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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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Stepping it Up

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One reality prospective authors need to face is that getting published is not winning a sweepstakes. No one is going to show up at your door with a giant check, flash you a brilliant smile, shake your hand and shout: Congratulations, you’re a winner!

Getting published is a series of steps. If you can keep your momentum, the steps go upward—working towards bigger and better goals and often getting easier as you climb. Some of those steps are major ones: my sister, children’s book author Allyn Stotz (http://allynstotz.blogspot.com/), took a giant hop up this week: she saw her second book, Kailee Finds Magic IN Words, in final form—ready for press. I know that seeing the heroin of her first book, The Pea in Peanut Butter, come to life again on the pages and knowing people will soon hold her creation in their admiring hands has to be a wonderful feeling: in this case, it’s enough of a leap up to carry her past some challenges to come.

I took a big step this week, too, though it wasn’t that golden glow event of seeing my name on a printed page. My step was that I submitted our first draft of Fate of the Violet Eyes, book three of the Sam Osborne series, to our publisher. That means for just a moment, I can sit back, take a deep breath, and realize I’ve done all I could to make this book better than the last two. Having been through this twice already, it also means that I can finally let the experts at Spectacle Publishing Media Group, tell me how to make it even greater.

While it’s vital to our sanity as authors for us to acknowledge and feel our accomplishments—pat ourselves on the back for the steps we overcome, Allyn, as well as Mom and I, will not rest long in this heaven. That’s because as authors of more than one book, we know there are many steps ahead, even after the book is in print. The hardest part about becoming an author is the reality that getting to the point where your book populates the crowded lists on Amazon and Barnes & Noble is much easier than what comes next: getting someone to notice it. And having tracked the blogs of several major writers, I know that, unless you’re James Patterson, you have to direct and participate in how well your book goes over. You have to force yourself to become what you may not be: a marketer. And I bet even Mr. Patterson sometimes dreads putting on a suit or combing his hair to give a speech, an interview or to make a video to post on his official website. We are writers―our art is creation of stories and the alignment of words in such a way that we lead readers down a path we want them to travel. The reality is that, even if you’re shy, you have to believe in your own work enough to want others to feel what you felt when you were creating it.

My intention in saying this is not to throw water in prospective author’s face. While Allyn, Mom and I have been learning how tough it is, we’ve also seen the rewards. Every time you lift a foot and climb up another step, you gain a little strength; you make the next stage of the climb a little easier because you have one thing going for you that you didn’t have before. Whenever you need it, you can turn and gaze back down the staircase and see yourself on that first little stair. You can remember that you are climbing towards your dream—which is a brave step not many people do in their lives. You can feel what it’s like to have recognized what you want enough to have built the staircase in the first place.

Genilee Swope Parente

 
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Posted by on June 19, 2014 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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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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Why oh Why Did it Take So Long?

Every time I sit at the computer to write, I ask myself the same question, “Why on earth did I wait until I was 82 to actually try to write a book?”
Here I am at 84 now and I can barely read a written page. My eyes seem to get worse each day because I have macular degeneration. If my son hadn’t put a “man” on my computer to read what I write [an automated program that reads the words to me], I couldn’t do it now – but I have wanted to write as far back as I can remember. Why haven’t I done it?
I suppose part of the answer is lack of encouragement. Oh, I knew I had the ability and skill. I am quite good at conversation, putting together plots, and coming up with characters. The trouble was (and still is) that I am terrible at description. Luckily, this is my daughter Genilee’s strongpoint in writing, along with great editing skills. I think the real reason I didn’t put down some of my ideas, however, is that I was afraid of what others would think of my writing.
Of course, there are also those great daily excuses for not actually sitting down and writing out the stories constantly running through my mind—by this I mean the everyday demands on my life as a wife, mother of four and office manager for my husband’s business. And don’t get me wrong: I WAS writing—I wrote a recipe column for over 30 years for my husband’s newspaper. The recipes were incidental really; the columns were stories about what was going on in the raising of my children.
But I also could have made time to write down my stories. Why didn’t I? The true answer lies within one of the characters in my first book, Twist of Fate. I’ll tell you more the next time we meet. Maybe by then, you’ll be able to read the book!
8-15 From Sharon Swope, author of soon-to-be-released Twist of Fate

 
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Posted by on August 16, 2012 in Uncategorized

 

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