Snack-Pairings for Authors


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Ever wondered what you should be eating while writing a certain genre?  I recently polled members of a writer’s retreat and here is the consensus view.*  😊

*The views represented in this infographic only represent the opinions of the select individuals polled.  Your snackage choices may vary.

Snack-Pairings for Authors.jpg

Home Sweet (Future) Home


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As my daughter approaches her matriculation to whatever school or training program will come after she (crosses fingers and toes) graduates from high school, and my husband and I begin to think about downsizing and eventual retirement, at least from the corporate work gig, the topic of where to live often comes up.

If I had a spare seven or eight million dollars and could afford to move all of my friends with me, I’d love to head back to the east coast – Maine or Massachusetts – and buy a little cottage on the coast.  However, the odds of me earning a spare seven or eight mil are slim to none, and besides which, I’ve lived in the Midwest for so long now that I’m not sure I’d fit in there anymore.

Moving to small little burg outside of Taos or Santa Fe has also come up.  Some friends and I half-jokingly talk about the adobe compound we want to build, akin to a 70s commune, where we’ll grow herbs and vegetables in the courtyard, raise alpaca and knit textiles with the fleece, and throw our own pots.  As long as we have internet, that would be delightful!

Another option would be to find some hamlet in northern Wisconsin, where the only things in town are a post office, a coffee shop and a green grocer, and we’d reside in a rustic (but modern) cottage by a crystal clear lake.  I can hear the loons calling over the water now. (Hey now!  Stop calling my friends loons! 😊)

I’ve also even considered moving outside the US.  A little thatched-roof cottage in the west of Ireland maybe, or a small villa on the Costa del Sol, where the ocean is just a stone’s throw away.  I’ve always liked Oslo or the cosmopolitan flavor of The Hague.  Hey, I could totally learn Dutch, right?

There is also the option of just staying where we are, in our current house.  It has a lovely basement (AKA, the Man Cave), room for Rachel (in case of an unsuccessful launch) and familiar surrounds.  But frankly, I worry that my neighbors already want to burn crosses on my lawn, vegetable gardening is tough when you live on six feet of clay, and the real estate taxes in this area are so crazy expensive that unless that spare seven or eight mil shows up, I’m pretty sure we’d end up living in a double Frigidaire box on Lower Wacker Drive if we stay.

So, the question becomes, what’s really important?  Location?  Amenities?  A view of the surf?  The ability to lower our carbon footprint?  A place to wait out the zombie apocalypse?  I could list a bunch of criteria, and we likely will before the exercise is complete, like access to nature and square footage and hobby space and a fenced in yard for the Admiral.  But I guess at the end of the day, even if we end up staying here in Plastic Suburbia, it really comes down to just a couple of critical things.  Being able to spend time with friends and family, and the freedom to do the things we love to do.

Have I made a decision?  Nope.  Probably won’t, for a number of years.  In the meantime, I’ll be working on convincing all my friends that the best place for ALL of us to retire is somewhere together!  If you guys have any suggestions – or maybe a little place on the French Riviera you’re willing to sell me for the price of a bottle of next year’s Nouveau Beaujolais – feel free to leave a comment below!

Meanwhile, and as always,

Illegitimi non carborundum!

Rules for Writer’s Retreats – or how not to spend $500 at a New Age shop and actually get some writing done


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Traditional Pop Tart Toast

The Traditional Saturday Morning Pop Tart Toast (many thanks to the Mad Hill Hunters of Lake Meep)

I recently spend a lovely three-day weekend on a writer’s retreat with a couple of good friends who are also authors, so I thought I’d share a few thoughts about considerations for a fun and productive writer’s retreat.  As always, these are just my personal considerations.  Your mileage may vary.

Nan’s rules for a successful writer’s retreat:

  1. Location location location. Requirements include comfortable chairs; enough table space for all writers to spread out with laptops, research material, notebooks, etc.; many power strips and places to plug them in; outdoor space, weather permitting; comfortable sleeping arrangements; spaces for privacy and alone time.  It can also be nice to have interesting places to go for quick breaks (local wineries, The Mustard Museum, crystal shops, the International House of Wine and Cheese have all proved to be acceptable diversions for my group).  However, while field trips are great for refilling the creative well, beware that they can also be a time suck.

TIP:  Try NOT spending five hours on Saturday at the local crystal shop, no matter how much fun it is.  Not that I’d know anything about that…

  1. Meal Planning. You’ll need kitchen space and advanced meal suggestions and preparation OR tasty and budget-appropriate eateries nearby.

TIP:  Try NOT to over-plan the food.  With one group of writers I go on retreats with, we always seem to bring enough food between us to get us through a zombie apocalypse, despite the planning – that’s the trouble with getting a bunch of moms together.

  1. It’s always good to go on retreat with people who have similar social needs.  If you need long hours of solitude, with no distractions, then traveling with a group of chatty women who also want to catch up on each other’s lives may not be the right mix for you.

TIP:  Always bring your noise cancelling headphones.  That way if the rest of the group wants to listen to Bohemian Rhapsody fifteen times in a row for inspiration (including head banging at the appropriate part), you can turn your back and remain in a state of silent and productive bliss.

  1. Sacred Separation. Do you best to allow your time at the retreat to be sacred time, time that you devote to ‘being there’ fully.  Do your best to keep contact with home and work at a minimum, as you would at a spiritual retreat.  Allow the mental space of a retreat to do its job, whatever that needs to be.

TIP:  This means that when your teenage daughter texts thirty-seven times to squee about a new season of her favorite anime show, it’s okay to text her a short reply, but DO NOT ENGAGE in a full-scale, hour-long text-athon.  Set expectations and then get off the phone.  It can wait until you get home (by which time, she will have moved on to something else anyway).

  1. Setting Expectations: Speaking of which, make sure you let your friends and family, and your work know that you will be unavailable for phone calls, conference calls, meetings, emails, texts, etc.  If you must make yourself available, make the time periods brief, and work them into your retreat schedule carefully.

TIP:  What I tell my family:  Only call me if the house is on fire, and if you can put it out, then it’s not on fire.  What I tell my staff:  Only call me if someone gets let go, and if it’s me, don’t call me until after the retreat, so you don’t spoil my time off.

There are probably other tips, but these are the ones I rely on these days.  Do you have tips for retreats?  If so, I’d love to hear about them!  Don’t be shy – share below!

Take care and as always,

Illegitimi non carborundum!

Sneak Peek Excerpt from Fringe Benefits, Book #4 of The Coffee & Crime Mysteries

Fringe Benefits, Book 4 in the Coffee & Crime Mysteries, featuring coffee shop owner Ellie Gooden, is heading into final edits (YAY!!), so I thought I’d share a sneak peek from Chapter One here with you all!  Hope this whets your appetite!

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Lila Lee made one final, stertorous effort to inhale before collapsing to the floor. Ellie saw a flash of bright white light manifest above the body and skitter up towards the ceiling.  As it vanished, she felt a chill ripple her scalp.  With a curse, Charlie started CPR, but Ellie knew it would do little good.  The author’s spirit had, as the saying went, left the building.  Lila Lee Merrill, the First Lady of Love, was dead.

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Stay tuned for the final release date!  And as always,

Illegitimi non carborundum

Elgin Literary Festival


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Open book

Hey guys!  Just wanted to let you know I will be signing books at the Elgin Literary Festival this year!  I’m very excited to be a part of this event.  It brings together lots of regional authors and readers in a day and a half of unfettered literary abandon.  One of the highlights of this year’s Festival is the presence of author and irreverant authorial luminary, Chuck Wendig.

It takes place Friday January 26 and Saturday January 27th.  Book signings will be on Saturday, between 11 and 1, in the Hemmens Cultural Center.  Check here for additional details.  If you’re local, I hope you’ll make the trek into Elgin – it looks to be a terrific event.  I mean, come on, guys, even if you don’t want to stop by and chat with me, Chuck Wendig will be speaking from 2:30 to 4:00.  CHUCK WENDIG!!!

Hope to see some of you there!  And always,

Illegitimi non carborundum!

Friday Dance Party


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In our first Friday Dance Party of the new year, I feature one of my favorite Tom Petty tunes.  I’m on a Writer’s Retreat this weekend, so this song seems apropos.  Hope the New Year finds you runnin’ down your dreams!  Enjoy and Happy New Year from The Melting Muse!

Friday Dance Party


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It’s been awhile, but I heard this in my Pandora mix this morning and it brought back so many  memories.  I actually wrote a story from this song way back when.  Very Indiana Jones meets The Wolfman.  Yeah, I know.  You had to be there.  Lucky that manuscript got lost somewhere a long the way.  LOL

So give it up for Toto and Africa!  And as always, Illegtimi non carborundum!

The Best Way NOT to Write a Blog Post – or Worldbuilder’s Disease, the Silent Writing Killer


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I frequently get behind schedule when writing posts for my blog.  I think this infographic sums up the ‘why’ pretty readily.

Writing Infographic, Blog Post Procrastination, Nan Sampson, Coffee & Crime Mysteries, fiction writing, worldbuilder's disease

The Effects of Worldbuilder’s Disease

Of course, this kind of behavior is also why I frequently get stalled writing my novels too.  In the fiction trade, we call this “WorldBuilder’s Disease”.  It is a devastating ailment, characterized by dry eyes, head aches, pale skin, difficulty in focusing, frequent bouts of boring our loved ones with minute trivia about obscure topics, and most horrifying of all, an utter lack of progress on one’s WIP (Work In Progress).

Hi.  My name is Nan and I’m a Worldbuilder-aholic.

It’s a sickness, I tell you.  Creating languages, political systems, histories that stretch back thousands of years to the dawn of time, maps detailing every town on a continent and a listing of all the pubs (well, pubs are important!), building whole towns in Minecraft (yes, I did this for the town of Horizon from my Coffee & Crime Mysteries),  designing multiple religions and their associated pantheons complete with origin stories and mythologies, producing detailed family trees for  walk-on characters for seven generations, detailing musical trends (what song is that bard playing in the inn that night?  Is it part of a larger musical movement?  Does the Bard Guild have an approved playing list?  Who controls what’s on that?  Why?  How did this come about…).  And on and on.

worldbuilder's disease, writing procrastination, writing research, nan sampson, fiction writing, the coffee & crime mysteries

Time for an Intervention

Will any of this appear in the actual novel?  Probably not.  Does it make the world richer and deeper?  Well, yes.  But only to a point and mostly only to me.

Is it fun?  Oh, hell to the yes!

Welcome to the world of a writer.

They say (you know, ‘THEY’) you should only build enough of your world to get you through what you’re writing.  Take a few details and go deep, instead of going broad and shallow.  Those of us with Worldbuilder’s Disease say, why not go broad AND deep!

The problem, of course, and why the pundits say what they say, is that all that research and the fifty thousand link bookmarks and dowloaded articles and spreadsheets will completely derail actual progress on my books.  All that time I spent creating the 3,000 year history of the continent across the sea from where our heroes live is time I could have spent actually finishing the novel.  Perhaps it’s enough to know that the Empress who rules over there is a nasty piece of work.  Heck, the heroes won’t even get to that continent until book 4 in the series!

Do you have Worldbuilder’s Disease?  It doesn’t affect just writers.  Do you fall down internet rabbit holes when researching anything online?  If you do, share below which particular rabbit holes are most dangerous for you.  And know that you are NOT ALONE and that some day there WILL BE A CURE!  In the mean time, keep focused, wear internet blinders and most of all,

Illegitimi non carborundum!


6 Protective Herbs and Stones


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The heroine in my Coffee & Crime mystery series, Ellie Gooden, frequently uses stones and herbs in her spiritual and everyday life, and I am often asked by readers about the ones I mention that she uses.  For instance, when she first moves into her cabin in the first book in the series, Restless Natives, she smudges her house to cleanse it of any stuck or negative energies which might be lingering there from the cabin’s previous owner.

In my series, because my main character is frequently dealing with the sometimes negative energy of the dead, a lot of what she does involves either cleansing or protection, so today, I thought I’d spend a few moments giving you a minuscule example of the kinds of herbs and stones Ellie and other practitioners use both for those purposes.  This is by no means comprehensive, just some of my personal favorites.  So put down your besom, pull up your stool, and put on your witch’s thinking hat and have a listen.


Just as regular old table salt absorbs that red wine you spilled on grandma’s white table cloth, or the oil from your cast iron skillet, salt is also a great absorber or dampener of psychic energy of all kinds.  Used for centuries in casting protective circles and barriers, it has the advantage in the modern age of being readily available.  Used on doorsteps, windowsills, in the corners of your house, or in the traditional ritual circle, salt does the job effectively and economically!



A stone used by many for protection from all sorts of happenstances, amethyst is a beautiful purple gem stone with a calming, balancing nature, readily available at your local rock shop or metaphysical store.  Familiar to many people and great protection for travelers, lore also states it can help guard one against psychic attacks (something Ellie learns in Book Four!).


Black Tourmaline

I love all the color variations of tourmaline, but many of my pagan friends tout highly the potent protective properties of this black translucent stone.  Some traditions consider this stone able to create a psychic shield to dispel both negative energies and malign entities, and is carried by a couple of ghost hunters of my acquaintance.  It is also sometimes believed to help turn around negative thought patterns as well as assist in taking that energy and sending it down a more positive path.

black tourmaline


Not only is this little herb an aid in relaxation when drunk as a tea, but it can also help you fight off psychic attacks, especially when used in combination with other herbs like calendula, which I also use in skin and joint salves.  It has a pleasant, apple-like scent, and a mild flavor and goes great with a little honey.  Plus, the little white flowers are charming in your garden!


Sage and other ‘smudging’ herbs

While the practice of smudging with sage is common place among modern pagans, it has stirred some controversy among some Native American activists, who consider ‘smudging’ by white shamans a form of cultural mis-appropriation.  While smoke and the burning of incense or herbs has been used by many cultures across the world, it is always important to respect the spiritual beliefs and practices of all peoples, especially if you are imitating or adopting another cultural tradition into your own practices.  To avoid this, I grow my own herbs to use when cleansing a space, relying on my own European and Celtic heritage for herb choices; primarily lavender, rosemary and mugwort.  This also acts as a protection against some shady business practices as some commercially produced ‘smudge’ bundles can contain toxic substances.  Besides, I find that the connection between growing and tending my herbs gives my cleansing rituals more meaning and punch.

Cleansing Herbs

Mugwort, Rosemary & Lavender


Here’s an herb almost everyone is familiar with, and one that goes great with pizza!  Not only can you use this lovely, fragrant herb in cooking, but you can create a wash with it that some practitioners swear by to ward off negative influences and promote a peaceful and harmonious home.  Asperge the walls of your home or your body for a barrier against negativity.


And there you have it.  Just a smattering of possibilities!

If you’re at all interested in learning more about crystals and stones, or herbs, I highly recommend the following websites:

Crystal Vaults

The Magickal Cat

Or check out almost any book by the late, great author, Scott Cunningham.

I hope you’ve found this peek into the magickal world interesting!  As with anything of a spiritual nature, most things are open to interpretation and your mileage may vary.  In the end, it’s all about the energy you put into it, rather than the object itself, no matter the purpose.  Keep putting out positive energy, keep love and hope in your heart, and the world will be a better place for it!

As always,

Illegitimi non-carborundum!