Saturday, October 31, 2009

Blog Tour Book Giveaway Winner

The Young One drew a name from the Pony Express cowboy hat. And the winner is... Nutterone!
Congratualtions Nutterone! You've won a copy of Erica Vetsch's debut novel, The Bartered Bride. What a treat! We'll get that right out to you.
Thank you all for visiting my blog this week. Don't be a stranger now.
A big thank you to Erica for including me on her blog tour and for her generous giveaway.
Have a happy and safe Halloween!

Friday, October 30, 2009

Blog Tour with Erica Vetsch - Day 5

Today is the last blog tour day with Erica Vetsch.

CJ: What has been the reaction when people ask what you do for a living?

Erica: The reactions have been as varied as the people who ask. One lady asked me if I was a millionaire now.! Some people are excited, some are disinterested, and some give the impression of sour grapes. By and large, the response has been positive. A lot of folks say they've always wanted to write a novel. I say, "Go for it!"

Today is the last day to leave a comment to have your name entered in a drawing for Erica's debut novel The Bartered Bride. The winner will be announced at noon EDT on 31. October 2009

A big thank you to Erica for including The Pony Express in her blog tour. I enjoyed chatting with you and also having a week's worth of blog posts! (-;

Thursday, October 29, 2009

Blog Tour with Erica Vetsch - Day 4

All this week, author, Erica Vetsch is visiting The Pony Express and answering questions about writing and working.

CJ: Sometimes I wish I had a studio to go to instead of working at home. Sometimes there are too many distractions or reasons to procrastinate (like the refrigerator needs to be cleaned this minute). Do you find it difficult working from home?

Erica: I do find it a challenge to write fiction here at home. My office is where I do the [family] company bookkeeping and also homeschool, so it is moe utilitarian in my mind than a place to be creative. Taht being said, if I didn't have the means to venture out to my local coffee shop, I'd just make myself write here at home. I'm blessed, howerver, to have a loving, generous husband who encourages me to go to the library, the coffee shop, or wherever I need to in order to get the words onto the page.

What about you? If you work from home do you wish you had a studio or place to go so you could be creative instead of distracted by the call of laundry?

Leave a comment to be entered into a drawing for a copy of Erica's book, The Bartered Bride. If you leave a comment each day, you will increase your chances of winning.

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Blog Tour with Erica Vetsch - Day 3

More of my conversation with author, Erica Vetsch

CJ: You mentioned you love the invisible threads that evolve in the story. How do you keep track of all the threads and characters to maintain continuity?

Erica: I'm blessed to have a lot of help when I write stories. The fist line of defense is my daughter, Heather, who hears the plot many times as it grows and gets more layers. Then I send it to my 'first reader' who lets me know when things aren't consistent. Then I send it to my crit partners, and finally my content and copy editors. As tedious as all those layers of editing can get, I do feel reassured that not much is going to get through everyone.

Anything you would like to ask Erica? Don't forget leave a comment to be entered into a drawing for a free copy of Erica's book The Bartered Bride. Leave a comment each day to increase your chances of winning.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Blog Tour with Erica Vetsch - Day 2

Today, I continue my interview with author, Erica Vetsch.

CJ: Are you a seat of the pants writer or do you follow an outline?

Erica: Today as I was working on a synopsis for a proposal, I was wondering if there is such a thing as a seat-of-the-plotter :-) I like to have a chapter-by-chapter synopsis, bit I don't like to flesh it out to the point where there is no serendipity, nothing exciting and unknown that can happen while I write. I love those invisible connections that are threaded throught the story that I don't know are there until the words flow out. That's when the writing feels the most alive, the most vibrant for me. If I don't have that, then the writing feels flat to me, and I get consumed by writer's doubt. That's a killer. So, I try to avoid it by always leaving some breathing room in my synopsis for the unexpected to happen.

Do you have any questions for Erica? Leave a comment to be entered into a drawing for a copy of Erica's book The Bartered Bride. Leave a comment each day to increase your chances of winning. The winner will be announced on Saturday. Won't that make a nice treat for Halloween?

Monday, October 26, 2009

Blog Tour with Erica Vetsch - Day 1

I'm pleased to have as my guest, Erica Vetsch. Erica's first published novel, The Bartered Bride debuted this month. Congratulations, Erica. Squeee!

Erica will be here all this week as we chat about how we met, writing, working from home, and people's perceptions. Erica will be giving away a copy of her book. Leave a comment to be entered in the drawing. Comment each day to increase your chances to win! The winner will be announced on Saturday. A nice treat for Halloween.

Erica and I met in a forum for Western fan fiction writers. Actually, we met in the chatroom where I was loudly whining about The Young One's Roman Fair Project. (on the scope of a science fair, but about Rome)

Erica is married to Peter Vetsch and keeps the company books for the family lumber business. A homeschool mom to Heather and James, Erica loves history, romance, and storytelling. Her ideal vacation is taking her family to out-of-the-way history museums and chatting to curators about local history. She has a bachelor's degree from Calvary Bible College in secondary education: social studies. You can visit Erica at On The Write Path

From the inside cover of The Bartered Bride: Melissa's grip tightened on Jonathan's arm.
He looked down at her, her face pale to the lips, her eyes wide.
"Oh no," she moaned.
"My wife and I" - Almina had joined Lawrence Brooke, tucking her arm into his elbow and beaming on the crowd, her gaze lingering longest on Jonathan and Melissa - "are pleased to announce the engagement of our daughter, Melissa, to Mr. Jonathan Kennebrae. Please join us in congratulating the happy couple." He lifted the glass in their direction.
A polite wave of applause welled up.
Melissa stood, knocking her chair over onto the grass. She put her hand to her mouth , turning her head wildly from Jonathan to her parents then back again.
Jonathan rose up slowly, easing up on numb legs.
"Kennebrae?" She whispered so low he had to stoop to hear her. "Your name is Kennebrae?"
"Of course it is. What else would it be?"
She blinked, staring at him. "But I thought -" Her throat spasmed as she tried to swallow. "I thought..."
He caught her just before she hit the grass in a dead faint.

How's that for a show stopper?

CJ: You write historical romance. Can you define the genre for us? Historical. That must mean you have to do research. Which comes first, the plot idea for a story or do you just comb through history books looking for something interesting?

Erica: Historical Romance = a romance set in historical times. In order to be a romance, the story must be about the growing love between the hero and heroine, and it must deliver a happy and satisfying ending to the reader. Historical is generally considered anything from Creation to World War II, though some are now saing the Korean War or even the Vietnam War. Romance readers are a dedicated group, and they know what they want. You have to deliver on their expectations, but do it in a new and fresh way that makes it seem like they are falling in love all over again.

The ideas for stories sort of come from all over. I do a lot of research. A total history geek, I love reading history books, and I'm constantly on the watch for interesting bits taht I might work into a story. Setting and an historical event usually come first, though character or situation of my own making might pop into my head. I ask a few 'What If' qustions, and then my mind just races with story ideas.

Don't forget. Leave a comment for a chance to win Erica's book, The Bartered Bride.

Friday, October 23, 2009

The Friday Five

Five exciting things that will happen next week:

1. The Pony Express is participating in a world-wide blog tour! How cool is that?

2. Next week's blog will feature a guest blogger. Wonder who it will be?

3. The blog will feature interview questions and answers. Fascinating!

4. The tour will end on Friday with a surprise give-away!

5. Curious? Visit us here at The Pony Express during the week of 26 - 30. October to find out what's going on!

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Drawing Class - Second Portait

After the critique and the model's break, we were back to drawing. The model was sitting with her head downand downcast eyes. I tried to draw her in large scale, but couldn't seem to get the proportions right. So I scaled down and was gently reprimanded for going back to my comfort zone. Lol.
While working close to my drawing, I was convinced I had the correct tilt to the head , but stepping back saw that was not so.
This drawing is "better". Recognizable as human though seems to have a china doll or Stepford wife quality. Still did an awesome job with her hair. Lol.
Have you ever tried to do something out of your comfort zone, but then reverted to your old, comfortable ways?

Monday, October 19, 2009

Drawing Class - First Portrait

We had a live model to draw. She was a very attractive, young woman with the most beautiful big, dark eyes. She sat in a chair at the front of the room. The instructor had a spotlight and adjusted the lighting on the girl's face.

We had easels arranged in a semi-circle in front of the model. We were to draw her portrait. That's when a ripple of panic went through me. This was my first ever drawing class. The work method and the tools were so foreign to me. I've never drawn a live model, and I don't work standing up. Not usually. I work sitting at a drafting table. I sit on a tall stool so I am over my work usually a piece of paper small than 16" x 20". I work with various inks, paints, and pens. Here I was standing in front of a wall! (The 18" x24" drawing pad looked huge!)

After a few minutes of dithering, I got my trusty and comfortable, blue mechanical pencil and began making timid, light sketch marks. Then with a 4B graphite pencil tried to work on shape of her face. Oval but not too pointed at the chin, and not quite square. Add the eyes, nose, lips. Add shading for depth and to bring out the features.

We worked for an hour or so and then had a critique session. We talked about problems we had. I had lots of problems: depth perception, proportion, shading. Most recognized the drawing as looking sort of human. I was pleased with that. The class did like the way I drew her hair. Guess I could always specialize and draw hair. The eyes drew the biggest comments. The models eyes looked so big and dark to me. Someone said I made an emotional drawing.

At first, I did not like this drawing. But then it started growing on me. The large eyes remind me of the eyes drawn in anime (Japanese style comic book [manga]). My young woman looks moon face. Like some woman in the moon.

But I think I should go back to drawing pears.
Did you do something outside your comfort zone this week?

Saturday, October 17, 2009

Fall in New England

We got a dusting of snow yesterday morning. Looked and felt more like late December than the middle of October. Poor Dido looks cold.

The Young One is happy about the early snow. She's hoping we get whacked with snow this winter and school is cancelled for days and days. As a Senior this year, she gets out of school in mid-May regardless of how many snow days she has off. Seniors don't have to make up any snow days. Senior Priv. With the early snow, The Young One may get her wish.

Friday, October 16, 2009

The Friday Five

The weather widget is showing light snow for tonight. Unusual to have snow so early. Ground is still too warm for it to stick, but the coming cold weather is making me run for my creature comforts: polartec sweater, winter fuglies with sherpa lining, and polartec fingerless gloves along with copious amounts of the ultimate hand warmer and comfort: tea. Five of my favorite tea flavors.

1. Earl Grey, a true classic and a fragrant aroma. My all time favorite. Still trying to get the microwave to deliver when I say, "Earl Grey, hot."

2. Vanilla tea. Very comforting and my new favorite. I use French Vanilla Splenda for coffee to flavor the tea. If I run out of French Vanilla Splenda, a teaspoon of vanilla extract does the trick.

3. Tetley tea bags. The old standby.

4. Chai tea. Cardamom, cinnamon and spices. The ultimate Lahdidah.

5. Apple Cinnamon. Nice change of pace even if it's herbal (no caffeine)

When the weather turns cold, what do you turn to for comfort?

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Time Management

The other day, Erica, at On The Write Path asked "So, how do you go about finding balance in your life? How do you balance family, work, writing, church, etc.?"

I know I've struggled with this. Seems I'm either all or none. Either I'm playing with inks and paints and neglecting family, home and other obligations, or going through a cleaning frenzy and not creating art. It was exhausting, until over the summer, I saw a friend mention FlyLady on her Facebook page. I got curious and asked about it, and am so glad I did.

Specifically, FlyLady pertains to keeping and maintaining an orderly home. She breaks cleaning house into zones. Each day, besides a basic to do list (like doing dishes), FlyLady sends a 15 minute task, called a mission. Missions might be to wipe down the cabinet fronts in the kitchen or to declutter your dresser in the master bedroom. Jobs take a total of 15 minutes (if that) to complete. You make a To Do List which she puts in a binder called a Control Journal. You build your control journal in babysteps. The house didn't become a wreck in one day. It won't get cleaned in one day either. But slow and steady wins the race.

So far, it's worked great as I fine tune my control journal for a To Do List that works for me. Before FlyLady, I would need at least 3 days notice to have company over. Now following the FlyLady system, the house is company ready in about 15 minutes. There are still areas that shout CHAOS (Can't have anyone over syndrome.) like the basement/studio, but I'm working on that using FlyLady's technique of give away, throw away or put away done in a 15 minute segment.

My best time of the day to do creative work is mid-morning. I find if I begin the cleaning which FlyLady calls Home Blessing (takes the drudge out of it), I can have my routines done by 9am. Which now leaves me the rest of the day to be creative or lazy, if I want. Before FlyLady, I was busy. Busy running around in circles. Stuff was getting done, but it never looked like I accomplished anything. Now the house is in order, and I have the time I need to do what I really love to do.

Flywashing must have worked because recently, it occurred to me that the list and setting a time limit for a task could spill over into other areas. I can create a to do list for projects, plan when to harvest on Farmville or blog. (-; If I need a day to deal with family obligations, I can go without worrying the house is a wreck. I can pick up where I left off the next day.

Rather than feeling tied to my to do list, I feel I can keep all my plates spinning and still have time for me. Time management. What a concept!

What about you? How do you balance your life? Do you follow a To Do List?

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Shout Out

I want to give a shout out to Erica Vetsch. Erica's novel, The Bartered Bride debuts today. Isn't the book cover just gorgeous? You can find ordering information at On The Write Path

26. October to 30 October, Erica will visit and be interviewed on The Pony Express as part of a blog tour. The week will end with a sweet treat just in time for Samhain (Halloween). You'll have to come back to find out just what it is.

Congratulations, Erica. I'm so happy for you. Squeeee!
Enough dancing! Get back to writing my hero, Cal!

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

College Search

We spent the Columbus Day holiday at WPI for their Fall open house looking over the school with The Young One. This is her first choice school.

We were treated to a continental breakfast while we went through registration and waited for the speechifying to begin. We had lovely croissants (though they could have been lovelier if they had been heated) and delicious hot chocolate. The hot chocolate earned high marks from The Young One along with the school color, crimson. Her favorite color is red. Hey, everyone needs a criteria for judging their school. (-;

After listening to speeches from Admissions and the Provost, and watching a slide presentation, we were sent on our way to learn about the many academic programs. The Young One chose Computer Science as the first program to learn about.

The professor stressed that WPI is very much a hands on school as exemplified by the school motto: Lehr and Kunst (theory and practice). Students are required to complete two team projects, one outside their major and the other in their major. The projects present the students with real world problems and the students must find a real world answer. Projects are done during the junior and senior years. Some of the projects are done overseas England, Ireland, Japan, Australia, Thailand, Africa to name some of the places. Real world problems, real world solutions in the real world. It will be a great experience for The Young One and will certainly broaden her horizons.

I was also struck by the fact how much college has changed in the 32 years since I graduated. Back in the olden days, we went to college, had our heads crammed with facts, churned the facts back and were awarded our degree. Then good luck if we found a job in our degree field.

The emphasis at WPI was not only on learning and doing, but preparing these young people to go out and work in industry.

The Young One chose Interactive Media and Game Development as her second session. The presentation was very entertaining and The Young One was very interested. This relatively new degree combines both Computer Science and Humanities and the Arts. Artists learn how to talk to engineers and engineers learn to make the program do what the artist envisions.

We were treated to a nice buffet lunch, cold cuts,rolls, bean salad, Caesar salad, stuffed shells, garlic bread and a very delicious pumpkin curry soup which smelled heavenly. There was also a very tasty apple crisp for dessert.

After lunch we hit the financial aid table. Not only are the academics at the school impressive but so is the price tag. A whopping $50,800 per year. If The Young One commutes, it would knock close to $12K off the total. Hopefully, she'll be eligible for a hefty scholarship. Only problem is the competition. There were 1000 students attending this Open House. There are a couple of Open Houses through the year. This Fall, WPI admitted its largest freshman class of 950 students.

We then went on a tour of the campus. It's not a large school (by my BU standards) and smack in the middle of the city. Though one forgets one is in the middle of the city. The buildings are a mix of new and ivy covered (the school was founded in 1865) and are connected by paved and bricked walkways, a grassy quadrangle, fountain, shrubbery and trees. It also felt very safe.
While the student guide was showing off the library, Himself nudged me. I turned to watch a young woman who was busy working on her farm in Farmville, which has become my latest, favorite pasttime. Nice to see a productive use of computer time.

Freshman who live on campus are guaranteed dorm space, such that it is, said The Little Princess. The freshman dorm we got to see had 3 students in the room. The beds were bunked over each student's desk. The Young One had decided she didn't want to live away from home and seeing the dorm space cinched the deal. Another Little Princess in the making (-; There are more luxurious accomodations. New suites, but these are reserved for upper classmen (i.e. Seniors). After Freshman year, students who want to live on campus are put into a lottery for rooms. There is not enough dorm space for all of the students. Some students elect to live in apartments off campus or move into the Greek houses.

After the tour, we split up. Himself went to listen to the admissions spiel while The Young One and I went to find out about Student Activities. There are over 140 clubs and activities. Sports, chorus, theater, Greek fraternities and sororities. Seemed to be something for everyone to get involved, to have fun and let off steam.

We came home tired, impressed and overwhelmed with all the information. Overall, a good day.

Have you been on the college hunt with your young people? What's your experience been?

Monday, October 12, 2009

Drawing Class

We got to take our sketchbooks and pencils to the gallery to draw. We could chose to draw any of the marble figures in the Roman/Greek sculpture gallery or anywhere in the Renaissance court. My favorite place in the museum is The Chapter House, a room from a French monastery, circa 12th c.

Around the arched entrance is a carved floral design. The simple floral shapes looked like x's to me. That's what I tried to draw along with some of the stonework. I enjoyed the detailed work of the flowers. The quiet of the museum made the work almost meditative.

Friday, October 9, 2009

The Friday Five

Last week, I took a workshop on blogging your art though what I learned could also be applied to good and services offered. So, five things I learned about blogging your art, goods, or services.
1. A blog is a cheap (read free) way to get your art, goods, or services on line.
2. Blog five days per week, Mon. through Fri., in order to get a following of readers. If you're not blogging frequently no one will bother to come back to look at your blog.
3. Blog a mix of your work and personal or fun stuff. Topics should include a little something for everyone.
4. If you can't think of anything to blog, you can always find a quote of the day, word of the day, or a meme (a topic like The Friday Five or Five Random Things About Me)
5. You can schedule blogs ahead of time. Pick a slow time in your schedule (maybe Sat or Sun afternoon) and write your blog posts for the week. Schedule your blogs to post in the wee hours of the morning so the majority of your readers will hit your blog with their morning coffee.
Do you have any other tips about blogging?

Thursday, October 8, 2009

To Flu or Not to Flu

With all the media coverage about the seasonal flu and the H1N1 (Swine) flu, I find myself twixt and tween about getting a flu shot. Is this year's strain of flu and the H1N1 (Swine) something to be worried about or is it just a Chicken Little media campaign pushed along by the drug companies?

Normally, I don't bother getting a flu shot. Himself got a flu shot one year. And he got the flu. I caught the flu from him and was down and out for three weeks. Neither of us have gotten a flu shot since then, and neither of us has gotten the flu. Knock wood.

And then how much immunity does the flu shot provide? The flu shot is only good against one strain of flu. If the researchers pick the wrong strain or the strain mutates, the flu shot is ineffective. The seasonal flu shot will not provide immunity against the H1N1 (Swine) flu.

Recently on a media campaign, I heard the seasonal flu shot was 70% effective in providing immunity. There's still a chance of contracting the flu and supposedly because of the shot, the severity of the disease will be lessened. So you'll feel crummy for a few days less, but you'll still feel crummy. 70% effective. That's a "C" average. I'm not sure that's good enough. Whatever happened to 100%?

And then if the seasonal flu isn't bad enough, this H1N1 (Swine) flu seems to be a super bug. At least according to the media reports. The new vaccine for this strain should be released sometime in the next week or two. But how much research and testing was done on this vaccine? And will there be a shortage of vaccine: seasonal flu or H1N1 (Swine) flu?

Chime in with your thoughts. Take the poll. I'd be curious to see what others think.

Monday, October 5, 2009

Beginning Drawing

I'm taking a beginning drawing class at the Worcester Art Museum where I teach calligraphy. I missed the first class because of the rotten cold so I was a little nervous when I walked into the studio and sat down. I've never had a formal drawing class. I can draw letters, doodle, and trace, but that's about it. I thought I would be completely lost. Needless worry. The instructor, Patti Kelly, put me at my ease.

We will be using pencil, charcoal, and Conte crayons on a honking giant 18" x 24" pad of drawing paper. I don't like to work big so so I'm definitely out of my comfort zone.

Our first exercise was to draw a tonal bar with pencil working from black to white. This gave us a chance to vary pressure to see all the gradations. It sounded like a very easy exercise. Easy in theory but not so easy in practice.

Our next exercise was to copy a drawing of a woman's face. I nearly went into a panic looking at that huge white wall of a sheet of paper. Then we were told to look for the shapes we saw. What shape is her nose? Her forehead? Her face? Triangles. Very lightly, using a 4B woodless graphite pencil. I sketched some triangles where her nose, forehead, and hair would be. Tentatively, I began to color and shade. The pencil was smooth and creamy, and I began to relax. Was rather nice being a student again.
If we asked if we were doing it "right", Patti offered constructive suggestions. One point she made was we all had our own unique style and she didn't want to impose her style on us. This was a non-threatening class and we were encouraged to experiment.
I surprised myself with my first effort. When I showed it to The Young One, she recognized it as a face. I was relieved she didn't say "looks like grapes."

Saturday, October 3, 2009

I'm Moving!

The Compost Heap has been imported into The Pony Express. If you've been reading CJ's Compost Heap, please note the new URL: I will no longer be posting at the Heap.