REMEMBER ME

The Quotable Writer, a book filled with

“Witty and wise…words from writers and others on
the craft, practice and business of writing…”

was a gift to me from my daughter.

blogclip

“What a wee part of a person’s life are his acts and his words! His real life is led in his head, and it is known to none but himself.” –Mark Twain

 

I turn to it from time to time for inspiration and recently decided to use it as a jumping off point for future posts.
As a Book Muse…of sorts. I would begin with the first topic, and explore a new one each month. It seemed like a marvelous idea, until I actually opened the book and saw the first topic: Biography.

Ugh! This isn’t going to work. What inspiration can I possibly gleam from quotes about writing biographies? I’m a sci-fi/fantasy writer. I don’t even pretend to tell the truth. So, I closed the book and set it aside. Yet, my book muse had already taken flight, her winged thoughts fluttering around my head whispering, “biography, biography…that’s the topic!” And wouldn’t you know…it is. It really is.

REMEMBER ME…

Be warned, people say, on your death-bed it’s not the hours you missed working you’ll regret, but the hours you missed spending time with your loved ones.

True…I guess.

Yet, have you ever read a biography about somebody whose greatest achievement in life was hanging out with his or her family? Biographies are not obituaries. Obituaries are filled with families. Of so and sos left behind to grieve. Everyone gets an obituary. Only people that live interesting, *significant lives have biographies written about them. Which makes me wonder… am I living my life in a way I would find significant and interesting?

Would my life inspire me?

I don’t care what anyone else thinks, but I’d like to think that if I ever had the chance to read my own biography, I’d be pleased with how I’d spent each day. That I’d accomplished certain goals. Not Einsteinian sized goals—just MY goals.

It’s definitely not the same as living every day as if it was your last. Heck, if this was my last day on Earth, hanging out with friends and family would be the only thing I’d care about. But it’s not my last day…at least I hope not.

–Excuse me while I call my mom and tell her I love her.

(Okay, I’m back.)

Maybe it’s as simple as asking: Am I living my life the way I want to live it? Or, from my author point of view: Am I writing my own story?

Anyway… it’s something to think about.

*Biographies about celebrities (i.e. people that live interesting, insignificant lives) are purely gossip and simply don’t count.

 

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Talking Tribble: My Fascination with Alien Languages—and Where The Heck Are The Bathrooms?

This might surprise some of you (or not…probably not), but I was pretty much a nerd in middle school and high school (as opposed to the super cool person I am now). LoriJo - Version 6A few years ago, I showed my daughter, who was then in 8th grade, a page from my 8th grade diary. Written in 19—never mind the year—my diary entry for Feb. 27th began thus:

“If I could have any wish I wanted it would be to go to the land of Narnia. Some days I sit and think of ways I could get there. Now if I were to read this 10 years later I would think to myself what is this land of Narnia?”

Needless to say, I had an aversion to commas. And, truthfully, my future self can still picture Narnia perfectly in her much older head. Anyway…

My daughter’s reaction was not to laugh, but rather to look at me seriously, and with a fair amount of pity say, “Oh, mom, you wouldn’t last a day in my school.” (Honestly, had it not been for the safe haven of the drama department, I wouldn’t have lasted a day in my high school.)

The reason I bring this up is that a month ago I agreed to write a post for Sci-fi month that addressed my fascination with alien languages. (No, not the ones they speak across the border; rather, the ones spoken on the other side of the universe. i.e. Klingon.) A fascination that began post Narnia, but was initiated by its very same author, C.S. Lewis, in his science fiction trilogy known as the Ransom or Cosmic Trilogy series. 41LoJc-7rZL._SL500_SY344_BO1,204,203,200_Long before I realized Klingon was a language (decades before I attended my first production of The Klingon Christmas Carol) I discovered the Malacandrian Language spoken by the Hross in Out of the Silent Planet, the first book of Lewis’ science fiction series. For whatever reason (Who knows what was going on in my 16-year-old mind) I was so fascinated by this made up language, I painstakingly made my own glossary and taped it inside the book.

Outofthesilentplanet

I love that I wrote, “These are words used in this book.”

When I look back and try to analyze my fascination, I realize it has little to do with the language. Rather, when I read a science fiction book in which humans end up communicating with alien creatures, my imaginative, yet highly organized and (though some might argue against this) rational mind needs to understand two things. One, how do creatures from other planets understand each other (i.e. the universal translators of Star Trek) and two, what words, or ideas would not be translatable—and therefore require the use of an alien word?

 I also wonder about the bathrooms. Think of it—different planets, different body parts—would human space travelers even be able to use alien bathrooms? 

uni-race

Fast forward several years, and I have now written my own science fiction novel. Much like C.S. Lewis, I am not a linguist, but I have included a glossary because, well, honestly, there were some Circanthian (and Tsendi) words, which to my reasoning, defied translation.

I also included a toilet scene. I couldn’t help myself.

In the electronic edition of WHEELS, the first time each alien word is used, you can simply click on it and link straight to the glossary (and from the glossary back to the page). The paperback edition also includes the glossary, but sad to say, the glossary did not make it into the audible edition. Never fear, however, nerd that I am (I mean, was) I’m prepared to help you with this. Simply click on Kirk and his tribbles to download your own PDF copy of the glossary, free of charge.

thetroublewithtribbleshd1207You’re welcome. By the way, if you read this post, you’re probably a nerd. Happy Sci-fi month! (And T-Metz… Happy 26th Wedding Anniversary. Love you! xoxooxo)

Creativity and Happiness

In 2011 when I began my blog, I called it Searching4Meaning. I chose that title because, honestly, I wasn’t sure what I was going to write, but exploring certain ideas I’d been thinking about, or ideas I would eventually think of, at least gave me something to blog about. And, I really wanted to start a blog.

My original blog header

My original blog header

Here I am in 2013 and the name of my blog may have changed, but all my old Searching4Meaning posts are still here. And, today I wanted to share a short, but Searching4Meaning-like thought with you. It has to do with Creativity and Happiness.

Have you ever noticed how it’s impossible to be unhappy when you’re in the midst of creating something you love!

For example, if you love to bake, baking a batch of super delicious cookies makes you happy. For a writer, like me, putting pen to paper (well, fingers to keyboard) might involve some frustrating moments…but the joy I feel at the completion of a new chapter, or even a stunning paragraph, can make even the gloomiest day shine! It’s true.

Sidewalk art - new until it rains!

Sidewalk art – new until it rains!

My husband called me from the road yesterday. (He travels a lot for work) He asked how my day was. I told him it was great. I’d written a couple of posts for November and finished another chapter in my novel. I’d also exercised. I was feeling awesome. Then I remembered—the dentist’s office.

How could I have forgotten?

I’d spent the early part of the day in the dentist’s office. Bad enough—right? However, just before I’d gone there, I’d received some bad news about a family member and, as a result, arrived at the dentist’s office in a foul mood. A majorly foul mood. You know those straws that suck the spit out when you’re lying back with your mouth wide open listening to the soothing sounds of the dentist’s drill against your tooth…well, my mood was so foul I was like one of those straws, except instead of spit, I was sucking all the happiness out of the dentist’s office.

imagesHummm, happiness in a dentist’s office? I guess shouldn’t feel so guilty.

Anyway, by the time my husband called, I’d totally forgotten about my horrible morning, for I’d come home and spent the rest of the day writing—creating something new!

I’ve noticed this phenomenon before, but for some reason—maybe because I’m in new environment, a new home—it’s finally starting to sink in. If you’re a creative person, as I am, being creative is one of the best ways to be happy. But not just being creative, being productively creative—creating something new. I still have to spend time editing and marketing my work. I still have to deal with the everyday stuff and the real life problems. But, just a little creativity: a new paragraph, a new page or even a blog post—like the sun bursting through the clouds on a rainy day—can make all the difference.

As Oprah would say, that’s my “Ah Ha” moment. What makes you happy?

If Only… Musings on regrets, no regrets and my role as a parent

If Only…

Yesterday was a milestone for me. I received the proof for the paperback edition of my novel, WHEELS. The journey to its publication has often felt unbearably long. And, it has been long—12 years long! Back in January of 2000, when I first began writing, I knew almost from the outset, I wanted to write a science fiction novel… I just didn’t know how to go about it.

Or maybe I did?

You see, before I was a writer, I was a mother. Becoming a parent brings into often painful focus, things like past mistakes, missed opportunities, and the wasted hours of our youth. The acknowledgment that we could have been so much more “If only…” is the reason most parents encourage their children to study harder and be persistent, among other things.

While this sounds like a bad thing—and certainly, at this point, some parents do give up and transfer the burden of success to their children—it can also be a good thing. A wake up call! A chance to apply all the advice we heard from our parents, the same advice that now springs forth from our own mouths… a chance to see what we can do with the rest our lives if we just give it our all!

For me, the wake up call came the day my child began piano lessons. I knew it wouldn’t be long before she realized her dream of performing an endless repertoire of Disney songs for her friends was going to take far longer than she’d expected. The most frustrating thing about studying piano is that in order to get from point A, learning the notes on the keyboard, to point B, playing your favorite songs with ease, usually take years and many hours of practice. Suddenly, the goal you once thought was only a few lessons away, looks so far off it’s almost impossible to see. That’s why most people quit taking piano lessons. That’s why I quickly stepped in and managed my child’s expectations. I gave her a simple goal, one with results she could see.

Practice twenty minutes a day, five days a week. Keep this up for one year, and you’ll be amazed at how much progress you’ve made. Note, I didn’t promise she’d be a concert pianist. I only promised that she’d see progress.

So, now back to me. 12 years ago, I decided to follow a life long dream and pursue writing. Specifically, writing fiction stories for publication. Like a novice piano student, I began with few skills and unrealistic expectations. Luckily, when reality hit, I had my own advice to fall back on. I knew if I gave up, 10 years from now I’d be in exactly the same place, looking back and thinking, “If only…” except that I’d be ten years older and feel that much worse about it. On the other hand, I could forge ahead, and at the very worst, never see publication, but at least have written stories I could share with my children and grandchildren.

So, that’s what I did. And today, beside me, sits a completed science fiction novel with my name on it. But honestly, that’s not even the best part. The best part of this 12-year journey, are all the things I didn’t expect. Though my ultimate goal was my novel, along the way, I wrote a picture book, which Dial Books for Young Readers, a division of the Penguin Group, published. Then, during what I consider a slump period, where I was close to giving up, a friend convinced me to try writing nonfiction, educational books-for-hire. Never in my wildest dreams had I ever considered writing nonfiction books. Yet, now I have 21 books in print and six more due out in January of 2013. In addition, one of my rejected picture book manuscripts became the lyrics for a children’s song due out in 2013. And about that sci-fi novel… its route to publication was also unexpected.

Twelve years ago—even as little as a year and a half ago—I would never have considered self-publishing. However, the publishing industry has changed. There are fewer large publishing houses and many more eBooks. Given that, even when I was traditionally published, I ended up building my own website, creating my own blog, promoting and scheduling my own school visits, and setting up my own appearances at places like Printers Row Book Fair in Chicago, I decided this time around, I might as self-publish. More importantly, I knew that WHEELS was ready for publication. It’s a lot of work, and I still have a lot to learn, but I’ve never felt better about my writing.

I have a new goal now: a new novel. With twelve years of writing experience behind me, it shouldn’t take me as long to complete this one. We’ll see! Butt in chair; write every day—that, my friends, is how you write a novel. Until then… set your own simple goal and stick with it. Check back with me in a year, we’ll compare progress. Happy Writing!

 

Everything Under The Sun, Including Squirrels Having…

Jedi Squirrels

(This is one of my favorite posts from just over a year ago. I’m reposting it because, well, I really like it.)

So, I’m sitting in front of my computer wondering what to blog about, and it occurs to me that I have nothing new to say.

Nothing!

And that’s when it hits me—the perfect idea for a blog. (Okay…not perfect, but at least an idea!)

Pirate Squirrel

It all goes back to a few summers ago when I was sitting outside the coffee shop with my coffee shop friends. It was beautiful summer day, and our dogs were out there with us too. Much as summer days go, we were all sipping our coffee and discussing things like world peace, whether milk was cheaper at Jewel or Walgreens this week and how to make the perfect peach pie.

Squirrel Drinking Coffee

Somewhere between peace and peach pie, and pausing to give our dogs a few more treats, it occurred to one of us that a person could probably Google just about anything and, sure enough, find something about it on the Internet.

I pause here to warn you: it was sunny day, we were all well into our second or third cup of coffee, and the subject we came up with to test this little theory of ours on wasn’t exactly PG. However, in the spirit of truth in journalism, I continue.

One my coffee buddies, who shall go unnamed (Larry), has a reputation as an avid animal lover and protector of all things fluffy; in particular, squirrels. Which is the only excuse I can think of to justify the subject we chose: Squirrels having sex. Actually, I’m pretty sure it went something like this:

“Yep, I bet someone’s even put up a website about squirrels having sex!”

So, we googled it and—OMG! —there were over 1,000,000 results, not to mention videos!

No, I didn’t watch any of them!

Well…maybe one.

My point is, I no longer need to ponder the meaning of existence—I can simply Google it. Don’t believe me? Look at these results:

Here’s my challenge to you: Think of the most unlikely topic you can imagine – something so crazy you can’t even imagine another human being thinking about it—and Google it. If you’re brave enough, let me know what you find out.

Drunk Squirrel

Followed By A Scalloped Potato Recipe

@Scallopedpotato

About a week ago, I noticed one of my Twitter followers was a scalloped potato recipe. Linda’s scalloped potato recipe, apparently. I don’t know Linda, but I was able to get to know her scalloped potato recipe a little better by clicking on a link to it. I have to admit, if I’m ever in need of a scalloped potato recipe, I may click on that link again. If I can find it. The scalloped potato recipe doesn’t tweet very much. At this posting, 6 tweets to be exact.

Anyway, my first thought was, Why is this scalloped potato recipe following me? Obviously, I’ve underestimated scalloped potatoes and their love of young adult science fiction. Silly me! Scalloped potatoes are the perfect audience for my book. Smothered in all those bland, milky layers of white sauce—of course they’d be searching for a little sci-fi adventure. Or, at least, a few jalapeños tucked in between their layers.

So, 6 lonely little tweets and not even a fancy quiche or a gourmet truffle–just your standard old scalloped potato recipe. A scalloped potato recipe that has OVER 4 TIMES the amount of followers I do! Yes, Really—4 Times! I spent years writing and editing my novel, slaving over every word, begging people to read it (People who, I might add, were very happy they did!), and this saucy little scalloped potato recipe comes along all starchy and buttery, and full of milk and onions, and snags 4 TIMES the amount of followers.

It’s enough to make somebody go au gratin!

Argggg!

Fine, I’m finished ranting. I just hope the scalloped potato recipe has the decency to buy my book because, well, I’m starving and for some reason I’m craving…scalloped potatoes.

Suddenly craving scalloped potatoes? Go to: http://www.scallopedpotatoesrecipe.ca/

The Last Egg: A story about Easter Eggs, Aliens and Faith

Easter eggs

Easter eggs (Photo credit: StSaling)

It was a chilly, rainy, Easter Sunday. We’d been to church and back, and my family, all nine hundred and ninety nine of them—okay, maybe only seventeen—were tromping around my house hunting for Easter Eggs. I was pleased because this year was going to be different. Every Easter my nephews talk me into letting them hide the Easter Eggs, and every Easter there’s always one egg we can’t find. One lousy egg that eludes everyone—for a couple of months—then it’s just a simple matter of sniff, find, and fumigate. But those eggs—those last eggs aren’t the ones this story is about.

As I was saying, this year was going to be different. This year I’d hidden the eggs. Not only hidden them, but noted in detail, via my fancy MacBook Pro, the exact location of all twenty-four eggs. It was brilliant.

Confident, I tromped around with my video camera, trying to capture some golden Kodak moments. Great Grandma stealing candy out of the kids’ baskets, my dad stealing eggs out of my nephew’s basket, my dog stealing marshmallow bunnies he’d puke up sometime during the middle of the night; and of course, the innocent faces of children beaming as they uncovered beautiful multi-colored eggs.

I had just run upstairs for a quick bathroom break, was finished and standing at the top of the stairs, my foot poised to take that first step down—when it happened. There was a kind of blue-green shimmer and then a short, sharp, electric-sounding ZZZZAP. I paused, pulled my foot back, scrunched my eyes and—everything looked okay. Everything until—Georgia! My daughter was holding an egg up in the air, staring at it and staring at it and—oh my gosh, I thought, look at Great Grandma! I bent forward. She must have great thigh muscles because she’s been squatting over that same chair, trying to sit down for thirty, thirty-one, thirty-two—Holy Easter Lilies—THEY’re all frozen!

I fell against the wall, trying to catch my breath and unscramble my brain. Atomic bomb? No—that’s ridiculous! It must be some sort of advanced time manipulation technology. Russian, maybe Chinese—Holy Cow! And that’s when I saw them—Aliens. Three of them, beamed right into the middle of my living room. Little green men, big heads, wide eyes, skinny bodies and really, really deep voices. That was weird.

And wouldn’t you know it, I’d left my camera sitting beside the toilet! Inching backwards, I ducked inside my son’s bedroom, peeked my

Alien

head out, just enough to see, and prepared to listen.

You might think it strange I wasn’t more frightened, I mean with my family down there and all; but looking back, I believe it was because the alien’s voices were so mesmerizing…almost sultry.

“Joey,” said the biggest one, his skinny green stomach bulging around the sides. An overweight alien? “Rememba, da boss sent us here to observe. No funny business. Don’t want dis turning into one of doz…tabaloid fiascos.”

Did I mention they sounded like Italian, New York mobsters?

“Hey boss,” said the littlest one. “Whaddaya tink I am? An amateur?”

“Eh guys,” said an alien I can best describe as, the ugly one, (he had a scar running all the way from his nonexistent chin to the top of his left nose hole) “look what I found.” He was pointing to my daughter’s hand, the one holding the egg.

“Yeah, and she ain’t the only one.” The littlest one said. “Dey’s all holding pretty little oval-shaped thingies.”

“Dem’s eggs, knuckle head,” said the big one. “Easta Eggs.”

After that, I can’t be sure who was talking because I’d ducked back into the room, not wanting to press my luck. But I could still hear their conversation.

“What’s Easta Eggs?”

“Deys hides ‘dem and deys looks for ‘dem.”

“Why?”

“Now ya startin to bug me Joey! Rememba, we’s just here to observe, take notes and get back to da spaceship. DON’T be touching nonna dem Easta Eggs.”

“Ah boss, whaddaya tink I am…whaddaya tink I am!”

It went on like this for a while, I heard them scurrying around my house—thank God they didn’t come upstairs—and then suddenly there was that sound again, that electric ZZZAP and I heard my daughter yell, “Mom, Josh stole my egg! I had it. It was right here in my hand!”

Well, you guessed it. Sure enough, we searched and searched, then I got out my list, but in the end, there were only twenty-three eggs. The last egg was missing—never to be found.

So, that’s my Easter mystery. Well, not really a mystery to me, but nobody else seems to believe me. You have to have faith, I tell them. Aliens really do exist. Just because you didn’t see them, doesn’t mean they weren’t here!

Faith, that’s all it takes. Faith and…a little Easter Mystery.

(Happy Easter. Hope you enjoyed my little Easter sci-fi story. I wrote it several years ago and thought it would be nice to share it again today.)

Female Superheroes Kick Brains, Not Butts!

Chloe, from Smallville, is a Super-Computer-Girl!

The other day I commented to my spouse that it surprised me our good friend, who is gay (as in, lesbian), likes Superman so much. Assuming the reason I like Superman has more to do with his tights than his personality, it seemed to me that it would be more logical for our friend to like a hot female superhero. How shallow I am! But then it hit me, our friend likes Superman because he’s a hero. He has the best super powers! Who wouldn’t want to fly, run faster than a speeding bullet, have x-ray vision and super hearing, to name just a few of the cool things he can do. Unfortunately, for women, there aren’t many female superhero options.

I realize if you happen to be a huge comic book fan, you can probably name any number of female, kick-butt superheroes. But for the general public, think about it—as a female, what superhero would you want to be?

  • Catwoman? We’d all like to look like her, but was she good or bad, I can’t remember. I would rather be Batman—better toys, more money and an awesome hideout.
  • Wonder Woman? Once again, we’d all like to look like her; but frankly, her outfit looks mighty uncomfortable!

On the other hand, here are just a few of the numerous options for guys.

  • James Bond: Good looks, hot cars, money, toys, travel, and of course, girls.
  • Spider-Man: How fun would it be to swing from building to building!
  • Iron Man: Money, cool toys, power, etc., etc….

In any case, I continued to ponder this and came up with what, I think, is an interesting conclusion. Just as men are different from women, if you want to create a truly kick-butt female superhero, in order for woman to want to be her, she needs to be different than a male superhero. Face it–Wonder Woman and Cat Woman are just wannabe male superheroes, that’s why they don’t cut it.

And after coming to that conclusion I realized there a few female superhero-like characters that, if I could, I would want to be.

Notice who's in front!

My #1 choice: Dr. Temperance Brennan, from the TV show, Bones. Of course she’s good looking, but she’s also smarter than everyone else, admired by all, and extremely successful.

Brilliant and Brave

#2 choice: Hermione Granger from Harry Potter. Though she starts out a bit weak, it’s pretty clear by the second book that Harry and Ron would be total losers without her. Her brilliance saves the day on many occasions. Plus, several books later, she turns out to be hot.

Ahead of her time.

Finally, #3: Nancy Drew! Nancy Drew was smart, brave and like Temperance Brennan, admired by all!

Ah well, here’s my challenge to you: Who is (or would be) your female superhero and why?

Swedish Cardamom Bread

Varsågod!

Searching for something meaningful to bake for the holidays? Look no further. Today I’m sharing a favorite old family recipe. That’s right, nothing deep about this post, just something warm, sweet and delicious to bite into. Toast it, top it with butter or, better yet, peanut butter, and you’ve got the perfect Christmas, Thanksgiving, or (insert religious holiday of your choice) treat!

IMG_2433That said…in my family, you’re either born Swedish, or you marry into being Swedish. You may have English, French, German, or African roots, but when the holidays arrive—you’re Swedish. And so, it is with great pride I share this delicious Swedish recipe passed down by my Grandma Anderson, a lovely woman with not a drop of Swedish blood in her, who was lucky enough to marry a Swede.

Grandma Anderson beside her Swedish Christmas Tree made by her Swedish Husband

Break out the flour,

Let rise the dough,

It’s time to start baking,

HO, HO, HO!

Swedish Cardamom Bread

  • 1 3/4 cups milk – scalded (heat on high for approx. 2 min. in microwave)
  • 1 package active dry yeast
  • 1/4 cup very warm water (105º to 115º)
  • 3/4 cup sugar
  • 1/2 cup melted butter
  • 2 egg yolks (keep whites for later)
  • 1 tablespoon ground cardamom
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 7 cups flour

For those of you not used to working with yeast, check out this website: www.foodsubs.com/LeavenYeast.html before you begin. Read the paragraph about active dry yeast. Some active dry yeast needs to be activated in warm water, along with sugar, before adding it to the flour mixture. Some can be added directly to the flour mixture and the warm water added afterwards. Look at the instructions on your yeast package to see which method to use. Either way, your water should be between 105º and 115º.

(If using yeast that needs activating by warm water before adding to dry ingredients, first mix yeast with the warm water and a tablespoon of the sugar, and let sit for 4 to 5 min.)

Otherwise…

In mixer or food processor: Add 3 cups of the flour, sugar, cardamom, salt, and yeast (unless using the above method.) Add warm water (or warm water/yeast mixture) and half the scalded milk and mix well. Add remaining 4 cups of flour, melted butter, and egg yolks. Mix thoroughly.

Shape into ball and place in lightly oiled bowl. Cover tightly and let rise in warm place for at least 1 hour. (I cover with plastic wrap, lid and then 2 towels drapped over lid)

After dough has risen

Split dough into 3 pieces*. Roll each piece into a rectangle; divide into three pieces and braid. Push braided dough together so it forms a firm loaf. Spray cookie sheets with Pam, place loaves on cookie sheets, cover with towel and let rise for 1/2 hour.

IMG_2431

Brush loaves with egg whites and sprinkle with sugar. Bake at 350 degrees for 25 to 30 minutes, rotating pans 1/2 way through.

(*I like to give Cardamom bread for gifts. When I do this, I split the batch into 6 loaves instead of 3. When making 6 smaller loaves, bake for 20 minutes, rotating pans 1/2 way through.)