Monthly Archives: May 2013

The Aroma of Reading

I wish computers had scratch and sniff screens. If they did, I’d let you smell my coffee. Long story short, I used to Hate the bitter, black water. In fact, I didn’t start drinking it until about three years ago. My relationship with coffee began with chai tea in the mornings with Dear Hubby. That is, until shipping it to our little wilderness outpost got to be an expensive pain in the rear.

Yet, the experience of sipping my tea on the deck in the wee hours of the morning before the kids got up for school and Dear Hubby trudged off to work was something I refused to give up. So I started drinking coffee. Or rather, I started drinking a splash of coffee in my creamer.

Today, I actually use more coffee than creamer. In part because Dear Daughter and I have started a love affair with flavored coffee. This morning’s brew: Toasted Pecan Kona Snickerdoo with hazelnut creamer. Yep, three coffees mixed together to create a drink that tastes like liquid Girl Scout Cookies.

Yesterday, we slurped down a pot of Double Caramel Chocolate Brownie. Who knows what delights tomorrow will bring.

Regardless, my house smells yummy, my taste buds are tickled, and you’re probably wondering what the heck coffee has to do with reading. It will come as no surprise when I say that a novel is exactly like a cup of joe.

Seriously, a well-written passage awakens the senses and stimulates the brain. Coffee–and great literature–is calming/exhilarating, and slightly addictive. It is also highly versatile with enough flavors, caffeine combos, and creamer options to keep even the pickiest drinkers happy. No two pots need ever taste the same.

Reading is similarly nuanced. It is personal and intimate, with each reader connecting to characters and plot lines on a different level and for a variety of reasons. Even reading the same story years later can taste as different as the first sip of the morning from the very last swallow of the day. Each drop–each word–in between should be savored for what it means at that moment.

Yeah, a good book is exactly like a mug of specialty java.

What’s brewing in your pot today? What books have you enjoyed recently and why? What’s next on your TBR list? Which books have grown with/on you over the years?

Curious minds want to know. In the meantime, I have a mug of coffee in one hand, The Light Between Oceans in the other and a rocking chair waiting outside.

Back to the Eighties

On Saturday, I loved the Eighties all over again.

IMG_8313_3Preparing for Rock of Ages at the Orpheum, I raided my Dear Daughter’s closet for a few things…

I only had to cut up one shirt and found all the funky jewelry in forgotten bathroom drawers.

Surprisingly, styling Eighties Hair is just like riding a bike–with a blow dryer, lots o’ hairspray and a comb.

The only thing missing was a bottle of Baby Soft perfume.

Rock of Ages was amazing, and I thank my wonderful sis for setting it all up, and the rest of my sisters (and Jessie) for donning Eighties attire with me.

Jean skirts and fish net stockings. Big bangs and lots of lace. Off the shoulder sleeves and multiple ear piercings. Leg warmers, crimped hair, layered polo shirts with the collars popped and pinned pants…

Yeah, what wasn’t to love?

Besides the rockin’ music, what was your favorite part of the Eighties? Who’s your favorite Eighties rock band/song? Movie?

Curious minds want to know.

P.S. I’m not really an Amazon. My 5’6″ just looks that way next to my pint-sized daughter.

Automatic or Manual Transmission: which drives your writing?

Twenty-five years ago, I learned how to drive a stick shift. In fact, it was in my then-boyfriend-now-husband’s Camaro that I got pulled over by a cop for speeding. It was the second time I’d driven a car with a manual transmission. I batted my baby blues and said I was just learning how to drive.

“Looks like you’re learning some bad habits,” he said and handed me back my temporary, paper license. Yeah, I was that fresh to driving period.

He let me go with a warning, and I vowed that I would work on my driving skillz. You see, driving a stick shift is soooo much more difficult than driving an automatic. Hills suck. Hills in winter doubly suck. Starting smoothly takes practice and shifting gears can be tricky–especially with a tight shift pattern. Unintentionally killing the engine is a symptom of novice drivers.

But, oh can you have fun when you’re fully in charge of the power!

Writing comes in two varieties: manual and automatic. The latter is nearly a no-brainer. Sure, you have to watch for the other vehicles and obey traffic signs, but after a few years, it becomes as unconscious as breathing. You just do it, because the car novel nearly drives itself.

Manual transmission is a whole ‘nother story. It takes practice and skill and finessing. It’s a completely conscious way of driving your story forward. It adds an element of power and control–or the lack thereof for the newbie behind the wheel–and nothing is more freeing than learning how to slam shift a car to maximize the energy purring under the hood.

This isn’t about pantsing or plotting. It’s about being conscious of the story as you write. It’s about having one hand on the wheel and the other on the gear shift. It’s about listening to the story’s RPM’s and deliberately acting upon the natural rhythms, not just sitting back and letting the cruise control handle it all.

What kind of writer are you?

Curious minds want to know.

Inspired to Give A Book Away

Baseball season is once again in full swing. On Monday, Middle Son played against the team whose coach inspired my short story in The Fall: Tales from the Apocalypse.

The coach was just as obnoxious and demeaning as he was a year ago. He barked at the kids and undercut their self-esteem. Nobody could run fast enough, catch well enough or play good enough for him. The only thing he taught his players was poor sportsmanship.

I guess you can’t teach an old curmudgeon new manners. Nor can you change the emotional frenzy that surrounds little league games.

But, what happens when the outcome actually matters?  What happens when the fate of the world rests on the score of a single game?

You can find out by reading Little League in The Fall. While perusing this anthology, you’ll be surprised by the multitude of ways in which humanity lies on the brink of extinction. And with luck, you’ll discover some cool new authors with full-length novels coming to a bookstore near you.

To win your free copy of The Fall: Tales from the Apocalypse,

  1. leave a comment on this post so I know you’re interested,
  2. email me a request (pretty simple for the socially shy),
  3. or share the give-away on any social media you like to engage in. Just send me an email with the information on where you posted it. Use #FreeFall on twitter so I can find your mention.

Better yet, if you have already read either Spring Fevers or The Fall, you can enter to win a free copy of BOTH summer anthologies from Elephant’s Bookshelf Press. Summer’s Edge and Summer’s Double Edge are slated for release in June.

All you have to do is write an honest review of either anthology–or any of the short stories within them–and send me an email link to your review. Every review is a potential winner regardless of commentary. I want to know what moves you as a reader.

*the deadline for all comments/shares/emails is May 30th*

  • Contestants must possess a US address for ease of delivery.
  • Winners will be picked via a random drawing.
  • Winners will be contacted via email–thus making it uber important to leave your email address where I can find it  (such as in an email to catwoods.writer@gmail.com). I promise your email will not be used for anything other than congratulatory purposes. Pinky swear.

Looking for other great giveaways?

I have yet to find a reliable Sci-Fi/Fantasy blog/site that has a good collection of giveaways. If anyone knows of one, please let me know and I will add it.

In fact, let me know all your go-to spots for your favorite giveaways.  

Curious minds want to know!

Cheers and Jeers: the dichotomy within us all

A cool breeze blew across the track, scattering the boisterous laughter of our middle school runners. Eight fifth-grade girls settled into their lanes for the fifty meter dash. Behind them, another eight girls awaited their heat. Milling around were about twenty-five fifth grade boys, stretching their muscles for their upcoming race.

Two of the girls at the line were special education students.

As the runners prepared for the starting gun shot, a cheer cut through the other noises of this middle school track and field day. The fifth grade boys had raised their voices as one, chanting in unison, “Let’s go, Katy, let’s go!”

Listening to those boys honestly and openly cheer on two of their classmates who would typically get made fun of in most other public schools brought tears to my eyes and a hitch in my chest.

Later that night I confronted three of the boys who had been there. I told them I was proud of them and that what they had done was amazing. They shrugged nonchalantly, as if this public show of support was nothing. “We love Katy. She’s everyone’s best friend.”

That sentiment was not the case for a group of sixth grade boys. Earlier, I’d had the unfortunate experience of standing within ear shot of them. Instead of supporting the fifty meter dash runners, they were placing bets on whom would lose each heat.

“She’s too fat to run.”

“He’s so stupid. What a loser.”

“INSERT EVEN WORSE COMMENTARY HERE.”

Sadly, a few adults were sitting with the boys. Even more disturbing was the fact that some of them laughed along with the preteens and their completely unacceptable behavior. Heck, they may as well have been jeering right along with the kids.

This dichotomy reminded me of the keynote speaker at our Dear Daughter’s induction into Honor Society the week before. Highly paraphrased by me, the retired principal told the story of a Native American chief discussing the two types of wolves within us–the good ones and the bad ones.

When asked which wolf would win, the chief replied, “The one you feed.”

And so, you must ask yourself, which wolf do you feed?

Curious minds want to know.

Cast Away the Norm and Survive Outside the Writing Box

Last night I watched Cast Away with my three boys. This classic movie incited tears and general wailing by Youngest at Wilson’s epic final scene and renewed Middle’s fear of flying. It also sparked an interesting conversation. Who, among us on the couch, would survive a four-year stint on a deserted island?

Hands down, Eldest won.

Surviving with next to nothing means a whole lot of ingenuity. We decided that his dyslexia–which translates into the fact that his whole world is outside the box in how he perceives things–sets him up nicely to excel with a handful of random objects.

In Cast Away, ice skates became knives and dental appliances. A little bit of blood and a ball became a best friend.

These are the kinds of innovations necessary to survive outside the normal conditions we call life. Some of us are more prepared to do so than others.

The same is true in writing. It is easy to get hooked into writing the norm. Some novels are very formulaic. Some very trendy. Some are very every day.

A handful of novels, however, thumb their noses at the norm and jump out of the airplane before it ever crashes. They want to survive in the wilds with a unique character and a few random objects.

There is a fine line, however, between surviving and committing suicide. Publishers may be afraid of taking on outside-the-box books, and readers may not quite be ready for a castaway novel to grace their beloved book shelves.

One of my very astute, successful and prolific writer friends recently said that she loves the freedom to write what she wants. But, she’s noticed a definite connection between her book sales and her willingness to toe the line. The further her books veer from the standard expectations, the less sales they get.

Until–or unless–a novel breaks away from tradition and creates a whole new norm. Hunger Games, anyone?

So, how can we tell the difference between just edgy enough and too edgy? How can we ensure that the twist we give our novels will help it swim rather than sink? What tips do you have for walking the line, toeing it or stepping over it into unchartered lands?

Curious minds want to know.

COPPA for Kid Lit Writers

In today’s society, it is too easy to interact with virtual strangers. We share information like everyone in the world will keep our secrets and protect our innocence…just because it’s the right thing to do.

That’s not the case.

Books like Sarah Darer Littmans’s Want to Go Private? prove that the internet isn’t a safe place.

Because of scammers and predators and other sinister-minded cyber peeps, it’s a writer’s job to make interactions as safe as possible for their potential readers. In particular to children.

COPPA is an act that sets out to protect children and the information they provide on the web. If you engage with children under the age of thirteen via chats, websites, etc where you may either actively or passively gather information about them, you absolutely must educate yourself on COPPA and your responsibilities as a blogger or website owner.

Info about the Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act can be found at coppa.org.

As a parent, how do you protect your children from online issues? As a writer, what are you doing to protect those you engage with? Also, as a blogger, what types of info do you collect and what do you do with it?

Curious minds want to know.

Giving Back: Researching Donation Options

So, as a writer with a handful of short stories and two books in the publication channels, I’ve been giving a lot of thought to my goals as an author.

I want to make a difference in the lives of the kids I write for. I can do that in two ways. I can write compelling stories that help my readers reach their potential, and I can donate a certain amount of my proceeds to the causes I believe in.

The first option seems relatively easy in comparison to the second one. I have spent the last few weeks researching how best to donate to the futures of my potential audience. Trust me, it’s not as easy as it first seems.

In part, I balk at scholarships that have a GPA criteria. There are 1001 of them out there for outstanding students. These kids are already well on their way to success. Instead, I want to make sure the kids who benefit from any money/goods I donate are at risk of not succeeding.

You see, literacy is probably my biggest soap box issue. Poverty, crime and literacy rates are so tightly linked that some states base their need for prison beds on the reading success of elementary students. This is a great American travesty and not the only one out there when it comes to managing literacy.

Eldest Son has severe dyslexia. Completing high school was a struggle. Getting academic scholarships was not in his cards. Yet, according to research, his brain works six times harder to complete educational tasks as a traditional student’s. By rights shouldn’t that entitle him to six times the scholarship money? Alas, however, it is these students who fall through the cracks and end up in jail. The ones we don’t help succeed when it is whithin our ability to do so.

Another part of the equation is that many programs are geographically based. Sure I can donate to the Detroit area where 47% of the population is functionally illiterate. But I don’t live in Chicago. If I’m going to pinpoint a single geographic area, it will be my own.

Yet my neck of the woods doesn’t have a viable charity/scholarship for the individuals I want to help. In fact, my neck of the woods–because it’s small and at the corner of Nowhere and More Nowhere–gets overlooked by nearly all important services. As a whole, we are economically and educationally suppressed and service poor.

Anyway, long story short, I am having a difficult time finding a charity to donate to that hits the demographic I am passionate about: at risk students who could reach their potential if given the chance.

I want to be part of that chance.

Any suggestions?

The Absolutely True Secret to Success in Writing and Life

This morning I awoke to a blanket of white. Snow on May 1st. May Day. You know, the day we’re supposed to bounce around the neighborhood bearing little baskets of goodies for those we love?

And it’s snowing.

My first reaction was, “Are you freakin’ kidding me?”

Then I looked closer. Fat flakes drifted to the ground, covering the grass but not the hardscape. It’s beautiful. Even for May 1st. And it got me thinking. Too often, I–we–let that initial rush of emotion make the statement for my day.

So, I put on my writer’s cap and asked, “What if?”

What if today was the last snow I would ever see?

That made me feel better until I realized “what if” isn’t really good enough. It implies that the only important thing is the event and not the person in the middle of the event. It is passive and emotionless. It’s boring in the sense that every moment of our lives is a what if.

It isn’t the “what if” that’s important. It’s the “what will.” The “if then.”

If today is the last snow I will ever see, then…

  • I will grab a cup of coffee and sit on the front step, watching the flakes cling to the tree branches, creating beautiful ice sculptures.
  • I will put on my boots and run in the yard, lobbing tiny snowballs at my little boys.
  • I will stand in the middle of the sidewalk, stretch my arms to my sides and catch snowflakes on my tongue.
  • I will revel in the feel of melting snow on my cheeks.
  • I will live.

It isn’t what happens that matters. It’s what we do.

This is absolutely true in writing and in life. If our characters–if we–sit around waiting for the next what if, all we have is a series of events strung together by a common character. If they act–if they live–then our stories can move forward in a satisfying way. And so can our lives.

That said, I’ve got a cup of coffee and a snowfall waiting for me. What about you?

Curious minds want to know!