5 Ways to Improve the Action in Your Story


Here’s a blast from the past. More ideas for firing up your imagination as we count down to November 1!

Hopes and Dreams: My Writing and My Sons

by Lillian Csernica on August 13, 2016

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Writers tend to be visually oriented. We see our stories playing out much like movies inside our minds. Whatever we can do to enhance the clarity of the images and information we want to convey to the reader will improve the strength of our stories. That clarity begins with making sure we can see exactly what’s going on.

Map out the key locations.  Start with just the distances between the major settings. If you want to get into topography, go for it. Bear in mind there’s a difference between miles on land and nautical miles.

Draw the important action. Draw one scene between two characters on a stage. You could also look down on the action, using an aerial view to keep track of items or characters outside of the protagonist’s sight lines. Split the page into four sections…

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#nanoprep Why Writing Buddies Are So Important


by Lillian Csernica on September 25, 2019

 

Writing is lonely work. We sit there and spend a big chunk of time with no company other than our imaginary friends. National Novel Writing Month is 30 solid days of writing, roughly 7 pages a day, all the way to 200 pages or 50,000 words.

That’s a long haul, even longer when you’re all by yourself.

I have written four novels during my years participating in NaNoWriMo. Believe me when I tell you more than once my Writing Buddies were the reason I made it all the way to the daily quota. I know how hard this is. Nobody understands a writer as well as other writers do.

On the NaNoWriMo site you can have official Writing Buddies. This is a great way to make new friends, meet new writers, and expand your network or, if you prefer, your tribe. It’s a wonderful feeling to log on, update my word total and seeing messages from my Writing Buddies in my NaNo mail. I cheer them on, they cheer me on, and we all race together toward the finish line.

A key element of #nanoprep is finding yourself some Writing Buddies. Here’s why:

Accountability — Stern word, right? It’s been proven that we will work harder to live up to other people’s expectations than we will just for our own good. When I know my Writing Buddies are waiting to see me post my daily word count, I can push past the excuses and avoidance behavior and the other self-defeating behaviors. That’s because having Writing Buddies creates a strong sense of community.

Comfort — Knowing that we are not alone does a lot to improve morale and keep us going in stressful circumstances. During NaNoWriMo I encourage the participants in my region to remember we’re all here to lift each other up and keep our writing spirits strong. During NaNoWriMo we strive to achieve our own goals, challenging ourselves to stretch a little bit farther each day.

Feedback — Comments from our fellow writers don’t have to come in the form of a critique. Some days we might get stuck. Other days we might get overrun by a herd of plot bunnies. In the forums on the NaNoWriMo site, writers of like mind and similar genres can look for the help they need. We can reach out to our Writing Buddies for comments and support.

Play — Writing 50,000 words in just 30 days sounds like hard work. It most certainly is. It can also be a whole lot of fun. Go to the Kick-Off Party. Go to the write-ins. Go to the Thank God It’s Over Party. Being part of an online community is great. Meeting fellow writers brought together by the courage to take on NaNoWriMo is even better. The joy of shared laughter will do a lot to recharge your writing batteries.

When all else fails, remember, caffeine is always there for you.

 

 

 

 

 

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Filed under creativity, fantasy, Fiction, Goals, historical fiction, romance, science fiction, steampunk, worry, Writing

#nanoprep How to Choose Your Project


by Lillian Csernica on September 11, 2019

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I am one of two Municipal Liaisons for my region, which is Santa Cruz County in California. In the spirit of helping this year’s participants, both the new folks and those returning, allow me to offer some ideas based on how I get ready for the mad dash from one end of NaNoWriMo to the other.

National Novel Writing Month is all about writing 50,000 words in 30 days. That’s 200 pages. 1667 words each day. Half a novel. A full roughdraft, maybe. Whatever you want to write, in whatever way you want to write it. Everybody’s creative process is unique. Feel free to do whatever gets you to the 50k mark by November 30.

Last year I wrote Silk & Steam, the first novel in my Kyoto Steampunk universe. It took me some time after the end of NaNoWriMo to come up with an ending that was really strong. Now I’m rewriting to make the whole manuscript live up to that ending. I want that novel to be the only novel in my head right now, so for this year’s writing project, I need to go in a different direction.

For the 20th Anniversary of NaNoWriMo, I plan to write short stories. Six short stories, 1700 words each. That’s more than a story a week, so this is going to be a real challenge. My best time up to now has been  total of three weeks for writing a short story start to finish with editing and polishing. During NaNoWriMo I’m going for six complete first drafts. This means I have to do a lot of planning before November 1.

Where do I start my planning for six brand new short stories?

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I start with the monsters. The yokai, which more accurately translates as “bewitching apparition,” are the supernatural creatures of Japanese folklore. Each of the seven stories in the Kyoto Steampunk series features a particular yokai. So I need six new yokai, and I’m thinking about a location where Dr. Harrington and his family would be likely to find all six.

I already have subplots in motion given the seven other stories already published. A quick list of where all of my main characters are at the end of the novel provides a starting point for each of them. At the moment I’m considering the possibility of writing each story from a different character’s viewpoint. If I create one basic story and then provide each character’s personal stakes in those events, I might be able to create quite a mosaic that brings the world of Kyoto Steampunk to life.

And so the new stories begin to grow!

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Is there such a thing as too much preparation? The answer to that depends on whether you’re a planner, a pantser, or somewhere in between. I identify as a plantser. I need a certain amount of planning to get the shape of the story. Then I set the timer and throw myself into the scene. On the days when the words won’t come out easily, a word sprint is your best friend.

What do you do to get ready? How do you decide what project you want to work on? I’d be delighted to hear about your process. We’re all here to help each other through the 30 day marathon that is NaNoWriMo.

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How Do You #nanoprep?


by Lillian Csernica on Wednesday, September 4, 2019

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November is coming. That means National Novel Writing Month, or NaNoWriMo!

This year is the 20th anniversary of NaNoWriMo. Twenty years of hot ideas, hard work, and tanker trucks full of coffee! If you’ve always wanted to try your hand at writing a novel, or you really need group support to get you through that first draft, then NaNoWriMo is waiting for you.

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“Where do I start?” That is the question I hear most often from people who really want to write but don’t know what to do first. The answer is simple: Find what gets you most excited about your project. Is it the main character? Is it the dialogue? Is it the glorious victory of the Good Guys stomping the Bad Guys into the dirt? Whatever gets you all fired up, that’s the key to Writing Every Single Day.

Here’s how I do my #nanoprep:

Pick an idea. For me this means choosing a genre, a time period, and the major location.

  •  Write down a bunch of details about my main character.
  • Do the same for my villain.
  • Brainstorm a rough plot outline.
  • Keep making notes as the ideas start crossbreeding with every new detail I imagine. I try to keep organized from the very beginning. Index cards, Scrivener, a spiral notebook, whatever works. The important thing is to get all those details recorded hot and fresh without thinking too much.

If you’re starting from scratch with a new idea, you need to create a lot of the basic information about plot, character, and setting. I liken this part of the writing process to the way a sculptor begins a new piece. First you have to get your hands on some clay, right? Once you have the clay, then you can start shaping it into a story. Brainstorming all those details is how writers create the clay from which we shape our stories.

If you’re starting with a work-in-progress, that’s great! You’re already ahead of the game. I suggest you come up with a specific goal you want to achieve during NaNoWriMo. Some examples:

  • Finish your draft
  • Flesh out the relationship(s) between the main character and the sidekick, the love interest, the mentor, or the villain. Depending on the type of story you’re after, you can have the main character working on a better understanding of that person’s own mind and motivations. Do be careful to dramatize what happens. Pages of interior monologue are fine when you’re working out the details of an idea. Too much of that can kill your pace and leave your reader hungry for real action.
  • Familiarize yourself with your setting and test the dramatic possibilities of some key locations. If you’re using a well-known setting such as Paris or London, make sure you get the details right.

Remember, no first draft comes out letter perfect. The first draft is where you get to play around, chase ideas up blind allies, start a character off with one motivation and see where that takes you. This is where you get to find out which ideas fit together and which ones tend to muddle up the story.

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Give yourself permission to write badly at first. That doesn’t mean your writing will be bad. It just means you take the pressure off of yourself so you can just enjoy the act of writing. All that really matters during NaNoWriMo is that you WRITE. Just do it. Just get the daily word quota out of your head and onto the paper, screen, bedroom wall, whatever. Just WRITE.

Watch for more tips on getting ready for National Novel Writing Month!

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Resting In Peace


by Lillian Csernica on July 29, 2019

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On Friday we held the memorial service for my mother at Pacific Gardens Chapel. More than a dozen people attended. Given the perils of weekend traffic during a Santa Cruz summer,  I was grateful to see so  many friends of our family make the effort to honor Mom’s memory.  This was in addition to the presence of my brother, whom I have not seen since my wedding 31 years ago this month.

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More family and friends sent flowers, among them white roses with blue hydrangea, a basket of roses the red of garnets, and one of those big sprays of spider mums and daisies and greenery. The flowers made the chapel even more beautiful, all of it centering on a photo of Mom taken from the days when she worked in music videos and as an extra in movies and TV. That photo, a cheerful headshot, let us mourners remember my mother as the person she was, the lively personality inside that body so weakened by illness.

My brother spoke about Mom making the most of every little thing they had when my brother was growing up. My husband talked about how many ways Mom expressed her creativity, through art and acting and singing and even stand-up comedy. I gave Mom credit for teaching me one of life’s most important lessons: Try everything! I’ve done my best to teach my boys do that so they don’t miss out on something they never knew they’d enjoy.

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These last few months of Mom’s life have been so hard. Now she’s in a better place, free of the body that kept breaking down and causing her so much pain. Mom can rest in peace, knowing how much we all loved her.

Yesterday I sat in my favorite coffeehouse and wrote for close to an hour. Then I switched notebooks and went on writing about something else entirely. I haven’t done that much writing in a single sitting in far too long.

It’s time for me to get some rest too, then go on living the life my mother encouraged me to live.

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Letters from the Dead


by Lillian Csernica on July 4, 2019

 

Last Thursday my mother died.

My brother lives in Southern California. My sister is currently bound by a temporary restraining order (soon to be permanent. The hearing is tomorrow). That means it’s all on me.

All the hospital stuff.

All the legal stuff.

And, most of all, every single item of Mom’s stuff.

It’s up to me to clear out Mom’s apartment.  It’s just a studio, but still. Furniture. Small appliances. Clothing. Books and DVDs, knickknacks and photo albums. The really staggering part? Mom’s personal correspondence, files, and papers.

Mom kept everything.

I could tell you stories about some of the keepsakes I’ve found, such as the inflatable jukebox wardrobe. Or the hand-painted bamboo parasol that would be a collector’s item if it weren’t for all the rainbow glitter. While such conversation starters are entertaining, and some are quite valuable, the downside of this particular duty involves discovering a few things that I really wish had stayed buried in the clutter.

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I found copies of letters Mom sent to me years ago. Some offered sympathy about my marriage troubles. Some gave “friendly” advice meant “with love” regarding how I took care of my baby, the child who would never walk or speak or do 90% of all the cute things grandparents look forward to in their grandchildren. I also found letters Mom had written to friends, letters that talked about matters I considered private. June was a horrible month. Given that I had to get a restraining order against my sister, then take care of Mom pretty much 24/7 right up to her death, I am exhausted, both physically and emotionally. I really did not need to come across Mom’s letters and the old issues they stirred up.

Have mercy on the family members who will be tasked with cleaning up after you’re gone. Do you really want your kids to read something out of context years from now when that material is subject to lingering resentments, old grudges, and well-meaning misinterpretation? Go through your personal papers now. You can’t have complete control over how you will be remembered, but you can certainly do yourself a lot of good by cleaning out potential trouble.

I’m not going to get all syrupy about making peace and building bridges before it’s too late. If you can do that, great. If you can’t, don’t feel bad, and don’t feel pressured to reach out to people when that might just make matters worse. I’ve had to take some drastic steps lately to preserve the health and safety of myself and my children. That’s going to make things awkward when it comes to Mom’s memorial service.

Unless you have family members who conducted personal correspondence at the level of Benjamin Franklin or Ralph Waldo Emerson or Florence Nightingale or Collette herself, do not read the papers that are left behind when said loved one passes. Burn them. Shred them. Recycle them. Spare yourself the torment of ambivalent feelings stirred up by unfinished business. If you just can’t resist, here’s a good guide for figuring out what to toss and what to keep.

Let me wrap this up on a positive note. One happy aspect of Mom having so much stuff is setting aside items that I know will mean a lot to Mom’s special friends. I’ve already passed on a few pieces of jewelry to the fellow artists Mom talked about from her art class. Those women thanked me with tears in their eyes, touched by knowing Mom thought enough of them to make sure I gave them those mementoes.

There are many ways to honor the passing of our loved ones. Remembering what was best about them can bring some comfort to everyone involved.

 

 

 

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How Do You Make The Truth Come Out?


by Lillian Csernica on June 21, 2019

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Today is the Summer Solstice, the longest day of the year.

I am living through what has to be one of the longest weeks of my life. During this week I have accompanied my mother to the emergency room twice. Mom is quite frail and weak now, receiving dialysis three times a week along with a lengthy list of medications.

On Monday night Mom fell down in the bathroom at her apartment. Fortunately, I was there. I needed help to get Mom on her feet and into her wheelchair, help provided by the local paramedics. Mom’s health is declining. We have now reached a stage that I’ve been dreading.

On Tuesday I went to the courthouse in Santa Cruz and filed for a domestic violence restraining order against my sister. I had 25 pages of evidence including photos which documented my sister’s abuse of not just my mother but my invalid son Michael. I met the morning filing deadline. By 2:30 p.m. the order had been granted. My next stop was the Sheriff/Coroner’s Office where I filled out another form requesting the help of deputies in serving the order to my sister. She was due back from a two week vacation that very night.

Wednesday was a rough day. Knowing that my sister was there, I could not go home. I was afraid of what might happen next. I had no idea whether or not the sheriff’s deputies would serve the order that day, or if the necessary bureaucratic processes would leave me waiting, exposed to the continuing danger of my sister’s presence.

Why do I think my sister is dangerous? On May 28, the night I came home after BayCon, my sister started a fight with me that escalated into violence. I had to grab the phone, hide in the garage, and dial 911. Sheriff’s deputies came. I wish to God I had known I could ask them for an emergency protective order. Had I done that, they would have taken my sister away then and there. I didn’t know. That meant once the deputies left, I was stuck. I couldn’t get my mother, Michael, John, and myself all out of the house at once, not all by myself. There we were, alone with my sister, who had just assaulted me. My sister, against whom I had solid proof of elder abuse and the abuse of a medically fragile, entirely dependent young man.

Where was my husband Chris? In Las Vegas. He’d left the house on Monday, the day before the fight, driving to Vegas for a week’s vacation. He finally came back on Friday night. On Saturday morning my sister started another confrontation. I took Chris outside and told him what had been happening.

Chris didn’t believe me. He kept pushing aside my fears, questioning my credibility and my account of what my sister had been doing. Chris insisted on seeing the police report before he’d do anything about the threat my sister posed to everyone else in the house. Has he read it? I have no idea. The moment I realized he had no intention of confronting my sister, I abandoned any hope for help from him. I had to do what was necessary to protect myself, my children, and my mother, and I would have to do it alone.

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countercurrents.org

In situations of domestic violence, there is a primary abuser and a secondary abuser. The secondary abuser often enables the primary, feeding the victim that classic line, “You must have done something to deserve it.” I had already learned about the concept of triangulation. My husband and my sister were two points on the triangle, side by side, while I was the point at the bottom. I have endured this situation for more than the 6 1/2 years we’ve lived in this house.

You might say my sister did me a favor when she hit me. She slapped some sense into me by making me realize just how serious the situation had become. No more excuses. No more telling myself it wasn’t really that bad. No more accepting the blame and the gaslighting and the cruelty and the twisted power games.

No more.

On Wednesday night, the sheriff’s deputy served my sister and evicted her from my house. The hearing lies ahead. I believe the restraining order will be granted permanent status by the judge who hears my case and sees all the additional evidence I will provide.

My mother, my sons, and I will be safe.

My name is Lillian Csernica. I am a survivor of domestic violence.

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Doin’ the BayCon Boogie!


by Lillian Csernica on June 8, 2019

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It’s taken me more time than usual to recover from the wonders of BayCon. This year’s amazing spectacle had so much going on I wanted to be in at least two different places in every time slot. Here are the highlights of one of the better con weekends I’ve enjoyed.

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How diverse is diversity?

Gregg Castro (Salinan T’rowt’raahl) (M), Dr. yvonne white (Hayward High School), Lillian Csernica (Sense of Wonder Press), Jean Battiato

I added another layer to the definition of diversity by speaking for those who have disabilities, whether physical or psychological. While some physical disabilities are obvious and others are not, most psychological problems are not immediately apparent. Thanks to the expanding realm of neurodiversity, more and more people are aware of the prevalence of autism, of clinical depression, of chronic pain, and other conditions that create daily challenges on several levels.

Teen Guided-Storytelling Workshop

Host: Margaret McGaffey-Fisk

John wanted to attend this event. He’s been drawing for years and has taken at least two ceramics classes in school. Now he’s interested in learning how to tell a good story to go along with his illustrations and sculptures. Margaret did a wonderful job of explaining the techniques of oral storytelling. There was a young lady present as well. Margaret encouraged both John and this young lady to use their own original characters as part of practicing the techniques she discussed. I am delighted to say I learned quite a lot also! Margaret’s techniques came in very handy for the Spontaneous Storytelling panel on Sunday.

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Altered Beast

Werewolves and other shapeshifters in mythology and literature.

Kevin Andrew Murphy (M), Lillian Csernica (Sense of Wonder Press), Pat MacEwen

I have written and published three stories with Kevin and one  (so far) with Pat. We all have extensive libraries on folklore and shapeshifters, so we took the audience on a round-the-world tour of the beliefs and manifestations of the “werewolf” tradition.When we three are together, you will hear some of the weirdest facts and fancies you could imagine!

Spontaneous Storytelling

Panelists developing a story developed by multiple choice suggestions from audience members.

Jeff Warwick (M), David Brin, Lillian Csernica (Sense of Wonder Press), Mark Gelineau (Gelineau and King)

Jeff is brilliant. Get somebody who was in the audience for this panel to tell you about the illustrations he drew while the story evolved, most notably The Harmonicat. This critter has now entered into the annals of A Shot Rang Out folklore right up there with Darth Tetra. I found a way for our protagonist to speak Japanese to the cat. David Brin picked right up on that and easily blew my tourist doors off with his accent and much better grammar. Mark Gelineau caught some of the stranger audience suggestions and turned them to his advantage. A good time was had by all!

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The Ink That Rushes From Your Heart

Dorothy Parker wrote “Never never dip your quill/In ink that rushes from your heart.” Being willing to do exactly that is what will bring the deepest meaning to our writing. How do we bring ourselves to be that honest and vulnerable in our stories?

Lillian Csernica (Sense of Wonder Press) (M), Jay Hartlove (JayWrites Productions), Ms. Maya Kaathryn Bohnhoff (Book View Café)

It’s not easy to talk about one’s creative process, but the three of us gave it a solid try. Jay described how the combination of his acting training and his directing skills help him render authentic emotion on the page. Maya gave us some very personal insights into how she transforms personal pain into dynamic action in her stories. Me? I keep digging deeper and deeper into the hearts of my characters to find the pain that drives them onward, that won’t let them sleep, that gives them strength in the face of crushing opposition. Pain is supposed to be Nature’s way of telling us to stop doing something. For writers, it’s what keeps us writing.

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BayCon 2019 Panel Schedule


by Lillian Csernica on May 22, 2019

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It’s that time of year again! As Memorial Day Weekend approaches, I’m packing up my copies of my latest anthology appearances, my panel notes, and my younger son with an eye to having a wonderful time at this year’s BayCon!

Here’s a list of my panel appearances. Hope to see you there!

Keeping our children involved.

25 May 2019, Saturday 10:00 – 11:30, Connect 3 (San Mateo Marriott)

How do we ENHANCE their education?

Dr. Wanda Kurtcu (Retired Educator) (M), Lillian Csernica (Sense of Wonder Press), Juliette Wade, Sarah Williams (Merrie Pryanksters)

 

How diverse is diversity?

25 May 2019, Saturday 14:30 – 16:00, Synergy 4 (San Mateo Marriott)

As recent events show, this is still a needed discussion. What does diversity and equity look like? How can groups, organizations and communites promote “diversity”, especially when they are not organically positioned to be diverse? What things can be done to attract a more diverse community in whatever you do? (G. Castro)

Gregg Castro (Salinan T’rowt’raahl) (M), Dr. yvonne white (Hayward High School), Lillian Csernica (Sense of Wonder Press), Jean Battiato

 

Why do writers kill characters?

25 May 2019, Saturday 16:00 – 17:30, Connect 5 (San Mateo Marriott)

Does it matter if it’s a main character or a secondary, supporting character?

Fred Wiehe (M), Ms. Jennifer L. Carson (Freelance), Rebecca Inch-Partridge, Lillian Csernica (Sense of Wonder Press)

 

Altered Beast

26 May 2019, Sunday 10:00 – 11:30, Synergy 4 (San Mateo Marriott)

Werewolves and other shapeshifters in mythology and literature

Kevin Andrew Murphy (M), Lillian Csernica (Sense of Wonder Press), Pat MacEwen

 

Spontaneous Story

26 May 2019, Sunday 11:30 – 13:00, Connect 3 (San Mateo Marriott)

Panelists developing a story developed by multiple choice suggestions from audience members.

Jeff Warwick (M), David Brin, Lillian Csernica (Sense of Wonder Press), Mark Gelineau (Gelineau and King), Mrs. Sandra Saidak (Silicon Valley Authors)

 

The Ink That Rushes From Your Heart

27 May 2019, Monday 10:00 – 11:30, Engage (San Mateo Marriott)

Dorothy Parker wrote “Never never dip your quill/In ink that rushes from your heart.” Being willing to do exactly that is what will bring the deepest meaning to our writing. How do we bring ourselves to be that honest and vulnerable in our stories?

Lillian Csernica (Sense of Wonder Press) (M), Jay Hartlove (JayWrites Productions), Ms. Maya Kaathryn Bohnhoff (Book View Cafe)

 

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Smorgasbord Posts from Your Archives – #PotLuck – Are Blogging Friends Real Friends? by Darlene Foster


I firmly believe that blogging friends are real friends. Shout outs to @Jazzfeathers, Bernie, Mary Lou, Pat, and all the new friends I’ve made during the A to Z Blog Challenge!

Smorgasbord Blog Magazine

Welcome to the series of Posts from Your Archives, where bloggers put their trust in me. In this series, I dive into a blogger’s archives and select four posts to share here to my audience.

If you would like to know how it works here is the original post:https://smorgasbordinvitation.wordpress.com/2019/04/28/smorgasbord-posts-from-your-archives-newseries-pot-luck-and-do-you-trust-me/

Children’s author and travel writer Darlene Foster is a regular visitor to the blog and has shared some amazing posts.  She gave me permission to explore her archives in search of more treasure. This week the pleasure in meeting blogging friends face to face.

©Darlene Foster.

Are Blogging Friends Real Friends? by Darlene Foster

You may have read on a previous post that one of the items on my personal “bucket list” was to meet my blogging friends in person. I am excited to say that I have met three recently.

During my last trip to Canada, a blogging…

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