The Fish Saga Continues: RIP Gem

We’ve had fish for almost 15 months now. Not the SAME fish, mind you. We started with 2 fish.  We lost our first fish the very first night. We bought 3 more. Then we lost the second fish a few weeks later. Then things quieted down for a bit until we lost 2 more within a couple of days in December 2017. Then there was only one—Gem. We got him a friend in January, and after a fraught beginning the two fish settled in contentedly.

Unfortunately, Gem was not to enjoy tank life for much longer. At 16 months of age, he was getting old for a male guppy, and he succumbed to what I believe was the same type of internal tumor his tank mate Flower had died of in December, although Gem did not suffer and went quickly.

Fish #5


On May 12th, we found Gem hidden under some seashells on the bottom of the tank, prompting the following obituary:

RIP Gem. Sometime overnight, our fish Gem passed away. Gem was the sole survivor of our first batch of 5 fish. He was the smallest, with a distinctive narrow torpedo body. He was also the peacemaker, literally putting himself between the bully fish and the ones being hassled. The Ammonia Scare of 2017 left him listless for several days, and we did not expect him to make it, but then he came roaring back.

He survived the several rounds of fin rot, that eventually took one of his tank mates, with nothing worse than a white streak on his tail. When tank mate Flower slowly succumbed to an internal tumor, Gem could be found at his friend’s side most of the time. When we got Gem a new friend, he was not very friendly at first, but after a few days he calmed down and reverted to his more laid-back personality.

Gem seems to have had the same sort of internal tumor Flower had, but he only had noticeable symptoms for a week, and was active much of the time up until yesterday, when he did not eat and stayed on the tank floor much of the day. Not even his friend Seashell 3 could entice him to chase him. So when Young Owner could not find Gem this morning, we knew what had happened. We found Gem hidden under a seashell in a corner. Young Owner said goodbye to her favorite fish and we sent Gem off to the ocean.

Gem has now joined Seashell 1, Sparkleshine, Seashell 2, and Flower in Fish Heaven, leaving Seashell 3 as sole survivor.


We plan to get Seashell 3 a couple of new friends as soon as time permits a run to the fish store.

The Fish Saga continues…

Fish #6

Seashell 3–the sole survivor

Ocean City (NJ) Author Showcase 2018

Ocean City Library Showcase List 2016

2016 Attendees

Today is the Ocean City (NJ) Public Library’s Local Author Showcase. I attended the inaugural event two years ago.

We had a good time in 2016. I mean, it’s a day at the shore, how could it be bad? My husband and daughter came, too. They spent the day on the beach.

The inaugural event went well, but this year the library wanted to see if they could increase the foot traffic. Last time, it was a beautiful summer day. Even book lovers didn’t want to give up beach time for our showcase!

So this year they are trying a week day evening. More people are likely to be off the beach, going to and from dinner, and looking for ways to spend the evening. Hopefully we’ll get a larger crowd.

I’m looking forward to the event. Hanging with other authors is always entertaining, and I look forward to chatting to any community members who come by.

If you’re in or near Ocean City tonight, stop by the library from 4-8 pm!

Ocean City Public Library children's area

Sick Days: A Removal from Reality

When I was a kid, one of the things I liked about snow days was how they felt removed from everyday life. As an adult, they do not have quite the same appeal, LOL. However, sick days with my child have that same time-stopping, reality-removing quality.

My daughter stayed home from school Monday and Tuesday, recovering from strep throat, which flared up on Sunday. Needless to say, I completely lost track of what day of the week it was. When you are caring for a sick child, it really doesn’t matter what day of the week it is—you measure your time in her improvement or lack thereof. The onset of illness is nightfall, and the return to health is the dawn. Night can last hours or days.

Sunday night was rough—she woke me up at 3:30 AM and we were up ever since. So Monday morning slipped in slowly, and I totally forgot to call her out of school until almost 9:30 AM.

We whiled away the sick days completely detached from the clock. We ate when hungry, we played some games, I read her some books, and she got more TV and video time than normal. The days had the same cocooned feeling of a snow day, with the outside world held at bay.

When your child is sick, the minutes seem to elongate into hours in the dark as you hold your child. She whimpers, cries. Whispers, “Help me.” But you can’t because have given her all the medicines there are and now it’s up to her body. Even though she is infecting you with her illness you cuddle her close, because she just wants her mommy.

You want desperately to douse the heat radiating from her body, suction the strangling mucus from her nose and throat, and ice the pain stabbing her throat. But all you can do is hug her and wait for the dawn.

The dawn comes slowly, over the course of several days where you get no work done, even when you work from home. Days spent in comforting, cuddling, and caring for your slowly reviving child. The energy, the motion, and the smile—that brilliant sunshine smile—return little by little, signaling her return to health.

And even though time and work have vanished—forever irretrievable—into those sick days, you don’t care. Because you know people whose children didn’t get well, whose smile never returned. And gratitude that your child is again noisy and messy negates anything lost in the cocoon of those sick days.


Anxiety or Burnout? The mystery of my missing motivation

I am normally a self-motivated person. I know what I want to accomplish and I get it done. All my life I have been a workhorse, churning out whatever work I needed to do—homework, work work, video production, writing. But for some reason, I have been highly unmotivated lately.

All I’ve really wanted to do is retreat into my genealogy hobby and shut out the rest of the world. Forgetting all my other responsibilities sounds good, as does sleeping for a week. I have projects I want to write, but apparently not enough to actually sit down and do them. I’ve been reading very little as well. I just feel exhausted inside and out.

Sounds a lot like burnout. Unfortunately, all of those symptoms are also signs of my anxiety. So which is it?

It could be anxiety. I have plenty of social and political stressors in my life right now—stressors I haven’t had before. My overall anxiety level has been higher than usual—I lay awake at night with crazy scenarios of catastrophe running through my head. Professionally, I am in that place where the last writing project is complete and I need to start a new one. That spot can be thrilling—but it can also be scary. Which project to pick? What if it doesn’t go well? A novel is a long-term commitment, I want to be sure I’m putting my time into the right project. I’m also querying, which in itself is not too stressful, but…what if someone actually wants to represent me? Wonderful, of course, but it would be a new chapter, a big change—and sometimes the fear of success is as paralyzing as the fear of failure.

It could be burnout. I haven’t had a real vacation in almost two years. What do you mean? I hear people saying. You’ve posted beach photos. You’ve been on vacation! I hear you. But that’s not the type of vacation I had in mind. A “real” vacation, for me, is when there’s nobody around. No husband, no child, no deadlines, no nothing. Just me. Now, I love my family, and I enjoy my work, but I am a classic textbook introvert. I need absolute solitude to truly recharge myself. My husband is wonderful and tries to get me some alone time on the weekends so I can relax, but it’s never quite enough (especially because I often spend it working, LOL). I am fast approaching the point where I have no social reserves left—and that saps energy from my creative well.

So which is it? I don’t know. The truest answer is, perhaps, both. I need to dig out of it, but am not quite sure how. I have joined a book club just to get myself reading (and reading outside my usual genres). The answer may be as simple as just making myself write. Just sit down and write something. Anything. Or maybe I need some outside accountability. After all, I submit my blogs on time.

I will slog through this morass as I have every other one, because I am nothing if not persistent. And I know all things come to an end, this slump included.

How do you re-motivate yourself when you hit a motivation desert?

Mental Health Break

I’ve had a rough couple of weeks. Last week I dealt with a stressful (but ultimately good) family situation, and this week I have been sick. So I have given myself the week off to rest, play with genealogy, and send out queries.

On Saturday it’s back to the grind, when I will be at Abington Library in Abington, PA, for their Local Author Expo! Come and visit us!

Secrets: The Spice of Story

I’ve been thinking about secrets this week. We all have secrets. We’ve all kept secrets in our lives both for ourselves or for others. We are aware that everyone has secrets they keep.

Most of our secrets are light. A surprise party. An embarrassing thing we did when young. Our real age.

But some people carry heavy secrets. Ones that can eat at you, especially if you carry them a long time. Abuse. Infidelity. A crime.

While they can create difficulties in real life, secrets are what make our stories compelling—and I see three distinct kinds of secrets in a work of fiction.

One secret is the author secret. These are things the author knows that the reader doesn’t. All those questions we are taught to raise, especially at the beginning of the story,  are hints at secrets the author is keeping. In a well-written book, all those secrets will be revealed in due time.

A second is the reader secret. These are things the reader knows that the characters don’t. We all know the tense feeling of knowing the killer is hiding in the closet while the characters are blissfully unaware. These reader secrets build suspense in the story and make the reader a part of the experience.

The third kind are character secrets. These are secrets characters keep from each other. These make the story rife with  misunderstandings and conflict. Juicy stuff! One character may think another is betraying her, when really he is protecting her from something she doesn’t know about. Readers keep reading to see how the secrets get revealed and what the consequences will be.

Secrets in stories create the tension and conflict that draw people into your story.

And in real life, enjoy the light secrets that can be delightful to keep, but if you are carrying a heavy secret…consider that it may be time to finally put it down. Let someone help you carry the weight.

Juxtaposition: Create unease and highlight themes

Sometimes, life gives us contradiction and juxtaposition: when two things that shouldn’t go together are placed next to each other, heightening the contrast. For example, I distinctly remember that 9/11 happened on an absolutely gorgeous fall day. Bright sun, blue skies—the type of day that makes you want to stay home from work. And yet at the same time, the world seemed dark and clouded with smoke and debris. That such evil could happen on a day of such beauty struck me then and strikes me now.

On a different note, in my area the first day of spring brought 6 inches of snow and a snow day for my child. Very atypical, therefore bringing a sense of disorientation and unease to many of us in the area. Sure, we all laughed about it and dealt with it, but many were screaming “No more!” and meaning it. We couldn’t take one more snowflake—and still had a couple more snowfalls to weather beyond that date.

I experienced another jarring juxtaposition this past Easter Sunday. On the day Christians celebrate Christ rising from the dead, I attended a funeral. And, yes, Christians believe God raises the dead to everlasting life in Heaven, but the fact remained that the family grieved for the loss of their loved one here on Earth. One could look at the resurrection of family ties between people who had not seen each other in decades as thematically appropriate, but a funeral on Easter is discordant nonetheless.

We can use this use of contradiction and juxtaposition to great effect in writing. The Harry Potter character Dolores Umbrage comes to mind. A sweet exterior hid the evil inside making her far more appalling than if she had been overtly evil. Contradictions and juxtapositions can foster a subtle sense of unease or highlight something you want your reader to understand.

So when you are trying to raise a certain emotion in your reader, see if you can use opposites to enhance the feeling. Instead of a storm while your character’s inner turmoil is reaching its peak, how about a calm sunny day?

The Middle-Aged Muse

My 8-year-old daughter simply erupts with creativity. Every day she is dashing off new songs, drawing another segment of one of her comic strips, or writing a story. Her Muse works overtime.

My Muse, lately, doesn’t like to get out of bed. It’s hard for me to remember a time when the ideas came in such a flood. Nowadays it feels like everything comes in fits and starts. Creativity used to flow effortlessly, more ideas than I could ever write. I had multiple stories going at a time, and I churned out words like breaths. Now I’m lucky if I can write a coherent chapter in a day.

That’s what happens as you get older. Life gets busier, with more time-consuming responsibilities. I have less time to write, and less energy when I have time. Since I had my daughter, exhaustion has become a constant companion, and words jumble into gibberish in my fuzzy brain.

It’s not so much that my Muse has deserted me—it’s that she’s never sure when I’m coming to work, so she’s not always ready when I arrive. It’s like trying to guess what time to have dinner when everyone’s schedule keeps changing. And then when I do show up and we finally get rolling, my alarm goes off and I have to run, leaving her behind just when things are getting exciting. No wonder my Muse is pouty and petulant. She’s also cranky from sleep deprivation. It’s hard being a middle-aged Muse.

But when I get a few quiet hours, perhaps while driving to a book event, I start hearing her whisper. Ideas bubble up from the spring that’s been all but paved over with mom-duty tasks. And after a conference or a writer’s group meeting, my Muse burns through my soul like she used to and my fingers itch to grab a pen or find a keyboard.

My old Muse is still there, waiting for me. I just need to arrange my life so I can meet her. We’re both a little slower, a little creakier, with a little extra we-love-chocolate weight, but we’re still ready to tackle the next project together.

I watch my daughter’s bright flame, and it fans the spark in me. Life tries hard to extinguish the creative spark in us, and I am grateful for this little real-life Muse that fills my days with drawings and music. She connects me and my Muse with our younger selves, and reminds us of the passion with which we used to grasp each day.

After the Spring Break, I intend to make a standing date with my Muse.

How about you? Have you found your creativity changing as you get older?

Spring Book Fair 2018: Snowmageddon!

My favorite time of year is Book Fair. Luckily it comes twice a year.

Tuesday was my first shift. I got my first taste of the plethora of books this year, including Madeline Finn and the Library Dog by author-acquaintance Lisa Papp. The Fair was buzzing–especially during the Grandparent Sock Hop in the evening–so I forgot to take pictures. I figured no big deal, I could get photos on Wednesday, in time for my usual Thursday morning post. Good plan, but then…


No school Wednesday.

So today, I grabbed some shots. The Book Fair was very busy today, as we squeezed in all the classes that had missed yesterday. We’ll have a few more snow strays tomorrow, on the final day of the Fair.

Of course, as an author I love seeing kids so enthralled by books. The little kids hugging their books tight. The mid-elementary kids whose eyes shine as they bring their purchases to the register. And the too-cool-for-school middle schoolers, who pretend not to care but clutch their books with the same excitement as the littles. Stories cast their spell on all of them, and they leave enchanted until next time.

Even with the snow day, we expect a successful Book Fair. As in many schools, the Book Fair is the ONLY source of funds for new books. What’s more magical that a snowfall on the first day of spring? Stories.

Genealogy, Character, and Worldbuilding

It’s no secret that I love genealogy. I often say if I wasn’t a writer, I would have been a professional genealogist. The excitement of the chase and the thrill of finally finding that piece of evidence that proves a relationship would enthrall any mystery lover.

And it’s not just my family I enjoy researching. I will jump in and help anyone trying to solve a brick wall. Most genealogy buffs seem to share this insatiable urge to research, as evidenced by how willing people are to help others in many online groups.

Tonight I get to share some of the passion I have for genealogy with the South Jersey Writers Group. I’ll be talking about how my family history habit has crept into my writing, in the areas of character development and worldbuilding.

I’m a bit nervous about presenting,  but I am eager to share with this group. I’ve met some of these writers in other venues, and they are always warm and fun. I’m looking forward to a good discussion with them.

Do you have a hobby that invades your writing?

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