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Tuesday, July 14

Fish Tales - by Janie DeVos


             Author (in foreground), with sister, Kathy, fishing in the Bahamas, circa 1995.        

     My husband and I are anxiously waiting for our new pontoon boat to be delivered.  Though we haven’t even broken ground on our new lake house (septic system placement problems—don’t ask), we have a dock slip.  It came with the land. Thus, we put in our order for a new pontoon boat before we even have a pot to p*^$ in.  Literally.  This should come as no surprise to those of you who know us.  We’re native Miamians, and we fish. 

As I’ve mentioned in previous blogs, my family has been in Miami since the early part of the 20th century, and throughout that hundred years’ time, we’ve fish everywhere from the Florida Keys, to the Bahama Islands.  Unsurprisingly, we have quite a few fish tales to tell, and while all of them may not involve record-winning fish, or even the actual catching of them, the stories resulting from the trips were well worth the effort of going.

Take for instance the story of my dad and uncle fishing for snapper one day off of Miami, in Biscayne Bay.  The fish had been biting well, and the men had a whole stringer full of them hanging off the side of the boat in the water.  All of a sudden, Uncle Lew whispered to Daddy, “Don’t breathe.”  Slowly turning to see what it was that had my uncle depriving him of air was a shark that had risen to the surface like some giant enemy submarine, checking out its next target.  The aluminum boat they were in was 12’ long, and, terrifyingly, the shark was longer than the vessel.  Obviously, the scent of bloody fish had attracted it, and the shark eyed the string of snapper, as well as Daddy and Uncle Lew.  Then, for whatever miraculous reason, the mega predator decided there was better fare to be found elsewhere in the bay, and it submerged back into the depths.  Firing up their small Johnson outboard engine amidst a flurry of exclamations, the men decided they’d had enough of fishing for one day, and they pushed that throttle has hard as they could getting back to shore…but not before pulling that stringer of fish aboard.  Which brings me to the long-held, unspoken rule about fishing in my family: Never go home empty handed. 

My grandfather would often go fishing with my dad and uncle, and if they were skunked (i.e. caught no fish), then my grandfather made them stop at a fish market to purchase whatever was freshest, and then told my grandmother, mother and aunt that they had caught them.   He usually embellished the claim with some whopper of a tale, but the women weren’t to be fooled: The fish were half frozen.

Another taboo among my fishing clan was that when on a mission-of-fishin’, one was never, EVER, to be thwarted from getting a line in the water. 

One evening, my cousin, Brian, and I headed out to do some night fishing from a seawall behind an exclusively expensive private girls’ school.  It just so happened that on this particular night there was a debutantes’ ball going on, and things were looking bleak as far as making the first cast.  “Well, that takes care of that,” my cousin disappointingly stated. 

“Not so fast,” I replied, quickly formulating a plan.  After all, we had plenty of bait, and, more importantly, a cooler full of ice cold Coors.  “Grab three rods and our tackle box,” I said, jerking my head toward our fishing gear in the backseat.  Then I went around to the trunk of the car and grabbed our cooler and a blanket. 

“Hold the rods straight up,” I instructed.  Then I threw the blanket over them so that only the handles appeared at the bottom, making it look like the legs of a tripod of some sort.  “Follow me,” I said, marching off with the cooler toward the school.

We walked through the brightly lit front yard, past the circular drive, where men in white tuxedos politely opened the door for the ladies arriving with their escorts in their BMW’s, Bentleys, and Mercedes, and on into the side yard, where we were finally stopped by security guards. 

“Hold up!” one exclaimed.  “You can’t be here!”

“We’re photographers,” I stated nonchalantly, looking around as though I was scoping out where we might capture the best shots for posterity’s sake.  “Where do they want us?”

“Around back,” the guard replied, pointing.  And that was exactly where we wanted to go.

We walked past the stone courtyard, where many strings of soft white lights illuminated the beautiful young girls in their perfect white organza dresses waltzing along in the arms of their perfect-looking escorts.  On we walked, without any of the perfectly-perfects giving us a second look, until we were deep into the dark backyard and finally at the seawall.  Then, we uncovered the rods, spread our blanket on the ground, wound fresh earthworms around our hooks, and cracked two cold ones.  I don’t remember catching anything that night, but it didn’t matter.  Our lines were wet, a soft breeze was blowing, and the glittering Miami skyline rose up in the distance, reminding us of how far our family had come since they first rode in on Henry Flagler’s railroad in 1916. 

Many years have gone by since my great-greats first threw a line into the Florida waters, but one thing has not changed through them; our love for fishing, and our love for telling fish stories.  Most of them are true, but, every now and then, one may be thrown in that is a little more fiction than fact.  It’s a chronic condition of every good fisherman—the telling of big fish tales—and it’s one that there is no cure for.  However, as my husband and I start to collect our own fish stories on the new pontoon boat, I will relate them to you in the most honest, unembellished way.  I promise….kind of. 

Friday, July 10

My own Audrey Two

by Margie Senechal

As much I love dystopia and apolcaloptic fiction, I'm finding the reality of living in such times a bit more taxing. :)

There are times that I feel there is a lot to be hopeful for-- Walmart is out of bikes because families have started enjoying biking together, the group women parked in an empty parking lot in a semi-circle while they visit and social distance at the same time, or the return of the drive-in theater. Could we be so lucky? The nearest one to me is in Newberg, Oregon, a nice 45-minute or so drive away.

Before--which for the record--
I'm a little horrified to share.

Sometimes these little things are the only things that give us some hope when we're bombarded everywhere by increasingly bad news. And sometimes we have to search really hard to find those good things in the midst of the bad. It's kind of like my backyard.

For the last couple of years, I've neglected my yard and it seriously shows it. Blackberry vines have invaded almost every area--Oregon blackberries are a lot like Audrey 2--they tend to take over everything and plant their seedlings at will.

A lot of work, a little progress. Look!
You can see the edge of the patio again.
But, this summer, I'm determined to get it under control. My friend, Phil, and I have taken to working on most Mondays--weather permitting--to make some headway.

On the last refuse day, I put out seven bins/bags of yard debris. I have piles to pack up now but, I've been avoiding it. Maybe in August, I'll have even better pictures to share. Fingers crossed.

Back to the point I was trying to make, finding good among the brambles. Here are some of my flowers that are thriving amongst the blackberries and coming back to life with the eradication. There's a bee in the middle of the blue cornflower--which is Jordan's favorite flower and was my dad's, so I'm glad to see these transplants from his yard over ten years ago, still fighting.

 So, from one Apocaloptimist to another, keep seeking out the good. If we ever needed a Pollyana attitude, it is definitely now. Take care, stay safe, and be well!

Tuesday, July 7

Favorite Summer Reads ~ @AuthorKristina Knight

So far 2020 has been the fastest longest year I've ever experienced. Even in my angsty teen years. It seems like it's been years since we went to the grocery store without a mask or took an actual vacation. And yet, somehow it doesn't seem like we should already be halfway through the year. Shouldn't it only be February?

My theory is that it feels so long because so many things have happened and yet it's going so fast because all of the days are kind of bleeding into one another because we aren't doing anything... Kind of the way that they did when we were kids and summer vacation seemed to flash by in a single week instead of three months. For me, it's all adding up to needing a break from the news cycle, from the arguing on social media. Like that commercial we all remember, I need Calgon to take me away!

How have I been passing the time? Not going to lie, I've been in the pool probably more than I should be (there are words to be written, after all). I finished bingeing a show that I started when it first came out but then got bored with and stopped. And I'm kind of upset at how they didn't wrap the show up AT ALL (Scorpion, I'm looking at YOU) when it was cancelled. I've also been reading. A lot.

In June I started and finished a three-book, new-to-me series that is kind of a cross between women's fiction and romance and I don't mean 'with elements'. The books are single POV (heroine), first person and present tense and the focus is on the heroine's journey to self-acceptance. But the focus is just as dependent on her allowing herself to be loved and loving in return. I will tell you that first person/present is the bane of my existence; I usually hate it with the fire of a thousand suns. FP/P worked for me with these books, which is a credit to the author's ability to connect the words on the page with just the right amount of empathy from the reader. Anywho. The romance is just as important to the character's journey as is the self-acceptance. Without either aspect, the books wouldn't work. The series is a fun, escapist read and were just want I needed for the month of June. I wish there were more books set in that world and I'm hoping that the author is working on something new for Poppy and JoJo and their band of misfit friends! The series starts with Poppy's Place in the Sun, if you're interested.

I have also been playing in my planner. I started using a Passion Planner this year, which gives you a place before January and then after June for goal setting. I wasn't sure I'd use the June goal-setting section, because I tend to set goals according to quarter. But this year I needed it. So I took a little time last week to look at what I've gotten done this year (published three books - WIN!) and what I haven't and did a re-set for the last half of the year. I'm so excited for the second half of 2020 and I hope that between now and December one of my big goals (new publishing contract!) will be checked off.

And I've been writing. My go-to project right now is one that I'm hoping my editor will love and that will get me back under contract with a New York house. Because while I love being a hybrid, self-published author, I like having publisher deadlines, too. It's something I want. So I've been diving deep into an escapist writing of my own set on an island in the Caribbean with a grumpy heroine and a very optimistic hero and a good bit of laughter. It's a way to take myself on a vacation right here at my desk and I can't tell y'all how much I've needed it.

How do I turn work into a take-me-away moment? There are a couple of things I do.

First, I light a candle or start up a wax melter. Scent is a big deal for me. It always has been. Christmas doesn't feel like Christmas if I'm not burning a particular candle or melt, neither does Halloween. I don't always have a candle that is book-related, but when I started planning this particular book, I was burning a sea-breeze scented melter and somehow that scent stuck with me. It doesn't work automatically, but if I'm burning the wax and if I settle in, the book kind of writes itself.

Second, the music. If you've read many of my blogs you know that music plays a big part in my books. I create writing and editing playlists for each and this book (hopefully series!) is no different. I have a playlist for this drafting stage is is Caribbean-heavy. There are some fun marimba tunes, a bit of reggae, and other Caribbean-flavored music (no words, just music). I've also started my editing playlist, which includes a few Mamma Mia! songs, a bit more reggae (this time with words) and a few Beach Boys tunes along with a bit of Dierks Bentley, Maren Morris and Queen.

Third, I let the book take me. This is going to sound a little woo-woo, and I have to preface by saying that I plot more than I pants. But mostly, once I'm into the groove, I let the book take me where it needs to go. My subconscious knows the plot points I need to hit because I'm plotted it out, and I'm not throwing that plot out the window, but I am letting the characters mix things up a bit. I thought my heroine was going to stress-eat an entire package of Hershey's Kisses in Chapter Two. Turns out, that happened in Chapter Five. And I thought my hero was going to take her diving about Chapter Ten. Turns out, that happens in Chapter Four. But the book is working and so I'm letting it take me out of my office and on to the white-sand beaches of my little island where Grumpy and Sunshine are currently bantering about...well, you'll read about that in the book.

That quote at the beginning of this post is one of my favorites, but I think I'm going to paraphrase it and print it my version because it isn't only reading that takes us's writing, too. Writing gives us someplace to go when we have to stay where we are - and isn't that a magical way to spend this summer?     ~Kristina

Friday, July 3

Seeing What's Ahead by Liz Flaherty #WordWranglers

Nan and I intended to do a twofer, when we approached the same subject from different angles. Once her post was done, though, I couldn't think of another angle. It's not the first time this has happened to us, and I hope it's not the last--every writer needs a kindred spirit for a friend--but it did leave me here.

With nothing. Dang it, Nan...

My mind is very blank right now, something that scares the bejesus out of me as a writer. While I'm not a person who has a ton of ideas, I'm seldom without words, and that's happened a lot lately. So I did what I do when I don't have one of those ideas to run with and went to a website offering writing prompts. 365 of them on this one!

And there it was: Number 22 offered "Smoke, Fog, and Haze: Write about not being able to see ahead of you."

Oh, my gosh, it was made for me. Because my biggest career fear right now is not being able to see ahead of me. It's also my biggest life fear--I don't like the new normal. I want the old one back, the one where I can see and hug people (especially grand-people) without reservation or thought. Life at my age goes past at the velocity of a speeding bullet. What if what is ahead of me is...nothing? I mean, I believe in the afterlife, know, later.

Well. I just read over that paragraph. This is where I admit I called myself a whine-ass in a conversation with Nan this morning and that paragraph is where I set about proving myself right.

I'm not going to do that anymore. So, you heard that, right? That means when I do it again, it's okay to get on my case about it. Remind me of gratitude, of Pollyanna's glad game and Anne with an E's days with "no mistakes in them yet" and Pooh's "favorite day."

Because, for me, all those positive thoughts are what counts.They are what clear up the "smoke, fog, and haze" in the headlights. I have to admit things scare me some these days--I worry about Covid-19, about politics, about the divisions that seem to define our days. However, not going headlong into the future means being stuck in a place I don't particularly like. And even if we can't see what's ahead, the truth is we can't go back. So, yeah, new normal. Let's make it work.

I will always like today. I will always be glad for something in it. At least until I make a few mistakes. Thank you, Pollyanna, Anne, and Pooh. For your words that have given me words back.

Tuesday, June 30

Loving My Own Words

I was talking to Liz this morning on G-chat, as we do nearly every morning and discovered we’d both been working on our WIPs. She said she’d been reading what she’d already written, and she told me, “I really love it. That’s so nice when you go back and like your own stuff.”

I had to agree. And as so often happens with Liz and me, I had done the same exact thing yesterday—reread what I’d already written, fell in love with the story again, and actually wrote another chapter. I have to confess, I am one of those writers who needs to do that—read what I wrote previously in order to get into writing mode. I sometimes wondered if that’s because I’m an editor in my heart (and in my day job), but I don’t think I’m the only writer who works this way.

When I’ve been away from my story for more than a couple of days, rereading even just what I wrote the last time I was working on it brings me back into that world. I get into the story again, feel the characters again, maybe even discover something that needs to be changed or added to that previously written material. It’s a reacquainting process that, for me anyway, is necessary to continue writing.

But to get to the rest of what Liz said—the “I really love it” part? That struck a chord in me  because so many of writers are shy about saying those words about their own work. I think because in some weird way we have been programmed not to praise our own work, and isn’t that silly? Naturally we are proud of a novel we’ve spent months writing, but to say those words out loud feels self-aggrandizing, doesn’t it? When I say, “I love this story!” about my own WIP, I’m also saying, “I love my writing,” which is something I’d probably not confess to anyone but Liz and even then I’d reword it. “I really like these characters.” or “I’m enjoying writing another story in River’s Edge because it’s such a great setting.” Never the words, “I love my writing voice.” or “I love how I put words together to tell a story.”

It felt terrific to be writing and making progress on my new River’s Edge story after a few days away from it. Why does that take me by surprise time and time again? Even though I love the editing work I do, you’d think I would realize that what makes life work for me is writing. That when I’m not writing, I’m not happy. How hard is that concept, really?

Fellow writer, Anne Stuart, once said, “Everything in my life is filtered through my writing. There is no me without it.” I have those words on a sticky note on my desktop to remind me how to fix the restless times, the times when I’m overwhelmed with editing and need to center Nan again, because you know what, I am a great writer. Liz, we are great writers! 

Talk to me, writers, do you reread before you begin a new writing session? Does it help center you back into the story or do you just charge ahead with the story already moving along in your head?

Stay well, mes amies, stay safe!

Friday, June 26

The Covid-19 Summer Reading Program by Liz Flaherty

Such a good idea, posting a summer reading list. I'm so glad I thought of it. Oh, wait, that wasn't me, was it? Margie did it, then Nan, so...yeah, okay, I don't have ideas. I get it! However, I have no problem with borrowing from others.

Summer isn't usually my biggest reading time. I'm a blanket and tea girl--the cozier I am, the more I read. However, Covid-19 has made summer different for me just as it has for most others, so I've been reading a lot.

Just in case you've missed them, the Wranglers have had or are going to have great new releases.

Kristina Knight's Jase: Nevada Cowboys Book 3Such a great series!

I was privileged to read Nan's The Baby Contract. I love her winery series and am sorry to see the last of the Flaherty Brothers, although there are exciting things coming. It's available for pre-order now, so if you haven't ordered it yet, you might want to do it now while you're thinking about it.

Jana Richards just released To Heal A Heartabout which I have some serious cover envy. This is the second book in the Masonville Series.

The rest of the Wranglers--sigh--continue to write on projects of our own. The writing, as Janie says, is sometimes sluggish. I will say, if you haven't gotten it yet, Janie's highly acclaimed Glory Land Series is calling my name. A Corner in Glory Land is the first book. It's sitting patiently on my Kindle. Well, maybe not patiently...

Kristan Higgins's newest women's fiction title, Always the Last to Know, is one of my favorites of hers. In truth, I miss her straight romances, but the hours spent reading this release are some of the best I've had in this long siege of sheltering in place.

Holly Jacobs's Homecoming, the third title in her Hometown Hearts, was pure joy for me. The series is romance, but...well, more. I know that's not a good description, but read one--you'll see what I mean. They stand alone, too, just as Nan's do, but in order is more fun.

Last week, I read Pulitzer winner Connie Schultz's The Daughters of Erietown. I loved it. It was a harder read than I usually choose--I'm a fiction lightweight, thank you very much--but Ms. Schultz's voice is pure pleasure.

Today, I started on one of Nan's suggestions from the other day, Ammie, Come Home. The jury's still out, but I'm hopeful.

What are you reading?