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Fishing for readers

The most common question both mom and I get when we speak to book clubs and meetings is: where do you get your inspiration and ideas? How did you come up with a girl in a wheelchair and a boy who is homeless who get thrown together in a snowstorm? How were you able to lead readers away from the true villain so they were surprised at “who dunnit?” We’ve discussed this issue many times, and we’ll be talking about it for many more years. This is because the source of creativity for each of us, at least for these Sam Osborne books, is different.

Mom is a story-former. She lays in bed at night and the characters come to her, then when she sits down at the computer, they spill at random, sometimes shocking her with their actions. The story has its own steam. I would call myself, in terms of this series, the word polisher. I take what she’s written and my own knowledge from years of being an editor, as well as my knowledge of how my own mom thinks, and I do what I do best: flourish. I fill in the descriptions, round out the characters, paint the scenery.

I think the reason this book series works so well is that we have combined those two aspects of being a writer. Both are vital and the best books are written by authors thagoldfish_and_hookt can do both. You have to have tasty-looking bait or readers will just ignore your lure. But you also need a good, solid story line to keep them hooked and reel them in.

Think about some of your favorite authors. Mary Higgins Clark, for example, is a master story teller. She can create twists and turns that fascinate. But would you read her work if she didn’t also have the skill it takes to give you a smooth ride? You barely know you’re boating when you read a Mary Higgins Clark novel. You just cut through the waves on your way to the destination she’s created. A good example from my own personal favorites is P.C. Cast and her daughter Kristin. My teenage daughter got me to read the first in the House of Night series and once I was on my way, I didn’t stop reading until I realized I was spending way too much time reading a teenagers’ series (that was about book seven and I’m just taking a break!). The series is about vampires, which is a sore subject (forgive the pun) for someone of my generation who feels the teenage world has been bombarded with fangs, fur and blood. I was fascinated with why I couldn’t put down the Cast authors’ books, and I now believe it’s because the mother’s many years as a writer and the daughter’s input into what youth truly reads were the two main ingredients. The series has a good story line and the words are put together smoothly.

I think if mom had started writing earlier in life, she would have become the wordsmith I am. And I hope that through her example, I’ll be able to sit down some day and let my own story lines emerge more fully. I’ve started that process with a book of my own about a girl who learns to travel outside her physical body. For now, though, I’m happy with the progress of Sam Osborne and the characters in the Twist of Fate series. And pretty soon, we’ll be casting out the next line: Wretched Fate.
Genilee Swope Parente

 
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Posted by on July 17, 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 a Jump Start

How did you ever get started writing a book?

That’s the single most often-asked question mom and I get at book club meetings and signings and other events where we’re gathered around a table gabbing with readers and potential book buyers.

I usually turn that question over to mom since she was 82 when she started writing. [Okay, okay, I admit it’s also because I’m slightly ashamed that I am probably the person besides my newspaper editor father who has written the most words in our family. And yet, I wasn’t writing what I wanted to write—fiction.]

To answer the question, mom usually picks up The Pea in Peanut Butter to show people that she has a daughter who is a successful children’s author. Allyn Stotz, my sis and her daughter, also started fairly late in life pursuing her passion for story-telling. She’s about to publish a sequel to that first book, has three others in the works or at a publisher, and her stories have appeared in many children’s magazines and one compendium of short stories. None of us in the family knew Al was even pursuing writing for children until she was well into it—attending classes, hooking up with online writer’s groups. Like with everything she does, she pursued it with passion.

“I figured if she could do this, so should I,” mom always says.

Before I knew it, mom was writing, writing, writing away. I was amazed at how much she put into the art with no formal training. I knew she had always been an avid reader, and I knew that like Al, she was a good story teller. But I was as shocked by mom’s zeal as I was when I found out that Allyn was not only interested in writing, but well into it, with many stories already done and being fine-tuned.

And so we come to me … I don’t even know when mom and I had the initial discussion about the possibility of collaborating on the writing. I am an editor by trade so I volunteered to take a look at what she was doing. However, it’s a scary thing for an editor to look at a family member’s work. And so I must refer back to Allyn. I looked at her first works with the same trepidation. What if I hated what my sister or my mom were doing?

I’m an idiot.

Both Al and Mom have always been very creative and that creativity comes shining through in the stories they tell. Allyn was lucky to have worked with talented artist Valerie Bouthyette on that first book who could bring the words to life visually. But the ideas are pure Allyn, and I know she’ll go on to create many more ideas and books. And the same is true of Mom’s characters and plots. Her books (ahem, our books) are just plain fun to read. Like Allyn, mom and I love to lose ourselves in a good story, and to be able to create those stories is a pleasure.

So how did I get started writing? It was a jump-start provided by my family. But now, I’m zooming away down a fun highway, and I don’t intend to ever stop!

Mom and I send our thanks out for the inspiration provided by the Seniors Lunch Bunch from St. Francis of Assisi, Triangle, VA. Thanks to my friend Francia Salguero for introducing us to the group and to Anne Tunney for inviting us.

St. Francis

St. Francis Lunch Bunch

The group asked the question above, but they also asked many more and gave both mom and me the inspiration that makes creative writing and publishing a book so much fun.

 –Genilee Swope Parente

 
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Posted by on April 19, 2013 in Uncategorized

 

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It’s a Community Thing …

Several significant events happened since mom wrote the last blog that illustrate the rewards of being an author:

I flipped up the front page of my hometown newspaper, The Edgerton Earth, to see a bottom page spread covering our Twist of Fate book series. People who know me really well understand why that’s such a thrill. When your roots are firmly entrenched in a small town, you measure much of what happens in your life against the values you grew up with … in my life (and mom and dad’s for that matter), many of those values came from close interaction with our neighbors, classmates, friends in Edgerton. It’s true what they say about small towns: everyone knows your business. But it’s also true that when Earth logopeople need help or support, there is usually some other resident in town who comes to their aid (Yep, there’s Verna again … and the many small things Doug and Becky Mavis did for classmate Steve come to mind.). I loved growing up in Edgerton, and it will always be part of who I am and part of my writing. Since dad was the editor of The Edgerton Earth for many years and mom was a columnist as well as business manager, the town’s paper is in my blood. Current editor Cindy Thiel did a great job of capturing what it’s been like to become a writing family.CLICK HERE TO SEE ARTICLE

Mom and I also met a week ago with the Scarlett Hatter’s book club in Woodbridge. Their candid comments and generous praise for the story were inspiring and eye-opening. I was heartened to hear that no one knew for sure who the villain was. And I was glad to get some feedback that will help us craft future stories. But even more

scarlett hatters

than that, the joie de vivre of that group of ladies, who meet frequently to give each other support and make each other laugh, is encouraging. Like living in a small town, they have found a community in each other, and they are lucky to have that shared bond.

Finally, Twist of Fate has become Spectacle Publishing Media Group’s number one seller! Thanks to our readers for making our dreams come true.

Genilee Swope Parente

 
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Posted by on April 5, 2013 in Uncategorized

 

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Finding Our Way

lostIt seems like I have spent most of my time in the last two weeks getting lost, which I guess at 85 isn’t that unusual. The reason for this recent misadventure, however, is a good one: I have been busy trying to find places to hold book signings. I have had phenomenal luck in securing places and have come away from this experience with affirmation, once again, that the world is full of very nice people. What I’ve discovered also, however, is that, above and beyond the difficulty of “selling” yourself at my age is the challenge of actually finding your way to new places you’ve never been. I am now completely blind when it comes to reading highway signs (and for the most part, any printed words). It used to be my job to hold the map and point out the way to whereever my husband Bob and I were headed. I can’t do that anymore so I am pretty useless in helping us to get there. Meanwhile, Bob, who is now 87, used to always know what direction he was driving, but that doesn’t happen so much anymore. I suppose this is just part of growing older—trying to find your way from here to there, but it is frustrating to say the least.

Somehow, though, we managed to finally arrive at our destinations through a series of back and forth and turning around. At one point, I told Bob: “Just follow the ambulance.” Since we were looking for apartment complexes for people over the age of 55, I figured it was worth a shot! Sadly, I was right—we came right to the door we were looking for!

This is all a big change from the days when I was growing up in Michigan and always knew about where I was. North was always Lake Michigan – and from that I could always find my way. Even in the very early days of our marriage, when we lived in giant Los Angeles, I knew my way because I knew the ocean was always to our west. I managed to maintain that sense of direction right up until the years when we moved to Ohio, and it all went out the window—lost to a world of flat fields of corn. Unfortunately, the sense of direction never developed on the east coast, despite the fact the Atlantic is not so far away.
Anyway, for the past few weeks, I’ve also been lost in another way: I’ve been trying to find my way around my own computer. Instead of writing new material, I have been rewriting and trying to update my story timeline for book three. That means inserting chapters and keeping everything in correct position, which is not easy when you are almost blind. Oh, I can do almost everything except read what I’ve written. And thankfully, my son Mark installed a program on my computer that reads back to me. Thank goodness for my little man with the British accent who tells me everything I have written. He can be annoying at times, but he’s needed. And I have a new computer coming soon that will even “write” as I dictate. Isn’t modern science wonderful? It used to be that when you reached my age and had my problem, there wasn’t much you could do. Not so today—you can dictate to a machine, which puts your words on paper. Then you can make corrections and even have your machine read it all back!
I guess when I look back at the last few weeks of getting lost and frustrations with my eyesight and computer, the lesson that has been reaffirmed is simply: “Never give up.” Somehow, in spite of the obstacles, there is a way if you just keep trying. Don’t let age keep you from your dreams.

F. Sharon Swope
p.s. from Genilee: My mom is one amazing woman! This is what she and dad have been doing:
Book signings:
Saturday, March 2, 10 a.m. River Run apartments, Minnieville and Prince William Parkway, Dale City, VA
Wednesday, March 6, 11 a.m. Potomac Woods apartments, 2001 Southampton St., Woodbridge, VA.
Thursday, March 14, 1:30 to 3:30 Stafford Gardens, Mountain View Rd., Stafford, VA
We’ve also applied to participate in the Second Annual Local Author’s Fair, Bull Run Regional Library, May 4 and are participating in the Third Thursday Thrillers book group meeting, Potomac Community Library May 16.

 
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Posted by on February 25, 2013 in Uncategorized

 

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Writer’s Cramps

For two years I had no trouble writing stories. Of course there were the inevitable slow periods when you have to establish a routine to keep yourself writing. But after the agreement came in from Spectacle Media Publishing Group to get my first book out there, my creative juices were really flowing. At least until the time for that group’s staff to do their part in getting us published came into play and the waiting period began. Although I know it hasn’t been unusually long in getting our book in print, I seem to have lost some of my enthusiasm. I guess at my age, I need to know that someone is reading what I write.
For over thirty years I had that satisfaction because I wrote a column for a weekly newspaper. I guess this made me used to having almost instantaneous response to what I was writing. The column, which was called “Apron Strings,” was about my children and my life back then, but it always ended with a recipe, especially once I got that helpful tip established. Then people were not only anxious to read the escapades of my family, but they wanted that final benefit: a recipe, and they began to send me scads of suggestions. I would weigh ten tons today if I had tried every recipe sent.
I know most people reading this blog don’t care about recipes, but blogging is similar to writing that column in that the readers want to hear aspects of your life as an author. Fortunately, what I have to report right now is great news. That wonderful time when our first book, Twist of Fate, will be published is nearing: the ebook should be out end of October/beginning of November and printed versions will be available before Christmas. As I’ve waited, I haven’t really slowed much: I have rewritten book number 2, Wretched Fate, and reread and corrected book number 3, Fate of the Violet Eyes. Meanwhile, book number 4 in the Sam Osborne series, which doesn’t yet have a title, is completely written but needs work. I even have first drafts for nine-tenths of book number 5, which is a compilation of short stories.
Still, while I’m steadily picking away at all of those projects, I must confess that until I actually see something in print, I feel I’ve reached a stumbling block, which has extended to trying to come up with blog topics. So, dear readers, I’m returning to my old habits and ending with a recipe today. Try it: it doesn’t sound like much but it’s really delicious and just enough different to make it fun to prepare. Oh, and we really should give it a writing theme so I’ll call it:
INSPIRATION SALAD
½ head broccoli
1 cup chopped pecans
½ head cauliflower
1-cup raisins
1 large onion
1 cup cheddar cheese, grated

Sauce Mix
1/2 cup sugar or splenda
3 T. vinegar
1-cup mayonnaise or salad dressing
Instructions: chop broccoli, cauliflower, onion, raisins, and pecans; place in large salad bowl Add cheese. Mix sauce ingredients; toss with vegetables, etc. Will keep well for several days.

And while you’re waiting: get to work on that next book project!

— Sharon Swope

 
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Posted by on October 19, 2012 in Uncategorized

 

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