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Call Me Nuts If You Like—There’s More to Stephen King than Horror

May was Stephen King month for my reading diversion!

You might ask (and rightfully so) why thrillers and horror would attract a women's fiction writer. 

It starts with, "Once Upon a Time, a women's fiction writer read Stephen King's Writing: A Memoire of the Craft, which led (horror of horrors) to reading his first novel, which led to reading his last novel . . .

 

Read the reviews and then the books—if you dare.

 

May 13, 2021

Review of On Writing: A Memoire of the Craft – 5 stars

Just finished this great read! What a storyteller. The first part of the book is the memoir of the author's early days--I enjoyed this so much and found myself laughing out loud with many passages. I could so relate! The early memoir laid the groundwork for the rest--What is Writing, The Toolbox, and On Writing. Too many words of encouragement and insight to quote. And the book lists: POW! A real gem. Thank you! 

 

May 17, 2021

Review of Carrie by Stephen King – 5 stars

For me, this was more than a thriller or horror fiction—it is a story whose bedrock is about bias. The author connected the plot by artfully playing on implicit prejudices—biases about difference, privileged teenagers, people in privileged positions (Chris' father), religion, and bad boys, to name a few. The character development of Sue, Rita Desjardins, Tommy, and Henry Grayle, who were able to put themselves into the "other's" shoes, were takeaways and learning lessons . . . but in the end, predispositions overruled knee-jerk reactions and judgment, including those of the main character. The intermingling of dialog, inner dialog, news clippings, letters, interviews, and court proceedings with the third person POV was a strategy that kept the story fresh.

 

June 1, 2021

Review of Later by Stephen King – 5 Stars

Relationships!  It's all about relationships between parent and child, lovers, siblings, and of course, a psychopath who intrudes and tries to commandeer the life of the story's narrator.   As with other King novels, this is more than a crime thriller or horror story.  The relationship between a single mother and son with its ups and downs rings authentic and beautifully told. The conflict between lovers and the sorrow of lies and betrayal is another facet ripped from everyday life. Extracting the paranormal dimension, the primary antagonist is familiar to any reader who has encountered or lived with an abuser and narcissist. 

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Organizing and Curating (But never Purging) my Bookshelves

Books stacked up, waiting to be read

One thing led to another this weekend, and it all started with Goodreads!  I decided that two shelves—Read and To-Read—on Goodreads wasn't sufficient.  After all, I'm a reader and an author, and cataloging my books on just two shelves seemed, well . . . Juvenile? Unprofessional? Lazy?  Isn't it high time that I do something about this?

 

So, after my organizing adventure with Goodreads, I looked at the sorry mess behind me—three six-shelf bookcases across the back wall of my office.  Ye gods! Not to mention the stacks (yes, that is plural) of books next to my favorite blue rocker/recliner (yes, I'm old, and I enjoy it) that are patiently waiting to be read.  And, oh my, how about those books on the floor next to my rocker?

 

For a person who still shelves her ninth-grade algebra and tenth-grade geometry books (subjects I disliked), it's understandable that I believe purging any book, if not a mortal sin, is pretty close to it!  Fire and brimstone are likely consequences for permanently removing any book from my shelves.

 

But, as my father always told me, "Where there is a will, there is a way."

 

Today, with the advice given to Indigo Del Castillo from Emma Carbone, Senior YA Librarian at the Brooklyn Library, I found out that I could acceptably curate instead of purge my books, and best of all, this would leave my soul blemish free! 

After an hour working on my bookshelves—DRUM ROLL—I had curated three books from my stash to my husband!

 

I sure hope that he doesn't get the curation bug himself anytime soon.

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Capturing Memories in a Butterfly Net

Merida Johns Author Logo Stories of Courage, discovery and love

It's funny how memories have a mind of their own. Floating like a butterfly, they can pop into your head at the strangest times, linked by a thin filament initiated and attached to some extraneous thought not related to the memory at all.  Then poof, like the fleeting butterfly, the memory is gone.

 

Some memories are too precious to let go of—they are the ones that deserve the honor of being preserved in story.

 

Take those memories that come to you like a butterfly, cast your net and catch them, then pay tribute to them in your memory journal . .  .

 

Today, a butterfly came to visit me and brought me a childhood memory of Mother's Day. 

 

It was all excitement the day before for two nine-year-olds when Janey, my BFF, and I prepared bouquets of roses from my family's garden for our mothers.

 

We hadn't anticipated what would hold our bouquets after harvesting the flowers.  But, quick thought and two plain water glasses from the kitchen did the trick!

 

We "hid" our gifts in our bedrooms, and on Sunday, May 12, 1957, two mothers on Ivy Avenue smiled when they received the most beautiful bouquets ever!

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What's in a Brand?

Recently, I was challenged with the question: How would you describe your current brand voice? 
For example:  Upbeat, creative, fun, hip, artsy, edgy, serious, friendly, passionate, playful, sassy, whimsical, nostalgic, or . . .

 

This question forced me to do some introspection.  In my heart, I knew my brand—creative, courageous, committed to telling stories about the woman's experience in carving out a path to her North Star.

 

But had I communicated my brand to the hundreds or thousands of prospective readers who want to hear these stories?

 

At heart, I am a storyteller who writes women's fiction that chronicles the protagonist's courage, discovery, and love on a journey toward her North Star and a more fulfilled self.

 

My deepest desire is to welcome all those who find communion with my characters, and like them, are traveling on this challenging journey we call life.

 

 

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How Journals Inspire Me

We should write, above all, because we are writers whether we call ourselves writers or not." – Julia Cameron

 

Since I was a child, I've had a fascination with diaries and journals.  It's not that I'm a habitual journal keeper—it's that I'm curious and nosey!  I want to draw the curtains, peek into the windows of people's lives, hear their voices, and commune with them. Reading journals, diaries, and old letters lets me do that!

 

In the novel that I'm now writing a tattered journal arrives without warning as a secondary character in the protagonist's life.  In a meticulous script, the author's words, written a century earlier, plead with Suzanna, the protagonist, to listen—a forewarning that should not be ignored.

 

What inspired the diary in my new novel?  A suite of materials and journals from the late 1800s melded together to offer up their wisdom—an old composition book overflowing with stories of a young woman, a diary of a nineteen-year-old school teacher setting out on her own, and a monograph of the memories of a young man, tucked away in the archives of a historical society.

 

A deep bow of gratitude to these writers whose words have inspired me.

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How a New Cast of Characters Is Keeping Me Company and Comforted in 2021

"We should write because it is human nature to write. Writing claims our world. It makes it directly and specifically our own. We should write because humans are spiritual beings and writing is a powerful form of prayer and meditation, connecting us both to our own insights and to a higher and deeper level of inner guidance as well… We should write because writing is good for the soul… We should write, above all, because we are writers whether we call ourselves writers or not." – Julia Cameron

 

This quote sings to my soul and makes it dance! 

 

In 2020, Luci, Sam, Barry, and the Gang of Nerds in Blackhorse Road guided and taught me more about perspective, perseverance, and forgiveness.  And I'm a little better because of them.

 

In 2021, Suzanna, Craig, Elliott, and a set of secondary characters are my traveling companions on life's continuing journey.   These are people who strive to live life dedicated to living their truth and love life committed to seizing the day.

 

These are not perfect people—they have their shortcomings. And the path they cut toward their North Star is compounded by challenges that seem insurmountable and potent antagonists who cause them to stumble.

 

But their strengths of courage, creativity, curiosity, optimism, love, and kindness pull them up and help them to the next steppingstone of their journey.

 

This new cast of characters has a lot to teach me. They keep me company and comforted, and I am listening and learning from the stories of their interconnecting pathways.

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How Luci, Sam, Barry, and the Gang of Nerds Helped Me Cope in 2020

As many know, I began writing a novel in late winter of 2018. Writing fiction was always a dream—to use my creativity in imagining and writing about regular people and how they faced and overcame challenges. However, it wasn't until meeting and overcoming a significant medical challenge myself that I put a computer keyboard to a digital screen and started writing my first story, Blackhorse Road. Writing this novel has been a journey of fulfillment, personal introspection, insight, and, yes, a stress reducer.

 

During this chaotic and uncertain time, polishing off my novel during its last round of copyediting has given me a quiet place to hang out with the book's characters. And my characters, in turn, have provided me with a therapeutic escape and the energy to come back and face the real world.

 

I think all people have a gift of storytelling—after all, we share stories every day with our family and friends! Give yourself a gift of time to put the computer keyboard to a digital screen and write a story, creating characters that will give you a therapeutic escape and a quiet place to hang out for a while. 

 

Originally published LinkedIn March 20, 2020

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The Worthy Villain: Five Criteria

Who is the loathsome villain in Blackhorse Road that makes our protagonist, Luci, shine in the end? 

 

To avoid a spoiler, I will not share who plays the villain. But I will share the five thresholds that any villain of mine must cross before being worthy of the role!

 

The first bar is that my villain must be relatable. I ask myself, What is the villain's hook?  What draws the readers to the villain's web?  Who in the reader's life might the villain represent. It could be a crazy uncle, an overcontrolling parent, a bully, an unfaithful spouse, a deceitful friend, a competitive sibling. On the other hand, the villain can easily be an inanimate object that dredges up readers' visceral feelings—a storm, a sickness, a haunted house, an imaginary monster.  Haven't most of us been there?

 

The next threshold is all about relationships.  My villain has to have a close personal connection with the hero.  Whether the villain is a person or an inanimate object, the relationship between the hero the villain must make the reader feel the connection, too.  The villain must get into the hero's space, in her head, and obstruct her way, and readers must feel the villain getting into their space, in their heads, and obstructing them too.

 

The villain has to be a strong adversary.  In other words, the villain must be a worthy opponent—no sissies or milk toasts for my heroes!

 

The villain must push the reader's buttons, making the reader want to reach into the book's pages and shake sense into or evil out of the villain. 

 

The final threshold is that the villain must evoke readers' empathy—there's something more to villains than painting them in evil. This doesn't mean that readers excuse the villain's behaviors or fail to demand justice for the hero.  Instead, it means that readers must grow with the hero. Readers must walk the same path as the hero in transformation and come to understand the villain's perspective and what makes the villain tick. Blackhorse Road will make readers hate the villain. But it also leaves many breadcrumbs along the hero's path so that readers come to understand the villain and hopefully have a wee bit of empathy for the villain even as they celebrate the hero.

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The Surprising Secondary Characters in Blackhorse Road—Time

Old Letters and Diaries

Tony Hoagland, author and poet, writes that "The glory of the protagonist is always paid for by a lot of secondary characters."

 

In Blackhorse Road, time is not an add on or a placeholder. Instead, it is a secondary character that adds depth and perspective to the protagonist, antagonist, and other secondary characters. 

 

Stories are about relationships with people, but people also have a relationship with the eras.  I wanted to make those relationships come alive in Blackhorse Road, whether it was a treacherous immigration period, a turbulent social justice era, or a time when many people lost all hope.

 

Readers tell me that they connect with the different time periods represented in the story in Blackhorse Road. Just as they form relationships with secondary characters that are people, they also form connections with different eras in the story.  For some, the association is most acute surrounding the Irish immigration to Canada between the 1830s and mid-nineteenth century. For others, it is the mid-1960s or even a sliver of time, such as the street dance scene.

 

Readers might ask, "How do you turn an era into a secondary character?"  I connect people to eras by reading old letters, diaries, or other firsthand accounts of the period. These documents reveal a relationship between a person and an inanimate object, and through this relationship, it becomes easy to turn an era into a secondary character.

  

It's my hope that that as readers connect with Luci, the protagonist, and Sam, Barry, Shelia, Chris, and the other secondary "people" characters in Blackhorse Road that they also feel a bond with the time eras in which the people in the story lived as well.

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First Book Club Virtual Discussion

Praise for Blackhorse Road
Praise for Blackhorse Road

The first virtual book club discussion for Blackhorse Road is happening tonight!  So excited to hear the insights and answer the questions from the twelve members who hail from Maryland.  

 

 

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