Happy Holidays & Goodbye to 2017

First of all, I want to wish you all a wonderful holiday season. I hope that it will be a joyous and healthy time. Pay special attention to the stories being told over the dinner table; stories are our lifeblood. Listen with your feelings as well as your ears.  And be present, get out of your head and be present! Santa reading

Thinking back on 2017 it was quite eventful, although I didn’t always realize it. I started the year editing like a fiend on my first romantic suspense novel, “Your Every Move.” It was fun writing about college days in the 80’s, but having a stalker causes serious trust issues. “Your Every Move” was published in e-book in June and in print in July. It’s available in e-book everywhere and print via Amazon, Watermark Books & Cafe, and my closet. 

In case you were wondering why I didn’t blog much this year, well, there were lots of reasons. Life, mostly. You can always find me on the Author Expressions Blog the third Friday each month, however, so I hope you’ll pop over and see what this great group of authors have to say.

Sometimes we creative types have to expand our arena and dabble elsewhere. I like painting and had a blast visiting the Carriage Gallery in Newton with my friend Karen to paint Sunflowers in January. What a wonderful place to express yourselves and enjoy the artworks on display. They have classes for all ages and all levels of skill.

Because I’m not getting any younger (are any of us) my husband and I attended a retirement workshop this year at WSU. That was eye-opening, too bad we didn’t start saving sooner. We learned new ways to save and make money stretch, that’s always a good thing. 

My brother-in-law had a heart attack in February, but he is doing fine, enjoying retirement and learning to cook and count sodium. He is finding that everything has salt and it’s almost as prevalent as sugar. UGH.  We are truly blessed that he is going strong.

In March I had the pleasure of speaking to the First Thursday Bookclub about my novel, “Patchwork Family.” What a great bunch and lunch was very healthy as well as tasty. That same month I visited the Kansas Writers Association meeting, and we discussed query, synopsis and agents. That was a lively talk, I must say.

In April the Wichita Public Library at Westlink invited me to read and discuss, “The Log of the Cowboy.” OMG, what a blast. And I learned so much from the discussion. My current work-in-progress, tentative title “Finding Grace” is set in the 1890’s during the Oklahoma land rush, so the story of a trail drive across the Midwest helped to put me in the period.

I was also a part of the Watermark Literary Festival with three other authors during April. One of the folks from the cowboy discussion at the library came, brought a friend, and bought a book. What fun!

May brought another opportunity to talk about cowboys at Covenant Presbyterian Church. And yes, they were kind enough to feed me. I’m having lots of fun learning about the building of the plains area of our country, and it is fascinating.

Did you see the total eclipse in August? We did, and I must say it was an experience I will NEVER forget. In fact, I will probably become an eclipse groupie, there’s supposed to be one in Texas next year so count me in.

This fall one of my favorite aunts passed away. She had the most infectious laugh, and I loved her dearly. She was the sweetest person I know and we will all miss her.

In December a dear friend of mine, Lois Ruby and her son Jeff spoke at Watermark Books. They both have new books out, and it was so much fun to see them and hear about their writing journies. This is Jeff’s first novel “Penelope March is Melting,” and it’s been on the best seller list at Watermark for two weeks now. Go, Jeff! Lois wrote another spooky novel “The Secret Grave,” and I can’t wait to read it.

I hope you all don’t mind the chatty holiday letter and wish you all well. Let’s all read more books next year!

Bonnie (BD) Tharp

Your humble author and friend.

reading books

The importance of “time off”

skaterWe all know that we need “time off” to recharge our personal batteries. From work, especially. Many of us wear many hats and have many jobs and never really get “time off.” We cook, clean, tend homes, groom yards, take care of our families (including the furry ones) all around the “day-job.” Most writers have a day job and then they write the rest of the time. In between laundry and preparing meals, among other things. Our lives are busy.

Many nights when my body says “enough” my brain just keeps right on going, keeping me from the much needed rest that will charge my batteries for the next day. The notepad on my bed table is filled with thoughts about my new novel, what I’m going to cook tomorrow, what I didn’t get done today, and what is on the list that I must not forget.

Often times we take a vacation and visit family outside of our home town, or we’ll take the weekend and just travel around the state to see what interesting things Kansas has to offer. (There are lots, by the way, but that is for another time.) This past year we’ve done “stay-cations.” I’ve gotten extra sleep on those days, read and wrote to my hearts content, BUT…I still had to do all the daily chores living requires. It’s nice to not wear a watch and only look when it’s time for a movie we want to see. It’s nice to know we have tomorrow to do whatever we didn’t do today and there’s no deadline to meet. But it’s not strictly “time off.”

mature_womanIn my day job I work for a global company and the Europeans understand the importance of Vacation. When they are on “holiday” they are GONE for two or three luxurious weeks, which they tell me is required to adequately unwind and refresh. They travel, ski, go to the beach, but whatever it is – they are taking “time off.” We need to take on that mindset as well if we want to enjoy nice long lives. Too many Americans work on their “holiday” and we are missing out.

Due to medical advances we’re living longer lives, but what about their quality? I’m slowly coming around to the realization that the dust will be there until tomorrow and it won’t hurt anyone if it stays another day. We don’t have to wear our favorite tee shirt or jeans, we can dig out the ones that are in the back of the closet and do laundry later. It’s okay to read one more chapter if you’re at a good part of the book. And if the muse taps me on the shoulder and says “listen to this idea” then I need to stop and write it down.

Making time. Making dreams come true. We “make” them happen, folks. No one else. We are the ones who make the choice. So, when the work day or work week is done, take some time for yourself and recharge. Eat sandwiches instead of a huge meal once in awhile. “Time off” is important. Don’t waste every minute on those lists, breathe, read, walk, write, whatever you need to do…DO IT.

The future belongs to those who believe in the beauty of their dreams.

Thank you, Eleanor Roosevelt (She was an awesome woman and role model.)angels

It’s safe to say that writers, painters, musicians, artists of all kinds are “dreamers”.  We see and hear beauty in the world around us and in our mind’s eye and struggle to recreate it or share what we experience with others.  It isn’t always easy.  Sometimes the things our muse shows us are very difficult to express in paint or words or clay.  Everything I ever made out of clay could be used as an ashtray.  I enjoyed painting for many years growing up, but struggled to create what I was seeing or feeling on canvas.  While I have written stories since I was a child, I really didn’t discover how magically you can create a world through words until I began writing as an adult.  Maybe it’s because I’m older with more life experience.  I still dream about being a successful author and I like to dream BIG.

cosmic tree

But there is another kind of dreaming that I’m sure other artists experience.  The dreams you have while you sleep.  I sometimes see scenes and hear dialog during my dreams that I later put into my books.  In college psychology class the instructor said that dreams are random and come from the subconscious.  The latter I believe, the former, not so much.  Have you ever had a question or problem that you hadn’t solved before laying down to sleep, and when you awoke the next morning you thought of a solution?  That isn’t random, but your subconscious working it out.

Just think of all the wonderful things that have been created by men and women over the ages.  Someone had a dream, a vision, an idea and made it reality.  I encourage you to follow your dreams and see where they lead.  That doesn’t necessarily mean you have to leave your day job or move to some exotic locale, it just means, make time for that creative part of your self to do its thing. You’ll enjoy the journey and who knows, the results may be life changing.creativity life

Could it be true? Creative Chaos is freedom?

My writing mentor (Emily Hanlon) wrote a post recently on Chaos and the creative process and I just finished reading it. Basically, she said, “Chaos gets a bad rap.” She is sure that chaos in creativity is “freedom” and opens us to new possibilities. Could it be true? Is the chaos in my life really going to end with a new and amazing path to creativity? To my writing?

Now, that would be cool.

She goes on to say, “Anything of worth in life must withstand burning if it is to give light.” Wow. That sets my mind to deeper, spiritual thinking. And what is creativity, if not the movement of the spirit of our creator?candleflame

“Chaos in neither good nor bad…it just is.” Okay, then that begs the question, why do human beings revel in chaos? Why do we allow it to generate such negative energy?

“…see chaos as something that is a gift, something is going to reveal the mystery, something through which we’re going to die to what we think we are, who we think we are, what we think we’re writing, what we think we’re creating and open to that which is within, which is wanting desperately to be born.” ~Emily Hanlon

How could I forget the creative part of the journey? I’ve been so involved in the business end that the part of my brain that shared my stories just shut down. Good grief. I think it’s past time to light a candle, turn on some soft music and let the muse get to work.

See ya…

Tiara & delusions of grandeur

When I was a little girl I was 100% tomboy. But in the 1950’s girls were supposed to wear dresses and bows in their hair. My preference was slacks and pull over shirts, this was pre-jean mania and slog tee-shirts. I did, however, wear Keds, even with my dresses whenever my parents would let me.

bonnie_jan_50sI still feel most comfortable in a pair of jeans and a tee shirt, but I’ve learned the joys of dressing up. There are photos of me when I was 2 and the folks would dress me in Mary Jane patent leather shoes, lacy socks, and frocks with bows in the back. I had naturally curly hair back then, too. But when I started dressing myself I had other ideas.

It really wasn’t until the late 60’s early 70’s that jeans were allowed at school. Prior to that jeans were only worn by boys. We girls were only allowed to show a few inches above the knees, and boys hair could not hit their collar. In high school we rebelled – and long hair, short skirts, and jeans were all we wore. Except to the occasional dance. Then I’d wear a pant suit or halter dress. (Yes, hippie.)

mature_womanWhat was wrong with me? Nothing. It was the times and they changed. Except now anything goes. There are kids with long hair, short hair, and shaved heads and nobody seems to care. Fifty-year old women back in the 70’s looked old, especially with the way they dressed. Now days, women were stylish clothing at all ages and many look much younger at 50 now than they did back then. Who knew? Not me.

girlinjeansI ran into an old neighbor a few years ago at a shop downtown. He looked at me and recognized me immediately. The last time he’d seen me I was wearing the same types of clothing, a peacoat, jeans, tennis shoes, and layered hair. Wow. That’s scary.

As I age I seem to be getting girlier. Sparkling things (like jewelry) really grab my attention, and migrate themselves right into my jewelry box. My favorites are the ones ON SALE with semiprecious stones and beads. Yes, I guess I’m still a hippie at heart. My best friend says we’re like old crows, always attracted to shiny objects.

tiara_biggerSo, where’s my tiara? Surely I’m getting old enough to wear one once in awhile. I’m not sure where I’ll acquire it or where I would wear it, but even if it is just around the house it would be fun. Hey, it works for the Britain’s royal family. Maybe when I retire I can put “princess” in my occupation and wear a tiara every day. My muse wears one…does yours?

Music = Muse

I’m sitting here rocking to the sounds of SNOW PATROL and really loving it. Good lyrics. Great beat. And just enough mellow mixed in to give you a rush when the rocking starts up again. I like the lead singers voice and the poetry of the lyrics. Gee. Guess I like it, huh?!

easylisteningMany authors listen to music when we right. There are times when I can’t do it, especially when the lyrics distract me from the words on the page. So, usually I listen to New Age instrumentals or classical. Anyway, music has a way of influencing the heart beat, the brain waves, and your bodies receptiveness to what – everything? The universe? Oh, that’s esoteric sounding, isn’t it?

I hope you all don’t mind the rambling I’ve been doing lately. I’m on vacation. I’m relaxed. And my mind is not flittering here and there, it’s floating on a cloud, observing the possibilities and the world around. Nature is another valuable muse to the creative spark. Mix music and nature and you have a powerful combination. Wow. Okay, enough of this silliness. I’m off to work on my new novel, Close to You. Later!

“Be who you are – originals are much more valuable.”

“Be who you are – originals are much more valuable.” 

No arguments here! It’s the similarities about us or our interests that might bring us together, but it’s our individual differences that make people fun and interesting.

When I started writing Feisty Family Values I had trouble hearing each woman’s individual voice. The pictures of them in my mind were vastly different, their character sketches showed a variety of unique experiences, but somehow I couldn’t hear the differences in their dialog.

It took me several pages before they really came to life and I began to “hear” their voices. And about a quarter of the way into the book they started to take on a life of their own. The creative muse kicked in and wowza, I found myself writing about three original and distinct characters.

One of my favorite shows is NCIS. I always get a kick out of Tim McGee’s writing adventures. Like all of us he finds his characters in the people he meets and interacts with. But those are just impressions usually, a character has to be more three dimensional. We’ve got to see, hear, feel and even smell them sometimes.

How do you get to know them? One tool is to interview your characters. Develope their background, their careers, their relationships, their likes and dislikes. It’s all brainstorming and gut response, don’t plan too much or they will become stiff and unnatural. Readers want characters they can relate to, ones that seem real on the page. It’s an interesting journey to discover who your characters are and tell their stories as vividly as possible. And don’t forget to enjoy the ride, my friends.

What are your favorite stories and why?

As an author I wouldn’t exist if I didn’t have readers. Writing for my own enjoyment alone, while personally fulfilling, it’s not the whole picture. A story isn’t really worth much if it is never read.

Now, the act of writing can be very cathartic, at first, but often times the muse has other ideas and we authors get lost in the imagination. We go where the story goes and we hope that the world we build and the characters that live there will be interesting to other readers.

I’m also a reader. So, depending on what hat I’m wearing when,  I want to be entertained and read about characters I can care about. To be a fly on the wall of this world the author has created and watch every move and thought the players make. It’s very exciting.

Just as language has changed over the years, so have stories and books. They are more condensed now, the language more pointed with less flowery narrative. It’s active. What we read is more true to the times we live right now. That doesn’t mean that we don’t enjoy a historical story now and then, some of us do–Very Much. The bottom line is that the story needs to be written to appeal to the audience of readers it is written for. Okay, that may be a duh moment for some, but new writers don’t always know what that means. And what about the authors who don’t write genre fiction, but mainstream or literary that is supposed to appeal to the masses. Does it? Not always.

I’m an author of adult fiction about mature women, families and relationships. I also like to write stories geared to young children, but they are generally driven by something that has happened involving my grandsons, so it’s more personal and focused to a small set of readers (2). 🙂

We’ve always heard that “everyone has at least one book in them.” Maybe. Maybe not. But right now is a great time for people to try, because there are so many publishing options available (traditional, indie, print on demand, online, self pub…).

But how do we connect with the reader? How do we let them know we have a story for them? That’s really a tough one. There are lots of ways and you never know which is going to work–print advertising, online advertising, social media, mass snail mailings, a message in a bottle … ? So many options, so little time.

Time to target not only our stories, but the promotions to the readers who read things similar to what we write. Sounds easy, but it’s not. I don’t know how I feel being “targeted” and yet, there are stories by authors that I love so much I read everything they write. It feels like they are telling their stories just for me, but don’t worry, I’m willing to share. What are your favorite stories and why?

“Where do you start?”

Someone asked me the other day, “Where do you start when writing your novel?”

That’s a very good question. It all starts with an idea. Or a character. Or a scene. My first novel FEISTY FAMILY VALUES started with an idea, then the characters developed and scenes grew from them. It was a very organic experience.

My second novel PATCHWORK FAMILY is a follow up to FFV. The characters were already developed so what I saw was a scene. Then new characters popped in and the story evolved.

I have three novels in progress right now. Crazy, I know. One is a “historical” that was inspired by my husbands great grandmother. She was a Sooner who started her own homestead in Oklahoma, alone and unmarried.

Another is what I fondly call my “stalker” novel. Yes, there is a stalker, but he’s not the main character or plot – it’s really a story about a young woman who finds her own inner strength and perhaps a love interest by the end of the book. This one is inspired by a friend of mine who was stalked when she was in her teens and twenties. So, this was idea and character driven.

The last one is a novel about a young woman who has a heart attack very young. This was inspired by something a relative said when he woke up in the hospital after having the same experience. The line stayed with me and now a story is growing around it.

Funny thing about all this is that each story started with a very small seed that I cultivated and watched grow. A phrase. A person I’ve met. A situation that happened somewhere at some time – any and all peaked my imagination. So, if you’re wondering where a novel starts I can’t really tell you because the story can start anywhere – anytime.

I know of some VERY organized writers who start with an outline. Maybe a photo in a magazine reminds them of a character or scene. But they develop their story in a very chronological manner. Mine sort of go where they will until about the middle, then I sit down and write an outline to see if things make sense, transition properly, and move to resolving the conflict in the end. 

There is never one way to do things, folks. That’s what is so fun about the whole creative process – it is organic – and if you let it go it’ll take you along with it. Enjoy the journey!

Seasonal effects

4 seasons

I honestly believe that seasons and their variations can affect productivity. Part of the reason I love Kansas is because it has four distinct seasons and none of them are too terribly long. That doesn’t mean we don’t get tired of summer heat when it becomes unrelenting like this year. Nor does it mean we don’t look forward to spring when we have our once every 5-10 year blizzard. 

Each season has it’s special qualities, and they actually do affect my writing productivity. Spring and fall tend to be the seasons we all want to be outside, walking, riding our bikes and working in the yard. My muse loves these activities because she is free to wander right along with me. It’s a good time to world-build and develop your characters. Although I spend more time outside, I get quite a bit of writing done during these seasons. And spending time with friends is great for brainstorming.

During summer and winter the extreme weather drives me indoors. These are the times of year that I prefer to edit and read. When we sometimes get a break from the extremes I pop outside onto the deck or walk around the neighborhood and let the muse have some fun, dreaming up new plot lines or dialog. My dog loves when I tell her my ideas, she seems very happy to be outside with me even if she doesn’t know what I’m saying.

We usually take a little time off from our day jobs in summer and again in winter. During those times I write and read, because my time is my own and that’s what I’d rather be doing. I have notebooks and paper all over the house so when an idea strikes me I can jot it down, so that when I have time to write I’ll remember. (Yes, even by the bed. I write short notes to myself fairly well in the dark.)

Do the seasons affect your productivity? In what ways?