Sunday, December 25, 2011

Happy Holidays!

May the wonder of the Season capture your imagination and inspire you all year long!

~Happy Holidays from the Rockville8

Merry Christmas and Happy New Year!

Sunday, December 18, 2011

Time Travel, Indeed

This week the Rockville 8 are thrilled to welcome Elaine Fox, USA Today Bestselling author of fifteen historical and contemporary romances, and four novellas.

I recently e-published my very first book, putting it up on both Amazon and Barnes & Noble. Traveler—a time-travel story about a Civil War soldier who comes forward in time—was written in 1994/95 and published in 1996 by Leisure Books, but has languished in out-of-print obscurity for a decade or more. E-pubbing for the first time was an interesting process, but as it has been exhaustively covered elsewhere, I’m not going to go into that here.

No, what I found interesting was re-visiting a book I’d written that I hadn’t looked at in probably fifteen years.

Anybody who’s ever written anything knows that on many days the outfit to wear for reading one’s own work would not be complete without mud-colored glasses. We can be our harshest critics, knowing just where to thrust the knife for maximum despair. What was polished once needs polishing again. What was never polished should be cut altogether. The plot’s unbelievable —the main character’s a fool—the book should really start at Chapter Five—and the whole thing reads like it was written by a fourth grader. What was I thinking?

I’ve read page proofs of books of mine about to be published that made me cringe with shame, and curse the page-proofing stage for its demand for close reading coupled with rules on limited input. Change a word, sure. Change a scene, forget it.

So I fully anticipated re-reading Traveler and wanting to gut the thing. I was ready to slash adjectives, adverbs, dependent clauses. Beef up plot, hack out internal thought, enhance characterization. I could do that now. I had the rights back. The book was all mine again—as it was when it was born—and the deadline was my own.

I sat down with mental red pen in hand (a.k.a. a keyboard with an eager Delete key.)

Imagine my surprise when I got caught up in the story. I actually liked the characters. The pacing was pretty good. Some of those adverbs even seemed necessary. I couldn’t always remember what was coming, but whenever I thought, “I should change it so that X and Y happen next,” I read on to discover that I’d already written X and Y! To my relief and surprise, the book worked. For me. One of its harshest critics.

While much is written about trusting the reader, maybe what we should be cultivating is trusting the writer. Try this on for size: You know what you’re doing. You’re
actually good at this. You’re a reader so you know not only what you like, but what works.

If you’re a writer who’s spent too much time thinking about genre and marketing and rejections and reviews, here’s my advice. Throw out those mud-colored glasses and start entertaining yourself when you write. Have fun. I mean it. I had fun writing Traveler because it was my first book and I was writing for myself. Because of that, at least for me, the story holds together, even sixteen years later.

I’m sure there were days while writing it that I got discouraged and found I’d donned the mud-colored glasses without realizing it. But on the whole, I was writing free, and I think it shows. (And I mean that in the good way.)

P.S. For those of you who don’t own a pair of mud-colored glasses … I bow to you. But I’ve got some you can have, if you want.

Sunday, December 11, 2011

The Hustle and Bustle of the Christmas Season

Once Thanksgiving hits, there’s a mad dash to January. If you’re anything like me, you don’t have a moment to spare. Every December I struggle to do it all--the full-time job, the writing, the holiday shopping, the decorating, the baking and cooking, the usual juggling of family obligations, the Christmas parties, and so on and so on. Sigh. Just thinking about it all makes me tired. ‘Tis the season to be jolly and I feel like I can’t keep up. I’m sinking under the extra load of the holidays.
Every year, I’m determined not to do it and every year I do. It’s a crazy season. Some days I don’t feel sane. And, yet, most of it I wouldn’t give up. It’s a wonderful time of year filled with family, friends, good food, and lots of festitivies. We build memories. Give. Receive. Laugh. Play.

That’s what it’s all about. This past weekend, I found myself taking time out to relax and enjoy time with friends. It helped me destress, find perspective and build my community. It was a much needed break from the hustle and bustle of the season. I still shopped, ate good food, wrote, read--all the normal things I’d have done anyway, I just found a more relaxing way to do it; in the company of friends. It was a little thing really. But it helped me find an oasis of sanity in an otherwise insane season.

So what do you do? What tricks have you found to release stress and find moments of peace during the holiday season? As writers, what do you do to keep writing during this harried time? As working moms, how do you juggle it all? I’d love to hear your ideas.

Maybe we can all help each other gain a little joy and peace this Christmas.

Sunday, December 4, 2011

Work in Progress

Thursday, my big boy dog and I headed out for our customary walk, and stepped into a work in progress. The project began three months ago, involves five square blocks, and requires teams of city workers to cut holes in the streets. These holes are the size of Volkswagens. For safety’s sake, the workers cover these holes with vast steel plates at the end of the work day. They tack down the plates with ridges of asphalt high enough to ruin any SUV’s suspension. They heap their barrels and caution tape at the curb, and circle the whole area with those inevitable orange pylons. Result? It ain’t pretty.

Many of my neighbors are none too happy about this. But what can they do? The project may be time consuming—and it may be ugly—but it’s necessary.

This is a work in progress.

Well, on Thursday, one of my neighbors did something about this work in progress. He celebrated it. He strung faerie lights between the pylons, festooned them with red glitter balls, crowned his creation with Fosters beer cans, and voilá! As my big boy dog and I admired my neighbor’s handiwork, it came to me. Whether we’re wrestling with a manuscript, pounding the pavement in another round of job hunting, or pursuing our weight loss goals, we all have works in progress. At times, these works may not be pretty. But they’re necessary—to our wellbeing, to the wellbeing of those we love, to the wellbeing of our community.

Really, as we struggle with these projects day by day, we ourselves are the true works in progress. We’re not always where we’d like to be, not always as we want to be, not always as we hope to be—but we’re working on it. And that, my big boy dog and I decided, is certainly worth celebrating.

Do you celebrate your own work in progress? Does your celebration include faerie lights and Fosters? How do you celebrate where you are while keeping your eye on where you’d like to be?

Sunday, November 27, 2011

A Little Headbanging

Here we are, kittens. The 27th of November is sliding down the hill, taking my four-day weekend with it.


Wasn't it lovely? And don't look now but my dodgy math skills tell me there are just 34 days left in the year. It was a good year, 2011. The entire world of publishing is changing all around us, but in the center, midst all the noise, we writers and readers are still here.

We can bang our heads all we like, trying to figure out delivery systems and income streams and things like that, but at the heart of it all are the people looking for a good book to read and the people working to write them.

And thank goodness.

On another note, my granddaughter, CR, lives all the way in Oregon. None of us has as much vacation time as we'd like to stay connected, but we have Skype, and it's a miracle. It's almost like living in the world of the Jetsons, isn't it? Those flying cars should be coming off the assembly line any time now.

When my daughter and her family were here in Maryland at the end of the summer, CR was a year old and fast on her feet. At one point, she slid on the wood floor and ended up banging her head. Not bad, or not that bad, at any rate, because all of us, including my granddaughter, laughed it off. But then, because we were laughing, she did it again, on purpose. Which of course made us all laugh more. So she moved to one of the throw rugs and did it again. Smart kid, right? I mean, I know I'm biased, but still. Same comic effect, now with less pain.

But for some strange reason, everybody blamed me for her new trick.  Which I thought was unreasonable--I mean, we all laughed, didn't we?  Until after they went back to Oregon and we connected again on Skype and when CR saw me on the laptop screen, she bent down and banged her head on the floor.

She still does this every time I see her and it still makes me laugh.

Sometimes, banging your head can be fun.

It's good to remember that, when all around you the world seems to be going cRaZy and you feel like banging your head.

I say, turn the bass up and go for it . . . just make sure you're on the carpet.

Monday, November 21, 2011

Thanksgiving Gifts in a Michael Hauge Onion Sauce

What, you ask, does Michael Hauge have to do with Thanksgiving?

Two weeks ago, Lisa posted here Michael's parting question from his seminar: "I would do anything to complete my goal. Just don't ask me to do ______, because that's just not me." He said our first answer would not be the real nut keeping us from our goal. Rather our first answers would be planted in our protective identities and it might take some digging to get to the essential root of what keeps us from accomplishing our goals. (Insert collective groan here)

As we prepare for the feast of Thanksgiving, I've been thinking about gratitude and what I'm thankful for. I've come to realize that there is room for identity and essence even here. My first answer when I ask, Keely, what are you thankful for this year? is pretty standard identity stuff: my job, my friends (you all rock!), my family.

These are all true, don't get me wrong. But they are also surface answers, protective answers, easy answers to share at the thanksgiving table before moving on to the main course.

So where does the essence come in? For me, it's when I peel back the layers of the onion by asking why.

Why am I thankful for my job? Beyond paying the bills, this job over the last nearly eight years has engaged my brain and my heart. It has challenged me, nurtured me, provided a safe space to grow and learn and grow some more.

Why am I thankful for my friends? Because when I had a really bad day last week, they rallied around me, offering support without telling me I was silly or lacking or to "just get over it."

Why am I thankful for my family? Because being in their space makes me feel - everything from grief to rejoicing to kooky humor to love. My family is present moment hijinks and long ago baggage and future hopes and dreams.

So there you have it. Thanksgiving gifts in a Michael Hauge onion sauce. As writers, that's what we're supposed to do, yes? Peel the layers of our characters' protective identity onion away until we reach their essential core? (yes, yes, this metaphor would be even better if onions actually had cores...maybe on the rewrite...)

What are you thankful for this season? What are your characters thankful for? Identity vs. essence: Is it either/or for you? An onion of many layers? Or do you make sense of it using some other construction or metaphor?

Sunday, November 13, 2011

Sustainable Conflict and Believable Setbacks

I got a lot out of Michael Hauge’s two-day seminar last weekend. More than I’d gleaned four years ago when he visited WRW the first time. I think his presentation is better today than it was back in 2008. Well worth the money I spent. He’s refined his material and deepened the concepts.

One of the biggest points to hit home for me was that all story must elicit a positive emotional journey for the reader/viewer and that emotion flows out of conflict. If I think about the books I read and the movies I watch, this is definitely true. When I say positive, I don’t mean all happy-go-lucky. But a journey that strings me a long and draws me into sustainable conflicts and believable barriers and setbacks, as well as triumphs. I want to experience the highs and lows with the protagonist. And I want to experience her growth over the arc of the story.

Readers pick up books and movies for the emotional journey. They want to lose themselves in the stories of someone else for a little while. At the hands of skilled writers, we find ourselves laughing, cheering, cringing, and crying with the best of them. It’s the credible twists and turns, confrontations, conflict, and successes of a character that allow us to experience universal truths that resonate with us all and showcase what makes us human. In his book, Writing Screenplays That Sell, Hauge says: “People do not go to movies so they can see the characters on screen laugh, cry, get frightened, or get turned on. They go to have those experiences themselves.”

I’d argue this is why we see certain movies and why we read certain books--because we enjoy the emotional journey that particular genre gives us. The tropes or reader/viewer expectations of that particular genre draw us like a magnet and speak to us in a satisfying way. I read books across the spectrum of genre fiction and enjoy them, however, I adore romance novels. And romance novels are the novels I choose to write.

No matter what the characters go through in a story, no matter what their personal arc, in a romance I know I will not get a tragic ending. While I know the ending will be happy, it’s the believable setback or the point where all hope is lost that makes me worry that these two characters won’t get their happy ending. Will the character be courageous enough to push through that final setback to find their happy ending? Or will they revert to their old life, the status-quo where they live a desperate life of mediocrity trapped by their fears? Isn’t it the secret hope we all cling to in life? That we’ll make a difference and that when adversity strikes that we’ll rise to the challenge and push through to find triumph?

The importance of getting this final setback right in a story and pinpointing an emotional journey directed at a particular audience hit me hard twice in the past two days. First, as I sat watching The Proposal with my youngest son and then as I sat watching Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part II with my middle son. At the point of the final setback where all hope is lost for the protagonist, in each case, I heard my son sniffling.

These are two totally different movies. Drastically different stories. However, in each case, that final setback spoke to that teenager. So much so that the setback moved them to tears. In The Proposal when Margaret realizes she’s forgotten what it means to be part of a family and then admits to a roomful of people that she blackmailed Andrew into marrying her and then she runs back to New York, she sets off a whole series of events that show the other characters how much she truly loves Andrew to give him up and give him the life she believes he deserves. The audience is rooting for them. We know they’re perfect for each other. And when all hope is lost, we worry for them.

In the recent Harry Potter movie, the final setback where all hope is lost is where Harry realizes he’s the eighth horcrux and he must sacrifice himself--he must die--at Voldemort’s hand. J. K. Rowling is masterful. She makes us truly believe that all hope is lost--that Harry dies and all is lost. When I read the book for the first time, I sobbed uncontrollably at this point. The author builds a credible setback that rips our hearts out and makes us believe that this teenaged boy will not triumph.

And it’s this mastery of sustainable conflict and believable setbacks that prove the hallmark of a great writer--a writer who provides a satisfying emotional journey for her readers/viewers.

So what stories have worked for you on that emotional level? And tell us the genre.

Sunday, November 6, 2011

Identity vs. Essence

I spent this past weekend with Michael Hauge, the screenwriter, in his Story Mastery class. One topic seemed to catch the attention of many attendees. It was the discussion of a character living in their identity versus living in their essence.

Identity is the false self we present to the world to protect us from the fear that grows from a belief created by an emotional wound. In order for the character to achieve their goal, they must face this fear. The way for the character to do this is to live in their truth. Michael Hauge calls this truth the character’s essence.

Michael describes this character journey as moving from what is safe (identity) to destiny (essence). He said “A character can be safe and unfulfilled or can attempt to fulfill their destiny and be scared shitless." The character arc is the journey between living fully in their identity and living fully in their essence.

In his book, Writing Screenplays That Sell, he states, “The character’s transformation from someone stuck in his inner conflict to someone who has found the courage to overcome it is his arc. It’s an arc from fear to courage, from inner conflict to true self-worth."

At the end of his Saturday lecture, he told us that the notion of identity vs. essence applies to real life as well. He said that given the choice, most people choose to live in their identity rather than live in their essence because they choose safety over potential happiness. He challenged us to apply this to our own writing life. In other words, he told us to complete the following sentence:

I’ll do whatever it takes to achieve my goal, just don’t ask me to __________________ because that’s just not me.

At lunch today, many of us said fear held us back. But Yvonne said that fear is too easy an answer. I agree. Fear may be the result but if fear is keeping you from your writing goals, then there must be an underlying cause. In other words, fear is the result of something else and that is really what’s keeping you from achieving your writing goals.

I’ve been thinking all day about what my answer would be. And I still don’t know.

What are your thoughts on the subject, either for yourself or for development of character arc? What are some good examples of this in movies or books?

Sunday, October 30, 2011

What’s in your closet?

The Rockville 8 is proud to welcome Diane L. Kowalyshyn as guest blogger this week. Diane writes heart-hammering, tall-stake adventures—romantic suspense novels that run on high-voltage action, intrigue and intimacy. She is a daughter, sister, wife, mother, aunt, friend, and Seton Hill WPF MFA graduate, who in perpetuity, survives in Toronto, Canada. There’s only one skeleton left in her closet. Visit her at

Writers write.

We punch keyboards. We mutter or shout to ourselves or inanimate objects. With head-down diligence, we work to decipher and expand our fictitious worlds as they unfold.

If you’ve been writing for any length of time you have skeletons in your closet.

You know what I’m talking about. They’re the manuscripts you’ve locked away. You haven’t touched them in days, weeks, months, maybe even years. They gather dust because you’ve lost interest—maybe you couldn’t find them a home. They hang, untouched, because you can’t get rid of them. They’re an integral part of you. They mark your journey on this uphill climb and define you as a writer. They’re the carrion you’ve left behind.

Here’s the challenge. Don’t hide these bone-racks. Harvest them.

Time is on your side. Inactivity and separation have returned your objectivity. I guarantee your story is nothing like you remember. It’s much, much worse. But here’s the thing. There is no better way to affirm your growth as a writer than to revise a previous work. Everything you’ve learned is put to the test. My nemesis is grammar and I’ve found Claire Kehrwald Cook’s Line by Line to be a solid reference. She’s compiled great information on everything from modifiers, to conjunctions, to punctuation—she’s even attached a handy glossary of usage.

Shake those bones to make sure they still hold together. Revision tones flabby, drooping flesh into muscle. And muscle supports and fortifies the skeletal system. I use my own method to make sure the plot is solid. It’s called the Writer’s GPS—a tool I devised based on Deb Dixon’s GMC: Goal, Motivation & Conflict. Another good reference is James Scott Bell’s Revision & Self Editing. He breaks fiction down into a simple formula: CONCEPT + CHARACTERS x CONFLICT = NOVEL , and provides a process to sustain this formula. He calls it the LOCK system—lead (character), objective, confrontation, and knockout. If style books make you want to run and hide, or if you only have room for one revision book in your arsenal, I would recommend Renne Browne and Dave King’s Self-Editing for Fiction Writers. It’s the bible of all revision books. Seriously. I love it because not only does it show, it tells.

Add new flesh to those bones. There’s a reason you let them molder. If you were tired with the story concept then, no doubt you will be now, but not if you inject new life into the existing framework. Weave a fresh sub-plot throughout the story to get the creative juices flowing again. It will be the vascular connection that feeds the muscles and keeps those bones in motion. It will make the old concept new again.

Persevere. You’ll want to throw in the towel every single day and your muse won’t play fairly. She’ll interrupt you with various other more appealing story ideas and try to lead you astray. Don’t let her. Jot down those new ideas in a separate folder and get back to revising.

Why bother? Because you’ll get a return on all you put in. With your unfinished business fully fleshed out, you’ll be sitting pretty, ready to set off in search of that elusive Shangri-La—publication.

Monday, October 24, 2011

Reaction, Inaction, Action – Weight Loss and Empowerment

Last November, I approached a close relative about a pattern of behavior I’d noticed in them that had me concerned. I did it from love, but my timing sucked – and bringing up delicate matters is often dicey no matter what the motivation or the timing. This family member hadn’t asked for my two cents. And I approached the person as they were indulging in the (to my mind) bad habit in question. [I’m purposefully not outing my relative here, so please bear with the gender-neutral pronoun awkwardness!]
Well, dear readers, my relative turned the tables on me. Got up in my grill, called me fat, said my obesity was a far cry more serious health issue than their “perceived problem” and that I could come back to state my case once I had lost 100 pounds. As in the pages of the very best writing, the situation worsened for this protagonist when my relative said:
“100 pounds? Hell, lose 75. Then we’ll talk.”
I cried. I got mad. I gained more weight. I felt helpless and stuck. Gaining weight did nothing but hurt me, not my relative. But losing weight would mean they won. Right? Right?
I started a food journal in January and lost 12 lbs. Yay! Then I had a visit from the relative, stopped the food journal and over the next six or so months kept gaining and losing the same five pounds. In midsummer, I broke down and bought three pairs of pants in the next size up. I cried.
By the end of this summer, I knew I had come to a crossroads. I could take control by committing to a weight loss program or I could continue to punish myself. Act or react?
I chose to act. Since mid-September I’ve lost about a fifth of my intended goal. I feel fantastic, like I crawled from beneath a rock to frolic in the sun. I have a long way to go, but I’m moving in a healthy direction. My family member and I will come to rapprochement. Or not.
Either way, I've grown throughout this process, from having a better sense of when to keep my mouth shut to learning how to unhook my actions from someone else's expectations. I'm not losing weight because of my relative. I'm losing weight because it's the right thing for me to do right now.
How about you? Are you an actor or re-actor? Or somewhere in between?

Sunday, October 16, 2011


Do you know when your favorite author's next book is due out? Do you wait with bated breath? (or is it baited breath, which makes me picture a hook with a minnow stuck to it hanging form my uvula.) Maybe pre-order it? Are you one to read the reviews first, then decide to buy, or do you trust your author enough to just snap it up, willy nilly? And then, do you sit down right then and there and read the thing?

When I first graduated from college, I worked for a bookstore, and there was introduced to the likes of Jayne Ann Krentz, Katherine Sutcliffe and Julie Garwood. I would snatch those new books straight out of their boxes and spend the rest of the day waiting to get home to read them. The orange couch saw many a late night with me curled up on it, reading. Julie Garwood and I pulled more than one all-nighter because I was completely unable to stop reading.

And, oh Lord, when Harry Potter and I became acquainted. Well, thank the Good Lord for the internet, because I was ordering the UK editions from Waterstones. When Book 4 (HP & the Goblet of Fire), I picked it up from the small bookstore on 23rd Avenue in Portland, took it home that night, and read it nearly straight through. I was off on Sunday, skipped church, and read. I'd finished it by dinner. The day after its release. And the only way I could stave off the growling anticipation was to order, once again, the UK edition and read that through. And, sweet mother happiness, when that woman, that author, began taking more than a year, more than two between books, I would read through the whole series, US and UK editions, just to while away the time.

I have a friend who will buy her long awaited new book - maybe by Karen Marie Moning, maybe by Susan Elizabeth Peters - and then not read it until ... later. It was placed on a shelf (left in a bag in the car? Shoved in a drawer?) for sometimes weeks before she picked it up to read. So the anticipation could grow. And all I can think is, how on earth do you stand it??? Another friend made the decision not to buy the latest HP until the next was about to be released. Oh, for the love of Pete, do you know how many secrets from the damn Order of the Phoenix I had to keep to myself because she wanted to hold off the gratification? Now, was that nice of her to do that to me??? (Good thing my name's not Sheldon Cooper!)

I find trilogies and continuing series particularly difficult. Nora Roberts is a complete master of the trilogy, particularly. And each one offers a piece of the whole. In her Blood Brothers series, I mean, of course I knew the three couples would form out of the six characters, but still... how would they save the world together?

I am already counting down to October 25th - as long as UPS decides to actually leave the parcels at my door - as two of my go-to authors have new books coming out. Kristin Higgins latest, and Tamora Pierce's final book in Beka Cooper's trilogy. The next nine days will find me re-reading the other two books in that trilogy to further tighten my eagerness to read Beka's book. And I've heard tell that Kristin Higgins may actually be adding the hero's POV to this book. But don't quote me on that. Maybe that was for the next book and not this one. All I can say is, I am going to be very tired come Wednesday the 26th...

A woman sitting beside me at a Starbucks said in sympathy to me one afternoon as I closed my book, obviously having finished it, what will you do now? I smiled at her, and calmly pulled the next book in the series from the depths of my bag. I'd come prepared. Even if I didn't open the new book immediately, it was there, ready to soothe my nerves and lead me into the next adventure.

Sunday, October 9, 2011

The Art of the Prologue & Edgar Allan Poe

When it comes to Page One of your glorious work-in-progress, some agents, as well as some editors, often say skip the prologue. Their reasons are many—and they’re right. Regardless of genre, our prologues may be:

1) backstory that may or may not be interesting, but has nothing to do with what’s happening at the start of the novel.
2) sentence upon sentence that delays the incident which gets the ball rolling for our characters.
3) a passage that kicks off the story just right, but should really be labeled Chapter One.

So how does a writer know if her prologue really ought to be a prologue? Here’s my rule of thumb: If the passage passes my Edgar Allan Poe Test, it’s a prologue.

You can put your writing to the Edgar Allan Poe Test, too. If you haven’t read the works of Edgar Allan Poe, all I can say is whoa, Nelly! Run right out and get yourself a copy of his Selected Tales. Next, gobble up Poe’s classic short story, “The Purloined Letter.” Done? Good!

Now, let’s consider “The Purloined Letter.” Poe’s revolutionary detective, Auguste Dupin, must recover a letter a very nasty man has stolen. Smart guy that the nasty man is, he’s hidden the letter so well, the police aren’t able to find it. But Dupin does. He visits the man, hangs out awhile in the guy’s living room. He takes note of everything in the room, including the cheap, utilitarian letter rack full of notes, and cards, and envelopes. And wouldn’t you know it? That’s where the nasty man has hidden the purloined letter—right there in the letter rack—in plain sight.

To me, a good prologue is like the concept behind Poe’s “The Purloined Letter.” It subtly reveals to the reader the answer to your mystery, the key to your love story, the tool needed for the quest, or in other words, the significant detail that will be important to the climax of your work. If this passage doesn’t do this, if it details backstory, or if it delays the inciting action or event, it needs to be outta there. If it kicks off your story but has no bearing on the climax of your story, it’s really Chapter One so label it accordingly.

Now, it’s your turn to give the Rockville 8 your take on prologues. Do you write them? Do you read them? What do you think a good prologue should do?

Sunday, October 2, 2011

The Idea Fairy

Dear readers, the Rockville 8 are honored to introduce debut author Jane Sevier. Jane's first book, the award-winning novel, Fortune's Fool is available now and she's here to tell us about The Idea Fairy.


“Where do you get your ideas?” It’s a perpetual question writers are asked, and they smile over it. The Idea Fairy brings them, of course.

If you really think about it, though, that’s not such an outlandish question. It relates to the nature of creativity and how the mind works, which fascinate me. If I ever go back to school, I’d like to study creativity scientifically.

But back to ideas. Sure, people have them all the time. Lots of them are crazy or boring or too hard to carry off. But every now and then, you get a good one. But how do you turn it into a story that people want to read and will connect to?

Take this blog, for example. When the lovely Rockville 8 invited me to join them today, I was thrilled. Then it occurred to me that I needed an idea to blog about that was more than just nattering on about my book, and the terror set in. Fortunately, I had an idea about where to get ideas.

Have you ever tried a logline generator? Loglines are those 25-word-or-less descriptions screenwriters use to pitch their movies. Novelists call them elevator pitches. Here’s mine for Fortune’s Fool: When her husband dies and leaves her penniless, a 1930s Memphis socialite becomes a fortuneteller, only to discover she has the true sight.

Let’s say you decide to write a novel, but you really and truly don’t think you have any ideas. Total. Idea. Block. Never fear! You simply Google “logline generator,” and come up with a site called—what else?—Random Logline Generator! I’ll give it a whirl. On my first try, I get, “A mechanical noodlemaker doesn't get along with the ex-husband of a thief.” I don’t know about y’all, but I find that one a little hard to work with.

I hit the “Generate Random Logline” button again and end up with, “An adolescent interior decorator, a drug addict, and a dyslexic outlaw cook dinner in a whorehouse.” The adolescent interior decorator and the dyslexic outlaw cook are promising, but I don’t want to write about drug addicts.

I’ll give it one more spin. “A car salesman and a team of yodeling criminals find a lost gorilla.” Now, that’s what I’m talking about. Who can resist a good car salesman story? And I can think of all kinds of scenarios with yodeling criminals and gorillas. What if the gorilla could also yodel?

The point is not that a logline generator will give you a story you actually want to tell, although it might. But it will make you think about possibilities, and that’s where good ideas come from. If I’m having a slow writing morning, I sometimes go to the Random Logline Generator! to get my brain cooking. The hard part is stopping after 2 or 3 or 70—the silly thing is highly entertaining.

So, where did the idea for Fortune’s Fool come from? I was in the Westlake Barnes and Noble in Austin, Texas, where three mystery writers were doing a reading. Louisiana author Deborah LeBlanc was a few paragraphs into a scene at a voodoo ceremony—alas, I can’t remember which book—when I thought, “What would it be like to discover that you have the true sight?” I dug out the little notebook I carry for writing down ideas and scribbled, “Woman who finds herself down and out and decides to become a psychic, only to discover that she has ‘the sight.’ Uses her grandmother’s tarot deck. Or the mojo sack that brought her parents together. Grandmother met grandfather playing piano in Mineral Wells.”

You see where I really got my logline. Except the piano playing in Mineral Wells, all of these elements ended up in the book. Members of my extended family will recognize the bit about the mojo sack. Perhaps because I am so Southern and know hundreds of my cousins of all degrees, most of whom are natural storytellers, lots of family lore figures in what I write.

Then, of course, I had to decide where to set Fortune’s Fool. I wanted to tell a Southern story and didn’t want to make it modern-day. Because it has always had a fascinating cultural history, I have lots of family there, and I like to eat ribs at the Rendezvous, I chose Memphis. I love the ’30s and ’40s with those wonderful movies and style. A little research told me that in the 1930s, Memphis was the murder capital of the United States, and, voilĂ . I had my setting.

So you see, Virginia, there really is an Idea Fairy. You just have to trust her to find you.

To find out more about Nell Marchand and the cast of characters who will populate the Psychic Socialite series, visit me at

Sunday, September 25, 2011

Real Dukes

This week the Rockville 8 is thrilled to host historical romance author Lavinia Kent! She’s here to share her thoughts on Dukes.

Which may have led her to wonder, “What woman would refuse a Duke’s kiss?”

(Or maybe that’s just what we were wondering, after we saw the cover of her new book, What a Duke Wants . . .)

One lucky commenter will win a “Go to Bed with a Duke Tonight!” t-shirt.


I originally planned to write about muses versus hard work and how great it is to have both, but if you only have one, choose hard work. I’ve written ten blogs in the past two weeks, and I can promise you that my muse would have been out shopping for fall boots after the first two. She is not the most patient of beings.

But she did pull through on this one.

I was sitting here, thinking of her, and whether I really needed to add green to my wardrobe (clearly I should have put down the Vogue magazine a little earlier), when my mind started wandering to dukes. I always have my current cover up as a screen saver on my computer, and if you had my duke staring at you, you’d spend some time staring back.

What a Duke Wants is my first published “duke book,” and I’ve been amazed at just how enthusiastic readers have been. I’d always heard that readers liked dukes, but I still wasn’t prepared for the response.

First, I should confess that I love a good duke book – they are probably my favorites. I know that when I advise friends on what romances to read, I’m always a little embarrassed by how many of the have “Duke” in the title. (Julia Quinn’s The Duke and I, Galen Foley’s The Duke, and of course Mary Balogh’s Slightly Dangerous – which may not have a duke in the title, but is certainly a perfect duke book.)

I’d always been a little bit hesitant to write one myself, because once you’ve written a duke book, where do you go? And then there’s this picture, “Ten Dukes-A-Dining.”

A friend sent it to me a while ago and I was forced to confront the reality of dukes as they are (completely not thinking about the new Duke of Cambridge, or I’ll start thinking about his wife and my new obsession with nude pumps). Now, there are several men pictured here who are quite distinguished and may once have been dashing and handsome. Number Seven, the Duke of Argyll, actually plays elephant polo and I can almost imagine him wading through the pages of one of my books. But I must face the fact that this picture does not have one thinking of the seven or so six-foot-two, dark-haired, flashing-eyed dukes who wander through What a Duke Wants and The Real Duchesses of London – and I am sure that I have another couple just waiting to find their way onto my pages. And I am not even going to consider how many dashing dukes we’d have if we were to put all the romance dukes together in a room, a building, a park, a town . . .

And does it matter? That is my ultimate question.

I love my duke, Mark Smythe, Duke of Strattington. He is tall and handsome and, although he has a learning curve, in the end he knows just how to win Isabella, his heroine – and hopefully the reader, too. I am more than willing to follow him through cases of mistaken identity, a little blackmail and scandal, an accusation of murder – and more than a few steamy encounters. I don’t care that he might not have a counterpart in the real world.

All historical writers have their story of being called out on some fact they got wrong, but I’ve never heard anyone complain because there are just too many dukes in that book.

What do you think? Where do you want fact and reality in your romances, and where do you want delicious fantasy?

Let me know, and I’ll send one lucky commenter a signed copy of What a Duke Wants and a “Go to bed with a Duke tonight!” t-shirt. (And – with due respect to his Grace - I promise it won’t feature number nine, the Duke of St Albans.)

Thank you so much for having me at the Rockville Eight. I’ve always wanted to come and visit.

Please visit me at my website for an excerpt from What a Duke Wants:

For more information on Ten Dukes A’Dining:

Sunday, September 18, 2011

Reclaiming Your Mojo

mojo, a slang word for self-confidence, self-esteem, or sex appeal

The last two months, I’ve felt like something’s missing and I couldn’t figure out what I’d misplaced. Life is good. Nothing had really changed all that much. My family is happy and healthy. We’re on track. I’m working hard and pursuing my writing goals while I provide for my family. Everything important is still firmly in place. Purpose, check. Goals, a little dinged, but check. Dreams, check. All still right where I’d left them. So what’s making me crazy? Has me walking in circles questioning myself and wondering what’s the point of it all?

Then it hit me. I’d lost my mojo. No, not my sex appeal. My self-confidence. How? I’ve finished four manuscripts. Won writing awards. I earned an MFA in writing. Editors and agents have requested each of my finished manuscripts. For an unpubbed writer, I’ve found my share of successes along the way. Not the pen ultimate success--publication--but getting closer. So what’s suddenly robbed me of my mojo?

I’ve heard it countless times. Creative types are often harangued by self-doubt. For some, this self-doubt can be debilitating. True. I’ve always struggled with self-doubt, but until recently, I’ve been able to push through it to achieve my goals because I’m not just a right-brained thinker, I’m a left-brained one, too. Creative and analytical. Many writers are both.

So as any good scholar and writer would do, I went searching for answers at the book store. I came across a new book by Russ Harris called The Confidence Gap: A Guide to Overcoming Fear and Self-Doubt. The book has helped me identify that I’ve allowed my feelings to circumnavigate my actions. I’d begun to believe the fears and self-recriminations I throw at myself every day. Harris’s book has done a lot to help me reclaim my mojo and put me back on the path to achieving my goals.

With Harris’s help, I’ve come to realize fear is normal. Confidence is all about trusting yourself to take action. Practice makes perfect. Authentic confidence comes from mastery of a skill. If you commit to action, you won’t languish in fear. You can’t wait for the feeling of confidence to come before you act. By facing your fears and taking action, you can transform your relationship with fear and use it as a performance tool. If you identify negative thoughts as unhelpful, you can begin the process of neutralizing them. Acceptance of yourself is paramount. Knowing what matters most to you and what you value gives you powerful choices. Fully engage in life; live in the moment and enjoy the journey.

The book is definitely worth the price of admission.

DIRECT QUOTES, For Your Illumination

Here are a few nuggets from The Confidence Gap that have helped me regain my focus:

“We may be weeks, months, or years from completing our goals, but we can live by our values every step of the way, and find ongoing fulfillment in doing so” (pp 17).

Fear is normal. “[T]he more there is at stake, the more we tend to have feelings of fear and anxiety, and thoughts about what might possibly go wrong” (p. 21).

Confidence is trusting yourself to take action, no matter how afraid you are (p. 23).

“If we want to do anything with confidence--speak, paint, make love, play tennis, or socialize--then we have to do the work. We have to practice the necessary skills over and over, until they come naturally. If we don’t have adequate skills to do the things we want to do, we can’t expect to feel confident. And if we don’t continually practice these skills, they either get rusty or unreliable or they never reach a state where we can fluidly and naturally rely on them. Each time you practice these skills, it is an action of confidence: an act of relying on yourself” (p 25).

Five reasons people lack self-confidence: excessive expectations, harsh self-judgment, preoccupation with fear, lack of experience, lack of skill (p 26).

The confidence cycle: practice the skills, apply them effectively, assess the results, modify as needed (p. 29).

“Only through committed action--stepping out of our comfort zones and doing what truly matters deep in our hearts--will we experience authentic confidence” (p 32).

If you hold onto the mantra that you must feel confident before you do what matters most to you, then “you’ll spend a lot of time, effort, and energy trying to control your feelings” (p 34).

Fear results from the primitive “fight or flight” instinct. “[F]ear is a powerful fuel. Once we know how to handle it, we can use it to our advantage; we can harness its energy to help us get where we want to go. But while we’re looking at fear as something bad, we’ll waste a lot of precious energy trying to avoid or get rid of it” (p 38).

Hugh Jackman says: “I’ve always felt if you back down from fear, the ghost of that fear never goes away. It diminishes people. So I’ve always said yes to the thing I’m most scared about” (p 42).

“[T]here’s no way to expand your comfort zone without stepping out of it--and the moment you take that step, fear is going to show up” (p 44).

“It’s not fear that holds people back--it is their attitude toward it that keeps them stuck” (p 45).

“Genuine confidence is not the absence of fear; it is a transformed relationship with fear” (p 46).

“[Y]our mind has a tendency to be negative. . . . The human mind is quick to judge, criticize, compare, point out what’s not good enough, and tell us what needs to be improved” (p 51). This comes from a primitive survival instinct.

“[W]hen we fuse with our thoughts, they have a huge impact on and influence over us. But when we defuse . . . our thoughts--when we separate from them and realize that they are nothing more nor less than words and pictures--then they have little or no effect on us (even if they happen to be true)” (p 60).

“Recognizing a thought or belief as unhelpful often helps to reduce its influence over us; it makes us less likely to act on it. . . . [T]he question we’re interested in is simply this: ‘If I let this thought dictate my actions, will it help me to lead the life I want?’” (p 70).

“[I]n a state of defusion, our thoughts are nothing more nor less than words. . . . Once we can defuse from our thoughts--that is separate from them and see them for what they are--we have many more options in life. No longer are we at the mercy of our minds, pushed around by ingrained patterns of unhelpful automatic thinking. Instead we can choose to pursue what truly matters to us, even when our minds make it hard with all that reason-giving” ( p 74).

“The purpose of defusion is to be present and take effective action” (76).

Defusion calls for you to: “notice it, name it, neutralize it” (p 82).

“Self-acceptance, self-awareness, and self-motivation are all far more important than self-esteem” (p 92).

“[J]udging ourselves does not help us in any way; it does not work to make our life richer and fuller” ( p 84).

“What matters most in life is what you do, what you stand for, the way you behave. This is far more important than the stories you believe about yourself” (p 95).

“If we want to get the most out of life, we need to be fully present: aware, attentive, and engaged in what is happening. This involves a mindfulness skill ‘engagement’: connecting with the world through noticing what we can see, hear, touch, taste, and smell” (p 100).

“If you’re caught up in your thoughts, you won’t find it a satisfying experience--especially if your mind is giving a running commentary on how you’re performing. If you want to enjoy the experience, you need to be engaged in what you’re doing” (p 101).

“When we say that someone looks confident, we have no idea what they are thinking or feeling. But we can observe what they are doing, how they are behaving. And one thing you’ll always notice about confident people: they are very engaged in whatever they are doing” (p 102).

Sunday, September 11, 2011

Thank you, Flight 93

Somehow writing about writing on September 11 seems inappropriate. Today, I'm just going to write.

I almost didn't go to work that day. My husband was home with our infant and I wanted to stay with them. But I ignored that feeling and went to work anyway. Trying to cheer me up, he promised to bring the baby and meet me for lunch near my job in Washington, D.C.

As soon as I arrived at work, smoke started to billow up from the street to my second story window, obscuring the view to the Capitol Building. A car was on fire below my window. I told a coworker I had a creepy feeling something awful was going to happen.

When we found out that there had been an accident at one of the Twin Towers, we huddled around a black and white TV. I glanced out the window and saw a nearby federal building that had a daycare on the first floor. Suddenly, all of the workers were running out with the children. Those too small to walk were being wheeled out, crib and all. That's when I started to get scared.

"What do they know that I don't?" I thought.

While watching the North Tower burn, a second plane hit the South Tower. We realized it was no accident. Soon afterward, we felt our building shake. Across the river, a third plane had struck the Pentagon.

I tried to call my husband at least 50 times, to tell him to stay home--from my cell and desk phone. I was dialing one while listening to the other. I couldn't do or think about another thing until I reached him. All of the lines were jammed with everyone trying to call their loved ones.

After speaking to my husband, I withdrew $100 from the ATM, thinking I would catch a cab to take me as far away as it could. I fled out of the building with thousands of others. My building is situated between the Washington Monument and the Capitol Building. I could see them both from where I stood. The White House is nearby. A deaf coworker, who lived close my home, was with me.

No cab would pick us up. Cabbies circled but refused to take any passengers. One even sped away when I put my hand on the door handle and I was forced to jump back or be dragged under it.

We were standing in front of the gates to the Smithsonian Castle. They slammed and locked the gate on us. The guards actually hit us with the gate when they locked it into place. The roads were jammed with cars. The subway workers told people to get off the trains and out of the stations. They closed and locked the station gates to the subway as well.

The police were speeding up and down the road, back and forth, with no seeming destination. The smell of rubber burning hung in the air and burned the back of my throat. I heard an engine rev and looked up to see a police car on the sidewalk barreling toward us. I grabbed my coworker, who couldn't hear it, and yanked her back. The car brushed our bodies as it drove by on the sidewalk. People were screaming and jumping out of the way to avoid him.

It looked like the set of a disaster movie. Everyone was running in different directions. People were yelling and screaming, crying and panicking. A woman, on a business trip from Boston, who'd been dumped out of the subway asked me how to get to Crystal City, Virginia. I told her she'd have to go over the Potomac on the 14th Street Bridge. Later, I found out armed military were standing on each of the bridges in the area, not letting anyone cross.

The worst moment occurred when a woman ran up and screamed, to no one in particular, that another plane was headed toward Washington--to where we were standing. I grabbed her arm and pulled her around to face me.

"What did you say?" I asked.

She repeated the CNN story, saying that the plane was headed our way. My friend grabbed my other arm and started pulling at it, wanting me to translate what was being said.

I couldn't think in English, let alone American Sign Language.

My heart did one tha-thrum in my ears before the the world ground to a halt, like a giant cog slowing down degree by agonizing degree. I was simultaneously icy and calm. Everything fell away, even my friend who was still tugging at my arm. I thought of my new baby, of how I would become a memory Daddy tried to keep alive. I was glad for the fact that I had just upped my life insurance. I thought about my loved ones. I forgot about all the stupid, petty problems that I was fretting about. I thought about seeing my beloved grandmother who had died ten years earlier.

Facing a possible death, I felt more alive than I ever had. Life boiled down to a few, select things. The good ones.

Last night, I was telling my child I had taken on another volunteer position, one that would be challenging.

"You always step in there," she said. "You've been on the school board. You've been the room mother. You've written the newsletter. You've done other stuff, too. You're not afraid. You just do it. You're my hero."

The kind of moment every parent cherishes. The kind of moment those who lost their lives on September 11 aren't here for. The kind of moment the ones they left behind can't have with them.

If not for the people on United Flight 93, I might not have been here for that moment.

I thank every single person on that flight. Because of their bravery and selflessness, countless lives were saved. They are the true heroes. I'm just fumbling along, doing the best I can with the life I've been given.

If you would like to share your thoughts and recollections with us, I would love to hear them. Thank you for listening to mine.

Monday, September 5, 2011

Pioneer, Go Home!

I grew up in a very rural area. Not the ruralest of ruralest. But pretty fricking rural. Rural enough that we had an outreach library service. There was a different term for it, I think, but that escapes me now. What it meant, though, was that we were able to check out books through the mail. Return them by mail, and check out more. It was free and wonderful (Books! And mail!) but also s-l-o-w.

In addition to using the outreach library, my parents subscribed to Reader's Digest Condensed books. Which meant that, several times a year, we got a book in the mail. And that book was pot luck. You never knew what you were going to get, and I loved it! As soon as I could get my hands on the new volume (my parents were both avid readers), I would pick and choose, reading the stories I thought most likely to please. Going either by title or description or first few lines. In the end, I read all of them of course, but never in order.

Pioneer, Go Home! by Richard Powell, though, was in the winter volume of 1960, so I hadn't even been born when it came to the house. I must have come across it when I was combing the shelves, looking for that reading fix. I can't remember how old I was when I read it. I just remember laughing and laughing and loving it. But I didn't hold on to it. My parents moved several times after I graduated and over the years, the Reader's Digest books disappeared. Later, when my own kids were old enough that I thought they might have appreciated that book, I couldn't remember what it was called or who wrote it and without that information, I couldn't figure out how to find it.

Until recently.

I've been in a slump, as a writer and as a reader. I won't bore you with the details, I'll just say that I was trying to find the magic again. I NEEDED to find the magic again. And that got me thinking about the books that turned me into a writer. You know, like you do. And that got me thinking about that one book, that one I read when I was a kid, about the crazy family who built a home on a highway median in a swamp, and the social worker who went in to save them. It was romantic and funny and it was in Reader's Digest and I couldn't remember that darn title, but I was desperate and now we have the internets! Hurray! Of course, even with the magic of the internets, it took some digging, but in the end, I figured out that the book I was looking for was "Pioneer, Go Home!" by Richard Powell and I ordered a copy of it.

AKA, The Magic
I wanted to read the real book this time, not just the condensed version, so I ordered the paperback. It arrived a couple of weeks ago and it is a thing of beauty! It arrived during a family visit, though, so I set it aside and didn't pick it up until this afternoon. (It's so old, it doesn't even have a barcode on the back. Can you imagine?)

This afternoon I sat down and opened it up to the first page and read this:

None of this would have happened if Pop had minded what the sign told him. The sign was on a barrier across a new road that angled off the one we was driving on, and it said, "Positively Closed to The Public." But after all his years of being on relief, or getting Unemployment Compensation and Aid to Dependent Children and things like that, Pop didn't think of himself as The Public. He figured he was just about part of the government on account of he worked with it so close. The government helped Pop, and Pop done his best to keep the government busy and happy . . .

And there it was. The Magic.

I haven't read very much of it. There were other things to do. My spouse-like-boyfriend and I ordered sushi for dinner, and then we had to watch True Blood. And then my iPhone popped up with a reminder that it was my turn to blog for the Rockville8.

Never in my wildest dreams could that child I was--that child checking the mailbox every day on Rt 41 in Upper Michigan--have imagined something like an iPhone. Let alone imagine being nagged by one . . .

Anyway. I'll be savoring my little trip down memory lane when I finally crawl into bed tonight, and then some more tomorrow afternoon, after my writing date with an R8 pal. And slowly, but surely, I'm getting back into the writing.

Or more accurately, the writing is getting back into me.

Photo: a personal photo, taken by the blogger

Monday, August 29, 2011

How to Make Sure They ALL Like It Hot by Grace Burrowes

The Rockville 8 welcomes steller historical author Grace Burrowes! She shares some excellent confidence-building advice on how to approach writing your loves scenes and make them memorable time after time. One lucky commenter will receive an advanced reading copy of her November release, "The Virtuoso, " book three in The Duke's Obsession trilogy!

Let me start by saying that I write traditional historical romances—not erotica, not romantica—so my approach to intimate scenes is predicated on certain assumptions. First my characters are going to grow as people from the beginning to the end of the book, and second, their intimate encounters will take place in the context of a mutually caring relationship.

The third assumption I make about the steamy scenes is that they are going to be some of the toughest for me to write. Now why is that?

Plenty of reasons. For starters, readers may not have ever driven a race car, they might not have trekked in the Mojave Dessert (or whatever your protagonists are up to), but erotic intimacy is a fairly universal adult experience. Readers will catch us if we stumble logistically in these scenes.

Then too, as authors, we’re going to have to write several steamy scenes per book, book after book. Considering that I’m on the seventh book in an eight-sibling series, the twentieth hot scene to flow from my pen is a tad more challenging to make novel and riveting than the first three were. Consider too, that my readers have probably buzzed through at least a thousand hot scenes before opening my book, and you begin to see the magnitude of the problem.

But before you decide writing thrillers is your true calling, here are a few tricks to tuck under your romance writing pillow.

First, make SURE your intimate scenes advance plot or character, and preferably both. There has to be something admitted between the characters, a purloined letter spied across the room, a little bruise revealed, that makes the scene valuable to the dramatic or character arcs. If you can advance both, then chances are your scene will be “uncuttable” and that’s what you want.

Second, do not focus on the usual sequence of actions in an erotic encounter. Yes, of course, you will describe foreplay, coitus and afterglow, (or the absence of same), but these are the scenes where using the senses and dribbling in the telling details really come into play. Except, don’t dwell on the erotic details. If she’s staring at the canopy, make her wonder why all the Cupids are boys, and what they’re doing grinning like idiots when there are no girl Cupids. You will of course add in that hero’s beard stubble scratches her neck, but the Cupid issue is unexpected and will pull the reader into your heroine’s heart, not just her bed.

Strut your ability to use show writing rather than tell. Don’t tell us his iron self-discipline is slipping. Have him, for once in his miserable life, toss his boots half way across the room and leave his cravat draped willy nilly over the escritoire. His waistcoat goes on the floor, and then—while she watches, fascinated—his shirt and breeches are flung onto two different chairs.

Show, show, show.

And finally, do not focus on desire, arousal and the predictable biological agenda at the expense of the emotional landscape unique to your characters. This is the secret handshake, friends. It isn’t just the sensation of penetration that can make your scene sing, it’s also the impatience that crashes through her when he’s trying to be so dratted considerate. It’s the last minute insecurity she feels because the portrait hanging across the room confirms that his first wife was beautiful. It’s the cat sitting on the nightstand, whose inscrutable gaze accuses the hero of taking advantage of a lonely woman.

Move your camera around to the non-erotic details, make your characters ‘fess up to what feelings lurk under their desire, and make the scene advance plot and character arcs. Tough to do, but pull it off and your steamy scenes will turn into some of your best writing.

I heard a rumor that the Earl of Westhaven, Lord Valentine Windham, the Earl of Rosecroft and perhaps even their respective ladies will be joining us for the comment portion of the blog… assuming they can take their eyes off each other long enough to read our questions and comments.

Monday, August 22, 2011

Writing Away

I wonder if you are like me. As a child, I believed it was my shoes that would make me run fast. Only I didn’t have those shoes. So I didn’t run fast. If I just had the right work out outfit, I’d be at the gym everyday. Or at the very least, jogging. Of course that called for the correct sports bra (one that gave support but wouldn’t garrote me when I tried to take it on or off). With writing (or being creative in any way) it was work space. If only I had a desk. If only my desk were cleared off. If only I had the right jar/mug/vintage planter to hold my pencils and pens. And finally, if only I had the right computer. Fast enough, comfortable enough, new enough, with extended battery life. Oh, the list goes on.

And my critique partners would be the first to remind me that I often write long hand first. Barefoot. On the couch.

But I have discovered something. It is another secret that I am telling from the R8 blog.

Even in the perfect bra, at a hot springs spa, with a fox in a box, on a train in the rain, with my new MacBook Air, I still sit and stare at a blank page. Because the damn words won’t write themselves.

I know, I know. When you tune into Marjanna day at the R8, you often read about how writing is hard work and how I am forever surprized by that. Completely. I mean, I am totally and completely convinced that there are words out there, floating around, like the flotsam the Little Prince fell through on his way to earth, just waiting to be plucked out and strung together into sentences and paragraphs and etc. I’ve read things that are meant to be written. I’ve talked about this before, whether it is Stevie Smith or JD Salinger or Loretta Chase. They used the words as they are meant to be used.

And of course, I think in my head (as opposed to thinking in your head that would seem to imply), it must have been effortless for them. It must have been a noble moment of yes. And like Hemingway who stood at his desk to write, they must have had their perfect spot to write. Maybe like one of Wilbur Robinson’s relatives, they had on their Brain Augmenter to help them Think Deep Thoughts.

(Or maybe they just sat down and wrote, either plotting it out ahead of time or not. It doesn’t matter. Really, when you plot doesn’t matter. Having a plot is what matters. Unless you write Post Modern novels; then you might as well not even bind the pages but shuffle them about every morning and read a new book every day.)

So, getting back to me. Because I don’t write Post Modern anything, I was surprized to come up to Berkeley Springs, open up my new MacBook Air, and discover that Mac does NOT have an app for Writing Fairies. Quelle surprise! You can imagine my surprise because I just exclaimed in French, what a surprise! (I still want to put a z in that word.) Anyhoo, much to my shock, I found that even on a MacBook Air, I am the one expected to write my stories. At least on my MacBook Air. I don’t think others would truly expect me to write my stories on their MacBook Airs. Quelle surprise to them to!

So, the interesting thing is, getting away, with my MBA, with a few authors I don’t generally spend time away writing with, with very loud cicadas and the occasional squirrel, I actually did write. Not long hand, but barefoot and on my Mac.

Now, why why why couldn’t I do this in my own flat, on my own couch, with my own music playing in the background instead of the cicadas? Why do I have to join with other writers in a cabin in the woods of West Virginia in order to get my novella started?

Because being with other writers, motivated writers, writers with goals, with revision deadlines, makes me sit down and write. There is an energy that says, write. Not watch tv. Not read. And only take a very short nap. Twice. I know my writing ethic is not what it could be. But I also know I want to write. Somewhere, the twain must meet, or I may as well have bought this flipping expensive computer to download other people’s ebooks, stream television, and order my next sports bra to join the others in a drawer.

Monday, August 15, 2011


Each year I celebrate my birthday with 5-6 folks who share the same happy date. Often we exchange small gifts. Last year, a former coworker made cell phone bling and gave us the opportunity to choose among several options. Each had a silver bead with a power word on it. I snagged the one that read “change,” thinking to use it as a touchstone for meditation, for acceptance of that fact that, as Patty Loveless sings in that old song, "Life's about changing, nothing ever stays the same."

I’m not comfortable with change as a general rule. I don’t like surprises, curveballs or things I can’t anticipate. But I knew last year that I’d be enduring a gauntlet of changes in 2011 and I thought: Bring it on. I know you’re coming for me. I’ll be ready.
Some things you are never ready for.

I wasn’t ready for my grandfather to die this spring, even though I knew the end was near. And this summer, I wasn’t ready for two critique partners to choose new paths that lead away from our little band of writers. In a few months’ time, I doubt I’ll truly be ready to say good-bye to my boss of seven years.

Change. It’s hard, dammit.

I think my favorite protagonists would hold a similar opinion. For all the sh** we writers put those poor folks through, it’s a wonder they’re willing to show up on the page to find out what we have in store for them next. Life is swell then, bam, they stumble across an unexpected betrothal, get caught up in the search for a murderer, or learn that humans aren’t the only species at the top of the food chain. Or they are forced to come to grips with all three changes to life-as-they-knew-it at once. But show up they do and watching how they triumph, sink, fight and rise again not only keeps me reading, it keeps me writing.

In 1930s Hollywood W.S. “Woody” Van Dyke (director of The Thin Man among other great films), used to push people into his pool during parties he hosted. How his guests responded to this unexpected turn of events helped him figure out whom he wanted to work with in his next films (thankfully for all of us, Myrna Loy passed the splash test with flying, if drenched, colors).
It got me wondering. My hero, Joe, would likely stay in the pool, naked, the rest of the night. Especially if he could entice his mate, Della, to join him. Della would probably fail the test (she likes change just about as much as I do. Go figure.). She might even try to arrest Mr. Van Dyke for frivolous frivolity. That is, if she were still a cop. And if she could find such a statute on the books. I’d like to think my little touchstone has prepared me so I could pass the pool plunge test like Jimmy Stewart and Donna Reed in It's a Wonderful Life.

But it probably hasn’t.

How about you and your characters? How would your favorite hero/ine take to getting pushed into Van Dyke’s pool? How would you?