Enjoying the Magic

Recently I embarked on an Icelandic adventure to primarily see the northern lights. For the sake of transparency, the above gorgeous image from the free library is not the amazing photo that I took.

My photo turned out like this:

I took this photo using an app on my phone. For any borealis enthusiasts out there, when people tell you to bring a tripod for your camera and test out the photo application before you go out, the above is why. 🙂

I took two arguably sad, yet magical photos, and then put my camera away so that I could solely enjoy the moment and not worry about documenting it further. To paint the full picture, the lights appeared about two hours after my tour bus arrived at a remote location in the middle of Iceland and it was about eleven o’clock at night.

We’d been standing out in 15 degrees (fahrenheit) / -9 (celsius) for long enough that my “clever” idea of essentially wearing every item of clothing that I had packed in my carry-on for warmth seemed foolhardy. It was freezing cold and pretty boring just standing there in a field, looking up at the sky with a bunch of strangers. To add insult to injury, it was my second night of freezing in a field with strangers since the previous night I had gone out and not seen the lights at all.

As I started questioning my life choices and returned to the bus for some warmth, someone said that magical words: “The lights are here!” Everyone rushed toward the best spot to view them and we sort of mobbed into the same spot.

Looking up at the northern lights dancing in the night sky made me catch my breath with a child-like wonder and I no longer noticed the cold or the tourists crowding around me posing with their phones. Simply put, it was magical and epic – basically indescribable (even for a novelist like myself)!

Whatever you get up to during this holiday season, I hope you find a similarly well-earned moment of magic. Maybe it will be five minutes at the holiday dinner table when everyone is sharing a laugh, seeing twinkly lights draped across a downtown street, or venturing out to see the northern lights for yourself.

As Eden Philpotts said, “The universe is full of magical things patiently waiting for our wits to grow sharper.”

In my latest novel, Christmas at Maplemont Manor, there are several lovely holiday scenes that have a sense of magic to them – but there is one scene with reindeer that to me is the most magical of the novel. I won’t spoil it for readers, but let’s just say if you were hoping to find a little child-like wonder this holiday season from the comfort of your sofa, then there is a charming and warm holiday novel waiting for you!

Whatever this December brings to you, I do hope you stop to enjoy and dwell in the moments – because magical things are waiting for you to notice them. 🙂 Happy holidays!

Back to the Editing Board

Like most writers, I’ve read my books a million times. Maybe not literally one million, but it certainly feels like it. They are both terrifically fun novels to read, by the way, just ask me. 🙂 No matter how many times I review them or how many editors I have, there is always a sneaky little typo hiding like a ghost in a corner. They jump out at me and I catch my breath.

Where was it hiding and how did it manage to evade my notice for months? I don’t have any answers on that outside of the obvious ones like writers ‘know’ what’s going to happen next so our brains just skip the typos. My typos usually fall into two categories: The missing word and the right word, wrong spelling. I can tell you from experience that ‘spell check’ is generally rendered useless by those circumstances. Grammar check likewise, and grammar check also toys with my inability to correctly use a semi-colon.

When I first started sharing my writing with people not related to me, I would nearly hyperventilate if anyone told me about a typo or missed word.

Writing is hard and sharing one’s writing with strangers is probably up there on the chart of scary things like jumping out of airplanes, online dating, joining the circus, or cooking lobsters.

My biggest fear of someone finding that my writing wasn’t perfect has been realized a few times and I survived to write another day. I’ve grown a sort of writer’s leathery thick skin that means I can survive a bad review or a grammarian’s scolding. That said, even today when I find a typo or bad form in one of my novels or works in progress, I still feel that sense of dread and shame.

And then I get over it.

I fix it and try to do better next time. I hope that gentle readers out there find a way to forgive and are still able to enjoy the story and the worlds created for them.

Hope is more powerful than fear. It’s what keeps me from giving up. My novels may be rather unknown with a few readers, but as I continue along this journey, there are more and more readers who have never heard of me, seen me at Christmas in my home town, or been exposed to my high school yearbook photo – yet they still find my books and enjoy the read.

Thanks to the gentle readers who can see the story through the glitches and thanks also to the critical readers who point the way toward improvement. I’m very grateful that you read my novels and took a chance on some writer you never heard of.

I’ve just re-published my latest novel, Christmas at Maplemont Manor, and I’m cautiously optimistic that I’ve neutralized any outstanding gremlin typos. Each of us gets better every day and that only happens by not giving up. Keep writing and editing. Onward!

A Holiday Romance

Readers know all too well that there are romance novels that take place during a holiday season and then there are holiday romance novels. ‘Christmas at Maplemont Manor’ is a holiday romance that embraces the holiday as almost an essential character.

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Big News! Announcing a New Novel!

I am happy to announce the release of my latest novel, Christmas at Maplemont Manor! Also, a special treat – for a limited time – the novel is available in NetGalley for book reviewers!

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What the Water Teaches Us

There are few summer activities that will make one more aware of river currents than kayaking. Sitting in the kayak, provides a front row view of the water and an immediate pull of the current. As the water ebbs and flows, suddenly it can take a lot more effort to direct the kayak than it did before. Perhaps the flow of the invisible current pulls one toward the beach or pushes away from the beach.

The invisible hand of the current shapes the entire trip, making the person on the kayak strongly aware of when they are going against the current or along with the flow of the water.

Writing can be like that sometimes too, where each project seems to have an ebb and flow of its own. An author can have a terrific outline or story in mind, only to discover a few pages in that the dialogue seems labored and the plot feels impossible.

Stories, especially novels, can take on lives of their own, and I know several writers (including myself) who get stuck in their writing projects. Sometimes it’s the character that doesn’t fit or the plot, and all roads seem to lead to dead ends. Sometimes it’s worth starting over completely from scratch and trying something new, like pulling the kayak out of the water completely and trying a more navigable river.

Other times, it’s a matter of pushing through the current by paddling like crazy to force a way to the other side by continuing to write until the problem works itself out and quieter waters appear through the struggle. Lastly, it can also turn out that the river isn’t the problem, and instead it’s the solution. Going with a new flow turns a story into something even better, by floating in a direction entirely.

Both writing and kayaking are creative processes of adaption and adjustment, changing course when necessary and making judgment calls about how much effort to expel when something isn’t working as planned.

I suppose that’s also true about life in many ways. If the universe is telling us that we are going against the current, we always have the choice (and even invitation) to change course. That said, we often become stronger by paddling harder upstream than by coasting with the flow. Growth can sometimes be only managed through a lot of effort and change.

Of course the true secret of life is knowing when to paddle like crazy to get where you are going and when to pull up oars and float awhile to go with the flow. Either way, we’ll learn something if we are paying attention.

Small Things Shine Brightly

Recently I had the fun opportunity to visit a lighthouse that had been moved to the shore, after it was decommissioned. At the top of a second set of very narrow stairs, I found the light itself and snapped this photo of the upside view of the water outside when looking through the light.

As anyone who has visited a lighthouse before knows, while the glass around the light is quite large, the light bulb itself is small. Of course there’s some excellent science involved about how a small light can extend miles away to show the safe path home for those at sea.

Small things can always shine brightly, which gives me hope and a reason for optimism. It’s easy to get discouraged when things don’t work out the way that we hoped, but important to keep shining anyway.

As a writer, it can be easy to feel discouraged when someone else doesn’t share the same joy after reading your novel or first chapter. However, those moments also provide opportunities to improve and grow.

The novel editing process can be like the trial and error involved in building the first lighthouse light designs. Each improvement and even small adjustment can result in that final, dazzling beam of light which can illuminate and connect with readers.

Keep shining brightly. Eventually the fog will clear, the glass will be adjusted, and that small light will dazzle in brightness.

Changing Perspective

Writers talk a lot about point of view and for good reason. How each character sees and understands the world is what makes them genuine and unique compared to other characters. Several characters could experience the same event, like attending a cherry blossom festival in spring, yet only one of them noticed this view of the sky.

Perhaps the other characters focus on the crowd, another on their uncomfortable shoes, and yet another on a remark from someone else in the group. Sometimes scenes can read rather flat, until the author changes perspective and finds a unique twist for the characters in terms of perspective.

This photo is one that I took recently after being a little overwhelmed at a cherry blossom festival, sandwiched into the mob of tourists and locals out to see the trees and their splendor. Whenever I travel to places like this or deep, green forests, I always end up with at least one photo looking up.

The wonder of this perspective is how timeless it is, and with cherry blossoms, how fleeting. The blooms will only be around for a very short time before they shake off their pink flowers to transform again. Yet, this image could be seen by almost anyone who catches a blue sky day and looks up while the trees are in bloom.

In both writing and travel, perspective changes everything. We could walk away from any experience or chapter, focused only on the flaws or complexity. But, if we are really lucky, the genuine moment is what we take with us. The magic of the shades of pink, floating in a clear sea of blue sky.

Wherever April takes you, I hope you have the opportunity to find a little magic in the April showers, frogs singing at night, or the pink cherry blossom flowers floating gently toward the green grass. Happy spring, everyone. Here comes the sun!

Starting from Scratch

Something inspired me to start baking bread from scratch. It was probably a cross between thinking it was an impossible task and not finding the Finnish cardamom bread I wanted to eat within a twenty mile radius. Don’t worry, I’m pretty sure this won’t turn me into a food blogger.

Building on my experience of seeing people make bread on television in a period TV drama series, I decided that I would give it a go. I found a recipe, bought all the supplies, and went to work. If you haven’t ever made bread yourself, I’d recommend giving it a go. There is something wonderfully creative about it. The feeling of throwing stuff in a bowl and kneading it, then letting it rise and shaping it into bread.

The reward of your house smelling like a dream bakery is another bonus. To my sheer delight, the bread turned out perfectly and I felt like a genius with my newly obtained bread making skills.

It also reminded me a bit of the writing process, how any new novel starts from scratch with a few ideas and builds from there to create a new world with characters that someone will hopefully enjoy reading about. Both bread making and novel writing result in something tangible and crafted with care.

Will I end up becoming someone who only bakes their own bread each week? Maybe – I suppose time will tell. It did encourage me to spend a little more time on crafting up excellent food and there’s something fun and creative about the whole process.

Wherever you find inspiration, I hope that you embrace it. One never knows where it will take you.