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Word for 2021

BLOOM I like the process of choosing a word to guide my year-to-come, of distilling my goals down to a small collection of syllables. I don’t always do it, but the end of 2020 has been a particularly good time for self-reflection. Last year’s word was LISTEN. Truthfully, I didn’t do a good job of keeping my word front of mind, but I do think I practiced listening more, especially to my family members (since we spent so much extra time together thanks to Covid). This year, I choose BLOOM as my word. The word appeals to me as I move through the upcoming shifts in my life (becoming an empty nester) and career (taking fiction writing from “wonder if I can do this” to “I’m doing this”). This quote in particular speaks to me in that regard, especially as I face an unfortunate habit of comparing myself to others: The phrase “bloom where you’re planted,” which seems to have multiple sources and interpretations, calls to me too. To me, it primarily means accepting my life as it is (as opposed to what could have been or might be) but it can be interpreted in lots of ways. This is a great blog post with 31 ideas of how to bloom where you’re planted, if this is something that piques your interest. In fact, I may post the calendar below in my office (along with the other images in this post) as a way to keep my word front and center this year. I need hope to move forward into this new year. After living through 2020, the unknown seems a bit scarier than it ever has before. BLOOM seems essentially optimistic. I was a late bloomer as an adolescent and young adult, and I think that’s true for me as I move into later adulthood. It bothered me when I was younger, but I’m happy to move slowly into the latter part of my life. I’d love to hear your ideas for a word of the year for 2021…

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On Creativity with Edwin Hill

Edwin Hill’s second novel, The Missing Ones, releases today. You can find it at Highbridge Audio as well as in print and ebook from Kensington Books. I loved his unique crime solving heroine Hester Thursby in the first book, Little Comfort so I was so happy to find that she returns in this novel where most of the action takes place on a (kind of creepy) small island in Maine where, as the publisher says, “as she untangles the secrets at the center of the small community, she finds grudges and loyalties that run deep, poised to converge with a force that will once again shake her convictions about the very nature of right and wrong….” I have a copy of The Missing Ones to give away, but first, let’s hear about Edwin’s creative process. KW: Do you have daily habits that support your creative work? EH: I go through a whole process in the morning that prepares me to get working. From the outside, it may not seem like it contributes to work, but it helps me get in the right place. I usually go to the gym when I get up, and either jog, swim, or bike. I don’t listen to music or podcasts at that time because I want to mull over what I created the day before, and what I might create later in the day. When I get home, I take my dog, Edith Ann, for a walk. Same thing, no radio, no music, no podcasts. KW: I do the same thing when I walk my dogs. Walking without any aural distractions helps me bring my mind into the present. EH: Once I finish with Edith Ann’s walk, I do listen to the radio for a while because by then my partner Michael is usually up as well. Once Michael leaves for work, any media that has been turned on goes off. I head up to my office and get started for the day with coffee in hand. I usually work on two chapters at once, one that I’m revising and refining, and one that I’m drafting. Revising helps remind me that I’m a good writer before I start writing really bad prose in draft form! KW: How do you protect your work time/space from distractions? EH: I bet I’m not the only person who thinks he’s getting stupider by the second. For me, most of this feeling stems from the constant distraction we face as active members of society these days. There’s e-mail and social media, not to mention mindless web surfing and good old-fashioned TV. There is a positive side to this, of course. As an author, I have so many more avenues . . .

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The Secrets of Successful Audiobook Narration

I wrote this article for Readerly Magazine back in 2015, but it’s been brought to my attention that it’s no longer findable online, so I’m reposting it here, with a few edits for clarity. Jen Karsbaek wrote (way back in 2015 in her blog Devourer of Books) an article to kick off Audiobook Month with what I thought were wonderfully practical tips on getting started as an audiobook listener. Her first three suggestions: using audiobooks to re-read books and choosing books which are engaging and fast paced but not overly complex. These make a lot of sense to me. In our current age, we take in information primarily through our eyes and in short bursts. Audiobooks demand that we take in information only through our ears, concentrating for long periods of time. In Shakespeare’s day, 400+ years ago, it was the opposite. People talked of going to hear rather than see a play. A written sentence at that time averaged over twenty words in length. When I was studying all this as a teaching artist twenty-five years ago, the average sentence’s word length was seven. Today, I imagine it’s even shorter. All this is to say that our brains are certainly capable of the kind of concentration that audiobooks require, but many of us may never have developed these neural pathways. But they are there for the using, and many devoted audiobook fans report that building up this particular muscle is relatively painless and worth the effort. The reward is receiving an intimate performance that is like no other. And that brings me to Jen’s final suggestion: listen to the best narrators.  As a narrator myself, I hope I can give you a backstage peek as to what skills and talent are involved in creating an excellent audiobook performance, and why it makes a difference. I have been privileged to serve on a few panels on the topic in the past few years. In April 2015 a group of narrators recorded a chat for the AudioGals blog moderated by Lea Hensley and in May a group of nine narrators, led by the indomitable Johnny Heller, taught a workshop to a group of more than eighty narrators in New York. I learned a few things from my colleagues, but also realized that there are values we all share in our work. Audiobook narration is a subset of the acting profession. While some non-actor narrators may get away with innate storytelling instincts, having a solid base of actor training is considered the professional standard. Learning to break down a script into playable actions, studying a wide variety of genres, and training one’s body and voice so that they are as expressive as . . .

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on Creativity with Susan Gloss

Susan Gloss‘ second novel came out early this year, and I’m happy to report that it was as fun to narrate as her first, Vintage. Both novels are set in her hometown of Madison, Wisconsin. Publisher Harper Collins calls it “a charming mid-western story of artists, inspiration, and how to reinvent your life with purpose and flair”, and I have to agree. Since this book is largely about the tension between pursuing a career in the arts and the real life demands of creating a family, I’m so happy that Susan agreed to talk about her process and work with me. KW: Do you have practices/rituals/habits that support your creative work? SG: The one thing that is consistent whenever I’m in the drafting phase of a novel is that I have to leave the house to write. I have two little boys, so it’s impossible to get work done at home. Even when they are in school, I get distracted by all of the mundane household tasks that need to get done, like tackling Mount Laundry. I usually write in coffee shops and libraries. KW: How do you fill your well? SG: I crave alone time in which I’m not working. I also love to be outdoors, so my favorite ways to get alone time are taking long bike rides in the summer, and skiing in the winter. I did my first century bike ride (100 miles in one day) late last summer. It was glorious to be able to work my body, fill my soul, and clear my head all at the same time. KW: If you have a day job, do you enjoy using your mind/body in that different way or is it an obligation that weighs on your creative work? SG: I work part-time as an attorney. I definitely see my two jobs—lawyer and novelist—as different sides of the same coin.  They compliment each other. Both jobs revolve around research and writing.  My day job allows me to exercise the analytical part of my brain, while writing fiction allows me to be creative. KW: Is the space in which you work important to you? SG: Not especially. I can block out external noise pretty easily, even without headphones or anything. Side benefit of being a mom, I guess. KW: Do you have multiple creative outlets in your life? SG: In addition to writing, I also love cooking as a creative outlet. In the summer and fall, I belong to a CSA (community supported agriculture) farm, and we get a box of vegetables every week based on whatever is in season and currently being harvested. Having to figure out what do with, say, an abundance of eggplant and . . .

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on Creativity with Sharon Sala

Today, I’m happy to hear from writer Sharon Sala about her creative process. Sharon has authored 100+ books in multiple genres, winning all kinds of awards, including the RWA’s Nora Roberts Lifetime Achievement Award in 2011. I’ve just recorded her book, A Field of Poppies and have two copies to give away from Tantor Audio. But first, let’s hear from Sharon about her process and creative life. KW: Do you have any habits that support your creative work? SS: I have a habit of doing the crossword puzzle in my daily paper every morning before I settle down to work. It gets me in a good frame of mind for words in general. KW: You’ve written so many books! How do you fill your well? SS: There are several things I do, each depending on whether my need is emotional or physical. I get massages at least twice a month, sometimes more, because of the stress and strain of spending so many hours at a keyboard. Sitting down to work pain-free is conducive to a productive day. Emotionally, writing IS what fills me…what takes me away from the ills of the world in which we live, and which distracts me from things that are beyond my control.  I also do daily affirmations that remind me of what’s most important in life. KW: What contributes to flow in your work? SS: Silence is important to me. And being happy. Being settled emotionally. The biggest distraction for me is having members of my family in some kind of crisis, or illness. When all is not right in my world, it’s hard for me to write. KW: Is the space in which you work important to you? SS: Yes. I like to write with my feet up, so I sit in a recliner with my laptop and work. I also have a PC, but I make sure to keep copies of my WIP on both systems, as well as on a Flash Drive. No lost work for me. Learned that the hard way. KW: Writing is solitary work. How do you counter that? SS: I am, by nature, a quiet person. I like solitude, and I write without music, or television, or any other distractions, because as I am writing, I am also “seeing” the story visually on the screen. I don’t concentrate on the words I’m typing. They just come when I put my fingers on the keys, but in the silence, I see and hear the story as I type. KW: Which is evident in your evocative and emotional writing! “Two families. One secret. Separated by a river and twenty years of lies.” THIS GIVEAWAY IS NOW CLOSED.  Gloria and Karen . . .

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BROWNIES

(and preferably, baked goods) Per request, I am posting “The Farm” brownie recipe today. But I’m also posting another brownie recipe to follow. You’ll see that they follow pretty much the same procedure, which to me is key to making excellent brownies. The differences are in the amounts of some ingredients (butter goes from 3 to 2 sticks, eggs from 6 to 5) and the chocolate varieties. Basically, this one is more expensive and over the top rich. The next one is better for every day but still pretty awesome.* Sadly, I have no photos to share since they always just get eaten up fast. But you know what brownies look like. CHOCOLATE BROWNIES #1 I got this recipe from Gourmet years ago, who published it when someone asked for The Farm of Beverly Hills‘ recipe for brownies. I make them only for special occasions because they are really, really rich. The comment I get most often is, “I thought I had the best brownie recipe, but…” Good ingredients are important, and make sure you let them sit at least 2 hours before cutting or you’ll just have a big mess.  Otherwise, it’s an easy as pie recipe (way easier, actually). 3 sticks unsalted butter, cut into pieces 12 oz fine-quality bittersweet chocolate, chopped 6 large eggs 1 1/4 cups cake or pastry flour (I use All Purpose, honestly) 1 cup plus 2 tablespoons unsweetened cocoa powder (not Dutch process) 3 cups sugar 1/2 teaspoon salt Preheat oven to 350°F. Butter and flour a 13- by 9- by 2-inch metal baking pan, knocking out excess flour. Melt butter with chocolate in a large metal bowl set over a saucepan of barely simmering water, stirring until smooth. Remove bowl from pan and whisk in eggs, 1 at a time. Sift together flour and cocoa powder in a separate bowl and stir into batter with sugar and salt. Pour batter into pan and bake in middle of oven until top is firm and a tester inserted into center comes out with crumbs adhering, 40 to 45 minutes. Cool completely in the pan on a rack, about 2 hours, before cutting into squares. *FULL CONFESSION: my kids prefer these brownies. Where, oh where did I go wrong?

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On Creativity with Wiley Cash

“I think art is going to save us because I think it’s the only thing that can make us check in with how we feel and what we believe. We read histories to find out what happened. We turn to art to discover what it felt like.”

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MURDER BY THE BOOK

by Lauren Elliott Available now from Tantor Audio. “Addie Greyborne loved working with rare books at the Boston Public Library—she even got to play detective, tracking down clues about mysterious old volumes. But she didn’t expect her sleuthing skills to come in so handy in a little seaside town . . . Addie left some painful memories behind in the big city, including the unsolved murder of her fiancé and her father’s fatal car accident. After an unexpected inheritance from a great aunt, she’s moved to a small New England town founded by her ancestors back in colonial times—and living in spacious Greyborne Manor, on a hilltop overlooking the harbor. Best of all, her aunt also left her countless first editions and other treasures—providing an inventory to start her own store. But there’s trouble from day one, and not just from the grumpy woman who runs the bakery next door. A car nearly runs Addie down. Someone steals a copy of Alice in Wonderland. Then, Addie’s friend Serena, who owns a nearby tea shop, is arrested—for killing another local merchant. The police seem pretty sure they’ve got the story in hand, but Addie’s not going to let them close the book on this case without a fight . . .” “Narration for this story is provided by Karen White, and with all of her work, she presents the story clearly – giving each character a distinct and unique presence, using pauses, volume and subtle changes in tone to add emotional context to the story, without overwhelming listeners hoping to find from audible clues alone, who is the culprit. And while the mystery itself was fairly simple to work out and decide on the culprit, the narration added to the questions about characters, providing that sense of agenda and purpose that we all have, without raising big red flags to “listen up here” because this is important. As always, White’s work is solid and shows a familiarity with the text, and an understanding of moments that need highlight or downplay without guiding the listener to a solution, but allowing it to unfold as the relationships develop.” From the review at I Am, Indeed a Rafflecopter giveaway

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