How to Spot Positive Signs


I’ve seen some folks’ troubles here and there across the Internet in the past few days. I’m here to help you start the New Year right by helping you to watch for positive signs.

Sometimes it’s in the way the fast-food server remembers to hand you a plastic knife. Or in the casually discussed weather report, drifting from the next table over.

Signs that things might be looking up, when for a time they have been not, are found in this recent poem of mine — Upswing. Thanks to the folks over at Lief Magazine for publishing this broadside last year. It’s worth a read, with a cameo appearance by Jerry of Culvers, West St. Paul.

Happy New Year. And remember not to be too hard on yourself!

Solstice = Bread and Poetry


It’s solstice day once again! Time to post my winter solstice poem about my annual solstice day activity: baking Finnish pulla (cardamom) bread. In year’s past, I’d been troubled my a non-working recipe and I thought long and hard about giving her a go this year. I was saved by last year’s post on this topic, which reminded me I’d found a working recipe! So – I will do it and update last year’s photo (at right) if everything works out.* Still – there’s always the poetry, right? Here it is:


I reach for the spice jar
and pour out a dozen cardamom pods to grind
down to a scented jumble.

I fold in the flour, then knead, raise and braid my bread, 
sprinkling an ornament of sugar and almonds on the twisted loaves. 
The musky ginger lingers on my warm hands; 
sweet yeasty secrets are released by the heat of my stove.

Outside, everything lies encased in frozen pods, in ice, 
waiting quietly for the other solstice to crack open 
the living powder the world is made of:
my own powder — could I as easily know? I 
put away my mortar and pestle. 

The long night arrives at the season’s juncture 
and the full spectrum shines elsewhere, 
I turn away and snap off the yard light, 
leaving buried, dark and cold,
the wind-junked souvenirs of December. 

*Correct chemistry & recipe – sorry this isn’t much of a baking blog, but I thought I’d post this anyway.

1.5 c milk
.5 c sugar
.5 c butter
1t salt
2pkgs yeast
.5 c warm water
6-7 c all purpose flour
1t cardamom
1 large egg

for glazing – additional egg, 1T water, and slivered almonds – .5 c

heat milk, sugar, butter and salt in med sauce pan – butter doesn’t have to melt. cool to 115 degrees and pour in mixer bowl. sprinkle yeast over warm water in small bowl and let stand for 5 mins or until yeast dissolved. Add yeast to milk mixture and add 3 c flour and cardamom. beat med speed for 3 mins. beat in egg. By hand, stir in 3 to 4 c flour or enough to make soft dough. Kneed by hand 8 to 10 mins. Note: I’ve used the mixer for this in the past but mixer tends to over mix.

Let rise in greased bowl, covered loosely, for an hour until doubled. Punch down and place on floured surface. Cut in half and divide each half into thirds. Stretch each third into 15inch ropes and braid three together for each of the two loaves. Loaves should be approx 10 inches. Let rise for another 30 mins.

Brush with a mixture of beaten egg and 1 T water. Sprinkle w/sugar and sliced almonds. Bake at 375 for 35 to 45 mins – internal temp to read 185 degrees or higher. Cool 30 mins then enjoy!

*The 2013 batch turned out fine, but we were eating it before I had a chance to take a photo!

Arguably the Smallest of Small Business Saturday Deals

ImageTake one diminutive Minnesota author,  add a small (North Star Press) independent Minnesota publisher, and arrange together in a cute holiday package and I say you have your Small Business Saturday shopping nailed.

Click the link to see more details.

Ten Writerly Reasons To Be Thankful



  1. Thank you Google, Wikipedia, other parts of the Internet: though you are often a distraction, you are just as often a life-saving research helper.
  2. Thank you to my publisher who believed in my story enough to bring my books to a wider audience. Thank you for sending my book to reviewers, entering my books in contests, and helping me to learn how to be an author.
  3. Thank you booksellers for carrying my book, inviting me for events, and recommending my books to your customers.
  4. Thank you book reviewers – from newspaper columnists, journals, and commenters on Goodreads, Amazon, and book blogs near and far – you are helping others to hear about my book and telling readers who don’t know me about my novels.
  5. Thank you writer organizations, especially my Sisters in Crime, who support, motivate, and mentor women writers.
  6. Thank you librarians. You go above and beyond what is available from the web for research, and I appreciate you for buying my books for the library and having me come speak to patrons.
  7. Thank you writer groups for motivating me to write and for reading and commenting on my work. A special thanks to those writer friends who answer my panicked calls to read something quickly, commiserate with me on the trials of the writer’s life, and celebrate with me when I experience a success.
  8. Thank you friends for reading my books and recommending others do, too.
  9. Thank you to my family who supports this weird thing I do where I hide out for hours, days, years while I attempt to create new worlds and sometimes do nothing at all but dream. Thank you also for buying my books and telling your friends about the author in the family.
  10. And last but not least, thank you so much to my readers – people who buy my books, check them out at libraries, tell your friends about me. You are why I am more than a writer. You make me an author, and for that, I am especially thankful.

Writing a novel in a month is one thing….

crest-bda7b7a6e1b57bb9fb8ce9772b8faafbAs the more than gazillion National Novel Writing Month writers prepare to knock out another 40,000 novels next month, here are some words of advice: follow your muse, but don’t worry if you decide you don’t get along after all.

My debut novel, Washed Up, was produced in the 2009 NaNoWriMo.  I revised it over the next year, and it was published in 2011 by North Star Press, receiving a “smashing debut” review by the esteemed Library Journal.

It was not, however, the first novel I ever wrote.  And, since publishing Washed Up, I’ve written four more novels. So far, two of those are complete — they are follow-ups in the mystery series and they have been published.  Two are in progress.

Then there are the other novels I don’t talk about, both completed and uncompleted works. For all of these, my muse and I started out inspired and with high hopes, but the books languished, I lost interest, and I expect never to return to them.  These are novels where my muse and I didn’t exactly see eye to eye. And frankly Muse got a bit pissed off that I paid no attention to his ideas (my Muse is a he), and called me a lazy hack more than once.

Since then we’ve reached an understanding and are on speaking terms, most of the time. Here’s the understanding: some novels die an early death, and many will never to see the light of day on a book shelf or in an eReader. Others get finished, but author lacks the interest or ability to go back and do the necessary revision that will get them where they need to be.

It’s hard, at first, for a new novelist to understand the difference between a first draft that can grow up to be a real novel, and one that has nothing but high hopes of greatness. New novelists may develop wonderful characters, but have them do nothing. Some may come up with a great plot idea, but develop flat, boring characters that can do nothing with the great story they are given. My problem is generally a great love of place and poetry, that shines through, but interesting people and stories live elsewhere and no one comes to visit.

I learned a lot from writing my novels, especially the ones that never got finished or will never be published. The real lesson was that sometimes I just needed to let the unfinished project remain unfinished. There’s no point in beating yourself up over a book that refuses to be a book, and basically letting that stagnation keep you from writing anything. Take what you’ve learned from it and move on to the next one. Trust me, the next book will be better. The next one after will be even better. And maybe you’ll publish the fourth one, like I did and it may even happen to be a NaNoWriMo novel.

The important thing is to do the work. If NaNoWriMo helps that work happen for you, wonderful. I’m wishing all gazillion 2013 novelists the best of luck.