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The Stress-Free Zone

Writing is the one thing I do for myself that involves no anxiety, uncertainty or vacillation. I won’t allow it. We all need one aspect of our lives where we’re just free to be ourselves without influence of outside pressure. I’ve decided it will be writing.

What that means on a daily basis is that, no matter what I face that day or how much of a work load I carry, I give myself one hour first thing in the morning with only a cup of coffee between sleep and empty or unfinished pages. I don’t even allow the baleful eyes of my sweet hound dog to tempt me away from my task. She’s learned, after a year or so of this routine, that the leash is next on my list.

What it means on the weekends is that I allow the computer to call with a voice louder than domestic tasks. I

CAIC_stressfree1_120209_feature

don’t always listen to that voice—if I did, I’d have laundry to the ceiling, and I’d never get a closet or drawer cleaned out. But I give that voice the prominence it deserves, and sometimes it wins out over other sounds. [Oh, okay, being a lousy homemaker helps in this case.]

But even with major book events, I let only the joy of being an author come through the doors with me. I’m shy by nature so speaking before groups or sitting behind a table trying to get passersby to stop and look at our book should not be comfortable for me. And I feel the jitters bubble towards the surface occasionally. Instead of waiting for them to break through, however, I remind myself that I’m there as a writer. Why should I care if someone ignores me or I stumble over my words?

The only experience I have to compare this with is my wedding. I planned, I saved, I fussed before the event. But when the day came, and despite the fact I knew I’d trip walking up the steps in a gown with a train, I honestly felt no nervousness. I asked myself after the ceremony why and came up with this answer: because I knew what I was doing was right. I didn’t doubt for a second that I was marrying the right man so I didn’t care what others thought of the wedding arrangements, how I looked, or whether I fell flat on my face. I was exactly where I needed to be.

When I sit before the computer playing with words; when I sit with mom at my side and a stack of books in front of us; when mom and I find ourselves among a group of strangers looking to be entertained or informed, I know I’m where I’m supposed to be. It took a long time to get here, but who cares. I’ve arrived.

–Genilee Swope Parente

Wretched2

Look for Wretched Fate coming out this month!

 
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Posted by on October 7, 2013 in Uncategorized

 

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The computer ate my homework

Ironically, I am writing this for the second time. A few minutes ago, I lost my thoughts to this new computer system, which seems to be a regular occurrence with me these days. I really thought masharkybe I had conquered this computer, but it keeps letting me know who is in charge. At 85, I don’t seem to take to change too well, and I don’t really like being beaten by the computer. But I’m learning it’s part of today’s world. And it all sort of fits with the blog column I wrote because I was addressing the great changes in the world people my age have seen. Life at 85 can be a constant adventure.

For example, today my husband and I decided to venture out to find the local Dairy Queen.  If the two of us weren’t old and didn’t live in such a traffic-mess-of-a-city, I wouldn’t label this effort “adventure.” However, since my husband can no longer remember where he is going, and I am blind and can’t read road signs … you get the picture. We usually only go where I can give him instructions these days—go right at that corner, turn left here, keep on going straight.  But I’m afraid the places I am certain of in this area, which we’ve been residents of, for only half this decade, are few and far between. Also, I spent 74 years letting my husband drive while I basically daydreamed and didn’t pay attention; thus, we are now usually limited on where we can go. That’s why these outings are “adventures.”

Surprisingly, though, we had no trouble—we made only one wrong turn. However, the adventure this time occurred after we arrived. There we were standing in line to order a meal, and neither of us could read the menu on the board.  Bob insisted I tell him what he wanted to eat (something that happens a lot these days), and neither of us could understand the clerk who had a strong foreign accent.  We felt like idiots holding up the people waiting behind us.  Finally, we got that ordeal over, and I returned to our seat to wait while Bob got the order.

Suddenly, I felt like it was lunch hour for school and a lot of kids were skipping class.  The restaurant filled with a dozen young boys – all high school students, all almost six feet in height and none of them weighing more than 130 pounds! I never saw so many thin boys in my life.  They all looked like their pants were about to fall off.

Three high school girls came in next wearing short shorts on their also-slim bodies. They looked cute and quite nice but the fact they could go to school looking like that shocked me.  Now readers, I’m not so old I can remember when it was sinful for a girl to show her ankles, but I am of the generation when girls did not wear long pants in public.  Back in my youth teenage girls wore skirts (poodle skirts if you were cool) or dresses with sweaters and saddle shoes (which were, no matter what, NOT supposed to be clean).  When my daughters were teens, they wore short skirts or short dresses.  My own “modern” mother assured me those skirt lengths were all right, but to this day, I am not convinced. The short shorts those girls in the Dairy Queen were wearing were actually a lot better cover than the miniskirts of the late 1960s, early 1970s.

I know I sound old fashioned, but I don’t really think of myself that way. However, so much has changed in the last forty to fifty years.  In fact, so much has changed in the last ten!  I have enough trouble with my cell phone and have to go to my granddaughter for help with that.  And then you add the many new programs on the computer, the pop up ads I can barely see that the Internet produces, and you can understand how much I’m facing.

I do try hard, but days like today convince me that, despite the dictation program I use and the read-back program that helps, I am fighting a mighty hard battle. I am much more adept at losing copy than producing it.  Is there anyone else out there who feels the same?

Sharon Swope

 
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Posted by on September 1, 2013 in Uncategorized

 

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Making friends with our synapses

How many of us have a smart phone, an iPod, a tablet or reading device that we don’t really know how to use? Since nothing comes with a manual anymore (and no one read them when they did), chances are, with most gadgets we buy today, we use at most a quarter of the features. We chose the device for a specific reason (cool navigation, the ability to read a book in all light levels, a calendar reminder we hope will keep us organized), but as it turns out, that darn piece of technology is full of bells and whistles and more bells that we will NEVER use and certainly never understand. Okay, I’ll admit it, I don’t even know how to set the time on my Radio Shack alarm clock. When the power goes out, I first cuss at myself for failing to put batteries in, then play with the buttons for 10 minutes or so knowing it’s a certain sequence (my dear husband bought the clock because it was billed as “simple,” which today means two buttons that will do everything if only you know exactly how and when to punch them, hold them in and let them out.)For those of us over 40, this phenomenon is a constant source of stress. Between computers that crash and smart phones that we just KNOW have a silent button somewhere, we spend way too much time using the phrase “Why do they have to make it so complicated!!”

Do we just give up, throw the phone in the lake, the iPod in the drawer and the tablet in the closet?

That’s a big “no” for most of us. We’ve come to depend on that magic feature that makes it all worthwhile. The lucky ones (like me) have a teenager or another tech-savvy friend or loved one (thank you God, for giving me my geek husband).

So here’s one way to look at the situation: your brain is like your device. It’s crammed with creativity and magic, so many ideas that you’ll never use them all. We may get frustrated on those days when we just can’t pull what we want out of our head. But surely there is someone out there (or something if our brains came with manuals)Synapses working for us that can help.

Don’t give up on that computing device that sits on your shoulders—even when you can’t access what you want. Make friends with it, get help understanding it (a writing class, an online writers group) and you will find you simply can’t live without it.

Genilee Swope Parente

 
Synapses working for us
 
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Posted by on July 27, 2013 in Uncategorized

 

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Old-fashioned Goodness

cooking 4For more than 70 years I’ve enjoyed cooking, but lately it’s become a chore. I still do it many days and often for an event or family get together. But it doesn’t carry the enjoyment I had when I was younger. This was especially true during the first few years of my marriage. Since this was right after World War II, cooking was something that was a challenge on our limited budgets (not to mention the lack of all of today’s fancy kitchen gadgets.) But it was something to be proud of, and something that gave us a challenge and usually a success every day.

Once the kids were born, it became a challenge for a different reason, mostly because there were so many foods they didn’t really like. It wasn’t fun, believe me, when one of my children refused to eat anything with ground meat of any kind and another one hated meat and potatoes so badly she acted insulted when I chose it for dinner. I think I began enjoying it again when I realized I just couldn’t please everyone so I stopped trying, started looking for new recipes and started experimenting.

I especially like to cook when I can make up something—I have a general dish in mind and certain ingredients, but no specific recipe. The trouble is, when I have a success this way, I’ve generally forgotten to write it down. It doesn’t seem to ever turn out quite as well as that first time, but maybe that has to do with remembering how good the initial success felt.

Like with writing, one of the reasons people enjoy cooking is the audience. For most of my senior years, my husband has been that audience unless we’re going to an event. Now my husband is good about everything and has never complained about anything I ever made and often complimented me. But he wouldn’t cook himself. He was raised in a different era than men today; he never even did much grilling—it just wasn’t his thing. This was fine because he enjoyed what I made and made me feel good about my cooking skills. After almost 65 years of marriage, however, even cooking for this one-man audience has become a chore.

If you’re wondering what my point is, I started writing this column after having a craving for something I used to make a long time ago, one of my personal favorites. It’s a simple recipe given to me by my brother-in-law’s wife. It’s just a frosting, which I usually put on a cake made from a mix. But it really crowns the cake and makes it a showpiece for its flavor. Somehow it’s just as good as eating candy. My son Mark mentioned it to me not too long ago, and it reminded me that there are simple recipes that stand the test of time as well the test of age. When it came to cakes, usually my kids preferred something simpler – white cake with white frosting. This one was the exception.

spry

Museum of American Packaging

Since this recipe is in my brain because I plan to make this frosting for a potluck I’m attending next week, I thought I’d pass it along to you. It reminds me that even with all the ease of canned frosting and boxed mixes, sometimes going back to the old-fashioned way of cooking produces something that reminds you why you like to cook: because you like to eat good food and you like to give that pleasure to others. If you’re wondering what “Spry” is, you have travel back to the 1950s and 1960s. It was a shortening that rivaled Crisco and was actually better tasting at the time, but lost the battle. I’ve left it in this recipe to keep it historically accurate. You’d have to travel to Cyprus today to buy any, so I’d advise substituting shortening!

Brown sugar frosting
2 tablespoons butter
3 tablespoons Spry
1 cup brown sugar

Mix together in medium size saucepan; bring to a boil, stirring constantly.  Add 1/4 cup milk.  Bring to boil again and boil for 3 minutes over low heat.  Take off stove and cool. When cool, add 1 1/2 cups powdered sugar.  When thoroughly blended, frost over prepared baked cake. Very good on spice cake or white cakes.

For our readers, I want to leave you with this thought: when something becomes a chore, even when it’s something you’re as passionate about as your writing, one place to look for inspiration is to your own past. Dust off that old recipe or old creation and visit again how good it was.

FOR THOSE OF YOU WHO ARE LOCAL, Sharon and Genilee will be at the Porter Library, 2001 Parkway Blvd, Stafford, VA Thursday night beginning at 7:30 p.m. to sign copies of Twist of Fate.

F. Sharon Swope

 
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Posted by on July 10, 2013 in Uncategorized

 

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Revving up the engine

When you feel stale with your writing, what do you do to inspire? In the old days, when I was only putting words down occasionally with no goal in mind, I’d dig out the old journals. These journals, written in long hand, still inspire when I give them a chance. But now that I’ve actually published a book with mom, I look to something else – recommitment.happy driving 2 mark

Mom and I carted my dad around Fredericksburg, Virginia this week, visiting places we thought might be interested in book signings. At the end of the day, we had two signings booked and a very hot prospect for a third. Pretty good results from a couple of hours of driving. But the day meant a lot more because what it did was re-inspire. Both of us took almost a month off from marketing because of busy schedules (my daughter graduating, visits from friends and family). Mom was chipping away at book five of the Sam Osborne series. I was finalizing the manuscript for Wretched Fate, the second book of the series. But I think we were both feeling the lull that occurs after the passion of first getting published. By driving around, telling our “story” about the miracle of book one coming out, we created a second wind. Mom and I both love the characters Mom created—Sam Osborne, Casey and Danny—and what happens to them in book one. We love book two and the new heroes Jacob Hardy and Rosalie McGovern even more. So it was easy to turn that passion into a road trip. It also helped that while we were telling our stories of how we became authors, we also could report that book one Twist of Fate is about to be reissued by Spectacle Publishing Media Group, and that book two Wretched Fate, will probably be out by the end of this summer. We felt again the excitement of being an author, and it breathed life into the ordinary.

So fellow creators, find that key that will bring you back to the magic place you were the first or second or third time you looked at your creation and realized how talented you are. It may require doing something like driving around, knocking on doors and bragging a little, but you know you’ll also find people who think that what you’ve done is really cool. Or if you’re within that horrid writer’s block we all hit, sit down at the computer and write something new. Remind yourself again why you’re an author. It’s fun. It’s rewarding. It’s an outlet for your creative soul.

And you’ll find yourself driving home, like mom, dad and I did, listening to an old radio station and singing along with the music.

Genilee Swope Parentehappy driving

 
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Posted by on July 2, 2013 in Uncategorized

 

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Getting over the Speed Bumps

Speed_BumpLike many writers, I seemed to be suffering from a period where my writing is at a standstill. For the first six books, the words just rolled out of me and onto the computer. But my writing seems to be suffering from stumbling blocks lately. One of those speed bumps is the reality that, as my books have progressed, the plots get more and more complicated. I’ve never had much trouble coming up the characters—they just form in my head and crystallize as I’m writing. However, writing and then fine-tuning mystery plots is difficult. There are many details that have to be figured out as far as how something could logically happen. And it’s not always easy to lead readers on side-trips so they don’t figure out “who dunnit” too early in the book. This is especially difficult with the Sam Osborne book I’ve trying to write now, which involves a murder. The killing could have been a case of a mistaken identity, which makes finding out the murderer more difficult. You’ll have to wait until that’s all on paper to see what I mean. As with the other books, I really like my main characters in this book.

Part of my problem, too, is that I took the last year to sit down and draft some short stories. Book Four of the Sam Osborne series was done, and I needed a new challenge so before I returned to my detective, I wanted to try some short stories. I’d done a few stories that were based on facts for magazines. This year, I wrote an entire collection based on seasonal holidays.

Now, I have an idea for how to return to Sam. However, it began in my head as a short story. I’m seeing now how much more detail, work and time it takes to write a full-length novel and wondering if writing short stories was a better form for me. I guess I’ll find out as I spend more nights lying in bed thinking about this latest plot!

Book signings have also been slow lately, partly because of my husband’s health—it’s difficult for him to drive places when he doesn’t know where he’s going, and I can no longer read a map or the road signs. And like with most people, life has gotten in the way—my daughter and writing partner works more than full time and has a graduating senior; my other two daughters came to visit; and these events have made for a busy Spring.

However, all of this having been said, Genilee and I have recommitted to Book One—Twist of Fate and hit the streets together again to set up more signings and events. We’ve already had one success, which we’ll report on closer to the event.

We were also excited to find out that Spectacle Publishing Media Group has decided to issue a second edition of the first book right before book two comes out. We are Spectacle’s top seller and proud of that fact. I’ll hope you’ll visit their site to see what else they’ve published recently (Spectaclepmg.com.) And both of our latest releases will be happening this summer – the reissue probably in July and the publishing of Wretched Fate to follow in August or September.

I am very proud of Wretched Fate and love the characters of Jacob and Rosalie. They are both unusual in their lifestyles—Jacob a recluse with a famous name, Rosalie a woman in need of a direction for her life. When they meet and work together to solve the crime, something magical happens. We think something magical will also happen when you read it!

F. Sharon Swope

 

 
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Posted by on June 21, 2013 in Uncategorized

 

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Having Bob Swope as a Dad

Many of our readers can see what I got from being F. Sharon Swope’s daughter: creativity, great story-telling, compassion for people, which comes out in our characters. But some of you don’t know what I got from being the daughter of Robert Swope.Dad & Gena

My father was the newspaper editor of our hometown newspaper, The Edgerton Earth. From that experience, I was introduced to journalism and a way to use writing as a career. However, even more than that, I learned the meaning of the word “respect.” My dad was a respected member of the community. People always knew he had the town’s best interests at heart, just like they knew he supported the local sports team, teachers at the school, the churches of the community, the local clubs that were important to the citizens.  But even more important, my dad gained respect because he showed that respect to others – not just to the community leaders but to every person with which he interacted. Let’s just say, the only person in our hometown of Edgerton, Ohio, who was shocked when dad received Citizen of the Year was dad himself. I was not in the least surprised. Dad has always had this wonderful way of seeing the good in everyone, starting with his own children, and it comes out in everything he does.

The other thing I think I got from my dad was a wonderful thirst for the humor in life. Don’t get me wrong, here. Dad can be a grumpy old man—at 87 he deserves his moments of griping. And I definitely inherited his impatience with all-things-technical. But dad does not get upset with people, just things. He has cursed many a curtain rod that would not go up right. However, when it comes to people and the stupid things they often do, dad laughs much more often than he curses. He has known, all of his life, that laughing at people, including himself, is both therapeutic and the better of two choices. Why get upset with people just for being PEOPLE. Being human is a blessing, not a curse. I think this view is extremely helpful in my writing because it allows me to look at situations that happen or difficult personalities of people as plot lines and character traits. Stories are not born from great phrasing, wonderful descriptions, polished wording. They are born from the flaws and differences between human beings and what happens when they are thrown together in life.

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Mom knows by now how grateful I am to have inherited a small portion of her creative genius. I grew up with that genius, which has manifested itself in many forms. Writing is the first time I’ve been able to share in it with her. But I’m not sure Dad knows or could even begin to understand that I’m a writer—both in my professional life and now in my pursuit of fiction—because of what he gave me—my views on life.

Genilee Swope Parente

 
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Posted by on June 15, 2013 in Uncategorized

 

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