Wednesday, July 4, 2018

Independence Day Poem--Poetry Wednesday 4 July 18


I braved the ocean
Swells breaking against the bow
Foam washing across the decks
I carried on

I built log by log
Storms sweeping the land
Hunger wasting deep inside
I carried on

I packed the powder
Crates floating in the night
Sulphur smoke lighting the way
I carried on

I toiled with tools
Rock sparking in the depths
Steam billowing through grain
I carried on

I marched with the sign
Venom burning invisible holes
Barricades cascading in fragments
I carried on

I severed the cord
Wisdom traveling by swipe
Binary measuring liberty
I carry on

—IE Castellano

Monday, June 11, 2018

A Comma Field Guide

Sometimes, I edit manuscripts that make me question all I have ever learned about punctuation, especially commas.  I devised this quick guide to commas to reinforce what we learned (or didn’t learn) in grammar school.

When to use a comma:

Addressing a person by name or nickname.


Hello, Sweetums.

Jane, do this.

Show us on the doll, John, where the commas have hurt you.

Linking two sentences with a conjunction (and, but, or, so).


This is sentence one, and this is sentence two.

Dependent clauses and words that act as clauses.


After this clause, you put a comma.

Second, a comma goes there.

Yes, these examples are on the snarky side.

I spent hours editing pages of comma issues, producing deep snarkiness.

Had the page not run red, due to my markings, I would have only experienced a mellow, not to mention short, snarky mood.

In a list of more than two of the same (nouns or verbs) and before the and or or (aka the Oxford Comma).


Paper, pen, and pencil revolted against keyboard, monitor, tablet, and laptop.

Between two or more adjectives describing the same noun.


The small, lonely, often misunderstood comma only separates that which should not be together.

In if-then statements.


If you start a sentence with that two letter word, then you must use a comma before the then.

In dialogue punctuation.


Tom asked, “Should I use a comma here?”

“Yes,” I replied.  “Always use a comma instead of a period at the end of the last sentence before a dialogue tag.  However, never use a comma when you should use a question mark or an exclamation point.”

Commas separate thoughts, clarifying a sentence for the reader.  Used right, they make your pages come alive.  Misused, all a reader will say is, “Huh?” and not read any more.

More online reading about commas:

Wednesday, May 23, 2018

Rules of the Road Trip

The Long Lonely Road

Tips and tricks learned from our recent two week road trip.

1.      Be Organized

This applies to both before and during the trip.  Plan where you’re going, how long it will take to get there, how much time will be spent at each place.  I kept a spreadsheet to calculate a budget that included gas, tolls, entry fees, food, hotels, etc.

During the trip, I carried a piece of paper with the name, address, and phone number of each hotel booked as well as what type of room, final price, confirmation number, and credit card used.  It was easy to plug the address into Google Maps for directions for each leg.  I also wrote down the wifi password and lockbox combination of the AirBnB we stayed in for a few days.  So handy.

A place for everything and everything in its place.  A saying to live by when packing both luggage and the car.  Helped get in and out of hotels quick, painless, and without forgetting something.

2.       Make Reservations

When you’ve been on the road for 9 hours, not including your stops, all you want to do is crash.  You don’t want to search for a hotel as well.  Most of our hotels were reserved at least a few days to a couple of weeks in advance.

But, only most.  Want to stay in an historic hotel?  Or in a popular tourist trap?  Or maybe you want to stay in an AirBnB?  You may need to reserve months in advance.  We structured our trip around when we could reserve a room at the historic Blue Swallow on Route 66 in New Mexico.  Five months prior to leaving, when we were making our plans, they already had their weekends booked.

Also reserve tickets.  If we hadn’t gotten our tickets for the Grand Canyon Train in advance, we would have been driving.  They were sold out the day we went.

3.       Use Technology

Although we got a TripTik and maps from AAA, we also used a tablet with travel helping apps.  Before our trip, we added our car to our mobile data plan.  This made the car a wi-fi hotspot.  The tablet and laptop could connect to the car as well as boosting our phones’ data signals.

On the tablet, we used Google Maps for turn by turn directions, Gas Buddy to search for the cheapest gas we could use, Rest Stops to know where those were and whether or not they were open, and Waze to get road information.  Each of these are great, but they all have their drawbacks.  Google Maps doesn’t let you search for gas stations too far from your current location, nor do they mark rest stops.  Gas Buddy is better in map mode and is only as correct as the people who report.  Rest Stops didn’t tell you exactly how far the stop was from you or at which mile marker.  Waze works best in more populated areas (essentially highways east of Kansas and Oklahoma).

Other useful apps were My Radar and 1 Weather.  They gave us weather notifications for where we were and where we were going.  In 1 Weather, we could add up to twelve locations to check the forecasts.  Their widgets worked great to give us weather at a glance.

However, technology didn’t always work or was accurate.  Hence, the paper of written things.  Arizona was the worst state for cell service.  We used a ton of data on our trip.  I highly recommend engaging the data savings in settings and manual app updating.

4.       Be Efficient

Make the most of your stops.  When stopping for gas, try to refuel at a travel plaza.  They have large restrooms, convenience items, small gifts, and fast food.  Using the bathroom at the same place where you get gas reduces the number of stops.

Carry a cooler in your back seat.  We kept water and snacks cool with the help of reusable ice packs.  When heading to high elevations, water is essential for combating altitude sickness.  Two of us went through two and half cases of water during the two weeks.  Not only were we at least five thousand feet higher than usual, but thirty degrees hotter than when we left and returned.  Snacks in the form of cheese and flat bread or tortillas makes a great lunch.  Saves money and time.  Most hotel rooms have mini fridges to store cooler items overnight.

Stay at hotels that have a free breakfast.  Then, actually eat that breakfast.  I purposefully made reservations at places with breakfast.  However, we never ate there.  We filled our travel mugs with their coffee though.  Breakfast consisted of a Cliff bar and jerky.

Pack light.  I can’t emphasize this enough.  Sure, there’s no luggage fees in a car, but how many bags do you want to carry in and out of hotels every night and morning?  I rest my case.

5.      Be Flexible

Sometimes, you find that you don’t have enough time to do everything you wanted.  That’s when you get out your trusty online map and search for other points of interest near your route.  Instead of going to Mesa Verde National Park, we diverted to Aztec Ruins National Monument in Aztec, NM.  A great site.

Then, there are a high wind warnings, so you rearrange your schedule.  Or, in some towns, all the museums are closed on the day you’re heading through.

Bonus Tips:

Bring travel mugs.  Because those carboard cups of coffee can be squishy.

Ginger tea bags.  Add hot water, steep, and drink.  No travel tummy.

Eat where locals eat.  Best tamales were at a gas station in Vega, TX.

Tucumcari, NM has the best donuts ever (right on Rt 66)!  They even keep well going to AZ for when you want to share with your in-laws.

Leave space or an extra bag (collapsible) for souvenirs.

Do laundry during your trip.

Resupply water and snacks at local grocery stores.  Never know what you may find.

Keep phone/tablet chargers in a make-up case.  Use twist ties to hold cords together.

Despite best intentions, writing (work) doesn’t happen.

Monday, May 7, 2018

A Little South and West of Writing

Palo Duro Canyon, Texas

It’s the third day of my American Southwest Adventure and I’ve done a lot of writing in my mind. That’s a fancy way of saying I’ve written jack squat. However, there was plenty that sparked my imagination.

Tonight, I’m staying in New Mexico and the landscape and dry heat is extremely New Mexico. It is exactly how I pictured or believed New Mexico should be. My mind’s eye could see the man on his horse, surveying the land while the wind whipped, not moving him, try as it might.

Texas surprised me and did not disappoint. Mind you, I’ve only seen Texas via I-40. My first impression of this part of Texas was: Those who write post-apocalyptic stories probably have traveled through here. Amarillo sprawled. The half hour ride to Palo Duro Canyon excited. Then, there was Palo Duro itself. What a gem. Every turn held more and more beauty.

Oklahoma should be five states for how different it is. The Osarks in NE OK and SW Missouri roll in gentle treed waves. And, as we drove through Ohio, I could imagine parts of the lands described in The Crystal Point Legacy fantasy series by Robert Thomas (who happens to live in that part of the country).

What’s next? Many more hours in a car westward. The landscape inspires. The long drives help reconnect me to my series where my characters spend a good portion traveling. All I need now is an evening or two with my writing.

Wednesday, April 25, 2018

Travel and Writing

Going on vacation doesn’t have to mean taking a vacation from writing.  I am going on a road trip to the American Southwest soon.  Between the Grand Canyon and staying with my husband’s family, I can’t promise that I’ll get any writing done.  But leaving it at home guarantees no writing.

Two weeks.  One car.  Four thousand plus miles.  What is the best way to pack the writing?

Unless I’m writing a blog post or other short piece, I write the old way.  Pen and paper.

I can see it now.  Leaves of ink scribbles blowing across the plateaus until being impaled on cacti needles.  So not happening.

What stays at home:
Original manuscript papers
Story folders
Hard electronic files (such as on a laptop)
Flash drives

What comes:
Messenger bag/zipped tote

To contain all the writing materials.  Must have a good shoulder strap that can go across my body.  I’ll probably take the one I use for attending my writers’ group.

Two cheap spiral notebooks

I will rip the pages out, so no sense in using anything more expensive.  One notebook will be completely blank.  This will be good for new things, notes, or whatever.  The second will have a page where I write the last line or two of my works in progress.  I will use those lines as a starting point for continuing.

Few crappy pens

Ones I may have gotten for free that I won’t care about losing.

One good writing pen

This is an extra fine point (.5 mm) black pen.  Currently, I’m using a Bic Atlantis Exact.  It has a cushioned grip without being bulky.  And it clicks.  No tops to lose.  All pens will go into a zip bag.


Mainly, this will be used for research, writing blogs, managing pictures, and checking my trip spreadsheet.

Writing in a notebook eliminates the need for a hard writing surface.  Bringing my lap desk would take too much room and could be awkward.  Plus, I could lose it.  Yes, I could lose my notebooks as well or leave them in a hotel room.  Why not write on the laptop and save to the cloud?

I expect my internet connection to be inconsistent.  That’s if I even have the internet at some points during the trip.  Cell service in parts of Arizona might be dodgy or nil.  And hotel wifi may only work in the lobby.  Then, there’s tapping on a tiny laptop keyboard without swiping the touchpad.  Pen and paper are safer.

My overland adventure could focus my mind on my paper adventure and allow me to return with pages of writing brilliance.  Or maybe give me fodder for stories both current and future.  The only certainty is my excitement for exploring places unknown to me.  Where it goes from there will be captured in ink.

Sunday, April 1, 2018

Writing What We Are

Me with the Easter Bunny

So much of who we are flows into our writing.  Or, at least, it does for me.  This Easter morning, memories of childhood Easters seep through the cracks.

My parents would hide Easter baskets somewhere in the house for me and my brother.  They kept the same wicker baskets from year to year, but would fill them with our favorites and,  perhaps, something new they thought we’d like.  Every year, they would throw in something we disliked, too.  Things like black jelly beans (my mom’s favorite) and white chocolate (my dad’s favorite).  And, of course, they were always happy to take it off our hands.

My grandmother would purchase candy for the house, such as one or two pound eggs filled with chocolate buttercream, fruit and nut, peanut butter, and my personal favorite, coconut.  After sampling some candy, we feasted on my mother’s delicious cooking.

For Bow of the Moon (The World In-between 2), I tapped into my childhood Easters as well as other far flung memories and experiences when writing the following scene:

Twenty minutes later, Berty found himself on a route he knew well.  From the car, he glanced at the houses he knew since childhood.  He used to ride his bike on the streets on which he drove.  He used to play in the backyards of the houses he passed.  The houses, which were built in the sixties and seventies, looked so much smaller to him as an adult.

Rounding the bend, he parked in front of the two-story brick house that he knew well.  The red brick was speckled with black and beige bricks.  He stood on the small covered porch with Hope’s candy as he rang the doorbell.  When his father answered the door, the warm, smoky aroma of ham baking escaped onto the porch.  Inhaling deeply, Berty stepped inside.

After hugging his son, George said, “Your mom wants all the candy in the living room.”

Walking into the living room, Berty placed his candy on the coffee table next to the large chocolate eggs and a two foot chocolate bunny.  Berty’s candy was the only non-chocolate candy on the table, but chocolate was well represented.  After taking one last good look at the array of dark, milk and white chocolate, Berty followed his father down the short hall into the kitchen.

His parents’ kitchen permeated with smells that Berty loved.  He walked next to Kate stirring the liquid contents of a pot on the stove.  “Hey mom,” he said.  “Whatcha makin’?”

Kate kissed her son on the cheek, then answered, “Gravy for the mashed potatoes.”  Rapidly stirring, she poured a thin white liquid into the pot.

“Berty, give us a hand with these glasses,” said George.  He and Robert were plucking stemware from a wooden cabinet.

Crossing the kitchen, Berty relieved his father of glasses and followed Robert into the dining room.  On the table sat his mother’s favorite floral plates.  The buffet held baskets full of plastic green Easter grass in which Lillian arranged the candy from the living room.

“Hope is going to love these chicks and bunnies, Berty,” said Lillian as she nestled them into the grass.  “You have such an eye.”

Smiling slightly, Berty said, “I had help.”

“From a lady friend?” asked Lillian.

Knowing that she meant Silvia, Berty reluctantly answered, “Yes.”

Glancing out the window, Robert said, “The kids just pulled up.  Do you need help finishing that Lill?”

Lillian stood back to admire her work.  “No, it’s done,” she answered turning a figurine slightly.

“You tell Mom; I’ll get the door,” George said to Berty.

Walking back into the kitchen, Kate said, “I heard Robert.  Can you lift the ham onto that platter for me?”

“Absolutely.”  Grabbing two forks, Berty sunk them into the mahogany hued meat.

After he placed the ham on the large white platter, Kate asked, “Where is Silvia spending Easter?”

With a wave of panic washing over him, Berty quickly closed his eyes.  Focusing on her dark red hair, he quickly saw her sitting at a table with six small children and a young woman with her brown hair hastily pinned back.  The children passed food around the table while the woman took a moment to catch her breath.

Opening his eyes, he said, “She is having dinner on a farm.  The farmer broke his ankle and Silvia is helping him and his wife with one child especially.”

“She sounds like a lovely woman.  I hope we get to meet her sometime,” said Kate pouring gravy into a large gravy boat.

Jon and Teresa entered the kitchen distracting Kate.  Berty dumped peas into a bowl as he watched his family interact.  His mind escaped to Silvia sitting around the table.  He wondered why he said anything about a farm or a broken ankle.  Kate corralling her children into the dining room brought Berty’s mind back to the confines of his parents’ kitchen.

In the dining room, Hope said, “Ooh, look at all that candy.  How come the Easter Bunny brought so much here?”

“He didn’t,” Kate answered sweetly.  “Some he left here, some was left at your other grandparents’ and some he left at your Uncle Berty’s.”

During dinner, conversation mainly focused around George’s business, which Jon recently inherited.
“If we can get this account, it would be a huge boom for us, Dad,” said Jon.  “It would give us a strong international presence.”

“You’ve been working on it for some time.  When do you think they will make their decision?” asked George.

“Next month, hopefully,” Jon answered.  “We’re not the only ones vying for their business.”

Berty lost track of the rest of the conversation when Hope asked, “Uncle Berty, do they eat ham in the Land of Sages?”

Smiling warmly, Lillian breathed, “She’s been reading your column.”

“Of course they do,” Berty replied.  “Ham, peas, mash with gravy, all of it.”

Hope nodded sharply with a smile before shoveling a forkful of mashed potatoes in her mouth.

Throughout dinner, Hope did not ask any more questions about the Land of Sages, but Berty suspected that she had been thinking about it.  After the plates from dinner had been cleared, George sliced fruit and nut, peanut butter and coconut eggs while Robert poured Irish Cream in etched cordial glasses.

The filling Easter meal did not make Berty forget about what he saw Silvia doing.  Snatching his chance after coffee, he crept upstairs.  Opening the first door on his right, he entered a bedroom lost in time.

Old college textbooks lazily filled a shelf.  Awards with the name Hubert Chase hung proudly on the walls.  The twin bed displayed his post-college blue plaid comforter.

Berty sat on his old bed and closed his eyes.  Silvia sat at the same table, although alone.  The sound of shuffled footsteps proceeded a woman placing a tray on the table.

“How is he?” Silvia asked.

“Doing so well,” the woman answered.  “I do not know what we would have done if you did not show, Elder.”  Sitting, she took a breath.

Silvia smiled.  “I am happy to help.  He is going to have to stay off that ankle for awhile to allow the fracture to heal.”

“The kids and I can do his work until he is better,” answered the woman.  “At least the fields are planted.”

“Now that your husband is resting,” Silvia said as she rose from the table, “I am going to take a walk with Tait around the farm.  After the children go to bed, we will talk about my evaluation.”

Berty’s body bounced slightly.  When he opened his eyes, little brown eyes stared up at him.

“Hi, Hope,” he said.

“I want to meet a Fairy,” Hope mentioned.  “And an Elf.”

Still looking in her bright brown eyes, he said nothing.

“I have no school tomorrow,” she said.  “Take me with you.”

“Now is not the time,” said Berty.

Her whole body deflated.  “I still have to wait,” she said in a small voice.

Nodding, Berty said, “Sorry.”

Without another word, Hope slid off the bed.  Berty looked after her as she dragged out of his room with her head down.  Feeling awful, his finger traced the plaid lines on his comforter.

“It isn’t easy,” said a female voice from the open doorway.

When Berty looked up, Teresa walked towards him.  “What isn’t easy?” he asked.

Teresa leaned against his bed saying, “She believes in the Land of Sages more than she believes in the Easter Bunny.  Though I am not quite sure where Santa lies on that scale.”  She looked at her feet.  “I don’t know how she is going to take it when she finds out it isn’t real.”

Friday, February 2, 2018

Flash: Blind Date

Flash Fiction for Valentine's Day on display at my local library.

Teri tapped her toes to the beat of the background music in the coffee shop.  Early, as usual, she sipped an easy-to-drink grandé something or other while watching the door.  Every time it opened, she wondered if Steve walked inside.
Sure, she studied his photos before coming.  However, people tended to embellish or downright lie on the internet, especially on dating sites.  The profile stated that Steve was six-four, blond, blue-eyed with an athletic build.  His photos showed the blond part, the blue eyes part, and the not so shabby body part (under well-fitting clothes).  But, his blond might have gone bald and his athleticness could have been long before he found the glorious comfort of cake.  If those were even pictures of him and not ripped out of a magazine.
She glanced at her half gone coffee.  When she looked up, her stomach fluttered.  A man who looked a lot like Steve’s photos approached.  She met his gaze and his smile made his blue eyes dance.
“Teri,” he said, his voice deep.
Her insides melted.
“I thought I was going to be the early one.”  He chuckled.
“Hi.  Steve,” she said.  Her mind blanked before she continued with, “Sit down.  Please.  Did you get a coffee?”
“I will.  Do you need a fill up?”
She shook her head.
“I’ll be right back.”
While he joined the line, she dug a small mirror out of her purse.  She peeked at her teeth and her make-up.  Then, she watched Steve return with long, quick strides, stirring his steaming mug.
He sat across from her, his bright blue eyes sparkling.  He spoke.  She watched his lips move, trying not to imagine them on hers.  While they chatted, he inched as close as the table allowed.  Teri focused on his rugged, blond, stubbly beard, wondering how it would feel against her chin—scratchy or soft.  Blushing, he laughed, and she laughed with him.
He tipped his mug towards him.  “You wanna go for a walk?” he asked.
Teri nodded.  His gentle hand resting on the small of her back guided her outside.
As they strolled down the sidewalk, Steve took her hand.  She noticed the trees’ light green leaves fluttering in the breeze and flower boxes spilling onto the cement.  A slight giggle escaped her lips.  The city’s beauty promised such potential.