Is Frozen Imagination a Thing?

I’ve been suffering lately with a condition called frozen shoulder. Basically, it’s when your shoulder muscles become paralyzed and super tight due to not using your arm properly. Mine started back in December with an injury, and the subsequent non-use of my arm led to the frozen shoulder. Contemplating frozen shoulder wandered into thinking about frozen imagination (because my mind wanders the roads less taken).

We often compare our brains to muscles, saying that if we don’t use it, we lose it. Our imaginative muscle is no different—you don’t use it, it gets all atrophied and useless. As a young writer, I had so many ideas, I couldn’t keep up with all of them. They poured out of my brain like Niagara Falls. Now, not so much.

I think I can trace it back to my daughter’s birth. Once I knew I was pregnant, I pushed the stories I had in progress to get the first draft finished before she was born. Then we had the whole infant-daze period, and then I got into editing and revising those drafts. Today, seven years later, I am still revising most of those stories, and have not embarked on a from-scratch novel. I derived my current work in progress from an idea I had many years ago, so even though the novel’s current form is completely new, the ideas and characters are not.

Truth is, I am not feeling very imaginative when it comes to story ideas. New ideas don’t crop up with the frequency they used to, and I find that my thinking within the stories is not as flexible as when I was younger. Finding fresh ways to approach topics and characters is harder for me. Maybe I am simply getting old and set in my ways—or maybe I have not exercised my imagination for so long that it’s flabby and weak.

My frozen shoulder needs physical therapy to get back to working order. It’s hard, and it hurts like heck as I stretch those muscles again. But that’s the only way to get it back—to push the limits and ask the shoulder to work again. Perhaps my frozen imagination needs some sort of therapy as well. I need to ask it to work again, and push past the comfort zones.

Maybe then my frozen imagination will thaw and my brain will feel more nimble.

So how about it, fellow writers? Any good tips for exercising my imagination muscle?

A Writing Weekend: Philadelphia Writers Conference and BooksNJ

PWC - part of my writing weekendMy writing weekend kicks off on Friday, when I make my annual pilgrimage to the Philadelphia Writers Conference, my home away from home. I’m looking forward to the classes, the camaraderie, and the energy I always get from the conference.

I find it electrifying to be with so many other writers. Okay, so maybe the electricity doesn’t really start crackling until after the coffee stations open, but the energy ramps up as the day goes on. The confined spaces of the conference rooms trap inspiration and send it ricocheting until some of it inevitably hits me.

I will probably pitch at the conference (I usually do), but I haven’t decided yet. I have two manuscripts ready to go, so I certainly have something to talk about. Oddly enough, I have found that I pitch better if I don’t think about it too much beforehand. That seems counter-intuitive for an anxiety-beset introvert, but it works—provided I know my story well enough to speak fluidly about it (which I do). I think it’s because if I don’t admit to myself that I am going to pitch, it tricks my anxiety into staying calm until it’s too late to paralyze me with fear.

While I love the Philadelphia Writers Conference, I will miss Day 3 because I have a book event. On Sunday, I will be in Paramus, NJ, for the BooksNJ festival. This is my first time at this event, so it is a new adventure for me. I am even on a panel—Worlds Beyond Reality: Fantasy and Science Fiction with fellow authors J.R. Bale, Kristina Garlick, and Stephen S. Power, moderated by Laurie Meeske. It should be fun—just pray for sun, please!

I have quite the busy 3-day writing weekend ahead, chock full of adventure and fun. As is tradition, I will be reporting on the Philadelphia Writers Conference each night on the Author Chronicles blog, although I will not have a post for Sunday’s session. And come back here next week when I’ll tell you about my BooksNJ experience.


Research, Balance, and Fish

Research could have made this easierAs regular readers of the blog know, we got a small fish tank over Christmas. Fish were supposed to be easy pets. How hard could they be? Throw some water in a tank, plop in some fish, feed them, they’re good. Very few things in life are as easy as they appear. If we had done a little more research, we would have been more prepared for what happened next.

We’ve had a total of 5 fish, but are down to 3. We lost one (quite literally lost him) the first night, while the second leaped from the tank about a week later and never recovered. How they got out of the tank through a skinny opening in the dead of night we don’t know. But we have fixed this issue with a new cover. A little research may have saved their lives, but who knows?

Research might have saved Seashell 1

RIP Seashell 1

Research might have saved Sparkleshine

RIP Sparkleshine






What more research WOULD have prepared us for is the difficulty of maintaining the proper chemical balance in our tank. We let the water sit and percolate for a week before adding the first 2 fish. Turns out we should have let it “cycle” for at least a month, maybe more, before adding the fish. Now we are trying to control the ammonia and nitrite cycle while fish are in the tank, which is very stressful, because a spike in either ammonia or nitrite can kill the fish in a mass extinction event (we very nearly had one a week ago).

So here we are with fish and struggling to keep them alive through this natural aquarium cycling process, when a little more research would have saved us the headache. And the same can happen when writing. A little research in the beginning can keep your manuscript from going off the rails.

Research may keep Seashell 2 alive

Seashell 2

Some people do extensive research before writing. Some research as they go along. I am in the middle. I do broad-stroke research before I write, and fill in the details as I need them. But by doing basic research first, I know the broad restrictions I need to work within. This saves me from writing the whole book, then finding out I had a fundamental flaw which now requires me to rewrite an entire plotline. So a little research can save a lot of angst later on.

The other thing about the aquarium is that the ammonia and nitrite need to be kept at 0 ppm, or you end up with stressed and perhaps dead fish. Bacteria are supposed to eat the ammonia and the nitrite, keeping the whole thing in balance. But little things can throw the cycle off and suddenly your water is testing in the danger zone.

Research may keep Gem alive


The writing life is like that, too—a delicate balance. Writers juggle writing and daily life, often including family and a day job. It’s not easy to keep the water balanced right. One little thing can send one part of your life spiraling into the danger zone. All we can do is keep testing the water and try to head off any problems we see. One way to do that in an aquarium is partial water changes. We can do that in life, too. If one issue is causing undue stress, can we change it up, change it out? Sometimes a small change can make a huge difference.

Research will save you headaches. Balance will save you heartaches. And fish…well, fish are cool when they’re not jumping out of the tank in the dead of night.

When do you research your manuscript? How do you maintain a healthy balance in your life?

Research may keep Flower alive






Thoughts Inspired by Writers Resist Philadelphia

Writers Resist PhiladelphiaLast Sunday, at the Writers Resist Philadelphia event, I was reminded of the power of words to create  history. Where would the American Revolution have been without the pamphlets of Thomas Paine? Where would the Civil Rights Movement have been without the speeches of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.? Where would the larger cultural movement of the 1960s have been without the protest songs that still resonate today?

I was reminded of the power that writers have to encapsulate their time. To take a snapshot of history. To speak of hidden truths. To remake the world.

On Sunday in Philadelphia, we remembered and relived the past so that we could envision the future. We came together, writers and freedom lovers—men and women and children, people who are white and black and Hispanic and Asian and somewhere in between. Our gathering felt not so much like a protest but—if I may coin the term—a Remembrance. A day to remind ourselves what our country is, a reminder of the freedoms that we are all guaranteed, a reminder that there is an America worth fighting for that has nothing to do with Democrats and Republicans, conservatives and liberals, and has everything to do with the rights of every one of us to enjoy the promises listed in the Constitution.

We heard words from men and women, black and white, Jewish and Arabic, disabled and gay, Native and immigrant—all the voices blending together to tell a story that is uniquely American. The voices were many and varied, yet they all spoke of the one thing that unites us all—our  Humanity.

We in America have been blessed for the last 240 years to have freedoms not often seen anywhere else in the world, to have them written into our Constitution and given to us as a birthright. On Sunday, we remembered how lucky we are, and we reminded everyone who heard those words that we have come far—but we still have such a long way to go.

Writers Resist PhiladelphiaWe reminded ourselves why we speak, why the words of these people still matter—because these are precious rights, and we in America have often taken them for granted. We cannot be complacent, because there are always those who would take those rights from us if we let them—and we must not let them.

On Sunday, we marked the progress of our journey toward equality, but it has taken such a long, long time to get here. We have traveled a great distance, but we are nowhere near the end of the road. We cannot—we will not—sit back and lose the progress we’ve made.

We were reminded that We The People are the power in America—and that means all people. We must not allow political demagogues and media pundits to define who we are as Americans. Anyone who lived through the horror of 9/11 will remember what it meant to be American first—without party, without ethnicity, without race. On that day, we were Americans—united in spirit, in purpose. Together we rose from the ashes of the Twin Towers.

Throughout history, writers have spoken truth to power. On Sunday in Philadelphia, we reaffirmed our commitment to continue to do just that. On that day we reminded America how hard the road to this mile marker in time has been—and  how unforgivable it would be to betray all the blood, tears, and suffering it took to get here.

On Sunday, Writers Resist Philadelphia made a promise to all Americans:

The voice of America will not be shouted down in a press conference or kicked out of the White House. The writers of America are watching. We will speak. We will not be silenced.

And we are legion.

Writers Resist Philadelphia





Inspiration: From Fish Tank to Think Tank

People are always asking writers where they get their ideas. Truth is, inspiration can come from anywhere. A song, a person, a place, even just mashing two disparate ideas together. Anywhere you look in the world, you can find inspiration.

Even in a fish tank.

My daughter has been begging for a pet for years. She finally realized we were not getting a dog, or a cat, so she settled on fish. She wanted fish. We acquired a free fish tank, so we decided to give it to her for Christmas. Glee!

On January 7th, we got two fish to start with. Now, anyone who knows me knows that I cannot do something as simple as buy fish without it becoming an anxiety-producing drama. So we got two fish, which my daughter named Sparkleshine and Seashell.

Sparkleshine, the inspiration for the fish Mafia


Seashell, victim of Sparkleshine







She fell in love. Even ate dinner in her room so she could watch them in the tank. Went on and on about how they were friends and seemed happy in the tank. She went to bed glowing.

And the first thing I heard the next morning was, “Mom, Seashell is missing!”

Great. The fish WAS missing. Not floating at the top, not out of the tank (we have a cover, but I looked anyway). I picked up and wiggled all the in-tank decorations in case she was stuck. Nothing. Could only reach one conclusion:

Sparkleshine ate Seashell.

To my daughter’s credit, she didn’t get that upset. She fake-cried a little bit—you know that cry when you think you should cry but can’t really work up to it. Then she seemed to take it in stride. “Well, Sparkleshine does look a little fatter than yesterday.”

She took it well, but I didn’t, because I could picture exactly what had happened in the morning. My daughter woke up, remembered she had fish, hopped out of bed beaming her smile of joy that illuminates her whole face, ran eagerly to her tank…and found only one fish. The smile wiped away. The joy doused.

I hated that stupid cannibal fish.

But, after losing sleep obsessing over this hurt to my daughter, I carried on. My friends and I joked about it on Facebook. One suggested that Sparkleshine had always secretly hated Seashell, but didn’t have an opportunity to off her until she had her alone in my daughter’s tank. Too many witnesses before. A fish assassination.

My husband bought 3 more fish to add to the one remaining. So we welcomed Seashell 2, Flower, and Gem. Sparkleshine did not seem happy with the new company, although my daughter’s face lit up and she hugged her dad over and over. I went to bed that night expecting to wake up to a bloodbath.

Seashell 2, replacement for the first victim

Seashell 2

Flower, a new fish


Gem, a new fish











Thankfully, four fish still inhabited the tank the next day. But now I watch as Sparkleshine and Seashell 2 seem at odds, constantly harassing each other. Is this how fish play? Do fish play? I don’t know. But as I watch them scuffle, I now hear a dialogue in my head. Two Mafia members joust for top position in the fish Mafia. Back and forth. A battle of wills. Who will win? And will any byswimmers become casualties?

“If you cross me, you’ll sleep with the humans.”

Inspiration can come from anywhere.

Even a fish tank.


* While I know the fish we have are male, my daughter insists she wants them to be female, so they are all “her”.

** As of this posting, all four fish are still alive.

***Sparkleshine leaped out of the tank and died about a week after this posting.

****Seashell 2 and Flower died within two days of each other in December 2017.

*****Gem died May 12th, 2018.









Children: Not Just a Mini-Me

I know many parents joke about their child being a “mini-me”—so much like them that it’s scary. And sometimes it’s actually true. But just this week I was struck with the opposite realization: my daughter is very much NOT a mini-me.

20160817_224127_1471488160030_resizedWe were playing with my Breyer horse collection when it occurred to me (not for the first time), that this child of mine is almost nothing like me. She plays with my horses in a way I never did. I played that they were horses—they lived in a corral when not running in their pasture (my carpet was green), I had a doll who could ride them, and saddles and bridles for them. My daughter puts them into family groups and has them getting married and having children.

In fact, she has everything she owns get married. Horses, stuffed animals, dolls… She re-enacts marriage scenes from Disney movies. I can’t remember ever playing getting married when young.

I only ever had 2 dolls that I can remember, while Kinder-girl loves her dolls. They are often her babies (making me a young grandma!), until she gets tired of that, then they become her sisters and I suddenly have many more births to my name than I remember.

She is in love with all things pink—a color I have spent a lifetime rebelling against.

Playing dress-up and changing her outfit multiple times in a day is the norm. I couldn’t be bothered with tiaras and necklaces and rings, and if I had my choice I’d be in jeans and T-shirt all the time—both then and now.

Our most obvious difference (aside from our polar opposite physical appearance) is that she is an extrovert, and I am an introvert. She loves going out, and everyone she meets is her friend. If I never had to leave the house, I would be happy.

20160817_223950_1471488162685_resizedI do see some glimpses of me in her. She is artistic—although I lean toward realism and she likes her art colorful and full of fluid shapes. She’s a creative, and enjoys writing—something she gets from me, and not from my husband, who is a great reader but dislikes writing. She has a tendency to over-think, to be a disorganized mess, and to get lost in a book she’s reading or a project she’s doing. She can be stubborn, argumentative, fiercely loyal, and scary smart. She is a complex mix of fear and courage, confidence and timidity, and joy and sorrow.

In other words, she is fully human, and fully herself.

She is not just a mini-me.

While this makes parenting her a challenge—I am not sure if it is harder to parent the parts of her most like me or most unlike me—as a writer I can take a lesson from this. When I create children, I mustn’t make them carbon copies of their parents (unless the story demands it). Certainly, some of the child’s characteristics will reflect their parents, but those characteristics will refract through the lens of that child’s uniqueness.

So I go back to writing while raising not a “mini-me”, but a fully-realized “her”.








Monkees and Horses: Recharging the Batteries

Sometimes writers have to step away from the keyboard and go out into the world. After all, we write about life, and how can we do that authentically if we don’t live a little? So this weekend I packed in a Monkees concert and a day at the Devon Horse Show.

The Monkees Concert

This Monkees concert marked the 50th Anniversary of the Monkees TV premiere and their rocket to stardom. It also marked 30 years since I first saw them in concert in 1986. This year the Monkees have a new album, Good Times, out and a new set list, so I knew the show would be special.

Keswick Theater marqueeThe Monkees logoMonkees on the Keswick marquee




Micky Dolenz and Peter Tork are the two Monkees touring this time—Mike Nesmith chose to sit out this tour, and Davy Jones passed away in 2012. Micky and Peter sounded great and enjoyed themselves as they belted out a good mix of hits and should-have-been-hits.

Micky Dolenz of the MonkeesMicky & Peter of the MonkeesPeter Tork of the Monkees




They did a song from the new album and they also used technology to have Davy Jones sing lead vocals while they played and sang backup live in Shades of Gray and Daydream Believer. Photos of Davy on the large screen made both these songs poignant tributes to Davy.

Micky and Peter of the MonkeesTribute to Davy Jones of the MonkeesPeter and Micky of the Monkees





Micky and Peter brought energy and joy to the performance, and I think that is one thing that keeps bringing the fans back—that sense of fun. They clearly enjoy each other’s company and have a good time rocking in front of the crowd. I guess if you’re going to hang together for 50 years, there needs to be some chemistry there to start with!

Peter Tork of the MonkeesMicky Dolenz of the MonkeesPeter Tork of the MonkeesMicky Dolenz of the MonkeesPeter Tork of the Monkees





I had a wonderful time at the show! Long live the Monkees!

Micky and Peter of the MonkeesMicky and Peter of the MonkeesMicky and Peter take a bow





Devon Horse Show

The next day my mother, daughter, and I went to Devon Horse Show. Since my great-grandmother gave us our first tickets when I was in elementary school, my mother and I have gone almost every year. My daughter has joined us for the past 4 years, and it has become a wonderful inter-generational tradition.

My great-grandmother had box seats in the posh blue grandstand, but now we camp out in the East 2 grandstand bleachers. We got to see carriage competition complete with regular horses, a miniature horse, and white horse-mule crosses…

Tandem team, four wheel carriageMInature horse pulling 2-wheeled cart4 white horse-mule crosses pulling a Police paddy wagon





A Shetland pony steeplechase…

Child jockeys waiting to start the Shetland pony steeplechaseRiders up for the Shetland steeplechase





And pony show jumping…

Appaloosa clears the fencesPalomino paint in full stridePalomino paint jumping





We even strolled through the stable area, and saw some magnificent draft horses—who were part of the team that won the overall carriage best of show!

White draft horses4-in-hand white draft horses and carriage that won best in show






We had a great time at the Devon Horse Show, as we usually do. Whether the horses cleared all hurdles…

Brown pony clearing the fence

Or didn’t quite make it…

Palomino paint knocking the top pole down

They were all beautiful.

Close up of a horse headWhite pony, winner of the jumping






I had a lot of fun on my days “off” and will return to work recharged and ready to write.

How do you recharge?

Book Fair Magic: Casting a reading spell

Scholastic Book Fair posterAs a child, I loved the Scholastic Book Fair. My elementary school’s library was too small to house the Fair books, so we would walk into a classroom full of tables with books stacked as far as my young eyes could see.

Magic awaited me there.

Filling out my list of books, coming back with the money, leaving with an armful of new adventures…one of the most exciting times of the year.

Now I am helping with my daughter’s Scholastic Book Fair, and the magic still lives. Most of the kids take choosing their books very seriously. My daughter did just as I expected and chose about 25 books for her Wish List. Her list, by far, was the longest I have seen. Just like me, she would choose ALL the books if she could. Her face shone with joy as she perused the shelves.

Scholastic Book Fair shelvesSome kids, though, are the polar opposites. Like the young boy who wandered aimlessly around and wrote down only one book in a lackluster manner. He asked me, “Do you have any sports books?” I didn’t think we did, but I went to look.

I found Basketball Superstars 2016. I found the boy and said, “I don’t know if you like basketball, but this is all we have.” He took it from me and very slowly said, “Basketball is my sport.” As he leafed through the book, he got more and more excited. He exclaimed and yelled out names I presume are basketball stars. His buddies came over and got so into passing the book around and turning the pages that I had to warn them to be careful with it because they hadn’t bought it yet!

The Book Fair has changed since I was a kid—the book prices are definitely higher. But the way the Book Fair makes me feel hasn’t changed. Seeing that boy go from zero to sixty once I found just the right book for him?


Scholastic Book Fair table

Learning to Excel: Spreadsheets and Writing

Sometimes it’s nice to be married to an engineer. My guy knows his way around Excel, which is a good thing for me, because I come up with the strangest ideas on what I want to track.

Now, I know many creatives aren’t data-driven. Numbers are not always our friends. But I am a strange mixture of left and right brain, and I like to see things in charts, color-coded and neat. I also like to have the computer do the math for me, so that’s where Excel (and my husband) is handy.

Since publishing is a business, I think many writers use Excel (or something similar) to track things such as inventory or where we have submitted our work. Some may also use it to track income and expenses, although accounting programs will do this for you.

However, I also use Excel for other, more writerly tracking. My To-Do list is an Excel spreadsheet, broken into columns for different tasks (Writing, Editing, Marketing, etc.). I then list the tasks in the columns and color code them—red, yellow, and green. When they are complete, I gleefully delete them. This way I can see at a glance what my priority should be on any given day.

I also use Excel in the writing process. In my current WIP, I have 3 POV characters, so I charted the entire story to ensure I didn’t “lose” someone’s thread for a long period of time. Again, I color –coded each individual so I could quickly see large gaps.

After I write my first draft, I will sometimes list each scene in Excel in the first column, then use further columns to track characters, arcs, and tension (although I think I will try this method from Roz Morris in my next WIP). This helps me see what scenes may not be needed, are not working, or need to be in a different place in the manuscript. It also allows me to see when scenes are missing because one scene does not lead logically to the next.

Lately, I have been using Excel as a motivational tool. I am motivated by specific, numerical goals. I like to be in competition with myself to reach those goals. I also like to track my work to see where I fall off in productivity and why. Since one of my goals for 2016 is to get back to focusing on writing, I decided to track my Word Count.

Now, I break Word Count into 3 phases: Drafting, Rewrite/Revise, and Copyedit/Proofread. The Drafting count is usually the lowest, since it takes the most time for me to think about and get words down. The Revise/Rewrite I can do more words in less time because I’m working with words already there (and probably adding to them—I tend to write first drafts short). Copyedit/Proofread I can burn up the computer because I can get through that process fast—even though I read it out loud at that stage.

So when I tell you what my Word Counts are, the totals combine all those and can therefore seem very high. For instance, my total Word Count for January was 96,333. Wow, that’s a whole book! No, not really. My Drafting count was 5,772, my Revise/Rewrite was 27,642, and my Copyedit/Proofread was 62,919.

By comparison, my February Word Count to date is only 25, 259. I figure I will end somewhere around 35,000, because most of my work this month is the Rewrite/Revise and Drafting categories.

In the same sheet where I’m keeping this running word count, I have my projects broken out—separate columns for my 2 novel-length WIPs, my blog, and Other (one-offs such as short stories, interviews, etc.). I want to try to get a handle on how long it takes me to get through each section of a novel-length WIP so I can be more realistic about how fast I can push the work out. That’s why tracking by project as well as for the whole year is important—because I have a feeling that the summer months, when my child is home all day, will see a drastic plunge in my productivity.

Having these numbers in color-coded detail (I coded each phase) helps urge me on. Watching the numbers pile up motivates me. I have some zero-word days (mostly weekends), but being able to see how much I accomplished during the week allows me to take those days in stride. Less stress is a beautiful thing.

For me, spreadsheets help motivate me and keep me focused. What tools do you use to track your productivity?

Are Landscapes You Love Coded in Your DNA?

Human beings vary in the environments they love. Sure, we are adaptable to live wherever we choose, but everyone has that one type of environment that makes their heart swell—a landscape that feels like home even if you’ve never been there before.

People vary widely in the environments that speak to them. My mom loves the mountains. My dad loves the beach. Others love lakes, while some prefer deserts. Forests or jungles.

Me, I love water. The ocean more than lakes, although I won’t say no to a beautiful lake view. Something about the scent in the air, the murmur of the waves, the breeze, just makes all my muscles relax and my cares slip away. Wild, stormy weather at the ocean is exhilarating!


There is no reason I should react this way—no episode in my past that would explain my affinity for the seaside environment. Sure, we spent a lot of summer vacations at the shore, but we spent vacations in the mountains, too. The eight months I spent living on Chincoteague Island were a little slice of heaven for me—the sea breeze always in my hair, and water only a few minutes in any direction.


I have a theory that our ancestry influences the type of natural environments we prefer. I know it probably sounds crazy, but with the new findings that your ancestors’ experiences can impact the way your DNA expresses itself today (epigenetics), maybe the idea that your ancestor’s countryside is embedded in our very cells is not so far-fetched after all.

Many of my ancestors are from the British Isles—Ireland, Wales, England, and Scotland. Could explain the love of water and the ocean landscapes. And whenever I see photos from Scotland or Ireland, I could swear I have been there, even though I never have. Looking at those photos makes me say, “Ahh.”

Most of my ancestors came from the wild, stormy North Sea area. The photos of Durness and the surrounding area are the ones that speak to me the most—the landscapes that resonate in my DNA.

View out the backyard of the house

Have you ever responded strongly to a photo or landscape for no reason? Have you ever felt completely at home in a place you had never been?

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