Gearing up

For the last few years, I’ve been on hiatus from writing conferences. I love going to them and being with kindred spirits. Individually, writers can be awkward and a little odd, but at a conference, we all get to be rock stars! There does come a point, though, when conferences and retreats and even local writers’ group meetings become a distraction.

In my case, I needed to step away and apply what I learned, but also, life intervened. Eric got laid off and we moved to Chicago. Then we moved twice more. (I don’t recommend moving three times in two years to improve productivity.) About the time I had to step away, I got involved with some projects with other writing friends, and I’ve learned a lot from them, so I haven’t missed the conferences.

Now I’ve broken the hiatus. I’m on my way to sunny Florida for the My Book Therapy Deep Thinkers Retreat. I’ve done it twice before and came home both times overloaded with info that took a few extra days to process. We’re doing things a little differently this time. There was homework to do ahead of time to get everyone on the same page (pun intended).

It officially starts tomorrow, so I’ll tell you all about it next week!



I don’t know about your part of the world, but Chicago has been unseasonably warm this winter. Strangely warm, like we’ve had to shovel twice. It’s so warm plants are starting to wake up.

So are gardeners.

To be fair, we usually wake up around this time. Usually, for me at least, it’s with a pang of panic that I haven’t started seeds yet. Then I realize I’m further north than I used to be, and I don’t really have to start them until early March. It is time, though, to start gathering supplies and think about how I’m going to lay out the garden this year. I had a lot crammed into a small space last year. I think this year I’m going to expand into pots. It will give us some breathing room, and if I do some tomatoes in pots, I can bring them inside in the fall and maybe extend the growing season. I’ll be able to devote garden space to other things, too. Maybe some squash.

My time in the city has made me wish we could get out into the country to start a homestead. The reality is the job is here. It’s a really good job.

I’ve realized in the last week or two I don’t have to wait to start homesteading. I can’t raise animals here. I don’t know if I want to raise animals at all. I don’t see myself being able to raise them and not get attached to them. I can, however, grow and preserve more of our food. Rain barrels are encouraged in our neighborhood, and I have space to compost. I can cook from scratch more, and get creative enough in the kitchen to work around having run out of something. I don’t need acres of land to become more self-sufficient. It’s probably good it’s worked out like this. If I had acres of land right now, I’d try to do too much. Baby steps are good.


I went to the drug store the other day in search of nail polish. I’d all but given up on it. Normal nail polish chips within an hour. Salon gel and lacquer polish lasts for weeks, but has to be soaked off with acetone, leaving my nails weak for, well, weeks. I’d heard about new options, though, so off I went to investigate.

I spotted the location pretty quickly. The big “Manicure” sign helped a lot. That’s when I saw them—three store employees and a big cart, stocking in the space under the big “Manicure” sign.

They saw me coming. I tried to see a way around without disturbing them, but they were literally in front of all the nail products. One of them asked if they could help, and when I explained I wanted to look at the polish, the youngest sighed dramatically and said, “Come on around.”

I squeezed through the tiny space on my tiptoes as one girl murmured something.

The Drama Queen sighed again and said, “But I’m working! Besides, I’m not in the way, the cart is in the way.”

I laughed out loud. I couldn’t help it. It wasn’t an amused laugh, either, and I’m pretty sure they could tell. Drama Queen and The Murmurer left, and the third girl moved the cart to the other side of the aisle. She’s the one who helped me find what I was looking for. She even suggested the top coat was important but not vital. (Yes, I bought it.) When I got home, I found the customer survey on the website and sent a detailed account of my experience.

Here’s the thing. I’ve been in customer service jobs for decades. The number one thing businesses need to survive is customers. It doesn’t matter what the business is. If no one is buying your product, you’re sunk. It’s in the best interest of a business to make their product accessible and to have helpful employees. Helpful employees are the key to turning lookers into buyers, and getting happy customers through check-out and out the door in the shortest time possible. Happy employees are helpful employees. I can spot an unhappy employee from fifty yards. I saw two at the drug store. One was the manager.

I get it. I’m not crazy about my job sometimes. If I do it right, the customers never know. When they think I’m happy, they buy more, and that’s good for business. Drama Queens are really only good for one thing: fictional cannon fodder.

January wrap up

January isn’t a productive month for me, but this one was better than most. When I packed for the rendezvous, I was intentional about setting things up to be able to work at least part of the time. I made sure to take a table and chairs for inside my tent, packed the wireless keyboard for my iPad and took extra batteries. I downloaded Scrivener, and made sure my WIP and my Excel tracking sheet were available before I left. I even asked Eric to send me back to the tent after breakfast, even if I insisted on washing breakfast dishes. (You saw the view from our kitchen in last week’s post. Can you blame me?)

In short, I used up all my efficiency for the month before January 10.

It did work, sort of. I wrote 5 days out of 14. Not much on the face of it, but usually I spend an hour or two the whole time with a journal and my lap desk, so I’m calling it a win.

The external batteries turned out to be a partial fail. We had a small one and a big one. If I’d been the only one using them, it might have been all right, but Eric was charging with them, too. I think we got one charge for each of our phones and iPads before we used up all the juice. The next morning I took the big one up to the charging station at the front gate and left it for a couple of hours. I went back to check on it, and it was 8%. The lesson learned there is to take multiple small batteries because they charge faster.

Scrivener was a mixed bag. It was great to have all my info with me and not have to copy/paste stuff when I got home. The transition between home and away was seamless, thanks to Dropbox. There were a couple downsides. Because I didn’t take a mouse, I couldn’t highlight text to count words. I got around it by noting total word count in Excel before I started writing, and subtracting it from the new total when I was done. Also, because I saved to Dropbox and not to a hard drive, I had to be online for at least the start (to retrieve everything) and the end (to save new work). That meant using battery time for the iPad and my phone since I used my personal hotspot to access the internet.

Maybe next year, if I do the batteries right, I’ll write more. I might not. We do a lot of visiting since we camp with family, and we have friends we only see there. This year I did a lot of sewing, and there was the one day out with Dad to go to the flea market.

Even apart from the rendezvous, though, it was a fairly productive month. I think word count was about 20% higher than the last 4 Januarys. I didn’t start tracking the amount of time I spend at the desk until the middle of last year, so I have no figures for that.

January 2017 numbers:

Words: 11,536
Days in office: 16
Hours in office: 19.25*
CPE: “Take Off Your Pants” by Libbie Hawker
Finished projects: The draft titled “Looking For Help” until I find the real title
Blog posts: 4
Newsletters: 0

Not great on paper, but it’s probably the best starting point than I’ve had. How’d January go for you guys?

Happy February!

*This is only writing time and doesn’t reflect time spent reading craft books or listening to podcasts. I should probably record that time, too, but honestly some days I’m doing well just to remember to clock in when I sit down.

Home From The Pilgrimage

If you’ve been following this blog for a while, or if you follow me on social media, you’ve probably heard stories about the Alafia River Rendezvous. It’s a living history event held every year in central Florida. Thousands of people converge in what amounts to a huge field to camp, shop, and visit 18th century-style. My dad got me into it, and I’ve gotten Eric into it, now that he gets actual vacation time.

This year was a little different. I took my iPad and keyboard, and downloaded Scrivener for iOs so I could write while I was there. Mostly I wanted to have the option because it’s far easier for me to write daily than take time off and have to restart. It keeps my momentum up. The other reason was I wasn’t thinking when I signed up for an informal JanNoWriMo (similar to National Novel Writing Month, which is in November) organized by a Facebook group. I figured I could do 20,000 words instead of the 50,000 they require with NaNoWriMo. If I’d been home all month it would have been easy.

I did write about 5 times. My word count was about 3,800, so I didn’t get a ton done, but I did get the short story I was working on finished. Needless to say, I’m way behind on that 20,000 word goal. At this point I might make it, but since I finished what was the current story, I’m not positive. Regardless, I’ve written more this month than I usually do in January, so that’s something.

Here’s a few pictures of our vacation.

How To Name Your Characters

It can be tough finding the right name for all of your characters, especially if you write in genres where Mary and John don’t fit well. Fantasy and science fiction come to mind, but it’s also applicable if, for instance, you’re writing historical fiction about Chinese immigrants building the railroad. Baby name websites and books are great, and I use them a lot, but they only go so far.

So what’s an author to do?

Google Translate. Really, most translation websites will do the trick, but I’ve found Google has more languages to choose from than the other sites I’ve looked at. If French/Spanish/Italian/Latin is all you need, that’s great, but most sites don’t do less common languages.

Since Eric and I are exploring our Celtic heritages, I decided to base Balphrahn on Celtic culture. That gives me Irish, Scottish, and Welsh, with options for German and French, since parts of those countries were also Celtic. I went with French for the dragon names. I used their colors, or if that was too obvious, a personality trait, and translated them. In some cases, I tweaked the spelling.

When I expanded the world, I ran into an issue with a water dragon. I didn’t think a French name would fit him, so I went back to the Celtic languages. This particular dragon is curious and a bit of a philosopher. He can throw down when needed, but that’s not his main goal. So I plugged “curious” into Google Translate and came up with Chwilfrydig*. It just fit him. For what it’s worth, I’ve been using Welsh more and more lately. Scottish and Irish usually have a word or two to offer; I’ve seen dozens of words in Welsh that mean the same thing.

What tricks to you use? Have you used this method?


*If you don’t read Welsh, it’s pronounced Sh-will-fri-dig. Google Translate told me that, too.

Welcome To My World

Since you’ll be hearing a lot about it, and you already know how it came about, here’s the history of Balphrahn by way of a snippet.


Settle, children, and listen to the story of your past. In the beginning, our world was barren and lifeless. Cruthadair, Mother Creator, cast her eye about the stars. She saw our world and formed it into a life-giving planet, filled with food and comfort and love. In those days, everyone used magic to perform simple chores and healing.

For generations, people lived in peace. The first ones taught their children about Cruthadair’s love. Each generation talked less about Cruthadair and more about her children: Brigid, goddess of hearth and home; Macha, her bloodthirsty sister, who eats the flesh of her slain enemies and dominates her lovers through cunning and guile; and their brother, Laoch, god of warriors, heros and champions.

After a time, one man became envious of his neighbor. He took what he coveted by force, and his neighbor gathered others and went to take it back. No one knows anymore what the object was, or why it was so dear that it was worth the blood spilled. One killing sparked another until all of Balphrahn was at war.

The dragons observed all of this, and when it appeared mankind would exterminate itself, they intervened, some on one side and some on the other as they saw fit. More blood was spilled and thousands died in dragon fire.

Eventually, one side overpowered the other. Who can say if it was the right side or the wrong side? The strongest of the dragon riders was chosen to sit on the throne and rule over all of Balphrahn. King Fergus ruled wisely. At first. As time passed, his power overcame him and he cast his eye on his fellow dragon riders. He decreed that, as king, it was his right to have concubines and chose the female dragon riders as his own.

Some of the women went to him willingly, smitten with his countenance and charm. Others went willingly because of his power and the knowledge that if they caught his child, they could mother the next monarch.

One did not go willingly. Ailin protested, saying she was in love with another and wished to stay faithful to him. King Fergus ignored her pleas and had her brought forcibly to his chamber, where he overpowered her and took her by force.

When it was done, he laughed at Ailin’s tears and dismissed her. Instead of leaving, she stood next to his bed and cursed him and all his male descendants through the power of her magic and rage, and in the name of Macha, with a dread of dragons and cowardice. As Macha moved to grant her wish, Laoch intervened, offended at the curse on one of his own. He was able to keep the cowardice from future generations, but not the dread of dragons. In retribution, he took magic from the women. A great cry went up in all of Balphrahn and Brigid took pity, blessing women with her healing touch.

King Fergus rose, terrified, from his bed and ran from the castle. His dragon, seeing the cowardice upon him, repudiated him, burning the curse away with dragon fire.

When she realized what she’d done, Ailin fled to the woods, too ashamed to face her lover and friends. When they found her, she was great with child and insensible with grief and shame. She was soon delivered of a daughter, whom she named Bron. The day Bron was weaned, Ailin killed herself.

It is because of the Curse of Ailin that, to this day, only women ride the dragons, and men are mages.