Thursday, December 13, 2007

Why I've Been Away--and Great News!

The last month has slipped away, for a number of good reasons.

One, my daughter came home from Egypt with a broken bone (can you say, freaking out Mom? Hello?). None of us knew it was any more than a bad sprain until she kept her regular doctor's appointment back here, and the doctor ordered x-rays "just to be on the safe side". She fractured her fibula right above the ankle, the result of a nasty fall in Luxor on some stone steps. Fortunately, the bone had already begun to knit properly, so they didn't have to re-break it and set it (oh, ick, ick, major ick!).

Two, we decided to celebrate both Christmas and Thanksgiving in mid-November, when her boyfriend (unofficially her fiance) was visiting. I threw together two holidays (cleaning, decorating--including the tree, gift shopping, gift wrapping, food shopping, and cooking!) in eight days flat. Needless to say, I did very little else during that eight days. But it turned out wonderfully! We had the best time.

We held it as early as we did because we originally thought she would leave on Dec. 3, but she ended up staying home till the 10th. She returned this past Monday to Egypt for her ten-month research fellowship, so she can do the research she needs to write her dissertation.

My poor muse is feeling somewhat ignored right now. I haven't done a lot of writing in the past few weeks. But today I received word that my novel, COVER ME, has finalled in the annual ebook competition called the EPPIEs. I am absolutely thrilled! I'm up against three other writers in my category (contemporary romance), and I plan to attend the convention in March, just in case I should win.

Oh, yes, something like this inspires me to create afresh. So it's back to writing for me!


Tuesday, November 06, 2007

November Contest on Author Island! Win a Free Book & Cozy Throw!

My November contest is on Author Island. Hop on over there (scroll about one-third of the way down the Contests page) and enter for your chance to win! If you're the winner, you will receive a paperback copy of COVER ME, plus a warm and fuzzy throw to keep you covered! Remember to answer the question posed in the contest information (read the excerpt on my Web site for the answer), and you'll be entered!

Stay warm as we move into wintry weather!


Thursday, November 01, 2007

Dia de los Muertos

Cool image, si?

I love Dia de los Muertos, which is a Mexican holiday that honors those who have passed on. It also mocks death and celebrates life.

My California friend and I both love the holiday. My affection for it originated in an appreciation of skulls, which first arose from my love of Warren Zevon and his music. Zevon always had a skull somewhere on his album covers. In fact, one picture seemed to have been used repeatedly on most (if not all) of his covers. It even has a name--"Old Velvet Nose." I'm sure Zevon knew what that meant. I sure don't.

Many of Zevon's songs are about death, usually in a thumb-your-nose fashion. In WZ's case, however, death had the last laugh--he died much too soon, of mesothelioma, a lung cancer associated with asbestos exposure, at home on September 7, 2003. He was 56.

Today, I celebrate life, as well as remember loved ones who are now gone. And don't flinch the next time you see a skull. It's merely a memento mori--a reminder that death always lurks behind life.

The Warren understood that.


Wednesday, October 31, 2007


Happy Halloween to All from Sharona!!!

Tuesday, October 30, 2007

A Fascinating and Funny Book

I recently finished reading The Year of Living Biblically by A. J. Jacobs. The subtitle (which appropriately gives away the point of the book) is, "One Man's Humble Quest to Follow the Bible as Literally as Possible". In other words, Jacobs read the entire Bible, recording all the laws or commands he found in order to follow all of them, if possible, during one year.

The book's not what you'd think. For starters, it's funny. Very funny. He tried to keep all the laws and commands (even the strangest ones) at least once during the year. That in itself leads to more humorous situations than you might imagine.

Jacobs was raised a secular Jew, meaning his parents didn't teach him any religion. He didn't even have a bar mitzvah. And every year, his parents put up a Christmas tree with a Star of David on top.

So, Jacobs is, at best, agnostic when he begins his quest. I don't want to give away the ending, but I will tell you he doesn't convert to anything or become super-religious.

Just read the book. It's that good. And, if your own faith is tattered (or even nonexistent), you may be able to identify more with some chapters than others.


Friday, October 26, 2007

The Unexpected

I spent five days at my parents' home recently and attended their 60th anniversary dinner, along with other family members. When I returned home Tuesday evening, I discovered my daughter was returning from Egypt a day early so that she and her friends could attend a memorial service for a former dig cohort who died in a freak accident. (The accident was so weird and sad that the story made headlines in Boston.) So, after arriving here Wednesday evening, she left early Thursday morning for Boston with her friends.

One happy aspect of the situation is that she and her friends (and boyfriend, who changed his plans to fly into Boston and not Philly) are sleeping at her dad and stepmother's home, thereby gaining an unexpected visit with them.

My family has been chock-full of unexpected changes in the past week, so how to handle such changes has preoccupied me. When you're a control freak, handling the unexpected is... challenging.

Somehow, we have all managed to pull together and ride the waves of change, rising above the petty to cohere, as family should. In fact, the past week has reinforced the lesson that the only constant in life is change.

Wishing you strength to find your way through the changes of life,


Tuesday, October 16, 2007

Ghost from the Past

As it's only a couple of weeks until Halloween, the topic of ghosts came to mind. I don't mean the scary-haunted-house type of ghost. The ghost, for me, is someone I knew long ago. Really long ago.

I had not thought of the man literally in years, but last night I did, so I Googled him out of curiosity. What I found surprised me. I never expected to discover he's a muckety-muck in a historical association, and I certainly never expected to find an email address. (This guy was such a Luddite when I knew him, he didn't even have a phone.)

He's someone I was once unhealthily attracted to who hurt me repeatedly over the course of several years. We're talking deliberate emotional cruelty. And I wondered if the old, bad attraction for him would rise in me once more.

It didn't.

What arose in me instead was a profound anger. I found myself wanting to email him so I could finally tell him off, using blunt Anglo-Saxon words. But the impulse quickly died. Cussing the man out would solve nothing, and might even create new problems.

I found something else inside me that's much better: I no longer care about him, positively or negatively. And I am so, so happy to discover this fact, and about my ability to let the past remain in the past.

I feel so free!


Sunday, October 14, 2007

What Cats Want

Freud was supposed to have asked, "What do women want?"

Today I ask, "What do cats want?" Specifically, "What do our cats want?"

I'm sure it's not easy to be a pet. You're much smaller than your owners, they never understand when you ask for more food/whatever, and you don't have much control over your life. It must be frustrating.

But, for the life of me, I have no idea what our cats seem to want.

We're taking care of our daughter's cat while she's in Egypt. Though loveable, he is driving me bonkers. The cat follows me around whenever I'm downstairs (kitchen, daughter's room, and family room/TV are there), pawing my legs when I stand still long enough for him to do so. He has water and food in all his bowls--three different kinds, I might add, because of his health problems. He doesn't want to be picked up. He doesn't want to be brushed (a favorite thing), he doesn't want me to pet him, he doesn't want to go out in the yard, and he doesn't want to play. Near as I can figure, he wants me to follow him around the house until he tires of it--to what end, I've no idea. Probably it amuses him to manipulate the human into doing what he wants.

I should mention that Tapper (the solid black cat in the pictures at the bottom of the right column) is an incredibly needy cat. He's extremely attached to our daughter, and when she's not home, he loudly demands that we focus all our attention on him and his needs, unfathomable as they are. He really, really wants attention from people most of his waking moments. And it's driving me crazy!

Our cat, Scritters (the muted calico), is a needy and demanding cat, too. However, what she usually wants is petting and rubbing. If not that, then it's food. If not that, play, but this happens not so often. So I have a thirty-three percent chance of guessing what she wants. She does, however, crave petting and attention almost as much as Tapper.

Additionally, the cats loathe each other, so Scritters basically lives upstairs (our bedrooms and offices are there), while Tapper lives downstairs, where our daughter's room is. Neither of them enjoys skirmishes, so they usually keep to their own levels--but become very jealous when one smells the other on us. Sigh.

I have never, ever had cats this needy, who want humans to amuse them 24/7. I'm used to cats who amuse themselves, but show up for petting occasionally and food often. And I've had a lot of experience with cats. But these days, we have two cats who act like whiny three-year-olds.

I love them both to death, but I just don't have enough hours in the day to suit this pair. I will be so glad when our daughter comes home and I don't have Tapper demanding attention every time I venture to the first floor. I can only deal with one needy cat at a time.


Friday, October 12, 2007

Changes in the Air

There's a change in the air today. Here in the Philadelphia area, it finally feels like fall--crisp air that nips you enough to make you find a sweatshirt or light jacket. With the wind, it feels even colder--more like forties than fifties. For me, that's hats and glove weather.

I enjoy walking, and I especially enjoy it on cool but sunny days, so I'll take a nice, long jaunt today. I'll probably walk to a park I like, where I'll loop around it, then walk back home.

I walk for lots of reasons, many of them health-related, but I also walk because it helps me untangle whatever's in my head. It worked when I was a technical writer with a problem I didn't know how to solve, when I would walk at lunchtime and come back with a solution. It works now when I get "stuck" in a story. Walking also releases stress and helps me deal with jumbles of contradictory feelings.

My dad's getting two pints of blood today, in an effort to stave off his weakness and improve his appetite, because he's been not eating and rapidly losing weight. While the transfusion won't cure anything, it is supposed to make him feel better. My youngest sister took them to the hospital this morning. When they found out he'd be at the hospital all day, she took my mom out to breakfast, then home. My mom will call me later today once the transfusion is done and my dad's back home.

So, lots to think about today.

A week from yesterday will be their sixtieth wedding anniversary. A week from tomorrow we're all going to celebrate it. I plan to visit for several days. But for now, all I can do is wait.


Monday, October 08, 2007

Guest Blogging Today/Friend Me at MySpace!

I'm guest-blogging today--go see.

Also, I've just joined MySpace and I would love for you to "friend" me.

For those in the USA, hope you are enjoying a pleasant three-day weekend.

TV alert: A new and very funny show, if you find computer/math/science geeks endearing (as I do), is on CBS tonight at 8:30 Eastern--"The Big Bang Theory". The wit and comebacks are sharply honed and simply hilarious. I think I used to work with Sheldon and Leonard. I may have even dated them. At any rate, a lot of laughs based on intelligence and real-life cluelessness.


Friday, October 05, 2007

I'm Guest Blogging on Monday, October 8; Whimsical Show

If you are a writer, or enjoy reading about the writing process, I'm guest blogging on Catherine Stang's blog on Monday, October 8. I'll be commenting on "binge writing." If you don't know what that is, drop by Cathy's blog and find out.

I watched a new TV show Wednesday night that I fear won't last because of its uniqueness. Pushing Daisies is about a guy who has a gift--he can bring dead things back to life--as long as he never touches them again (if he does, they die again, and for good). It is marvelous--whimsical and magical with lots of heart and humor. The colors in it are eye-popping--they're using an extra-bright palette--they positively *glow*. The actors are appealing, and the writing is superb. You can learn more, and watch the first episode on the Internet, or see it tonight on ABC at 8 PM Eastern time. Do watch Pushing Daisies before it disappears--I really doubt this one will last.


Wednesday, October 03, 2007


Today seemed like a good day to remind myself of what I'm thankful for. They are listed in no particular order, just as they came to mind.

1. A nice home and furnishings.
2. Plenty of tasty food to eat.
3. Enough money to own a car and pay for the gas.
4. Both my parents and all my sisters are alive.
5. A good husband and his love.
6. A fantastic daughter.
7. Many wonderful, loving friends.
8. Sacred Harp.
9. Plenty of time for recreation and favorite hobbies (besides singing, of course).
10. Last, but certainly not least, God's love and presence in my life.

I learned many years ago that life is easier if you cultivate an "attitude of gratitude." In this way, we concentrate on the good things we have instead of feeling sorry for ourselves for not having the things we want.

I don't mean this to be simplistic, or to ignore real problems we all face. But I know I've been much happier since I consciously decided to be thankful rather than moan about things I want but don't have. (Seems like most of them were material, anyway...)

One more thing for which I am thankful: I (and the rest of my family, too) thank everyone who has prayed, sung, and sent good thoughts out for my father. He has decided he will undergo some palliative treatment that he had previously said he didn't want to do. Palliative treatment won't cure anything, but it makes you feel better while you are still alive--it's what hospices do for the dying, to make them comfortable. So I am very happy that my father has agreed to a blood transfusion. I know he will feel better once he receives some new blood. This means he has hope and has not yet given up, which is a good thing, too.

Before I close this post, I want to mention that my daughter has been keeping a blog since she went to Egypt for her dig. If you are interested in what it's like to live and work on a dig in remote Egypt, please take a look at her blog. In the photos, she's the tall, thin redhead, usually with a scarf on her head. :-) Except for God, she is what I am most thankful for in life.

May you have a day full of blessings and reasons to be thankful.


Sunday, September 30, 2007

Winter Vegetable Stew

Today I finally put together my first "veggie stew" since early spring. I don't know how many years I've been making it--probably close to twenty. Originally, it was from a recipe in a magazine, but I've modified it so many times that the recipe is now truly my own.

This stew/soup is delicious with some grated Parmesan on top and a big piece of crusty bread. Or with cornbread. It's just good, period. Even my meat-loving husband likes it--a lot. And, for the meat eaters, you could easily add beef or chicken or pork to the recipe, and use broth instead of water.

The amounts of various vegetables can be varied to suit your preferences and veggie supply in your home. This recipe makes a lot of stew/soup--you'll need a large stew pot--but you can always freeze it! I often freeze leftovers in plastic containers. Use within one month for best flavor. It's great to have on hand for a last-minute meal.

Vegetables should be cut into roughly one-inch cubes or chunks. Nothing fancy--just not too big to fit in your mouth!

Winter Vegetable Stew

1 med. to large sweet potato, peeled and diced
2-3 large carrots, peeled or scraped, and cut into rounds
1 med. to large onion, diced
1 small rutabaga, or portion of larger one, peeled and diced (optional, depending on your tastes and the season--personally, I love it)
1 med. to large potato, peeled and diced (also optional--I often leave it out)
1 can of vegetarian baked beans
1 can of chickpeas (optional)
1 large (28 oz.?) can of crushed tomatoes--must be crushed tomatoes
1 10 oz. box frozen spinach (you can substitute greens for spinach, if you like--I've used canned turnip greens and they were great)
1 10 oz. box/bag frozen peas
Salt, garlic powder, Italian seasoning blend, and pepper, all to taste (I never measure these!)

1. Combine sweet potato, carrots, onion, rutabaga, and potato in large soup/stew pot. Add enough water to cover vegetables. Bring to boil and cook until veggies are fork-tender (not mushy).

2. Add the frozen spinach and peas, and more water if needed. Bring to boil and cook for about five minutes. Stir often.

3. Add vegetarian baked beans, chickpeas, crushed tomatoes, and spices. Bring back to boil, then turn down low to simmer for five minutes--this will blend the flavors. Stir frequently so it doesn't stick to the bottom!

4. Turn heat off and let sit for ten minutes, stirring occasioally. If desired, serve with grated cheese on top of each bowl, with hearty bread or cornbread.

"Veggie Stew" is perfect for football watching!


Friday, September 28, 2007

The Kindness of Singers

Earlier today I posted on the Fasola list that I'd hoped to attend the NE Convention this weekend, but amid the worries of the past few days, I failed to plan for it. I mentioned that my father is pretty sick, and asked for good thoughts and a prayer or two, if anyone wished.

I further said that my father has been very brave. He's dying of cancer, and he hasn't felt well in a very long time. But he is facing the situation head-on, with dignity. I don't know if I could possibly be that brave.

The compassionate, loving outpouring of concern I've received via email moves me to tears. I will thank each one of you individually, but for now, I say thank you here.

It's late, and I need to go to bed, but I'll leave you with the words of Isaac Watts. These words are not for my father--he is ready to pass on. They're for me. I'm the "tim'rous worm", and that's why I say I don't know if I could ever be as brave as my father has been, and is.

"Why should we start and fear to die:
What tim’rous worms we mortals are!
Death is the gate of endless joy,
And yet we dread to enter there."
--Isaac Watts, 1707


Tuesday, September 25, 2007

Tips for Writers Who've Lost the Joy

(This is a cross-post from my other blog. But I think the information is important enough to justify my duplicating it.)

If you're a beginning writer, you may be thinking, "Lost the joy? I'm bursting with ideas and can't wait for the times when I can write. How could you lose the joy of writing? Why are you still writing, if it's no longer fun?"

Once it becomes a job, with contracts and real deadlines and such, you can lose the joy. For me, when I lose the joy is often when writer's block rears its ugly head.

I took an online course last week all about "block-busting" and recapturing the joy of writing. The presenter, Laurie Schnebly Campbell, presented an interactive workshop that gave me a whole new way to look at things. And, you know what? The joy has come back!

Laurie gives courses on a regular basis at Writer U. The courses are a very reasonable thirty bucks--we're talking month-long courses here. I'm signed up for her October workshop, "Creating Your Hero's Fatal Flaw", and, boy, am I looking forward to it!

I highly recommend her workshops. (Plus, she's a great person.) The one I took came at the problem from a psychological angle, tapping into fears you might not know you even have that are blocking you.

Below is a small amount of information I learned from the course. Happy writing!


Things that work, or have worked, to jump-start my writing:

--Timed writing.
--Club 100
--Writing every day, because momentum helps me (which is difficult for a number of reasons)
--Establishing personal deadlines (I've always responded well to deadlines, because I procrastinate!)
--If blocked on one WIP, work on another (though this isn't feasible if I have a committment and have to work on WIP #1)
--Going for a solitary walk - sometimes this frees the stuck place in my head. (It used to work like gangbusters when I was a tech writer.)


Things that I could do if I weren't blocked:

I could finish my two novels and sell them to a publisher with whom I'd make more money.
I could finish my two novels and land an agent.
I could finish my two novels and land a multi-book print contract.
I could send my current novella to the editor who really likes my work, and make more money.
I could write books faster.
I could become financially successful.
I could make enough money for my husband to retire.
I could be productive and not feel guilty about taking time off when my daughter returns from Egypt in five weeks.


As you can see, I have a lot of anxiety around money when it comes to my writing. And worrying about money always blocks me. The workshop reminded me that I need to write, and leave the money worries outside of my little writing sanctuary.

Wishing all writers productivity and happiness (which may be the same thing, who knows?)


Monday, September 24, 2007

Just a Quick Note

I'd like to mention that Marcia James has a gigantic list of promotional material that you might find interesting. If you're a writer, you should take a look at the list. All you have to do is go to her web site and ask her for it. Use the "Contact Me" link on her site to access her email address. It's a fantastic list that worth checking.

More later!


Friday, September 21, 2007

Things That Entertain Me

Okay, this post isn't about writing, Sacred Harp, or food, but lately I've felt moved to comment on the things that entertain me. I hope you don't find this too self-indulgent.

I like TV. And I don't apologize for it. I have favorite shows that do more than entertain me--they pique my muse and help make me a better writer by sparking ideas. So I always enjoy checking out the new shows. Fox started their season a week before the Big Three, and I've seen two winners: "K-Ville" and "Back to You." Check out my comments under "TV Recommendations" in the column on the right.

Remember when Fox was the much-pooh-poohed fourth network? People predicted Fox would fall on its face and fold. Here we are, over twenty years later, and Fox has some of the best television on television. Fox has been the home of numerous hit shows, and acclaimed shows, too. Whoever makes the programming decisions over there is doing good work. Keep it up! (I won't get into the shows Fox has that are really, really awful. Chacun a son gout, as the French say, and even star baseball players don't bat more than .400.)

I'm less excited about the show previews I've seen for ABC, NBC, and CBS. I suspect what will happen is that I'll check out about ten new shows, and end up watching the second episode of maybe three or four of them, and adding one (at most, two) to my regular viewing rotation. I try to restrict my viewing to two hours in the evening, so I'm choosy. ABC may have the best chance of roping me, because the two new shows I added last fall--"Ugly Betty" and "Men in Trees"--are both ABC shows (and they made me watch more than my two hours on Thursday nights because these shows are so good). ABC's also the home of my ultra-fave, "Boston Legal." These are three of the best shows you're not watching.

If you like "chick" shows, I do urge you to check out "Men in Trees" especially--I think it's not doing as well in the ratings as "Ugly Betty" and "Boston Legal," and I really do want it to survive. They've moved it to Fridays at 10 Eastern, where it will be up against the popular CBS show, "Numbers" (which my mathematician husband likes to watch because it has a lot of mathematics in the show). So I guess I'll be taping "Men..." this fall. Sigh. I hope it survives.


Tuesday, September 18, 2007

Therapy Dogs with Guest Blogger Catherine Stang

I hope you enjoy reading about owning and handling therapy dogs. I met Cathy at a readers and writers conference--she's a great person and fellow author. Her eyeglasses are the best, too! You can see them on her web site--they're her trademark.

Thanks for sharing, Cathy!


--From Catherine Stang--

Hi everyone:

Besides writing and reading I would like to share another passion of mine. Any of you who have been to my website have probably seen the picture of me with my little dogs. I have to brag on my little sweeties, because they have a special job. They’re therapy dogs. In my case, we visit the nursing the home each week, visiting every resident who wants to see us.

I got interested in therapy dogs after I had one visit me while I was recovering from complications after surgery. On a day when I really needed something good to happen in walked this lady with a dog. It was just what I needed to cheer me up.

A few months after I got home, I lost my 17 year old Border Collie mix, Sigmund. When I began to think to about getting another one, I thought about the therapy dog lady and began looking for a dog I thought could be a therapy dog. I got a Papillon puppy, Rudy, who was VERY BUSY, so we got his brother, Remy, to keep him company. (I have to warn you that Papillons are social dogs. You rarely see an owner having just one. Trust me. We have three.)

Anyway, to be a therapy dog all you need to be is social. They have to like people and not be afraid to let strangers hold and pet them. Also, they can’t be afraid of things like wheelchairs, carts, oxygen tanks or be easily spooked. They can be big or small. Their loving personality is the most important thing.

We go to the nursing home, but I have friends that do hospice visits, and go to schools. It all depends on what you feel comfortable with doing.

There are several groups that you can work with. We belong to Therapy Dog, Inc. Their link is on my website. You can read all about that they do. I also have a link to my breeder, so you can read more about papillons. Check out her cute dog pictures!!

If you are interested in being a therapy dog handler check with your local kennel club. They often have classes.

Thanks for letting me share my other passion with you!

Catherine Stang

In my world… anything’s possible

Crossing the Line – in print & e book from Whiskey Creek Press

Ravensthorpe Heir – from New Concepts Publishing

Ravensthorpe Legacy – from New Concepts Publishing

Sweet Serenity – coming in Nov from Whiskey Creek Press

In the Blink of an Eye – coming in Dec from Whiskey Creek Press

Monday, September 17, 2007

A Brief Note About Music and God

I received a flyer in the mail today from one of the two churches I occasionally attend (I admit it, I have no regular church). The flyer, about the music ministry at the church, contained the following remark, and I found it, well, remarkable:

"Our Mission:
To make real the experience of God's supernatural presence among us through the infinite and wondrous glories of music."

Isn't that terrific? For me, that says it all. The remark has nailed one of the big reasons I love to sing Sacred Harp, and sacred music in general. "The infinite and wondrous glories of music"--boy, I wish I'd said that.

Guest blogger tomorrow. Come read about therapy dogs!


Sunday, September 16, 2007

Black Bean Chili/Guest Blogger

First, on Tuesday, Sept. 18, I'll have a guest blogger. Author Catherine Stang will post here about her hobby, working with therapy dogs. I promise it will be interesting and inspiring!

Second, the weather cooled off enough here that I began hankerin' for my black bean chili. So, without further ado, here's the recipe. After that, I'm off to watch football! Have a great Sunday.


Black Bean Chili

Notes: Although this dish is vegetarian, if you wanted, you could add cooked ground beef, or maybe some ham or a ham bone. Personally, I think ham would go better with the black beans.

The two "secret ingredients" are absolutely essential to the flavor of this chili!

Serves 6 generous portions

3 cans black beans, drained and rinsed (you could cook your beans from scratch, but canned beans work fine)
2 cans tomato and green chili mixture (you could use Ro-tel, or you could use a similar mixture that you can find in the Hispanic foods section of your grocery store--I like the Hispanic version better for the chili)
1 to 2 chopped sweet peppers, any color (amount of peppers varies according to how large your peppers are, and how much you like peppers)
1 medium onion, chopped
2 Tbsp. olive oil
2 Tbsp. chili powder
1 Tbsp. garlic powder
1 tsp. salt
1 Tbsp. unsweetened cocoa (secret ingredient #1)
1 Tbsp. blackstrap molasses (secret ingredient #2)

Put olive oil, peppers, and onion in a large pot or cook's pan (I have a nonstick 5-quart pan I use) and cook over med-high heat, stirring often, until peppers and onions are growing soft.
Add 2 cans of tomatoes and chilis and drained black beans. Stir to mix.
Add all remaining ingredients (chili powder through molasses) and mix well. When mixture begins to bubble, turn heat down to med-low and cover pan. Let simmer at least ten minutes for flavors to blend, stirring frequently. (Take care not to let the chili burn on the bottom, if you're not using a nonstick pan.)
Turn heat off and let it sit another five minutes. Stir well at end of five minutes.
Serve and enjoy, preferably with fresh cornbread. If you like, top the chili with shredded cheddar or "Mexican blend" cheese, and/or sour cream.

Thursday, September 13, 2007

The Funniest Video I've Seen in a While...

I received the link to a video on YouTube this morning that may be the funniest thing I've ever seen on the subject of being a mom. I investigated, discovered who the comedienne is, and obtained the link for the video ("Total Momsense") on her web site. She's Anita Renfroe. The woman is talented!

The video is G-rated, so no worries if the kids walk into the room while you're watching it. However, your kids may not like what they hear.

(The video takes a while to load, so be patient. It also seems to start in the middle of the song, and I don't know why. But what's there is hilarious.)

Pass it on to all the moms you know--maybe even your own! Aw, c'mon, it's less than two minutes long, and the best laugh you'll get all day.

Still laughing,


Wednesday, September 12, 2007

My Favorite Cornbread

We're enjoying a beautiful Indian Summer day here in southern NJ. This morning there was a tiny nip in the air, and with the approach of fall, I bake more often.

I love cornbread. My late Granny made the best in the world. (Only my opinion, of course.) I've come up with a recipe that's almost as good (probably the bacon grease she used made her cornbread taste better, but I don't do bacon grease any more). Note that this is Southern-style cornbread--not a speck of flour in it! No sugar, either!

My Favorite Cornbread

1 3/4 c. yellow corn meal
1 tsp. baking soda
1 tsp. salt
1 3/4 c. buttermilk
1 large egg (if eggs aren't large, use 2 smaller eggs)
4 Tblsp. melted *salted* butter (I do use real butter, not margerine)
An iron skillet (you are planning to use an iron skillet, right? Though in a pinch, a glass one--or other baking dish--will do, as long as it can take the high heat)

1. Preheat oven to 475 degrees.
2. Mix together the corn meal, baking soda, and salt.
3. Beat the egg, then combine it with the buttermilk. Mix.
4. Add the buttermilk-egg mixture to the corn meal mixture.
5. Beat until the lumps are gone--this is best done by hand, it doesn't take long.
6. Melt the tablespoons of butter in the skillet. If not using a skillet, then melt the butter in the microwave and swirl the melted butter in the pan to coat the inside. If not using a well-seasoned skillet, a non-stick baking pan is recommended.
7. After coating the pan's inside with the butter, pour the rest of the butter from the skillet into the batter. Mix.
8. Pour batter into pan and bake for 15-20 minutes. I like to check mine at the 15-minute mark. Cornbread is done when it is a nice golden brown.
9. Turn skillet/pan upside down over a plate. (Watch out--the pan will be very hot!) Cut into wedges and enjoy the cornbread hot with plenty of butter, and preferably with some pinto beans and greens.


Tuesday, September 11, 2007

Remembrance and Time

Most likely you know what today represents to the thousands of families and friends who lost loved ones six years ago today.

September 11, 2001, hit me so hard that all I have are prayers and tears, not fancy words. I have nothing special to say, except a kind of memento mori--cherish your family and friends while they are on this earth, for tomorrow they may be gone.

In a post on the Fasola (Sacred Harp) list, singer Mike Hinton posted about the recent United Convention's 104th Annual Session. As part of that post, he included a poem which I find especially powerful and meaningful on this day. I beg his indulgence, and Barney Lee's indulgence, for reproducing it here. Barney Lee is one of David Lee's uncles.

The poem:

The Clock of Life, by Barney Lee

The clock of life is wound but once
And no man has the power
To tell just when the hands will stop
At late or early hour

Now is the only time you own
Live, love, work with a will
Place no faith in tomorrow
The clock may then be still

"Now is the only time you own"--I could not have said it better.

Say "I love you" today to those you cherish.


Saturday, September 08, 2007


Two birthdays I want to mention.

My daughter turns thirty tomorrow (the 9th). Happy Birthday to her! She and her dig buddies plan to go into the nearest town for ice cream. She's not much on eating cake, but she loves ice cream. Having a milestone birthday in an exotic locale is, I'm certain, pleasing for her. She's always been quite the world traveler, unlike her homebody mom. (Not that I don't enjoy traveling--I do. Just not as much as she does.)

And.... Happy Birthday, Jeff Sheppard! Jeff and Shelbie and family are some of my favorite singers/Sacred Harp people. May you have many more, Mister Jeff! Sending hugs and love to you.


Friday, September 07, 2007


Some people like to clean out their living spaces and get rid of stuff in the spring. For me, fall has always been the time of cleaning and preparation. I think it has something to do with all those years I spent in school--September is one of my favorite months, and one of my busiest. It has the feeling of new beginnings to me.

After grieving my daughter's absence (she is finally at the dig house, safe and sound, in remote southern Egypt), I became energized with a plan: not only would I write every day and finish a couple of manuscripts I want to submit, I would clear out my clutter, deep-clean the house, and surprise my daughter when she returns from Egypt. (I don't think she reads my blog.)

When she returns, she will only be home about a month before she embarks on a ten-month stay in Cairo, where she will live while researching her dissertation and consulting with curators at the various museums. (Her grant requires that she spend the entire ten months in Cairo.) During the month she's home, I am going to do as little work as possible so as to spend time with her, and celebrate what I've dubbed "HallowThanksMas" (because we'll celebrate three holidays at once during that month she's home).

I'm looking forward to that period of respite. But for now, I'm going back to work.


Tuesday, September 04, 2007

Empty Nest, Empty Heart

My heart flew coach yesterday.

My daughter's in Cairo, where she and her group will stay for a couple of days before taking a long train ride to the remote area where the dig is, Abydos. She's worked at this dig before, but for some reason, this time her leaving hit me like a Mickey Finn.

I've never been a clingy mom. I've always encouraged my daughter to be independent, even tough. I taught her how to take care of herself and how to be streetwise. And, while I knew that mothering was a life-long job, I always figured her departures would get easier, the older she grew.

Well, she'll be thirty in days, and let me tell you, her departure this time was the hardest one yet. I cried a lot after taking her to the airport. I mean, A LOT.

I tear up easily, but I don't usually have crying jags that go on and on and on. Yesterday, I did. Everywhere I looked, I could see her absence, and it hurt so much. I couldn't sleep last night, anxious to hear that she'd arrived safely in Frankfurt, where they changed planes. And this morning I was never more that a few feet from both my email and phone, waiting to hear that she and her group had made it to Cairo. The space behind my eyes aches because it's full of unshed tears of longing for her.

So, today, my heart's not in my chest. It's in Cairo. And my house is as empty as my chest feels.


Monday, September 03, 2007

Chat! Chat! Chat! Tuesday Night Online

I'm doing a chat on Tuesday, Sept. 4, from 8 to 10 PM EDT, with a bunch of other authors. I think it's going to be great fun! For instructions regarding accessing the chat, be sure to read all the way to the bottom.

I hope you can join us for at least part of the time!



Do you need a girl's night out after a long Labor Day weekend with
the kids? How about taking a virtual one? Come stop by the Coffee
Time Romance chat room Sept 4 from 8-10 pm EST for some hot talk.


First of all you might want to log into our Chat System so you can be
familiar with the system. It is easy to use and quick. Then you
will be set for the Chat that evening. To get to the chat on this link:

When you get the screen completely uploaded (JAVA) it will you for
your User name prior to going into the room.

Username - Please put in your full Author's name. This way readers
who remember your author name

Avatar - To get yourself an Avatar once you are in the room look in
the top left hand corner. Click on "Action" and then select "My
Avatar" And choose a picture.

Just so you know....during the chat...the room will refresh will hear a little bing. The Chat Room also makes
a ding sound when people enter or leave the room.

One other thing you can cut and paste into our chat box. This will
help for you to be able to put in a full 6 lines about your book when
you are asked about it. This is a wonderful feature that will help
cut down on your typing. So you might want to get your book blurbs
read in advance and have them available for easy access. Also you
might want to have your web site address available to copy and
paste. Here are some quick instructions:

· Highlight the area that you want to copy
· Either right click and select copy or hit CTRL "C" (same time) and
that will copy
· Then put your cursor where you want to paste the material (in the
box of the chat room) and either right click and select Paste or hit
· Your text will appear in the box

VERY IMPORTANT: Make sure you share this information with your
groups/blogs/readers. Or you can send me the links and/or information
and I will have our promo person send a beautiful promotion to your
group. Just let me know!

Also please realize that this is not a moderated chat.

"Marine Corps Railroad-Style Barbecue Sauce"

Time for a recipe! I haven't tried this one yet, but it sounds mmm-mmm good. I found it on a web site called The Dollar Stretcher. You'll have to read the entire article to understand why it's called "Railroad-Style".

Marine Corps Railroad-Style Barbecue Sauce

1 24-oz. bottle ketchup
3-4 tablespoons molasses
a couple of good shakes Tabasco sauce
2 tsp. apple cider vinegar
1 tsp. onion powder
1 tsp. garlic powder
1/2 tsp. MSG (optional)
1 tsp. salt
1/2 tsp. black pepper

All ingredients can and should be adjusted to suit your taste.
This sauce turns out differently every time I make it, but it
is always delicious.

Mix all ingredients, and pour liberally over and under your
favorite cheap meat in roasting pan. Cover and cook at 275
degrees F for 3 to 6 hours or until tender.

Copyright "The Dollar Stretcher, Inc." 2007. Permission granted for non-commercial reproduction.

Wednesday, August 29, 2007

A Few Things

First, an update on the Dear Author situation. The people have taken down the documents that listed authors' real names and addresses. I thank them for doing the right thing.

Second, I'd like to start having a weekly Guest Blogger. If you're an author or a singer who'd like to blog about writing or singing, please leave me a comment, along with some way to contact you. I think it could be a fun way to spice up the blog, so you don't have to listen to me all the time.

Third, I'd like to give a shout-out to a cool new blog, It's My Turn to Talk, run by Allison Knight. On it, she posts questions and answers from characters in books. It's not the same-old, same-old, and worth a look.

Fourth, we're gearing up for Labor Day Weekend. I'm going to be unable to attend the Sept. 1 singing in PA at Maidencreek--my back isn't well enough for me to do a 200-mile round trip in my car in one day. I'm rather unhappy about it, but that's the way it is. Instead, we'll host my daughter's boyfriend from New Orleans, celebrate her birthday, and help get her ready to leave on Monday for seven weeks in Egypt. (She's an Egyptology doctoral student and will be on a dig.) She won't be in the USA for her actual birthday, so we plan to have some fun before she goes, including attending a neighborhood block party and eating tons of really good ice cream. In this household, we are all ice cream fanatics.

Fifth, two years ago today, Hurricane Katrina devastated New Orleans, the Louisiana Gulf coast, the Mississippi Gulf coast, and some of the Alabama Gulf coast (and a little of the Texas and Florida Gulf, too). Please remember those who died, and those who lost everything. And please say a prayer for those in the Midwest and Texas, who still struggle with the terrible flooding this summer has brought.


Monday, August 27, 2007

Who Are These *&^%$ People?

I've learned that a blog I thought was owned by people who champion authors, Dear Author, has posted details of the bankruptcy proceedings for Triskelion Publishing.

A brief explanation: Triskelion filed Chapter 7 earlier this summer. They went down holding the rights to one of my books, and the rights of at least a hundred other authors's books. I'm one of the luckier ones--I didn't lose any royalties, because they never published my book. The court papers list all the authors as creditors, and of course legal documents list everyone's names and addresses.

Why does all this matter?

Triskelion published erotic romance as well as other fiction genres. A lot of people who write erotic romance use pseudonyms. Some of them have a lot to lose if their real identity is revealed. Yet that's what Dear Author has done--it has posted court documents with everyone's names and addresses.

Court documents are public record, yes. But what was to be gained by posting all the creditors in the suit? Some of the "outed" erotic romance authors are extremely upset. None of us expected to have our names and home addresses posted on a very popular blog. Indeed, authors in general take steps to keep home addresses off the internet and out of the hands (we hope) of the crazies.

These women purport to be on the side of the angels when it comes to authors. And yet, they do this most damaging thing to authors who have already been hurt once by Trisk's bankruptcy.

These people, as far as I can determine, are at best thoughtless, at worst, cruel. I have nothing but contempt for them. The Triskelion authors have been hosed twice by these women's actions.

They're coming off my list of recommended links.

Shaking my head in disgust,


Saturday, August 25, 2007

Still Hurting

The back and hip are still hurting, though not as badly as earlier in the week. But what distresses me more is that I've gotten exactly no writing done for nearly a week.

But, with the level of pain when I sit and walk around still fairly high, I'll probably take it easy again today, lying on the couch with a book. I have to admit, I'm getting lots of reading done. I discovered a new suspense author (new to me), Michele Martinez (The Finishing School). I read a new-to-me suspense author whom I won't read again (Wendy Corsi Staub--good storyteller, but I don't like her female characters at all). I'm over halfway through the biography of Warren Zevon (I'm a Zevon fan, but boy, is the book ever depressing and sad!). I finished my first Nora Roberts, which I enjoyed (Northern Lights). I also remember finishing at least one other book, early in the week. I've done so much reading that I can't remember all the books.

When I'm in pain, sick, or grief-stricken, my favorite escape is to read. Reading makes my pains go far, far away, and always has. No matter what's bothering me, reading distracts me from my pains and sorrows. I have to admit, singing, as much as I love it, comes in second to reading for its ability to spirit me away, but it's a close second.

Which reminds me--I received my Hopewell CDs from Bobby Watkins in the mail. I'll probably listen to them later, and will post about them after I have.


Tuesday, August 21, 2007

Writing and Physical Pain

I've had a difficult time the past couple of days, ever since the back spasms began on Sunday night. It literally hurts to sit at my desk and do... anything. Standing and lying down eases the pain (as does a mild narcotic I resort to when pain makes me desperate, and I've been rather desperate the past 48 hours).

I have fibromyalgia, so my body often throws me curve balls. I've learned to roll with the punches, to mix my metaphors horribly. But sometimes the pain gets to such a level that I can't concentrate. Like many people, a lot of my problems stem from all the hours I sit.

So, I exercise mildly and stretch a lot and deliberately schedule breaks, even when I'm feeling all right. But when things are rough, I have to improvise.

So, today I'm going to try reclining on the couch with my old laptop and see whether I can make any progress on a couple of stories I need to work on. I need to make progress, so I'm determined to accomplish something beyond lying around, reading Nora Roberts. (Not that I mind lying around and reading books, not at all!)

Another day, I'll post stretching exercises on this blog for the desk-bound to use that will keep your body happy (well, happier). In fact, I'm considering creating a workshop on how to write long hours, yet keep your body in good working order, especially when you have a chronic illness or work long hours on top of your writing career.

But today's not the day. Wish me luck on getting some work done.


Sunday, August 19, 2007

Bean Pie

The cooler temps and rain today have put me in a cooking mood, and one of my favorite comfort foods is some combination of pinto beans and corn bread. Nothing like hot, buttery corn bread with hot pinto beans on top, and don't spare the pot likker!

I came up with this variation years ago when brainstorming vegetarian recipes. It whips up quickly enough for a work night, and is cheap, hearty, healthy, and filling. You can use canned beans, as I often do, or you can plan ahead and make your beans from scratch. I rarely plan meals far enough ahead to cook dried beans, so I make do with canned. If you have an excess of cooked-from-scratch pintos, they freeze well.

You can also substitute refried beans for the whole pintos.

Bean Pie

Serves 2 - 4, depending on side dishes and hunger level of eaters

Approximately 1 cup yellow corn meal
Water and salt as needed
(optional) 1 tablespoon mild-tasting oil
Enough cooked pinto beans/refried beans to fill the pie plate - about 1 1/2 15 oz.-cans (drain off some of the liquid if you're using canned pinto beans)
Spices as desired
Shredded cheese (we like a Mexican/cheddar mixture)

1. Combine corn meal with a few dashes of salt and enough water (and the oil, if you're using it) to bind the meal together.
2. Oil or nonstick-spray a pie pan before pressing corn meal mixture to the bottom and sides of the pie plate.
3. Bake at 400 degrees for approximately eight-ten minutes, until it looks a little dry and crusty.
4. While the shell is baking, heat pinto beans on stove top/in microwave until piping hot. Mix in any spices you might like (chili powder, etc.)
5. Put beans into cooked corn meal pie shell. Sprinkle shredded cheese on top, using whatever amount pleases you.
6. Bake pie at 400 until cheese melts. (Will only be six-eight minutes.)
7. Cut into quarters and serve. Hot greens with pepper vinegar or a salad make this a complete meal, nutritionally-speaking.

Thursday, August 16, 2007

Family and Home

I recently blogged about writers and themes, and said that my recurring themes as a writer involve home and family, often dysfunctional ones. I've returned from a quick visit to see my parents, and find that I must write what follows. It is intensely personal, so if that disturbs you, perhaps you should stop reading here.

I've sung 413, The Loved Ones, many times. I believe Hugh McGraw often leads it, telling us to sing a second verse that substitutes "mother" for "father" in the lyrics. But never did that song truly affect me, until recently.

My parents are very old--my mother turned 88 yesterday. Both are sick, with my father being the worse off of the two of them. The lyrics to 413 have been running in my head for months, but especially during the past few weeks. The line, "His footsteps are feeble, once fearless and bold," brings tears I never knew I had.

For a long time, my parents and I were estranged. The reasons why don't matter. What matters is that God has permitted them a long life, long enough for me to come around to what's most important, to a resolution. During the past few years, all the strife of the past has become irrelevant. I feel blessed to have had my parents in my life for so many years, happy ones or no. I thank the Lord that He has melted this stubborn, frozen heart of mine.

That heart feels like it's breaking as I write these lines, and tears are flowing. As a family, we're not always good at saying what we really feel. Right now, I know that I must print this blog entry and mail it to my parents, so they can understand how much I love them, and how much I want to be with them, and how much I hope I will see them both again, and soon.

Mom and Dad, thank you for everything. I celebrate who you are, and am truly grateful for everything you've done and everything I've become. I love you so much.

Your daughter Sharon

Sunday, August 12, 2007

What Makes a Page-Turner?

A page-turner is a book/story that is so full of dramatic tension, we keep turning the pages in hopes of discovering the ending/result. The ideal page-turner keeps us up past our bedtimes or compels us to pick the book up at every possible opportunity to read it. All suspense stories, of course, must have that compelling, page-turning quality to be successful, but did you realize that all writing must have a certain amount of it to work?

Even nonfiction books (I mean the ones aimed at popular audiences, not academic tomes, though good writing doesn't hurt such books) must have a compelling, page-turning aspect. In essence, a popular nonfiction book usually must present its material in a story-like way to draw us in. For example, Jerome Groopman's "How Doctors Think" is presented as a story that allows the reader to discover, along with Groopman, what makes for good diagnosis, how we know that it's good, and how and why doctors fail to diagnose correctly. Stories of patients are interwoven with Groopman's own personal experiences as a doctor-in-training, as a teacher of doctors-in-training, and as the parent of a sick child.

All fiction must have the page-turning quality also, not just suspense or action or other dramatic books. Even romantic comedy must be a page-turner to keep us reading. (In fact, I submit that creating and sustaining dramatic tension in a "light" book is more difficult than when one is writing suspense. A romance always has to end with a "happily ever after" ending, to be a romance by definition, and this eliminates some tension because the reader knows part of the outcome.) A fine example of compelling writing in a romantic comedy is Susan Elizabeth Phillips's "It Had to be You."

I recently finished the book, and while reading the climactic scene, found myself literally vibrating with tension while I read the outcome of a football game. Yes, a football game. I admit to loving pro football, and can't think of many finer things to watch than my favorite team (the New England Patriots) pulling out a win in the final seconds of a game, so perhaps I'm a little biased in finding a football game description compelling. But that's only a small part of my raptness while reading the scene.

I don't want to spoil the story for anyone who might decide to read the book, which is one of the best romances--and all-around best darned stories--I've ever read. It had me nearly sobbing with tension, something perhaps only six books in my entire life have done. But I have to explain what makes this book a real page-turner, so SPOILER ALERT!

I am simplifying the scene to an extreme degree, so rich are the layers in this story. Trust me, it's a whole lot better than I'll make it sound. I'm leaving out a lot of the emotional complications so that I don't end up writing this post all day long.

Phoebe the heroine, the person who will own the team permanently only if they win the AFC Championship because of her estranged father's condition in his will, has been taken hostage by a crazed man who blames the team's head coach, Dan, for his son's death. Dan and Phoebe love each other, but also believe that the other doesn't love them back. (Phillips is a master at creating what's called "the black moment" in romance stories. I don't have the space to list all the factors that have gone into this particular black moment.)

Dan has been told by the madman that, if the team doesn't lose, he'll kill Phoebe. Dan is the kind of man who would never, ever throw a game--but does so, for Phoebe, even though he thinks he'll never have her. The choice breaks his heart either way. Phoebe, though it causes her great physical pain, escapes from the man, who's been holding her in a sub-basement of the stadium. When she manages to make it to the team's sidelines, after she and Dan briefly connect, both confessing that they love each other--a difficult thing for these particular characters to do--the team is down by ten points. She explains to the team why Dan had been coaching them to lose, and tells them they have to win. At this point, we're at the two-minute warning in the final quarter of the game. Still with me?

Phillips, obviously a huge fan of football, narrates a believable final two minutes in which the team takes big risks, scoring two touchdowns, the second one as the clock runs out, to win the AFC championship.

What makes this work, besides the "ticking clock" dramatic tool Phillips uses to create suspense in the scene's climax, is that almost every character in the book has something riding on the outcome of the game, and I do mean nearly every single character! While for Phoebe and Dan, it's literally life and death, other characters have a huge stake as well. Not only that, as readers we find the hero and heroine so believable, so pure in their love for each other, and yet so human, that we can't help being caught up in their story.

So, the elements of a page-turner? Some dramatic device like the ticking clock, a richly-layered plot without easy resolution, and characters with such depth and heart that we love them, truly love them, and want them to succeed.

If only it were that easy to implement in our writing!


Friday, August 10, 2007

Relocating for Singing

I've wanted to move south for singing for at least twelve years, probably more. At times my feelings have torn me in two. In the early years, I remember sitting on planes bound for home (Boston), tears in my eyes because I had to leave. On top of that, I'm married to a non-singer who doesn't like Sacred Harp music, and who's also never been keen on living in the deep south.

If I were single, my decision would have been made long ago. I'd have moved, probably to the Atlanta area so I could find a job. But I'm not single.

Understand, I love my husband deeply, and his happiness is important to me. But for years we've been in a stalemate: he doesn't want to live where I want to live.

Also, our daughter in grad school needs us to live where we are for several more years so that she has a (free) place to live, and we want to help her, of course. We all do lots of things to help our kids, because we love them.

Despite all this, I think my husband and I have found a location, when we finally move, that works for both of us--the Austin area. He'll have the resources he needs for an interesting, pleasant retirement, and I'll have enough regular singing to make me content. Plus, we both will enjoy the lack of snow!

However, it continues to grieve me that I wouldn't be singing on a regular basis with my friends in Georgia. Nor does it look like we'll have enough money in retirement for me to travel frequently (at least once a month) to GA, though I could be wrong about that. And Austin's not that close to GA. In fact, it's roughly fifty miles farther from the Carrollton area than from where we live now, near Philadelphia. That's two long days of driving to arrive at, say, Wilson's Chapel, Holly Springs, or Hopewell at Ephesus. So I continue to have mixed feelings.

If you're a singer who has relocated for singing, especially those with non-singing spouses or partners, I'd love your comments on how you did it, and whether you're happy you relocated. Please feel free to respond.


Tuesday, August 07, 2007

Writers and Themes

A few years ago at a writing workshop, the presenter (I believe it was the marvelous author Barbara Samuel) stressed that, as writers, we come back to the same themes over and over in our stories. We need to figure out what those themes are in order to find our voices. Knowing our core themes also helps us write new stories.

I remember becoming astonished that my core themes in my longer works all have to do with family. Questions like, what defines a family? How do we create our own families when our birth families cause us serious pain? How do we get past old wounds?

At COVER ME's core is the reconciliation between Sunny and her hippie parents, whom she deliberately shut out of her life after one final action on their part that she couldn't forgive. The alienation from her parents drives Sunny's desperate need to be a perfect mother to her daughter Libbie, and makes her hold tightly to her best friend Dulcie (Sunny is an only child). If you read the story, you may think that Sunny's "straw" is not a big deal. But rarely are we objective about our families.

CM also touches on the families we create from friends, from those who give us unconditional love that, perhaps, our parents didn't--or couldn't, because they were trapped in the horrible dysfunction they experienced as children.

ALICE IN BOOGIELAND, an unpublished novel of mine set in the seventies, also deals with alienation from birth families--but the core dysfunction in ALICE is much darker, though partially played for laughs. In this book, written before COVER ME, Alice has a birth-family younger sister whom she does her best to protect, and whom she loves like no one else. Alice works hard to create her own family, because, when she arrives in Boston, she is deeply and fundamentally alone.

The sisters theme reappears in one of my current works-in-progress (or WIPs), tentatively titled SHIRLEY GOODNESS AND MERCY. In it, two very different sisters who can't stand each other, and who come from a family that is perhaps the darkest one I've ever written, must reconcile in order to reach a common goal--and to achieve a kind of peace between them.

In fact, the thirst for connection drives just about every story I write, even though the plots and characters differ.

If you're a writer, take some time to explore what your recurring core themes are. Try to find the common threads among your stories. It will make you a better storyteller.

If you're a reader, consider which novels and authors are your favorites, and why. I'm betting you'll find core themes in the books you like to read.


Sunday, August 05, 2007

My Version of Hoppin' John

I love black-eyed peas. Actually, I've never met a bean or a pea I didn't like.

When we were in Austin, we stayed in one of those extended-stay hotels that has a fridge, microwave, etc., so we wouldn't have to eat in restaurants all the time. In the local HEB (grocery store), I found cans in the vegetable aisle containing a mixture called "Hoppin' John." I wish I could remember the brand, but it was one I'd never seen before. We certainly don't have access to the brand in southern NJ, far as I can tell.

I'd always thought Hoppin' John required some form of meat, but the mixture in the can was vegetarian. As I'm not a big meat-eater and love rice and beans for dinner, the canned stuff appealed to me. I bought a couple cans, some ninety-second microwaveable rice from Uncle Ben's (the Brown and Wild Rice mixture, scrumptious and highly recommended!), and heated both separately back at the hotel. Then I served the rice with the Hoppin' John on top of it. My husband, the meat-eater in the family, had some as a side dish. He thought it was pretty good. I thought it was great!

Determined to replicate the Hoppin' John in the can, here's what I recently came up with. My daughter, a vegetarian who is not wild about black-eyed peas (she loves other beans, though), pronounced it "okay." She doesn't care for the smoky flavor that the Uncle Ben's Brown and Wild Rice mixture has. I think the smoky flavoring in the rice makes up for not having some kind of sausage or smoked meat in the dish.

Here's my version of Vegetarian Hoppin' John. Make it and judge for yourself.

Sharona's Vegetarian Hoppin' John

2 cans black-eyed peas, drained and rinsed (can use approx. 3 1/2 cups of dried beans you've cooked)
3 cans stewed tomatoes, including juices (or 3 large fresh tomatoes, chopped)
3 cloves diced fresh garlic, or 1 1/2 tsp. garlic powder
1 small can diced green chilis
1 Tbs. ground cumin
1/4 to 1/2 tsp. pepper
1/4 tsp. baking soda
1 medium onion, finely chopped (optional)

Mix drained, rinsed peas with all other ingredients in a non-metallic pot (use glass or nonstick surface pot because of acidity). Cook over high heat, stirring often, until mixture begins to bubble. Then turn down heat so that the mixture simmers for about fifteen minutes, stirring occasionally.

Serve over your choice of rice. I think it adds to the flavor to serve it over the variety of Uncle Ben's microwaveable pouch rice I used (I recommend only the Brown and Wild rice kind, no other), but you can experiment if you wish.


Saturday, August 04, 2007

Back from Austin - Post #2

This post could be subtitled, "The Kindness of Strangers." Read on...

On Saturday of our trip, I met a friend in Rockdale, where we ate lunch. When we finished and I asked for the check, we discovered that our restaurant tab had been rather mysteriously paid for. (My friend swears she had nothing to do with it. I thought it might have been her because she suggested eating at the place when we met up in the Super Wal-Mart parking lot.)

So, someone paid for her lunch, my lunch, and some takeout for my husband! I have absolutely no clue who might have done this, because no one knew we were going to eat at this particular place till we walked in. The nearest I can figure, a singer was there whom I didn't see, and they decided to treat us. Otherwise, it had to have been a complete stranger. The waitress grinned and wouldn't tell us who it was.

In any case, isn't it wonderful that this happened?

If you're ever in Rockdale, Texas, on Route 79 on the west end of town, check out the food at the Taqueria Banda. It's mighty tasty and affordable--and, who knows? Someone might pay for your meal.

Whoever you are in Rockdale, I thank you. God bless!


Thursday, August 02, 2007

Back from Austin - Post #1

We arrived home from Austin on Tuesday night the 31st, my birthday as it turned out. I'm still madly trying to catch up from vacation! Being a writer is about so much more than the writing--updating web sites (and blogs), announcement groups, promotional tasks, answering work-related email, and so on.

(Speaking of promotional, if you're interested, feel free to stop by my chat tonight, August 2, at Author Island, 9 to 10 Eastern time.)

We arrived at Austin-Bergstrom Airport late on Tuesday the 24th, and didn't get to bed until 1 AM local time. Wednesday we were both pooped when we dragged ourselves to a nearby Denny's for a late breakfast. Still, we saw a friend and ran errands we needed to do, and I attended the Austin Wednesday night singing. I drove there in a horrendous rainstorm, very nervous that I would never find the place. But I did (although I arrived a few minutes late), and I had a wonderful, wonderful time singing from the Cooper Book. I also enjoyed seeing folks I've sung with before--Gaylon Powell and his parents, and Leon Ballinger. I met so many new friends, and felt so welcomed I was nearly overwhelmed. The singing was first-rate! And I actually managed to find the alto lines in a few of the songs.

Thursday, we spent some time with a buyer's agent, looking at homes in the towns north of the city. Found at least one we would love to buy now. But various personal reasons are going to keep us in NJ for a while longer--we're not exactly sure how long--but my husband and I agreed that the Austin area is where we'll move to after NJ. I am so happy about it!

Friday, I spent much of the day with a writer friend who used to live five minutes from me here in NJ, while my husband read and explored the UT library online.

On Saturday, I drove to Rockdale to meet another writer friend who lives near Wheeler, TX, for lunch and a visit, which was way too short for both our tastes. We had an interesting experience happen at the Tex-Mex place we ate--but I'm going to leave you with a cliffhanger. I'll tell you what happened in my next Austin post!


Tuesday, July 24, 2007

A Nora Newbie

I'm a romance writer. I do read romance, but if pressed will admit I read more suspenses/mysteries/thrillers than straight romances. See, I have a mind that bends towards puzzles and the scientific/logical. I enjoy nothing as much as a great high-tech or financial world thriller--or a gritty suspense, preferably a police procedural or private eye tale--that keeps me guessing till the last.

However, I'm about to admit something here I never have publicly.

I have never read a Nora Roberts book.

You have to understand, this is akin to a libertarian admitting they've never read Ayn Rand.

It's not because I look down on Ms. Roberts in any way. No way! I have the highest respect and affection for the woman as a person. She's bright, she's romance fiction's biggest supporter, and she's not afraid to put her money where her mouth is, especially when it comes to the national organization, Romance Writers of America (RWA). She's a romance writer's--and a romance fiction fan's--best friend. Not to mention the woman writes something like a dozen books a year. I'm doing well if I can finish two!

It's simply that I've just never gotten around to reading her, partly because my TBR (To Be Read) pile is three stories tall.

But I've added a Nora book to the top of the pile: Northern Lights. Alaska is one of my passions, so I figured I would start with a Nora novel set in Alaska.

I may put it in my carry-on bag for Austin.

I'll let all of you know how I like a novel by The Nora.


Monday, July 23, 2007

Austin Beckons

Tomorrow the DH and I are off to Austin, the city with the motto, "Keep Austin Weird", the city where Kinky Friedman (country artist who has performed as "Kinky Friedman and the Texas Jewboys") announced his run for governor, the city where Leslie the transvestite ran for mayor.

I mean, you gotta love a place like this. At least, I do. If nothing else, Austin is entertaining. It reminds me of other places I've lived and loved, only without any pesky snow.

Plus, the drivers are actually nice, instead of driving as if they don't care whether they live or die, the way they do in New Jersey. (In New Jersey, they don't much care if they die. They certainly don't care if you die, I promise you.)

Looking forward to seeing my friend April, the singers on Wed. night, houses on Thursday (no, we're not moving there--yet--we're just looking), another writer friend at some point during our stay, and celebrating my birthday (I'm mumble mumble something this year) at The Cheesecake Factory.

If I can, I'll post something from Austin.


Sunday, July 22, 2007

Showers of Blessings, Indeed

This blog has received two comments in the past twenty-four hours, informing me of other blogs that discuss shape-note singing at least part of the time. I am pleased to present a list of those blogs and other links under the heading, "Sacred Harp/Shape-Note Links". Look for these links in the right column.

I've also started a separate category for writing links called, appropriately enough, "Writing Links". You can find these links also in the right column.

(Required legal disclaimer: Of course, listing these links does not imply any special endorsement by me of them.)

Speaking of showers of blessings, I am looking forward to singing with the Austin folks this Wednesday at their weekly singing in north Austin! My husband and I are visiting the area for a week. I believe this week's singing is from the blue book (Cooper book). I don't often sing from the Cooper book, so I hope the group will forgive my pitiful lack of knowledge of the songs in the book.

Because we're leaving on Tuesday, this blog may not have any posts for a short while. I'll try to make up for that lack when we return.


Tuesday, July 17, 2007

A Marvelous Web Site for Hearing Shape-Note Singing

Will has shared the site Pilgrim Productions in a comment on this blog. Lots and lots of good music recordings listed here, Sacred Harp and otherwise. Do check it out!

Thanks again, Will.


My Glamorous Life--Not

A writer friend of mine recently pointed out on her blog that she tends to laugh hysterically when people comment about how glamorous her life as a writer must be.

The stories you see in the news about writers making millions of dollars are news stories because hardly any writer makes it to that rarified level. Indeed, few make a living wage. Most every published writer I know works a full-time job or has another career (or a spouse) that supports them financially. I think I read somewhere (not certain of the statistic I'm about to quote) that ninety percent of all professional, published writers--lumping together those who write nonfiction and fiction--make less than ten thousand dollars a year.

I'm in that ninety percent. I've been trying to crack five figures for a while now.

So, my life is pretty much like anyone else who doesn't bring in much money to help the family--I shop at el cheapo grocery stories like Aldi's and sometimes at Wal-Mart (the one nearest us is not especially cheap, so I buy little there) and I buy mostly store brands. I am careful with our money, and the budget is tight. My husband worries about losing his job at sixty-two. (In the high-tech world, he's basically unemployable at that age, even with his doctorate. Yes, age discrimination is alive and well.) We both worry about us losing our health insurance should he lose his job and be forced into early retirement.

I'm fortunate that we have enough to squeak by on without my working full-time outside the home any more. (I have taken the occasional part-time job to help out, but a health problem has made full-time work difficult for me since 2001.) And I realize we are very, very fortunate to have enough to eat and a nice place to live and decent health care. I am incredibly thankful for such things. So, this post is not meant to be a "poor me" whine.

What it is, is an eye-opening post. It's not glamorous to be a published writer. It's hard work and deadlines and working when you feel sick and spending free time (and unfree money) on promotion in order to gain more readers and climb a little higher on the ladder of financial success. Not to mention trying not to read reviews, because the bad ones (fortunately, I've only had one) can kill your desire to write faster than the intestinal flu. It's submitting manuscripts and waiting months to hear and sometimes getting rather callous rejection letters. It's working alone at a kitchen table or a desk in a corner and some days feeling sure it won't make a damn bit of difference to the world if you write that day. I have worked hard to become published. Nothing's been handed to me gratis.

In other words, it's a life much like anyone else's, with the same concerns and problems.

Is it tremendous fun? Oh, yes. I love my life! I know it would be extremely difficult for me to return to my career as a tech writer now, partly because of health, partly because I burned out on doing such work. That's a life I would not love.

As a writer, I can work the hours that suit me--no getting up at six AM if I don't need to. No commute. No boss and annoying corporate atmosphere that tells me when I can take a break or eat lunch. Plus, I can write all day in my nightgown (and have) if I want to. No need for a fancy wardrobe. I can take a day off or stop working early if there's a genuine crisis with family without dealing with a boss.

And, best of all, occasionally you hear from a reader who emails you to say, "I love your books! Please don't ever stop writing them." (Paraphrased from an email I received.) I don't receive many emails like that, but I can write for six months on a good compliment (slightly paraphrased, originally said by Mark Twain). Such feedback makes all the rejection worthwhile.

My life is pretty normal, for a woman who hears voices (of characters) in her head, telling her to write their stories. But we'll deal with the, ahem, rich internal life of a writer on another day...


Sunday, July 15, 2007

Emotional Honesty

I keep my clock radio tuned to a station that, on Sundays, plays public radio shows about jazz. This morning, I heard a brief discussion in which honesty was mentioned. The context was that you couldn't play jazz and not be an honest musician.

It was clear that "honesty", in the context, did not mean "not stealing". However, it did touch on not lying--not lying to yourself. In other words, to be an honest musician, you have to play the music you hear, you feel. Otherwise, it's not truly your work, so it's not honest.

Artists (and I include visual artists, musicians, writers, etc.) must be emotionally honest to create good works. You have to follow your own vision, whatever that may be. Otherwise, your creative energy will be spent on something derivative, something that didn't arise from the real you--it will be false. Writers can fall into the trap of not writing honestly when they try to chase the market (that is, write whatever appears to be selling well), writing a story solely for the purpose of getting published, and not a story they need to tell.

All workers, of course, are charged to be honest in their work. Not to do the job for which you are paid is dishonest. But many jobs rarely require emotional honesty, the honesty about which I'm writing.

Fasola music has deep emotional honesty. This emotional honesty is, I believe, what appeals to people who didn't grow up in the tradition but who fall in love with the music. The grief is bottomless and keen; the joy is pure and soaring. The words reflect this, of course, but it is the music I fell in love with first. And the very best songs have music that fits the words precisely.

I think of 163b, China, and wish I had a link for you to hear the piece, if you've never heard it. The words are about grief--losing a loved one--and about consolation in Christ. But the music! There's one spot in the song where the harmony to me, is positively unearthly--it keens--and it's that one chord that breaks my heart, every time.

178, Africa, does something similar, only with the emotion of joy. Again, I wish I had a link to the actual music for you to hear. All my links provide are the words.

In the public world, such pure emotions are often not explored or expressed. Grief and sadness embarrass us--what to say to the bereaved? So, too, does joy--what is that person doing, with that silly smile on her face, hugging everyone? We hide our emotions, we don't explore them, so much of the time. We find our humanity discomfiting.

But in the world of Sacred Harp, we can feel emotions and show emotions. I know that I can weep in joy or pain, and it will be all right, that others will understand.

When we gather to sing, just as when we create, we are charged to be emotionally honest. Otherwise, we can't do justice to the music. Indeed, the music demands that we be emotionally honest with ourselves and each other. To render what the composers have written with anything less than full voice, full honesty, and full feeling, would be a lie.

Thursday, July 12, 2007

Rant: Spammers Who Should Know Better

First, I'm not talking about people who forward jokes or inspirational material to friends, or even to every person in their address book. It can be annoying at times, but no big deal.

Nor am I talking about the hard-core spammers trying to sell you everything from fake Viagra to a better job. (I don't know how these slugs find enough stupid people to buy their stuff in order to stay in business, but they must, or we'd have less spam.)

I'm talking about those who should know better. I'm talking about publishers or people who claim they met me once (whom I don't remember), and then sending me canned emails about their books and where to buy them. Some people call this "viral marketing," and it's an accurate phrase. The marketing technique is about as welcome as a ten-day course of the flu in January.

Let's get one thing straight: I'm a writer. I sell books to make money. I do promotion. I have a web site and a yahoogroup and I advertise in various ways. For example, when I run a contest through a third party (such as a romance book review site), you have to "pay" for the privilege by supplying an email address. It's clearly stated that the email address will be used once, to offer you membership in my yahoogroup, where I run most of my contests. (You don't belong to my group, you can't win most of the books I give away. That's one carrot I dangle to make group membership attractive.)

So, I send each person one email, and I point out up front where I got their email address, and that they are receiving an invitation that will only be sent once. I will never send them email for anything again. I point out that members of my group can win things, read extra excerpts of upcoming books, and so on. Membership has its privileges, I think American Express once said. That's my message. And I hope they join. A lot do.

But do I send form emails to every single person in my address book, to persons with whom I exchanged maybe one brief email five years ago? People whose faces I can't recall, and know nothing about?

NO. That's spam.

Except for advertising and my private groups, I'll send a form email to a dozen or so friends and family, telling them that I have a new book out. That's it. I don't send notices to every Tom, Delia, and Harriet that I ever met at a conference, just because I have their business card for some unknown, not-remembered reason. Having someone's card or email address doesn't justify sending them a form letter pimping your new book.

Now, if someone I barely knew sent me an email that clearly wasn't a form one, I wouldn't be offended. People lose touch. It's nice to hear from other authors, even if I don't remember at which conference I met them. And, if they mention they have a book out and are so excited about it, well, that's cool, too.

My beef is with people who create form emails solely designed to pump their latest book, and then spew the form emails to every email address they know. Yesterday, a publisher even did this to me--a publisher who is legit, but whom I didn't know. Perhaps once upon a time I visited their site a year ago? Who knows? I visit literally hundreds of web sites in any given month, some for research, some for personal interest.

And then there's the issue of how that publisher got my email address. Simply looking at a site can get your email address "harvested" by some sites--sites that I believe are unethical. They steal your email address--you don't opt in. Stealing is wrong.

A stranger who buys/steals/otherwise obtains your email address, and then uses it to send form emails selling something--THAT'S THE DEFINITION OF SPAM.

I admit I don't suffer fools gladly. I respond to such people in no-nonsense language, threatening to publish their email address on a public forum, such as my blog or on professional writing loops, along with the spam they sent me, and expose them as spammers.

It's not nice. But, hey, reality isn't usually nice. And it works.

So far, all these author/publisher spammers either have had the good sense never to send me any more emails, or they've sent me an apology, explaining where they obtained my address legitimately. If a spammer does either one, I don't carry through on my threat. Therefore, this blog post doesn't have details on the two spam messages I received yesterday for the same silly book from an epublisher, nor does it have details of the author who apparently spammed everyone in her address book with her form email (she responded and apologized and promised never to send me anything else).

But if I receive any other spam from these folks, yes, the details are going up here. Writers and publishers have to recognize that viral marketing is not marketing--it's spamming.

I'll leave for another day the so-called writer friends whose every thought begins or ends with, "Buy my book. Buy my book."

Yeah, we're writers, and we sell books. But being crass about it is simply bad manners.


Tuesday, July 10, 2007

The Gift of Pie

This post appeared on the old incarnation of my blog a little over a year ago. I've modified it a little to make it more topical, but I left in most of the good stuff. Enjoy, along with a nice slice of pie and your favorite accompanying beverage (mine's usually milk or coffee). I have a peach crumble pie in the fridge calling my name as I write.


A year ago May, I visited a friend in Massachusetts who has since moved to Los Angeles. (I hope to combine a visit to see her in Jan '08 with the California Sacred Harp Convention in Poway, but that's a topic for another post.)

We attended a David Hockney exhibition at Boston's Museum of Fine Arts, and topped off our trip with a browse through the gift shop. She found a book called "Retro Pies". She bought one copy. I bought two (one was a gift). When we got back to her house, we made lemon custard pie. (2007 Note: we used store-bought crusts, and I have to tell you, the crusts that Oronoque Orchards sells are almost--almost--as good as homemade. Certainly they are an acceptable substitute, especially if your pie crust skills are, like mine, not so hot. You'll find the crusts in the freezer section.)

That lemon custard pie was the best durned lemon pie I've ever eaten. (2007 Note: except for the one I made last weekend. The recipe came from a 2005 issue of Southern Living.)

The next day, my friend and I shopped for groceries and made two more pies, one an apple custard, one a coconut custard (she and I both adore coconut). Both were great, though the coconut pie was my favorite.

Pie tends to be more a southern and midwestern thing, I think. Pies, of course, exist in the northeast, especially apple and pumpkin, but I think the real pie culture centers in more rural areas of our country. I was exposed to pie a lot as a kid, but I never liked it much. More specifically, I never liked the crust. The fillings were okay by me (I used to eat the fillings and leave the crust).

As an adult, however, when first exposed to the fine, homemade pies I encounter at Sacred Harp singings, they struck me as little slices of heaven on earth--much like the singing itself. In fact, I've considered baking the lemon pie and taking it with me the next time I go south to sing, to give to the friends in western Georgia who always let me stay with them when I come down to sing.

How I'd carry it on and off the plane, I'm not sure. Not to mention what might happen at Security.

Security: Ma'am, what's this?

Me: A lemon pie.

S: Why are you bringing a pie with you?

Me: Uh, in case I get hungry? Actually, I plan to give some friends the gift of pie.

S: Step over there. We need to search your pie.

Maybe taking a pie with me's not such a good idea after all.


Sunday, July 08, 2007


When I was in high school (back in the Dark Ages), a group called the BeeGees--the pre-"Saturday Night Fever"-disco BeeGees--had a hit entitled "Words". The chorus ran something like this:

"It's only words,
And words are all I have,
To take your heart away."

As someone to whom words meant much (even back then I knew that, someday, I would write for a living), I found the lyrics poignant and personal.*** I still do. Words are everything to me. I live and die by words.

It's natural, I guess, that one of my biggest attractions to Sacred Harp involves its lyrics. Some of the imagery is sheer poetry.

There's "Evening Shade", which uses the metaphor of the oncoming night and the removing of clothing for bed as a foreshadowing of our eventual death. There's "Peace and Joy", which mentions "the light of sacred story"--oh, how I love that line! (I have a degree in New Testament, so I think of the Bible as "sacred story".)

Then there's the poetry of Isaac Watts--in "Granville" (and thank you, Judy Hauff, for writing one of the most haunting tunes in the book), in the soaring "Africa", which never fails to make me smile, and in "Greenwich", a wonderful song to sing if you're seriously angry with someone. And in a dozen other songs I could list.

I could go on further, naming songs whose lyrics were written by Charles Wesley and John Newton (best known for "Amazing Grace", known in fasola circles as "New Britain"), but I'll stop here.

Words. They delight, they inspire, they entertain, they instruct. We use them to express anger, love, fear, joy, hate, fellowship. They can wound almost to the point of death--or send us into ecstacies of emotional bliss.

Of all the creatures on this planet, language is unique to humankind. Perhaps, in the end, words are all we have.

Words are the reason I tell stories--and sing Sacred Harp.


***The BeeGees also had a hit entitled, "Massachusetts". I always knew I'd end up there as an adult, even though back then, in high school, I'd never been within 450 miles of the place. I lived in MA from 1975 through 2001, the lion's share of my adult life. So I felt a strong personal connection to that song as well. "I'm goin' back to Massachusetts..."

Thursday, July 05, 2007

The History of the Sacred Harp Songbook

In June, I spent time at both the National Sacred Harp Convention and the annual singing at Hopewell Primitive Baptist Church (near Ephesus, GA).

My time there was one of those sublime vacations where my experience surpassed my wildest expectations. The singing was so good, I had goosebumps much of the time. My friends were happy to see me. And I had possibly the most fun of any trip I've ever made to National.

And now, I'll shamelessly plug a documentary that I bought while down there, about the history of the Sacred Harp songbook: Awake, My Soul. Even if you don't sing, I urge you to visit the web site to watch an excerpt. Not only did it move me to tears, it's also one of the best documentaries I've ever seen. Could Matt and Erica Hinton be the next Ken Burns?

Go. Do it now. You might discover the music you've been searching for your whole life.


Monday, July 02, 2007

Risen From the Dead

I welcome you to the new Sharona Nelson blog. I've resuscitated it by deleting all old posts and reorienting its focus.

The new blog will contain posts about my writing and my books, and about the joy of singing Sacred Harp, in roughly equal amounts. Both are strong passions of mine.

I decided to blog about singing as well as writing because I didn't find much in the way of blogs about Sacred Harp. As this fact indicated a void, and nature abhors a vacuum, I am rushing to fill it.

(BTW, redoing her blog is what an author with a deadline does when she is home nursing a bad knee and sulking that she couldn't attend singing camp because of it.)

To learn more about me, please see my web site and my yahoogroup. To learn more about Sacred Harp, please see the official web site and the Awake My Soul web site. You can also join a Google group devoted to singings and singers.

Here's to new beginnings.