A Visit from Toby Neal: 7 Things I’ve Learned About Writing

novel, crime, mystery, Hawaii, toby nealToday, Dear Readers, I have the distinct pleasure of welcoming published author, psych-therapist and island girl Toby Neal.  More about Toby in just a bit, but first she will share with us some important things she has learned about writing from her own journey.

7 Things I’ve Learned About Writing

  1. Notice everything. The world is filled with sounds, smells, textures, and fabulous stories unfolding all around you. Take the time to notice, and keep something handy to jot down new thoughts/ways to describe that sensory input as it comes to you. Sometimes, when I really let myself experience any given moment in time, I’m overwhelmed by all that’s going on. Life is a series of amazing moments. Continue reading A Visit from Toby Neal: 7 Things I’ve Learned About Writing

A Day with a Dingo

doug and a dingoYesterday Marie and I spent, once again, in the company of a Dingo. In case you don’t remember our last encounter, this Dingo is a walk-behind front loader – well, OK, it can be fitted with other attachments to do other things too, but we were using it as an earth mover. And that’s how we spent the day; moving piles of earth from one place to another.

We chose to go with the Dingo rather than the Bobcat this time because the Dingo does less damage to the ground you’re working than the Bobcat. It also costs less, but it carries 1/6 as much as a Bobcat – so that’s a wash. It was the “tearing things up as fast as I smooth them out” thing that was the determining factor.

The first pile didn’t have to move far, just from where it was, next to our septic tank, to the hole above the septic tank – and the ditches running from the new house to the tank, and the ditch from the trailer to the tank. (The only way I could think of to find the tank was to dig up the existing septic line) And that pile was actually several piles or ridges scattered about the site. Quite a mess really, but it looks better now. It’s still just dirt but now it’s mostly level dirt that can be traversed, not piles and ridges that form barriers to travel. And, before I started digging it all out, I laid down a thick layer of dead leaves over the grass under the big pile to make it easier to know when to stop digging while putting it back and to protect the grass a bit. I had not counted on it sitting there for so many months, but there are still some shoots of grass harboring in a layer of decomposed leaves. They ought to come back fairly well now that sunshine can get to them again.

The second pile, or again: piles, were above and behind the house where the Bobcat and I carried the “fall-out” from our cave-in while building the Great Wall of Edwina. This needed to go back into the caverns behind the wall. That area looks much better now and will look even nicer once we get some flowers (or at least weeds) growing again. This area is the view out our kitchen window, so that’s a priority. I’d bore you with pictures, but our brand new camera quit on us and had to be mailed to Connecticut for repair. Hopefully we’ll get it back soon. The picture above? Oh, that’s a shot from our files of the last time the Dingo entertained us.

The third project was to flatten out the driveway and parking area. The parking area is bare clay and has been pretty badly rutted up by heavy trucks, and equipment used in installing our home. It is now, as Marie put it, “like the infield at Wrigley Field.”

On Friday we decided we could afford some gravel to put on the parking area, but at that late date we were unable to get anyone to deliver it on Saturday. So…

I tried to level out the humps-n-bumps in the driveway, but that was mostly beyond the Dingo’s capability. Here the gravel we spread the last time the dingo visited got churned into the clay below it by the bulldozer and Jadde (as well as by trucks full of cement blocks, a small track hoe, and the truck & trailer of our trim-out guy) forming a very hard, stable base for our driveway. It’s pretty ugly now, but once we get another layer of crusher run on it, it will be a good driveway, even for as steep as it is. Even now, it does not get mucky in the rain like the parking area. I succeeded in scraping off some of the bigger humps and moving that material into the deeper depressions, so it is better, but it is far from smooth.

And finally we moved most of a large pile of black dirt, which I bought from a road crew who were cleaning out the ditches along the Edwina-Bridgeport road last year, from behind the trailer around to the flower beds in front of the new house. There is a high amount of small gravel in this dirt, but it is also very rich, black dirt, not the red or yellow clay you see most everywhere. Around here, even if you buy “top soil” from a garden center, what you will get is red clay that has been screened for rocks and large clumps. This black dirt should be a good start for Marie’s flowers (better than we could buy) and we can cover the stones with mulch once the plants get started. I’ve got a compost pile started using wood chips from the shop. That’s been steeping since last fall so it ought to be ready this summer.

We accomplished in a day what we had hoped to accomplish in… well; in a day, but were afraid we’d need two. A Dingo, in the hands of an experienced operator, is supposed to be able to do some very nice finish work. I am far from ‘experienced’, so it proved very useful for moving around large quantities of earth and some of the spreading but all smoothing and making “pretty” was done with a garden rake and muscle. And those muscles were very sore on both of us last night. Hot showers and liniment all around – make mine a double!

I Am What I Am

Popeye 1The cartoon character Popeye used to say (maybe he still does) “ I am what I am and that’s all what I am.” except he said it with his odd accent that made it sound like he was referring to himself as a sort of sweet potato. His words were brought to mind by a note I received this morning from the client for whom we are building several pieces of furniture. She says:

The incredible beauty of the bench takes our breath away. It is so exciting to watch the tenderness, thought and care you put into each move you make. How different this is than buying a finished piece (and always wondering about the level of quality that went into construction) or worse yet – buying a piece made of particle board and having to put it together with no skills whatsoever.

It is so difficult to fathom the care you put into each piece you make for people you have never even met before.

I always believe that those who are happiest in life are those who have found and followed God’s calling for them. God gave you such a unique gift, and you use it to His glory for each person fortunate enough to find you. I am glad that we are among those so blessed!

Continue reading I Am What I Am

About This Business of a Writing Business

writing business
iStockphoto image, all rights reserved

I have a friend, a retired aerospace engineer turned artist, who hates bookkeeping.  He sells his art at local art shows, and from his home.  When he makes a sale, the money goes into a steel cash box.  When he buys supplies the money come out of the box.  When he wants to know how much money he has made from his art, he counts the contents of the cash box.  This is elegant in its simplicity, but would be a nightmare should he ever be audited.  Are you a hobby writer or a writing business?   Continue reading About This Business of a Writing Business

Warts and All

I recently posted one of my step-by-step discussions of how we build a piece of furniture; the more interesting of these discussions from our In The Shop blog become permanent articles in the library section of our custom furniture web site.

oops, mistake, errorIn this episode I discovered a mistake had been made in the piece of furniture and discussed my remedy for the error.  Shortly after having posted the chapter I was hailed by a constant reader and frequent critic to ask, “Why in the world did you admit to having made a mistake?  Doesn’t that undermine peoples’ confidence in your work?”

I asked him if he knew anyone who never, ever makes a mistake.  What do you think of someone who claims to have never erred?    Continue reading Warts and All

Turning the Tables on Bookstores

bookstore, bookshop, independant
iStock Photo - all rights reserved.

There was a time when avid readers were frequent customers of small, neighborhood bookstores – these were the places where books lived and could be bought.  Then the big chain bookstores: B Dalton, Crown, Borders, and Barnes & Noble shoved the small shops out of existence.  The book buyer’s expectations changed as the venue changed.

Barnes & Noble and Amazon have been duking it out for control of the print book market for some time.  Then, about three years ago, eReaders came on the scene and the venue changed again.  Continue reading Turning the Tables on Bookstores

Authors Learn to Embrace the “B” Word

budget, accounting, calculating, financeOne of the best business management tools you can learn to use is a budget. Oh, I know; “budget” ranks right up there with IRS, death benefit, hemorrhoids and goiter as words we want to avoid associating with.  But, this word does not have to be something vile and filthy.  You don’t need to wash your hands after writing it.  It can, in fact, be an excellent tool for helping you improve your peace of mind and your quality of life.

While it is an extremely valuable tool in getting your personal and family finances in order – thus getting the money problems monkey off your back, I’m not going to go into all of that.  This time we’ll look at it specifically as a means of helping you run your business more efficiently.  Continue reading Authors Learn to Embrace the “B” Word

Sneak Peek and Cover Art: xoxoxo

xoxoxo is Bethany Lopez’s second book in her Contemporary Young Adult series, Stories about Melissa. The first book was Ta Ta for Now!. xoxoxo will be released on March 2nd, 2012.


art, cover, book YA, romanceMelissa has learned a lot since her freshman year began, but it isn’t over yet! Her world is about to change again with the birth of her new sibling, and she has to figure out how she will adjust to being the eldest of five kids. She, Jess, and Jimmy are inseparable, and she is having a fantastic time although she can’t help but miss Brian as she tries to learn how to deal with his relationship with Layla. Everything seems to be happening at once and that is when she is introduced to Ben Campbell, a senior at Dearborn High, who becomes an interesting distraction as he helps her deal with the new developments in her life.

About Bethany Lopez

Author, Bethany Lopez, xoxoxox, Ta Ta For Now!Bethany Lopez was born in Detroit, Michigan, and grew up in Michigan and San Antonio, Texas. She went to High School at Dearborn High, in Dearborn, Michigan, which is where she has set her Young Adult novel. She is married and has a blended family with five children. She is currently serving in the United States Air Force as a Recruiter in Los Angeles, California. She has always loved to read and write and has seen her dream realized by independently publishing her first novel through Amazon with CreateSpace and Kindle Direct Publishing. Ta Ta for Now! is also now available through Smashwords at Barnes and Noble.com, on the Nook and the Sony eReader. Her second novella in the series, xoxoxo, will be release on March 2, 2012.
Contact/Purchase Info:

Boosting Your Blog’s SEO in WordPress

SEO, blog, spiders, I’ve never cared much for all the SEO (Search Engine Optimization) machinations that many of the top bloggers say everyone must do to become really popular.  So I’m not going to talk about those.  There are some basic things that we should all do to grab a reasonable amount of search engine spider attention.  And if you want a really quick way to learn to improve your blogs SEO – and if you have a self-hosted WordPress blog – snag the WordPress SEO by Yoast plug-in and install it.  If you have a WordPress.com blog, it appears you can not use plugins at all.

Plug It In

No, no… don’t panic, it’s really easy to do.  Continue reading Boosting Your Blog’s SEO in WordPress

The Mechanics of Creativity

Recently there has been a good deal of discussion going on about creativity: what it is, where it comes from, how it works, and how to get it to work better for you.  Many articles have been written on how to encourage your imagination, how to feed your muse.  As writers we depend on our imagination to craft our stories.  Novelists most of all, but even non-fiction is enlivened by creative writing.

In this article I’m not going to try to tell you how to build up your creative muscle, I’m going to do an analytical breakdown of the creative process I went through to write my last blog post.  I’ll preface it by saying that this is not the process I use all the time: sometimes an article just springs into my mind, fully written, my only task is to record it before the words fade from my mind.  Often these Inspired Writings occur at the most inopportune times: like 3:00 am.  If I am able to ignore the call and go back to sleep I’ll remember that I had a wonderful idea, but won’t remember anything more about it.  Opportunity lost!  Continue reading The Mechanics of Creativity