A Balanced Life

When I woke up on August 10, 2011, I knew I had 190 pounds of ugly, limiting, aging fat to lose. I started on Medifast, and lost 71 pounds in two years. Then life threw me a curve ball or two. I’m still down by 50 pounds from my starting weight, and I do my best to stay low-carb and high protein. The biggest change has been in my physical activities, and that’s what I need to focus on the most.

Because I simply needed cheap, filling foods, I allowed myself to add fruit, 1 slice of bread, a bite of sweets, a sip of beer, hello slippery slope! My runaway food is peanut butter. My second runaway food is sugar-free chocolates. I have placed myself on strict portion control with peanut butter, and will have to do the same for chocolates soon.

What has this got to do with writing? Well, in a few short days, my dream of being a full-time writer is going to come true. I am retiring from my day job, and the pension is enough to allow me to not work elsewhere. There are red flags all over the place. Sitting is a dangerous way to spend your day. I want to live a long time and get as many of my story ideas written out as possible. I know the Creator will help me in this if I do my part.

Last year at this time, I had lots of activities that I enjoyed. I walked during the weekdays at work, and sometimes when I got home. My husband would walk with me, and we’d meet the same neighbors out with their dogs or just walking. Then the weather turned too hot, right about the time Mike got a full-time job. Understandably, after a long stretch of unemployment, he wasn’t up to walking after work. But he enjoys his job and has lost weight just from working. He is not as hungry and doesn’t eat as much as he used to. Stress eating is a thing of the past for him.

I also had to give up walking the sweet dogs at the local humane society, because we couldn’t afford the gas to drive out there. Now that I want to get back in, the society has merged with another and the rules are different. I need to go through the training again and there just hasn’t been time.

More carbs plus less exercise for 6 month to a year equal 20 pound of fat back in my life. Finances are much better, but still subject to fluctuation. Mike finished his 90 days of probation, and became eligible to health insurance, a huge factor in my ability to retire now. But the pay increase that was expected will come along shortly. Still for a month, we have been a little short at times.

Once all the dust settles on the money picture, I will be back on Medifast. Once I stop commuting, I will be less stressed. And once I have my own day to plan out, I will be writing and exercising and volunteering for fun things I want to be doing. And I want to reward myself when I reach my goal weight with getting to learn to ride horses, for one thing.

I plan to use the last Sunday of every month’s blog to write about The Balanced Life. I make myself accountable to my readers to share my weight and my emotions, my progress and my road blocks. You are very important to me in this endeavor. And if you want to share what worked for you, please do!

I’ll be back on Thursday with more story fun.

Creative Writing is Like Surfing

No, I didn’t hit my head or fall through a rabbit hole. I was looking for a photo of someone waxing a surfboard, for a presentation at my place of employment. And I found Surf Science. The first thing I noticed was the similarity in articles there to those at help for writers web pages.

Avoid Surfing Mistakes for Beginners, the 10,000 Hour Rule, How To Turtle Roll: http://www.surfscience.com/topics/surfing-tips/beginner-tips/

Eleven Tips for Beginning Writers: http://www.magicalwords.net/david-b-coe/eleven-tips-for-beginning-writers/

The 10,000 Hour Rule: http://www.wisdomgroup.com/blog/10000-hours-of-practice/

How to submit a query letter: http://www.agentquery.com/writer_hq.aspx

There are a few things on the surf page that SHOULD be on the writers’ pages, like good nutrition: http://www.surfscience.com/topics/surfing-lifestyle/life-as-a-surfer/surf-nutrition and exercise: http://www.surfscience.com/topics/surfing-tips/advanced-tips/indo-board-workouts-for-surfers/

I searched good nutrition for writers, and got places to submit articles on nutrition. Sigh. Exercises for writers just brings up prompts and writing exercises.

Currently, people who need to lose weight want meals with high protein and low fat, and very light on the carbs. http://www.activebeat.com/health-news/9-benefits-of-a-high-protein-diet/?PageSpeed=noscript Well, that should go for writers, too. But wait, athletes burn lots of calories, so they can get away with more carbs! http://www.webmd.com/fitness-exercise/features/nutrition-tips-athletes So the key isn’t just what you eat, it’s also what you do for the day.

Sitting in front of a computer like I am doing now has been linked to many serious health issues. http://www.webmd.com/fitness-exercise/news/20140407/sitting-disease-faq My nutritionist says that sitting is the new smoking, it will cause the deaths of more and more inactive people. Luckily there’s no such thing as second-hand sitting. But I do have a load of writing to complete, some of it with deadlines. Look what I found: http://www.wikihow.com/Exercise-While-Sitting-at-Your-Computer The key here is that if you drink lots of water as well as do these exercises, you’ll be up and walking to the restroom every half hour or so. Here are more, slightly advanced exercises to try: http://www.theactivetimes.com/best-seated-exercises?slide=7

The tip on that last page about tightening your abs and glutes and holding it for a time throughout the day, that’s going to strengthen your core muscles, and make an improvement in many things you do. Did you know that muscles are fat-burning factories? The reason athletes can load up on carbs is that they have muscles that will burn those off. You can exercise and build your muscles, and lose weight from ramping up your fat-burning capabilities.

While you have been reading this, did you get any ideas for stories? Maybe a hero who needs to get back into shape, and meets a physical trainer who puts him through the wringer for his own good? Maybe a restaurant owner who wants to improve the quality of food in her establishment, and hires a whole foods consultant who also happens to be a surfer? Taking a break from your regular routine is always good for the brain, as well as the body.
And guess what? Regular activity is good for your creativity! How cool is that? You can become a healthier person and finally figure out the plot twist you need to become a best-selling author! http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2013/12/09/exercise-creativity-physical-activity_n_4394310.html

Well, I think that’s my weekly quota of exclamation points. I’ll be back on Sunday.

Art Imitates Life

Being chronically obese is something like being a shape changer. I’ve often joked about over-inflating my feet when it’s hot. Just one of the outside influences that impact my shape.

Here are things that contributed to my weight issues:
*Raised in a low-income home
*Raised without a father
*Genetics, mostly from my mother’s side
*Tonsils out at age 2
*Molested, 3 separate incidents
*Spoiled
*Felt unloved
*Afraid of close contact with men

I gave myself permission on my birthday to eat pretty much what I wanted to eat. The next day, I jumped back on the health wagon. Did really good for four hours. Then I had a clear feeling of fighting an entity that wants out, much like a werewolf or wild cat or dragon. Leashing the beast is what my life is all about. Well, that and writing.

My inner-eating-dragon isn’t the only one I battle, either. There’s my inner couch potato, inner sex addict, and inner gaming nerd.

By the way, my inner sex addict is an introvert. Writing about sex is fine, acting it out with my husband is wonderful, but just thinking about doing anything with strangers? Let’s eat some chocolate instead.

Now I have this idea that probably isn’t new, but so many shape shifters belong to packs and families, all of the same animals, all life long. My idea – and I’m cool with sharing it here, there’s no way I will get all my stories written out. So if you resonate with this idea, go for it! – is a shape shifter who is a loner, and can become any of 4 or 5 different beings. And each of those creatures “lives” full time in the person’s brain.

There was a television show some years ago, Manimal, that went with a similar premise. http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0085051/ But it was a crime drama and not a lot of attention was paid to how he got that way, were there others like him, etc. Lois McMasters Bujold looked at multiple personalities is an awesome way with Mark Vorkosigan’s disturbing evolution in Mirror Dance. Not about shape shifters, but still exactly what I am thinking of. Ms. Bujold is an amazing writer, and the glimpse of many personalities in one brain is as smooth as silk and eye-opening. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mirror_Dance

So I just need some demon bane to be successful at my diet and exercise. I need to fine the valve to deflate strategic areas. And I need some good crowd control moves to keep the brain characters in order. See you on Thursday.

Do You See What I am Saying?

In the fun and wacky movie, The Fifth Element, a future slang term for things being good is green. What do you see if I write green? You picture, probably, your favorite shade or least disliked shade of green.

When I add a modifier, an adjective, and write dark green, do you picture nearly black? Forest green? Pine needles?

For the rest of this blog post, I’m using the verb “say” to mean both written words and spoken words. Writers hear what they write, and most readers hear what they read, so those verbs are interchangeable here.

Imagine a tall man. With long hair. And a tattoo. How tall? If you are lacking in height yourself, perhaps anyone 5’7” and up is tall to you. My husband is 6′ tall. To him, 6’2” isn’t very tall.

How long is long hair? If you like military cuts, then hair that sweeps the man’s shirt collar is long. Growing up in the sixties, shoulder length hair was normal. Hair long enough to be put in a pony tail is long, and yummy.

Tattoos not only need more description but also imply things about a character or person. You might be hard pressed to find anyone under 30 who doesn’t have a tattoo. Body ink is more common and acceptable now than ever. “A tattoo” conveys nothing. My dad was in the navy as a young man. He has an eagle tattoo on his upper right arm. But just search Pinterest for tattoos and you’ll see Everything and anything, anywhere, and everywhere.

Personally, I think too much ink loses impact, and one perfectly placed art piece is best. My naval captain hero will no doubt have a tattoo of some sort, no doubt on his arms.

At one time, tattoos were associated with drugs, guns, tough guys and hard chicks. Bikers and people you wouldn’t want to invite home to meet the folks. Money has been made in tattoo laser removal services.

I’ve had the hardest time as a writer to use adjectives sparingly but not too sparingly, and not vague words. I describe most of my heros as tall. But added in one story that he stood taller than any other person she knew. In another, he’s always ducking when walking through a doorway. Yet another retrieves his hat constantly when it’s knocked off by overhead obstructions that do not impede anyone else.

Hair length and color and curl or lack of it all need to be conveyed in sharp, short sentences. Clothes, my weakest point in description, has to include style, weight, color, fabric. Other senses need to be included, sounds, smells, tastes, and touches. Writers often overuse description of visuals, but those are important. Remembering how things smell and sound takes a bit of practice.

Conveying a scene with one character or a thousand, describing each blade of grass or each heart beat, all things need to be exact and not leave too much to the imagination. Here are more opinions on the subject:

http://www.scribendi.com/advice/five_habits_to_avoid_in_fiction_writing.en.html
http://www.writersdigest.com/writing-articles/by-writing-goal/write-first-chapter-get-started/nobles-writing-blunders-excerpt

https://suite.io/rachel-shirley/1pme268

http://theeditorsblog.net/2014/04/08/keeping-adjectives-in-line/

Chew on that for a while, and I will be back on Sunday.

Prompts, Corpses, and Outlines, Oh My!

Prompts can be fun. There is some danger involved, however. When you start out with a couple “throw-away” characters, there’s a chance they will want a longer story, and become part of your mental whirl.

What is a prompt? It’s a tool used to stimulate your creative process. There are many different types of prompts. One is to throw out a word or several words, and write a scene involving those. In Romance writing, I ask that the two lovers discuss the word. Salad turned out to be a great discussion topic.

Other prompts involve setting up a scene, and letting your imagination run wild. I posted a thread on Scribophile titled How I Misspent My Summer Vacation. And that’s where the danger came in for me. I was writing a short piece taking place on the beach at La Jolla Shores, California. The male main character has demanded that I write more of this story. He kept me awake one night telling me his story. But I have too many other projects going on, so he will just have to wait.

Here are a few random prompt generators that might work for you. http://www.creativity-portal.com/prompts/imagination.prompt.html http://www.springhole.net/writing_roleplaying_randomators/plotgens.htm
http://panthermoon.com/generator.php

Another type of prompt is the visual one. At a convention some time ago I attended a writing workshop, and we were handed a stack of prints of various subjects. We picked one, and had 15 minutes to write. I got a pretty good one and an excellent story idea that I may be back to soon.

Here are the visual prompts I have posted at Scribophile. http://www.pinterest.com/pin/369787819376195705/

I love to play games and any game that involves writing something is exactly what I want. I used to go to a group in San Diego called Word Play, an excellent evening of writing exercises and companionship. Sadly, it’s a bit far with the price of gas these days. That’s where I learned about the Exquisite Corpse game. Originally it was a drawing game and or a poetry game. Here’s lots of information from Wiki: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Exquisite_corpse but the version that I learned involves writing about three lines of a story, with the very last word at the beginning of the 4th line. Then the paper is folded down so that only that last word can be seen. The paper is passed to the next player, who does the same thing, picking up with that last word as the first word of their story. The results are as fun as Mad Libs, and really give a writer a boost in positive energy shared.

I had the pleasure of moderating a writing workshop at the San Diego Gaslight Gathering a couple years back and taught the attendees to play the game. We managed about three rounds. Here are the results of the first one:

“The bells from Henly Tower woke the town as usual. Annie rubbed sleep out of her eyes and swung out of bed. Below, scents are a powerful aphrodisiac for the weak at heart. It would be better to have touch with a hint of power and fear. For a beauty of a dead fingernails clung from the drapes as she walked by and chewed on the tongue of a bat. Yes, it was the perfect night for a trip on the dirigible. Who knew feathers continued to haunt him. Why did he kill the chicken? He didn’t actually even eat the meat. IT just never shut up. “Bwaak,” it said, and then died. He plucked it and filled the pillows. The garbage disposal got the rest. Feet, feet are kicking me as I resentfully become awake. My wife continues to th4rash back and forth in bed. I look over at unfamiliar surrounding, up at the sky, overcast, chilly, and I wonder, really is it gonna really rain leaked through the edges of his hat, defeating its purpose entirely. He felt badly for the pointless nature of his protection, and politely ignored the trickle of water sneaking behind his ear. He put on the most miserable face he could muster. He ruminated the lady. Why, she wondered, was it so difficult to find a decent mad scientist in London? Perhaps Monsieur Fabre would be sufficiently insane as the crow flies. He sat in the morgue wondering what lingered in the casket, what evil was in there? He brought up his lit candle to the edge of the room, looking high, low, inside, outside. She wouldn’t grasp her emotions any longer.”

These exercises, it is to be hoped, have given you an idea for a novel. Now what do you do? If you are a pantser, or one who writes by the seat of their pants, you just start. If you are an outliner, you jot down point A and point Z, and sketch in all the in-between points. I am a mutant hybrid of those extremes. I can start out with the idea and nothing else, but at some point the possibilities of how the story might go must be put onto paper so they aren’t lost. Here are some excellent ideas about outlining.
http://www.creative-writing-now.com/novel-outline.html
http://annieneugebauer.com/the-organized-writer-2/novel-plotting-worksheets/
http://selfpublishingteam.com/6-writing-outline-templates-and-3-reasons-to-use-them/ (Love this one)

I hope you had fun and learned something to take away into your creative space. I’ll be back on Sunday.

I C Summer Blog Tour – “Navigating the Writing Path: From Start to Finish”

My on-line writing buddy, Louise Redmann, thought of me as a participant in this great blog tour from I C Publishing (www.ICPublishing.ca). Thanks so much, Louise, I had a great time answering the questions and thinking about writing more than usual. Please visit her blog at https://louiseredmann.com/?p=423 and soak in the photos of her awesome first-hand research opportunities.

Here are my responses to those questions:

1. Share how you start your writing project(s). For example, where do you find inspiration? Do you outline? Do you jump right into the writing? Do you do all of your research first?
I have a few ideas that came to me from dreams, one or two that evolved while I was reading some book that didn’t go the way I thought it should, or watching a movie with the same situation. I’ll have a conversation in my head out of nowhere, between two people I don’t know. Inspiration finds me, I rarely have to look for it. Sometimes my husband gives me an idea with a pun or silly thing he will say. I jump right in to jotting down the notes about the idea, and over time have filled notebooks and computer files. It’s not likely that I will get all my ideas written out, but I hope to come close. I outline if I have a complex story that I need to keep track of, but I don’t expect to adhere to the outline rigidly. Funny thing about research, I do a lot of it before I write, but I can’t count the number of times I have paused mid-sentence to go look up one detail that I forgot to clarify.

2. How do you continue your writing project? i.e. How do you find motivation to write on the non-creative days? Do you keep to a schedule? How do you find the time to write?
Motivation to write is always an issue that comes up in my Scribophile group. I don’t have much trouble in that direction, but if there seems to be a gap between what I want to write and what’s forming in coherent sentences, I walk away for a while. I read, watch a movie, pull weeds, clean the kitchen, play with the odd parrot or two (I live with way more odd parrots than that) and in general free my brain to work out the problem. I have a schedule that gives me about 20 to 30 minutes in the morning before I go to work, and two evenings when I can squeeze out an hour or so. The weekends are split between what must be done to keep things running, like bird cage cleaning, feeding, watering, people food shopping, events, and so on, and Sunday which is my sacred writing day as much as possible. Now and then, during breaks at work I pull out a pad and pen and start making outlines, notes, even posts for my blogs that I later transcribe. It’s all good.

3. How do you finish your project? i.e. When do you know the project is complete? Do you have a hard time letting go? Do you tend to start a new project before you finish the last one?
I give my project to others to critique and read for me. When they can’t nitpick any farther, then it goes to my live-in editor, who formats, spell-checks, nitpicks a bit further, and then it’s done. I don’t have any trouble letting go because by the time we reach the end of the process, I have read the story a thousand times at least. I do start new projects before I finish one to keep myself from getting bored, and also to keep up with various projects that keep coming along.

4. Include one challenge or additional tip that our collective communities could help with or benefit from.
My characters grow in my head, and I learn surprising things about them as time goes by. I found a great way to bring out some of those secrets and peculiarities is to interview the character. It’s fun and it helps so much to give the character free rein over the keyboard. Another great idea is to list five to ten things your character would have in their medicine cabinet, or freezer, or closet. Then put it into a sentence that starts: (Character Name) is the type of person who has (list things) in his/her (pick a location from the three choices above.)

This has been great fun! I hope more of you will want to jump in and participate in this tour. Here are the two great writers and bloggers who agreed to carry the torch from here:

Kate Whitaker writes for fun and profit from the woods of Pennsylvania. You can most likely find her sitting at her kitchen table yelling at kids and cats as she tries to figure out a new way to kill made up monsters. http://wordsthatburnlikefire.wordpress.com/ (I love the chapters she shares on Scribophile, we’re talking serious talent here!)

Ian Faraway is a silly person, and has this to say about himself: I’m not that old but not that young, though I act like my 3 year old niece on a sugar rush at times! I hope this summer I’ll have enough time to write more, and do more in the writing community! Occupation: I’ve been writing since I started writing… all in all, it’s been a very strange day! Interests: Writing, Chess, Games, that thing where you take a pen and write words on paper, learning, joking, exercising. Websites http://ianfaraway.blogspot.com/ (Ian obviously has some not-so-serious talent)

Please drop by and say hello to these talented folks, and help us spread the tour far and wide! Enjoy your week, and I’ll be back on Sunday.

Around the World in 80+ Books, Part 11

Next week will be the final installment of this page-and-globe-trotting trip. I can’t wait to get home, unpack all the books I marked to read, and get to work. Plus I have a blog hop on Wednesday! Lots of good questions coming up, but let’s be off.

201. Antigua and Barbuda. Lovely island settings for books are very appealing, but so many come with histories of slavery, colonization, and suffering. There’s little to document why the native population on the island died off with the coming of Europeans, it could have been from diseases they brought to the island, or the lack of nutrition provided to slaves, There’s an accepted theory that just the psychological effect of slavery caused the high death rate of the natives. What a great setting for a paranormal story of old sorrows and painful disillusionment. Antiguan Redemption by Patricia Harrington hasn’t been reviewed yet, and the story description is exactly the same as above, but that’s enough for me.
https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/12341391.Antiguan_Redemption

202. Armenia. Yes, we’re jumping around the globe but in alphabetical order. Sometimes, you just have to take your chances and go with what seems the best choice. Ervand Kadavakiac by Hayk Khachatryan is a fictional account of a 6th century king, about whom I could find very little information. That alone makes this book a great read. https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/6666299-ervand-sakavakiac

203.Barbados. Back to the islands, and a story about a youth caught between the colonized world he lives in, and the fresh ideas coming from a teacher about independence and pride in yourself and your culture. We all need more of that. No Man in the House by Cecil Foster is about the Caribbean by a Caribbean writer. https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/2238326.No_Man_in_the_House?ac=1

204. Bhutan. Quick, go get your globe and point to Bhutan! Time’s up. Did you find it? The happiest kingdom on earth, the little corner of heaven tucked into a jungle and mountain? There it is, northeast of India, and no, it’s not where all the disposable lighters come from. You thought I was going for the easy humor, didn’t you? There’s not a book on the list of novels set in Bhutan that I don’t want to read. But the problem is, the place is so awesome that the books are mostly non-fiction. So as a lover of birds and plants and fine art, I picked A Painter’s Year in the Forests of Bhutan by A. K. Hellum. First off, the title is a lie, this person took two years and tries to act all cool about the title. If he or she just told the truth, there would be an increase in Gross National Happiness. https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/388831.A_Painter_s_Year_in_the_Forests_of_Bhutan

205.Bonaire, St, Eustatius, and Saba. These islands make up the colony of the Netherlands Antilles. The best things going there is the impressive sea life and diving tours. And it might all be gone by now if not for one man who saw what had to be done and did it. Captain Don Stewart hated seeing movies come out that created fear in tourists with regard to the sea. And so he wrote a book called Sea Trauma to talk about the real dangers underwater. http://www.infobonaire.com/captdon/publish.html

206. Bosnia and Herzegovina. Back in the war-torn lands of Eastern Europe. One book set here has a great title, When History is a Nightmare. The Turks are occupying the country in The Devil and the Dervish by Meša Selimović, in the 18th century. A Dervish monk is keeping a separate peace in his monastic life when the rest of the world intrudes through family ties. What would you do?
https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/2577413.Death_and_the_Dervish

207. Botswana. The series of Ladies’ Detective Agency books tempted me, but the title of this true story captured my greater interest. Whatever You Do, Don’t Run: True Tales of a Botswana Safari Guide by Peter Allison introduces you to the concept that only food runs. Lots of 4 and 5 star reviews, and on my to-read list. https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/891224.Whatever_You_Do_Don_t_Run?ac=1

208. Brunei Darussalam. Oh dear, no novels or even true stories set in this country. But there is a text book called Language, Power, and Ideology in Brunei Darussalam by Geoffrey C. Gunn. Standing out in the region for having a high rate of literacy, still no authors have emerged yet. Perhaps the text book can tell us why. http://www.amazon.com/Language-Power-Ideology-Brunei-Darussalam/dp/0896801926

209. Guernsey and Aldernay. Well, mostly Guernsey. A book with a great title and an awesome premise. A book happens to find the exact person who would most be interested in it, as well as able to connect with the writer of a letter tucked inside. The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society by Mary Ann Shaffer and Annie Barrows has mixed reviews claiming that the book is too sweet. The heroine is just too perky through the whole story, and there’s not enough about the quirky inhabitants of the island. Well, read it and see for yourself. https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/2728527-the-guernsey-literary-and-potato-peel-pie-society?ac=1

210. Kiribati. Everyone always wants to go to the beautiful tropical islands, but the people stuck there complain that nothing ever happens. So a good choice for a book here is one where Something Happens. And maybe to a person not usually on the island. Food of Ghosts by Marianne Wheelaghan is this story, based on experiences of the author’s mother. The reviews are predominantly positive, including one stating the book is a thrilling, entertaining, and exotic whodunnit. https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/16143019.Food_of_Ghosts

211. Liechtenstein. This unfortunate country has had a thrilling history as much as any European state. But beyond a very poorly received Danielle Steele book and a few ancient classics, there’s little to read that takes place there. We have a manga, a children’s story about a skinny cow, and a biography of a very expensive piece of furniture. And a trio of kids escaping the Nazis, a so-so Harlequin romance, and porn. So let’s just walk around the country for a while and see if anything inspires us to write. Harry’s Mountain Walks in Liechtenstein by Lloyd P. Clark gets us off to a good start. https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/6363097.Harry_s_Mountain_Walks_in_Liechtenstein

212. Luxembourg. A good deal larger than Liechtenstein, this country has more books from which to choose. But the first one snagged me in with a great title, and the summary kept my interest. The reviews are pretty good as well. In The Elf of Luxembourg by Tom Weston, teenage sisters visiting Europe from America (California, as we learned in Alex and Jackie Adventures #1. This is #2) get involved in a prophecy and some odd characters, as well as some fabulous shopping. A young adult story that includes some history lessons and great black and while photos. https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/7801221.The_Elf_of_Luxembourg

213. Malawi. As one reviewer pointed out, so many books that take place in African Nations are sad and depressing, with everyone surrendering to the belief in hopelessness. So while a true story, The Boy Who Harnessed the Wind by William Kamkwamba is unique for telling the tale of a person who never gave up hope, and always kept his dream in view. Malawi has wind to spare, and in spite of being called crazy for wanting to use that wind to improve the lives of everyone, William stayed focus and positive. https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/6419887-the-boy-who-harnessed-the-wind

214. Martinique. This Caribbean island is known for being the birthplace of Josephine, Napoleon’s Empress, and for the eruption of Mt. Pelee in 1902. The land should also be known for author Patrick Chamoiseau, who writes stories from his own life, from the history of the island, and from his charming imagination. In Chronicles of The Seven Sorrows, he creates a marketplace cast and a story which brings folktale characters to life. No reviews yet, but worth a read. https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/949068.Chronicle_of_the_Seven_Sorrows

215. Isle of Man. Sometimes it’s hard to track down a book set in a remote location. If GoodReads can’t find it, I look for other sources, but eventually come back to GoodReads for the reviews and book information. Safe House by Chris Ewan is set in the Isle of Man, written there, and had a premier party when it was released. The “hero” is an every-man type, plumber and repair man. A woman disappears, he knows he is being lied to, and a detective comes in from London. One review suggested this story had a “Who Really Cares” feel to it, but as long as it doesn’t go all Wicker Man on us, I would side with the others who enjoyed the suspense and the read. And it’s got a bit with a dog.
https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/13538955-safe-house

216. Macedonia. Thanks to Mary Renault, I went through a stage where I had a serious crush on Alexander the Great. Fire from Heaven is an awesome read, but too easy to suggest here. And so many of the books are about Alexander, like Annabel Lyon’s The Golden Mean. The time of Alexander created lasting animosity between various peoples of the area. In 1966, Tasko Georgievski published the award winning Black Seed, about the civil war making ethnic Macedonians criminals for their heritage. This is the first translation into English. https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/3479995.Black_Seed__A_Classic_Novel_of_Modern_Macedonian_Literature

217. Maldives. Thor Heyerdahl believed the islands had been inhabited a thousand years earlier than most historians believed. There are several books Goodreads lists, then claims it can’t find. And one that has no clue to what it’s about. A couple of books I have put on my read later list, but the first one doesn’t really take place on Maldives. The second is suggested because people who read the first one liked books about younger men and older women. But no Maldivian books. So let’s look at legends, shall we? Mysticism in the Maldives: Eyewitness Accounts of Supernatural Encounters by Ali Hussain. That ought to make you lose a little sleep. https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/12122268.Mysticism_in_the_Maldives__eyewitness_accounts_of_supernatural_encounters

218. Moldova. Not a very stellar recognition to be the poorest country in Europe. Most of the books are about children becoming sex slaves and dying of AIDS unless rescued by a mission or such. So I picked two books here. The ones more about the people. The Good Life Elsewhere by Vladimir Lorchenkov has top reviews from people who enjoy dark humor. A talented author who can be very funny and very sad at the same time will weave a special story. Come on, an Orthodox priest’s wife leaves him to elope with an atheist art dealer. What’s not to love? https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/18755811.The_Good_Life_Elsewhere The second book is Bessarbian Nights by Stela Brinzeanu, also a well-reviewed story, that follows a close trio of sisters who live with traditions and superstitions while longing for the modern world. As one of them stumbles into a horrific situation, the other two unite to save her. https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/21424404.Bessarabian_Nights

219. Monaco. Grace Kelly will never die. A dozen books on her life, her marriage, her children, and the lifestyle in Monaco keep her alive. There is also a helping of porn written about Monte Carlo. While Ian Fleming Casino Royale would be good, it’s a bit dated. I like the sound of an end-of-career football hero reunited with his first crush, and the secret she has kept from him. Which is really easy to figure out if you read these kind of Romances. Manacled in Monaco is a catchy name, and the first of Jianne Carlo’s Mediterranean Mambo series. https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/5630946.Manacled_in_Monaco

220. Montenegro. The name says it all. The Land of the Black Mountain. Lots of histories of the country, and lots of picture books of the rarely seen Montenegro. If I spoke Montenegrin, I would recommend the poetry book by native Petar II Petrović Njegoš . Instead, there’s this tramp across the beautiful land guide called Montenegro or Bust by Paul Richard Scott. He obviously loved the experience, and shares it vividly.
https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/13541326.Montenegro_or_Bust

When we wrap up next week, I’d love to hear your favorite books from the list. And I’ll see you on Wednesday for something really fun.

The Formula of Love

Well, it’s a tie. Only one vote came in on the three possible candidates for modeling my heroine after, and then there’s my vote. But as the official tie breaker, I get to pick the one I want. My friend and fellow writer who voted picked my least favorite of the three, to my amazement. She felt the first picture was too sleek and modern-looking, and the third, my favorite, looked too inactive to be a heroine.

I’ve been large size since sometime after my 2nd birthday. I’ve juggled emotional issues and depression and low self-worth, and by some luck managed to stay alive long enough to meet a man who loves me more than I love myself. I’m not saying being overweight is not a problem. I found a plan that works for me and I have lost 70 pounds in the last two years. I’m taking a break and doing maintenance currently while dealing with financial stress (that is going away, hooray!) and getting through the last months before my retirement.

One thing that made the weight loss work is a support group that I found, and that I in turn support through my gift, writing. I take the notes for the group, and keep the information fresh in their minds. We have a great facilitator who is a certified nutritionist, and once a month we have a special speaker who has an amazing alphabet soup behind her name. She works with mostly young women who have eating disorders. She’s lost a few patients, too. It’s a very deadly condition that usually starts with a negative remark from another person. Or maybe just a friend tells you how to drop a few pounds quickly by purging. Size bigotry is killing more people than we realize.

I’m less active than I would like to be, but not long ago (within the last millennium) I took part in three times weekly aerobics classes, hiked with my dog on weekends, and went to as many social events as I could afford. Just last year I was in Tai Chi, my favorite form of exercise, and walk a few times a week at work, plus volunteer to walk dogs at the local humane society. Anything to keep from cleaning the house.

So to prove that size does not equal inactivity, I went on line. I found a wonderful site called Monica Wants It. This plus size beauty blogs about do it yourself decorating, crafts, entertaining, and weight loss. http://www.monicawantsit.com/search/label/fashion

I zipped over to Daily Venus Diva, a fashion place for beautiful and curvy women. I am so impressed and amazed that there are fashion models out there, working, and larger than I currently am. The site is for fans to follow large size celebs but it’s great for a quick boost of window shopping. http://dailyvenusdiva.com/

Tess Munster is a plus size beauty, a model, and a campaigner for acceptance for all sizes. I love her t-shirts that read “Eff Your Beauty Standards.” http://theplussizelife.blogspot.com/

There’s even a Plus Size Mag with the hottest BBW models in the business. http://www.plus-model-mag.com/2013/07/hottest-bodies-in-the-plus-size-modeling-industry-2013/

And I fell in love with The Militant Baker’s spoof of a certain clothing store’s ads. Who is that delectable eye candy she is posing with? I may have to pin him somewhere. http://www.cnn.com/2013/05/23/living/abercrombie-attractive-and-fat/

But I really wanted to find out more about the model in the photo that got my vote. You see, something clicked in my writer brain when I looked at her, and now I know a lot more about my hero. He’s a large man, tall, broad shouldered, big feet to go with it all, and learning to live on board a space-challenged sailing ship that he commands. A larger, softer woman would feel more comfortable in his arms. And that’s part of the equation, the formula that equals sexual attraction that unfolds into love. I am miffed that I have to put this story on ice for a bit, but it is unfolding in my brain.

Kate Dillon is the model. She is an active and interesting person. She’s educated, she survived her “non-trivial eating disorder” and she likes herself better every day. http://www.vogue.com/magazine/article/a-life-in-full/

And more: http://www.dailymail.co.uk/home/you/article-541288/Supersize-Me-The-Top-Model-Who-Piled-Pounds.html

And this: https://shine.yahoo.com/healthy-living/model-kate-dillon-speaks-outa-about-being-too-skinny-too-plus-size-and-whats-up-with-the-crystal-controversy-2015056.html

What I want to say by all this is, don’t judge! Love yourself, and don’t let others judge you. You are Perfect, Whole, and Complete! See you Sunday for more book travels.

Inspiring Music To Write By

If you are a writer and you aren’t a member of Scribophile, you are missing out. I lead a group there called Writers Who Love Romance, and I am privileged to have some of the most creative, zany, talented, and horny women and men in the group. We’ve got a couple threads going in the group forum called the Candy Dish where we post links to photos of hot models who look like the main characters in our novels. This has really helped me visualize my writing.

A very interesting and popular thread started by my blog hop buddy Mika Jolie (http://mikajolie.com/) has members making playlists like crazy. What music is a theme song for your main characters? What inspires you to write romance, or action, or mystery?

I hit something of a blank wall with this, as my writing is set in a historical time period when rock and roll wasn’t even a glimmer in anyone’s eyes. But there were country dances, waltzes, and Scottish airs of particular popularity. I have yet to decide, too, if I must listen only to period music while writing. For instance, a story idea that is tucked away for now was inspired by a Nickelback song, Savin’ Me. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1VQzYytaR34

Find a Way by Safetysuit is good. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9-WCucYnED0

Interesting, In Safe Hands by Badly Drawn Boy https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bk3Z26LV9_w

Very nice version of Ellie Goulding’s Hanging On https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=L6fEfxPjIqA

Got a hero who’s flawed? Like a Storm’s Break Free is good! https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=B8vk8Eo58hI (Why have I never heard of them before this? Love the Way You Hate Me is great, too! https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5xhubIqV1CI )

So, I was saying about period music. And Scottish folk songs were very popular. But probably not The Ghosts of Culloden. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=EavpIelNHZ4 Bonnie Prince Charlie was a romantic figure, but still.

This list of Irish and Scottish songs is nearly perfect! https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CJGaRb3WCT4&list=PLD0505A03E39EDB3D

A few beautiful Strauss waltzes: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=U4J0MKsG_is https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=aG-kLDAj8mc https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ro-hNctcd38

And the odd bit of popular music: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nrehgENogqs And now I’m in the mood to write. See you on Sunday.

Around the World in 80+ Books Part 5

Wasn’t the hotel lovely? We’ll be changing latitudes a few times on this leg of our journey. Why is it called a leg, anyway? Couldn’t it be an arm? An earlobe?

81. Niger. Yes, we leave Nigeria and land in Niger. And there are few books set there. Harmattan by Gavin Weston tells a full tale embroidered with the story of a girl in male-dominated, strife-filled Niger and her correspondence with twin girls her age in Ireland. The title means that ill wind which blows no good for anyone. Poverty, violence, and heart-break are balanced with vivid and endearing glimpses of a simple village life. https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/12981852-harmattan

82. Algeria. The list of books coming up for this country set me to smiling. Some of my favorites, like Beau Geste by P.C. Wren. But then I clicked on The Sea Hawk by Rafael Sabitini, and knew I had found the right book. The author of Captain Blood! Betrayals, pirates, and buckles being swashed! It’s all good. https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/236888.The_Sea_Hawk

83. Tunisia. Welcome to the land of Tatooine and Star Wars droids, sand people and Jawas. What better book than something a little silly? The first book in the series is Benny & Omar by Eoin Colfer. This romp through the stress and adventures of being uprooted from Ireland to reform a life in Tunisia looks at the good and the bad of both countries, and has lots of cool slang to share. One review insists you must get the audio version, because the reader has an Irish brogue to die for. https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/45434.Benny_and_Omar

84. Morocco. We’ll always have romance in Morocco. There’s even a Goodsread section just for that. But in trying to keep a slightly broader audience engaged, I wandered far to find something special That something is Hideous Kinky by Esther Freud. The summary of the book tells us nothing, but reviewers are kinder. The story follows a young girl whose family relocates to Morocco. Yeah, there is a lot of that going around. But many of the whats and whys of the story are unclear due to the fact the narrator is five years old. This does not detract from an enjoyable read with an innocent persepective of Marrakesh and Morocco. https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/283786.Hideous_Kinky

85. Spain. Oh, no question. One of the books I rejoice to have read is The Physician by Noah Gordon. And what do you know, he’s written another book that takes place in Spain. The Last Jew has a look at the Inquisition and the edicts that expelled all Jews from Spain in 1492. Imagine having to leave the country of your birth, your culture, your home, and not even having the guarantee of enough time to safely remove yourself. If you are a young boy and suddenly alone, what would you do? https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/4696.The_Last_Jew

86. Portugal. The authors of Portugal are prolific, writing in, of all things, Portuguese. There are pages of books listed on Goodreads, but not so many that have an English version. Thinking I would have to skip a whole country, I found Baltasar & Blimunda by Jose Saramago. Still focused on the Inquisition, this is a story of love, intrigue, and invention! Possibly a little magic, too. https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/2530.Baltasar_and_Blimunda

87. France. So, who’s up for assassin nuns who serve Death? Robin LeFevers starts us off in Grave Mercy, book one of the trilogy His Fair Assassins. Can one be a wolf and not a sheep? If you get the choice, you would be wise to take the wolf. https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/9565548-grave-mercy

88. Ireland. Here we are, the home of my ancestors. And rather than stir up emotions debating who killed whom, I’m going with a light and funny book, The Irish R.M. By E. Somerville. I loved the BBC television series, so I hope to enjoy the original novel that inspired it. I remember the one character who would say, “The Crayture!” to imply the poor creature. Love it. https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/1061542.The_Irish_R_M

89. England. TOO MANY CHOICES!! Canterbury Tales, all the works of Shakespeare, even just listing the choices would take all day. So I’m going to go with a favorite of mine of a less lofty standing. Dirk Gently’s Holistic Detective Agency by Douglas Adams. https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/365.Dirk_Gently_s_Holistic_Detective_Agency

90. Wales. Another land of Magic and Legend, but what I think of most is the sad changes in the landscape due to coal mining. The movie made from this book starred a very young Roddy McDowell, and few dry eyes were seen whenever I watched it. The book, How Green Was My Valley by Richard Llewellyn, stands as a classic that people love to read and reread, that brings a longing to be part of that Welsh village and that family. I have to mention that the title of one of my favorite episodes of the TV show, Get Smart, was “How Green was my Valet.” https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/40496.How_Green_Was_My_Valley (But if you would prefer the magic and such, Nectar From a Stone by Jane Guill looks to be a good choice. https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/432538.Nectar_from_a_Stone)

91. Cornwall. Here my heart wants to go with Frenchman’s Creek by Daphne du Maurier. A great historical romance, but not with a happy ending. Better, perhaps, to go with A Perfectly Good Man by Patrick Gale. One reviewer says this novel explores age-old themes of good and evil, another says it’s easy to overlook Gale’s writing because it’s not showy or loud. Some expressed surprise that they like it so well, and others love the life Gale brings to the characters and the setting. I’m sold. https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/13336392-a-perfectly-good-man

92. Scotland. Outlander by Diana Gabaldon. https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/10964.Outlander

93. The Netherlands. Holland and tulips grace just about every idea of the Netherlands. And to develop a rare type of tulip, possibly to win a large sum of money, that’s the drive and the conflict in this book. Because everyone wants that prize. The Black Tulip by Alexander Dumas explores tulipomania and the edition linked here includes lots of historical notes and references. https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/7182.The_Black_Tulip

94. Denmark. Another country where lots of novels are written, but few are translated into English. Hans Christian Anderson just seems a bit off for this list. A good bet could be Number the Stars by Lois Lowry. A book for young readers, this is a story set in 1943, told from the experiences of a Jewish girl whose family gets out of the country, but make arrangements for her to stay with a family who will protect her. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Number_the_Stars

95. Lithuania. Home of lithium batteries. But seriously, nearly all the novels and a good deal of the non-fiction set in Lithuania deals with World War II and the fate of the Jews. God’s Chosen People need time off for good behavior. Unlike the hero of The Last Girl by Stephan Collishaw. Emotionally devastating states one review. If you could correct one mistake from your past, what would it be? Probably something simple, like pay the parking tickets, or invest in some company decades ago. The poet hero of this novel is obsessed with a great guilt when he failed the girl he loved. https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/126876.The_Last_Girl__A_Novel

96. Latvia. If you are Jewish and live in the part of the world where your family, heritage, and religion put you at risk of losing everything, up to and including your life, you might find a way to hide and blend in. Especially since the part of the world where that’s the case is called Earth. Some of the books on the list today share the tales of Jews who blended in with the citizens of the country they lived in. This one is different because the main character blends in with the Nazis. The Mascot: Unraveling the Mystery of My Jewish Father’s Nazi Boyhood by Mark Kurzem tells this true story. https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/8072864.The_Mascot

97. Estonia. Well, it’s either more WWII tales of how much people can suck, or a vampire romance novel. So here we go. This is book number 3 in the Immortals After Dark series, but from the reviews it took the author this long to get up to speed with her series. Hot, sizzling, and a gentleman vampire, too. I am so ready to read this. No Rest for the Wicked by Kresley Cole will have you throwing away your garlic. https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/14383.No_Rest_for_the_Wicked

98. Finland. A touching of generations, The Summer Book by Tove Janssen brings to life a child’s experiences with her grandmother on a beautiful island in the Gulf of Finland. With “wisdom and gruff humor,” they learn from each other about the island and that independence does not mean you can’t love each other. https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/79550.The_Summer_Book

99. Lapland. Like Sicily, Lapland is part of another country now. Actually, it looks like three different countries have fingers in this pie. But a book caught my eye and here we are. Let the Northern Lights Erase Your Name by Vendela Vida has a plot that many have used, the discovery that who you thought you were has been a complete fabrication. An emotional read, for some painful, and why the heck did she need to go to Lapland? https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/64482.Let_the_Northern_Lights_Erase_Your_Name

100. Sweden. Like Scotland, no contest, no need to research. The Girl with the Dragon Tatoo by Steig Larsson, the first in the Millennium series. You have to read all three books to get the whole story, but this one is not too bad as a stand-alone. https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/2429135.The_Girl_with_the_Dragon_Tattoo

We’ll rest here until the blizzard passes, and then we’re off to Norway. Hope the Vikings are feeling hospitable. See you for a quick post on Wednesday, and back to the trip on Sunday.