Tuesday, April 30, 2019

A Different Way of Looking at Creativity


I've noticed that as the trend in publishing leans more and more towards speed, productivity, marketing, sales, bestseller lists, and social media followers, authors seem to be more anxious.

Less satisfied with their writing careers.

Constantly comparing themselves to others and finding a perceived failure.

Unhappy.

Is there an alternative? Sure. Here's another way to approach writing, or really any creative project. A more mindful way that may offer less stress for those folks who are struggling with the publishing industry right now.

One of the benefits of this type of mindful approach is that it "fills the well" not only for mental well-being and happiness, but also the well of creative inspiration.

I've noticed the term "muse" is mocked these days.

I don't mock it.

I like it.

There is nothing wrong with looking for inspiration.

There is nothing wrong with finding the spark that ignites your creativity.

I hear this a lot..."How do you get your story ideas? I am running out of ideas."

I honestly have so many ideas that I couldn't possibly write all the books I want to in this lifetime.

How do I get so many ideas?

Fill the well.

What does this mean?

If you isolate yourself and focus only on word counts and publication dates, you are shutting yourself off to myriad experiences that shape who you are and the quality of your life.

The "richer" your experiences, the more you have to say, write about, create. This is true of all art: photography, painting, film, sculpture, novels, poetry, etc.

Let's break this down into four components...

1. Explore

2. Engage

3. Absorb

4. Create


#1 is EXPLORE. This can include "active" experiences like travel, taking classes, trying new sports and activities. You can do these things alone or with friends. 

Examples: Big trips like Iceland and Europe, small trips like Audubon parks or a local zoo. Classes could include a cooking class for Italian food, glass-blowing, or even a writing class for a new genre. How about trying karate or yoga? Maybe wine-tasting, wine-making, wines of the world. (You can't go wrong with wine!)

Exploring can also be "non-active" like reading/research/education. Go to the library, do research at a museum, teach yourself a new language or a bit of history. 

You never know what new experience will make your brain hum with story ideas.


#2 is ENGAGE. This is all about interacting with other people and your environment. Instead of isolating yourself, reach out. Join communities. Learn from others. Make friends with people outside your normal friend group.

Get uncomfortable. Yes, UNcomfortable. Why? Because hanging out with the same group of people is safe, but sometimes stifling. Push yourself to engage with new folks.

Engage with your environment, too. Touch, smell, taste, explore. Look at the world around you. Really look, investigate. All of these sights and sounds are stimulating. They will stimulate new ideas for your writing, your art, and most importantly, for your happiness.


#3 is ABSORB. What does this mean? Take the time to think about your new experiences, conversations with people, travel adventures. Keep a journal. What things did you like, what things did you dislike?

Spend time contemplating what is going on in the world around you. Take photos, jot down impressions.

Pretty soon dialogue will start popping into your head. Characters. Stories. 

Let your mind drift and absorb all the new things going on in your life. 


#4 is CREATE. After you explore, engage, and absorb, you are ready to create.

Anything.

Everything.

Knit. Garden. Make jewelry. Take photos. Paint. Write. Cook. 

Once you fill the well, your muse will kick in. You'll see things in a new way, maybe have that necessary break-through with your current work-in-progress. 

Maybe come up with a totally new idea that never occurred to you.


I know people who think "doing non-writing things" is wasting time. They are either "writing" or "wasting time."

How can you write effectively, to the very best of your ability, if you shut yourself off to life?

Your writing will shine when you take the time to live a little bit. Or a lot a bit.

Will you make a million dollars or be number one on a bestseller list?

I don't know. Maybe. Maybe not.

But I do know that your anxiety will decrease, your happiness will expand, and your writing will improve.

It's not a bad goal.

Signing off,

Nina

Tuesday, April 16, 2019

Making Botanical Dyes



I finally got to a project I've been wanting to try for about fifteen years!

I created home-made botanical dyes for my Easter eggs.

I used a cold dye process (hard boil eggs first, make dyes and cool them, then add eggs to dye jars with a bit of vinegar, soak for an hour).


Hard boil 3 dozen eggs

Assemble materials, including white vinegar, frozen blueberries, paprika, turmeric, grape juice, cabbage, beets, parsley, onions...and I added spinach and coffee at the last minute.


Start cooking! Throw chopped materials into a pot with 4 cups water. I used 3 tablespoons of the spices. Simmer for 30 minutes.

Yellow onion, paprika, grape juice, blueberries.

Cabbage, beets, turmeric, parsley.

After simmering for 30 minutes, allow the dyes to cool, and then strain them into mason jars. When you're ready to dye the eggs, add a couple teaspoons of white vinegar to the dye cups/jars.

Mad Scientists!

I let the eggs soak for 30-60 minutes, and then spread them out on a paper towel to dry. They dried overnight, and some of the colors faded a bit. The cold dye process gets some cool speckled textures and variations in color.

The only failure was green. I added spinach to the parsley pot, but I still did not get a lot of pigment in the solution. Not sure why. Maybe I needed more than two bunches of parsley! I added a drop of food coloring to the green to perk it up (yeah, I know, that's cheating! Hee hee.)

The yellow onion skins made a fabulous super rich orange color, and the cabbage made a gorgeous blue that got deeper if you extended the dye time. Those were my favorites.



Finished products look amazing!







This was a super fun project, and I will definitely try it again next year, maybe with different materials.

HAPPY SPRING!

Love, Nina/Penny

Sunday, April 14, 2019

POEM: It's good till it's not



It's good till it's not


Take your coat off

Stay a while

The sofa's new, orange twill with flecks of green

Settle on the cushion,

Still plump and firm and willing to

Prop you up

Stay a while

Coffee's brewing

Bubblin' in the percolator

TV's black and white

You get so comfy

Up and down

For a snack

A drink

A potty break

A phone call

A neighbor looking for sugar

A neighbor looking for Sugar, Sugar

A tiny dent appears in the sofa

Just the size of your derriere

Sitting there

Still plump and firm and willing to

Prop you up

Until it's not

Sinking in

A coil escapes

The fabric rips and now that

Pretty orange cushion is tufts of shredded foam

Doesn't smell so good

Maybe like a coffee spill?

Deeper, deeper,

No sugar's gonna fix this hole

Snack is moldy

Drink burns going down

Potty is cracked

Phone's obsolete

Neighbor died last year

And the sofa

The sofa

Hurts to sit

Put your coat back on

Open the door

Funny, the view looks different

I don't remember the flames.



© 2019 Nina Roth Borromeo

Thursday, March 28, 2019

Jumping From Hearts to Horror


After many years of writing romance, I am now in the midst of creating a horror novella.

Is this a weird switch?

It might seem that way. Jumping from hearts and happy-ever-afters to horrifying creatures, death, and destruction, might make some folks scratch their heads and say, "What the hell?"

But for me, it's not that odd. I have always enjoyed a weird--dare I say quirky--bunch of interests. 

Botany, horror movies, puppies, science, art, comedy, nature, sci-fi, and the list goes on. Some of the things are cute and cuddly, and some of the things involve exploding zombie heads.

You get my drift.

My love affair with horror has been going on since childhood. Started with JAWS and Stephen King, and it just kept growing. I especially love sci-fi-horror (ALIENS is a favorite) and horror/comedy (think SHAUN OF THE DEAD).

Anyhow, I am finding the switch from Hearts to Horror wonderfully challenging as a writer.

Stuff you need to think about with romance...

1. Main purpose is creating a satisfying romance/love story. May include sex or not.

2. Character-driven stories are best. Readers will forgive a story that really has no plot if the characters are fabulous, but they will not forgive a plot-driven novel with flat/underdeveloped characters. Characters make the romance.

3. The relationship between hero/heroine drives the book. Pulling them apart, pushing them back together. This guides the story.

4. Book must end with satisfying resolution to relationship conflict, and a HEA (happy ever after). Happy ending, for those of you not up on the romance lingo.

5. Characters need to be likable or at least redeemable by the end. 

Different things to accomplish with a horror story...

1. Book can be character-driven or plot-driven, or some combination of both. I personally believe creating very strong, well-developed characters strengthens your story no matter what genre you are writing.

2. Need some mystery, unknown, question mark. In other words, WHAT THE HELL IS GOING ON HERE?

3. Suspense is critical. Author has to build suspense over the course of the book. Can be a slow build-up, or come in fits-and-starts. Whatever. Must be there.

4. Horror is critical. Can be subtle, or bash-you-over-the-head shocking.

5. Ending does not necessarily need a well-defined resolution. Could be vague, open-ended. Could be all wrapped up. Might be shocking. No matter what, the novel still needs to be engaging and satisfying as a horror story. 

My favorite part of switching from romance to horror, as I discussed in this blog post, is the freedom to create warty characters. They don't need to be perfect. They can be cruel and vindictive and really awful people. And let's face it, after years of creating "nice guys" it's pretty fun to make a warty character pop off the page.

I have always loved creating an alternate, paranormal universe (see my Klaus Brothers Series). It's so much fun to stretch your imagination and creativity with other worlds. With horror, I can continue to do this, just with more gruesome outcomes. *insert evil laugh*

Will I ever write love stories again? Sure. I have a lot of up-coming options on my current "writing menu" including YA fantasy, paranormal fiction, love stories, etc.

But for now I am digging into a bit of the macabre. Maybe it's a better fit for my current emotional state? Or the state of the world? Or maybe I just love Halloween? Whatever the reason, LITTLE SHADOW MAN is floating my horror boat right now.

For a sneak peek of LITTLE SHADOW MAN, check out this post.

Happy and Horrible Writing to all!

Nina

Wednesday, March 6, 2019

CALL FOR SUBMISSIONS: Women Who Shine


Introducing a new event...

WOMEN WHO SHINE: 
A CELEBRATION OF MATURE WOMEN

How do you feel about aging?

Are you celebrating your maturity, growth, wisdom?

Are you struggling? With menopause, aging parents, empty nest syndrome, reinvention?

How do you feel about yourself? Beautiful, strong? Vulnerable? Anxious?

Who are role models for women aging gracefully? Who are fierce and inspiring?

How do others treat you as you age? Are you invisible?

Are your goals, talents changing? How do you feel about this?

Do you welcome the next phase of your life, or are you pining for lost years?

There are so many wonderful facets to explore about women and aging. The good, the bad, the difficult, and perhaps some unexpected and marvelous things as well.

Ideas for submissions:

Essays
✵ Poetry
✵ Art
✵ Photos
✵ Short Fiction
✵ Articles about films, books, art, etc.
Reviews for books, movies, apps, etc.
Interview friends
Articles about health
✵ Anything goes! 

Think outside of the box and be creative.

I've been percolating about ideas for this event (on-line, via websites/social media, etc).

Some options:

One-day celebration with multiple posts. The posts could be collected on one website, or we could cross-post on multiple websites all day long. I would have a master list here with links.

We could also do a week-long celebration, depending on number of submissions.

Each post will be followed by a short bio and professional links, so contributors can promote themselves as well as celebrate women who shine.


SEND ALL SUBMISSIONS/QUERIES TO...

Penny Watson

Please use the heading SUBMISSION SHINE

Deadline for submissions: April 17

Please leave any questions/suggestions in the comments section, or feel free to email me at the above address with the heading SUBMISSION SHINE.

See more information and links here.

Let's do this!

Nina/Penny

Tuesday, March 5, 2019

waiting to breathe



Title for the poem...waiting to breathe.

Also...what you write the day after a 2-foot snowfall in March.

Waiting,

Nina

Friday, March 1, 2019

At-Home Retreat: Will It Work?


Recently I saw an ad for a long-term weight loss retreat. It was ridiculously expensive and luxurious and not really intended for normal people.

However, it got me to thinking...

1. Wow, would I love to do a 6-month weight loss retreat (emphasis on mindfulness and wellness and healthy food and hiking in the forest).

2. Wow, would I love to do a 1-month/2-week/hell, even a one-week retreat.

This would be a great way to soothe my soul and jump-start my weight loss at the same time.

Then I started researching the weight loss retreats and I saw the price tag.

*faints*

Also, I still have a teenage daughter at home to care for, as well as a dog, husband, etc.

I can't just run away from home. *shifty eyes*

This got me to more thinking...

Why can't I do an at-home retreat? Is this a thing?

I researched this, and discovered...Yes, this is a thing.

I read a bunch of articles discussing the concept for a staycation or at-home retreat. They touched on many aspects, including diet, exercise, good mental health. Some were appealing to me, some not.

I decided to custom design my own AT-HOME RETREAT. This is essentially to jump-start my weight loss, incorporate good habits into my daily and weekly schedule, and emphasize mindfulness and wellness in my life.

Here are the things I'm including...


NINA'S 2nd RATE AT-HOME RETREAT
(TRYING TO MAKE 2nd CHOICE A WINNER!)


1. The articles suggested trying a new fitness class. I like this idea. My daily exercise is copious walks--both inside (winter) and outside as weather permits. I've gotten into a rut with this. Same thing every day. 

However, I don't belong to a gym. So I decided to stream some yoga videos to mix it up.

Maybe some other types of stretching/strengthening videos, too.

If any of you have favorites--on Youtube, or Amazon, or wherever--please leave a comment with your recommendations and links! Thank you.

2. I do the same walk every day, loops in my neighborhood. I decided that one easy change I can make is to vary my walks. Add more hills, go to new places--in my own town, and to other locations. As the weather gets better, this will be much easier. I can head off to nature preserves and do hikes in the woods.

Right now I'll do the best I can in my local area.

Flexibility for this: If the weather is bad/icy and I have to walk inside, I am going to add more stretching/strengthening exercises to my routine.

3. Diet: this is the big one. At a retreat, they offer perfectly balanced meals that taste delicious.

How I can recreate this at home when I have to cook for me, my teenage daughter, and my carnivorous husband?

I'm going to design a retreat diet for ME and implement it. This will take time, but I'll plan over the weekend and start on Monday morning. This plan will include breakfast, lunch, dinner, snacks, all keeping the carb count down (I'm trying to reverse my diabetes diagnosis). 

I'm going to write out my menu in fancy font, print it, tape it up in the kitchen. Hee hee!

I'm also going to try some new recipes, but not too many. I'll keep most meals simple--salads and fresh fruit. If I try too many crazy things I'm afraid I won't be able to stick to my plan.

And of course, I have to cook for my daughter and hubby at the same time, but they will have a different menu. No fancy font!

4. Another sweet suggestion in one of the articles was to host a party. It made a point of saying that adding positive social events into your life was a great step towards happiness. I agree. I LOVE this idea!

So, at some point I am going to invite some friends over for a healthy evening of good food, good wine, and a relaxing time just hanging out. Maybe we'll do a potluck where everyone brings a favorite healthy dish and recipe printed up.

5. A big part of the retreats is pampering yourself...at a spa or pool or beauty treatments. I'm not really into that stuff to be honest. However, I like the idea of making an effort to schedule some appointments for myself. 

I'm going to attempt to squeeze in a hair appointment, a nail appointment, and maybe even a pedicure. That's as far as I'm willing to go with the beauty biz, but it's a start.

6. Another big tip on all of the lists: TURN OFF YOUR SCREEN. Totally agree with this. It makes your anxiety go way down, and helps you with mindfulness. 

Since I read on my phone, I will prepare for this by getting some print books in advance for reading material. Then, I'll try to block out Internet access for at least a day (baby steps), and see how that goes.

I have a feeling this will be incredibly liberating and good for my soul!

7. If this was happening in the spring/summer instead of winter, I would also add this bit of advice: do outdoor activities! Like biking, kayaking, hiking. Unfortunately, we're in the midst of our hideous New England winter right now.

Here is my winter alternative...do INDOOR activities that are fun, entertaining, and include walking around. I'm pushing for a trip to the MFA, maybe the Gardner Museum, and a visit to the Boston Flower Show. When the kids are home from school we'll head down to Mystic, CT to tour the aquarium. If the weather is okay, we'll also add on a day in Newport, RI and hike around Sachuest Point in Middletown.

*******

That's it. I'm working on new exercises, a strict (and yummy) diet, a party, some pampering, a screen-free break, and some new activities.

Although this is not the same thing as a real retreat--where it's all about you, hee hee!--I think it has a good and practical application.

I'll be developing good habits that I can continue at HOME. 

Have any of you tried an at-home retreat? What did you do?

Let's chat!

Nina/Penny

Thursday, February 21, 2019

From the Writing Cave: Observations About Genre Limitations


Personal observation for the week...

What is the most liberating part of switching from the romance genre to other types of fiction?

(At the moment, I'm working on horror, paranormal fiction, and YA fiction).

Creating truly flawed characters, not heroes.

If you ask a reader or author of romance what is the most important rule--unbreakable, sacred--they will most likely answer...

HAPPY ENDINGS!

As a writer of romance, I never found the happy ending to be a limitation. I generally gravitate to what I like to call "optimistic fiction" whether it's romance or not.

The insistence of a happy ending puts limits on plot.

But to be honest, my struggles with the romance genre had to do with CHARACTER not PLOT.

When the characters are defined as "HERO" and "HEROINE" there are expectations that squeeze them into a box.

When you try to break out of that box--Tom in APPLES SHOULD BE RED is 62, a chain-smoker, borderline alcoholic, coarse with language and manners, rude, judgmental--there might be push-back.

I discovered something important with that book.

There is a difference between...

1. CHARACTER WITH HEROIC QUALITIES

2. HERO

That's not to say that all heroes in romance are the same. Sure, plenty of them have gorgeous physiques, but there are others with flaws who are less than perfect. Likewise, not all romance heroes are good guys, but all of them have a character arc that shows growth and courage over the course of the book.

I have seen readers complain that heroes/heroines in romance were not "likable." If you are not rooting for the H/h to get together and have a happy ending, a romance fails.

What happens when you get to write a "character" instead of a "hero?" 

You gain the freedom to create a real person who may be extremely unlikable. Likability is not a prerequisite for all fiction, as we know.

I'm working on a horror novel right now.

Not gonna lie. The freedom to create a truly flawed character--with darkness, jealousy, cruelty--is absolutely delicious. 

Of course, "real" characters may also exhibit heroic elements and some sort of growth arc over the course of the novel.

But knocking the character off that romance pedestal is a freakin' breath of fresh air.

This isn't meant as a criticism of the romance hero. In fact, I have issues with "dark" romance where the "hero" is someone who kidnaps, tortures, and rapes the "heroine." IMO, not heroic behavior.

I also have issues with cheating in romance. I don't want my romance hero to cheat on his partner. But I'm totally fine with that in a mystery, thriller, lit fiction. 

My point is that creatively speaking, the ability to create a character vs. a hero opens up a whole new world for a writer.

It's fun.

And creepy (horror novel!)...

And not knowing if the character has good/heroic qualities until the bitter end adds a nice element of suspense that we don't get to play with in the romance genre.

So...yeah. I'm enjoying this.

For a sneak peek of LITTLE SHADOW MAN, here's a snippet I posted.

Writer Friends: What is your opinion about this? Do you enjoy creating heroes and that corresponding character arc? Do you like creating unlikable characters with or without redemption?

What's the most fun, challenging, interesting approach for you as a writer?

Let's chat!

All my best,

Nina/Penny 

Tuesday, February 5, 2019

Creating Treasure


I love it when something changes my perspective on a certain topic. 

Looking at things from a different point of view is a way to learn, grow, and change.

Recently, I had two separate events in my life that opened up my eyes about writing and publishing.

One was meeting a woman who wrote her memoir.

The other was expanding my "friends" on social media to include authors of nonfiction, poetry, kiddy lit, mysteries, thrillers, women's fiction, horror, literary fiction, and more.

After fifteen years of being totally immersed in genre fiction and the current indie publishing model--write fast, crank out a book every three months, follow trends, write to market, write a series, etc--it was refreshing to get a different point of view about the publishing world.

There are myriad approaches to writing and models for publishing.

Some folks write ONE book in their lifetime. 

ONE.

Just one.

Crazy?

I met a lovely woman at a book-signing who was selling her memoir. She was bubbling over with enthusiasm about her book. She'd scheduled talks at libraries, bookstores, and for groups that were appropriate for her topic.

When I asked what she was currently working on, she answered, "No other books. This is it for me. My story."

I was flabbergasted.

No other books?

She had written her story. It was her own personal literary treasure. 

It didn't lose value after three months. It didn't lose relevancy. She wasn't worried about cranking out a book every ninety days, and fretting that readers would forget about her.

Her book had a unique title and cover and story because it was her personal treasure.

It wasn't disposable. It was written to have long-term value. To be durable, special.

I also found that different corners of the publishing world had very different personalities and goals.

Some were focused on language, emotion. Their goals included being published in literary magazines and winning awards.

Some reached out to people with shared interests and concerns about the world around them.

Some were focused on bestseller lists and marketing plans.

I noticed a difference in the way the books were discussed and treated.

Some had longevity, timelessness. 

Some seemed generic, with similar covers, titles, and blurbs.

I discovered that I LOVE poets. They respect language. They respect each other. They're all about authenticity. 

I met people who promoted their books in a professional, non-aggressive way. And others who don't know that messaging a "new" friend with a spam promo is off-putting.

I came to this conclusion. There is room for everyone...

...The folks who focus on productivity and speed and commercial success.

...The folks who choose to create one treasure in their lifetime.

...Writers who concentrate on language and quality and recognition for that.

...People who teach and connect.

...And many more. An infinite number of possibilities.

Most importantly, any kind of book can have longevity and durability. 

Think about a favorite dog-eared cookbook.

Non-fiction, genre fiction, literary fiction.

Any kind of book can be timeless treasure with a long shelf-life.

That's a good goal for all writers, of all types. To create treasure for our readers.

Off to write,

Penny/Nina

Friday, January 11, 2019

10th Year Book Anniversary: Life Lessons


Ten years ago, in 2009, my first book was published.

It was a quirky take on the legend of Santa Claus, complete with drunken elves, five rambunctious brothers, and romance under the Christmas tree. It had won a couple of awards, and was picked up by a small publisher who offered holiday options.

Here I am, 10 years later. A decade has passed. How did that even happen?

I have now published one children's book, all five installments of the Klaus Brothers Series, an award-nominated short story with "seasoned" characters in their sixties, a rated G snowbound-in-a-cabin quickie, a novella about a treehouse designer, and an award-winning women's fiction about a reality cooking show.

In the meantime, I survived a heart attack, raised two kids, a husband, and a wiener dog.

I've been in three critique groups, attended countless conferences, offered workshops from Florida to Maine, co-hosted an indie publishing symposium, won a bunch of awards, sold a bunch of books, accumulated reviews--the good, the bad, and the ugly--mentored other authors, befriended many readers, ran a review site, and learned more about the publishing industry than I really ever wanted to know. I even had a film company express interest in one of my books. This amounted to nothing, but it added a bit of excitement to my author journey.

Yesterday, I spent some time thinking about what lessons I've learned over the last decade. Yes, I've learned a lot of lessons. 


But when you really get right down to it, I can sum up a decade of learning into two points...


1. Focus on the writing.

2. True friendships are the golden nugget.


The Writing: I started my writing journey as an eight-year-old, lugging around a dingy white notebook with my first story scribbled in extremely feminine cursive.

I was eight. I didn't know anything about marketing trends, agents, or conferences.

All I knew was that story I could not stop thinking about was growing and expanding and becoming something exciting. I had discovered the "thrill" that a writer experiences with the birth of a novel.

And, after a decade of publishing bullshit, I now know that the "thrill" is still the most important thing.

Really, the only thing.

It's true. I see a lot of authors get caught up in the other stuff--dollar signs in their eyes, and awards season, and so bent out of shape when they get a bit of criticism. But the truth is, if you have the heart and soul of a writer, that "thrill" is the reason you're doing this.

As it should be.

True Friendships: Doesn't matter who or what you are. Teacher, social worker, stay-at-home mom. Scientist, author, Hollywood actor.

Pretty soon you figure out those true, loyal friends are the golden nuggets of your life.

They deserve your time and energy and love. And you learn to push the backstabbers, who are sometimes dressed in sheep's clothing, off the proverbial cliff.

Those true friends are with you every step of the way, whether you're rich or poor or depressed or useful. Long after you write your last book, you'll be laughing together at the nursing home and listening to 1980s Madonna songs.

Hold on tight to those people.

✯✯✯

That's it.

Those are the lessons.

I expect those same two lessons will still be appropriate years from now.

I find it interesting that over the last twenty years of writing, I've come full circle. Started as an enthusiastic writer, became fully immersed in the publishing world, and then found my way back to this basic place where writing is the focus.

It's a good place to be.

Love and good wishes to all the storytellers out there,

Nina/Penny