Author Archives: Nichole Bennett

Headed for adventure

My husband and I are world travelers.  Norway. France. Germany. Hungry. 

Of those places, we’ve only both been to Germany. 

And we weren’t there at the same time.

Such is the life of an active-duty military couple.

To be perfectly honest, we didn’t even know each other when we went to some of these place.  However, each spot shaped our personalities and we have fond memories of the people and places we’ve seen.

Our travels together, though, have been much more limited.  We’ve visited family in Texas and Nebraska.  Took a vacation to Yellowstone National Park.  And…nope, that’s it.  We never had a honeymoon and our weekend getaways can be counted on one hand.

In about six weeks, though, all that will change.  We’re going on a cruise to the Caribbean.

Yes, we’ve seen the news.  Cruise ships are having a few issues lately.  It happens.  Our ship was even one of them that made the news.  Does that worry me?  Nope.  Chances are that our ship will then be fixed before our departure date. 

I love the water.   I’ve lived near the Atlantic Ocean when I was stationed in Virginia and my grandparents had a cabin on a small lake in Nebraska.  I’m not sure my grandpa’s fishing boat will even compare to the city on the water I’m going to experience. 

Image

My basic training photo

Don’t get me wrong.  We’re both nervous about this trip.  But it’s an excited “what’s going to happen” nervous.  Heck, I’d never been on an airplane until I flew to Lackland Air Force Base for basic training.  Talk about nervous!

No matter what, my husband and I are going to have an adventure.  Together.  We’re looking at it like a belated honeymoon.  An adventure to remember in the years to come.

And neither one of us needs to pack combat boots.

Nichole

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How writing is like playing a professional sport

In case you’ve been blissfully unaware, next weekend is the Super Bowl.

I’m really not a huge football fan.  Frankly, I don’t care who wins the “Big Game” and I had to look it up to find out who’s playing.  If I watch any of the festivities, it will be for the commercials.

My husband, though, is an avid football fan and will be screaming at the television—I mean, watching the game—even though his favorite team didn’t come close to making the trip to New Orleans this year.

As the game gets closer, all the major networks are doing stories on the teams (by the way, it’s being played by the San Francisco 49ers and the Baltimore Ravens).  This morning, I heard some player for one of the teams (clearly I wasn’t really paying attention) talking about his “game face.”

His comments got me thinking.  Does an author have a “game face?”

I think we do.  In fact, I think writing can be a lot like playing a sport.

Don’t get me wrong, I am in no way an athlete.  The only time you’ll catch me running is when someone is chasing me.  My idea of a balanced breakfast is coffee in one hand and a donut in the other.

However, I still see some similarities.

  1. Training.  Athletes practice.  Writers create that first draft.
  2. The drive.  Athletes play, at least at first, because they love the game.  Authors write because they love to write.  They can’t not write.
  3. The regular season.  Every sport has games or matches or races.  Most of them are shown on ESPN.  Otherwise, what would be the point of having a 24-hour sports channel?  Authors have that second draft.  And the third.  Granted, our “regular season” isn’t out in public, but it’s there.
  4. The Championship.  I’ve already admitted that I’m not a big sports nut, however, I can’t think of one sport that doesn’t have some kind of championship competition.  The Super Bowl.  The NBA Finals.  The World Series.  Authors have awards.  Best seller lists.  Book club picks.
  5. The fans.  Every team has it’s die-hard fans.  The ones who don’t miss a game and can spout every statistic there ever was.  According to just about all the sports interviews I’ve ever seen (or heard) athletes say the fans make it worthwhile.  The same can be said for writers.  As an author, I love it when someone tells me they loved my book.  Or asks when the next one will be out.  (Currently, it’s in the “regular season” phase.)  Even though I write because I love it, the fans are an awesome added bonus!

Baseball great Yogi Berra once said, “Baseball is ninety percent mental. The other half is physical.”  Personally, I think the same can be said for writing!

Nichole

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As 2013 approaches….

I considered writing about New Year’s resolutions.  But, let’s face it, without a plan, those resolutions don’t mean much.  And, frankly, I haven’t thought mine through enough to make a plan yet.  It will happen.  Just not this morning.

My next idea was to write a “year in review” post.  However, the things that touched me and my family might be very different than the ones that touched yours.  And some might seem flat out petty.  For example, we lost a dog this year.  And a cat.  I cried for days.  But that’s nothing compared to the pain of the families affected by the Sandy Hook School tragedy.  Or those who lost loved ones in Iraq or Afghanistan.

I even thought about skipping the “bad news” and only focusing on happy news.  That seemed like cheating, though.

My New Year’s Eve plans aren’t worth sharing: I’ll be in bed by 9 p.m. since I have to be at my part time job at 5 a.m. on New Year’s Day.

So, I guess I’ll just make this short and wish each and every one of you a happy, healthy, productive 2013 filled with magic and love.

Blessings!
Nichole

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Planning by the seat of my pants

I’m a planner.  Mostly.

I like the structure of a plan, but I don’t get upset when things don’t go awry.

Most of the time, anyway.

For example, every Monday morning I plan out a week’s worth of dinners, but I’m okay with the idea of my husband deciding to grill steaks or (better yet) take me out to dinner.

Even in my writing life, I only vaguely plan.  When I sit down to write, I know the crime, the victim, and the perpetrator.  I know how the crime was committed, and I usually have a pretty good idea of why the crime was committed.  How the perpetrator will be caught, however, remains a mystery to me until closer to the end of writing the book.

There are true advantages, I think, to writing this way.  I can allow my characters to grow as the story progresses.  If a red herring presents itself, I don’t need to feel guilty about following that lead.  I don’t accidentally create a formula for my mysteries that bores readers.  (At least, I hope not!)

However, right now I’m struggling with a huge disadvantage to my minimal planning.  I had someone show up who, frankly, I wasn’t prepared for.  Not even a little bit.  This up-until-now minor character had been wandering contently in the background, or so I thought.  She had been talked about, but not talked to.  Perhaps she took offense to her status.  Perhaps she was tired of being discussed.  Perhaps she can add something to the mystery.

Whatever the reason, I have this new voice, with seemingly new information, to add to the story.  I think this new voice adds to the storyline, it just wasn’t something I was expecting.  I’m hoping readers won’t expect it either.

I’ve thought about planning things more.  I just can’t do it.  Mostly because when things don’t go the way I plan them, I get frustrated.  Like “stomp around and throw a tantrum” frustrated.  Well, maybe not that bad…

I guess it doesn’t matter.  I’ve been an “outline planner” for my entire life, and I don’t think I’m going to change after 40-plus years.

What about you?  Are you a “whatever will be, will be” kinda person?  What happens when you’re forced to plan???  Or do you plan every detail of your life?  Then what do you do when your plans fall apart?  I really want to know!

Blessings!
Nichole

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13 Halloween Facts by Nichole Bennett

Even I get into the Halloween spirit!

Halloween is one of my favorite holidays.  It doesn’t matter if you are “in a relationship” or if it’s “complicated.”  There’s no expectation of a perfect recreation of your great-grandmother’s chocolate meringue pie.  You don’t have to stay up hours past your bedtime.

Instead, you get candy, can dress up as someone you aren’t, and are expected to have a good time with friends, or not.  It’s as low-stress as a holiday can get.  Did I mention you get candy?

This year, Halloween falls on Wednesday, so many people celebrated this weekend.  In the spirit of the holiday, I thought I’d share some Halloween trivia.

  1. Halloween is the second most commercially successful holiday, only behind Christmas.
  2. Jack o’ Lanterns originated in Ireland where people placed candles in hollowed-out turnips to keep away spirits and ghosts on the Samhain holiday.
  3. Pumpkins also come in white, blue and green.
  4. The ancient Celts thought that spirits and ghosts roamed the countryside on Halloween night.  According to their “Druid” religion, November 1st was New Years’ on their calendar. The celebration would begin on October 31st ,and last into the following day. The spirits of all who died in the prior year, would rise up and roam the earth on this night.  They began wearing masks and costumes to avoid being recognized as human.
  5. Traditionally, orange and black are the “official” Halloween colors.  Orange is associated with the Fall harvest and black is associated with darkness and death.
  6. Bobbing for apples is thought to have originated from the roman harvest festival that honors Pamona, the goddess of fruit trees.
  7. The first Halloween card was made in the early 1920′s. Today, more than 28 million Halloween cards are sent each year and consumers spend about $50 million on Halloween greetings.
  8. In 2007, an estimated 36 million children between 5 and 13 years old went trick-or-treating.  But Halloween isn’t just for kids.  About 50 percent of adults dress up for Halloween, too.
  9. Scarecrows are one of the more popular symbols of Fall and the harvest season. The origin of scarecrows dates back thousands of years, protecting ripening crops from birds, but were made from many different things. Often, scarecrows were men hired to roam fields and scare away birds.
  10. Samhainophobia is the fear of Halloween.
  11. Halloween candy sales average about 2 billion dollars annually in the United States, an chocolate candy bars top the list as the most popular candy for trick-or-treaters with Snickers coming in on top.  (Personally, I’ll take a Reese’s any day!)
  12. About 90 percent of parents admit to sneaking goodies from their kids’ Halloween trick-or-treat bags.
  13. It’s the last day before National Novel Writers Month!

Whether you participate in Halloween or not, or whether you participate in NaNoWriMo or not, enjoy the turning of the seasons and watch out for the ghouls and goblins–today and everyday!

Blessings!
Nichole

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The business of creativity

Creativity isn’t on a time table.

Writing is a business.

Those are the titles of two recent blog posts.  At first glance, it doesn’t seem that both statements could be correct.

But I think they are.

Let’s start with creativity.  I completely agree that creativity isn’t on a time table.  There’s a lot of creative things in my life and frankly some of them take a lot longer than I had anticipated.  Which means some don’t get done when I hoped they would.  Which means I’m almost always behind in some creative project.

Like the quilt my husband has been asking for.  For the past two winters.  That is mostly cut out.  I think.

Or the kitchen that I had every intention of repainting this summer.  But didn’t.  Then again, in my defense, we never did get around to buying the paint.

Or the novels I’m working on.  Both of which get a few thousand words added to them each week.

Sometimes a person just can’t be creative.  That’s when you need to rethink what you’re doing.  Why don’t you finish that project?  Is it because you’re too easily distracted?  Try shutting yourself in a room.  Threaten the family with lack of food if you’re interrupted.  Refuse to do laundry until you get another chapter (or so many more words) written.  

Do you not have the right “supplies”?  I don’t mean the paper, the pens, the computer.  I mean the backstory.  The idea of where the characters are supposed to end up.  Maybe you didn’t really do all the research you needed.  Without those supplies, I’ve found that I can’t be creative at all because I don’t have the items necessary to do the job.

Do you need a change of scenery?  Take a walk around the block.  Stepping away from the computer might let you see the answer to your predicament a little more clearly.  Or at least a little differently!

Which brings me to the other statement:  Writing is a business.

It is.  An author is more than just a writer.  An author is also a marketing guru, a public speaker, a social media presence and a person with a “real world” life and commitments.  Often times the author has another job (or two!) to help pay the bills.  

And there’s still only 24 hours in a day.  

Can creativity and business be combined?  Yes.  But it takes discipline.  A lot of it.  And that’s something I don’t always have.  I confess that I let my family take priority a little more often then I maybe should.  And it’s hard to try to get those words down when someone is begging for your attention.  Or the dog needs to go out.  Or the dishes need to be washed.  

So what’s a creative soul to do?  Easy.  PB&W.

Plant Butt (in chair) and Write.

The words may not be great, but they are out there.  You can edit later.  

And that’s a whole other issue….

Nichole

Nichole R. Bennett is a creative soul and currently working on her second, third, and fourth novels.  Her first novel, “Ghost Mountain,” is available through Second Wind Publishing.

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For a perfect Summer, just add books

Summer is my favorite season.  And I’m not just saying that because my birthday happens to fall during the summer.  (A mere three weeks from now for those who may be interested.)

Let’s be honest, it couldn’t be the birthday thing because, as a kid, having a birthday right before school started meant one thing—school clothes and school supplies as birthday presents.  Plus you never had the teachers announcing your birthday in school, either.  It was a bit of an elementary-school let down.

No, Summer has always been my favorite season for another reason—being outside.  There’s something about 20 degree temperatures and a wind chill that brings the numbers below zero that makes me want to stay inside.  Warm.

As a kid, my grandparents had a cabin on a lake.  On that side of the family there are 18 years between the oldest (me) and the youngest (who was born the day I graduated high school).  No other kids my age, unless you count my sister, who is three years younger than I am.  And we spent a lot of summer at the lake.  Just family, sand, and water.  We spent a lot of time fishing and swimming.  Even now I could probably tell you where the “drop off” was in that lake.   

Given all that, I got a lot of reading done as a kid.  A. Lot.

Don’t misunderstand.  I still read a lot.  And I read all year long, but there’s something about Summer that makes me want to re-read some of my favorite books from when I was a kid.  So, without further ado, here’s “Nichole’s Five Favorite Classics.”

  1.  Raggedy Ann Stories and Raggedy Andy Stories both by Johnny Gruelle.  This set of books follows those beloved toys on adventures galore.  And what kid doesn’t wonder exactly what the toys do when no one is looking?  
  2. Island of the Blue Dolphins by Scott O’Dell.  Stranded on an island, a young girl has to survive alone with only her wits, a wild dog, and her little brother.  This was one of the first “girl power” books I remember reading.
  3. Great Expectations by Charles Dickens.  I’m a little bit of a nerd and I really do love just about anything by Dickens.  Hey, I love Shakespeare, too.  
  4. Bunnicula by Deborah and James Howe.  Who wouldn’t love a vegetarian vampire bunny?  
  5. Little House on the Prairie by Laura Ingalls Wilder.  Here’s another story about some strong women.  And in the history of the United States, women didn’t get much stronger than living on the prairie.  As an adult, I even drug my kids to see “the homestead” in DeSmet, South Dakota.  (It was awesome!)

These are just five books I thought of off the top of my head.  There are other books I loved as a kid and still love.  Anything by Agatha Christie.  Anything.  Really.  The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle.  The Tell-Tale Heart by Edgar Allen Poe.  Animal Farm by George Orwell.

With whatever’s left of the summer, I think you should grab a book and head toward your favorite relaxation spot.  And if you aren’t the type who likes to re-read a story, or if none of the ones I mentioned sound appealing to you, I do have one other suggestion.  Head toward http://secondwindpublishing.com/  You’re guaranteed to find something you’ll like there.

Happy reading!
Nichole

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In all seriousness….

I was going to dedicate today’s blog post to the books I enjoyed as a child.  A “summer reading list” per say.  I don’t know about you, but I’ve always felt that a book is somehow better when it can be read while water licks at my toes and the sun warms the pages.

I didn’t have the entire list picked out, but I had a start: some of those books I still go back and read every few years and almost always find a new gem, a new twist, that I hadn’t noticed before.

However, as I started to type, I realized how trite that list would be.  A mere 450 miles from my home there are people who no longer have a home to go to.  The Colorado Springs fire has forced 34,000 people to evacuate.

Thirty-four THOUSAND.

Closer to home for me, are two more wildfires.  The Crow Peak fire is burning up the side of a mountain above Spearfish, South Dakota.  A lightening strike almost a week ago caused the 130-acres fire.  Even closer is a fire at Dakota Point—just 15 miles from Mt. Rushmore—which has already burned 300 acres.

And with numbers like that, a lighthearted post about my favorite books seemed wrong somehow.

According to the US Forest Service, there are 47 different wildfires going on right now.  I have no idea how many are threatening communities.  I know that all 47 are threatening lives.  At the very least, the firefighters who are putting out the blazes are in danger.  Here in the Black Hills of South Dakota, where temperatures have reached record highs and the wind has maintained a steady breeze, no one has been treated for anything worse than heat exhaustion.  (Hey, that’s a lot of gear to be wearing in 100-plus degree heat in front of a even hotter fire.)

Remember, in most places the word “volunteer” precedes the word “firefighter.”  These men and women are doing the job because they love it.  Because they enjoy it.  Because they are donating a service to their communities.  They don’t do it to pay the bills.

As the US starts to celebrate their independence with picnics and parades, take a minute to thank those volunteers for the sacrifices they make.  Let them know that in the midst of the celebrations, someone is appreciating the time and energy they have taken away from their families and selflessly donated to the entire community.

Blessings!
Nichole

Nichole Bennett is the author of Ghost Mountain and comes from a family of community servants, including five former military members, two police officers and four volunteer firefighters.

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Fact versus Fiction

“The difference between fact and fiction is that fiction must be believable.”–Mark Twain

ImageHave you ever noticed that we suspend our beliefs for the sake of entertainment?  Don’t think so?  How much murder and mayhem do you think happens in Las Vegas?  And how often do police anywhere catch the criminal within an hour?  But we’re willing to believe it will happen week after week so that we can be entertained.  (By the way, CSI: Crime Scene Investigation has been on the air since 2000.  That’s a lot of Vegas crime solved in less than sixty minutes!)

ImageStill not convinced?  Do you know how long the Korean War lasted?  Three years.  Do you know how long the television series M.A.S.H. lasted?  11 years.

However, what if I told you that in 2003, twenty-four people died from inhaling popcorn fumes?  Admit it, you wouldn’t believe me.  According to “Final Exits: The Illustrated Encyclopedia of How We Die” by Michael Largo, it’s true.

And it’s still not believable.

I think Mark Twain was on to something when he said the quote above.  I imagine he was struggling with the description of some bend in the Missouri River and he wanted to write it the way he really saw it.  Then he realized no one would believe that.

Believability isn’t all it’s cracked up to be, though.  That spark of wonder so often seen in a child’s eye gets lost when “truth” is discovered.  How different does a child look at snowfall?  They see a new world where an adult sees hours of shoveling.

As the seasons start to change, let’s look for a little more wonder in the world.  I’ll bet we learn things about ourselves we never would have imagined.

Oh, and grab a few works of amazing fiction while you’re at it.  (Might I suggest my fellow Second Wind authors?)  You may find that the things you see in the “real world” are more difficult to believe than the novels.

Blessings!
Nichole

P.S.  I’d like to take a moment to thank those who either “gave some” or “gave all” on this Memorial Day. You—and your families—have my eternal gratitude.

N

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by | May 28, 2012 · 12:32 pm

Writing lessons from honeybees

I learned a lot about writing the past few days.  No, I didn’t attend a conference or seminar.  I stayed home and harvested the bee hive.

Yes, I said bee hive.

Yes, we have honey bees.

Yes, I’ve been stung.

No, I had no idea what I was doing when we got the hive.  Honestly, I’m still guessing a little.

About 18 months ago, my husband and I decided to get a bee hive.  “It would be fun,” I said.  “It’s not too much extra work,” he claimed.  And so we did.  We’ve had the hive about a year now, after getting it last spring.  Turns out we were supposed to harvest the honey last August.  Oops.

Partly we were afraid the bees would go hungry if we had a traditional South Dakota winter.  We didn’t.  They didn’t.

For two weeks, hubby and I pondered the question of should we or shouldn’t we.  Do we leave them alone?  Do we harvest a little to encourage them to make more?

We opted to try and harvest a little.

Hubby “suited up” and removed the top box of the four that make up the hive.  After smoking the bees to calm them down, he carried the box away so we could start to extract the honey.

Using a kitchen knife, we then started tentatively scraping the honeycomb off the frames.  Neither of us wanted to break the frame and we had no idea how resilient the the frames or the honeycombs were.  As the knife sliced into the wax, pure, raw honey began to ooze out into the pan.  It started slowly, but sped up as we got the hang of what we were doing.  More than once we had to stop to clean off the knife, giving us a sharper edge as we continued.

After scraping all 10 frames in the box, we had a LOT of honey.  I began scooping it into jars.  The jars were nice, but there seemed to be “stuff” floating in the honey.  It wasn’t clear and smooth like what you find at a grocery store.  By this time, though, it was getting late and we really weren’t sure what to do, so we let the jars sit.

The next day, after some research on the Internet, we decided the honey needed to be strained.  So we strained it.  Slowly and methodically, we poured the “first jars” through a nylon strainer, collecting the pure honey in more jars.  The process took hours.  And hours.  And hours.  (I think we averaged about one hour per pint of honey.)

Eventually, we were finished.  We had honey!  We didn’t do it right and experienced bee keepers are probably laughing like crazy.  But we have jars of golden liquid that tastes sweeter than anything I’ve had from a store.

So how is tending a bee hive like writing a novel?

  1.  When I tell people I have a book published and am working on the next, I get the same reaction as when they learn we have a bee hive on our property: a little amazement, a little awe, and a barrel of questions.
  2. Much like how we didn’t harvest last August for fear that the bees would go hungry, I sometimes find myself not writing for fear that the words will be “less than stellar.”  I know I should sit down and at least put SOMETHING on the page, but sometimes fear gets the best of the me.
  3. A bee suit, a knife, a huge pan.  These tools were necessary for us to extract the honey.  An idea, time, paper and a pen.  These tools are the minimum to get the story told.  Just like an actual honey extractor would have been nice, other writing tools are also nice.  But not necessary.  And not an excuse for procrastinating, either.
  4. You’ve got to clear out the distractions.  The smoker calmed the bees.  If I have a lot of things going on around the house (the phone ringing off the hook, or even the television or radio on too loudly) I won’t sit down and write. Then again, distractions can be like that knife covered in honey.  After awhile, there’s just so much “junk” it’s hard to get through to do what you need to.  Wipe it off.  Find that sharper edge and press on.
  5. Straining honey is a lot like editing.  Letting it sit for awhile isn’t always a bad thing, the time away can help you see what needs to go.  Having a third party—a strainer—helps to clear out the unnecessary things that weigh down the writing.  And it can take a long time.  Writing isn’t a quick process, at least not for me.
  6. We fully admit that we didn’t know what we were doing.  I know we could have done things easier, better, more efficiently.  But it worked.  And we are going to learn from our mistakes.  Next time will be better because we’ve grown as beekeepers.  Just like writing.  My writing style may not be the way you would do it, but it works for me.  Different isn’t always wrong, you know.
  7. There’s a finished product.  The honey we harvested is sweet.  And that feeling of having a completed book, yeah, that’s pretty sweet, too.
  8. The process doesn’t stop.  Just because we’ve harvested the honey doesn’t meant we’re done.  Those honey bees are busy making more and this time we have a slightly better idea how to harvest next time.  To compare that to writing, I’m working on the next book.  And I’m taking notes for the third.  Hopefully, that will keep me busy and get more words on paper.
  9. Don’t forget to clean up!  I have no idea how this happened, but by the time we were done harvesting honey, everything was sticky.  Things in rooms we didn’t even GO INTO had honey or beeswax on them.  For me, working on a novel is similar.  Ideas travel everywhere and things I didn’t expect sometimes have a way of being “covered” by the story.
  10. Finally, I think the biggest reminder those honeybees gave me was to not be afraid to try.  If we hadn’t tried our hand at beekeeping, we never would have harvested all that honey.  If you don’t try to put those words out there, you will never be an author.  Sure, you’re going to make mistakes and you’re going to wish you had done things differently, but you learn and you get better and that’s a pretty “sweet” lesson.

Nichole

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