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Can I tap your brain?

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Reading audience: I need your help.  But I’m not going to tell you for what until I finish this blog. You see, I’ve been promising Genilee I would write a blog for a year and a half.  I haven’t been able to get there, partly because I just couldn’t make myself do it during this year of significant events and partly because of writer’s block.

Today, I am determined to answer some of the questions often asked of me at book events and during discussions with readers. The single most frequently asked question is: What made you start to write at the age of 83?  The truth is that writers don’t always just write on paper. I have been writing books in my mind for over 70 years.  I wrote my first novel in the seventh grade about a boy in Paris who lived in a castle. The next year I started to carry “Danny,” the protagonist in Twist of Fate, around in my story-telling brain. Danny was based on a movie character played by Gene Reynolds.  He was a homeless young man with no parents, no home, no family, no education and no real friends. Unless you consider me, that is. I carried him around in my mind for the next 70 years. He “talked” to me all the time, and I was determined to put him down on paper.  But this particular task was daunting.  How can a person survive the world of living on the streets without giving in to crime or addiction? My Danny was strong and honest.  I couldn’t, however, find a way to take him off the streets and get him on paper.

What inspired me was that my youngest daughter, Allyn Stotz (http://allynstotz.blogspot.com/), wrote her first children’s book (she now has five and several more on the way!) and got it published.  That was a wakeup call: If I was ever going to write a book, I needed to get with it.  So five years ago, I sat down at my computer and the story began to unfold. Somehow through the act of actually making myself do this routinely, another character was born: Gus. Gus became Danny’s mentor and once he was around, the stumbling blocks began to fall and the story unfolded.

Book two, Wretched Fate, began with me looking at myself in a mirror, which is a crucial scene in which the main character begins to desire more for her life. Book three, Violet Fate, was the story of what might have happened to Danny if there had been no Gus (you’ll note the strong role the criminal plays in the plot). Book four, Treasured Fate, started as an exercise for seniors we developed for a class Genilee and I gave. The main characters: Elmer Jones and Maud Novec, were names I said aloud to the audience and asked how they saw the characters who fitted those names. We got some fascinating responses, and those of you that were in the audience will recognize some of the traits and descriptions. Treasured Fate is due to come out this summer.

It wasn’t until book five, which is likely going to be called Family Fate, that I began to have real trouble again with writer’s blocks.  This time I started with a character that is a far cry from my usual protagonists. And the plot has a lot of complications and twists. I also rewrote the first 15 chapters at least four times. I would stop for a month, and then, because it was a mystery, have to begin at the beginning again to get it to flow. I did this for well over a year—partly because, during that time, we put out our book of short stories—Holiday Connections. I finally forced myself to trudge forward to the end, and that book is now in Genilee’s domain, which means it has to wait for us to get through publication of book four, Treasured Fate.

Meanwhile, I am now working on my second short story book, and once again engrossed in a new character.  He’s a modern day Paul Bunyan–standing 7 feet tall, weighing 275 pounds. He has long black hair and a full beard covering his face.  He reminds me of a bear but inside, I intend for him to be candy cotton fluff.

But now it’s time to ask your help. I am also seriously considering writing book six in the Fate series, which would be a deeper investigation of Gus’s background and maybe even Danny’s from the original book. To those of you who have read the series and our short stories, I ask: what is your opinion on this? Should I let well enough alone with The Fate Series or try to explain some of the past?

I’ll be interested in hearing what you have to say.

–F. Sharon Swope

 
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Posted by on May 31, 2016 in Uncategorized

 

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Stand Up for Sentimentality

When Mom and I were trying to push Holiday Connections at publishers, the only consistent reply we received back was that the stories weren’t hard-edged enough for commercial appeal. I’m afraid it’s true, folks; F. Sharon and Genilee created feel-good stories so I’m afraid you’ll need to go elsewhere for your blood and guts this holiday season.final cover

But that’s okay with us. We intend for these books to be sentimental. When mom created her first drafts, she had in mind the stories you used to get out of Good Housekeeping and Redbook. It’s  not that those stories didn’t address issues. They were often poignant tales of a simple person addressing a hard reality such as a kid growing up, a relationship falling apart or a major life challenge. They made you stop and lose yourself in someone else’s problems for a while. And yes, some of them ended happily ever after, but part of the beauty was that it wasn’t always. Kind of  like life is: some happy endings and many slaps in the face.

Mom and I have readily admitted we have no hopes of being branded literary geniuses—we entered the game too late. We are creators of tales we think people will want to read. That is their sole purpose: to get people to READ. The Fate Series was an evolution, and we think each book is better than the last for different reasons—we think the characters in Wretched Fate are more rounded than those in Twisted Fate. We were already falling in love with our protagonist Sam Osborne by Violet Fate, which is why it’s appropriate he fell in love in the third book. With Holiday Connections, we just let go and allowed ourselves to be saps about a lot of things.

We offer no apologies because we think reading should be a pleasure, and if you get pleasure out of short stories that end on a good note, you’ll like our newest book. We also understand that books can be an escape and for some people, escape works best as darkness, despair and deeper dilemmas than the characters in Holiday Connections face. We’ll leave the zombies, serial killers and graphic details up to television and movies, which do an excellent job.

Come to our books for a different reason: to get a brief respite from hum drum, but one that leaves you feeling positive and ready to read what happens next.

November is going by quickly folks. We’re offering the book at discount from what you’ll get on amazon.com and barnesandnoble.com so that we can afford to send them out at a better price for gifts. Write swopeparente@gmail.com for details on how to get a signed copy. And don’t forget yourself when you’re making out that gift list!

For kindle lovers, the book is now available in ebook form on amazon.com.

Genilee Swope Parente

 
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Posted by on November 12, 2015 in Uncategorized

 

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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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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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