Inspiration is just a spark away.

The most asked question of a writer is ‘where do you get your ideas?’ The answer is both simple and difficult at the same time—everywhere!

Along with the stories I do for the Authors of Main Street boxed sets, I also write “not clean and wholesome” stories of ghost hunters, shapeshifters, and zombie apocalypses.

Most writers will tell you they have a ‘book of their heart,’ a book that just wrote itself, as if by magic, touched their hearts, brought tears to their eyes, and a happy sigh at the happily ever after at the end of the tale. For me, that is Dangerous Shift. Set in the near future, Dangerous Shift deals with issues of prejudice and preconceived notions of what it means to be human. When a doctor sees the shapeshifters as less than human, they have no problem creating an Extinction Level Event virus tailored to kill all shapeshifters.

In Dangerous Shift I have gender shifters. They can shift back and forth between male and female. I get asked (a lot) where the idea came from. I tell them–Jurassic Park.

I was watching the movie for the millionth time with my kids. We got to the scene where Dr. Grant is explaining about how the dinosaurs managed to reproduce when the scientists made them all female. He tells Tim and Lexie that some Amazon tree frogs can change sexes if there are too many of one gender or the other and the scientists used frog DNA to make the dinosaurs.

I was sitting there like, “Wow, too bad humans can’t do that.” It was like a light bulb went off in my head. “Wait, I write stories. I could write one where they could do that.”

Dangerous Shift, book 1 of the Shifters of San Laura series was born. I’m currently working on book 2, Stolen Shift. In the second book, a deadly virus has struck the world and taken out 90% of the children in the world aged 5 to 15 years old. An entire generation is gone. But not shapeshifter children.

If you lost your child, what would you pay to have them back? At least in appearance? Seems some people would pay a lot to have an identical copy.

Off to write!


Jill James, romance writer
author of Sugar Sprinkled Memories in the Christmas Cookies on Main Street boxed set.

Angel in Flight

On the way to Athens, Ga., that Sunday afternoon, I couldn’t help question why Tabitha had to die so young. Death was no stranger to me. I’d seen it too many times before. I knew questioning God was wrong, but I was desperate for an answer. This was a passing of another loved one.

I’d spent the night before her services tossing and turning. I prayed for God to comfort Tabitha’s family, to make it through the funeral services with their sanity still intact.

Then, for some unknown reason I remembered the rainbow I’d seen two days before. I’d forgotten the rainbow. Nor did I make a connection between the two incidents until I remembered the experience the week before and my prayers.

My unanswered prayers. God had not kept all my loved ones safe.

I’d worked practically around the clock the previous eight weeks and missed being with my family. I needed a rest, but was reluctant to leave them for an entire week to attend a conference I’d planned months in advance. My husband instinctively picked up on my indecision. He insisted I go and forget everything, except to relax and enjoy the time away.

After arriving at St. Simons, and sharing the workshop experience with a treasured friend, I was glad I’d gone and delighted in new writer friendships developed throughout the week.

A fleeting late afternoon shower, sent my friend and I running for cover and certainly didn’t do anything to lift my dampened mood. After the rain, we joined the group heading for the auditorium anxious to listen to the speakers on our last afternoon at the conference.

After, my friend and I walked and talked sharing memories of the day, when suddenly I glanced upward and noticed a glorious rainbow brushed across the horizon.

IMG_3698a double rainbow

“Look at that beautiful rainbow.” I said. “Wait, there’s another one forming on the left. Have you ever seen anything like it? I wonder if a double rainbow has a special meaning?”

My friend lifted her hand to shade the sun from her eyes. “Oh It’s magnificent,” she said, then turned toward me. “You know what? I think that’s a sign something wonderful is about to happen.” She grinned as we walked toward the conference room.

I glanced down at my watch. The time was a little after five o’clock.

“I think tonight’s going to be special for us,” she said.

Indeed it was special, when that night we both won awards in the writing contests we’d entered.

We headed to grab a cup of coffee before returning to our room. “Still, as happy as I am, I can’t shake the feeling, even as supreme as rainbows are, there is something meaningful and sad about this one,” I said. “What are your thoughts?”

“You may be right,” she commented. “We can’t know the future.”

An old familiar feeling set in, and it knew it wasn’t going away anytime soon.

Since my early adult years, I dreamed dreams that sometimes came true. Later in life as I grew as a Christian, the visions and discernment began. Not understanding they were from God, I frequently became upset when they infiltrated my sleep and filled my heart.

“They’re gifts and blessings from God, honey, that’s why you see them,” my mom explained. “God doesn’t allow everyone to have dreams and visions as you do. He shows you these things so you will pray about them.”

It took many years for the impact of her words to fully register with me, to pray for guidance in the situation, when I felt the pull in my heart.

An urgency swept through me when I recalled the rainbow, and again, I felt honored and a responsibility to intercede in prayer. “Father God, I don’t know what this means or what is about to happen. Please send your Angels to watch over and keep my loved ones safe. I pray, Lord, you will prepare the heart of whomever is facing a trial and wrap them in your loving arms. Amen.”

When I returned home the next day, the answering machine bleeped repeatedly. One message was from my daughter-in-law. I called her at once. The tremor in her voice alerted me that something was terribly wrong. My heart hammered and my blood ran as ice while she spoke.

“I have some bad news. I’m sorry to be the one to tell you. Tabitha’s been in an accident…a horrible car accident. She was killed instantly yesterday afternoon, sometime between five and five-thirty.”

Within minutes of the time the rainbow appeared to me that previous Friday afternoon, my twenty-year-old niece’s fate was sealed.

I was in shock, heartbroken and angry that God had taken her. She’d been way too young. Unbelief pushed me to ask her to repeat what she’d just told me.

“Why, Tabitha? Oh, God why?” I questioned. I buried my face in the towel I was holding, and wept for Tabitha and the anguish I knew my younger sister was experiencing.

Tabitha had been an angel here on earth. Always a kind, considerate niece, and a sweet loving daughter to my now distraught sister and her family. I’d attended too many funerals in the past three years, and that she’d been taken so young, didn’t make any sense at all.

I left the funeral home and began the two-hour trip home. My heart was empty and I felt as though I were suffocating. I could only imagine the pain Tabitha’s parents endured. They had been so brave. Even though their hearts were crushed, they had smiled through the ordeal of thanking everyone who had attended her service.

I turned the radio up loud and tried to drown my thoughts. Deep down I knew nothing would ever be the same. I wanted to run, but there was no place to run, no place to hide. There was nothing I could do, except pray for them.

I scrambled to find the small notebook I always kept on the seat beside me and a pen. I scribbled words that flooded inside my head, which I had no control. God was giving me a poem for Tabitha. One of the lines in the poem gave me a peace that our Tabitha truly was with God.

A new Angel laughed, and beheld the King.

A still voice whispers reminding me of these words when I pray. “Not my will, Lord, but thine.” God had answered my prayers. Tabitha was safe. Safe in the arms of God. He had wrapped me in His loving arms and given me a measure of peace.

Tabitha’s early death reaffirmed we don’t have the promise of tomorrow. But God promises not to put anymore on us than we can endure, and that our children are gifts from Him entrusted to us for but a little while.

I believe God gave me the moment with the rainbow to wonder in and remember that it is only one of His promises.

If You’re Lucky

In a small town, on a hill behind our house, under an old oak tree…

That’s where my love of reading began.

I’d gotten in trouble more times than I care to admit for hiding away with a sketch book and pencils, or borrowed books from the library.

Every time I walked through the library doors, my breath came a bit quicker. While gazing at the rows and rows of bulging bookshelves, I imagined things I could do,  the places I would go. Characters I would meet and stories to discover.

So many books yet to enjoy! A part of Heaven was within reach. I could go anywhere I wanted and be anyone I wanted.

Life couldn’t get any better.

But it did.

I fell in love with storytelling.

Little did I know how much time and effort it took to write. So many times I wanted to give up and simply live a normal life. No more lying awake at night with characters dancing, and yes sometimes nagging, in my head half the night.
Frustration

But I didn’t give up, the characters wouldn’t let me anyway, and couldn’t be more pleased with my decision.

Most any writer will tell you there are plus and minuses to the life of a writer. You just have to reach out and grab inspiration whenever and wherever it strikes.

Tell your story, and if you’re lucky, readers will catch the magic.

Until next time…I wish you Butterflies, Music and most of all…Love.

Writing: Sow the Seeds & Watch it Grow

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At some point in time, you’ve probably heard about the four stages of competence. If you haven’t, in a nutshell, it’s the process one goes through while learning a new skill. I first learned about the stages when I left the Pediatric ICU and took a job working in the realm of education. I believe it applies to writing, and the process goes something like this:

 

Stage 1:  Unconscious Incompetence 

“I don’t know that I don’t know how to do this.”

Stage 2:  Conscious Incompetence

“I know that I don’t know how to do this, yet.”

Stage 3:  Conscious Competence

“I know that I know how to do this.”

Stage 4:  Unconscious Competence

“Yahoo. I know and can do it effortlessly.”

 

As I think back to the early days when I first sat down to write, I can still remember exactly how it felt to be so blissfully ignorant. It was such a good feeling. (Or so I thought.) Then realization hit. Hard.

Say what? Yup. Poof. There went the bliss.

Now, replacing the euphoria was yet another massive learning curve, one I’d have to muddle through while releasing a rivers worth of blood, sweat, and tears.

Yes, the learning curve is huge. The list of rules seemingly keeps growing longer and longer. It’s no wonder stage two is reportedly the most difficult stage to conquer.

I call this the “mistake and self-judgment” phase. It’s riddled with internalized phrases like…

Why am I bothering? Will I ever catch on? Geez, maybe I should throw in the towel and move on.

Stage two is the phase where people often give up, but it’s also the time when an incredible amount of growth can happen. It’s important to understand that mistakes are a natural part of learning. From them, we make adjustments and eventually find ourselves, on occasion, saying, “Yeah, I think I’ve got this.”

I still see myself existing somewhere between stage two and stage three, which can be rather daunting since I can now find things that are wrong with my writing but still can’t seem to figure out how to fix them.

As a reminder that many things often start from seed, I recently followed the instructions on a packet I picked up at the Grand Canyon and hope to grow my own Joshua Tree. In the beginning, it takes a lot of sunshine, and I have to keep adding water to the bowl. Just like my writing, the seeds I poured onto the soil will either stay dormant or, just maybe, they might grow.

If they don’t, it’s no big deal. I’ll adjust and try again. One day, with a great deal of persistence, I might even find myself enjoying that blissful feeling as I work between stage three and stage four.

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See you next month for my post, Christmas is Coming.

Until then, don’t forget to be kind to yourself. This writing gig isn’t ain’t easy!

🙂

So I’ve Finished Another First Draft…Now What?

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Yup! That’s how I feel when I’ve finally made it to the end of another story.

But what happens now?

Every author has their own process they go through. I thought I’d see if I could pinpoint how I get from the thrill of finishing that first draft to nearing the point of publication.

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It certainly is quite a transformation.

But here’s my must-do list.

  1. Delete any and all unnecessary description that slows flow. I often ask myself: Does my reader really care about this little bit of info? Make them feel like they’re in the scene and move on.
  2. Combine sentences to show/tell the same thing in one rather than three while still maintaining a balance of short and long sentences.
  3. Watch out for info dumping and delete unnecessary parts that neither mean something to the plot nor move the story forward. This is the time to be ruthless. Murder those darlings!

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4. Search for cliches and ditch them. Be original.

5. Search for overused words. I have a slew of those suckers that creep into my stories.

6. Check all those ideas and thoughts that I hopped out of the shower to jot down in the notes section of my phone. Add in and fix per the list of Things-To-Do-For-BookXYZ.

7. Read the story out loud. How does it sound? Does it flow? Do my characters sound like real people? The story should sound as natural as it would if you were sitting at a pub with your bestie and simply telling her the story.

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8. Rewrites and edits—no matter how many passes it takes—are a must.

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9. Tackle opening sentences of each chapter. Same goes for mini-cliffhangers or some sort of exciting news at the end of each chapter. I really do want to keep my readers turning pages.

10. Let it sit. This is a must for me. When I let my manuscript sit for a week to a month, the time away from the story gives my brain a break. And my brain works in very unusual ways. After time, I no longer have sentences memorized. I find out if a scene is funny, or sad, or just terribly bad. At this point, I also find issues I missed because I was too close to the story. Once, I wrote an entire chapter that rhymed. What? Yup. I had no clue I’d done it. Some days I talk in rhyme without even thinking. Told you my brain is strange.

11. Read. Read. Read. If I don’t move on to another story while BookXYZ is sitting, I read.

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AND EAT! I tend to forget the importance of nutrition.

12. Shout the news that I’ve got another story for my beta reader(s) to critique. Then pray that they’ll tell me the truth.

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13. Give it all another go… one more time… giving the story everything I’ve got left in me.

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14. Write for me, not for sales!

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15. Celebrate the accomplishment. After all, writing a story is not an easy task!

I’m sure I’ve forgotten a few other things I do along the way.

What steps do you go though? I’d love to hear about them.

Decisions, decisions!

If you’ve ever tried to find the best recipe for Shepard’s Pie, you’ll understand how much time it takes to find the right one for you and your family.

 

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Some use ground beef, or a mixture or ground beef and lamb, while other recipes use roast beef.

Most of the ones I’ve found have different herbs and spices, so it’s a toss-up. Some use only mashed potatoes on top, others use a biscuit dough crust.

So…I’ve decided on the recipe using roast beef. For now. Once the family tries it, I may go back to the original which uses ground beef. Crust or no crust? Mashed potatoes seem to be the norm. Guess what I’ll try first?

It’s worth a shot since it’s a great comfort food dish.

Here’s one recipe I’ve found for Shepard’s Pie using ground beef. https://youtu.be/JTFAUoABDR4  

Here’s another using lamb. https://youtu.be/TsrTU3CJn2

If you have a good Shepard’s Pie recipe, would you care to share a link?

 In the meantime, I’m finishing up taxes and writing on my next Christmas novel. “The Christmas Stocking” involves loss of a child and what could happen if you rethink your life and open your heart. 

I know, I know. Taxes and Christmas don’t mix and Christmas is a long way off, but not when the story has to be written, edited and rewritten.

Please check out these links to my books, available at Barnes & Noble, Amazon, Kobo, Apple and Smashwords. http://caroldevaney.weebly.com/my-books.html

 

I wish you Butterflies, Music and Love

Happy Thanksgiving – Giving Thanks

As we all know, giving thanks is part of our lives. We give thanks for our family, our friends, our blessings. No one knows this better than I do.

I’m grateful each day that I wake up, and am blessed with another day. That my family, my friends and acquaintances are safe and sound. That we are all as healthy as we are and will hopefully remain so.

I’m thankful for family and friends in my life. I’m thankful for family and friends that filled my life, but have now gone on to a better place. May I carry their memory and love in my heart for each of them. I wish the same for you.

Stephanie Queen wrote a tribute to Donna Caubarreaux AKA Pepper Phillips on Monday, 23. You can find the post below.

Pepper Phillips

Pepper was such an inspiration and bright light in my life, as well as the Authors of Main Street. I will miss her terribly. May she rest in peace. My prayers go out to her family and friends.

Since tomorrow is Thanksgiving, I thought I’d share a couple of easy and Southern recipes with you.

This Potato Salad is tried and true for many, many years. Once you’ve made it a couple of times, you’ll find it not so daunting. I hope you enjoy!

Southern Potato Salad

Feeds approximately 20-25 people

My sister-in-law, Pat Garrett, makes the best potato salad in the world. This is a variation of her delicious dish.

10 lbs. Red Potatoes (or Russet, your choice)(peeled or not, your preference) dice small or medium

1 extra large Red Onion diced small (Buy an extra small red onion, in case you need more)

4 large stalks celery (including tops) wash, dry then slice thinly or you can dice very small

2 jars cubed dill pickles (Not sweet) (can use dill relish, but not as tasty) Drain well

1 tbsp. salt

4 level tbsp. yellow mustard (or to taste)

5 or 6 large boiled eggs, refrigerate to cool.

About 4 cups mayo. You may need more mayo, depends on how dry the mix is once you fold into potatoes, celery, onion and pickles. (I use Hellman’s. I believe it makes a taste difference. You don’t want a thin or sweet mayo)

Step 1: Add peeled (or not) diced potatoes to pot, cover with water, add 3 or 4 tbsp. salt. Bring to a boil, turn down to low to simmer for about 15 min. Check potato for doneness after 10 minutes with a fork. If getting soft, take off heat and drain. Do not rinse. In a 2 gal. bowl, refrigerate potatoes to cool. Takes about 30 minutes or so. If some are a little warm, that’s okay. Push potatoes from side to side a couple of times with an extra large spoon to help cool. Do not stir. They won’t be chunky, but will be too much like mashed potatoes.

Step 2: While potatoes are cooking, boil eggs, peel and separate whites from yolks. Dice or chop egg whites. Mash yolks, with a fork not a blender or the mixture will be gritty, into about 2 or 3 heaping tbsp. of mayo until smooth. (As you would for deviled eggs) Stir in 3 or 4 level tsp. mustard into mixture. In bowl, mix 4 cups mayo with the mustard mix, add egg yolk mixture, then fold in egg whites. Refrigerate.

Step 3: Drain 2 jars cubed Dill Pickles. Dice onions, and celery. Add all ingredients to mayo and mustard mixture. Refrigerate.

Step 4: After potatoes are cooled, remove from refrigerator. Using a spatula to get all the mixture from bowl, gently fold in mayo mixture to potatoes. Do not stir too hard, you’ll have mashed potato salad.

NOTE: If you’re going to add more salt, add it to the mayo mix, so you won’t need to stir potatoes more than necessary. Do not add more than a tbsp. of salt to mayo, as it’s salty, plus the mustard and pickles are salty. Add more to taste, if needed.

This one is for the kids, but I still love them!

Chocolate Dumplings

My mom used to make these for us when she had no other dessert in the house. We loved them and could hardly wait for them to finish cooking. When the need arose, Mom’s imagination kicked in, and she could come up with about anything.

2 c. sugar

4 tbsp. cocoa

5 c. water

2 c. whole milk

1 tbsp. pure vanilla

If you like a richer sauce, use more milk and less water.

Mix all ingredients into a large kettle. Bring to a boil. Then mix a bowl of dough. Drop the dough with a spoon into the boiling mixture.

For the dumplings, Mom simply made biscuit dough. Mom’s biscuits are the best ever.

Bisquick is a speedy substitute for homemade biscuit mix. Use whichever you prefer.

4 cups bisquick

1 1/3 cup milk

Mix and drop by tbsp. into a slow boil of the chocolate mix. Cover and simmer approximately 15 to 20 minutes. Check once to make sure it isn’t becoming dry. Enjoy with a dip of vanilla ice cream or a dollop of Cool Whip.

On Thanksgiving, I hope your heart is filled with love and gratitude for all you are blessed with. Of course this is something we think of throughout the year, but on this special day, may your heart and mind overflow with joy. My heart is full, and my wish is that yours is too.

Enjoy your loved ones on this special day.

Happy Thanksgiving!