Wednesday, December 31, 2014

"Testimony" being reissued!

My 2002 novel "Testimony," about a gospel choir that doesn't live the music it sings, is being reissued by the publisher!

The novel featured Roger McKenzie and his choir, The Triumphant Voices of Praise.

Check out the new cover Dafina Books has created. "Testimony" will be available in stores and via online retailers in August 2015. Mark your calendars!

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Of icky piano lessons and regrets as an adult

Un-journal prompt #9

Did you take music, dance, or other lessons as a child?

             Every Monday night at 7 p.m., my brother and I trudged over to Mrs. Smith’s house for piano lessons. I hated it. Hated it.

                Did I mention that I hated it?
                My brother eventually started karate lessons and he got to get out of piano because one of the martial arts classes was held the same night. No fair!!
                I never practiced, so of course, Monday night was a trial.
                How much did I dislike it? Well, my mother was the back-up pianist at church when the music minister wasn’t there. When my mom had a conflict, guess who was tapped to play for Sunday services? I think the choir dreaded those Sundays when I was on the piano as much as I disliked being there. I didn’t even want the money! (Yes, the pianist got paid, no matter how unwilling she may have been about actually performing the task.)
                I don’t know why I didn’t like it, although taking piano lessons not being my idea may have had something to do with it.
 I played clarinet from fifth grade through my junior year in college and loved every moment of it. I remember being so afraid that I wouldn’t make the senior high band. The band director came up to the junior high to audition eighth-graders. I’d been playing the clarinet for three years by then and I dreamed of marching on the field at football games and playing “Rock Around the Clock” (there was a ’50s resurgence at the time and the crowds always went wild when the band played “Rock Around the Clock” and, yes, I did eventually get to experience that moment). I had swimming lessons and could be found at the pool just about every day during the summer. There were myriad of crafts, Girl Scouts, YMCA camp and other outdoor ventures that I loved. But piano. Ugh!
                There was always a piano in the house growing up. My mom still has a piano and an organ (yes, a full-size one like you’d see in a church) and a keyboard. She teaches basic piano lessons.
                Do I regret not paying attention? Definitely. I wish, now, that I’d been more studious at piano so I could sit down at a baby grand and make magic happen on the keys. But today, sadly, all I can manage on the piano are the opening bars to Beethoven’s “Moonlight Sonata.”

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

What stresses you?

Un-journal prompt #8
Continuing with the series of Un-journaling prompts, here's my answer to:

What stresses you?

I’ll approach this as a list. And it's a rather short one at that but the items are significant to me:
  • Missing deadlines.

  • Being late – and I’m always late, for everything: work, church, doctor’s appointments, dates, etc. Can’t seem to get myself together.

  • A junky house – so I guess I’m always stressed about this!
  • Feeling as if I’m not living my purpose in life and that time is running out to do something, make a change, find my True North, make a difference.

  • The Check Engine light on the dash of my car. That usually means an expensive repair is soon to be knocking at my wallet. For proof, see what happened to me in September!

Wednesday, December 3, 2014

Unjournal journaling: Packing up to move

Un-journal prompt #7
Continuing with the series of Un-journaling prompts, here's my response to the simple prompt: 

How many times have you moved in your life?

Moving is not something I like to do. So when I do it, it’s going to be for the long haul. Sometimes I wish I’d grown up military or married a military man. The constant moves that are required of military members means you have to keep the possessions to a manageable level.

As a child we lived in Cleveland and Akron, Ohio; and in a town outside Pittsburgh. As an adult, I’ve moved eight times. Goodness! I didn’t realize it was even that much.

To college: I’m from Pennsylvania and did undergrad in Hampton, Virginia.

Home: After graduation I moved back home and commuted into Pittsburgh where I worked as a newspaper reporter.

To grad school: I left the newspaper to go to grad school at Ohio State in Columbus, Ohio. I moved into a third-floor walk-up apartment. I’d learned during my sophomore year in college that I did not like people on top of me. From heavy walking to music and the like, I knew that if I were ever in an apartment again (or a dormitory), I’d need to live on the top floor. So I found a studio I could afford on a grad student’s non-existent income and called it home until after graduation when I got a job back in Virginia.

Back to Virginia: My first move was to a hotel for a week. My employer put me up until I found an apartment.

Magnolia House: That place ended up being a lovely old Victorian – with magnolia trees in the yard -- that had been converted into five apartments. Unfortunately, heating the place was killing me, so I began looking for another place to live. By the way, today, Magnolia House is a lovely bed-and-breakfast inn.

Phoebus area of Hampton: I moved in with friends and we had the perfect living arrangements. We shared a townhouse and all three of us were on completely different work schedules. The arrangement lasted for two years.

Cottage Life: Next stop after Libbey Street was a lovely little cottage. Little being the operative word. If the oven door was open, you couldn’t open the refrigerator. The “table” in the living room/dining room combo came out of the wall – similar to a Murphy bed. When I bought bedroom furniture, I only got the headboard and a night table. A chest of drawers didn’t fit in the room! But there were no adjoining walls with the neighbors and I kept pots of geraniums on the steps. I stayed there until I bought a house.

Current: The place I call home now has been home since 1990. When I moved in, I danced around in all of the glorious space that was mine, mine, mine. My entire cottage would have fit in the living room and dining room of the house – with room to spare! Now, of course, it’s filled to capacity and I shudder at the thought of having to pack up and move somewhere.

Saturday, November 29, 2014

This Holiday Magic 'warms hearts' for Christmas

The holiday season is upon us and what better time to read a holiday romance. "This Holiday Magic" is out and available from Kimani Arabesque.

Celeste Norfleet, Janice Sims and I have a collection of heart-warming short stories that I hope you'll enjoy.

USA Today said this about the anthology: " Family (blood related and otherwise) and friends influence the courtships with wonderful support, honest counsel and helpful machinations to bring these sweet romances to fruition."

The collection deemed earned a four-star rating from RT Book Reviews and this comment about my novella, "A Family for Christmas": "Finding new love and uniting two families is showcased well. ... Mason's tale, in particular, features quite a bit of depth for such a short story."

"A Family for Christmas" features two single parents.

Upscale retailer Renee Armstrong moved to the suburbs to give her daughter a fresh start. She never expected to cross paths with someone like Trey Calloway, the sexy single dad living next door. With the Yuletide in full swing, will they discover the exquisite gift of a new beginning…together?
You can purchase "This Holiday Magic" from the Kimani website as an ebook or paperback or get it via your favorite book seller.

Friday, November 28, 2014

NaNoWriMo 2014

I've been MIA from the blog primarily because my focus this month ... and the month leading into it ... was National Novel Writing Month.

This year, I was determined to win the 30-day challenge to write a 50,000-word novel. My win/loss record was 3-3 leading into NaNo 2014 and I wanted to put a notch in the win column. It's Day 28 of NaNo, and I'm coasting toward that win.

How? Why?

This year, I discovered voice recognition on my phone! It's been there all the time, it just never occurred to me to write with it. I talk the story into the phone on the commute to and from work (20 minutes each way) and can get anywhere from 800-1,000 words done each way. This has been a game changer for me!

Granted, the writing is rough -- even rougher than a normal typed or longhand first draft because enunciation is not always on point and sometimes the app hears words that I'm not saying. Then there's the bit about punctuation. You have to tell the app to make a period, or a comma or a question mark or a new paragraph. So the first edit of what I've drafted via voice recognition will need to be cleaning up the punctuation and making real sentences out of sentences that go on for 200 words! But, guess what? I'll have a first draft. And that's what NaNoWriMo is all about!

So, wish me luck as I finish up the 50,000 words, because after that, I need to actually finish the novel. My guess is that it will take about another 50K to get to the end of the actual first draft. 50K in a month is remarkable, but it doesn't make a completed manuscript.

What's your experience with NaNoWriMo?

I participate in my region's activities and host a community write-in every year. Here's an article from the Daily Press about wrimos in Hampton Roads, Va. And yes, that's me in the video (before the hair changed again!) and garbed in my writer gear.

RIP to P.D. James, a wonderful writer

Author Photo via Random House
I can’t recall when I started reading P.D. James’ novels. But I loved her stories with Commander Adam Dalgliesh of Scotland Yard as well as the PBS adaptations of them. It was via her novels that I eventually came across Martha Grimes and her Scotland Yard Inspector Richard Jury.

What made her such a great writer to read? This quote from her sums it up:
“When I first heard that Humpty Dumpty fell off the wall, I immediately wondered: Did he fall — or was he pushed?”

Here’s the New York Times story about her death which was announced Thanksgiving Day.

Among her advice to budding mystery novels: center your mystery, follow the "fair play" rule and study reality. Here's an article with ll of P.D. James' advice on writing mystery novels.

Friday, September 19, 2014

Drama on Interstate 64

Of all the places for a vehicle to break down, I'd vote Interstate 64 at a busy interchange not one of the ideal places.

But that's what happened to me Thursday. I heard a pop -- like the sound of a Ping Pong ball hitting a window -- and then lights and warnings started flashing on the dash. STOP ENGINE NOW freaked me out so I pulled over and did just that. Grabbed everything I could and hopped out of the car -- and almost into traffic zooming by.

I have AAA, so that was no worry. Being on the side of that particular stretch of road was. Since just the night before a police officer and a firefighter were hit while assisting a motorist on the side of a local road. I decided I'd rather risk getting bit by ticks than hit by a semi or someone sending a text while zipping along at 70 mph. So I climbed over the guard rail and made my call and the wait for a tow in the grass.

East-bound view

Looking west bound
I'll be gracious and spare you the, er, let's just say irritated selfie that I took.

By the way, the wheels are up and running again. Thank you, Chris, Wally and Mr. Dalton!

Saturday, August 9, 2014

Describe the best concert you ever attended

Un-journal prompt 6

It's time for another writing prompt. I'll give you my response, post yours.

This continues in the Un-Journal journaling series.

Describe the best concert you ever attended
I’ve been to tons of concerts in all musical genres in my life, from gospel and jazz to rock, bluegrass, country and the blues. I’ve seen Al Jarreau and Elton John the most. The first time I saw Jarreau (in Pittsburgh, Pa.), David Sanborn opened for him. That’s how long ago that was!

If I have to pick just one … man, that’s hard. Elton John, Rod Stewart, Chet Atkins and Babyface (how’s that for a quartet of conflicting genres!) have been standouts. But I think the prize has to go to the late great Luther Vandross, November 1993, playing the Hampton Coliseum in Hampton, Va.

Luther came out and promised “I will never, ever mess with your ticket money.” He then sang for hours! For those not familiar with him, listen to this Luther classic.

In addition to the music, and why I can remember the day, it was a girls’ night out, we had great seats, and I’d just sold my first novel. So we were celebrating both my sale to Arabesque and Luther that night.