Mar 062017
 

Sometimes you just need to retreat. As in heading to a wonderful, rejuvenating writer’s retreat! Last weekend I went to Chicago for the Windy City RWA Retreat. I am not a member of the RWA (Romance Writers of America), but I had to go because one of my favorite writers was the featured speaker.

I packed up my bags and journeyed from Michigan to Illinois. There I learned about reclaiming the magic of writing when the words don’t flow easily, and I honed my writing voice, which is as unique as a speaking voice, in a master class. Both workshops were taught by a woman who became one of my favorite authors many years ago when I began reading her women’s fiction books. They’re filled with lush descriptions, fascinating characters, and lots of food. What’s not to love about books like that?

Barbara O’Neal is the writer who I went to see. If you read romances you may know her as Barbara Samuel or Lark O’Neal if you enjoy new adult books. And if you’re a writer, I highly recommend her books The Care and Feeding of The Girls in The Basement and Celebration Book (A Writer’s Guide to Joy). They are some of the brightest gems in my rather massive collection of books about writing.

Whenever I read one of Barbara’s books I am inspired to be a better writer. I was very excited about taking the classes and having the chance to meet her at the retreat. So excited, in fact, that the experience brought out a teen fangirl side of me that hasn’t made an appearance since I got to go backstage to meet my favorite band when I was a teenager. Yes, there was squeeing and selfie taking involved. And yes, my forty-something self is rolling her eyes and asking, “Really??? You had to do that?”.  Despite my awkward geekiness, Barbara was gracious and lovely. The insights on writing and publishing that she shared during the master class still has my mind buzzing. To quote my fangirl self: She was awesome!

Barbara O'Neal and Janel Gradowski

Barbara and me

As you can tell, seeing Barbara was definitely a highlight of the retreat for me, but there’s more. For the first time I was able to meet, in person, several other authors who write for Gemma Halliday Publishing. It was so much fun to chat with my publishing “sisters” and give them a real hug, instead of a virtual one. As a writer, I tend to lead a pretty solitary life. Many of my social interactions are done online. It was a very welcome change to talk with the GHP authors, and many other writers, face-to-face.

Clockwise from top left: Nicole Leiren, Barb Valentin, Wendy Byrne, and me

Clockwise from top left: Nicole Leiren, Barbara Valentin, Wendy Byrne, and me

The past year brought many struggles to my writing life. The theme for this retreat was “Nourishing the Writer’s Soul”. It lived up to the expectations. Thanks to Windy City RWA for hosting the event. It certainly did wonders for my writer’s soul!

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Oct 262016
 

It’s a new school year for my kids–the time of year where many people, including me, are compelled to make fresh starts. And that is what I am doing. This past year I smacked into a mid-life “awakening” (we won’t call it a crisis – even though it has felt like that sometimes).

Do you know what I mean? That feeling that something with life isn’t quite right, but you’re not exactly sure what the problem is. That you need to change, but you don’t know how or even what to change.

I’ve read books and perused websites, even worked with a life coach. One thing that became very clear while I was doing research is that I’m not the only person who feels this way. A lot of people get the urge to move around the puzzle pieces of their life into a different configuration when they reach the middle of their life. The image above is the centerpiece of a vision board I did with my life coach, and it says a lot about how I feel right now.

I’ve been quiet on my website and social media over the summer as I’ve decided what, exactly, I want to do. Okay, I admit, that the plan is more fluid than exact, but you know what? That’s wonderful! When things are moving…they aren’t stuck. And who wants to feel like their life is stuck in a rut?

For quite a few years I have focused my social media and author platform toward my career as a culinary mystery writer. But there’s a lot more in my life than cooking and writing mysteries. So I’m going to start sharing more of my interests in the hope that maybe someone else will enjoy them too. A lot of things will be changing from the look of this website to the style of my newsletters. (Do you subscribe to my newsletter? I hope you do because the new format will be launching soon, and I can’t wait to share it with you!) I’m writing new books, but at a slower pace since I’m also focusing on my family, and uncovering tools to navigate through this mid-life reinvention.

Some of the things that I plan to share are on the new age-y side, or as I say…woo-woo. If that’s not your thing and you no longer want to follow my blog or get my newsletter, no big deal. Feel free to unsubscribe, because life is too short to spend time reading things that you don’t enjoy. If you stick around I hope you find something useful…or that makes you smile…or that gives you an aha moment. I’m taking the scenic route, instead of the freeway, through this part of my life. I can’t wait to share some of the stops with you!

 

 

 

Jun 032014
 

Bugs! I think the universe is telling me that I need to incorporate bugs into a story. It’s one of those things. Life hands you inspiration on a silver platter, if you take the time to notice. Unfortunately, the entree being served to my creativity right now is a bug casserole.

It began on Memorial Weekend, when my family and I took a day trip up to Mackinaw City. As soon as we got out of the truck, at the waterside park, we were enveloped by a swarm of insects. Not sure what they were. They kind of looked like mosquitoes, but without vampiric tendencies. With so many of them flying around I got a serious case of the heebie jeebies, twitching and swatting even though none of them landed on me. On the way home, while driving along the Lake Huron shoreline we passed under several clouds. Not of smoke, which I thought the clouds were at first. No, these clouds hovering over the road were made of insects. Thank goodness the swarms were quite high over the roadway or the windshield would’ve been covered in squished bug goo.

The Straits of Mackinaw. Where the first attack occurred.

But, oh, my friends. This tale of creepy insecticidal encounters isn’t over. During the past week I have noticed pings and thumps on the living room window as I sit up reading at night. The reflection of the lamps on the window glass makes it almost impossible to see what is launching the kamikaze-style attacks. Then, last night, as I worked my way to the other end of the house to go to bed, I turned on lights in various rooms and immediately was greeted by a flurry of thunks on the windows. As I walked past the window next to my bed I finally got a glimpse of the noisy wannabe invaders. June Bugs. Huge, brown beetles clinging to the screen or slamming into the glass. I swear, those suckers looked like they could’ve ripped their way through the window screen. Ugh. So nice (not really) to go to bed knowing they were congregating literally a foot away from my bed.

Dear Writing Muses,

I realize you want me to write about insects. I will try to incorporate some into a story soon. In the meantime, please stop sending hints. Okay? Thanks!

 

 

 June 3, 2014  Posted by  Inspiration Tags: , ,  1 Response »
Apr 082014
 

The last month has been very busy for me, between turning in a manuscript to my publisher, writing and editing a novelette and having some fun while my kids were on Spring Break. Lots of things going on, but I’ve still found the time to poke around the internet and find some things that help refill my creative well. I need lots of wood to keep the writing fire going! Here are some of the things that have caught my attention lately.

365 docobites – 365 documentaries in 365 days. Strangers’ short and shorter stories. Two film makers are traveling around the world, producing mini documentaries featuring interesting people they meet. The link takes you to the docobite about the Tandem Poetry writers, which is my favorite video so far.

Mindfulness Meditation: 8 Quick Exercises That Easily Fit Into Your Day – Getting your mind to slow down is a wonderful thing. These meditations aren’t the kind where you sit cross-legged and chant for an hour. Nope. These are easy ways to give your brain, which is thinking about 1,001 things, a break.

Karen Russell Donates Her Sleep – An interview with author Karen Russell where she talks about her new novella, Sleep Donation. I love seeing authors excited about shorter forms of fiction. Make sure to check out the website that accompanies the novella. What a fabulous way to give readers experiences beyond just reading the words in a book.

Have you found anything lately that stoked your creativity?

 April 8, 2014  Posted by  Inspiration Tags: , ,  1 Response »
Sep 122013
 

Last weekend I had the pleasure to attend the Kerrytown Bookfest in Ann Arbor, Michigan. The festival was a lovely celebration of books. There were many authors selling and signing books along with speaking on informational panels, but there were also bookbinders, paper makers and small presses that produce lovely, small print run works of art.

One of the busiest areas at the festival was around the tables that allowed visitors to actually letterpress print mementos of the event for free. While I was waiting for my turn to print an “I Love Books” card (pictured above) I began looking through the piles of posters sitting on the table. These are the two I chose:

I was delighted to see the man who helped me make my card signed both of the prints. I didn’t know who he was at the time, but I couldn’t wait to get home and search for his name on the internet. The personable artist turned out to be Amos Paul Kennedy Jr., a man who gave up his comfortable middle-class life, when he was 40-years old, to become a letterpress printer. Although he is from Alabama, he’s now in Detroit working at setting up The Detroit Printing Plant.

What a wonderful, inspiring man. I am so honored to own some of his prints. Proceed and Be Bold! (don’t you just love that phrase?!?) is his website. If you are interested in finding out more about Amos, his art or letterpress printing be sure to watch the documentary on the site. It’s fascinating.

 September 12, 2013  Posted by  General, Inspiration 8 Responses »
Jul 292013
 

Last night was the premier of the Food Court Wars episode, on The Food Network, that was filmed in my hometown of Midland, Michigan. For those of you who have never seen the show, each week two teams battle to win a one-year lease for a restaurant space in a mall food court. Of course there are challenges, along with coaching sessions from host Tyler Florence. In the end, the teams open up their concept restaurants in the food court for a day. Whoever makes the most money wins the episode and the coveted lease.

I knew from Facebook posts by a local restaurant that the show was coming to the Midland Mall, but I didn’t realize exactly when. So unfortunately I didn’t make it to the mall on the days the contestants were competing. When the first episode of Food Court Wars aired the Midland Farmer’s Market began posting on Facebook that one of their vendors would be competing on the Midland Mall episode. That vendor was Melania Paser (in the blue skirt above) from The Pie’d Piper. I’ve been buying her delicious pies, treats and hot pepper jelly at local farmer’s markets for several years. I love stopping to talk with her and to see what kind of interesting pie flavors she’s offering like Fuzzy Navel or BlueBarb (blueberry/rhubarb). My husband prefers her spicy pie creations like apple with Red Hots candy and a mixed berry spiced with chile peppers. The tangy, sweet and spicy pepper jelly she offers is fabulous on sandwiches, especially BLTs. By the way, if you watched the show, the Chicken Shawarma prepared without the time constraints and pressure of the show is fabulous and very tasty.

The very first time I met Melania she was wearing a brightly colored dress and a headband with a tiny, Pied Piper style hat on it. As a writer I love observing people, collecting in my mind bits of interesting personalities and physical traits to use as inspiration for my writing. That little hat caught the attention of my writer side, but her warm personality is one of the reasons going to the farmer’s market is so much fun for me. I hope the brush with Food Network fame gives her career a huge boost!

This post is linked to Weekend Cooking at Beth Fish Reads.

Jul 182013
 

Rivera Court

Are you a fan of any dead people? I’m not talking about ghosts and zombies. I mean people like actors, artists and writers who are no longer with us, but you still admire their work. People like Marilyn Monroe, Michael Jackson, Picasso, Laura Ingalls Wilder, etc. Last week I got to have a fan girl experience with some artists that passed away long before I was born and I loved it!

Rivera’s Self-Portrait Within The Mural

My family and I visited the Detroit Institute of Arts. While there is art from many fascinating artists, but by far my favorite area was Rivera Court. It is a two-story tall room filled with the Detroit Industry fresco created by famed Mexican artist, Diego Rivera. The mural was spectacular and I could have spent hours looking at it. Rivera believed that art should be displayed in public places, instead of kept in the homes of the rich. He was a very controversial artist in his time and some of his murals were even removed in places like New York City, as he often used his murals as a sort of protest against what he thought was wrong with the world. There were people that wanted the murals removed from DIA, but thankfully they have remained.

Assembly Line

Engine That Resembles An Aztec Dog Effigy

Another Scene From An Auto Assembly Line

I have admired Rivera’s art for many years, but I wouldn’t have learned about him if I hadn’t become a fan of his wife first. Frida Kahlo’s popularity has soared in recent years. Images of her,  the iconic braids and uni-brow eyebrows make her instantly recognizable, can be found on everything from postcards to paper dolls. That wasn’t the case 25 years ago when I saw a documentary on her and was fascinated by her life and passion for living. Many of her paintings are self-portraits and she used them as a sort of healing journal to cope with things like miscarriages and debilitating surgeries following an almost fatal accident when she was a teen. Some of the images are raw and disturbing, but so are the ordeals that inspired her to paint them.

A Small, Upper Panel

Rivera often included images of famous people in his frescoes, including himself and Frida. While she isn’t in the mural in Detroit, he is. Even though Frida was not depicted on the walls of the room I swear I could feel her presence. She and Diego spent a year in Detroit as he painted. I’m sure she spent a lot of time in that room while he worked and I swear I could feel both of their spirits still present in the court. That sounds rather new age woo-woo, but I don’t know how else to explain it. Standing in the sun-filled room, knowing that I was standing on the same ground that they stood on at one time, was in a word…amazing.

Baby In The Roots Of A Plant

In 2015 the DIA will be doing a huge exhibit of both Diego and Frida’s work. One article I read said the curator was trying to set it up so every piece of artwork Frida did will be on display. I will absolutely be visiting the art institute then, but I would like to go back before that time, too. The place is full of creative spirits or at least the spirit of creativity.

 July 18, 2013  Posted by  General, Inspiration Tags: ,  5 Responses »
Jul 022013
 

Raise your hand if you’re an Anthony Bourdain fan. If I am channel surfing on the television, it’s a pretty sure bet that I’ll stop on one of his shows if I spot it. No Reservations is his longest running series, but there is also The Layover and now Parts Unknown. By chance I ran across Parts Unknown a few weeks ago and I was instantly hooked. Classic, tell-it-like-it-really-is Bourdain, without all of the explicit language beeps on The Travel Channel shows.

You see, I find Mr. Bourdain inspiring. Yes, he is the poster child of bad boys, handsomely gaunt with a tumultuous past and acerbic wit. I’m sure many fellow writers have used him as inspiration for a character. The thing that draws me to his TV shows, though, is the other people. He has conversations with chefs and that is the key. He interacts. His literary background is apparent in every episode. He doesn’t dance on the pretty surface. He provides backstory and social commentary.

How many shows have you watched that are the equivalent of chef eye candy? The chef is introduced, maybe a few words are said about his/her background and then the show moves on to preparing recipes. Sure, as a writer you can pick up physical details for characters, maybe find some inspiration for recipes if you write books that include recipes like I do. But appearance is only part of a literary character. I actually tend to be quite vague about character descriptions, preferring to let the reader “do the work” and produce their own, unique version of my character in their minds. Bourdain’s shows are a mine of character personality traits. The eccentric chef who puts his restaurant in a hard to reach spot, so only the diners who really want to eat his food come. The community activist who trains impoverished youths to work in restaurants. The matriarch living in a remote village who pulls together a meal from the resources outside her door. Those are the types of stories I like to interweave into my own fictional stories.

Are you a Bourdain fan? What do you find appealing, or unappealing, about him?

Jun 242013
 

Sometimes it feels like the universe is working against you and sometimes the universe hands you a big, juicy helping of creative inspiration.

For the last two weeks I’ve felt like the universe has had a vendetta against my writing. So. Many. Distractions. This morning, the beginning of a new week, I woke up and realized I’ve actually been filling my creative “well” with images and stories that I can draw from when I write.

The man with symmetrical, matching tattoos on his forearms and calves interspersed with more random tattoos. What is the significance of the matching ones? The older woman who spends hours sitting on a towel on the end of the dock, whether it’s cold and windy or unbearably hot and sunny. Does the sun, the water or something else draw her out every day? Nik Wallenda walking on the “skywire” across the Grand Canyon. Is there some kind of genetic mutation that has driven seven generations of his family to risk their lives walking on tightropes? Spotting the first fireflies of summer cavorting outside my bedroom window last night. How amazing is it that a mere bug can produce light from within its body? Having a cherry tree filled with a bumper crop over the weekend and waking this morning to find all of the cherries gone. How many birds and squirrels did it take to eat all of that fruit so quickly?

Those are just some of the things that have landed in my mind over the last few weeks. Which ones will appear in future stories and which ones will ripen and turn into something new? I’m not sure, but that’s all part of the fun of being creative, isn’t it?

Have you found anything that has recharged your creativity recently?

May 282013
 

The end of the school year, that is. My family had a wonderful, long holiday weekend culminating in a picnic with my son’s RC airplane club. There we were honored to spend the afternoon with military veterans, a very fitting way to spend Memorial Day.

Today the kids are back in school and a bit of panic on my part has set in. There are six school days left. My mind feels a bit like a rubber ball bouncing around the house. There are so many things I want to do, so many projects to keep on track over the summer. And we all know how distracting summer is. There is beautiful weather to enjoy, vacations to take and bored children to occupy. Sticky notes are gathering around me. If they were living creatures I would be more than a bit alarmed at the pace at which they are multiplying.

As a result, my to-do lists are constantly shifting. I use a date book faithfully to keep track of things I need to get done, but as new things pop into my mind old goals have to shift. So now I’m writing the moveable tasks onto sticky notes. Specifically on 1-1/2 x 1-1/2 inch notes with the sticky strip running along the right edge. Then I cut the note apart into strips with one task per strip. An index card acts as the “holding pen” for the tasks. Now I can add and rearrange to my obsessive heart’s content.

What are you doing to prepare for summer? Do you have any good ideas to keep on track?