CAPERS – do you know what they are?

They’re delish. You cook with them, but do you know what they are?

I wanted a quick, easy recipe for tilapia, and found a delightfully simple, quick one that included wine, salt and pepper, butter and parsley – that’s it! Just my kind of recipe, and the tilapia is pan-fried, also simple and quick. (Just turn off the heat before you add the parsley and capers in the last step.)Capers

As I returned the small jar of capers to the fridge, I wondered what a caper was, really.  Google to the rescue. I found splendidtable.org and learned from David Rosengarten that capers come from a plant called capparis spinosa, and that capers are actually a bud that grows on the plant every spring. Left to itself, it will produce the lovely purple flower shown here. After the flower’s done blooming, the plant produces a fruit called the caper berry.

The berry resembles an olive, has a similar taste, and David says it’s quite delicious. In Greece, the leaves of the plant are also used.

The caper plants are grown in the Mediterranean, Asia and Australia. And yes, they can be cultivated. If I lived in a warmer climate, I’d try it myself. What a delicious conversation piece!Caper Flower

What, you may ask, does this have to do with writing? It’s research, which I always enjoy; they’re delish, and one of my characters will likely be cooking with them.

Want to know more? Here’s the URL:  http://www.splendidtable.org/story/you-cook-with-capers-but-do-you-know-what-they-really-are

Wishing you a fragrant, delicious day!

Leave a comment

Filed under Research Tidbits, The Writing Life, Uncategorized

Do fiction readers have better social skills?

These guys must have recently read some good fiction novels!(Photo courtesy pixabay.com)

These guys must have recently read some good fiction novels!(Photo courtesy pixabay.com)

I read a fascinating research report from The Wall Street Journal on March 8th. According to a study published by Social Cognitive and Affective Neuroscience, reading fiction can  improve one’s social skills or social cognition.

The Harvard University study involved 16 women and 10 men ages 19 to 26. They underwent MRI scans of their brains while reading excerpts from novels and magazines.

The fiction readers showed enhanced activities in regions associated with reading about people, and such enhanced activity was linked to higher scores on social cognition assessments.

This could explain why I love my fans, my book club discussion groups and writer conferences–because the people are so interesting.

You can read more about the study at http://science.sciencemag.org/content/342/6156/377

Leave a comment

March 14, 2016 · 9:58 am

Ireland is calling me … and you

I will be teaching in Ireland this August when I team up with multi-published YA/Middle Grade author Dianne Salerni to present the “Character, Conflict and Stakes” conference. It will include private consultations and writing classes, with plenty of time for brainstorming plotting ideas.       Brochure Castle 2.3 in

These surprisingly affordable tours are unique in that they combine writing workshops with touring fascinating attractions in Ireland — a fourteenth century abbey, haunted castles, stone circles, mysterious lakes — it sounds too good to be true, but it is! I’m excited to see all these inspirational sights and share my tips with fellow writers. Something I love almost as much as writing is inspiring other writers to follow their hearts to create successful, award-winning stories.

This tour has been described as the perfect holiday or birthday gift. I first learned of it through Pam Nowak and Susan Spann. Pam attended the tour last year, and my writer’s soul screamed for me to attend with her, but I couldn’t. I so wanted to stow away in her suitcase. She was generous about sharing, though, and I saw photos of her touring days.  Pam will be presenting a June conference on Craft, Career and Publishing.

Susan, a publishing attorney, presented last year and posted several pictures that made me drool. You can see her post at http://www.susanspann.com/looking-for-a-writing-retreat-try-ireland-this-summer/

And now I’ve learned something equally as exciting: non-writers are welcome to attend, also! That means my husband can join me. He won’t be participating in the writer’s meetings, but he can enjoy the tours. He’s a golfer, so he’ll probably hit the links while we discuss plotting and characterization, then join us to see the forests and castles and abbeys. Here’s a general post from the tour organizers: http://www.theroadlesstraveledireland.com

If it works out, I’d love for you to join me for the writing, the sights, and the inspiration!

Leave a comment

Filed under Uncategorized

To the best actress: a vampire breast lift

What the Oscars reveal about good writingOscar

As Oscar Night nears, I’ve been movie viewing. Two years ago I decided I had approached this awards night unprepared too many times. Movie after movie was highlighted and praised, and too often my viewed flicks were limited to Disney and Pixar.

Then our daughters left home and I found myself no longer watching any theater movies at all.

My new MO is to list the Best Picture nominees and see as many as I can before the show. My current tally: 6 viewed, 2 still on the list.

I started with The Revenant (Leonardo DiCaprio). A “revenant,” BTW, is someone who comes back from the dead. Based on the true story of frontiersman Hugh Glass, it’s the story of a man who, after being mauled by a bear, is stripped of his weapons and left to die in the wilderness by his friends.  Message for Novelists (MFN): Man Against Nature plots still work. Also, with an appropriate Author Note, the plotline of stories based on a true story can be massaged and altered to give a more complete character arc. (No spoilers, but after viewing the movie, look up the true story of Glass and see how they tweaked the ending.)

Next up was Bridge of Spies (Tom Hanks,  Stephen Spielberg).  With this talent, I knew it had to be good. Based on the true story of attorney James Donovan, which makes it even more incredible and appreciated. No tweaking with the story for arc’s sake—Donovan really was amazing. MFN: Look to this and similar true stories for inspiration, because they successfully define “hero.”

Then I saw Brooklyn (Saoirse Ronan) and fell in love with love. This is the romantic’s romance, a beautiful love story oozing with the charm, uncertainties and sacrifices of a bygone era. MFN: Love is timeless, and the movie reminds us that plotlines need not be complicated, convoluted or sensational to make a reader care, to make a reader cry.

The Big Short (Brad Pitt) surprised me. It tells the story of the banking industry’s collapse in 2008. From first glance, it seemed to be a distasteful topic. Who would want to revisit a flaming failure that left the middle class people bleeding, unemployed and homeless? MFN: The screenwriters triumphed with this by demonstrating that with care and creativity, a complicated story can be told in layman’s terms so everyone can understand it. I’ll still need to view it a few more times, just to absorb it all, but it’s a movie everyone with assets should see.

Spotlight (Michael Keaton) tells the story of the in-depth news team from The Boston Globe that broke the 2001 story of an unfrocked priest accused of molesting more than 80 boys. I admire films that tell the story after the fact. Everyone enters the theatre knowing the ending, so the strength of the story has to lie in the story’s middle. This film is classified as a drama/thriller, and the creativity and strategy with which the team overcame obstacles to find the truth may inspire writers of mystery and intrigue.

Room (Brie Larson) is another inspirational survival story, but with a twist. Jacob Tremblay is magnificent, an outstanding new child star. Based on the novel by Emma Donoghue. MFN: a static setting is not at all boring when presented with a compelling character study and the bond of mother and child.  A memorable example of really getting into the skin of your characters. It’s definitely a book I’d like to read.

My journey continues as Oscar Night nears. Oh, and about the Vampire Breast Lift? It’s one of the gifts in the goodie bags that will be distributed to all the nominees. I’m sure the topic will be raised during the awards program.

What’s your pick for Best Film?

Leave a comment

Filed under Oscars Academy Awards, The Writing Life, Uncategorized, Writing Craft

50 Shades of Happy

… the final installment of my happiness series.

Did you try the “Three Acts of Gratitude” exercise? The Fun Fifteen? (See my Feb. 20 blog.)    If so, did these simple strategies nudge you up a step on the happiness scale?

Happiness is Free Feb 2016

I tried it. It didn’t launch me into euphoria, but it did instill a quiet happiness inside me, an inner strength that made each day a little easier, a little brighter.

When happy, our creativity triples. Be grateful for the simple things in life, recall specifics about them, and this daily practice will retrain your brain to see the world in a brighter light. Think of one positive experience in your last 24 hours, day after day, and it will empower you to find new meaning in your life.

Simple but powerful stuff.

I started this happiness journey because my life was feeling flat. I felt my options slipping away, as if I had been given X number of days left to live and that all the pleasant surprises and opportunities I would ever receive had already been sent—and there would be no more.

These exercises (Gratitude and Fun Fifteen) reminded me that the joys and pleasant surprises of life were still gracing my days. Once I started focusing on happiness, some sunny and cumulative effects began occurring.

Returning to the topic of the first installment of this series, first find happiness in yourself, and then go forward to claim success. Don’t wait for “success” to make you happy because luck can be erratic, unpredictable or nonexistent. Be happy, and then go forward with your dreams.

Here are some new book releases with tips that may help you sustain happiness:

THE GRATITUDE DIARIES: How a Year Looking on the Bright Side Can Transform Your Life by Janice Kaplan—how living gratefully leads to a richer, more fulfilling life.

BROADCASTING HAPPINESS: The Science of Igniting and Sustaining Positive Change by Michelle Gielan

RISING STRONG: THE RECKONING. THE RUMBLE. THE REVOLUTION, wherein social scientist Brene Brown takes us through the process of getting back up after stumbling and falling.

I’m wishing you good luck and much happiness in your life journey!

–Janet

 

Leave a comment

Filed under Life skills, success techniques, The Writing Life

4 Ways to Boost Happiness–and your goals

Are you happy? How do you feel right now? Anxious, worried? If you’re feeling less than stellar, read on for tips on 4 ways to boost happiness and regain the joy in what we do, be it writing, planning, creating or producing. We can boost happiness by establishing a few simple daily habits–very important, for we can think best when we’re happy.

Get Stay Happy Feb 2016 copy

Because we naturally store negative events in a deeper, more permanent way than positive experiences, there is a dismaying propensity to embed the negative ones. We can overcome that by investing extra effort to focus on our good experiences.

Shawn Achor, head of Goodthink and author of The Happiness Advantage, talks about how we have been fed the life formula of “Success First, Happiness Second.” If we can just get published, we’ll be happy. If we can just get a higher advance we’ll be happy. If we can just win the Golden Heart or the (fill in the blank Award), we’ll be happy. If we can just lose twenty pounds, we’ll be happy.

It’s a formula that doesn’t work, because as we achieve one thing, we set the bar higher and keep chasing that next goal. The formula keeps repeating in our heads, eroding that delicate happiness state for which we worked so hard.

Achor says we’ve got it all backwards. We should not be gaining success to be happy; we should find happiness, which will help us to succeed. Happiness and optimism, she says, is what fuels the success! Positive brains are more motivated, efficient, and creative. Achor quotes John Milton from Paradise Lost: “The Mind is its own place, and in itself can make a heaven of hell, a hell of heaven.” Think of that. Your mind is beautiful. Powerful. Are we focusing on the joy and rewards of writing, or are we hung up on the difficulties, the competition, the stress, or lack of appropriate rewards?

* * * * * * *

“The Mind is its own place, and in itself

can make a heaven of hell, a hell of heaven.”

* * * * * * *

How do we get happy, and stay there? We needn’t become zombie smile fanatics, but think of the boost we get from talking to an optimistic, happy person. Like some giant, woot-woot magnet, that type of person attracts people, and their happiness is contagious. Short of hiring a talented clown as a full-time body guard, though, how do we “get” and “stay” happy?

In a Denver Post interview with Achor, he gives some suggestions. If you’ve read something similar before and forgotten it after you walked away from the magazine or newspaper, don’t walk away now. Read these tips. Re-read them, and think about how you can integrate some of these behaviors and methods, so you can be happy, and then be successful.

Three Acts of Gratitude. Just two minutes a day, write down three new things for which you’re grateful. Do it for 21 days. The frequency and repetition are powerful because you’re training your brain and, in doing so, will begin to see the world with fresh, happiness-inspiring eyes. Achor warns about generalities, because they don’t work. Rather than “My health,” my kids, my home,” etc., be specific: “I’m grateful for my daughter because she called to ask my opinion. What I think matters to her.” Or, “I’m grateful because I was alert and caught the fine print in that contract, before I signed it.”

The Doubler. Again, for two minutes a day, think of one positive experience you’ve had in the last 24 hours. You’re a writer, so I know you can provide details about it. This can double the most meaningful experience in your brain. Doing it for 21 days will help your brain connect the dots, and you will begin to see and feel the meaning that runs through your life.

The Fun Fifteen. 15 minutes of cardiovascular exercise a day is, Achor says, the equivalent of taking an anti-depressant. With successful completion of just 15 minutes, your brain records a victory, which carries over into your next activity.

Breathe. For two minutes become conscious of your breath going in and out. Fill your lungs, be aware. This has been proven to raise accuracy rates and increase levels of happiness. And drops stress levels.

Happiness, Achor says, is a huge advantage in our lives. When the human brain is positive our intelligence rises. We stop diverting resources to think about anxiety.

Our creativity triples.

More to come on this topic next Wednesday. I’ll be asking you if you tried the Three Acts of Gratitude, the Fun Fifteen, and the Breathing. Give it a try, and let’s meet again and compare notes.

Leave a comment

Filed under get published, self publishing novels, success techniques, The Writing Life, Uncategorized

New Cover Reveals

All 3 New Covers 2 18 2016 copy

I’m excited to share a sneak peek of my new book covers!

Leave a comment

Filed under Uncategorized