Fenwick, Food and Family

Sunset on Fenwick Island, DE
Sunset at Fenwick Island the evening before I arrived–my brother Ron took this splendid photo

Stepping out onto the screened porch very early this morning, I gasped as my lungs sucked in the cloying atmosphere. Nevertheless, I closed the door to the air-conditioned house behind me and continued toward a chair. The moist carpet stuck to my bare feet when I crossed it and the freshly-applied lotion on my hands transformed to the tackiness of barely dried glue in the humid, sea air. I was a little surprised by the latter and kept pressing my fingers together and pulling them apart to make sure the sensation wasn’t a product of imagination.

 

View Outside the Beach house

For a full half hour, I sat listening to the gulls cackle like gentle lunatics while they swept across the sky above the rooftops in search of breakfast. A constant, soft breeze blew through the screens and into my hair in a way that made the heat seem non-existent, compelling me to linger. I watched white egrets take flight over the steel-gray water and the shifting sunlight turn shadowed marsh grass to gold. A fisherman’s small motor boat left a trail of white froth through the ripples in the water, but I heard no noise of his motor. Even traffic on the main road did nothing to disturb the peace, a kind of underscore to the hush, the muted sound resembling a distant river’s flow.

This was my morning as the sun rose over Fenwick Island in Delaware.

Fenwick Island Lighthouse
Fenwick Island Lighthouse which is only open from 9-noon, so if you want to see it, get up early (hint-hint)

I had already packed in preparation of returning home after a visit with both my brothers and sisters-in-law. In fact, we were all going home this day and the knowledge of that was bittersweet. The visit had been a short one, but family is family and when you’re together it often seems as if no time has passed since last you were in each other’s company. That means no barriers, no little courtesies, but an immediate dive right into the dynamics of the relationships that have always existed, representing at this time twenty-four boisterous, chest-beating, loving, tender, comical, occasionally frustrating but ever joyful hours. Oh, and there was a bit of sleep in there, too.

And food. We mustn’t forget that part of the gathering. Our half-baked plan of dinner out turned out to be an amazing experience. After discovering no place in the entirety of Fenwick Island existed at dinner time that was not packed to the gills, we ventured down the highway to Ocean City, Maryland, to a place that graciously accepted reservations. When we pulled up, the building resembled perhaps a family-style bar. The parking lot held some empty spaces. I thought: I’m starving, they probably serve passable dinners of some sort, and it’s already 8:00 p.m. I think we all had that idea.

Boy, were we wrong.Shark on the Harbor info from menu

The Shark on the Harbor’s menu changes daily, we were told. They print it up each day because their food is procured fresh from local suppliers. The farms from which they get their vegetables and fruit, their fish, their beef and pork, are named in the menu. That’s only the start. They had three chefs on duty and every dish is prepared with an eclectic mix of ingredients and sauces that, in a sane world, one might never think would go well together. But once you enter Shark on the Harbor, you are not in a sane world—you’ve moved beyond the world to epicurean heaven.

Vegan Entree.Shark on the Harbor
Vegan Entrée – Portobello mushrooms, summer squash, arugula, tomatoes, butternut squash puree and blueberry sauce – superb!

We lingered over our meals and our equally delicious desserts with each one of us having a completely different item and all of them fabulous. Glutted and happy we made our way back to the house afterward and to our beds, forgetting in our sweet food-torpor that tomorrow we would rise and go home. But every day you wake is one to be grateful for, every day spent with family is a blessing (sometimes in disguise, but not this time), and a good meal with people you love is without equal.

Saturday’s Adventure or, Apparently, All Roads Lead to Hell

Well, not hell, exactly. Unless hell is lush and green and sparsely populated…

Hell, in this instance, was not a location, but the Twilight Zone experience of my ride this morning to the Lehighton area. My fault, it was pointed out, for trusting the GPS. But the purpose of a GPS is navigation and so I permitted the instrument to dictate my travels. I paid good money for it. I ought to have a little trust in the system.

Yes. My fault.

I freely admit that now, although in the course of my travails—er, I mean my travels—I cursed that GPS with every name imaginable. But I should start at the beginning and proceed in proper order, the ways the roads would in a perfect world.

My writer’s group met at the home of one of its members today. I had a basic idea how to get there. The route was, in fact, rather direct, but I drove in the opposite direction to the grocery store to obtain a fruit platter and opted to use my GPS to find the way from that point. I took the “no toll” option. Made sense. The road I needed to travel didn’t have tolls. I figured this choice would put me on the right path.

Mistake. I recognized straight away that my car and I were not on the right path. However, I also knew generally where I was and with roads bordered by lovely scenery and in excellent shape, I saw no reason not to follow the whim of the female voice coming from the box on my dashboard.

Though meandering, I trusted (there’s that word again) I would get to my destination and enjoyed the ride. The little clock at the corner of the screen showed a thirty-nine minute ride. Right on schedule.

I passed through Alburtis, a perfectly picturesque little town not far from where I live, but which I’ve never had the opportunity to visit. I want to go back. I suppose this means trusting my GPS again. We’ll see. I won’t bore you with a blow-by-blow, but suffice it to say I eventually reached Route 309. Hoorah! All I needed to do was take a left and head north until I came to the next turn and then, seven or eight miles later, to my friend and fellow writer’s driveway.

My GPS had other ideas. Okay, I thought. A little exploration could be fun. Right?

Yeah. Loads.

It started out that way. I turned left and right on tree-lined lanes with charming names like Blue Mountain and Bake Oven. Then there was sudden misdirection which should have been an indication. I was told to bear left on a certain road which turned out to be a left hand turn so sharp it almost went backward. The second indication there could be a problem was the big yellow sign that read: Road Under Construction – Travel at Your Own Risk. Being addled by the lovely scenery, I assumed that to mean the road was being repaired and carried on. I drove slowly over a fifty-foot stretch of rough paving back onto smooth surface. Huh? Was that it? What a silly sign.

Suddenly, the condescending witch in my GPS told me to make another left. There wasn’t another left. There was a right and a straight. I chose the straight, and soon realized when the sign said the road was under construction that was exactly what it meant.

I backed up and promptly dropped the rear tire off the side of the road into a rain-washed gully. With a bit of earnest prayer I managed to get back on the road, turn around and head back out to the main highway. There had to be another road over the mountain, right? Not so fast, toots. Next was a dead end. I turned around and went back to the highway once more, forgoing the road under construction, as well as the next one which I knew (being smarter, I told myself, than a GPS) led to the same road under construction. I drove another mile to the prettily named Ashfield Road. Aha! Success. Clear sailing. Smooth pavement. I’d be over the mountain in no time.

No. It came out on the ravaged road as well. This time, though, the GPS was calling it Ashfield rather than Reservoir Road. Oddly, though, the actual street sign said Frank. I knew I was in the same place, however, because I had come upon an antique car parked catty-cornered to the meeting place of these two roads. The vehicle looked to be from the 1920’s, pristine condition, with a few yellow helium balloons affixed to it bobbing gently in the drops of rain. Did I not mention seeing that before? I certainly should have, because as soon as I saw it again—a beautiful piece of antique machinery a couple of miles from the nearest habitation—I began cursing so profusely and imaginatively at the #$%*&#* GPS that I forget the photo op altogether and decided, in my fury, to travel the Unconstructed Road. How bad could it be?

As I’ve said above, Apparently All Roads Lead to Hell. At least in this section of Lehighton.

It wasn’t, though. Not hell. Not really. Just an unpaved, sparsely graveled, pitted, gullied, collapsing stretch of trail awaiting blacktop at some distant future date. My GPS was telling me I had to stick with this mess for another four miles. Four miles that took me thirty minutes to traverse. Oops. Behind schedule now. Two huge SUV’s passed me coming the other direction. I had to stand my ground or drop off the side. They were better outfitted to ease around my own, smaller, ill-equipped-for-such-stupidity motor vehicle.  Being a sucker and not learning from my mistakes, I took their presence as a good sign as well. That was, until I saw the hiker with his walking stick and backpack. This was followed by a particularly huge rock in the road. I crawled past it with one thought: How did that get there? I looked up, then, and saw two spindly trees holding back a huge fall of boulders—and did I tell you torrential rain was coming? I began to swear again, but quickly took to laughing. (Can you say hysteria?) And all this time, I was driving up, up, up at a ridiculously steep angle.

Finally, the road leveled off. See picture at right—one of the only ones I took, daring to Road to Lehightonremove my hands from the steering wheel long enough to pull out my phone while stopped for a much needed respite from white knuckles and hyperventilation. Beautiful, yes? Green and lush and, well, you get it—anywhere else I would have broken out a picnic lunch.

The road was more evenly graveled here, almost wide enough for two cars. Piece of cake. Until I saw the fog ahead and remembered I now had to descend. I won’t give you all the details of the gullies, the positioning of my wheelbase in such a fashion that I could pass over the ruts, the hint of sunlight through the fog and trees to my right indicating a steep drop off… When I reached the bottom I breathed a sigh of relief. The dog chasing my car from a junkyard I could view as comical, the post office a sign of civilization—except for the lack of a town’s name across its brick front. Still, the road had become potholed blacktop. I had made it!

In short order, I reached another main road and took the left hand turn directed by my female non-companion and found myself a quarter mile from my destination. The GPS hadn’t misdirected me after all. She’d only displayed a really nasty sense of humor.

Visiting old friends

I grew up in Dover, Delaware, a town that has expanded to the point of confusion for someone like me, who no longer lives there and upon her return is easily confused by the spread of a once small community. Thank goodness I had Kim directing me.

Today, Kim and I had lunch at Grotto’s Pizza in Dover. Many years ago my first job beyond babysitting was at the Grotto’s in Rehoboth. The pizza is still the best and brings back its own memories. Once we had eaten, a drive around Dover was in order, visiting the site of our old high school, since torn down for the construction of the new (which we also stopped to see). Next was a pause at Dairy Queen for cones, followed by a trip to the middle school we both attended, and thence a ride along State Street to the Green, where people in period costumes had just finished some presentation we had missed. We watched from the car, though, as a group of dancers performed to an amazing drumbeat, whirling and chanting, and applauded them from the open windows when they had finished. The next stop was Old Christ Church.

Old Christ Church Dover DE
Old Christ Church, Dover DE

 

Old Christ Church in Dover is on the U.S. National Register of Historic Places. The church was originally built in 1734 and remodeled in the mid and late 1800’s. The center of Dover retains the constant of its 18th century heart. It’s like Williamsburg (another place I love) Church yardin miniature, but the buildings stand where they were originally erected, and have not been placed in historic illustration of the past, as a place of learning for tourists and students. But, like the design of Williamsburg, there is much to be discovered in and around Dover of our country’s beginnings. On the Green, I can sense history going back through the centuries and my connection is as strong as it ever was, first appreciated as long ago as the day Kim and I met, when I was in the second grade and she in the third.

Today it seemed I was not just visiting with my oldest friend, but that we were spending time with another. I have been experiencing a certain absence of roots in my life, but when I am in Dover I realize they still exist, quietly, stretching back through the years of my existence and beyond.

 

 

Strange, wonderful Spring

Weather-wise, this has been a strange and wonderful spring. Warm when it should have been cold, cold when it should have been warm. A threat of frost on May 15th. Some of my plants appear to love the topsy-turvy weather. closed peonies2My peonies have been delayed in opening, which is just as well. I would have hated seeing all their lovely blooms battered to the earth by the rain. Instead, they are still tightly embedded in green spheres in preparation of a bountiful unfurling (or am I just being hopeful?).

Right now, though, my garden seems to be full of blues and purples and greens.Img_9585

Full, I suppose, is an ambitious term. Let Img_9591me say only that the few flowers blooming right now fall into that category of color in some form or another. I have inserted a handful of photos in this blog which would certainly give the impression of the lovely blossoming of a well-kept Img_9581garden.

Img_9583What I’m keeping to myself is the abundance of weeds I still need to yank from the soil, the stones piled by the shop for extending the garden wall, the terrible state of the ongoing waterfall project. Img_9594

 

Sometimes I am overwhelmed by everything needing to be accomplished and by the idea that next year it will likely need to be accomplished again.

Yet when I walked outside in the moment prior to another onslaught of wind, rain and plummeting temperatures, I found delight in my delusion that all is progressing as it should be.

Sometimes my gardening follows very closely the course of my life…

Words – Interview with Ron Probst of IHR Studios

INTERVIEW WITH RON PROBST – IHR STUDIOS (October 31, 2015)

Robin: Happy Halloween! Today I am interviewing Ron Probst (who, by the way, Ron Probstis my brother, which makes this an extra-special interview). Ron, hi! I’m excited to be speaking with you about something you love so much.

Ron: Hi.

Robin: Ron is the owner/engineer/do-it-all guy for IHR Studios, his own recording studio. Tell me a little bit about how you started.

Ron: I am a self taught sound engineer. I interned for two years with a studio and a live sound company locally. In time, I started buying equipment for my own home studio. Up until the middle 1980’s the only way to learn audio engineering was on the job as an apprentice. Nowadays there are many four-year BS/BA Degrees in Audio Engineering.  Although many audio engineers do usually have a four-year undergraduate degree, I personally do not have one.

StudioRobin: Not having a degree hasn’t stopped you though. In many fields, especially artistic ones, it is not a degree that necessarily qualifies you, but an innate ability and a strong willingness to learn, hands-on.

Ron: That’s true. For example, in order to be an audio engineer, it is important to possess excellent hearing as well as first-rate ear training. A sound knowledge of music history is a must, and not necessarily something you would learn in school. Understanding style, structure, the changes over the years in both the manner of recording as well as the techniques is imperative. You must have the ability to work long hours and pay absolute attention to even the smallest details. It helps greatly to be a musician of sorts, preferably a musician that knows musical structure and notes. Not theory necessarily, but a grounded understanding of the basics.

Robin: You also need to be personable and a good communicator. As your sister, I may be biased, but I have noticed you possess both qualities. I think that is why musicians enjoy working with you so much. You relate to them and are able to get to the core of what they’re looking for out of your services and what is needed in order to produce the best sound based on the artist’s particular strengths.

Ron: Well, thanks. I have recorded a variety of music, and because of the wide-ranging styles I have had to adapt my approach. I have done both field recording and studio recording. Field recording is more challenging because of the lack of control of acoustics. Some projects become challenging because of talent level and some because of setting. Over the years, I’ve also had to become skilled at the ability to plan detailed events.

Robin: What is the most challenging project you have been involved in?

Ron:  That is difficult to answer. Each project has its own particular challenges. Old St. PaulHowever, I guess the most challenging from a recording standpoint was that of an Americana Group who performed in a two-hundred year old church that didn’t have electricity. We had to run our own in order to make the recording. The performance consisted not only of vocals, guitars, dobro, violin, an upright bass, and a one-hundred-year-old organ, but had a live audience of one hundred and fifteen people.

Robin: Wow. Daunting, but rewarding, I expect?

Ron: Very rewarding and I am truly grateful to have learned to work well under pressure.

Robin: Is there a particular project of which you are most proud?

Ron: Oh, I don’t think I can pick just one. I would say the projects I am most proud of are: Tony Lucca—Rendezvous With The Angels; Rebecca Grayson—Trouble The Water; Sally Jaye and Brian Wright—Old St. Paul’s Church; Ernie Halter—90’s Acoustic Throwback (Mastering); The Halstead Clan—both EP’s; Rick Cline—Must Be This Tall To Ride; and probably the various recordings I have done with a dear friend, Mike Harrington. Certain of these projects had many other involved parties who helped bring them to fruition, and I plan to tell more about these in detail during a future interview.

albumcovers

Robin: Fabulous plan. For now, though, how best would you describe yourself professionally and what you do?

Ron: I am a freelance sound/mastering engineer who works with artists locally or abroad.

Robin: How do you go about doing that?

Ron: I work many times from files sent over the Internet. I also record musicians at my house and at area studios. Due to time-constraints, most recording activities these days take place on the weekends or planned vacations (large project or scheduling conflicts). I charge by the hour or by the song, but I have also done projects solely for the enrichment of the art or as charity.

Robin:  Walk me through a day of recording. I know it depends on the project, but give me a ‘for instance’.

Studio.5Ron: First, I would set up the computer for the type of project I am undertaking. I use Pro Tools HD recording software and have the ability to record 16 tracks simultaneously. Within the program are many different types of “plug-ins” that simulate expensive pieces of equipment. I use these to help create the sound of the recordings during mixing or mastering. I use analog pre amps because they sound much better than digital. The tones are warmer.

If recording a group, I will set up all the microphones and pre amps, running microphone cables, securing them and setting up mic stands with microphones for each particular instrument. In addition, I run lines and lay out headphones, tap test microphones and check that the signal is coming through the headphones. From there when the group arrives I would get all the instruments set up and sound checked. Get the headphone mixes blended for each musician’s taste (what they want to hear in their headphones-priorities). Then title the song – set up Studio.6tempo (click track) and blend that into headphones. Make sure everyone can hear the talkback (that’s me communicating with the artists in their headphones). And start recording! An average day of recording is ten to fourteen hours.

Robin: What about mastering?

studio.4Ron: If mastering, I only work inside the computer. Mastering is taking finished mixes and turning them up to commercial standards and contouring the sound of each song (matching for continuity in volume and texture). The average day for mastering is about eight hours.

Robin: If you had to do over, related to career or education, would you do anything different?

Ron: Everything I have done in life has brought me to here, and I am truly blessed. I suppose I might have pursued an education, for sure, even if it had been a Mass Communications Degree (at the time) or Audio Engineering (post 1983). I would have loved to work in film. I also love theater. Being part of a Broadway production team would be awesome!

Robin: Don’t count yourself out of that yet! It’s matter of putting yourself in the right place at the right time. What advice would you give to someone interested in pursuing a career path in audio engineering?

Ron: Learn as much about the field you are entering as you can and understand the earning potential. Be willing to live with the financial reward of that particular job, as the music industry has changed greatly with the advent of digital technology. Intellectual property has taken a huge financial hit. The movie and gaming industries are following closely on its heels. The double-edged sword of the Digital Age and the internet has yet to be sorted out. My advice would be to pick a facet of audio engineering that has a guaranteed income stream along with a fulfilling job environment. You might want to record music for the art of it or take a chance on something as drastic as reinventing the electro acoustic transducer. J

Robin: Sound advice from a sound engineer.

Ron: I want to finish up by saying I am very thankful for all of those who haveRon Probst2 helped me along the way, most particularly:

James Little, who I interned with for “live” sound and studio recording. We have become the best of friends and I will always be grateful for his mentoring.

Rick Cline, for volunteering to be my very first project. His jazz recording “Must Be This Tall To Ride” is still one of my most treasured recordings.

Marc McManeus, who helped me greatly with the live Americana Church project featuring Sally Jaye and Brian Wright at Old St Paul’s Church in Conover, North Carolina. Without Marc that project would have never been possible.

And of course I would like to thank my adorable wife Linda. Without her devotion, love and support, none of this would have ever been possible.

Robin: And don’t forget her chocolate chip cookies! They’ve opened the door to many an opportunity. Thanks, Ron, for letting me interview you!

To find out more about IHR Studios and Ron’s work, visit below:

https://www.reverbnation.com/ihrstudios

Words – Interview with Author Kathy Kulig

Best Selling Author, Kathy Kulig
Best Selling Author, Kathy Kulig

Robin: Today I am interviewing best-selling author Kathy Kulig. Hi, Kathy, and welcome! I’m so glad to have you here.

Kathy: Hi Robin. Thanks so much for having me!

Robin: You write and are multi-published in erotic paranormal and contemporary romance. For those readers who don’t know, what makes a romance erotic as opposed to spicy?

Kathy: The level of heat in romance book varies and there is a gray area between erotic and spicy. Different authors and publishers may have different definitions. For me, erotic means no closed doors, no euphemisms, and the explicit emotional and physical interaction between the characters is all on the page. Erotic usually has more kink, more straightforward verbiage and more sex scenes. The premise in these stories tends to bring about a sexual relationship quickly between the characters. Most readers who read erotic books expect sex early and frequently. But the important thing is that erotic stories are not just a string of sex scenes with well detailed body parts and stage directions, they are well developed stories and fully developed characters. Sex should never be thrown in without it causing something to change in the story.

Robin: Very well stated, Kathy. I think people who are unfamiliar with the genre don’t realize this. Your stories run the gamut from futuristic steam punk to stories about demons and vampires to members of the CIA. Recently, however, you mentioned that your favorite storyline involved shape shifters. Do you want to talk a little about why?

Kathy: I guess you can say I’m a gypsy writer. I do write in a lot of different genres because I enjoy reading in them too. But I do love shifters and have written a number of them. A couple are out of print right now, but I plan to re-release them with a new series and new books. My other shapeshifter series is my Demons in Exile series. The shifters are based on a Norwegian myth where a person can don any animal skin and change into that animal for a time. There are four books (one short story prequel) in this series.

Robin: You’ve written a series involving political intrigue and a group of operatives who work within the political sphere to protect individuals and the country. How do you research that topic?Kulig.RedTape

Kathy: Red Tape, book 1 in my FLC Case Files series took a lot of time to research. It takes place partly in the White House and I had to get an idea on the layout and then embellish it with a dungeon, secret passages and rooms. I also researched military weapons, foreign governments, CIA, Secret Service and many other things. I managed to contact someone who is retired from the Navy and now works as a merchant marine.

Robin: A lot of work! How does the erotic nature of the tale fit into this type of story?

Kathy: Ha! That’s the fun part. In the story, the First Lady’s Club is a secret organization run by the First Lady that uses blackmail, coercion and undercover sex scandals to manipulate foreign and domestic policies and take down some really bad guys.

Robin: You’re quite accomplished as an author, with a number of novels and novellas under your belt. When can we expect your next book?

Kulig.HisLostMateKathy: Thank you, you’re a doll for saying so. I still have much to learn. I just released His Lost Mate—a paranormal romance—a couple of weeks ago and I plan to release Red Tape Protector, book 2 in my FLC Case File series. It will be out around mid-August.

Robin: You have been published by Ellora’s Cave and also self-published, including anthologies with other authors of erotica. How did these collaborations come about?

Kathy: I was really fortunate to get in on the Spice Box collection last year. That was my first step into self-publishing. Talking with other authors online and at conferences, letting them know I was interested in taking part in a box set helped that opportunity come about. AC James was organizing it and she asked me. An opening came up last minute and I had a book ready so I jumped on the invite. There were sixteen authors in this collection and many were heavy hitters in the romance genre. Their huge mailing lists and fan bases and everyone’s hard work during the release pushed the sales where we hit the New York Times and USA Today lists. I’m in a couple author groups now and we’re working on new collaborative projects into next year. I really like working on these projects. Collaborative groups are like mastermind groups. Authors pool their knowledge, experience and enthusiasm. I’ve learned so much from these groups.

Robin: It seems that erotica is the underlying theme in all your stories, binding them together (excuse the pun) despite the varied settings and characters. Does having such a common theme make it easier for you to find inspiration for your tales, or more difficult to fit the theme into the setting?

Kathy: Some of my stories are hotter than others. My BDSM stories are probably the hottest and they’re pretty tame compared to some BDSM books I’ve read. All my books are very sexy, but they also have a detailed plot. Most have an adventure-type storyline and characters going through a major turning point in their lives. Those are the type of sexy stories I like to read and write. If I were to find a common theme in my books I’d say: The world may be coming to an end, but love will always find a way.

Robin: I love that! Great theme. You have been the interviewee in a number of interviews, eliciting reactions that are occasionally less than positive, almost personal in nature. How have you learned to handle such negativity?

Kathy: With a good sense of humor. Most erotic romance authors get the questions: Are your books autobiographical or have you done all the kinky sex in your books? Usually I answer with: Stephen King writes about serial killers. Would you ask him if he’s killed people to research his books?

Robin: You were also co-author on a non-fiction work, Write to Success, which is described as (taken from your website): Eight New York Times and USA Today bestselling authors share how to build a successful writing career. Write to Success covers all those frequently asked questions every new indie author wonders about self-publishing and has strategies for the advanced self-publisher. How did this come about? Can you tell me a little bit more about the book?Kulig.WritetoSuccess

Kathy: After the Spice Box set hit high on the NYT and USA Today lists, authors and new writers were asking us how we did it. So a number of the authors decided to get together and pool our expertise. This book gives a ton of information with lots of links to references. That reference/resource links page is worth the price of the book alone. We talk about the steps we took to make Spice Box a success. What we did right and not so right. The legal issues authors need to be aware of, as well as how to distribute royalties, cover, formatting, editing, coordinating, promotion, etc. There are also sections that are helpful to newer writers and those not pursuing self-publishing. I think it’s a very valuable reference book.

Robin: And, as I ask everyone, what are your plans for the future?

Kathy: I have a number of projects I’m working on now. I want to finish the FLC Case Files series and finish a four-book shapeshifter series. (Two of the four books are completed.) And I’m working on three box sets that will come out in the next year. Mainly keep writing and learning. I have met the most amazing people through my writing career—writers and readers—and many are my closest friends now.

Robin: Thank you so much for allowing me to interview you. It’s been informative and I look forward to speaking with you again!

Words – Interview with Author Karen Katchur

Karen Katchur
Karen Katchur

Robin: Today I am interviewing author Karen Katchur. Welcome, Karen. Nice to have you with me.

Karen: Hi Robin! Thanks for having me!

Robin: Your debut novel, The Secrets of Lake Road, is due out on August 4th from Thomas Dunne Books/St. Martin’s Press. Congratulations! I can’t wait to read it. How did it feel when you got the call from your agent that it had sold?

Karen: I was super happy, of course! I waited a long time for that phone call, and all the hard work I’d put in had finally paid off.

Robin: Would you mind sharing with me the process by which you found an agent? And a bit of the process from pitch to representation to publication?

Karen: It took me eight years to sign with an agent. There were many, many rejections along the way, but I kept writing and working on craft. Eventually, I started getting rejections with constructive feedback on my fourth novel. The best thing I did was to listen to that feedback. I worked on revisions for six months, and the day I was ready to query again I happened to get a copy of Writer’s Digest Magazine in the mail. Carly Watters was the featured agent in the Agent Spotlight. She had been on my radar for some time, so I queried her right away. From there, it happened quickly. She requested a partial and then the full manuscript. We talked on the phone, and I signed with her a few days later.

While Carly was busy pitching my novel, I was busy writing my next one. Somewhere in the process and after several rounds of revisions, I fell out of love with it. I couldn’t work on it anymore. We talked about it, and agreed it was time I put the second novel aside. Meanwhile, the first novel wasn’t selling (although we’re still hopeful). Again, we talked and decided to put the first novel aside, too. I didn’t let it deter me. I started writing my third novel, which happened to be, THE SECRETS OF LAKE ROAD. When it was completed, Carly pitched SECRETS. We had an offer within a week or two.

So it took me eight years to sign with an agent, and another two years to get an offer from a publishing house, a total of ten years to publication.

Robin: Tell me about the story. And by the way, I LOVE the cover.

Karen: Thank you! I love the cover too, although I had nothing to do it. It was all SecretsLakeRoadthe design team at Thomas Dunne Books/St. Martin’s Press. They did a fantastic job.

The story is a suspenseful women’s fiction about the destructive power of secrets. Below is the summary found in the inside jacket copy.

Jo has been hiding the truth about her role in her high school boyfriend’s drowning for sixteen years. Every summer, she drops her children off with her mother at the lakeside community where she spent summers growing up, but cannot bear to stay herself; everything about the lake reminds her of the guilt she feels. For her daughter Caroline, however, the lake is a precious world apart; its familiarity and sameness comforts her every year despite the changes in her life outside its bounds. At twelve years old and caught between childhood and adolescence, she longs to win her mother’s love and doesn’t understand why Jo keeps running away. Then seven-year-old Sara Starr goes missing from the community beach. Rescue workers fail to uncover any sign of her—but instead dredge up the bones Jo hoped would never be discovered, shattering the quiet lakeside community’s tranquility. Caroline was one of the last people to see Sara alive on the beach, and feels responsible for her disappearance. She takes it upon herself to figure out what happened to the little girl. As Caroline searches for Sara, she uncovers the secrets her mother has been hiding, unraveling the very foundation of everything she knows about herself and her family in this riveting novel that is impossible to put down and hard to forget.

asters_and_bluesRobin: You like to set your tales in the Pocono area. What is the reason for that? How and why does the area inspire you?

Karen: I grew up in the Poconos area with its lakes and rivers, streams and trails, and winding mountain roads. It’s got this great mix of beauty and danger, and it really makes for the perfect setting for the kinds of stories I want to tell, part women’s fiction and part mystery/suspense.

Robin: Are you working on your next book? What type of routine do you set yourself for writing?

Karen: I am busy writing the next book. When I’m writing the first draft, I have a 1000 word count a day, Monday through Friday, so 5000 words a week. I take the weekends off from writing to spend time with my family and to let things percolate. I find I need time away to think about the story and characters, or as I refer to it, recovery time. I get my best ideas away from the computer. I keep a notebook handy for each novel, so I can jot down the things I think of while I’m not at my computer.

Once the first draft is written, I take as long as I need to work on revisions, which is usually several more months where I do a lot of re-writing.

Robin: I know we’ve talked about other storylines you’ve come up with, and they’re always quite beyond the ordinary. Where do you get your ideas?

eveningalongthehosensack2TKaren: I tend to build my fiction around an event. The event can be of a personal nature or it can be from something I’ve read or heard about in the news or wherever. For SECRETS, it just happened to be from a personal experience. When I was nine or ten years old, a young teenage boy had drowned. I’d watched them drag the lake for several days until they’d finally pulled his body onto the beach. It was the first dead body I ever saw, and the tragedy of that day had stayed with me. The fear and helplessness I’d felt during that time was what I attempted to capture in Caroline’s character.

Robin: What do you plan or hope to write in the future?

Karen: I love writing what I do which has been called suspenseful women’s fiction, so I hope to keep on doing just that.

Robin: You have several book signings scheduled for the near future. Where and when?

Karen: Yes! Thank you for asking.

Book Launch on August 4th at 6 pm at Moravian Book Shop, Bethlehem, PA

August 6th at 7pm at Open Books Bookstore Elkins Park, PA

August 13th at 6pm at Let’s Play Books! Emmaus, PA.

Robin: I will definitely see you there. I want you to sign my copy of The Secrets of Lake Road! Thank you so much for allowing me to interview you. Perhaps when you have a publication date for your next book we can get back together to talk about that one, too.

Karen: Of course! Thank you so much for having me, Robin! It was fun!

Words – Interview with Author Casey Hagen

Shadow Lake, the inspiration for Casey Hagen's latest work.
Shadow Lake, the inspiration for Casey Hagen’s latest work.

Robin:  Today, I have the pleasure of interviewing author Casey Hagen.  Hi, Casey! Nice to have you here.

Casey: Hi Robin! Thank you for having me here. I’m excited. This is officially my first interview!

Robin:  You are, I believe, as yet unpublished, but you write contemporary romance with a bit of suspense.  When did the writing bug first hit you?

Casey: I had a phenomenal English teacher who turned me on to banned books. I read Lolita and we had a one-on-one book discussion. I told him I was horrified by Humbert’s obsessive love for Dolores. He asked me, “Are you truly horrified by that or horrified that you feel for him despite who and what he ultimately is?” And he was right. I felt for Humbert despite the fact that what he was doing was so wrong. I hated reading. My teacher shifted my direction entirely. I earned my BA in English Literature and made up for all the reading I hadn’t done in high school.

Casey Hagen and her best friend
Casey Hagen and her best friend

When I graduated that teacher told me I should write a book of my own. He knew I liked edgy, controversial, and gritty and believed firmly that I should stick with what I love. I started plotting books with my best friend who was, and has always been an avid romance reader. We would record ourselves coming up with character ideas and scenes. Those cassette tapes lay buried in my closet for at least fifteen years before I dusted them off, struggled to find a cassette player to play them on, and listened to them again. At the time, I had never even read a romance novel, although when my former mother-in-law gave me Debbie Macomber’s This Matter of Marriage, I devoured it and became an avid romance reader ever since.

Robin:  What type of setting do you give most of your stories? Exotic? Small town? Big city?  Based on the name of the novel you mentioned to me, Sunset at Lake Crane, the story takes place at or near a lake. Do you have a specific affinity? Is the location based on somewhere familiar and/or important to you?

Casey: Sunset at Lake Crane is the first of three books I have planned for The Livingston Valley series. Just recently I decided to add a novella to the series that will come out last. It’s a small town setting and the hero lives on Lake Crane. Lake Crane is similar to a lake I loved to visit during my teen years. Every time I wrote, I pictured Shadow Lake in Glover, VT. Last summer, our family all met in Lake Ann, Michigan and that Lake Ann was a close second to Shadow Lake so it also served as inspiration.

Shadow Lake - pretty inspiring, huh?
Shadow Lake – pretty inspiring, huh?

Small towns come naturally to me. I grew up in small towns. I spent most of my time in Walden, Vermont going to one room school houses. Like Little House on the Prairie. Don’t laugh…I’m completely serious! Although, my settings aren’t quite that small, they are similar in size to the town where I attended high school. St. Johnsbury, Vermont has a population around 8000 so I like to stick to that size. It gives me a good frame of reference.

Casey's cover for her novella, Falling in Fiji
Casey’s cover for her novella, Falling in Fiji

I do have a completed novella I plan to release this fall also. It takes place both in a big city and an exotic location. The characters live in San Francisco, but end up taking a trip to Fiji together. That one required a ton of research since I based it on real places. Places I’ve never been to in real life to boot!

Robin:  Where does the suspense aspect come in?

Casey: In Sunset at Lake Crane, my heroine, Erynn is given an assignment to do an in depth interview on a wildly popular, mysterious writer. He writes under a pen name and no one has ever been able to find out a single detail about him. When she comes face to face with him she’s shocked to discover it’s none other than the man she walked away from eight years earlier…

She left, to protect him. Now that she’s forced to return, little clues crop up that lead her to believe whoever blackmailed her is still there and watching. The question is…who is it?

Robin: Where do you find your inspiration for your writing?

Casey: My friend and I used to talk about unlikely couples and how it would be possible to make those relationships work. In this case, I wanted to write a student/teacher romance that didn’t take the safe route of a college student and teacher.  I dance close to the taboo line without really crossing over it. Everything is perfectly legal, between two consenting adults. The issue is, they can’t prove that their relationship developed after graduation so that’s why she takes off.  She doesn’t want to risk his career.

Robin:  You shared with me the news you are pitching to an editor and to an agent at RWA in New York City this July.  How much time have you spent in front of a mirror honing your pitch? Are you nervous at all?

Casey: Ummmm, none. *Casey hangs her head in shame* I quite literally have not written my pitch, logline, synopsis…anything. I need to, but I’ve been so wrapped up in this book and getting it to my editor that everything else has been on the back burner. I’ve also encountered some personal challenges so it looks like the month of July will be for my pitch, *cough* impending panic, and tearing my hair out.  Am I nervous? Actually no. These pitching appointments are more for my practice and experience than about end results.

Robin:  I know you have a plan to self-publish if you are unable to find a home with a traditional or indie publisher.  What timeframe did you give yourself for that decision? What do you feel are the pros and cons of traditional and self-pub?

Casey: You know how to hit with the hard questions! With each passing day, I solidify my decision to self-publish. This is my story, and I plan to do it my way.

Casey's gorgeous cover for Sunset at Lake Crane
Casey’s gorgeous cover for Sunset at Lake Crane

As for a timeline, I want this book and stand-alone novella out by this fall. My goal is to have the rough draft of book two finished by the time I release book one so I can keep the momentum going.

Robin: I recently interviewed a singer/songwriter and asked him about his routine for creating, and he told me he often will write while doing household tasks, such as laundry.  I know I perform a lot of the mental creative process in my car, and then spend the evenings hunkered over my keyboard. How much time do you devote each day to your craft? Do you have a space set up for the sole purpose of writing, or do you type away with your laptop on the kitchen counter while you cook the evening meal?

Casey: First, I’m better at writing in the morning. Early morning. Before my kids can fill my head with a million different things they need me to do for them. I have to write with the TV on. I don’t watch it, but I hear the noise and that works for me. From 6am to 7am I listen to music on my computer as I get going. By 7am…I’m writing and listening to Parking Wars on A&E. At 8am I put it on Hallmark and listen to The Golden Girls. I know, I need help. After that it’s a series of court TV and Dr. Phil playing in the background.

Robin: Lol!

Casey: Those are my best days for writing. Of course, like most writers, I have to earn money too, so I own and operate my own residential cleaning business.  My husband has taken over dinner duties so I work right up until dinner and then after dinner, we all settle in the living room to watch our favorite shows together. I bring my laptop with me and keep it in my lap until we go to bed at night. It’s working for me for right now, but I’m getting my own office.

Ideas strike while I’m cleaning at customer’s houses, particularly during vacuuming. I don’t know what it is about vacuuming, but it’s very zen for me. I carry a small, leather bound notebook in my purse at all times. In one day I came up with three short story ideas and plotted them out, all during vacuuming.

Robin:  Are you currently working on another novel?

Casey: I am. I’m working on Nightfall at Hunter’s Ridge, which is the second story in The Livingston Valley series. In the first book, Erynn’s best friend Kat makes several appearances. Kyle, her love interest in the book is also in book one as sort of a surrogate brother to Erynn. Kyle has had a thing for Kat for quite some time, but she can’t stand him. He’s a cop and she hates cops.

Robin: When you picture the future of your writing career, what do you see?

Casey: I’m easy to please. My financial goal is to replace my cleaning income with writing income. I don’t clean that much so it really shouldn’t be too difficult after a few years. My husband views me as his retirement plan. I don’t like to get my hopes up to high so I’m not disappointed. He thinks I’m going to take off with this, he’s supportive like that!

I want to increase my output. I want to be able to put out four books a year. I don’t want to sacrifice quality to do it. If I can make that happen, I’ll be happy. I need to write. That’s what it all comes down to. If I can make some great friends, earn some fans, and continue to learn and grow, I’ll have achieved all of my goals.

Robin:  Well, thank you, Casey, for taking the time to speak with me.  Good luck at RWA. Let me know how everything works out!

Casey: Thank you so much for interviewing me! And for the well wishes at RWA…I’m going to need all the good mojo I can get since I’m working on my pitch, logline, and synopsis at the eleventh hour!

Peony Perfection

whitepeony

I’m a little behind in my blogging, but I thought I would share these two photos of lovely white blooms I brought indoors a couple of weeks back. Alas, the bountiful rain and hot, humid days have all but eliminated my peonies outdoors.

I didn't have a short vase, so I put the peonies in this glass canister and loved the effect.

Those flowers I placed in a green glass container (as I had no vase available) were fairly ant-free and smelled heavenly, even after they had drooped and started losing their petals. I still have the unopened buds in a small vase for the scent alone. When fresh, they looked like the perfect bridal bouquet.

Friday Morning Visitors

Lizzie in her favorite spot for sleeping.
Lizzie in her favorite spot for sleeping.

The only pets I have at this point in time are cats. Five of them. And true to cat behavior, they occasionally wreak havoc in some fashion. Well, more than occasionally…and always in the wee hours of the morning, when I have important things I need to attend to…like sleep. Subsequent to this nocturnal kitty behavior, I spend my mornings bleary-eyed and catering to their needs before my own (well-trained human that I am), after which most—if not all—of my five cats promptly curl up somewhere and go to sleep.

A disconcerted Ziggy.
A disconcerted Ziggy.

Not so much this morning. The sated-with-food-time-to-ignore-you phase of their morning was interrupted by the sound of what I misinterpreted as little feet running across the roof. Up they jumped from their various degrees of slumber and began racing from window sill to window sill in search of the culprits.

Squirrels, I thought. I even went so far as to open the front door and yell, figuring any animal with half a brain would take flight at the sound of my voice. Sure, like my cats do (not). Apparently, I angered the squirrels and they began to stomp across what I had been assured seven years ago at installation were the very durable shingles of my new roof. I began to worry their aging durability was being put to the test, and went outside to shout again, until it occurred to me I was voicing my displeasure at a possibly bigger animal.

Dale, undisturbed.
Dale, undisturbed.
Bella ("Uh-oh, what the heck is THAT?")
Bella (“Uh-oh, what the heck is THAT?”)

I ducked back inside. The hunter instinct of my kitties (except the deaf one, who slept on undisturbed by the ruckus) shot to the fore, and they began an anxious chase from one side of the house to the other. By this time, I could hear the distinct noise of claws and what seemed to be the dancing of bears to and fro. The bears even went so far as to tumble against the metal chimney pipe, which reverberated through the house like a bell.

Stevie - the usual troublemaker.
Stevie – the usual troublemaker.

What the hey?

The beginning of the venue.
The beginning of the venue.

At this point, a dark shadow glided past the window. A very large, very dark shadow. When another swept past, I hurried in the direction it seemed to have gone and through the window spotted a vulture landing in the dead pine tree beside the driveway. He was not unaccompanied. A couple of his buddies had preceded him. They seemed quite content hanging out among the barren branches and, in the meantime, the bear party continued unabated on the rooftop.

Wait a minute. Wait a stinking minute.

I decided the time had come for a full-blown investigation. For one thing, I needed the cats to return to their somnolent state, since they’d worked themselves into such a frenzy I feared extreme havoc was in the offing. For another, I had a sneaking suspicion my visitors weren’t bears, after all.

The Committee of Vultures (you can't see most of them)
The Committee of Vultures (you can’t see most of them)

Marching outside, I found to my astonishment no less than fifteen—fifteen!—vultures cavorting across the roof of the house and the garage. Not sunning themselves as vultures sometimes do, but roughhousing like a bunch of—well, a bunch of cats. Needing proof, I started taking photos with my phone. Needing my head examined, I talked to them as well, addressing the venue as if they were, indeed, just a feathery brood of kittens. Apparently they liked it. One of the vultures on the garage roof came to the edge and cocked his head from side to side in great interest as I regaled him with a rambling monologue about his cuteness (yes, I did call him cute—did I mention I was bleary-eyed and addled thanks to the nighttime antics of my cats?)

He seemed to like what I was saying...but who knows?
He seemed to like what I was saying…but who knows?

Dismissing what one might consider the creepiness of more than a dozen carrion eaters arrayed across my domicile, I reveled instead in the never-ceasing wonder that is Nature. Even so, as I climbed into my car and pulled away from the committee hanging out on the roof, I did a quick check of my pulse. Just in case.

~Robin