believe they have an obligation to care for children who cannot care for themselves. Every person is a child of God and deserves not only the basics of life like food, clothes and a home, but also the love and care of people who are willing to open their hearts to them.

(Storyteller Judy Kundert relates folk, fairy tales, and classics to                               elementary school children. Most of her time, she writes award-winning stories middle grade novels. Her first women’s fiction novel, Hanging Cloud, is due in December 2017. To learn more about Judy, visit http://judykundert.com/)

Judy’s forthcoming women’s novel

READERS AND WRITERS INTERESTED IN READING ABOUT CHILDREN’S EXPERIENCES IN FOSTER CARE CAN SAMPLE FIVE EXCELLENT BOOKS:

  • THE STORY OF TRACY BEAKER BY JACQUELINE WILSON. YOUNG TRACY HAS BEEN IN FOSTER CARE FOR AS LONG AS SHE CAN REMEMBER. MAYBE ONE DAY TRACY’S MOTHER WILL SHOW UP AND RECLAIM HER LONG-LOST DAUGHTER, BUT IN THE MEANTIME, TRACY’S DOING EVERYTHING SHE CAN TO TAKE CARE OF HERSELF. THEN A JOURNALIST WRITING A STORY ABOUT THEIR ORPHANAGE STRIKES UP A SPECIAL FRIENDSHIP WITH TRACY.

  • THE PINBALLS BY BETSY CROMER BYARS. CARLY, THOMAS J., AND HARVEY ARE UNWANTED KIDS WHO HAVE ALL HAD HARD KNOCKS UNTIL THEY FIND THEMSELVES IN THE SAME FOSTER HOME. ONE BATTERED, ONE RUN OVER BY A CAR, AND ONE EMOTIONALLY LOST, THEY ALL ARE DETERMINED TO FIND HOPE IN THEIR NEW HOME AND IN EACH OTHER.

  • MAYBE DAYS: A BOOK FOR CHILDREN IN FOSTER CARE BY JENNIFER WILGOCKI. FOR MANY CHILDREN IN FOSTER CARE, THE ANSWER TO QUESTIONS IS OFTEN ‘MAYBE.’ THIS PRIMER IS A STRAIGHTFORWARD LOOK AT THE ISSUES OF FOSTER CARE, THE QUESTIONS THAT CHILDREN ASK, AND THE FEELINGS THAT THEY CONFRONT. IT ALSO EXPLAINS IN CHILDREN’S TERMS THE RESPONSIBILITIES OF ALL ADULTS INVOLVED. AS FOR THE CHILDREN, THEIR JOB IS TO BE A KID.

  • FINDING THE RIGHT SPOT: WHEN KIDS CAN’T LIVE WITH THEIR PARENTS BY JANICE LEVY.  A SPIRITED YOUNG GIRL NARRATES HER STORY. SHE LIVES WITH AUNT DANE (NOT HER REAL AUNT) FOR A WHILE, UNTIL HER MOTHER IS ABLE TO CARE FOR HER AGAIN. SHE EXPERIENCES THE EMOTIONAL UPS AND DOWNS OF LIVING IN AN UNFAMILIAR HOME AND BEING SEPARATED FROM HER MOTHER.

  • GILLY HOPKINS BY KATHERINE PATERSON. THIS TIMELESS NEWBERY HONOR BOOK STARS ELEVEN-YEAR-OLD GILLY, WHO HAS BEEN STUCK IN MORE FOSTER FAMILIES THAN SHE CAN REMEMBER, AND SHE’S HATED THEM ALL. BRASH, BRILLIANT, AND COMPLETELY UNMANAGEABLE, WHEN SHE’S SENT TO LIVE WITH THE TROTTERS—BY FAR THE STRANGEST FAMILY YET—SHE KNOWS IT’S ONLY A TEMPORARY PROBLEM.

Why the internet may just be what saves humanity

There are many things I despise about the internet: the addiction to its use that seems to be spreading like a virus; the disregard of writing and editing standards in its content*, the lowest common denominator tenor of most messages, which cater to puerile, malevolent gossip; its reliance on mass popularity to evaluate worth and value; its emphasis on the herd perspective.

Yet the internet is the great leveler, which can be good. Accessible worldwide, even under despotic governments with enough planning, wriggling, and techie knowledge, people are figuring out how to connect with others.  Yes, a number of governments censor use and content, but they’re in roughly the same situation as the little Dutch boy trying to hold back the ocean at the dike. Smart phones leapfrog the purchase of expensive computers, plus they spread real-time images nearly instantaneously. News circulates in the same fashion, and the emotional temperature of a group be captured and distributed to observers around the globe.

Of course there’s the potential for hideous abuses, given the lynch mob mentality that can hold sway. The very rapidity of communications eliminates that period in which thought can amend activity. Arguments extend indefinitely with more strength than face-to-face encounters.

But there are benefits, too. Still since the 2016 national election, the internet has become a source of solace to me. I had real fears that our country had embarked on a period of political suppression and confusion, in which every belief I held dear was to be ignored, even violated. But as the weeks and months passed, people made their contradictory and outspoken voices heard. For every claim, there has been a counterclaim. The confusion remains, but if you’re determined, you can uncover facts, rational discussions, pros and cons on issues, topical developments in news and development.

This hasn’t happened before. Think of Armenian genocide in Turkey and Hitler’s Kristallnacht. If the internet had existed, perhaps more people would have responded to save Armenians or anticipated the Nazi horrors.

Or perhaps not. Starvation, internecine violence, persecution of ethnic groups, and other major issues still surface, indeed, appear to be proliferating. Still, they can’t be hidden any longer. People can reach out to inform one another,organize for improvement and change.

if we could just get people to use rational thought and good will to evaluate their actions before they take steps, we just might be on the path to improve human life as well as preserve the planet.

*People ignore the real need that rules of grammar fill to insure a reader’s comprehension. Yes, they’re arbitrary and nonsensical. But they also provide an agreement on the use of language, so you can tell what the speaker or writer means. Failure to comply not only leads to misunderstandings but also indicates a lack of education in the user. On an official website for a woman’s magazine, I recently read a person described as a “business magnet” rather than a “business magnate,” quite a difference. If a magazine written, edited and produced by professionals can’t maintain clear writing, why should I buy the publication?

Do TWO Things a Day and Succeed

How many times have I read an article or seen a program online that inspires me to start marketing my book with fresh enthusiasm? And then, HOW MANY times do I see that enthusiasm drop off a few days or weeks later? Marketing and sales activities are exhausting and even marketing experts find themselves moving in waves… fits and starts… it is natural and human. Large amounts of energy can only be expended for limited amounts of time. How do we overcome our human natures and our natural instincts? How do we sell and market our books consistently over time when it is so hard and takes so much time and energy?

 

The secret is to DO TWO. Do two things a day to promote yourself and your book. No more, no less. It is far better to spend fifteen minutes a day every day on a task than to spend four hours a day once a week. Why? Consistency comes from daily activity. Staying on course is easier with small adjustments and activities each day than one big push each week. It is also easier to skip a week’s tasks when tired or busy. It is not as easy to convince yourself that you don’t have time to do something that only takes a few minutes.

Let’s look at my FORMER typical marketing and sales activity list:
  • Find all of the Top Amazon reviewers for my type of book
  • Send my book to prepublication and professional book reviewers
  • Pitch myself for interviews at book blogs
  • Send books to newspapers and magazines for inclusion in gift giving guides and new release columns
  • Send magazines and newspapers article ideas that I can write or for which I can be interviewed
  • Send bloggers information about my book
  • Contact bookstores and ask them to order my book
  • Contact libraries and ask them to order my book
  • Find buyer names and contact information for the major chains
  • Ask friends to write reviews on line
  • Contact famous people and ask them to give an endorsement or opinion on my book
I am exhausted just READING that list! Now, let’s look at my NEW to do list:
Monday: Find two top Amazon reviewers from https://www.amazon.com/reviews/top-reviewers and notify them about my book and ask if they would like a review copy.
Tuesday: Find two book review sites from http://www.midwestbookreview.com/links/othr_rev.htm, and send them a packet with a cover letter, copy of my book, one blurb sheet, and marketing sheet.
Wednesday: Find two websites, newspapers or magazines whose readers are the same as those who read my book. Reach out to them (JUST TWO) and suggest an article idea that I can write for them or about which I can be interviewed.
Thursday: Find two bookstores and get the name of who buys for them. Email them asking if I can send the information about my book so that they can consider stocking it.
Friday: Find two people (that I know or don’t) and ask them if they are interested in reading my book and giving me their opinion. (Oh, I must send them the book.)
Saturday: Follow up via email with all ten contacts I made in the previous week, just asking if they need any further information or if I can be of service.
Sunday: Rest. And rest again. After all, I need to DO TWO!

 

Honest to goodness…. This may SOUND like a little or a lot; and you are right. It is both. Spending your time, a little at a time, in these activities will yield a great deal of fruit over time. Small investments in time and energy will grow and build upon themselves until you have a huge wave of successes.

Amy Collins, publishing expert, Author of THE WRITE WAY.
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