by Lisa Lipkind Leibow, Author of Smart Women’s Fiction
The idea for my summer vacation grew out of a family movie-watching experience. We saw the movie The Bucket List, starring Morgan Freeman and Jack Nicholson. In the film, the two main characters, being treated for terminal illnesses, decided to carry out every adventure on their bucket list before it’s too late.
Luckily, my entire family is happy and healthy. But we do have limited time. My oldest is entering high school in the fall. We decided that since we only have five more years with us all living under one roof that we would each make our own bucket list of the places we would like to travel together. Then we compared our lists and came up with our family bucket list.
Last summer, our first bucket list trip was a trip to the Grand Canyon and more. We flew to Phoenix, spent one night in Scottsdale. Drove from Scottsdale to the South Rim of the Grand Canyon, stopping a Montezuma’s Castle along the way. After a night and a full day at the Grand Canyon, we headed to Lake Powell for two nights. Then toured Bryce, Zion, and capped it off in Vegas.
As I write this, I’m getting ready for this year’s Bucket List trip. We’re off to the beautiful Hawaiian Islands. I can’t wait! We’re going to visit the Big Island of Hawaii to explore lava tubes, snorkel, see lava flowing into the ocean, and stand on brand new earth. Next, we’ll hop over to Maui where we’ll drive the road to Hana – one of the last undeveloped areas of the island. I’ll have a chance to spend time with the kids in a bungalow on the beach—completely unplugged! I can’t wait. I’m looking forward to having a few adventures with my husband and kids, exploring new surroundings, and reenergizing.
Tell me, what’s on YOUR bucket list?
Best to you,
Lisa Lipkind Leibow
I said, “I had lunch with my friends today.”
He said, “yeah?”
I said, “I told them about my Valentine’s gift. The coupon for trapeze lessons. You should have heard Donna. She said, ‘You wait. He’ll install a trapeze in the bedroom now!’”
“Ceiling’s too low.”
Well, there’s no trapeze in the bedroom. The whole idea of flying on a trapeze fascinated me but I needed to build confidence and carve out time. I worried that I could not even do ONE chin up/pull up/whatever you call it. I worried about stretching enough to maintain flexibility.
I started doing push-ups, a little weight training, and kept my eye toward the few weeks of summer when all three sons were busy with camp.
Still can’t do a chin up to save my life, but while my kids are at camp, I finally found time and guts enough to cash in on my Valentine’s gift and found a new hobby!
Turns out the momentum of the swing makes you weightless – no need to be able to lift my entire weight. What I didn’t consider was climbing a very tall ladder about twenty times in two hours! My butt was killing me the next day!
I did it! I have taken five lessons so far and I can’t wait to go back! It’s a blast. Here’s a video clip to prove it. Click on the hyperlink below. (Oh… How I wish I knew how to embed video properly!)
Remember, this was taken during my second lesson! I’m still working on “the catch.” There’s much fodder for fiction in my new hobby. The diverse reasons people are attracted to this activity: facing fear, sense of adventure, working through life changes like a tough break up or job transition, and more.
As for gathering information for a unique setting, I have hit the jackpot!
Even more adventure: During my first class, construction workers outside accidentally hit a gas main and we had to evacuate. Everyone stayed safe in real life. But you know me… the wheels are turning. I’m starting to envision a high action scene in a trapeze school tent, complet with explosions that send the students flying a little further than they anticipated. Who knows? This could turn up in my next story.
by Garasamo Maccagnone
The easiest story ever to purge its way out of me was my latest release entitled, The Note Giver. After a long sabbatical away from daily Mass, I began attending a local rural parish four or five miles from my house. After a month or so, an older man began frequenting the early Mass, usually a few minutes late, and always partaking in a sort of odd ritual.
The man would splash holy water on the back of his ears three times before genuflecting and entering his pew. After watching his eccentric behavior over time, my interest sparked and I consciously became aware that the man might be a compelling character in a story at some time.
On a night in October, I received a call from an estranged in-law that my father was dying. Estranged from my father and my entire family, you can imagine the difficulty of arriving at the hospital to see your father hooked up to the various support systems, while your family members stare at you with antipathy. Though my father survived his surgery, an infection raged inside of him and his doctors thought that he would not survive the night.
Oddly, the next day at Church, when the Mass had ended, the story came to me in an instant as I prayed in the darkness for my father. As if it was meant to be, The Note Giver was written in a matter of hours when I returned home. The computer keys practically typed at their own accord as the words rushed out of me. Somehow, the sighting of the eccentric man at Church and my father’s bout with death all came together and forced a story out of me that, a few months earlier, I had not even a thought about composing. I suppose it was meant to be.
Garasamo Maccagnone studied creative writing and literature under noted American writers Sam Astrachan and Stuart Dybek at Wayne State University and Western Michigan University. A college baseball player as well, Maccagnone met his wife Vicki as a junior at WMU. The following year, after injuring his throwing arm, Maccagnone left school and his baseball ambitions to marry Vicki. After a two year stint at both W.B. Doner and BBDO advertising agencies, Maccagnone left the industry to apply his knowledge of marketing in a new venture in an up-and-coming industry. Maccagnone created a company called, “Crate and Fly,” and turned it from a store front in 1984 to a world-wide multi-million dollar shipping corporation by 1994.
In the mid 90’s Maccagnone decided to fulfill the promise of his writing career, by first penning the children’s book, The Suburban Dragon and then following up with a collection of short stories and poetry entitled, The Affliction of Dreams. His literary novel, St. John of the Midfield was published in 2007, followed by his For the Love of St. Nick, which was released in 2008. Maccagnone expanded the original version of For the Love of St. Nick and had the book illustrated for a new release in June 2009. My Dog Tim and Other Stories is a literary anthology of the author’s best work.
Garasamo “Gary” Maccagnone lives today in Shelby Township, Michigan, with his wife Vicki and three children. At this time, he is researching the location for his second novel, tentatively titled, He Lay Low.
You can visit Gary online at www.garasamomaccagnone.com
by Nancy Lennea
Thank you, Lisa, for welcoming me today and for inviting me to enlighten you all with how my parents, Robert and Audrey Beegle, inspired my debut novel, SECRET LOVE MATCH. My contemporary romance, released this month from Red Rose Publishing, tells how a 40-year-old former TV actor seeks out an old friend. Taylor Adams wants him to help get him into film. When he meets the man’s 21-year-old daughter, the tennis ace, he is compelled to get close to her…as long as her father doesn’t find out.
I could fill several pages answering a reader’s question like “how do you get ideas?” Simply, write what you know. My hero came to life when I wanted to portray a drifter looking back on a wasted life. I wanted him a bit older, a little wiser, and he needed a goal; a dream. My character is loosely based on both William Shatner of Star Trek fame and Tim Allen, star of the comedy film, Galaxy Quest.
I grew up during the original Star Trek TV show’s short-lived run. My parents recognized my passion for space during those pre-moonwalk days. They allowed me to stay up late on a school night. William Shatner became a movie star years later when Star Trek-The Movie hit the theaters. In Galaxy Quest, Tim plays the star of a space western, popular eighteen years earlier, now earning a living at sci-fi conventions and other low budget appearances. My own character’s popular TV space western drifted into reruns fifteen years earlier, and now he wants his name in lights.
My parents inspired me to write and keep writing, and helped by editing my drafts. They also helped in the creation of my heroine, Rebecca Delacourt. I was again fortunate to have parents who scrimped and saved so we could enjoy the nearby beach club. I learned to swim and dive then was presented with a tennis racket. It felt good in my hand. I felt powerful each time I hit the ball over the net. I competed against friends. A few of the cute boys came by to play…tennis, that is. I continued to play up and through college and watched Wimbledon and the Olympics. I never would have created a tennis ace with a dream set on an Olympic medal if it wasn’t for my parents. They inspired me to get up from the sand chair, or out of the water, and learn a sport, which in turn made me create Becka.
My characters are two headstrong individuals with specific plans for their futures. Never mind Taylor is nearly twice Becka’s age. Forget that they have absolutely no plans to marry, much less date when such a distraction could impede on their goals. When they meet, everything changes!
Nancy Lennea lives the dream. After growing up in Huntington, New York, and raising two handsome sons in New Hampshire, Nancy and her husband moved to North Carolina where she writes full-time. She is a member of Romance Writers of America, Heart of Carolina Romance Writers, Celtic Heart Romance Writers, Fantasy-Futuristic & Paranormal Romance Writers, and Sisters in Crime. She also writes paranormal romance as Nancy Lee Badger. Visit her website: www.nancylennea.com and her blog: www.nancylennea-inlove.blogspot.com.
SECRET LOVE MATCH is available now from http://redrosepublishing.com/books or just click on the buy link: http://redrosepublishing.com/books/product_info.php?products_id=666&osCsid=8947694298c709e5d692a1db9aca15b3
by Jean Hart Stewart
I’m starting a new book where one of the heroines is charming, but ruled by her superstitions. There are two heroines since the two heroes are twins. This one is going to be fun. And I’ve been thinking a lot about my grandmother.
My grandmother insisted her grandchildren call her Kate. It was surely the only modern thing about her. She so strict I hardly dared call her anything at all. Once I came home from the corner store with a carton of root beer. I had to take it back because it had ‘beer’ in the title. I hope she’s in heaven but hasn’t bothered to check my current life style! Oh, and if one gave you a purse you better find some money in it, although even a penny would do. If we went out the door, forget something and turned back, we had to circle a chair three times and then sit in it for a moment for being allowed back out. Oh yes, and you didn’t give anybody a knife because that would cut your friendship in two.
The one thing I remember with pleasure is that she had beautiful white hair which fell to her waist when she set it free from its tight bun. She occasionally let me brush it, and as a child I dearly loved doing that. She seemed a little fey at times. Once when we were on a visit she took my mother aside and told her to get me to a doctor, something was wrong with Jean. We laughed about it on the way home but a few days later I suffered an acute appendicitis attack which necessitated an emergency operation.
Mostly she was such an aloof figure I had little interaction with her. But I certainly remember that austere, aloof woman who somehow had my best interests at heart.
I’d love to know your superstitions. We all have some, even if we try to dismiss them as nonsense. Come on, tell me yours. Please?
I feel I’m very much a Californian although I was born in Ohio. California has been home for a good many years. Life changed drastically when I was six and my father died, incredibly from an errant golf ball. A dishonest insurance agent left us with little income and forced my sheltered mother to seek work, and she became a teacher. Her hours required me to be alone in the house most of the afternoon, and since I was forbidden to leave till my mother got home, I became an avid reader. The local library supplied most of the books and I fell in love with both Jane Austen and King Arthur.
Reading is still one of my favorite activities, although I often have to push it aside to make room for my compelling love of writing. My journalism degree wasn’t much use to me until recently. Marriage and raising two children pleasantly got in the way. After twenty years of being a real estate broker and with the kids raised I could finally devote my time to writing, my first love.
Few things in my life have been so satisfying, especially when all my books have a happy ending. Wonderful to make that happen. It only gets more interesting when a secondary character demands his very own book. Sometimes a new character is so noisy I just have to give in. Shouting inside my head gets my attention, believe me, and those guys usually turn out to be fun to write about.
Most of the ideas for my stories grow out of specific incidents, places, activities or people I meet in life. A case in point is my Havana Series of thrillers.
The idea for the series popped into my mind while watching my ex-wife, a successful and highly skilled plastic surgeon, perform a complex surgery. As I observed her nimble hands undermine aging skin and chisel a bulbous appendage into a perfect nose, I said to myself, “Why don’t you write a thriller based on a face-disguising plastic surgery to Fidel Castro?”
I picked Castro instead of Hugo Chavez because I was born in Cuba, so I knew something about the topic. I chose to write a thriller instead of a mainstream novel because the subject matter lent itself to the thriller genre. Besides, I love to write thrillers.
Another interesting anecdote about the Havana Series of books is how I came up with the idea for the beautiful but ruthless female assassin, Marcela.
I wasn’t happy with my first draft of the manuscript. The basic story of a widowed doctor lured to Cuba after thirty years to perform plastic surgery on Fidel Castro, in the process rekindling his love affair with the childhood sweetheart he left behind and meeting the son he never knew, was interesting but plain vanilla. I felt that it lacked punch and needed a counter-point subplot. So I came up with another idea, “What if Raul Castro sent an assassin after the doctor?”
So I developed a male assassin named Marcial and stuffed him in the book. My problem was that I felt no empathy for Marcial. He was simply a muscular and mean lump, lacking energy and excitement. Marcial gave me writer’s block. One day, commiserating with my wife during dinner about my problems with Marcial, she gave me a great suggestion. “What if you made the assassin a woman and called her Marcela?”
And, suddenly, I had an epiphany. The character of Marcela exploded in my imagination. I could see the entire storyline, in vivid detail, in front of my eyes. It was an incredible moment of illumination. Hollywood couldn’t have done it better. Marcela would be Halle Berry on steroids but with yellow eyes, a lethal professional killer with a strict religious and moral code. I wrote the rest of the first book of the series in three months of furious writing.
Most of the ideas for my stories come to me like that, from unexpected sources. That’s why I try to be always alert and observant to the world around me. I don’t want to miss anything. Culling ideas from life is hard work.
When an old fisherman is gunned down on a Mexican beach, prominent Miami surgeon Raymond Peters becomes the prime suspect. The dead fisherman is believed to be Fidel Castro whom Dr. Peters had helped disguise through clandestine plastic surgery on a trip to Cuba two years earlier. But is the body really that of the Cuban leader? In order to save his own life, the beleaguered physician must solve the murder, find the killers and retrieve a mysterious journal. And this has to be done while outwitting a sensual but ruthless assassin named Marcela, sent by Castro’s brother Raul.
To Marcela’s delight, Tula arrived promptly at eight. She paused at the
door, scanning the crowded bar. Her red halter dress and black spike
heels with ankle straps did the job she’d obviously intended them to do.
Marcela waved from her small table in the back of the room, her heart
quickening. Tula waved back and started skirting the tables. Men and
women stared at her as she passed by, triggering in Marcela a strange
She rose when Tula reached her table, and both women greeted each
other with the customary exchange of kisses on the cheek. Tula’s eyes
“Something wrong?” Marcela asked, sitting down again. “You look—”
“Sad?” Tula said, sitting down next to Marcela.
“A friend of mine died recently,” Tula said. “A very good friend. We
used to come here sometimes. It made me sad when I walked in.”
“Sorry,” Marcela said. “You want to go some other place?”
“No. This is fine. I need to get over it.”
“What did your friend die of?”
“He was murdered.”
Marcela raised an eyebrow. “Miami is a violent city.”
“You can say that again.”
“How did it happen?”
“He was shot in his apartment.”
“My God!” Marcela said. “A thief?”
Tears came to Tula’s eyes. “Who knows? He was such a good person.
I can’t imagine anyone wanting to kill him.”
“Poor thing. Did they catch who did it?”
“Do the police have any leads?”
Tula shook her head and suddenly started sobbing.
“Now, now,” Marcela said, leaning forward and patting her hand.
“You need a drink.” She waved to the waiter. “What would you like?”
“Just what I was going to order myself,” Marcela said as the waiter
arrived. “Two mojitos. And when you see these glasses empty again, you
bring some more.”
“Yes, ma’am,” the waiter said.
An hour and four mojitos later, Tula had to go to the bathroom.
Marcela got up to go with her. When Tula’s head was turned, Marcela
slipped two roofies into her drink.
The other day, I forgot to pull in my side view mirror before backing out of my garage. The edge of the mirror caught just so it popped out of the housing. Why is that door so narrow? Alright, I admit it. This is the third time I have made this same mistake. After the first time it happened, I made it a habit of folding in the mirrors when pulling in and out. I don’t know why I forget every once in a while. The annoying thing is, you can’t just replace the little mirror. Then entire housing needs to be replaced, too. $300 later, it’s as good as new. Ugh!
Okay, maybe I’m a space cadet, or as one dear friend once lovingly called me, “a brilliant air-head.” Maybe I’m careless. Maybe I’m so distracted by my happy chaos that I forget this one minor detail at the tune of three-hundred bucks a pop! Double-Ugh! (…or should that be Triple-Ugh!)
Okay, here’s the part where I can turn it all around and laugh at my stupid mistakes. Character’s telling details come in all shapes and sizes. Why not a character who repeatedly makes the same silly mistakes, is clumsy, always loses her keys – or breaks her side view mirror by hitting it on her way out of the garage – three or more times in the course of a story. This little foible could serve to identify a supporting character, could establish a pattern of obstacles for a protagonist, and could most definitely provide some comic relief.
Here’s my challenge. I dare you to share some of your most annoying hassles, mishaps, and blunders. Provide some fodder for fiction. Lay it on me!
By Cheryl Norman
RUNNING SCARED, my romantic suspense from Medallion Press, started out a silly game. Good friend Marv Jones and I were training to run the Marine Corps Marathon (when I was younger and thinner), and every Saturday morning we did our long run of the week, a distance of fifteen to twenty-two miles, along the same route in south Jacksonville. Running several hours is a challenge both physically and mentally. We talked as we ran to monitor our pacing and breathing, but also to avoid boredom.
Before dawn one Saturday, we ran through an exclusive neighborhood and saw a suspicious car speed away. We began a game of what if that turned into a murder mystery. We added to it with each mile, naming the characters and fleshing out the plot. We laughed about it later then forgot it for several years.
Later I quit my job and decided to write fiction. What better story to start with than our silly murder mystery? Thus began my first novel, the story of a young woman training to run her first marathon when she witnesses a murder. Ten rewrites later and I finally knew Detective Rick Edwards and Ashley Adams and their dark secrets. I knew why they couldn’t fall in love with each other and why they would. I knew who killed whom, and why.
I’ve written many other books since my first version of RUNNING SCARED, but none took so long to revise. My friend Marv was able to read the finished manuscript but sadly died before seeing the book in print. I dedicated RUNNING SCARED to his memory. Little did we know that Saturday morning when we started spinning a tale of murder and intrigue to pass the time that I would someday write the novel and see it in print.
We writers never know when inspiration will strike. But I’m proud of the book RUNNING SCARED that evolved from that early morning training run. I think Marv is, too.
Cheryl Norman is the award winning author of Last Resort, Running Scared, and Restore My Heart. Her latest release is the witness protection romantic suspense Reclaim My Life. Visit her Website at http://cherylnorman.com . She also hosts the Grammar Cop blog at http://grammar.cherylnorman.com
I probably should call this, Family Bucket List. Volume 2 ½, because I’m merely writing to tell you I’m in the planning stages for my next exciting Family Bucket List Vacation. For those of you who didn’t catch Volume I of the Family Bucket List, first let me explain what’s going on.
The idea for this trip grew out of a family movie-watching experience. We saw the movie The Bucket List, starring Morgan Freeman and Jack Nicholson. In the film, the two main characters, being treated for terminal illnesses, decided to carry out every adventure on their bucket list before it’s too late.
Luckily, my entire family is happy and healthy. But we do have limited time before my oldest is off to college. We decided that since we only have a few more years with us all living under one roof that we would each make our own bucket list of the places we would like to travel together. Then we compared our lists and came up with our family bucket list.
Our first family bucket list trip was a tour of National Parks including Grand Canyon, Lake Powell, Bryce and Zion Canyon, ending in Las Vegas (to offset all of the Natural Wonders, my kids wanted someplace “fake” on the itinerary). You can read about some of the highlights by clicking on “Bucket List” in the popular tags listed in the sidebar on the right of this blog.
I have spent the better part of the past few days, knee deep in travel plans for the summer. Our next bucket list trip will bring us to Hawaii! I’m so psyched! I have been calculating points mileage for our airfares, comparing hotel prices, checking out Frommer’s and other travel guides for suggested itineraries. It’s looking like we’ll spend most of our time on the Big Island and Maui. As I said, I’m still in the planning phases. So if any of my readers have been to these locales and know of any attractions or restaurants I shouldn’t miss (or should avoid), let me know!
When the time comes, I’ll be sharing more about our adventure. So stay tuned!
Best to you,
Lisa Lipkind Leibow
Author of Smart Women’s Fiction
I often joke that the most difficult part of writing fiction is whatever aspect I happen to be tackling at the moment – first draft, character development, crafting meaningful dialogue, or revealing setting through character interactions with it, and the list of writing challenges goes on. But today’s “most difficult” part of crafting fiction is pacing and rhythm. It’s a challenge to look at the big picture of a completed draft novel-length manuscript and see where the reader could use a break from the tension, or where the pace might be lagging and the reader is likely to start skimming pages. The author is too close the prose and may not be able to detect those nuances without a sixth sense for it. Even in a shorter passage, it may be a challenge to spot when the prose in a narrative description might benefit from an added “beat” to improve the rhythm of the voice.
One of the workshops I attended at the Silken Sands Writer Conference was called The Subliminal Writer with Laura Hayden. The focus of her presentation was on using music to train your mind to stay in the story – choosing a soundtrack of songs that fit the mood of your story. In a Pavlovian-style, train your behavior to get your head in the game each time you hear the music. She used soundtracks from movies for her examples, recognizing how much work goes into scoring films to set the proper mood as the plot unfolds.
This made my wheels start to turn—dangerous, I know! Soundtracks of movies are so carfully scored to set tone, build emotion, heighten tension, and build or break suspense. Ultimately, the score PACES the plot as it unfolds.
Here’s my idea. I think I’m going to play around with this concept. I’ll choose a movie soundtrack. Then I’ll analyze the pacing of the music from start to finish, taking note of the following: 1. sequence of sounds and music; 2. how much time the soundtrack hums along as white noise in the background; and 3. the placement and amount of time spent on the intense, enhanced, or exaggerated sound effects and musical accents.
From here, I’ll take this data and extrapolate a rhythm to write a story with the same pattern of emotional melodies—only in prose.
I’m in the early stages of exploring this idea. I’m curious about your reaction. More importantly, I’m open to suggestions for your favorite soundtracks, so I can narrow down what soundtrack I should use for this exercise!
Leave your soundtrack suggestions for me, please. It’s all Fodder for Fiction!
Lisa Lipkind Leibow
Author of Smart Women’s Fiction