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Thursday, January 31st, 2008
Character Traits of a Writer

Thirteen Writer Traits

This week fellow author Christine d’Abo mentioned The Writer’s Guide to Character Traits by Linda N. Edelstein. It contains all sorts of neat information and inspired by Christine’s post, I dragged it out of my bookcase.

In her book the author mentions traits of writers. Here are some of them:

1. Creates in order to heal old wounds in themselves.

2. Creative thinkers.

3. Sensitive.

4. Often drink alcohol, especially after forty.

5. Depression in younger writers.

6. Problems with anxiety and drug use.

7. Has to tolerate aloneness.

8. Has to let go of work.

9. Families with mental illness and creativity.

10. Higher rates of bisexuality or homosexuality. (there’s a note about a study done for this one)

11. Abstract thinkers.

12. Fear mediocrity.

13. Disregard routine problems.

As a writer I plain disagree with some of these, although it’s good to know I don’t need to feel guilty about drinking wine anymore. I think writers are articulate, imaginative, driven, fear rejection, respond well to chocolate, have great imaginations, are determined, hardworking, good procrastinators (at times) and can suffer from bottom spread.

I’m sure I’ve missed quite a few. What qualities do you think writers have?

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Tuesday, January 29th, 2008
Building a Villain

Playing to Win, the very first book I wrote is a romantic suspense. I’ve written many different genres since then, but one thing remains true. I love to add a suspense element and if I can sprinkle the odd body or two between the pages, so much the better.

Although a villain is essentially a secondary character in a romance, he or she needs just as much work during the creation process as the hero and heroine. There’s a trick or two I’ve learned to make a credible villain. I thought I’d share:

1. A villain doesn’t have to be really evil and horrid. The villain in a romance might be an old girlfriend, a brother or sister, a mother-in-law or the man living next-door. They can be a meddling friend who is trying to match make. You don’t need a high body count to make a villain. Villainy comes in many forms such as the ex-girlfriend intent on regaining the hero’s interest.

2. When you’re thinking about your villain, give him good points as well as bad ones. Make him three dimensional. If he’s a well-rounded character then he’s actually scarier because we, the reader, come to like him or we might see part of our own character in his makeup and empathize.

3. Think about having your villain mirror your hero or heroine actions. Give them a similar conflict but have them behave in a different way to solve the conflict.

4. Give your villains a good reason for behaving in the manner they are—in other words, good motivation for their actions.

5. Make use of the setting to enhance the villain i.e. cold or stormy weather or late at night. Every bit counts!

6. Take as much care when choosing your villain’s name as you do when picking a name for your hero and heroine. A good name can help make a villain.

How do you like your villains? Subtle or in-your-face? Who is your favorite villain in fiction? Are there any characteristics you like to see in a villain?

Thursday, January 24th, 2008
2008: The Year of the Potato

Thirteen Things about Potatoes

Last weekend when I visited the Botanic Gardens I discovered 2008 is the year of the potato. You learn something every day. :grin: So, in honor of the humble potato:

1. Potatoes were first “domesticated” or cultivated in the Andes thousands of years ago. They had hundreds of varieties including a frost-resistant one.

2. The potato derived its name from the American Indian word “Batata”. It was introduced to Europeans by Spanish conquerors in the late 16th Century.

3. Potatoes were not initially accepted in Europe. Some people thought they caused disease.

4. In 1845 and 1846 the potato crop in Ireland was devastated by fungus. The potato had become a major food to the Irish causing the “Irish Potato Famine” which caused many Irish to immigrate. The population of Ireland decreased by nearly two million between 1847 and 1851.

5. The potato is the second most popular food in America, beaten only by milk products.

6. The average American eats over 120 pounds of potato a year.

7. One Medium Potato (150 grams or about 1/3 pound) contains 110 Calories, 3 grams of protein, 23 grams of carbohydrate, 0 grams of fat, 2710 mg of fibre, 10 mg of sodium and 750 mg of potassium.

8. A potato contains 80% water.

9. Potatoes are related to the tobacco and tomato families.

10. Antoine-Auguste Parmentier was a 18th century agronomist who convinced the common French people to accept the potato as a safe food. (They thought it caused leprosy.) He used reverse psychology by posting guards around potato fields during the day to prevent people from stealing them. He left them unguarded at night. So, every night, the thieves would sneak into the fields to steal potatoes.

11. Mr. Potato Head was born in 1952 and was also the first toy to be advertised on television.

12. Instant mashed potatoes (dehydrated potatoes) were introduced commercially in 1955.

13. Marie Antoinette wife of Louis XV was known to wear potato blossoms as a hair decoration.

And a final one – my favorite way to eat a potato is baked in its jacket, served with Greek yogurt and ground black pepper. Hey, I’m on a cutback so I will fit my clothes for Nationals, otherwise I might have said sour cream and butter!! What is your favorite way to eat potatoes?

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Tuesday, January 22nd, 2008
A Potager Garden

When we first moved to our current house the section was bare, and the soil consisted mostly of clay. After throwing around some ideas we decided to design a potager garden.

A potager is French and it’s a raised bed garden, normally for vegetables and herbs. Hubby built three box squares out of timber and filled them with good quality soil. We made a decorative path between them so it’s easy to plant, water and harvest and not long ago, Mr. Munro planted a hedge of shelter trees because it seems to be windy where we live.

Mr. Munro spends hours out in the garden and periodically, I have to go out an inspect his latest improvements and crops. This year we’ve had fresh potatoes, lettuce, zucchini, red onions, leeks, green beans, basil, radishes, beetroot and the tomatoes are starting to ripen. It’s so handy just wandering out to the garden to pick whatever vegetables we’ve decided to have for dinner.

Here are some photos of Mr. Munro’s garden:

Mr. Munro's garden

Mr. Munro's garden

Mr. Munro's garden

I have to confess I’m a bit tired of zucchini but I’m really enjoying the green beans and can’t wait for the tomatoes to ripen so I can make fresh tomato sauce to have with pasta. Do you grow your own vegetables? What do you grow? And if you don’t have a garden, what is your favorite vegetable to eat?

Monday, January 21st, 2008
Dinosaur of the Insect World

The weta – it’s a large and primitive insect, native to New Zealand. The reason I chose to write about wetas today is so more people know what they are. When I used a weta reference in my book Talking Dogs, Aliens and Purple People Eaters my editor didn’t know what I was talking about and I had to rewrite slightly to describe a weta as a prehistoric cricket-like insect.

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There are five broad groups of weta:

1. Tree weta
2. Ground weta
3. Cave weta
4. Giant weta
5. Tusked weta

Wetas are nocturnal and live in a variety of habitats including grassland, scrub land, forests and caves. They live under stones and in rotten logs or in pre-formed burrows in trees.

They are mainly herbivores in the wild but are known to eat other insects. They can bite but are not poisonous. Species of weta are still being discovered and several are endangered. In the wild they were traditionally eaten by the tuatara (a prehistoric reptile native to NZ) but these days many are destroyed by rats, cats and dogs and of course, humans encroaching on their habitat.

The weta sheds its exoskeleton when moulting.

At 18 months the male weta selects a female and they spend time together in the male’s territory. (Romance in the insect world!)

At around two years old the female will lay 100 – 300 eggs. The parents die before the weta eggs hatch 3 – 5 months later.

The Department of Conservation in New Zealand is currently involved in weta breeding programs and translocation to safe sites such as protected islands like Tiritiri Matangi and Little Barrier Island in the Hauraki Gulf. The weta respond well to a captive breeding program.

The following photo is of a giant weta.

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I’ve never seen a giant weta but have personal experience with both tree and cave wetas. We often find tree wetas in our garden and will return them to live in peace. They can nip and look creepy but I don’t mind them. My experience with cave wetas is a bit more spooky. When I was a kid my girlfriend lived on a farm with limestone caves. It was a favorite pastime to visit the caves and wander through them with a candle and maybe a torch to search for stalactites, stalagmites and glow worms. When I think about our cave visits now I can see how dangerous it was but for us it was an adventure – an hour or two of wandering through pristine caves. One day we discovered a new tunnel and were all set to charge into it to explore. I happened to shine the torch over the ceiling and it was covered with huge cave wetas! Really covered. I think I let out a screech and dropped the torch and we all decided to explore another part of the cave. I also took to checking my gumboots carefully and shaking vigorously before I put my feet in them. This lasted for a few weeks until the initial horror passed. I’ve never been bitten by a weta but I’m always careful not to get too close either. I can appreciate them from a distance.

How are you with insects? Do you like them or hate them with a passion? Do you have any insect stories to tell? What do you think of New Zealand’s weta?

Sunday, December 23rd, 2007
A Surplus of Bananas

Banana Cake There’s a surplus of bananas in our house this week since Mr. Munro brought quite a few hands home last week. I love bananas but for me they have to be on the green side in order for maximum enjoyment.

Once they ripen, in my opinion, the only thing they’re good for is cooking – either banana cake or banana muffins. I made banana muffins the other night and they were delicious.

Tomorrow, I’m going to make my favorite banana cake.

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Monday, November 5th, 2007
Auckland: City of Sails

I’ve been tagged by both Rhian and Wylie to do this meme about my hometown of Auckland.

Best place to eat:

This is such a hard question since my favorite place to eat depends on my mood and my wallet. Hubby and I both enjoy the Belgium Beer Cafe at Mission Bay. It overlooks Mission Beach and is beautiful during the summer when the pohutukawa trees are in full bloom. They specialize in huge pots of mussels done in various ways, which hubby loves. I usually go for the vegetarian option. We both love their beer. My favorite is the raspberry beer – the Framboise.

Best Shopping Mall

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I love to shop at Botany Town Center in all weathers, although they don’t have a decent book shop. Actually that’s probably a good thing. Hubby and I buy our groceries here and usually have a coffee and people watch first. It’s quieter when it rains because it’s not all under cover but a little water never worries me. They have an English style pub here along with my favorite clothes store.

Famous Landmark

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For me it would have to be Rangitoto Island. The perfect cone of the dormant volcano is visible from most parts of Auckland. It’s the youngest in Auckland’s field of volcanoes. A ferry trip to the island and climbing to the top to eat a picnic lunch is a fun day trip and a good way to tire out the kids.

Best Tourist Attraction

We have a lot of rain in Auckland so how about the Auckland Museum for a rainy day. Soak up the maori culture, check out the carvings and artwork, the sculpture.

Place for Kids

Kelly Tarlton’s Antarctic and Underwater World. It’s fun for big kids as well. Check out the sharks and huge stingrays along with the Antarctic Encounter.

Popular Outdoor Activity

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It’s got to be the beaches – from the Auckland harbor to the wild West Coast beaches. Take a ferry ride out on the harbor, go yachting or take an afternoon coffee cruise, visit the outer islands or go for a swim. Try surfing. Go fishing. If you’re into water sports we’ve got it all.

Breathtaking Views

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For anyone wanting a view of Auckland and the harbor I’d send them to the top of Mount Eden. From here you can see most of the harbor and outlying gulf as well as the other dormant volcanoes and the city. Best of all it’s free.

Only Found in Auckland

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The Auckland Sky Tower. Climb to the top in a super fast lift for the views and bungee back down. The tower is also in the photo above.

I’m meant to pick others and tag them now. I choose Christina and Gabriele.

Wednesday, October 24th, 2007
A Military Man

Thursday Thirteen

Thirteen Military Reads

I hadn’t read a military romance for ages but the other day I just had the urge to pull one from my to-read pile. I’m also going through a Western themed splurge so I’m definitely thinking alpha male! Here are some of my favorite reads with military heroes.

1. Cullen’s Bride by Fiona Brand – a Silhouette Intimate Moment by a New Zealand writer.

2. Forget Me Not by Marliss Melton. This is the book I pulled out of my to-read pile. It’s the writer’s first book. Wow! I enjoyed it so much I’ve ordered the rest of her backlist.

3. On Danger’s Edge by Lise Fuller. This book won a RT Reviewer’s choice award.

4. Suzanne Brockmann – It’s hard to choose from Suzanne’s books. One of my all-time favorites is Letters to Kelly. It made me cry.

5. Lora Leigh – I’m a real fan of Lora’s so I’m adding her Navy Seal series to my list. The first book is Dangerous Games. Actually Amazon says this is book 2 so I’m slightly confused.

6. Kiss and Tell by Cherry Adair. I read this book ages ago and have been a Cherry Adair fan ever since.

7. Seven Days to Forever by Ingrid Weaver – another Silhouette Intimate Moment

8. Catherine Mann with her Wingman Warriors. Anything, Anywhere, Anytime is one of her books.

9. Denise Agnew writes great military heroes. Try Primordial.

10. Eye of the Storm by Maura Seger. This is set during the second world war and came out in 1985. I must reread it to see if it’s as good as I remember. Amazon says it’s a civil war story. Wrong, wrong, wrong!

11. All the Queen’s Men by Linda Howard – not strictly military. The hero John Medina is a CIA Black Ops Specialist.

12. Summer in the City of Sails by Shelley Munro – you didn’t think I’d leave out my own did you? :grin: The hero is a member of NZ’s SAS.

13. Unforgettable by Shelley Munro. Go on – buy me! I’ve been getting Five star reviews all over the place!

14. And one extra one – just for Mr. Munro. Any of the Sharpe books by Bernard Cornwell or if you prefer check out the DVD’s featuring the hunky Mr. Sean Bean. One of the recent Sharpe books is Sharpe’s Escape The stories are set in the early 1800’s.

Get the Thursday Thirteen code here!

The purpose of the meme is to get to know everyone who participates a little bit better every Thursday. Visiting fellow Thirteeners is encouraged! If you participate, leave the link to your Thirteen in others comments. It’s easy, and fun! Be sure to update your Thirteen with links that are left for you, as well! I will link to everyone who participates and leaves a link to their 13 things. Trackbacks, pings, comment links accepted!
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Saturday, August 25th, 2007
The Bog Man

I was fascinated by this story and the photos in my National Geographic newsletter today. It’s about bodies discovered in Denmark’s bogs, most of whom seem to have been sacrifices. Check out the photo of the man with the battle hairstyle and the one with the red hair. (They think the bog has made the man’s hair turn bright red)

This is the link here

Thursday, July 26th, 2007
Tea for Two

Thursday Thirteen

I’m researching tea and tea-leaf reading for another work in progress, so here you go –
Thirteen Things about Tea

1. The art of reading tea-leaves, or tasseomancy, goes back thousands of years to ancient China, when tea was first drunk. The practice developed as a consequence of tea-drinkers interpreting the shapes of the tea-leaves that were left in the bottom of their cups and divining the future from them.

2. Tea-leaf reading has been popular in Europe and America ever since and is one of the easiest forms of divination to practise. All you need is a teapot, a cup and saucer, and some leaf tea, so there is no need to buy any special equipment at vast expense.

3. The tea industry has undergone a renaissance in the past few years, with many more teas now on sale. Green tea, which was once only available from specialist importers is now widely available and celebrated for its health-giving properties.

4. The right cup is important in tea-leaf reading. The bowl of the cup should be nicely rounded, so the tea and the leaves can move freely within it. Straight-sided cups are not suitable, and a large cup can be unwieldy, which might cause you to spill some tea or even drop the cup. The outside of the cup can be as highly decorated or as plain as you prefer but the interior of the cup must be completely plain. Any pattern will confuse your eye and interfere with the shapes made by the tea-leaves. And lastly, make sure the handle of the cup is firmly attached and not too flimsy or delicate. Note: I’m thinking my character might have a wee accident and drop her cup or the handle could fall off.

5. Choose tea without added ingredients, such as tiny strips of orange peel or dried rose petals since they will interfere with the reading. Oh, and size matters when it comes to tea leaves. They mustn’t be too small and they can’t be too big. Just like Baby Bear’s porridge, they must be just right.

6. Tradition states that you should only read the leaves from the first cup of tea that is poured out, which means only one person can have their leaves read from each pot. The main reason for this is that tea-leaves usually flow out of the pot more easily when pouring out the first cup of tea.

7. The process: As you drink your tea, you should try to relax. Think about the question you are going to ask the tea-leaves, if you have one, or simply concentrate on the week ahead or your life in general. Do not let your mind be distracted by current worries or mundane trains of thought. If this happens you must gently bring your focus back to what you are doing.

8. The ritual: Drink virtually all the tea so only a teaspoonful remains in the bottom of the cup. Take the cup in your left hand if you are right-handed and vica versa. Close your eyes and breathe deeply, then silently ask your question or ask for guidance about your future. Turn the cup three times in an anticlockwise direction then turn it upside down in the saucer and drain for thirty seconds. Your cup is now ready for interpretation.

9. Some tea superstitions – To stir the pot counter clockwise will stir up trouble.

10. To made tea stronger than usual indicates a new friendship. To spill a little tea while making it is a lucky omen. And I thought it just made a mess on the counter!

11. If the lid is accidentally left off the teapot, you may expect a stranger bringing bad news. Bubbles on tea denote kisses.

12. Two teaspoons, accidentally placed together on the same saucer, points to a wedding or a pregnancy. If two women should pour from the same teapot, one of them will have a baby within the year.

13. Tea spilling from the spout of the teapot while being carried indicates a secret will be revealed. Undissolved sugar in the bottom of your teacup means that there is someone sweet on you.

SOURCES:
The art of tea-leaf reading by Jane Struthers
Chai newsletter (a NZ company that sells tea)

And just as an interesting aside: When Mr. Munro and I visited Cameroun in Africa a group of us visited a local wiseman or sorcerer. He read our fortunes using a crab in a flower pot. We had to ask a question and the movements of the crab when the sorcerer tipped it out of the pot gave us the answer to our question. The sorcerer didn’t speak English but we had a guide with us who interpreted. The process was very similar to that of tea-leaf reading in that we had to think about one question before the crab and sorcerer did their thing.

Are you a coffee or a tea drinker?

Get the Thursday Thirteen code here!

The purpose of the meme is to get to know everyone who participates a little bit better every Thursday. Visiting fellow Thirteeners is encouraged! If you participate, leave the link to your Thirteen in others comments. It’s easy, and fun! Be sure to update your Thirteen with links that are left for you, as well! I will link to everyone who participates and leaves a link to their 13 things. Trackbacks, pings, comment links accepted!
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