Inspired by You

I’m pleased to announce that Melissa Robitille nominated me for the Very Inspirational Blogger Award. She is a writer and editor with two published books under her belt: In One Year’s Time and Blackstone Gate. Her current project is Smuggler’s Justice, a science fiction novel she wrote during NaNoWriMo 2012. Now that’s inspiring!

Here’s how it works (and feel free to adjust as necessary):

Link back to the person who nominated you.
Display the award logo on your blog.
State seven things about yourself.
Nominate fifteen bloggers for this award and link to them.
Notify those bloggers of the nomination and the award’s requirements.


Seven things about me:

I’m American and my husband is Canadian. The pronunciation of the letter Z is a constant source of friction.

The first car I drove was a tractor.

When I was three or four, I ate one small bite of a banana and promptly threw up. I still hate the smell and taste of bananas (even diluted in banana nut bread) and can barely stand to look at them.

I participated in many parades as a kid, first with our dressed-up dogs in Fourth of July pet parades, then on horseback for the same event a few years later. In high school, I performed in Christmas parades with the marching band. (I played flute.)

I enjoy a variety of teas, both caffeinated and herbal. Japanese genmaicha (green tea with roasted rice) is my favorite.

Freeblood, my first novel, is an urban fantasy set in Portland, Oregon. I’m currently working on the second book in the series, Fastblood.

Crowds and noise drive me nuts (except for the occasional parade). My idea of a great getaway is a remote yurt on the Oregon Coast.

A remote yurt on the Oregon Coast

A remote yurt on the Oregon Coast

My nominations:

If I selected you for the Liebster Award, I didn’t pick you for this one. This doesn’t mean I don’t find you inspirational. I just didn’t want to name you twice in a row.

T. W. Dittmer

John w Howell


Ash N. Finn

Stephen Edger

Laura Thomas

Thomas Rydder

Please accept the nomination in the spirit in which it was given. Some prefer not to post awards on their blog. No problem! I’m simply happy to share your inspirational site with others.



Filed under Announcements, Blog Awards

Lilac and Lemon Balm

A Cold, Dry Month with a Record Effort

Last Saturday my husband and I spent a few hours toiling away in the back yard, a red letter day in our household. Yard work in winter? What gives?

Typically by that time in January we expect about 4.5 inches of rain, but we were logging in at 0.31 inches. Puddles form in the back yard on the wettest days, which might see more than 2 inches of liquid sunshine. Along with the lack of rainfall, the temperature hovered right around 30 degrees, day and night. Our normal high is 48, with a low of 35.

The unusual weather presented a unique opportunity to tackle yard work without getting soaked, or so I suggested to my husband, who wasn’t nearly as enthused as I was. Usually we ignore outdoor chores during the wet season, but I didn’t want to pass up the chance to get the drop on some of our problem areas. Eugene is a green city that enjoys rampant, prolific growth in springtime, and because our spring months are also wet and our soil waterlogged, managing the abundance presents a challenge. Hence my eagerness to get started on a chilly winter day.

Himalayan blackberries and English ivy can take over a yard in a single season, given the chance. Saturday we pruned them to a manageable level, at least in one section of the yard, and stuffed their arms and legs—er, branches and leaves—into a yard-debris bin, which is collected every two weeks all year round. I’m hoping the weather holds so that I can take a stab at another flora stronghold, by the snowball tree in the corner of the yard. There, tall blackberry canes sweep over the fence into the neighbor’s yard, while ivy vines slink up the rough slats.

I noticed a few things while I was outside. Tiny buds have appeared on the lilac trees. Apparently these buds form in late summer and become visible when the leaves fall. In spring, this head start allows blossoms to quickly burst open. I missed this interesting phenomenon during previous winters while sheltering inside. Lilac is a favorite of mine, and when we bought this house we inherited three varieties: white, pale purple, and deep purple. Score! I may be crazy, but I think they all smell different.

Lilac buds in our back yard, January 2013

Lilac buds in our back yard, January 2013

I enjoy the appearance of bare tree limbs, along with red rose hips and bright berries that remain through winter. I also like the look of lemon balm stalks, with the seed pods sticking out like odd-looking beaks. But the stalks have to go now, before the first flush of spring. While cutting them back, I noted with surprise a shock of tender green leaves at the base. They’re ready to go as soon as the warm weather hits. By May, our far back yard (it runs pretty deep) will become a meadow of thick bushes that when gently pressed, smell—you guessed it—strongly of lemon.

For centuries, lemon balm has served as a medicinal herb. It offers antibacterial and antiviral properties, and helps to calm jaded nerves and enhance the mood. It contains eugenol, a natural pain reliever, and speeds the healing of wounds. One study found that it helped patients with mild to moderate Alzheimer’s symptoms. It may also be useful in combating obesity. Lemon balm may work to suppress thyroid function—useful for people with an overactive thyroid, but unfavorable for those with an underactive thyroid.

Lemon balm and ivy

Lemon balm and ivy, January 2013

Making lemon balm tea is simple. Just use two to three tablespoons of fresh leaves or one to three teaspoons of dried leaves per cup of water. Bring water to a boil and pour over the leaves. Steep for 10 minutes. The flavor is mildly lemony.

A local herbalist gave me a simple recipe for lemon balm honey. In the summertime, pick a handful of leaves after the dew has evaporated. In a clean jar, add a small layer of honey and place a leaf on top. Spoon on more honey, enough to fully cover the leaf. Add another leaf and repeat the process until the jar is full. It won’t take long for the herb’s healthful benefits to be absorbed into the honey.

In other news, I’m back at work on my sequel to Freeblood, after a hiatus. It’s called Fastblood. Those who have read the first book will understand the title’s significance. Blocks and barriers that seemed frozen in ice have melted away, and a creative landscape that once lay dormant now seems lush with possibilities. I’d worked on other writing projects in the interim, but it feels good to be back scribbling on Quinn’s story.

It’s been a few days since I first started this post, and the yard is calling me back. Those areas of bountiful overgrowth may be weighing on my conscience, but I equally suspect the allure of the first signs of spring.


Filed under Personal Log

Wordplay: What’s in a Name?

What’s in a name? That which we call a rose
By any other name would smell as sweet.
(Shakespeare, Romeo and Juliet)

Ever set out on a road trip and find yourself at a loss for entertainment? Maybe you’re tired of listening to music, or the small talk has ebbed to a trickle. Fear not; rescue is at hand. I’m a big fan of word games (and diversions in general), and I’d like to share one that even Shakespeare, that master of wordplay, might enjoy.

The rules are simple: Just choose a name, scramble the letters, and form new words. You don’t have to use all the letters. Pretty darn easy. It’s well suited to journeys by car because roadside signs are an endless source of proper names; think McDonald’s, Starbucks, Yellowstone. You can play with a group or enjoy this activity solo.

If you’re competing with others, once you’ve picked a name, take turns sharing, offering one word per turn. You’ll want to decide at the outset whether to allow—in addition to common words—names, foreign words, abbreviations, and acronyms. I’m all for mining as many terms as possible from one name before moving on to the next.

Chevron basic

Today’s name is Chevron. No shortage of possibilities here.

Common Words
o (variant of oh)

First Names, Nicknames, and Surnames
Che (Ernesto “Che” Guevara)

Foreign Words
vor (German for before)
voce (Italian for voice)
ver (Spanish for see)

Acronyms and Abbreviations
RN (registered nurse)
VCR (videocassette recorder)
CEO (chief executive officer)
COV (Commonwealth of Virginia)
Nov. (November)
Nev. (Nevada)
Rev. (Reverend)

Bonus Points
The person who forms the longest word using only the letters provided receives a gold star!

Chevron turned out to be an unexpectedly plentiful source, with enough variations to propel the avid gamester a few miles down the road.

The player who is able to offer a word when others cannot is declared the winner. And what does the winner receive? I’ll leave that up to you, but I will say that victory, like virtue, is its own reward, and smells almost as sweet as true love.

Have you thought of a word I haven’t mentioned? Feel free to add to the list in the comments section.

Chevron station in Grants Pass, Oregon. Photo by Nicolas Vigier.

Chevron station in Grants Pass, Oregon. Photo by Nicolas Vigier.


Filed under Wordplay

I’ve Been Liebstered!

Exciting! Insane! Unfathomable!

John Dolan at Galericulate has nominated me for a Liebster Award ( Much obliged, sir. A native of northeast England, John prefers the name “Scoundrel” and openly admits to ham acting. (Or is it Hamlet?) He is available for witty repartee and blackmail on Twitter at @JohnDolanAuthor.


What exactly is a Liebster Award? Good question. Near as I can tell, bloggers present this award to other bloggers to help spread the word about their blogs. Liebster is a German word meaning favorite, beloved, or dearest.

Here’s how it works. When you accept the award, you follow up by:

  1. Pasting the award picture into your blog. Several different styles are available online. Use the one you like best.
  2. Linking back to the person who nominated you.
  3. Posting eleven random facts about yourself.
  4. Answering the eleven questions asked by the person who nominated you.
  5. Writing eleven new questions for your nominees.
  6. Passing the award on to eleven other blogs, and notifying the bloggers that you nominated them.

I’ve found several variations of this award online, so feel free to switch things up to suit your preferences.

Oh, and one more thing: You cannot nominate the person who nominated you.

Eleven random facts about Marny:

  1. I live in western Oregon, and I like the rain.
  2. A feral cat enters our house through the cat window, sleeps on our furniture, eats our cat food, and plays with our cat toys . . . but we can’t get near her. We call her our feral house cat. (No need to worry about cat overpopulation. She was trapped and spayed earlier in life, before she wandered over to our house.)
  3. I prefer taking the alternate route to most destinations.
  4. The United States has 58 national parks. I would like to visit them all.
  5. I have a number of food sensitivities, including wheat, eggs, milk products, soy, peanuts, almonds, beans, citrus fruits, cherries, peaches, raspberries, sesame, and coffee. I also can’t drink alcohol.
  6. I used to spend my summers employed in archaeological fieldwork.
  7. My husband blogs at a much faster rate than I do. Hey, I thought I was supposed to be the writer!
  8. I follow my hunches. A strange feeling led me to a feral cat I rescued, who is now one of our house cats. (Not the same one I mentioned above.)
  9. My mom’s family homesteaded in Oregon in 1876. An ancestor on my dad’s side arrived here even earlier, in the 1840s. He was a fur trapper.
  10. A cow chased me up a tree when I was a kid. She didn’t like the way I mooed at her.
  11. I’m a night owl. A great deal of my writing takes place after 11 p.m.

Answers to the eleven questions from John:

1. What is the worst present you have ever received?

When I was a little kid, maybe three or four, I received a doll from my aunt and uncle, who were visiting for Christmas. I burst into tears when I opened the gift. I have an extreme aversion to dolls. Nothing says “happy holidays” quite like a long crying jag on Christmas Eve.

2. If you were going to throw someone out of an aeroplane who would it be?

The terrorist.

3. What is the most embarrassing thing you’ve ever worn?

Excruciatingly ugly, homemade hand-me-downs in sixth grade. All year.

4. If you could have been the writer of any song, which song would it be?

This one is tough. I like a variety of music, including Gregorian chant, classical, folk, Celtic, bluegrass, country, rock, gospel, reggae, pop, and hip hop. I have a special appreciation for folk music, so my pick (if I could decide on one) would be in that field.

5. If you weren’t doing what you are doing, what would you be doing?

I would be doing something with plants, like herbalism or ethnobotany.

6. How long can you hold your breath for?

Forty seconds.

7. If you had to have a tattoo what would it be and where would it be on your body?

A cat on my shoulder.

8. Apple or Microsoft?


9. If you could remove one country from the planet which one would it be?

I prefer to target individuals, not countries.

10. Which extinct animal would you like to see not-extinct?

I wish we could have back all the animals that became extinct in the last hundred years (

11. Which movie is most likely to make you blub?

Anything with a doll in it. (See item 1 above.)

Eleven new questions for my nominees:

  1. When did you first realize you liked to write?
  2. Who is your favorite villain from a book or movie?
  3. Can you name one item from your bucket list?
  4. Do you have a muse? If so, what is it?
  5. What book excited you the most when you were a kid?
  6. Do you write in a linear fashion, or do you jump around?
  7. Do you live with animals? If so, can you read their expressions?
  8. Do you have a personal motto?
  9. Are you dying to know the answer to any mysteries?
  10. If you could witness any event in history, what would it be?
  11. Do you like dolls? If so, why?

My nominees for the Liebster Award:

Honoré Dupuis, @Sisyphus47,

K. D. Rush, @KD_Rush,

Jo-Anne Teal, @jtvancouver,

Randy Nishimura, @sworegonarch,

Carlie M. A. Cullen, @carlie2011c,

Melissa Robitille, @mahrial,

Ev Bishop, @Ev_Bishop,

J. J. Anderson, @TPJ13,

Kenny C, @KennyC313,

Armand Rosamilia, @ArmandAuthor,


There you have it. Good luck and have fun!




Filed under Announcements, Blog Awards

Writing Tip: Ten Ways to Start Sentences

Have you ever reviewed your writing and found that something felt repetitive, but you couldn’t quite pin down the problem? Try looking at the beginning of your sentences. If you start the same way each time, with a noun or pronoun, for instance, a certain rhythm and monotony creeps in, even if your word choices are varied and your verbs active.

Breaking free from this rut is simple: just rework to create new sentence openers. Here are some ideas to get you started.

• Noun: a person, place, thing, animal, or abstraction (quality, concept, etc.).

Ashley took a steadying breath, walked up to the porch, and rang the doorbell.

Sprinklers lay unused on a yellowing lawn.

• Pronoun: a substitute for a noun.

She didn’t hear anything inside the house, not even the dog, Buster.

It felt deserted.

• Adjective: a modifier for a noun or pronoun.

Musty aromas drifted on the air, reminiscent of mushrooms, decaying pears, and the worm bin she’d built in seventh grade for extra credit.

Brown stains dotted the wooden planks underfoot.

• Article: a type of adjective (a, an, the).

A wave of revulsion washed over her.

The murder happened here.

• Verb: an action or state of being.

Calm down, Ashley told herself.

Don’t you think you’re overreacting?

• Gerund: a noun created from a verb by adding “ing.”

Jumping to conclusions seems to be your default these days, she thought with annoyance and then narrowed her eyes.

Collecting evidence wouldn’t be a bad idea, however.

• Adverb: a modifier for a verb, adjective, or adverb, answering questions such as how, when, where, and in what way.

Carefully she scraped up a few stained splinters and bundled them in a tissue.

Never had her fingers shaken so much.

Suddenly she couldn’t wait to leave.

• Conjunction: a connector between clauses and phrases.

But what about Buster?

And the cat that lived in the barn?

• Preposition: a link between nouns and pronouns and other parts of the sentence.

On the distant interstate, sirens wailed.

Along the porch planks in the fading light, a human shadow appeared, carrying a shovel.


• Interjection: an exclamation conveying emotion.

“Oh! You’re here!”

“Bingo, Ashley. You always were observant.”

It’s easy, once you get the hang of it. By the way, the sentences here are simply meant to illustrate. In reality, you wouldn’t want to place two of the more rare forms side by side, like the gerund phrases.

Writer, editor, and writing instructor Elizabeth Lyon inspired this blog post. Thanks, Elizabeth! See her book Manuscript Makeover for more great ideas.

Happy writing!


Filed under Writing Tips

Zombie Apocalypse: Already Here?

October conjures thoughts of crisp, colorful leaves, warm apple cider, Friday night football, and bright jack-o-lanterns. This year, while you’re tossing around the pigskin or battening down for winter, you might consider putting together a first-aid kit and laying in emergency supplies. Why? The zombie apocalypse may be upon us. Consider the following news items.

Flesh-Eating in Florida

Last spring in Miami, Rudy Eugene, 31, stripped off his clothes, launched himself at a 65-year-old homeless man, and began biting his face. The attack, which took place May 26, continued for 18 minutes, as captured on a security camera, until a cop arrived and ordered Eugene to desist. Eugene growled at the officer, who then shot him. When the first bullet failed to have an effect, the officer fired four more times, killing Eugene.

A new drug called “bath salts” may have been responsible for Eugene’s violent psychotic behavior, but an autopsy revealed only marijuana and undigested pills in his stomach.

Ronald Poppo, the victim, arrived at the hospital with 75­–80 percent of his face above the beard missing, including an eye. “He had his face eaten down to his goatee. The forehead was just bone. No nose, no mouth,” said police sergeant Armando Aguilar.

Mayhem in Maryland

Around the same time in May, Alexander Kinyua, 21, of Joppatowne, Maryland, admitted to cutting up Kujoe Agyei-Kodie, 37, with a knife and eating his heart and a portion of his brain.

Both Kinyua and Agyei-Kodie were students at Morgan State University. Agyei-Kodie reportedly lived in the house with the Kinyua family for six weeks until his disappearance on May 25, according to CBS Baltimore.

Parts of the victim’s body were found in a dumpster a few blocks away. Police also found a human head and hands inside a metal tin in the house.

Kinyua apparently underwent a drastic personality change after he was dismissed from the Reserve Officers’ Training Corps program in January for disciplinary reasons. He has shown no remorse for the attack. Police reported that while he was cooperative and confessed to the crime, he would not reveal why he did it. It is unclear if drugs were involved.

More Fodder from Florida

On June 20, with Florida still reeling from the first “zombie” attack, Charles Baker, 26, banged on the door to his girlfriend’s house in Palmetto, barreled inside, tore off his clothes, and began throwing furniture. Then, in a fit of rage, he bit a chunk off the bicep of Jeffery Blake, another resident of the house, who was trying to restrain him.

When police arrived, Baker faced the deputies, tensed his body, clenched his fists, and screamed, according to WPTV5. A deputy tasered Baker, who pulled the taser prongs out of his skin and continued his rampage. Baker was tasered again and pulled those prongs out as well. More deputies arrived and managed to subdue him and get the cuffs on.

Police said that Baker was under the influence of an unknown substance.

Pandemonium in Pennsylvania

And the weirdness keeps coming. On September 14, Richard Cimino Jr., 20, of Doylestown, Pennsylvania, yanked off his clothes, attacked a woman, and began gnawing on her head.

After breaking into an empty home and ascending to the second floor, Cimino jumped out the second-story window, severely injuring his arms and legs. Covered in his own blood, Cimino approached two women, tackled one of them, and then, screaming “like an animal,” according to state police, proceeded to bite her head.

The women escaped and called police. Police used a stun gun on Cimino, who was acting delusional and confrontational. He continued to act aggressively after getting stunned, even punching an emergency medical technician. Bath salts were once more suspected.

Bath Salts on the Rise

Are these events the first signs of the zombie apocalypse? Too early to tell. Motivation is elusive in each case. Maybe bath salts are to blame, or maybe they are unrelated random acts of violence. However, just to be on the safe side, if someone on the street starts peeling off clothes and looks hungry for human flesh, run like hell.

Bath salts first appeared in the United States in late 2010, but made few headlines at the time. Now the U.S. Department of Justice is calling these inexpensive and readily available drugs an “emerging domestic threat.” The effects of swallowing, smoking, snorting, or injecting bath salts are similar to ecstasy or cocaine. Several side effects have been reported, however, including hallucinations, panic attacks, paranoia, violent behavior, and increased tolerance for pain.

President Obama signed legislation banning several types of synthetic drugs this summer, but many variations are still being sold because every time authorities outlaw one compound, drug makers alter the formula to produce an unregulated drug. Deaths from bath salts are increasing nationwide, with more than 20 people dying in Florida alone, according to the Tampa Bay Times.

The white powder is sold under a variety of names, including monkey dust, snow leopard, and scarface.

Words of Wisdom from the CDC

The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) has weighed in with a helpful guide titled Preparedness 101: Zombie Apocalypse ( Nice to know our government officials have a sense of humor about these things . . . or is it prescience? It’s worth a look, in any case, with helpful tips for emergency situations.

In case the bath salts situation gets out of control in your area or some other event sets off the zombie apocalypse, remember to keep plenty of water, food, and medicine on hand. Stock matches, candles, blankets, and a battery-powered radio. Plan your evacuation route. Pick a meeting place to regroup with loved ones. And don’t forget the duct tape.


Filed under News of the Weird

Writing It Down: What’s Your Speed?

Writing is an exercise in self-motivation. Quite simply, if you don’t put words on the page, you’re not going to finish your manuscript. While setting appropriate goals is an important key to getting things done, the concept of an “appropriate” pace varies as much as individual writing styles. Learning the speed that works best for you is part of the process of discovering your identity as a writer.

Famous Authors Set the Pace

Ever wonder how your page rate compares with well-known writers? Novelist James Thayer, writing for Author magazine, offers the following insights (

Among the speed writers is Erle Stanley Gardner, author of the Perry Mason novels, who wrote approximately 13 pages each working day, or a million words a year (estimating that a double-spaced manuscript page contains 300 words and that a year contains 250 working days). Victor Hugo, author of Les Misérables, reportedly wrote 20 pages each day. English writer Samuel Johnson often produced an astonishing 40 printed pages in a day, or 12,000 words.

On the other end of the spectrum is Graham Greene, author of The Quiet American, who wrote just 500 words per day. Yet he was a prolific writer, churning out more than 30 books, along with several plays, screenplays, and short stories. It took J. R. R. Tolkien 11 years to write The Lord of the Rings, a 670,000-word endeavor, which amounts to 245 words each working day.

Those finding a middle ground include Jack London, who wrote between 1,000 and 1,500 words each day, and Stephen King, who writes 2,000 words a day.

Judging by the variety in the writing pace of the well known, persistence trumps speed.

Book in a Month

Recent years have seen the rise in speed writing contests, which provide a supportive community for those wishing to take the plunge. NaNoWriMo, or the National Novel Writing Month, challenges participants to write 50,000 words of a new novel between November 1 and 30. This averages out to 1,667 words per day, or 2,273, if you take the weekends off. Quantity is valued over quality; the idea is to hit the word count and revise later. The contest offers no official prizes, and anybody who reaches 50,000 words is declared a winner. Find out more at

Don’t feel like waiting for November? Book in a Month: The Fool-Proof System for Writing a Novel in 30 Days, by Victoria Lynn Schmidt, PhD, provides suggestions for creating a rough draft in a short amount of time. You can delve in whenever you have a slow month on your hands. I own this book, and even if you never plan to write a book in a month, it offers great writing tips as well as ideas for organizing your schedule. If you like to make lists and tick off boxes to help meet your writing goals, this is the book for you.

Slow Writers Club

Type “slow writer” into your search engine and you’re sure to come up with blog posts on the realities of slowness, some containing hilarious insights, others reflecting frustration or peaceful acceptance.

Christine Lee Zilka describes “negative word count” days that involve generous use of the delete key ( I don’t know her personally, but when I found her blog, I knew I could relate. My editor suggested that I heavily prune my first book, Freeblood, which originally weighed in at a whopping 122,000 words. That advice resulted in a few months of negative word count days—and a much more concise 105,000-word novel.

Ev Bishop, another author whose blog I found serendipitously, observes that taking on a day job to make ends meet has considerably slowed her writing output (makes sense, right?), but she also notes that the new job allows her writing “to be my whimsy and passion again” ( That’s something to consider when pushing to meet arbitrary writing goals.

A Happy Medium

Where do I fit in? Well, I have my fast days and my slow days. Recently, a day of 3,500 words was followed by several of little to no words. In general, I’d say I’m on the slow end of the spectrum, but a lot of that slowness crops up in the editing process, rather than at the rough draft stage. I’ve noticed that if I write fast to meet an arbitrary word count, I don’t really like what I produce and end up scrapping it. On the other hand, if I write fast because I’m on a natural roll, that’s entirely different, and I generally keep the fruits of that inspiration.

I like to know where I’m going, so I plot events in my mind before sitting down to write. Sometimes I plot and write at the same time, but that’s not my usual habit. On the best days, I develop a scene in my mind, write a few paragraphs, and then think for a while, maybe while I’m doing housework or going for a walk. When I repeat this process throughout the day, I like what I come up with.

If you want to experiment with your writing pace, you might try setting high goals a few days a week. But be flexible! You may find yourself generating useless fluff to hit your mark, a sure indication that speed writing is not for you. Remember Jack Nicholson in The Shining, repeatedly typing “All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy.” Sure, he met his word count, but he went crazy doing it!


Filed under Writing Tips