Archive for August, 2011


Recently someone posed a question about ebooks vs print books.    They were running out of subject lines to catch our attention, and “Good morning, m’dears” didn’t sound very catchy.  The brain buster of the day is: which do you prefer, ebooks or traditional books? (I know, such a mind bender, huh…) Seriously though, which do you prefer and why?

Me?  Different formats for times and places, whatever works is great.   With a house already packed to the gills with print books, it’s nice to enjoy alternative formats that can be accessed wherever we are in the world.  It is so convenient!  Boredom has finally met its match.

Just before sleeping, there are print books. (Wouldn’t want to fall asleep on top of an electronic device and break it!). In the car there are books on disc.   Now we have new toys, the iPad and iPhone, and the world of electronic books has opened its door. Free iPhone and iPad apps are available for Kindle, Nook, iBooks, epub, and other readers, so an iPad owner can download books in almost any platform. Moreover, with ereaders we can often sample a portion of the book free to glimpse the author’s style before making a purchase decision. This is a very accommodating feature.

Yes, it’s a tempting new world.  The iPad tucks nicely under a pillow, in a bag, or inside a folding chair for an outdoor concert. While writing books on the computer, one can watch streaming video movies on one device and check email, social media, and other functions via smartphone.   Or watch a movie in bed and pause it to fall asleep reading a book.   Just be careful not to stay up all night exploring the incredible array of friends and activities associated with ebooks.

I have published in print books that make wonderful gifts and will last as long as they are loved.  Owners often display them face out on the shelf, something we cannot do with ebooks.  Besides writing, I edit ebooks, including some for print authors. Indie authors are an active group, and social media author groups are rapidly growing. It’s an exciting world where author and reader alike can catch a wave that is growing. Along with the books, we’re drawn heavily into a variety of emerging social media such as Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, and Google+.

Be aware that ebook layout differs from print.  For one thing, due to the wide variety of readers and the ability to view in one- or two-page spreads with variable size type, the book may vary in length and the layout isn’t always guaranteed.  Chapters may not start where planned.  Pictures designed to display across the page from a poem may not.  Tables of contents may spread across three pages instead of two.  Careful consideration must be given to these features when designing an ebook.

Whether you like print books or easily accessible ebooks, there is a plethora of new resource material  entering the market.  It is a great time to be alive.

Personally,  I like to snuggle up with a print book on some days and read using the iPad on others.  Which do you prefer ~ print or ebooks?

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(I decided to publish and add to this later.  There is so much more!)

Chocolate Ink  ~  Writing with pure delicious love

No doubt about it, chocolate helps!  Life can be hard, but chocolate is a definite plus. Once upon a time, I thought chocolate was the deadliest food in existence.  Then one day, I saw the light and fell madly in love.

Dark chocolate labeled ‘70% or greater’ contains the most cacao and the least fat, sugar, and milk solids, making it the most healthy and guilt free.  I carry individually wrapped squares or small bars when I travel, keeping the treat to a piece a day.  It is the best mid-afternoon ‘pick-me-up’ I have ever found besides filtered water.

Then too, there are related chocolate goodies.  For instance, chocolate raspberry coffee.  I used to think to myself, ‘eewww raspberry and chocolate?! Who likes that stuff?’  Yup, it’s me – I eat and drink the stuff now. I can even lose weight with my little chocolate buddy if I want to.  Best of all, I can sit down with a steaming cup of chocolate raspberry or Jamaican Kahlua and caramel coffee – and write, write, write, happy and contentedly without the fattening snacks that often plague sedentary activities.

I just introduced my daughter, an immensely creative entrepreneur, to chocolate-flavored coffee roasted with Kahlua and caramel.  She was flabbergasted when I served it plain.  But she loved, loved, loved it!  Generally she serves coffee with flavored creamer, spice, sugar, chocolate powder, milk, etc, many of which contain trans fat or can irritate a sensitive digestive tract.  Let’s check the choices.  Heart attack? No. Colostomy? Not a good selection.  Allergies and lactose intolerance?  NO, no, no, just gimme half a cup of roasted beans with a chocolate flavor built into them and I’m happy.

Oh, chocolate stars!  Speaking of which, here is a recipe for brownies I could eat by the batch.  That’s why I rarely make brownies or chocolate chip cookies.   Dark chocolate raspberry is chopped and mixed in the batter, while squares decorate the top. Thankfully, many of us can enjoy an occasional chocolate overload.

Using a paddle attachment in a stand mixer bowl, mix together 1/2 cup melted unsalted butter, 3/4 cup light brown sugar, 3/4 cup sugar and 1 Tb vanilla extract.  Add 2 large eggs, one at a time. Add dry ingredients (3/4 cup all purpose flour, 1/2 cup unsweetened cocoa powder and 1/2 tsp kosher salt, sifted together).  Spread half of the batter in a lightly greased 8×8″ baking pan.  Cut a chocolate raspberry (or caramel or mint chocolate) bar into 8 pieces and place randomly across the top. Spread the remaining batter on top and bake at 350F for 30 minutes.  After cooling for 30 minutes, unwrap 9 dark chocolate raspberry squares and distribute evenly across top.  Cool, cut, and enjoy!

While we eat our brownies, let’s talk writing.  I use a chocolate theme in both poetry and prose.  To my surprise, writing about chocolate feels almost as decadent as eating it.  ‘Chocolate Town’ is part of my first novel. ‘Chocolate Snowman’ is in “Firelight”, an illustrated poetry volume.

Why does chocolate bring us joy?  How does it enhance the pursuit of creativity?

Is there a certain kind of visual art you enjoy?  Do you have a hobby making your own collectibles or clothing from raw materials?  Or do you prefer to collect?  Many artists and artisans do both.  Regardless of your choice, there are a few guidelines that blend together in different disciplines.  Here are ten keys to creating a splendid piece of hand-wrought art:

1.  Good Design Principles    This is often the first, most noticeable quality of any given visual work of art.  The way the lines, structure, and colors flow together provides a first impression that gives your artwork a much closer look or sends the eye off to another location for much needed relief.  Just kidding, but when an artist takes the time to listen carefully to an intuitive flash, or pays attention to other works s/he admires, or peruses the internet in a search for instances of good design to integrate into a new work, the end result can be amazing.

2.  Quality Materials and Supplies    Gather and use the best materials at your disposal.  Some paints, for instance, have durability factors that render them faded after exposure to light or time. Some have transparency, opaqueness, or staining qualities and it won’t do to use one where another is better.  Pay attention to ratings and reviews and procure the best possible for your masterpiece.

3.  Excellent Workmanship stemming from specialized knowledge, training, and experience.  Regardless of how highly placed the level of your achievement, beauty and utility are in the eyes of the beholder.  A crack here or mishewn color there may give a piece character, depending on the process. For instance, in the case of art pottery, an alternative firing such as Raku, pit, and wood firing will produce special effects and unexpected results.  Some effects are better than others.  On a specialty art tray meant primarily for display, a few surface  cracks  produced around the edges by intensely high flames and ash can enhance the piece.  But in most cases, flaws are not well appreciated. Use those pieces in another way, and share only your best.

4.  Attention to Detail   (yes, like Disney) While it is alright in most cases to have a simplistic outline or a background that fades into the distance, somewhere in the design there must be detail to lead the eye and focus the message.  For many people, the more finely wrought the detail, the better.  And if you sell it, the price is higher.

5.  Proper Equipment    Brushes, paints, tools, computer, slide rule, microphone, scalpel, whatever produces the effect you want to achieve must be in good working order.  Expensive brushes that are now frayed will not produce a fine line unless they are restored with brush preservative and fixative.  Neither will a dull knife or a piano that is out of tune.  Hone the edges and tune the instruments for a finer effect.

6.  Authenticity    Be original, this is where the uniqueness that is you really shines.  Gather up all of the ideas you ever had about building something, whether that is a process, service, or goods.  Then combine and recombine the ideas until you have found a new slant on your product.  Storyboard or mindmap, if you like. It takes less time and material and provides better perspective.

7.  Love for creating things   This also includes a love for personal and professional ethics, and suspending any desire for destructiveness unless it is necessary to the creative process, like in obtaining bottle glass pieces for mosaics or ripping boards to construct a cabinet.

8.  Willingness to “rip it out and start over” if necessary.    If you were a knitter, this would be too familiar to bring into mention, because a stitch is often dropped every few rows.  It is a commonly accepted part of the knitting process.  If your process or expertise involves less reconstruction, count this as fortunate. But rip as needed!

9.  Find new inspiration and motivation from prompts, dreams, ‘artist dates’, visual journaling, mistakes, packs of cards, treasure hunt clues, friends, and other creative folks. Visit Inspiration Point today, wherever that is for you.  It may be as close as a child, your best buddy, the bookcase, a search engine, or the creative channel on television.

10.  Exploration and Experimentation!    Never get too busy to find time to explore the medium. Otherwise you may never know your full capability.  Working toward a vision on the horizon may keep you on the youthful cutting edge of your niche.

That’s the end of my top ten for now.  What would you say are the most important keys to unlocking a sigh of awe-struck admiration and an exclamation of “Precious!” whenever someone views a new artwork?

Hello, it’s nice to meet you.  I am an author and a social creature, two facets that can compete.

I write whatever is needed, from illustrated poetry to mystery and ‘magical realism’ fantasy fiction to historical docufiction, whimsical escapades, and beyond.   When asked, I’ve illustrated a little for friends using ink, watermedia, other artwork, and photography.

At the current time I’m in the process of publishing my first full-length fiction novel, based on a beautiful, nautical vineyard peninsula.

Some time ago I took an early out from a rewarding human resources career to focus more on creativity, a facet that had been incubating intensely.  By then, my work life vs personal life was out of balance. Responsibility consumed everything.  I raised a family, took hundreds of business seminars, studied art, and collected enough supplies, equipment, exes, accolades, and stories to fill a studio twice over.

My interests grew during that time, broadening my experience.  I interned at Disney, coaching several who asked, then flew away to achieve their dreams.  Once I would have liked to be an Imagineer or an animator, a decorator, nurse, educational psychologist, travel consultant, even a scientist like half of my family, or anything but sit still.  Now I’d happily share a studio with my love in an area of great beauty and have more time to explore this great world.

Today I am a budding artist and emerging author.  I have stories in print books, short ebooks, and a great deal of well-established work awaiting refinement.  Often I mix genres, superimposing everyday reality with myths and legends, fairy tales, folktales, mystical, and non-traditional with traditional ideas. I have also written a historical reenactment.  Instead of using sorcery to achieve magic, I use incidents which many of us might consider everyday miracles, if not magical occurrences.  A few of my ‘tools’ push boundaries.  In the future I may become bolder.

Some of my fiction may be described within the film, literary and visual art genre of Magical realism.  It is a sub genre of speculative fiction and fantasy that, according to Wikipedia, is an aesthetic style or genre of fiction in which magical elements blend with the real world. A story explains these magical elements as real occurrences, presented in a straightforward manner that places the “real” and the “fantastic” in the same stream of thought.  If my writing fits this category, it is an interesting facet.

The cast of characters includes ordinary and extraordinary real life figures, superimposed with royalty (Emperors, Kings, and Celebs),  fantastical or ‘paranormal’ (Elves, fairies, leprechauns, restless spirits, half-breeds or partially transformed), and mythical pantheons (Mt. Olympus, Celtic, Eastern, Native American, and Hollywood).  Some villains are derived from ancient persona, nature gone wild, folklore given a new twist, or a corrosive element from the past that needs to be transformed and spun in new directions.

With interests stretching in many directions, it can be challenging deciding where to focus for the first  novel. Part of the confusion relates to contest entry.   They motivated me to write in various diverging themes. Their topics wander through a labyrinth.  I have a plethora of mini books online, complete with covers, descriptions, dedications, illustrations, and keywords.

“FireLight” was the first poetry I wrote.  This eBook is a 45-page illustrated ‘Fireside’ collection woven from images of romance, endings, and new beginnings that soar on the powerful winds of change, plus some bonus material and poems written to feature books in progress. This book rode high in international competition for a long time.

In the last year and a half, other short eBooks joined FireLight, such as “Music of the Wind,” “Magnificent Beast,” FaerySong,” “Watchers in the Wild,” “TeddyTears,” “Spirit: BlackHills Gold (in revision),” “Streak,” and “Toga.”  Other recent creations awaiting their place are  “Koko,” “Alchemyst,” “Warrior Amulet,”  “TerraFirma,” and “Methuseleh.”  Some are just waiting for revision, like  “Inches ‘N Seconds,” “BlackStrap Molasses,” “BrushWhipped,” “Three Drumming Gifts,” “Cinder Goose,” “MommaBomba,” “Boldness has Magic,” “Compass Rings” and others.  I am also completing several longer, well established projects:

“Velveteen Picture,” a magical holiday tale.

“Legacy,” the first novel featuring ‘Prickly Sage’ and my first full-length novel of any kind to be drafted in its entirety.

“NatSplat the Pumpkin Brat,” my first children’s saga about Discovery (Lunatic?) Island and Runaway Bay.

Recently published in print were:  “Treasures Beyond Measure,” “Eye ‘O the Storm,” “Falling for Fall,” “Music of the Wind,” “Silver Bells,” “Gingerbread Castle,” and a few poems…”Fireside Nights,” “Where?” and “Cello.”

But by far my favorite is the Enchanted World series. I really ought to complete this. The personal rewards are high but it will take considerable time.  Family, friends, and colleagues who have previewed are eagerly waiting to read the adventures of a character named BlackBerry Patches.  The series also features “TippyTop” for children.  The first two books (of a possible seven outlined) in the young adult series are quite well developed, and these adventures are fun to write because I have an excuse to exercise my imagination.  Together, they are part of an even larger series.

The adventures illustrate a playful self enhancement book and share some characters during a journey through a forest of patchwork dreams.  A virtual treehouse can be built a patch at a time by virtually stitching together ‘scraps of life’ with ‘multicolored thread’ into a maze of quilted branches, thus creating a guide for unsung heroes with dreams to fulfill.  Included is a compass I developed for my use when I experienced barriers to my own goals and dreams.  Other features shared between books are constructs I call ‘tools’.

This series percolated for most of my career.  I guess it’s no surprise it took on a life of its own.  If you attempt to run away from your own creation you’ll be hauled back by the thumbnails.  Just try!

My fondest hope – and perhaps only salvation, is to pull everything together, perhaps while writing with a great partner and collaborator.  Going it alone takes less energy, but when that is no longer fun we become more creative.  In the meantime, I am wondering if an anthology of all those other stories is in order, with proceeds benefiting a very helpful charity. I don’t know whether to include a few outside authors to retain freshness, but I think that is an idea worth developing.

Prompts and contest guidelines spawned several of the stories.  Some are fiction, some are real. Overall, though, with tweaking they are compatible with each other and could fit one umbrella topic.   In the future I’ll share more on writing, as I have relationships with a board member of IBPA (Independent Book Publishers), an author/publisher/cyber community guru, writing groups, authors, and a publisher I assisted at BEA (Book Expo America International) on several occasions.

Possible future topics I’m considering:  writing speculative fiction, creative nonfiction, characterization, plots, author platform building, personal motivation, marketing tips, and topics of special interest (especially to moi!).

Remember, if you are writing, these are your stories.   Run through walls.  Combine genres. Explore. Stories do not have to be complex and multidimensional.  Just write from the bottom of your heart and let your mind soar into the imaginative ozone if you find it has a propensity to do so.  Above all, make it believable.  If you like it, others will too!  Make it fun.  Treat.  Doodle. Write!

Do it creatively . .♫♥*`*• ..¸¸.☆

Beauty is all around us!

“We must all become more aware of the beauty around us!”  ricocheted from the car radio as I drove home a few days ago.

WithCaptivatingout further ado, I bypassed the ‘hood and drove to a nursery where I bought roses…six vertical feet of them! Blossoms bathe us in special sort of beauty all their own.

Earlier on that hot day, there was a quarterly meeting at the studio.   Due to a painful wrist sprain that kept me from creating artwork, I hadn’t seen the other participants in weeks.   Finally, I gathered supplies and headed home with intent to work on my deck. By then I was exhausted from two frantic hours of catch-up conversation and heated discussion.

How many of us have experienced the sneaky way a resolve has of dissolving? My hand is raised.  Feeling deprived of leisure after three days of nonstop social events, signing books, minor league baseball, birthday celebrations, whirlwind cleaning, and meetings, I turned onto my street to plant my roses.

As I neared the house, I suddenly heard the radio blare again:  “We must become aware of the beauty around us!”

Without thinking further, I waved at the darkened, shuttered house and drove through the ‘hood, winding up hills and around curves considering the beauty.  Suddenly I was headed north on a country highway.  “Just a little further,” I pleaded.  “I’m parched.  Where can I sit by the water?  Correction…where can I find big water, not a river or a pond?  Next stop Lake Michigan, please!!!”

Destiny hadn’t tuned in to my dream yet, so I drove back roads toward the only nearby lake of measurable size.  Water had always been important to me.  My father occasionally took us along while tending Michigan waterways and parts of the Great Lakes, but I spent much of childhood far from water.  One highlight was a ride across the Straits of Mackinac on the last ferryboat that ever plied the water before the state built the Mackinac Bridge.  That one trip was enough to light my fire for eternity!

Since the age of six I haven’t lived on a lakeshore where the water was still in existence, as is necessary for those of us born under the dual sign of Pisces.  Fish are magnificent aquatic creatures, aren’t they?   However, they need water as much as air.  Without an oxygenated marine ecosystem they cannot breathe.  And if they are also more than half ‘human’, they cannot manifest their spirit.

We humans have an interesting relationship with water.  We find the eternal receptivity fascinating and the reflection a mirror to the soul.  Moreover, the ever-changing palette of possibility created by water in motion is nourishing to the restless spirit.  Water is, truly, beauty in action.

“If nothing else,” I decided, “I’ll buy ice cream and cruise Lake Drive taking pictures; they last longer.”  It’s true…the water scene does live in my memory.  Then why waste mileage?   For one thing, proximity to water renews life and rejuvenates weary cells. The area had also captured my heart over recent years. I  sold a nearby home to accept an invitation to study with Disney University and reset a relational hot button at a distance.  In short, I moved on.  New horizons are great.  But revisiting our roots strengthens our connection to the past when there is still something to learn from them.  Realizing now that a part of me was left behind in the sudden move, I jerked the wheel.  The car detoured abruptly into our former neighborhood.

Nearing the old homestead, I had a sudden brainstorm.  Until now I had only taken pictures on the fly.  Why not use the video cam?  Oh yes…the neighbors might see me!  Well, to heck with them.  I slid the iPhone camera indicator to video and sailed by with an open window.

Locating the home required two passes.  As I was soon to discover, new owners had painted the brick exterior white.  The cozy hiding spot was revealed by the wraparound boardwalk and multilevel deck I designed and built.  A huge Blue Spruce proudly dominated the street.   My father had dug the seedling from his evergreen nursery after retirement.  I planted it myself.   All these images are captured on my video.  Even though the film is a bit jumpy I can ‘revisit’ home without the haunting sense of place that makes me wish I were still the owner.

Next I drove to the water. The lake was as urban and crowded as ever.  Joggers and bicyclists rimmed the encircling drive as I raised the iPhone again.  Eventually, I found lakeside mansions fit for a water sprite.  The lack of reaction to my filming was surprising.  Instead, people waved and smiled warmly.  ‘For sale’ signs littered the landscape…perhaps they thought I wanted to purchase.

Once again lit, my nautical Pisces spirit led the way.  Driving wasn’t exactly refreshing, though.  That waits for a time when I live and work and love life from a personal studio beside the big water.

While I was puzzling about the best way to tame wild dream dragons, I drove to local dairy for a baby cone.  I had one proviso: I would lick the drippy edge while visiting one last lakeside neighborhood.

Unfortunately, the black cherry and drop-dead-chocolate canisters were empty.  Behind the counter stood a youngster wearing plastic gloves.  “Try the Pistachio.  You’ve eaten the pudding before, right?”

“Nope, I don’t eat pudding.  I’m a health nut. But I like pistachios…they keep well in the freezer.”

Jamming the cone upside-down into one of those little styrofoam cups because he stuffed it with too much ice cream, I wielded a spoon.  Finally the last video clip was done.  I set the odometer and drove home.  Only eight miles separated me from the nearest water.  Back home in drydock, however, my dream to live by the water faded into reality.  It diminished in a deafening facade of busywork, bricks, mortar, and secluded neighbors, and was consumed by the sanctuary of a comfort cave.

The new rose bush fit well in the garage.  Its seven-foot-long branches flippy-flopped all over my face,  though, and I quickly banished it to the deck for pictures before planting.

I stashed groceries in the refrigerator and retrieved some fruit blended with pecans and Pina Colada mix.  After searching for the rum I’d forgotten, I sat outside in the breeze.  “How,” I wondered, do we reposition from comfort cave to seaside bliss?”  At the time I was too lazy to find the compass I designed to navigate creative reinvention.  Instead, I checked the videos.  They were splendid.  Dreaming vicariously may not have directly solved the challenge, but the resulting brainstorm certainly brought the dream closer.

What remained was to refresh the essential aquatic creature within.  Anything with the word ‘water’ helped, like watermelon, waterside, and waterfall.  But something else was missing.

A clue to the missing piece does exist…it is in watercolors, romance, a shady Riviera breeze full of fluttering leaves, and the beautiful image of a sailboat floating beyond the edge of the deck on cool blue azure water so enormous we can’t see the other side.  These images function as dream propellers.  Fueled by their energy we finish the imaginative book series.  We draw the illustrations and make gourmet meals, too, because love is fueling the project. It all sounds so incredibly easy.

If we focus on the outcome as if it already exists and believe, it helps to attract the right circumstances. Belief is an exceptionally powerful form of beauty.  In turn, a realized dream brings out more of the loveliness that is always nearby waiting for recognition.  Beauty is all around us!

Find more ~ follow @DreamSculptr at http://www.facebook.com/pages/DreamSculptr/130834070320694 and www.twitter.com/dreamsculptr

Contributing author CactusRose is at http://www.facebook.com/pages/Author-CactusRose/231400233547368

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