A Walk Through History

This week I witnessed what real teaching is all about–bringing a subject alive for students.

Erika Miranda and aide Barbara Milazzo took their 5-6th grade class at Sierra Foothill Charter School on a journey back to the colonization of America and the Revolutionary War by helping their student “become” actual figures in history–some famous, some little known.

The culmination of many weeks of research and hands-on effort resulted in a presentation called: the Wax Museum of Living History.

The entrance to the "Wax Museum" introduced visitors to each of the historical figures they were about to meet, as well as providing a timeline for them in history--from John Smith and Pocohontas to Betsy Ross and poor Thomas Jefferson, who we're told spent his later years attending parties in bedroom slippers.

The entrance to the “Wax Museum” introduced visitors to each of the historical figures they were about to meet, as well as providing a timeline for them in history–from John Smith and Pocohontas to Betsy Ross and poor Thomas Jefferson, who we’re told spent his later years attending parties in bedroom slippers.

I was called in after each student had picked his or her character and completed their initial research into the person’s life. Ms. Miranda asked me to speak about character development and how an author gets to really “know” a character. So, I introduced GMC: Goals, Motivation and Conflict. I asked the students to look beyond the image and find out what drove these people to take such enormous risks and act in ways that led to the birth of a nation.

Did the students “get” it? Oh, my, yes! They culled the bits and pieces of written history to transform their character into a living, breathing human who shared their passion, their ego–yes, Ben Franklin, you accomplished a lot–, and bring out the story behind the figure to an amazed audience of students, parents and grandparents.

Here are a few standouts, but, truly, every student did an amazing job. And all of these photos are courtesy of Jill Harry, with my sincere gratitude.

Deborah Sampson disguised herself as a man to fight in the Revolutionary War. What would provoke a young woman to do this? Love of family, of course.

Deborah Sampson disguised herself as a man to fight in the Revolutionary War. What would provoke a young woman to do this? Love of family, of course.

Anne Hutchenson fought for religious freedom. Why? Because nobody has the right to tell someone who they must pray to.  So there, King George.

Anne Hutchenson fought for religious freedom. Why? Because nobody has the right to tell someone who they must pray to. So there, King George.

Martha Washington was more than just a...um...pretty face. She was the woman who kept George Washington organized. Without her, we might not have had a 1st president.

Martha Washington was more than just a…um…pretty face. She was the woman who kept George Washington organized. Without her, we might not have had a 1st president.

George Washington showed his humility and grace. He didn't want to be King and he wasn't crazy about becoming President, but he did because the country he fought to create needed him.

George Washington showed his humility and grace. He didn’t want to be King and he wasn’t crazy about becoming President, but he did because the country he fought to create needed him.

One of my personal favorites was Sybil Ludington who remains in Paul Revere's shadow, despite the fact she rode farther and warned more people about the British soldiers coming their way than Mr. Revere. "Just because I'm a woman, doesn't mean I can't ride like a man." Go, Sybil.

One of my personal favorites was Sybil Ludington who remains in Paul Revere’s shadow, despite the fact she rode farther and warned more people about the British soldiers coming their way than Mr. Revere. “Just because I’m a woman, doesn’t mean I can’t ride like a man.” Go, Sybil.

I wish I could share the entire cast with you–everyone did a fabulous job. And the best part? They not only learned more about history than you could possibly test for–they became teachers, too, by bringing history to life.





Whistle While You Work… Or Listen to Music

No matter where we live or which culture we embrace, we humans are hardwired for music. This is a universal fact. Our exposure to the stuff of music begins while we are still in the womb. There, we are flooded with heartbeat, pulse, breath, each with its own rhythm and vibration.

When I searched online for information about our powerful need for music, I found a fascinating interview called, ‘The Power of Music’ to Affect the Brain. To listen, click on this link:  http://n.pr/1xLHnhU (Warning: this piece lasts 30 minutes!!)

If you don’t have time to check out this program, here are some fascinating tidbits:

imagesEven infants respond to music. They seem to prefer harmonious tunes to a jarring combination of notes.

imagesScientists have found that music uses and involves more parts of the brain than any other human function we perform.

imagesMusic is being used as a tool to potentially help people with neurological deficits and for those patients suffering from Alzheimer’s. (Because of how we associate music with memories.)

Such cool stuff!

Speaking of memories tied to music… Do you remember the song you most connected with during a teenage romance, and/or when the relationship turned sour?


This is going to date me, but as a young teen, I remember hearing a really corny and forgettable song called, Groovy Kind of Love. At the time, the tune and the words suited my feelings, and I made it my official love song with a boy who didn’t even know I existed. (Ah, unrequited love!) In the rare times when I hear that song on the oldies station, I can still conjure up that sappy feeling from way back then.

Years later during a wrenching breakup, the song, Live for Today, saved me from dissolving into a helpless puddle of pain and self-pity. And yep, I still feel a pang when I listen to that tune.

Some of my friends use music at the office, or when they sit down to write. I prefer silence, but occasionally, listening to a song or specific genre of music helps put me in the right mood for whatever I’m working on. When I first started writing rancher/cowboy books (I wrote eight of those), I tuned into to Country and Western radio.

Do you listen to music when you work? What do you like to listen to?

Until next time,
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#FREE One Day Only (Tara Taylor Quinn)

MotherByFateSometimes things come out in my books that I don’t plan or expect.  Okay, most times.  Writing, for me, is a combination of accessing the unconscious mind, imagination, and telepathy.  My part, my responsibility, is to present myself to the page and then surrender. You’d think, after 70 books, I’d be good at it.  But I still struggle.  Letting go of self is hard.  Most particularly when life is requiring things of me and I need me to handle them.

Still, my books do not get written until I give in and let go.  I am no longer in control at that point.  Things happen.  In Mother By Fate, alot of things happened!  One in particular that took me by surprise.  I was typing along, listening to the dictation in my head, and someone appeared from the past - someone I knew – and feared.  He was the villain in three books – a suspense trilogy I wrote for MIRA books.

Today only, ANYONE who can guess who he is, or name the titles of any of the three books will receive the entire trilogy in eBook form.  ClickHere to enter. For those of you who read it the first time – you won’t have it in eBook form unless you went back and purchased it. It’s initial release was in print form only. There is no limit to how many people can win – today only.

Good Luck, Everyone! I’m going back down under…

My Dear Sailor – Carolyn

Last week I left the water on in the barn again and wound up with a mud puddle in the center aisle. The last mend I did on the hose where a horse stepped developed a drip. Add to that the several inches of rain and attendant flood warnings in our area. The land is so saturated there is no place for the water to go. We will miss that during August and September. I suspect global warming is contributing to a monsoon weather pattern like India’s. We go from flood to draught and back again. Makes riding my horse problematic. He tends to stumble on good footing. Last week he slipped in the mud and strained a muscle in his left foreleg. I went over to groom and love on him while he was resting, and was met with wickers of joy. Not me, you realize. I never go treatless. He dotes, as most horses do, on peppermints.

He has a routine that is so strict it amounts to ritual. When I arrive at his stall, he wants his special peppermint horse treats. And one half a carrot. No more, no less.

He expects the occasional treat while he is cross-tied in the grooming area during the time I am working on his coat. If I ride him, he does not expect a treat while I’m in the saddle, but the minute I get off him in the arena, he wants two treats. If I give him one treat only, he refuses to move so much as a single foot toward the gate until I have produced another.

When occasionally I have run out of treats, I have actually hauled on his reins without being able to budge him. I’ve always managed to scrounge enough crumbs from my pockets to gratify his two-treat minimum. Then we walk companionably back to the barn. I don’t know for certain how long he would wait before he gave up and went back to the barn with me after a single treat. Where, of course, there are treats waiting for him. Makes no sense, but he has the soul of a CPA.

After I untack him and give him his after-riding grooming, he waits on the washrack for his apple. Have you priced apples lately? I tried to switch him to straight carrots, but he was so annoyed and gave me such a pitiful look that I went back to bringing one apple with me, no matter the cost. After the apple, he expects half a carrot before I walk him down to the pasture gate.

Then more ritual. I take his halter off and give him one third of a carrot. I go outside the gate. He follows me and gets his second and third pieces of carrot. Not two pieces total and not four. After three, he walks away. After two, he gives me that pitiful look until I pony up the third.

I think he is fond of me. I adore him. He’s getting up in years like me, and I worry about his health and happiness. Kowtowing to his small rituals makes us both happy. I couldn’t ask for better.

One of My Favorite Things (Pat)

This is going to be extremely short this Saturday because, well, I’m not here.

That wording leaves something to be desired.    What I mean is that I am not in Memphis on my blog day and I have a very good reason.

I’m at a wedding some 500 miles from my home place..

We had one last October.   This time it’s a great nephew who lives in Macon.

I love weddings.   I particularly like weddings in the Potter/Whitehead/Schriner family.   They are always immense fun.    One reason is that one side of the family is musical, and music always plays a huge part in any celebration.   In this case, the groom’s brother is a musician who has his own band, and he’s providing the entertainment at the after-ceremony reception.

And food?    The groom’s mother — my niece –  owns a bakery.   Need I say she and her husband both are great cooks.   The bride’s family is in the catering business.  .My mouth is already watering.

So I drove to Macon Thursday.    I’ll be on my way home Sunday.. probably several pounds heavier   .Will report more next week.

Did I mention that I love weddings?

No Glutes, No Glory

While attending the San Francisco Uncon, I heard author Pamela Aares talk about her writing routine. She shared some great information on the importance of including exercise in your daily habits–specifically, working your gluteus maximus muscles, or “glutes,” as they’re commonly called. As a thank you for being so positive and generous of spirit, I’d encourage everyone to check out Pamela’s awesome selection of books.


“The important thing is to change positions at least every 25 minutes, from sitting to standing and to use your gluteus maximus muscles,” Pamela said.

Show of hands: who knows where your glutes are?

Maybe this will help.


or this, perhaps?


Either way, here’s why it’s so important to stand up every 25 minutes and flex your butt muscles. Because, yes, we’ve all heard it: sitting is the new smoking. Read it and weep, folks: SITTING SUCKS.

So, here’s my new routine. Feel free to give it a try and let me know if it works for you.

1. Set timer on my phone for 25 minutes.

2. Note word count of current work in progress in a log before I start. Hit go. Write.

3. When the timer goes off, get up. First thing I do is three sets of glute-tightening exercises. Stand straight, shift your hips forward, suck in gut, tighten butt muscles, hold for several second, release. Breathe. Repeat two more times.

4. Open my iTunes Radio Pop Workout station, hit play. I move to whatever song is playing for the length of the song. (Most are 3-4 minutes and the fast beat makes me hustle.) You can shuffle, jog, do pushups, squats, leg raises, or…what I sometimes do: dance. What the heck! Nobody’s watching.

5. Drink water and/or pee.

6. Set timer for 25 minutes.

7. Repeat. (Don’t believe me? Here’s proof: my hand-written note pad/writing log.)

worksheet notes for Storybroad blog

As you can see from my Thursday log, I did SIX 25-minute segments. Counting this blog as my last 25-minute segment means I netted: 3k-plus. Not bad. More segments mean more words. You know what you need to do to get where you want to be.

Now, here’s my confession: I completely fought this. I could not believe short segments would jibe with my usual writing style, which was to write all day in my chair without moving until someone told me it was time to fix dinner. Did I net more words my old way? Some days, yes. But at what price to my body?

I was positive this method would freak out my muses and inhibit my creative flow. Turns out, my flow would prefer me to stop mid-sentence rather than at the end of a scene or a chapter because picking up where I left off is much, much easier. Seamless, in fact. How crazy is that?

The best thing about this routine is: I feel great. Very energized. Instead of dancing during my break, twice this week, I used that time to vacuum. My house loves me.

Disclaimer: I’m me. You’re you. Will this work for you? I have no idea. It works for me. If you try it and pull a butt muscle, please don’t sue me. I promise, it won’t be worth your time and effort. ;-)

Move it and groove it, people…I’m counting.



PS: this is one of those times when being called a “tight ass” is a good thing.


The Sweet Smell of Spring

Tomorrow is the official first day of spring. Here in Seattle, the air smells delicious! Currently our Daphne bushes are blooming. We have two different kinds, each with its own sweet smell.

Daphne2 other daphne

In a few weeks, The Daphne will shed their petals, and other flowering plants will perfume the air–freesia, lilacs, lily of the valley, azalea, peony, sweet peas, honeysuckle, lavender and a host of other flowers whose names I do not know.

Between the fragrant scents, the calls of mating birds and the greening trees, one can’t help but be happy. Even so, I tend to get caught up in whatever story I happen to be working on, to the point that nothing else matters. If I’m not careful, I can easily miss the joys of spring, and I don’t want to do that!

To prevent that from happening, I’m taking daily walks after lunch. (Except when it’s pouring outside.) Fresh air, exercise, staying in the here and now rather than dwelling on the past or worrying about the future, and admiring Mother Nature–what’s not to like? I come back happy, refreshed and energized.

And Bonus: My midday mini-excursion often refills the creative well, so that I bring home new ideas for my current work-in-process. I love that!

Happy Spring, and  until next time,
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ALTER-EGOS (Anne Stuart)

Do any of you have a literary alter ego you identify with?  A lot of women embrace Jo March in LITTLE WOMEN, or Scarlett O’Hara if they’re feeling feisty and selfish.  (That was my main problem with GWTW — Scarlett was admirable but not very likable).  I have had a number of literary figures over the years that I longed to be.  I loved the dying Victorian saints, like Beth March, or Carol in The Birds’ Christmas Carol (I think that was the name of it).  I think I must have had a strong Victorian past life — either I was a sentimental matriarch or old maid (whatever I was, I was a battle-axe), or maybe I really was one of those pale, saintly creatures who died young and everyone wept and was so sorry.auntie mame

While I have a few alter egos nowadays, like the All-knowing Trash Heap from “Fraggle Rock” (aka Madame Heap) or Sister Yoda the Very Wise who knows everything about being a romance writer, my favorite, long term icon is Auntie Mame.  I wanted to start this blog with “Greetings, my little loves!”   Auntie Mame used to sweep into a room, see you nephew and cry out “Patrick, my little love” and it’s stuck with me ever since.  I’m outrageous, genuinely sweet, love attention (but don’t like fighting for it — it has to come naturally) and in all but financial matters I’m completely extravagant.  I should have a long cigarette holder and gesture dramatically (preferably with a bubble gum cigarette at the end).
Mame Dennis knew sorrow and despair and milked every moment of it, she soared through life puncturing the pompous and uplifting the downtrodden (think of Agnes Gooch).  And if none of this means anything to you, go and rent Auntie Mame immediately — you’ll fall in love.

The very best thing about Auntie Mame was her mantra — “Life’s a banquet and most poor suckers are starving to death.  Live!”  She probably said that to mousy little Agnes (played by the writer Fannie Flagg in the original).  But it’s true.  Look around you and there are so many glorious things, even through a veil of tears (and I’ve been wearing that particular veil a lot in the last few months).

So first a little ad — Two of my best books are on sale at Amazon this month for the splendid price of $1.99.  First, there’s PRINCE OF MAGIC, with ghosts, faux Druids, ruined abbeys and a luscious anti-hero. http://tinyurl.com/ku2eq2o

And then there’s the best book I ever wrote, NIGHTFALL. http://tinyurl.com/mwtuhyj  I don’t know why I’m so besotted with it – I firmly believe it’s so wonderful it can cure whatever ails you, as long as you’re the right audience to be transported by the story of c51skg3dlSYL._BO2,204,203,200_PIsitb-sticker-v3-big,TopRight,0,-55_SX278_SY278_PIkin4,BottomRight,1,22_AA300_SH20_OU01_onvicted murderer Richard Tiernan and his victim/patsy/one true love who finally gets everything she wants in the end.

The sale lasts all month and is most definitely worth it — I defy you to put either of them down once you start them.

But back to alter egos.  I suppose role models are the same thing — someone fabulous you aspire to be.  Or maybe an alter ego is someone you already are.  It’s hard to say.

In the end, just remember that life is indeed a banquet.  LIVE!


Write What we Know – Carolyn

Last week show and ice. This week jonquils. Honestly! Last week seventeen degrees. This week seventy. Bizarre. That doesn’t mean we won’t get more snow or more freezing temperatures, but it is spring. The peeper frogs are peeping their little heads off. The horses are losing their winter coats. Mares usually cycle in and out of heat nine or ten months of the year. Mine, unfortunately, tend to cycle all twelve. It has something to do with the length of sunlight, not temperature. And when they are cycling every twenty-eight days, they are every bit as grumpy as a human female.

This is the time I wish I liked to garden. I read all the books and magazines and wish I had a full time gardener. Because I ain’t about to do it. Even if I were competent, I hate digging in the mud, and weeds see me coming. I read tons of British mysteries where everyone has beautiful gardens. Most of them seem to have aged and devoted full-time gardeners as well. And the summer temperatures are bearable. Here we go from winter to summer. Poo!

On another subject, yesterday our Malice in Memphis mystery writers group had no scheduled program. Usually we either have writing exercises on the agenda or a visiting forensic type. Since we have a number of new members, we decided to talk about us. It wound up being a great session. Everyone talked about what we did and had done, any specialized knowledge we have that might be of value to the group, what we were writing and wanted to write…

We discovered we have a behavioral psychologist who worked with disruptive employees and had been faced with some dangerous clients. We have another psychologist and an educational counselor. We have two members who worked in security for a large private security agency—one as a guard and another as an investigator. We have a photographer, a graphic designer and technical writer, a couple of government employees, two teachers, and an ex-medical examiner… The thing that struck me was that in most instances those life stories could easily be the jumping-off place for a mystery. But the storytellers weren’t seeing the potential in what they already knew.

All plots come from ‘what if.’ Just as we mystery writers (Like Castle)  see the possible murder methods everywhere we go, we need to see mayhem inherent in our every day lives. Not that it’s there, but that it could be. I spent most of my working life in a university. The groves of academe can be as dangerous as a rain forest full of boa constrictors. One of our members spent his working life in bio-tech. Ask Robin Cook about evil doing in that world. I could see our security guard suddenly facing a situation that she has no idea how to deal with, and being in personal danger without knowing whom to trust.

The old saw about ‘write what you know’ has a great deal of truth in it. Just add a big dose of ‘what if’ and suddenly we have a plot and characters. Other people can often see what we overlook. Get your brainstorming groups up and running and mine what you know.

What Are You Watching? (Pat)

I usually don’t care for reality or talent shows.   I have two exceptions” The Voice” and “The Amazing Race.”

I like the latter because I can travel with the participants and go to places I haven’t been and will probably never visit.  Or it might spur my adventuous side.  Two weeks ago. I went to Japan and watched a bullet train fly through the countryside..  Now I want to go in person.   I want to ride that sleek, modern transportation.   What was really wierd:  I spent last night researching railroad trains in the mid 1800′s.

It made me wonder how  transportation will change in the next one hundred and fifty years.  Flying cars, for sure.    Kinda wish I would be around to see — and ride — in them.

My other favorite guilty pleasure is “The Voice.”   I have become addicted, probably because the judges are all so kind.   I love the concept that the contestants can often pick their coaches, not the other way around.  I like that four of the leading entertainers in country, pop and blues have to beg the contestants to pick them.   I admire the compassion they have for those few who don’t turn a chair, the helpful comments and encouragenment to come back again.  I like the second chances the performers often have; one talent was knocked out twice and snatched up by another coach before winning the top honor)  and I  really like they way the judges unabashedly celebrate  particularly good performances from another coach’s team.

I love the fact that the coaches hear the voice without seeing the performers.   Therefore, there are all all ages and shapes.   The voice is all matters.  And then there’s the pleasure of watching each coach work with individual members of his or her team and wach the performers grow..

It’s a feel good show.   The performers obvioiusly bond together.  You can see the affection between them.   And even those who don’t survive  to the end are often helped along with their career by their coach, not to mention the value of nationwide television exposure.

The whole feel of the show is nurturing, something that is lacking in so many of the other shows in which humiliation of participants is part of the “entertainment.”

I do like other television shows, of course.  I love “Longmire,” which will return to A&E  and “Chicago Fire,.” and the “The Black List.”     But “The Voice ” is my not to be missed show, and the “Great Race” comes in second.

“What is your favorite show?

And a quick reminder about my new book, “Tempted By The Soldier.”  If you like veterans and dogs, I suggest you will like this new story about Covenant Falls.  Here’s the link:


Also all my Scottish books are now available at Amazon, and my westerns will be there next week.   You can preorder them now.

And a huge  thank you from me for all your support.