Saturday, July 23, 2016

A Refreshing Break


Ah, summertime. Don’t you just love those long days, vacations, open windows? Not to mention the food. Sweet corn, tomatoes, peaches, strawberries. Cold beer, cream soda, and iced tea.

Delicious, real iced tea is so easy to make. You don’t even have to put a kettle on.  Just dump 10-12 teabags in a gallon jug, fill it almost full with fresh, cold water, and set it out in the sun. In a few hours, when it turns a rich, deep reddish-brown, add sugar and lemon juice to taste and maybe a sprig of mint. Serve over ice. Heaven.

Nothing at all wrong with that recipe, but how about a few tips to make it even better? I’ve been making sun tea for twen--thir--fort…er, a long time, and I’m happy to pass along a thing or two I’ve learned.

First, use a glass jar. Plastic ones are cheap and easy to find, but they have a nasty tendency to develop an unpleasant aftertaste. Glass stays clean and unscented. Plastic heats up fast and cools down fast; glass coddles your tea, warming and cooling it gently, so the tannins don’t get overcooked and bitter. If you can find a jar without a spigot--like the ones old-fashioned deli pickles come in--so much the better. The spigots inevitably leak and they’re almost impossible to keep mildew-free. If all else fails, remove the spigot, take the jug to a good hardware store and find a seal that fits. Wash it well and use a little silicone to hold it in place.

Try different tea blends. If you like a tea hot, you’ll probably like it iced. Replace a couple of the black tea bags with herbal teas or fresh herbs. Mint, lavender, and rosemary make lovely tea. (If you use fresh herbs, start with small amounts until you learn how you like them.) Try sweeteners other than sugar. With the tea brewed so gently, you may find you need less or even no sugar. Stevia is very sweet and calorie-free. Some people like honey. Use a few berries or other fruit instead of sugar, but put them in each glass. They’ll get kind of goopy in the jug. Substitute orange or lime juice for all or part of the lemon; my favorite is about 1 part lime to 3 parts lemon.

One last thing. Try making moon tea. Start it before bed and it will be ready when you get up. Because it won’t get as warm as sun tea, it will have a delicate, subtle flavor. Use a light hand on the add-ins, and serve it to your sweetie for a little romance under the stars.

How do you like your tea?

Tuesday, December 22, 2015

O Christmas...Branch?

Blue  Spruce 2-0
Original seedling 1998
 12" high
Shortly after I moved to New Hampshire I discovered a great deal from the state forestry service. Fifteen Christmas trees for only $20! Of course, they were only a foot tall and had to be planted, but still. Not all of them survived, but after a few years I still had ten trees.

Dave and I started cutting about twelve years ago. At first we cut a whole little tree. Great fun, and so easy to tote it in our garden cart instead of hoisting it to the car roof. But here's the thing. Trees continue to grow. By the time the third or fourth Christmas rolled around, we were looking at big trees. Great big bushy tall trees. So we started topping them.  The trees quickly filled in the empty spaces where their tops had been.

2015--12ft. high

By this year, all our trees had been cut or topped. Last weekend we ventured to the upper forty, where I planted those saplings long ago. The trees look great, but each top now consists of three or four stems. "Well," I suggested, "maybe we can cut just one stem and put it against the wall."

The "hole" left after we
cut the branch
Dave was skeptical, but he's used to going along with my harebrained ideas. We chose one stem, full and green on one side, nearly flat on the other, and applied the saw to it. It put up a fight, being high up and very close to other upright stems, but we persevered and succeeded. It tumbled through the lower branches I was holding aside and landed butter-side-down. Which made for an interesting haul to the garden cart, because it kept wanting to roll in our hands.

It was much too tall and it had a pronounced curve. It rolled onto its belly every time we let go of it. We trimmed it to size and applied the tree stand. The tree refused to accept its fate, instead bending one of the prongs meant to steady it. Dave got out more tools, fixed the prong, and tried again. The tree allowed itself to be supported, and we set it against the wall.

It leaned to the left, it leaned forward, and the "flat" part was more like 150 degrees than 180. Many of the branches were vertical.We tinkered with the leans for an hour or so, rotated it for the best view and hoped the verticals would relax in the warmth. I apologized for my suggestion. Dave conceded that from the proper angle, it looked very nice. And he discovered that the extra 30 degrees of emptiness, where it didn't touch the wall, made it very easy for us to water the tree.

Not the best-looking tree we've ever had. But once it recognized its place of honor, it graciously allowed us to decorate it. It released its heavenly aroma and sipped politely at the water in the stand. Its oddities give it more character than the manicured ones in the lots. And it looks pretty darn good with lights and ornaments and tinsel.

And the good news is, we have lots more branches.

Monday, November 30, 2015

Sheryl Marcoux: Cowboy in the Moonlight

It is my great pleasure today to host author Sheryl Marcoux. Sheryl recently released Cowboy in the Moonlight through Pelican Book Group. It's a wonderful story, complete with great historical detail, romance, and a touch of humor. Full disclosure: Sheryl was a member of my writing group for several years, and we had the pleasure of midwifing Cowboy.

Make sure you leave a comment. One lucky reader will win an e-copy of Cowboy in the Moonlight!

Thank you, Nikki, for inviting me to be a guest on your blog. I’m excited about the release of my debut novel, an historical inspirational romance.

Tell us a little about Cowboy in the Moonlight.
An 1880s attempt at scientific matchmaking goes awry, and a woman who wants to be loved for more than her beauty is challenged to look beyond a cowboy's scarred face and into his Godly heart.

How did the story come about? Did you base it on any life experiences? Do any research?

I always loved the “Beauty and the Beast” plot.  In Cowboy in the Moonlight, the common interest between hero and heroine is music, and that idea came about from listening to Josh Groban while I exercised on the treadmill. I have no clue what led me to write a western, because at the time I was living in New Hampshire. By the time I got the novel published, I’d moved to Arizona. Go figure.

Talk about your writing process: Are you a pantser or a plotter? Do you work on a novel every day? How do you revise? How long did it take to write your book? Do you have any rituals, such as selecting music, when you write?

I treat novel-writing as an art as well as a science. I’m a plotter to the extent I’ve spent years studying story structure. Since my plots are character-driven, my first step is to understand my main characters. What are their special abilities, flaws, and needs? Once I determine how my characters are going to grow, I outline their character arcs. This is their inner journey. Then I follow a template I’ve designed to plot an outer journey that will logically stimulate these changes.

Now that I know what’s going to happen at the milestones of the story, I draft it. I color code point of views and highlight where certain objectives are met. By now I also have a strong sense of character voice—and a very colorful manuscript. Then I rewrite for story balance, and fine-tune details of place and sensory information.  Then it’s time to submit chapters for critique. After I’ve integrated feedback, I find a fresh reader to see how the story flows.

My preferred ritual is to write every day, first thing in the morning, when it’s still dark. I love the serenity of writing in the quiet of the day and by the soft glow of a lamp.

Who are your favorite authors, and why? How do they influence your work?
I don’t have a favorite author or genre. I’m a fussy reader.

Do you have a day job? Tell us about it.
I have a military background as a behavioral science specialist and then I worked as an executive secretary for twenty-some odd years. This adds up to a winning combination of an insight into human behavior and speed typing.

Finding a publisher can be difficult. How did you find yours?
I found my publisher by entering Cowboy in the Moonlight in the 2013 Lone Star Writing Competition.  It won third place in the Inspirational Romance category. The publisher was one of the final judges.

What inspires you? How do you keep the writing fresh?
First, I accept reality. Storytelling has been going on for thousands of years. There are only so many plots that exist. For instance, Taming the Shrew, My Fair Lady, and 10 Things I Hate Most about You are all the same plot. I’m not going to invent a new plot, and so I begin by identifying and understanding the plot I want to use. Once that’s established, I integrate new characters and places to refresh the old story. I really believe we love to read the old plots over and over again, but we need that “something new.” Not only does this technique keep an old plot fresh, but I find it also makes a story fun to write.

If you could set a novel anywhere in the world, where would it be?
I would advise any new writer to begin by writing about what you know best—your own backyard. Research can be tedious. Worse, we can also get our facts wrong. So why do we always think the grass is greener in another place and time? Yeah, I’m guilty.

Where can readers find your book ? 
Cowboy in the Moonlight is available in paperback at

Sheryl, it's been a pleasure having you. Best of luck with your book! If you're ever back in New Hampshire, be sure to stop in for a Talespinners' meeting. We miss your insight and gentle humor.

Nikki, I enjoyed being your guest. I want you to know that your editing expertise and the heart you’ve put into helping me improve my story have been tremendous assets. You’ve been my mentor on this quest toward publication.


Monday, October 26, 2015

Please Welcome Louise Lyndon

Of Love And Betrayal

Welcome to the River today, Louise. Thanks for stopping in.
Tell us about your latest book, Of Love and Betrayal. How did it come about? How did it change as you researched wrote and it?
My latest book is Of Love and Betrayal. It takes place fifty something years after the first book in the series, Of Love and Vengeance. It features the grandson of the hero and heroine from the first book.

Interestingly, this book came about purely because I was avoiding doing housework! I don’t like housework and will look for any excuse not to do it. So, instead of vacuuming, I decided I would put together Laila and Aymon’s (the heroine and hero from Vengeance) family tree. One name kept popping out at me – Troy. For days I kept thinking about him and it was obvious he wanted me to write his story. And so I did. Of Love and Betrayal  has lots of action, danger, dark emotions, and betrayal–and of course love.

It’s become apparent Aymon and Laila have lots of grandchildren, and great grandchildren too, so there will certainly be other “Of Love and…” books to come!

      Well, I know I sure prefer writing over vacuuming! Or doing laundry, dishes, or dusting. Do you have a favorite character? Why?
I love Troy, the hero from Of Love and Betrayal. I don’t know why. I guess he’s as close to the type of guy I personally would go for.

That's a good reason to like a guy. Especially when you can make him do whatever you want. I'm curious--what authors do you return to again and again, if any? Where do you find new authors to read?
I will always pick up a Jodi Picoult book no matter what. I love her. And of course, Diana Gabaldon. Although I have to admit I haven’t read her last two books – not enough time! As for discovering new authors? I scroll the lists on Amazon and if a blurb interests me then I’ll buy the book – I’ve discovered many new authors that way.

Picoult is one of those authors you can read over and over, and still discover something new. Do you have a writing routine/ritual? What distracts you when you’re writing?
I’m disciplined when it comes to writing – especially on the weekends. Not so much during the week as I have a day job. But the weekend is a different story. I try to get everything I need to do (non writing wise) done during the week so that on Saturday and Sunday I wake up and just start writing. I do get distracted by TV, I have to admit. And I have it on in the background when I write (with the volume down low) because I find it’s more distracting if it’s quiet.

What do you like best/least about writing?
The voices in my head! Now, that can be the best or least good thing about writing. I’m not sure yet. But I constantly have voices in my head – bits of dialogue, snippets of scenes. And if I don’t pay them any attention (i.e., write their story) they only get louder and louder. And as soon as I’ve written their story then it makes room for other voices. It’s never ending and often new voices will pop into my head when I’m part way through another story. I’m usually easily distracted so I have to be disciplined and refuse to listen to them. For now.

Oh, I know about those voices. They even wake me up at night. What are your favorite non-writing activities?
I enjoy spending time with family and friends. I’m also a movie addict so I tend to watch a lot of movies/TV shows. And of course I read as well. Does eating chocolate count as an activity? If so, I do that a lot as well.

Yes, eating chocolate counts. I figure the calories used to chew it counteract the ones consumed. What is your advice for newbies?
Write. Then write some more. And when you think you’ve written enough, keep writing! The other piece of advice I’ll mention, and this was mentioned to me when I first started, is to write the book of your heart. Don’t worry about what is trending, or selling, or popular. Write the book you want to write. You never know, you may be the one to start the next trend! After all, wouldn’t you rather be a trend setter rather than a trend follower?

Now that Of Love and Betrayal has hit the shelveswhat else are you working on?
I’ve temporarily dragged myself from the medieval period and am working on a contemporary novel, tentatively named Catch Me If You Can. It’s a romance; think Cold Case, Law and Order, Criminal Minds, and Bones. It has a handsome hero and a kick butt heroine!

Are you a pantser or a plotter?
I used to be a pantser. Now I’m part pantser and part plotter. I have a goal to become a total plotter but I don’t think I will. I like not knowing everything that is going to happen. There is a certain something that happens in, Of Love and Betrayal, that came completely out of the blue. I had no idea it was going to happen it just did. And if I had been a plotter I probably would have missed that incident. Being a pantser is very much like walking around the corner and having no idea what is awaiting you. That’s both fun and scary at the same time. I’m not ready to give that up!

       Do you have critique partners or beta readers? How do they help?
No. I don’t have either. And I guess the reason I’m answering this question is because I want to let those writers out there who either don’t have/want a critique partner know that you don’t necessarily need them. Controversial I know! I’ve always had it drummed in to me that I need a critique partner. I used to have them many, many, many moons ago – and well, I don’t know. I felt my writing was being stunted. And when I parted ways with the partners I went through a very difficult time believing I wouldn’t be able to get published if I didn’t have someone look at my story first. But, I pushed through that. And yes, it does still scare me that no other eyes see the story before my editor does!

Writers seem to be creative from a very young age. Do you remember the first story you wrote? 
I can’t remember the first story I wrote because we were always encouraged/required to write stories at school. However, I do remember the first story I wrote outside of school. It was a blatant rip off of Dirty Dancing and it was bad. I mean, seriously bad. But, at the time I thought it was really good. I must try to find it. I’m sure it’s floating around somewhere…

     Of Love and Betrayal 
     by Louise Lyndon
Aveline de Bondeville is on the run. Determined to keep out of the hands of the cruel Raimbaut de Blois she will do whatever it takes to stay alive. And so when she finds herself in the company of Troy de Gysborne she must quickly decide if she can trust him. But can she confess to murder knowing it would mean her certain death?

Troy de Gysborne did the unthinkable; he tore the bonds of brotherhood and left a path of destruction in his wake. And now Troy must face those he betrayed, including the father who long ago renounced him. But to confess to the crime he committed will cost him everything. Including Aveline. But can he remain silent if it means losing the woman he loves?

Aveline’s scream burned her throat; she tasted blood. Eudes staggered forward, his eyes wide. He looked at her as he fell to his knees and then slumped forward. Bright red blood rushed from his wound and pooled on the ground. She looked at Raimbaut.

“This time you shall not escape.”

She picked up her skirts and ran headlong into the forest and did not slow her speed as branches slapped her in the face and tore at her arms. The ground beneath her feet was icy and uneven. She risked a glance over her shoulder and did not stop even though Raimbaut was nowhere to be seen. He may not have been behind her, but it did not mean he was not stalking her.

Sweat trickled down her face and burned her eyes. Her heart pumped, her lungs gasped for air. She came to a skidding stop and looked wildly around. Should she keep running straight, go left or right, or make her way back to Gysborne? She turned in a circle and shoved her hair from her eyes.

A twig snapped behind her. She stilled and held her breath. Out of the corner of her eye, she saw a blur rush by. Was it an animal? Was it Raimbaut?

She ignored the pain in her chest and her sudden need to loosen her bladder. But she could not ignore her trembling. She clutched her arms to her chest. A sour taste flooded her mouth as she did not see how she would be lucky enough a second time to escape from Raimbaut.

Louise grew up in country Victoria, Australia, before moving to England, where for sixteen years she soaked up the vibrancy of London and the medieval history of England. She has since returned to Australia and now lives in Melbourne.

In 2013, Louise won first prize in the historical romance category of the Crested Butte Sandy Writing Contest for her story, The Promise, which has since been retitled and is now known as Of Love Vengeance.

When not writing, Louise can be found covered in mud, crawling under barbed wire and hoisting herself over twelve foot walls!




Tuesday, September 29, 2015

Library of Erana Interview

(This Interview was originally published by Library of Erana on 9/26/15.)
Welcome to Nikki Andrews
Where are you from and where do you live now? I was born in New Jersey a long time ago, but since then I’ve mostly lived inside my head.
Please tell us a little about your writing – for example genre, title, etc. My latest book, Framed, is a cozy mystery set in a New Hampshire art gallery. More books in that setting are in the works. I also dabble in sci-fi and just started a romantic thriller.
Where do you find inspiration? The world is so full of a number of things…Normal everyday life, with a twist.
Are your characters based on real people? Yes and no. I’ve used real people as a baseline for characters, but I blend in traits, habits, or idiosyncrasies from other people. So far, no real people have recognized themselves in my books.  
Have you ever used a person you don’t/didn’t like as a character then killed them off? Oh yeah! (rubs hands together) That’s part of the fun.
Research can be important in world-building, how much do you need to do for your books? Do you enjoy this aspect of creating a novel and what are your favourite resources? For Framed, I drew on my nine years as a picture framer, and did research into police procedures and messenger services. Like many writers, I’m a bit introverted, but I’m better at finding a person to talk to than I am at book/Google searches. And as I get older, I’ve gotten bolder at walking up to people who snag my interest. Once you get someone talking about their passion, it’s almost impossible to shut them up.
Is there a message conveyed within your writing?  Do you feel this is important in a book? Books that beat you over the head with a “message” bore and annoy me. Story first, always. There is a–let’s call it a theme–that runs through my books, but I’d rather let readers discover it for themselves, if they are so inclined.
In what formats are your books available? (E-books, print, large print audio) Are you intending to expand these and if not, what is the reason? Framed is available as an ebook or print. Large print and audio would be lovely, and in my spare time I’m looking into it.
Do you self-edit? If so why is that the case? Do you believe a book suffers without being professionally edited? I also work as an editor, and I’ve learned that no one can adequately self-edit. Every writer needs someone else to insist “this beloved passage adds nothing” or “you really need to expand that thought.” Even before I started thinking about becoming an editor, I used to mark up books where I thought changes would improve them. So yes, I think all books should be professionally edited.
What experiences can a book provide that a movie or video game cannot? A book is far more interactive than movies or games. Books allow, even demand, the reader’s participation in imagining the world and the characters described. Just as a for-instance, I had a very different image of Gollum than what Peter Jackson gave the world. Every time I open a book, I become a co-creator with the author. And that is far more exciting than watching a movie or playing a game.
What three pieces of advice would you give to new writers? Read widely, write daily, learn deeply.
Most authors like to read, what have you recently finished reading? Did you enjoy it? Just finished Ann Hillerman’s Spider Woman’s Daughter. I was pleasantly surprised and relieved to find she did an excellent job with her father’s characters, and I loved getting a feminine perspective on them. I’m curious to see what will happen if she goes on to create her own new characters and mysteries.
Can you name your favourite traditionally published author? And your favourite indie/self-published author? No, I couldn’t possibly name them. There are too many of each!
Can you name your worst job? Do you think you learned anything from the position that you now use in your writing?  I won’t name the company where I worked as an admin assistant, but that job from hell did provide a deliciously evil character that I managed to kill off three times in one book. Bwaa-ha-ha!
Can you give us a silly fact about yourself? I have been known to stand in front of the local planning board and make train noises at them.
Book links, website/blog and author links:
Twitter: @NAedits

Sunday, September 20, 2015

Raptor Release

Perfect day for a raptor release on Pack Monadnock. NH Audubon freed two broadwing hawks, both young females, after their recovery from injuries. It was such a joy to watch them burst from their transport boxes and take off into their natural habitat--the wide sky. A very moving experience, no matter how often I see it.

(c) Nikki Andrews
(c) Nikki Andrews

This handsome fellow is a 15 year old red-tail hawk who did not recover fully from an encounter with a car. He will remain a shelter bird because he cannot fly well enough to make it on his own in the wild. He helps Audubon teach the public, especially school kids, about wild birds.

Pack Monadnock
September 19, 2015 

She hesitates, confused.
The world has been so wrong.
First pain, then suffocating blindness,

The sensation of movement though she moved not a muscle.
More darkness, odd smells, odd sounds.
She woke in a strange place, but she could move and see.

Food came, dead food she had not hunted.
But she hungered, so she ate.
Pain departed and strength returned.

She took wing, but the sky was fenced.
She could not rise to seek natural food,
Nor cruise the spiraling thermals.

Days passed, and nights,
And then this place of semi-darkness in daylight
And once again movement though she moved not.

She hesitates, confused.
Noises around her like those of her captivity,
Light and air and open sky before her.

The moment is right. She launches,
Takes flight, finds the rising air.
Head up, wings strong,

She dances on the winds of noon.

Friday, August 21, 2015

Funny How Things Come Together

                Recently my esteemed publisher, Rhonda Penders of The Wild Rose Press, sent out a general invitation to lunch for those of her brood who live within reasonable distance of Cape Cod. Events that involve more than a couple of hours usually require some cogitation and rearranging of my schedule, but not this one. I leaped at the chance to meet a woman I’ve admired for a long time, even though the Cape is at best, in good traffic, a 6-hour round trip. I was debating how to manage the visit when my next-door neighbor Hal called.
                Well, technically he’s my ex-next-door neighbor, and I’ll never forgive him for that “ex” business. He and his wife Lindy were terrific neighbors for seventeen years, and I’ve missed them something awful in the couple months since they moved to Cape Cod. I could tell you stories…about fences, ice boating, dumb dogs, cat sausages, and that damned OCD whippoorwill they left behind.
Eastern Whippoorwill. To hear it:

     Anyway, Hal called. Turns out their house is sold and he needs to remove the last of his stuff (that’s not the word he used) before the closing. But since the dump--excuse me, the recycling center--won’t be open the day he’ll be here, he wanted to know if he can leave his s**t in my garage overnight.
                He promised it would only be a trash bag full. Maybe a box. Or two. Oh, and maybe there’s another bag in one of the closets. But it wouldn’t be much, he promised. What could I say? I remembered how they helped us out when our well went dry, and I said sure. Then I mentioned the lunch. Not angling for an invitation, just knowing Hal would appreciate the coincidence.
                Of course he invited me to visit. Bring my bike and stay overnight. That way I’d break up the travel time. And of course I accepted. It will be fun. Free room and board on Cape Cod? He can leave more s**t in my garage any time.
                After all, he conned me into becoming a library trustee. And I have a whippoorwill they forgot.