If praise is given for what’s expected, then why strive to excel?


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If you slow down so everyone can catch up, then no one reaches his or her full potential.

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I hate roller coasters.

Now I’m on one, excited–intimidated–euphoric–worried– Well, you know how it goes if you’re a writer and remember when your very first book finally found a home after all those years of revisions, advice, revisions, and more advice.Disney and Denver, Sept, 2010 017

First, there’s the excruciatingly slow ride up a well-worn track where many before you have traveled. You imagine when you get to the top a kindly, intelligent publisher reaches out and accepts your book, thus turning your dreams into a reality.

When you found a home for your first book did you want to whoop and holler and  broadcast your joy to the whole world? I thought that would happen to me. It didn’t.

Did you feel hesitant? Maybe you visualized the swift downhill part of the roller-coaster ride. I did. I couldn’t bring myself to do any type of shouting from any type of rooftop. I sure as heck didn’t want to jinx anything.

The copy editor plans to be finished with his editing by the end of this week. The interior-design editor is doing whatever it is interior-design editors do. The most exciting part for me–I actually saw the book cover today. I’m speechless.

This is all about to become a reality. Wow . . . .

And here’s a thought: Quill Mark Press believes a book should leave the reader thinking about the story long after turning the last page. Can you think of a better way to evaluate a good book?  Okay, now I’m really, really, really excited!

I’d enjoy your leaving a comment below about the state of your emotions a few weeks before your debut novel appeared in public.  (Big smile.)


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Blog Hop: Game of Tag about How We Write.

99 steps St. Thomas

Patricia Smith Wood tagged me in the Blog Hop sweeping the internet for writers. I’m to reveal my innermost writing secrets.  Also I’ve tagged two other engaging authors. I’ll tell you who they are at the end of my post.

Thanks, Pat, for giving me this opportunity. We were friends in our early teens then I moved to Wyoming and we lost touch. When I moved back to Albuquerque twenty-years later, our friendship reignited.  As preteens, Pat never let us be idle. That girl could play the piano and sing her heart out. At sleepovers, she made us sing for hours. Loved it, but I sounded like a sick Muppet. Thank goodness she no longer insists I sing.

Something else, her father was an F.B. I. agent–  So cool because I was the girl who, under the blankets with a flashlight, read all the Hardy Boy Mysteries (the early ones before they watered down the rich vocabulary). I couldn’t get enough of sleuthing.St. Thomas 1 Patricia’s father’s stories about an unsolved New Mexico murder stirred up her imagination and eventually turned these ideas into her first book, The Easter Egg Murder. You can learn more about Patricia Wood by visiting her website here.

1) What am I working on?

Right now, I’m looking for an agent/publisher for Cuba Libre Conspiracies, and I’m busy with my next book, Illusive Inheritance (working title) the second in this Beth Armstrong mystery series.

Illusive Inheritance is the sequel to Cuba Libre Conspiracies, but it’s also a stand-alone where Beth surprises her husband with a dream vacation in the Caribbean that turns into a nightmare when she realizes they’ve survived a murder attempt.   Hotel 1829 1Beth’s obsessiveness in finding answers annoys everyone, even a Rastafarian drug runner who may have murdered a young girl’s mother. Beth befriends a Voodouist who knows much about the past and more than she cares to tell.



2) How does my work differ from others of its genre?

Having a protagonist who’s a middle-aged woman scientist working in a research institute sets Cuba Libre Conspiracies way over on the unique side for most commercial fiction mysteries.  Another aspect that’s less common these days is a story told completely from the protagonist’s point of view. Dialogue-rich writing is something I enjoy as a reader, and I also like to write. This keeps a snappy pace to my stories without needing long, intricate descriptions. I know readers’ imaginations can fill in holes better than anything I could describe. Most of my secondary characters are multidimensional, allowing them to make assumptions, mistakes, and even rethink.

Some mysteries do have a protagonist who struggles with deeply conflicted emotions. But in my stories, my protagonist is also headstrong in her biases before she understands things are not at all what they seemed.

Much of my writing inspirations have come from cherished authors such as Alice Hoffman’s with her lyrical writing, Elizabeth George and Ian McEwan’s characters with strong and conflicted emotions, Michael Connelly sensitivity, and Robert Parker’s snappy dialogue.

3) Why do I write what I do?

It’s okay to hear voices, but it’s not okay to answer them, right? I not only hear voices, they entertain me with stories. Sometimes a relative, friend, stranger, or co-worker’s voice won’t get out of my head. What if my characters have some of these particular voices?

Sitting in a science review committee meeting, I watched an emotional but contained interplay between the chairman and a researcher.  We weren’t privileged to some prior history between them, but when the researcher slapped the table with his open hands, pushed his chair back and looked away, I knew the chairman just found out something important and had won. What if a science institute is rife with corporate espionage and no one believes it except for one scientist?

One step farther: What if a busy professional woman, barely holding her marriage together, is the scientist who no one believes her research was actually sabotaged? Interesting, but not compelling.  What if at this same time, this woman unwillingly becomes the caretaker of an estranged aunt who’s a sloppy chain-smoker and who holds a nightly cocktail hour complete with roaring 20’s stories?scan0001 What if this aunt also aggravates by serving regular doses of advice on how fix a marriage and solve all that corporate intrigue?

What if all of this causes the woman scientist to discover her carefully controlled life, with her preconceived biases, no longer works? To eradicate the evil seeping through the science institute, she changes, mends her marriage, puts her life in danger, and uncovers an old family secret.

4) How does my writing process work?

Pansters, for those of you who don’t know, is a writer who sits at the computer and writes without outlining or maybe even a hint of where the story’s going.  When I first started writing I’d type with only a vague plot in my head. I’d end up with too many subplots, too many boring scenes, and hit too many dead ends.

I found this a time waster.

I now begin with tons of research, with printouts, and note cards stacked next to my computer. I get a new spiral notebook and write the title of the book on its cover. In it I map out the plot.  This is also where I write complete character sketches of my protagonist, antagonist, and all the secondary players. I make a time line, pick the inciting moment, and decide who did what to whom and when. I put a new small notebook in my purse to jot down ideas, scenes, voices I hear, actions I see, or anything I might want to use in the story.

Next I do a quick write. This is something Anne Greenwood Brown wrote about, click here.  I find it helpful to quickly get into the first few chapters of my book. I then go back and actually do my real writing.

I get other eyes to give me feedback and help me see what I’ve missed. I’m a terrible proofreader.

Without doubt, the most enjoyable part of all is revision: cutting, cutting, cutting, reorganizing, replacing words with better words, getting rid of what’s trite, and transforming it into a  newly created world.

Next Week: Meet Catherine Dilts and Paula Paul

Catherine Dilts and Paula Paul are tagged “it” for next Monday, August 4, 2014.

Catherine Dilts and I met when we were assigned to be on a short-story panel, almost two years ago at Left Coast Crime in Colorado Springs. Both of us are fascinated with geology, paleontology, and mineralogy. How could we not like each other? Catherine’s been generous in her email knowledge and advice whenever I’ve been flummoxed over some little writing thing.

Catherine writes amateur sleuth mysteries set in the Colorado mountains. In her debut novel Stone Cold Dead-A Rock Shop Mystery, business is as dead as a dinosaur, but when Morgan Iverson finds the body of a Goth teen on a hiking trail, more than just the family rock shop could become extinct. Book two in the series, Stone Cold Case, has an anticipated release date in 2015.  Morgan Iverson reopens a cold case and lots of unhealed wounds in the small mountain town of Golden Springs when she discovers the bones of a popular and beautiful young woman who went missing fifteen years ago. Catherine works as an environmental scientist, and plays at heirloom gardening, camping, and fishing. Alfred Hitchcock Mystery Magazine has published three of her short stories, with  The Last Real Cowboy appearing on the cover of September 2014 issue.  Visit her at http://www.catherinedilts.com/

Paula Paul and I first met at SouthWest Writers many years ago when the organization was called South West Writer’s Workshop. She’s published at least two dozen books, historical, mysteries, and even a young adult story. Paula received her Bachelors in Journalism and is a state and national award-winning journalist. She’s also altruistic, donating one-third of the royalties from Crazy Quilt (published by UNM Press) to cancer research.

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Defining Our Differences: Another Test For You

Several friends and readers are pestering me for more information about their learning styles. Yep, they are truly in my face about this, and they know who they are. Here’s my original post, which explains a bit about the four different learning styles and a shorten version of the “real” test. Have fun and please leave me a comment about how this sample quiz matches with your real life.

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I pulled out my car keys and started out the door.  My husband stopped me and smiled.  He handed me a map because he knows me well.

I usually have a good sense of where I’m going and how to get there and I don’t care that I have to drive around a lot to find the right access.   I call it, “–taking the scenic route.”

But he would prefer  to read written directions with mileage, road numbers, and all the turns listed. And he would have called ahead to make reservations . . . Wow!

Thanks goodness we’re all different because the world needs accountants, engineers, and computer programers. I’ll tell you right now, these jobs are completely out of my league.

What about you?  How would you describe yourself? Do you prefer order and predictability? Do you prefer working independently or maintaining harmony in group settings? Do you…

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Mysterious – Altruistic Children of the Amazon

We woke to rain . . . a steady drizzle . . .  7 Amazon   (65)The tucked away villagers waited near the inlet to welcome the morning visitors to the slippery grass and mud covered slopes. Children scrambled down to the dock, hands outstretched, grabbing elbows and arms of the foreigners who disembarked the ship’s tenders.

Most tourists voiced surprise and gratitude at the little ones’ help in keeping them out of the mud and also upright. A few visitors pulled their arms away, held their belonging close to themselves, and shifted their gaze to the countryside.

Then the canoes came. They came from obscure villages up and down this part of the Amazon River. They wanted to see, to be next to, the ship anchored off shore and perhaps to sell a few handmade wares.  I expected but didn’t see a single palm held up–begging for a handout.

Amazon River Children with a young sloth.

The next morning dressed in long sleeves, long pants, hats, and hiking boots, a group of us  went up the Amazon River to an unknown destination. There we would dock on a beach and spend the day learning about jungle survival.

On the boat was a young girl. She looked like any child off to spend the day in her red, Minnie-Mouse shirt and shorts. Her dark curls were tamed by a pink flower barrette.  To her, the world was a happy place.

Amazon River trip from Manaus to jungle destination.

Amazon River trip from Manaus to jungle destination.

She spoke only Portuguese. None of us knew her name, but her communication skills captivated each of us.

She held an assortment of duplos, big leggos for the younger set. She didn’t seem interested in building with them because her imagination took her somewhere else.

She handed duplos to several passengers and showed them what to do. To her, they were musical instruments.

Soon the passengers were playing a riotous rendition of Jingle Bells while others without her plastic instruments sang. By the end of our boat ride she, too, chanted these repetitive English verses.

We didn’t know her father would be our jungle guide.

8 Manaus Jungle treck 1 (44)

When we entered the jungle from the beach, we climbed forty-five, ant covered stairs. December is the dry season. In June the beach would be under water and the dock would be at the top of the stairway.

Before entering the jungle, one of the guide’s sons stood next to me creating something out of palm leaf. When he finished he handed it to me and smiled. His talents included making leaf snakes and crowns with feathers.  His only reward seemed to be the delight he saw on my face.

8 Manaus Jungle treck 1 (41)

At the end of the afternoon when we came back down the ant covered stairway, the two young boys and the girl from the boat ran to us, dropped on their knees, and picked ants off our boots and socks.

Still, not a single hand thrust out for even a coin. Later on, when we visited other villages, the children would wish us Bom dia or Boa tarde. How mysterious. What causes these smiling children to engage with strangers and the world around them with such happy innocence?

All I can say is, “I love your river and it’s people.” And to the children’s parents and their village elders, I say, “Obrigada.”

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Happiness Revisited

Happiness Secrets and the Study of Natural and Synthetic Happiness  posted on February 8, 2013 evoked a comment about the use of the word mastery in i09’s article listing six ways to be happy. Michael, 0424 056

Is the use of the word mastery here incorrect? Can anyone  reach that lofty goal? If you personally can’t be the ultimate master of what you’re trying to achieve, is that failure?

Being rather compulsive (I don’t think I’m that obsessive, but compulsive–yes) I had to click on the link and reread that i09 article. Here it is.

I believe this i09 article throws out a help-line for creating long-term happiness.

#2. Master a skill

This one is kind of a tradeoff: a study published in a 2009 issue of the 100% real Journal of Happiness Studies found that people who dedicate themselves to mastering a skill or ability tend to experience more stress in the moment, but reported greater happiness and satisfaction on an hourly, daily, and long-term basis as a result of their investment.

“No pain, no gain is the rule when it comes to gaining happiness from increasing our competence at something,” said Ryan Howell, assistant professor of psychology at San Francisco State University in a statement. “People often give up their goals because they are stressful, but we found that there is benefit at the end of the day from learning to do something well.”

Its main message is to dedicate one’s self to mastering a skill or ability whether it’s ever deamed masterful by others or not. We all know someone out there may beat us at our own selected game. That doesn’t matter.

I look at our aging population and I see some pretty grumpy faces. Those with perpetually happy faces seem to be those who are working diligently to improve a skill or learn something new. They aren’t struggling to be the master-of-all in this endeavor, but they are passionate about mastering the activity for their own emotional needs.

There’s authentic joy in knowing you’re achieving and improving even when that climb to reach beyond mediocre creates stress. But don’t be fooled into thinking you’ll become more masterful at something if you just practice.  You might find yourself sweating up a storm while others walk away with the prize.  What’s missing?

At a certain level of knowledge practice helps, but to gain a deeper level of understanding for actual improvement you have to research, study, practice, and reevaluate–then make a return trip back to do more research, study, practice and evaluation. This is true for most everything, writing, drawing, building bridges, golfing, raising hogs, or tightrope walking. Yes, it’s work. Yes, it’s stressful, but that development of joyful passion wins hands down over the depression of apathy and your giving up.

My suggestion is to make mastery an endpoint or goal but not the definer of your life. Trust me, being a perfectionist would push me into the crazy world.

Those of us who have developed a passion for creating, exploring a new intellectual challenge, or learning a new skill may have to settle for being a jack-of-all-trades and maybe a master-of-none.  But it doesn’t matter because when you find us stressed out you’ll also see we’re the ones who have mastered that happy side of life.

How do you create long-term internal  happiness?


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