Tuesday, January 30, 2018

Winter Update

Well, I'm enjoying my winter writing schedule very much. Aside from a few bumps in the road, most of my days this winter are quite relaxing. They begin slightly (ahem) later than they used to when I had to hit the road at 6:30, and end later since I don't have to get up so early. I get house chores and busy work out of the way first thing, then go for a walk up our lovely dirt road, stopping whenever a photo jumps out at me, which is pretty often. Then I hit the laptop for a few hours, break for lunch and some fun reading, and then back to it. Late afternoon, I fill the bird feeders so there's plenty of sunflower seeds for the chickadee feeding frenzy as the light fades. Then it's cooking time and Dennis gets home and then maybe a little more writing or TV, which is something I never had time for before. We're watching series on DVD mostly -- our current favorites are Outlander and, surprisingly, The Flash. (Maybe not so surprisingly. Both deal with time travel, which is one of my favorite themes.)

But I am not alone all day. Our two kittens, collectively known as Piperwillow, which is what we yell when we hear something crash in the night because it's shorter than saying "Mungojerrie and Rumpelteazer," are utterly adorable and ridiculous. Or perhaps I'm ridiculous. We have many daily rituals, beginning with "brush the kitties," which takes place on the bed as soon as I'm dressed in the morning. First I brush Piper, and then I brush Willow, which often takes fifteen minutes and involves much stretching and purring, especially during the tummy brush parts. Then we have "kittie treats," which involves special nibbles which are actually teeth cleaning kibble, but they don't know that. Some days, we have "trim the claws," which is less popular, but saves me forty bucks a month in vet bills. (I'm very proud of myself for doing this, btw. These two are the first of my pets that I've ever dared approach with claw clippers.) Then there is "Daddy pet me, no ME" time when Daddy gets  home. There are always evening snuggles, with the kitties choosing a lap, and of course beddiebye snuggles, which always involve me becoming a pillow that is expected to be immobile all night. (I have been known to sit up with a roar, seize whichever toy they've brought to beddiebye with them, and disappear it until morning.) The floor is littered with things that squeak and rattle or go squish when you step on them barefoot in the dark. And there is a three-tiered cat tree in front of the living room windows, just because. Did I mention the laser pointer and the fish on a string? Spoiled? Ha.

On a personal improvement note, I'm doing a lot more cooking than I used to do, focusing on healthy recipes. It's such fun to have the energy to cook again, instead of dinner being just one more chore to get through before collapsing into bed. I'm back to making homemade bread once a week, kneading it by hand. I'm also challenging my brain by learning bird songs from the Peterson's Birding by Ear CDs. While I've always been pretty good at identifying birds by sight, I'm lousy at knowing them by their calls. Unlike the rest of my family, I'm not an auditory person. But I'm getting better. (Purple finch and house finch are killing me.)

But above all, I'm enjoying being in touch with nature more, sensing the daylight growing, sensing the seasons changing, and being aware of the quiet that surrounds me. Because it's from that quiet that words come to me.

I'm tired at night, and it's a good tired.

Monday, August 28, 2017

First official day of being a full time writer

Well, tomorrow officially marks my first day of being a full time writer, because it's the day I would have gone back to school. Do I feel weird? Very.

For the last seventeen years, today, the last day of summer, I felt anxious about the upcoming year. I hurt to see the end of summer's freedom, I dreaded the long winter commutes in the dark, I worried about getting sick and not having any sick time left, and I cringed at the thought of sleepless nights trying to solve students's problems for them. Always in the back of my mind, I wondered if tomorrow would be the day my school was on the national news, and not for a good thing.

I remember how I felt on my very first day of school, back in March, 2000. I was scared to death. I'd never really had a job before, since I'd always been a stay-at-home mom. I was stressed about leaving my daughter at daycare. I was petrified that I wasn't going to be able to do this thing -- work with special ed kids. I'd never taken an education course in my life. All I'd done was some tutoring in college. I was certain the kids would laugh at me. I imagined myself telling them to do something, and having them say no. I had no clue what to say next. I suspected I would cry. I doubted I'd last an hour, muchless the day. Seventeen years wasn't even on my radar.

When I walked into the building, it was a fifty-fifty chance whether I'd throw up or faint. Or both. But there was a wonderful woman in the first classroom I was taken to. I'm sure she was thinking, Who the heck hired this lady who is shaking so hard she can hardly talk? But Ann Carol Moffett just smiled the way she always does, always equal to every occasion, and said, "Welcome, come join us around the table." And a big, scary kid in a black leather jacket looked at me. If he'd said, "Boo," I would have turned and run. But he said, "Pull up a chair, Ms. Spear. Can you help me read this? I'm stuck." And I sat down and helped him read.

From that moment on, I was in love - - in love with the wonderful people in that room. There were times I was terrified and times my heart broke. I did way more than help kids read and write. But nothing prepared me for all that I learned from them. Those kids faced challenges every day that I don't think I could deal with, but they did, and kept coming back to school.

Tomorrow, I won't be going back. Tomorrow, I begin to face a challenge of my own -- to learn to become a better writer. To let the stories in my head out for the world to see. To push my comfort zone, to market my books, to demand that strangers notice me and pay attention to what I have to say. I'm not worthy of this, my heart is telling me. If they say, "you're no good," I shall run away, faint, and throw up, all at once.

Except that now, thanks to all the years and kids and teachers, I know I have a lot more courage than I thought I had.

Tuesday, August 15, 2017

New Book Subbed!

Well, a lot happened in the last year -- my mother died, my eighteen-year-old cat died the next day, my youngest daughter graduated from college, and my oldest daughter started a full time music teaching job, we adopted two new kittens, and I made the very tough decision to leave my wonderful job at Colchester High School to follow my dream and write full time.

My biggest physical feat for sure was to climb Camel's Hump, the third highest peak in Vermont, this summer. My mother wanted her ashes spread there, and so we did. I didn't think I could make it to the top, but I felt inspired, and did very well on the way up. Coming back down was another story, but I made it and realized I'm not in as bad shape as I thought I was. However, I'm not in a hurry to try it again.

In December, I had a short story published in an anthology called Take a Chance, edited by Jamie Deacon. It was exciting to work with an editor in England. He had previously reviewed my work and asked me to submit. I recently submitted my newest novel, Owl, to a publisher. Now we'll see where my new full time writing career takes me.

In the meantime, we're enjoying another lovely summer at camp with lots of kayaking and barbecues with family and friends, and of course lots of time just hanging out watching the sunsets. It's starting to hit me now that I won't be going back to school in a few weeks, and I have to say that even though I will miss the kids and all the wonderful adults I've worked with so long, what I'm mostly feeling is a deep sense of relaxation and joy in knowing I can watch the seasons change into fall and winter without the dread of driving on icy roads in the dark mornings, and a sense that it's finally time to be myself all the time.

Here I am climbing Camels Hump.  Photo by Crystal Lanper

Friday, August 26, 2016


This year, the water level is at a near record low, which means as I paddle along the familiar shore near our camp, I am seeing more of the ledges than have ever been visible before. It makes sense that places that are normally underwater year round have eroded more than those above the surface. But I had no idea there were so many caves. All those dark little pockets I could see beneath the surface and wondered what was down there are now completely exposed. It's a little unnerving actually, to have to look up at the formations that I'm used to seeing at eye level.

But, oh so cool!

The high water mark is the the top of the white in the photos.

This little cave was full of opened clam shells. I think I found somebody's (maybe an otter's) feeding spot. It smelled REALLY bad.

This is my all time favorite cave which we named the Turtle long ago because it looks like a sleepy turtle with a head and two front legs. (I used to beg my father to paddle the canoe close so I could tickle its chin.) I have snorkled into the cave beneath it many times, but I've never been able to bring a boat inside before. 

 I was a little apprehensive, but I gathered my courage and paddled into the cool dimness, being careful of my head. The water was flat calm and the gurgles sounded like deep-throated animals breathing quietly. (Or maybe swallowing.)

It went back a lot farther than I'd ever realized. And looked like it went back farther still.

A selfie in the Turtle with the opening behind me.

It was much bigger inside that I thought, and I was able to turn the kayak completely around, using my hands on the walls. The water was about a foot deep beneath me, and the rocks were golden-green in the magical light.

A sailboat passed by just as I was starting out. But the funniest thing was that two kayaks paddled right by the opening just after I took this shot. I had no idea they were approaching, and they had no idea I was in there, and we scared each other half to death. When we'd all stopped laughing, I calmly said, "I live here." The guy looked like I was out of my mind, but the woman said, "There are a lot worse places to live." 

I totally agree.

Friday, June 24, 2016

Guest Post by Lori MacLaughlin -- A Writer's Legacy for Her Children

I am so pleased to welcome my long time friend and fellow author Lori MacLaughlin to my blog today. She is celebrating the release of her second novel, Trouble by Any Other Name. I have been privileged to read it while it was still in the works, and I'm excited that the further adventures of Tara are now available to the rest of the world. Lori's novels are beautifully written -- full of great description and tight dialogue, along with carefully drawn characters whose lives continue right off the page. Below the guest post are links where the book may be purchased, if you haven't already run into Lori at a local event. She is all over the place, and her post is all about writing with a family.

Welcome, Lori!

Thank you, Kari Jo, for having me over!!

My kids were 15 and 13 in February of 2015 when I published my first book. I'm glad they were in their teens because they were old enough to appreciate this very special moment in my life — the moment when what had once seemed an impossible dream came true.

And while they might not have been able to grasp the enormity of the event, which had been in the making for almost 30 years, they did get to see firsthand the success that resulted from all those years of hard work, determination, and perseverance.

They grew up knowing I was a writer, even though at that point it was just a hobby. I mean, let's face it, trying to write with any consistency with little kids running around is a challenge, to say the least. Particularly with my daughter (my older child), who only napped for half an hour unless I napped with her. I swear she had an alarm clock in her brain. I'd put her down for a nap in her crib, and the instant 30 minutes had gone by — boing! — she was up and ready to go. I was never a night owl, either, so writing anything coherent at night was an extremely rare occurrence.

Writing and reading have always been a huge part of my life, and I'm so happy to have passed that on to my children. Both kids love to read and both have said they want to be writers. Their tastes are a little different than mine. My daughter loves mysteries and stories about magical fairies (like Winx Club), while my son loves racing stories and some fantasy (like the Ranger's Apprentice series). They haven't read my books yet. There's a little too much swordplay and bloodletting for her, and my son is definitely NOT into the romance angle. Give him a couple of years, though, and that may change.

Another reason I'm glad my kids are older is that they're a big help at bookselling events like craft fairs and farmer's markets and such. They can take over when I need a break. When my son is running the table, people come up, look at my books or more specifically at my author name, then invariably grin and ask him if he's the author. He takes it with good humor, though, and doesn't mind helping out.

I hope someday to see my kids' stories in print. They are already good writers with unique voices. The best part is that I know they'll pass their love of books on to their kids, as my parents passed it on to me. When I think about the legacy I'd like to leave for my children, I realize that so much of what I would impart has already taken root in them. They are good and kind and nonjudgmental, they love reading and writing, and they know if they work hard, they can make their dreams come true. They make me proud.

TITLE: Trouble By Any Other Name

Sequel to Lady, Thy Name Is Trouble

AUTHOR: Lori L. MacLaughlin

RELEASE DATE: May 16, 2016

GENRE: Fantasy
 About the Book:

Tara Triannon is no stranger to trouble. She's yet to find an enemy her skill with a sword couldn't dispatch. But how can she fight one that attacks through her dreams?

With her nightmares worsening, Tara seeks answers but finds only more questions. Then her sister, Laraina, reveals a stunning secret that forces Tara to go to the one place Tara's sworn never to return to. Her troubles multiply when Jovan Trevillion, the secretive soldier of fortune who stole her heart, is mentally tortured by an ancient Being intent on bending him to its will. And worst of all, the Butcher — the terrifying wolf-like assassin she thought she'd killed — survived their duel and is hunting her again.

Hounded by enemies, Tara sets out on a harrowing quest to discover the true nature of who she is, to come to grips with the new volatility of her magic, and to defeat the evil locked in a centuries-old trap that will stop at nothing to control her magic and escape through her nightmares.

Buy Links:

Amazon           Barnes & Noble          Kobo               iBooks

Lori L. MacLaughlin traces her love of fantasy adventure to Tolkien and Terry Brooks, finding The Lord of the Rings and The Sword of Shannara particularly inspirational. She's been writing stories in her head since she was old enough to run wild through the forests on the farm on which she grew up.

She has been many things over the years – tree climber, dairy farmer, clothing salesperson, kids' shoe fitter, retail manager, medical transcriptionist, journalist, private pilot, traveler, wife and mother, Red Sox and New York Giants fan, muscle car enthusiast and NASCAR fan, and a lover of all things Scottish and Irish.

When she's not writing (or working), she can be found curled up somewhere dreaming up more story ideas, taking long walks in the countryside, or spending time with her kids. She lives with her family in northern Vermont.

Website/Blog     Goodreads      Facebook     Google+    Pinterest

Friday, January 15, 2016


My Whisper passed on Christmas Eve. Even though things had been looking so good, the diabetes came back and his kidneys were beginning to fail. Treating everything would have meant injecting fluid under his skin every other day, determining what his new insulin dose would be, and changing his diet. All this would mean constant trips to the vet and a great deal of blood work and needles and the risk of going into shock again. And the kidneys were going down no matter what -- it was just a matter of time, possibly only weeks. So I made one of the most horrible decisions of my life and decided that this was time. I held him while he went. The last several weeks have been pretty hard for me because Whisp and I had developed a bond over the last seventeen years that I've shared with few others in my life. His sister Pumpkin and I still cry ourselves to sleep most nights.

Wednesday, December 9, 2015

Kitty Drama

As some of you may know, I have a diabetic cat I've been treating every twelve hours with insulin injections for the past year and a half. Monday morning, I gave Whisper his shot as usual, and within five minutes, he was staggering around the house, confused and dazed and unable to figure out how to get out of a corner. I realized this was what the vet had told me to watch for -- he was in shock.

I called the Burlington Emergency Veterinary Services immediately, and they told me to rush him in. And of course, he promptly disappeared. We found him under a bed, and the only way we could get to him fast was to dismantle the bed. Ten minutes later, the house in chaos with mattress thrown down the hall out of the way, my back was in a spasm, and he and I were off. I fully expected that this was the end.

But the wonderful doctors at BEVS quickly got him stabilized with an IV with a sugar solution and then began a series of tests to see what had caused the sudden, dangerous drop. A kidney infection was soon revealed and initially thought to be the culprit. And then, as we were discussing treatments, a doctor asked me how long he'd been blind.

You could have scooped me off the floor. Blind? I told them he wasn't blind. The doctor smiled and said that Whisper had just walked right off the exam table. Huh. It must have been a very gradual vision loss and he'd adapted smoothly. So much for my sense of being in touch with my cat.

After two days and a night at BEVS on his little kitty IV, Whisper was finally released yesterday, with some more staggering news. It is now looking like the real reason for the blood sugar drop is that he is no longer diabetic. His pancreas has decided to come back on line as suddenly as it went off. Only time will tell if this is permanent, or if he will need a lower dose of insulin .A trip to our vet this afternoon showed that his pancreas still seems to be working. Next week, we will test him again.

But for now, I have a diabetic-free, seventeen-year-old blind cat with a kidney infection and a lot less money in the bank, but I'll take it. And maybe, for the first time in a year and half, I'll be able to sleep past six o'clock in the morning next weekend!