Archive for the ‘Book’ Category

An Astronaut's View

Wednesday, December 18th, 2013
An Astronaut's Guide to Life on EarthAll I can think of is those astonishing photos from the ISS (International Space Station). Seems I clicked "like" immediately on visuals posted by Col. Chris Hadfield while he was up there. I watched his YouTube videos, singing with kids, giving science lessons and patiently answering for the hundredth time how astronauts use the bathroom in a weightless environment. (That question must get SO old!)
Space Oddity is bookmarked because I listen to it whenever I need an attitude adjustment. It always works. There is something about music delivered by a floating guitarist while the earth passes by the window that just stirs my imagination, adjusts my focus and makes my heart happy.
Same can be said for reading An Astronaut's Guide to Life on Earth: What Going to Space Taught Me About Ingenuity, Determination, and Being Prepared for Anything by - you guessed it! - Chris Hadfield. He is a surprisingly modest person, incredibly focused and determined. He says the same about his wife, to whom he gives plenty of credit for his career as an astronaut.
  • When in my life have I ever raced outside to see a celestial body pass by? (Now - I subscribe to Spot The Station - which tracks the ISS!)
  • Why did I find the astronaut evaluation process interesting?
  • What is it about space travel that reels me in?
How did I become so hooked on space? Maybe it was my brother, who taught science, and had his classes create capsule mock-ups to learn astronomy, geography and science all rolled into one fun but painstaking project. Maybe my choice of reading material has something to do with it; I'm racking up these astronauts turned authors:  Riding Rockets: The Outrageous Tales of a Space Shuttle Astronaut by Mike Mullane and Carrying the Fire: An Astronaut's Journeys by Michael Collins.
And just maybe it was Col. Chris Hadfield's frequent Facebook posts (with great photos!) while he was on the ISS that ignited this fascination within me. My friends know I am a hopeless Trekkie, and I've never missed seeing a Star Wars release in the theater.  YouTube is full of astronauts now, and I always have to look. Even the book promos are funny.
Hadfield's book is chock full of his self-depreciating humor, his "don't-do-what-I-did" way of helping adjust a viewpoint and his hard-won ability to encourage those around him. I was encouraged just holding his book in my hands. To be my best self. To work toward my dreams and make them reality. To trust the good and be ready for the worst at the same time. You might be surprised. This book is an enjoyable read.
Don't just take my word for it. See Carolyn Kellog's "Ten Awesome Things List" about it in the LA Times.
Trying to remember the original 1972 Space Oddity by David Bowe? Click here for a refresh.

Recycling for Writers: or, New Life for Old Words

Monday, July 2nd, 2012

Jewish-American author Isaac Bashevis Singer once said that the waste basket is the writer’s best friend. But these are more enlightened times, and writers these days don’t throw unnecessary words away; we recycle them. A block of text that might be superfluous in one novel might just be the seed that germinates and grows into another.

Several years ago, when preparing a workshop on writing the historical novel, I wrote a scene, hoping to show attendees how historical detail could be incorporated into a scene without creating an “information dump.” The scene I wrote showed a man on his deathbed, dividing his estate between his two sons. One son would inherit his title and estate; the other son, who was illegitimate, could not legally inherit the title or the entailed property, and so was bequeathed a certain amount of money instead. The purpose of the scene was to show how I could give readers a working knowledge of British inheritance law without interrupting the flow of the story.

I liked that scene enough that I kept it long after the writer’s conference was over, thinking I might expand it into a novel—part regency romance, part “buddy story” as the two half-brothers were forced to work together after the old man died. That book was never written, but years later, that scene provided the “bones” for the Kirkbride family in my work in progress, a third John Pickett mystery with the working title Family Plot.

As for that regency romance/buddy story, who knows? I may still write it someday. After all, I’ve already got the first scene written.


Confessions of a Confirmed Bibliophile

Thursday, May 24th, 2012

Long before I was a writer, I was a reader. I still am. I love books. Not only do I love them for the stories that dwell inside them, I also love the physical sensation of holding—no, of experiencing a book. I love the sleek covers of a new paperback, the faint crack of the spine in opening a new hardcover. I love the crisp white pages with their sharp corners, and the smell of binder’s glue.

But a recent reading of  Nevil Shute’s Australian classic The Far Country reminded me of the more subtle joys of old books. This was a sixty-year-old library book, and it showed. The boards were covered with thick, coarsely woven fabric treated with something that would presumably withstand a nuclear blast. There was nothing remotely attractive about this sort of binding; it was bound with durability, not beauty, in mind. Still, there was something about it that I found appealing. Maybe it was the way it fell open in my hand—and stayed open at the same page, even when I laid it down. Maybe it was the way the once-sharp corners were rounded with wear, the edges of the once-crisp pages furred velvety soft by dozens, even hundreds, of hands. Other, newer books might be more glamorous, but there’s something comforting about old books.

In a way, every old book is a mystery, regardless of genre: what child, long since grown to adulthood, scribbled with a red crayon on the front endpaper? Who was the H. Colby who received my copy of Georgette Heyer’s The Reluctant Widow for Christmas in 1947? Was he/she pleased with the gift? What series of events transpired to move the volume from H. Colby’s bookshelf to mine?

Maybe this is why my feelings toward ebook readers are so ambivalent. On the one hand, I’m pleased to see so many out-of-print books finding new life through this medium, and of course I’m delighted to receive a royalty check each month for sales of my own backlist, now available in electronic form. And yet even though I have a Kindle, I still prefer print books. Part of the problem, I believe, is the sameness of ebooks: no matter how different the subject matter, every book looks alike on my Kindle. The text appears in the same font, with the same spacing between lines, paragraphing, and all other formatting. All identical except the stories they tell.

But that, of course, is the most important part. And that, in the end, may be what will eventually make me fall in love with ebooks too. After all, my love of books had to come from somewhere, some book in my now long-forgotten childhood that made me hungry for more of that. Maybe I just haven’t yet stumbled across that story, unavailable except in electronic form, that sends me to the computer determined to clutter up my Kindle’s memory banks with more. Maybe the next electronic book I read will be the one to have me devouring ebooks like a junkie in search of his next fix.

I wouldn’t be a bit surprised.

Because I love books.

Good Storytelling

Tuesday, September 20th, 2011

My Left Foot is story of Christy Brown, brought to life on the screen by Daniel Day-Lewis.

Christy Brown was born with cerebral palsy to a Dublin couple who eventually had 22 children; Christy was one of the 13 who survived.

As with all amazing movies, it leaves you with haunting messages that return unbidden throughout the day. The boisterous family life depicted in the movie is said to have been accurate. There is a short clip in the special features section of Mrs. Brown, Christy's determined mother. Thinking about Christy Brown and how incredibly resourceful and utterly undefeatable he was in his quest for normalcy makes me search deep within myself for any shred of such traits.

It is a huge gift to engage thoroughly with excellent story-telling, and this movie proved to be a Monday night surprise we won't soon forget. For further reading see the wikipedia entry here and the entry here.

The biggest surprise, though, is not only that Christy Brown wrote the book that led to the movie. He also did the illustrations. All with the only limb he could control - his left foot. It is no wonder Daniel Day-Lewis got an Oscar for his performance, which included typing with his toes.

But what brought tears to my eyes was another clip of Christy Brown himself, slipping a new page into his typewriter and typing away - no hands - just with his left foot.


Did I complain when my computer was at the Apple Hospital? Shame on me!

Never Cut the Cats

Saturday, January 15th, 2011

Flash here. Donít believe what Cindy said last time she wrote. I was not in a snit. I was BUSY coordinating† an important mission, thank you very much. Someone had to provide the inspiration for the felines in the plot of her new story.

Then we heard from our agent who said there was too much unconnected stuff going on in the story. She told Cindy to decide what was vital to the storyline and cut the rest. She gave Cindy a whole list of possibilities, including the cats Iíd worked so hard to inspire.

Cut the cats? Can you imagine? I mean weíre talking about felines here. What could be more vital to the story? Of course, these particular characters are not nearly as cool as me, but still. You donít just go cutting cats out of stories willy nilly!

Where would we be if The Cat in the Hat, Garfield, and Puss in Boots had been cut from their stories, huh? Just thinking about it makes my tail bristle.

Cindy was sympathetic, but she told me, ìWhatís the point of getting an agent if youíre not going to listen to her advice?î

ìAnd what about your feline muse?î I shot back. ìIsnít his advice important? Iím the one who got you that agent!î

Cindy laughed and patted my imaginary head.

So I held my breath and put my claws in standby mode. Iíd worked too hard on my creations to give them up without a fight.

Cindy got busy over the next few weeks. She cut the evil government agent. She cut the parentsí death. She even cut the robot climax scene. But she didnít cut the cats.

Instead, she molded and shaped the cats until they were vital to the story. I let out my breath, thinking catastrophe had been averted.

Then she got another idea. One that changed lots of things in the story. One that made my cat characters less vital . . .

Stay tuned. I havenít given up yet. After all, I am Flash, Feline Extraordinaire. And everybody knows you should never, ever cut the cats!

Look What the Wind Blew In

Monday, January 10th, 2011


Look what the wind blew in early one fine morning.

It brought the month of January and came without a warning.

Temperatures drop, I shiver and shake.

A crystal glaze forms over the lake.

Snowflakes dance, fall from the sky.

Snowdrifts gather, ever so high.

Icicles shimmer without any sound.

Friendly snowmen stand jolly and round.

Jackets, mittens, knitted caps too

Snow boots, rosy cheeks, so much to do:



Ice Skating,



Snow forts,

Snow angels,


Hop, skip; jump, roll; slide and run.

Crisp, chilly weather means outdoor fun!

Laughter and cheers everyone can hear

Welcoming in a Happy New Year!

Thirty-one days, a wonderland of snow,

January passed quickly, until the wind began to blowÖ

Flash on a Mission

Sunday, October 17th, 2010

Itís been weeks and weeks, and we are still waiting to hear from three publishers. I have to tell you, curiosity is making my whiskers itch like crazy. Iím constantly checking the e-mail while Cindyís not looking. You canít blame a cat for being curious. Itís part of our natural feline charm, like taking naps in the sun and shedding on the furniture.

Meanwhile, the good news is that Cindy worked on my sequel, adding a brand new ending and several new scenes. Of course itís greatóonce again I save the day! Well, maybe I have a little help from my team, but not much.

The bad news is that as far as I can tell, sheís not going to write any more about yours truly until the first book sells.†

I donít think she realizes how bored I am sitting around doing nothing. A feline extraordinaire such as myself needs to stay busy. And donít bother getting me one of those stuffed felt miceótheyíre for sissy house cats. No, I want to get back to outsmarting butt-sniffers, defeating scar-faced men, and protecting secret inventions.

This situation called for some serious thinking, so I morphed into grooming mode. While working on my left hind leg I came up with the best idea ever. Why couldnít I provide the inspiration for the cats in her next story? Itís not as fun as being the star, and they canít possibly be as cool as I am, but it would be something to keep me busy while Iím waiting.

So I pawed through some of her notes and it seems her new idea doesnít have any cats at all.


My mission is clear. I must correct this unacceptable state of affairs. Everyone knows all fine literature should have at least one cat. Starting today, I will use all my persuasive powers to convince Cindy to work a cat into her plotline. I mean, how hard can it be?

This Life/Work Balance Thing

Sunday, September 26th, 2010

This balancing thing escapes me.† I think I am doing better at keeping track of what's what and then I go drop something.† I got two books on time management from the library and revamped my daily schedule ... but I still feel like a circus performer trying to keep plates spinning on sticks.† I run from one wobbling plate to another, giving each the amount of energy to keep it spinning.

Balancing Life in Your War Zones: A guide to Physical, Mental, and Spriitual Health

LeAnn Thieman's book makes me think and her personal story never fails to wow me.

So this month seemed like the perfect time to re-read Balancing Life in your War Zone: A guide to Physical, Mental, and Spritual Health by LeAnn Thieman.† Since it was published in 2008 I think I've read it cover to cover twice and skimmed through it several times.

Each time I glean something that seems appropriate for what I am experiencing at that time.† Like a devotional or collection of essays, there is always a tidbit that soothes my weariness or jazzes my bones. 🙂

Good reads are worth re-reading!
Anyone want to share a favorite book that stands up to reading again and again?

Back to the Drawing Board

Monday, June 21st, 2010

Hi, itís me, Flash. Cindy is catching up today after being away from home for a week. Writing this blog was WAY down on her to-do list, so I thought Iíd use this opportunity to get something off my chest.

See, last week after dropping off a group of kids at church camp, she used the time as a writing retreat. Seeing as Iím her favorite main character, I knew Iíd be needed. Plus, an exotic vacation away from our little bay window writing nook sounded like just the ticket.

BUT, this retreat was not held in the mountains, near a gurgling brook, like I expected. It wasnít held at the beach, either. No, Cindy never bothered to mention our plush accommodations were going to be at the Super 8 in York, NE. Donít worry, though, it was better than it sounds. We scored a nice corner room with a viewóof the parking lot.

Now, York itself is a nice little town. American flags line the main street and big old houses overlook the charming brick streets. Cindy was so enchanted by some of these houses, she probably would have spent the week in jail for trying to peek in the windows if it wasnít for me keeping her in line.

But we werenít there for houses and brick streets and walks on the trail along the river. No, we were there to write. So when Cindy fired up her laptop, I was surprised to find her starting a new storyóminus yours truly. At first I thought maybe Iíd appear a little further in, but by Friday and page 72, I was still nowhere to be seen. Needless to say, I was ticked. Iíd come all this way and spent a week in a dumpy motel for nothing?

About this time Cindy started to have doubts. The story wasnít panning out like sheíd hoped. She didnít buy the main characterís motivations, the whole thing seemed like too much of a stretch.

Well, duh. You tell me, if you were eight years old, who would you rather read about? Milly, the perky kitten, or FLASH, Feline Extraordinaire?


Just because Iím a figment of her imagination doesnít mean Iím stupid. If she had only listened to me to start with she wouldnít have wasted a whole week of undivided writing time.

Next time Iím insisting on the beach!

The Book Aunt

Monday, February 15th, 2010

When I was a little girl, my Great-aunt Thelma always sent me books as gifts. Now I know to some kids this might rate up there with underwear for Christmas, but to me it was heaven. Aunt Thelma had no children of her own, but she had an uncanny knack of choosing books I loved. To this day I have the well-worn, first-edition copies of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory and James and the Giant Peach with her neat cursive inscription and the date of 1973. I was eight.

In my life I have read thousands of books, but Roald Dahl still heads the list as one of my favorite authors ever. As a childrenís writer myself, I aspire to his extraordinary ability to invent completely ridiculous situations and characters that are somehow totally believable. What kid could resist this opening scene from James and the Giant Peach?

"Here is James Henry Trotter when he was about four years old. (illustration)

Up until this time, he had had a happy life, living peacefully with his mother and father in a beautiful house beside the sea. There were always plenty of other children for him to play with, and there was the sandy beach for him to run about on, and the ocean to paddle in. It was the perfect life for a small boy.

Then, one day, Jamesís mother and father went to London to do some shopping, and there a terrible thing happened. Both of them suddenly got eaten up (in full daylight, mind you, and on a crowded street) by an enormous angry rhinoceros which had escaped from the London Zoo."

See what I mean? So, what books do you remember from your childhood?