Sunday, September 23, 2012

Write Like a Rock Star

I'm pleased as punch to introduce our R8 pals to my good friend, Regina Verow. Reg and I met in the graduate film and video production program at American University lo these many years ago. Our paths have led us away from the movie biz, but I'm happy to report what brought us there in the first place - a love of story - hasn't much changed. The how of it all, yeah, that's morphed a bit for both of us. For instance, now Regina writes like a Rock Star. How cool is that? 

I am fortunate that I hang around with a lot of seriously creative people. A good many of those people are writers but writers, if I may make a bold generality here, are an angst-filled group. (I can make this statement because I am one of those angst-filled human beings.) We worry about everything when it comes to our writing, right? We worry we aren’t writing enough, that what we’re writing isn’t good, that our books will never sell and even if they sell, our second book won’t, so why bother writing the first, etc., etc., etc.  Among the various types of writers I know, there is one group, however, I’ve noticed that particularly approaches writing with a different, less-angst slant. These are my songwriting friends.  Which is not to say they aren’t angst-filled; they just manifest it in other ways, like with performance anxiety or recording an album over and over for just the right “sound” or obsessing over picking out fabric swatches for the new tour bus. But I digress…

I have to admit being not so secretly jealous of the way my songwriting friends look at writing. While I wouldn’t say it’s an effortless process for them, they definitely get out of their own way better than I sometimes do. So after studying my song-writing friends and asking questions about what they do and how they do it, (I knew my Anthropology degree would come in handy one day) I’ve come up with three techniques you can use if you too want to write like a real rock star.

#1) Write Every Day
My friend Pete spent a year writing a song every day. It didn’t even have to be a good song. He just had to write one a day. Then write another song the next day. And so on for 365 days in a row. At first it was very slow going. Songs took hours to write. By the end of the year though, he could churn out a song faster than I could empty the dishwasher. By doing this, he got out of his own way and learned to dispel both the anxiety surrounding the writing process as well as his inner critic. He had no expectations for his songs except that he would write them. Clearly they weren’t all winners, but out of them came a few good ones…and the ability to write freely. 

Write every day to blast through anxiety and get that critic out of the way.  Which leads me to…

#2) Don’t Worry About Whether Your Words Are “Usable”
I hear this from a lot of my writing clients, especially those who are unsure about the direction their story is taking. They don’t want to write anything unless they know exactly where their story is going because they don’t want to write unusable words in what little time they have to write anyway. They have day jobs and families and responsibilities and darn it, if they are going to sit down and write, they need to be productive. The thing is, writing is never a completely linear process.  You can’t get from beginning to end without taking a few detours first.  And that often actually works to your advantage. Recently I was listening to an unreleased song written and performed by a friend of mine. The song was several years old and as far as I know, they didn’t play it live for many people either.  The song was pretty good, but what I found more interesting is that my friend eventually pulled two different lines from that single song and turned them into two separate and better songs later on. Rock Stars write songs and if they work, great! If not, they either discard them or repurpose them for better stuff later on.

Words are never wasted whether or not they make it into the final version of your book.

#3) Don’t Be Afraid To Ask For Help
There are lots of legendary writers, past and present, whose personal mythology would have us believe that you have to sit alone day after day, lonely (and usually drunk) to write anything truly good. I know I’ve bought into that myth before - Sure, I’ll be glad to share my work with some of my writing friends - as soon as I figure out the plot problem in chapter eight I’ve been struggling with for six weeks.

All the musicians I know are inherently collaborators – even the solo performers. Sure they may write some of their music alone in their rooms late at night, but they are just as likely to show up at a group of their trusted friends and ask for help. They’ll play a piece and ask if the bridge works, or if the storyline makes sense or can anyone just help find a more eloquent way to say “you trampled my heart, you loser.” They know they don’t have to go it alone and it’s not cheating. Songwriters work together all the time. Look at the liner notes in the CD of your favorite musicians – I guarantee at least one song on that album will share writing credits.

I found that incorporating just these three small techniques in my writing allowed me to become a more productive, better writer. The nice thing is that writing like a rock star doesn’t require a #1 Top Forty Hit, a million dollar video shoot or even years of being out on tour away from family and friends. Embrace your inner rock star – while I can’t promise you a platinum record, I think you’ll find your writing life definitely improves for the better.

Regina Verow is an award-winning writer turned coach who specializes in working with creative people of all types in her practice, Creatively Conscious. She blogs at and you can find her on Facebook at Creatively Conscious.

Monday, September 17, 2012

Agatha Award Winner Sandra Parshall Talks Political Thrillers . . . Or Not

The Rockville 8
is thrilled to host the Agatha Award-winning author of the Rachel Goddard mysteries, Sandra Parshall. 
Sandra's fifth book, Bleeding Through, was published September 4. 
She lives in McLean, VA, with her husband and two cats. 
Visit her website at and read her Wednesday blog at But first, Sandra visits the Eight and spills the beans about her writing life and living near the nation's capital. Take it away, Sandra.

Someday I’ll write that political thriller… or not
by Sandra Parshall

Sometimes I feel as if I’m wasting my own personal setting.

I’ve lived in or just outside Washington, DC, for half my life, but except for my first book, The Heat of the Moon, and a couple of scenes in Disturbing the Dead and Bleeding Through, I’ve never set a book here. More specifically, I’ve never tried to write a Washington thriller.

You know the kind of books I mean. How could you not know, when you see them in every bookstore and every drugstore and supermarket book rack? Often they have flags on the cover, or a portentous image of the White House or the Capitol. Shadowy figures running for their lives from unseen pursuers are also popular cover art for Washington-centered novels. Within the pages of these books, you’ll find plots to destroy America, plots to take over the world, plots to take down a single politician by digging up (literally, in some cases) a hidden scandal. Since The Da Vinci Code, an increasing number of authors have introduced ancient documents and such into their very modern political thrillers. Many people die. Lives are ruined. Everybody is sadder but not the least bit wiser at the end.

Why can’t I write this sort of book and cash in on the trend? I live here. Inspiration is all around me. Members of Congress shop at the same supermarket and hardware store I patronize. My husband is a longtime Washington journalist (now retired from a newsmagazine) who could give me lots of juicy details to work into my plots. And I care about politics. I think a citizen would have to be crazy these days to be indifferent to what’s happening in DC. So I should dream up a plot, sit down at my computer, and get started on my future bestseller, right?

The only problem: I couldn’t do it if you put a gun to my head.

I’m not disparaging the people who write and read political thrillers, but I can’t do either.  If a book cover has a picture of the U.S. flag or a federal government building, I steer clear of it and leave it for the true fans of the subgenre. Real politics makes me anxious enough without having fictional scenarios added.

I didn’t even let Rachel stay in McLean. In the second book, I moved her to the mountains, far from the taint of national politics. I’m happy writing about a small community in the Blue Ridge. I find much more drama there, on a human scale, than I would in the Situation Room or a campaign headquarters.

Still, when I drive past the White House or the Capitol, I can’t help feeling a small twinge of regret as I wonder what’s going on inside that might inspire a book. Maybe someday I’ll get an idea I can’t resist, and suddenly I’ll be writing a political thriller. Who knows? When it comes to writing and publishing, I’ve learned the same lesson I absorbed long ago about real politics: don’t make predictions, and never say never.

Monday, September 10, 2012

Forever Young

“Getting old,” my 83 year-old neighbor once assured me, “is hell.”

Though I’m less than half her age, I’m beginning to see her point. A click in the knee after too many stairs, a crick in the back after a morning of gardening . . . All these things are catching up with me. Are they catching up with you, too?

The way I figure it, everybody gets old and nobody likes it. Sure, with age comes wisdom, but wisdom can be hard to spot when you look in the mirror or have to tote the laundry down to the basement. And it doesn’t matter how many years you actually have on you. At the relatively young age of twenty-six, weren’t you already complaining how you couldn’t eat a plate of Grandma’s pasta without going to the gym the next day?

If my father-in-law describes himself as old, that description might be accurate. A career military man who signed up for service before World War II, he’s in his nineties, now. And life is taking its toll. We go to visit him often and when we do, we take him out for ice cream, or to count ducks from his deck. We also be sure to play lots of Big Band music when we’re gathered in the living room. After all, Big Band was the soundtrack of his youth.

Recently, while Jo Stafford’s lilting voice sang about love and happiness over soaring strings and peppy horns, I turned to my father-in-law. I said, “I heard that soldiers, airmen, and sailors loved Jo Stafford’s songs so much, you boys called her GI Jo. Is that true?”

Like Atlas, he shrugged and I could see all the cares of old age weighing on his shoulders. “I guess.”

“Did you like her?”

When I asked that question, an amazing thing happened. My father-in-law’s spine straightened. His eye brightened. Again, he said, “I guess.”

But this time, he let loose with a twenty-year-old’s mischievous chuckle—and in that moment, he was young again.

Many things can put us in touch with our younger selves. Particular music, certain movies, and of course our favorite books can turn back time in a heartbeat. But I think the bottom line here is that our younger selves haven’t left us. We’re still young in our hearts and minds no matter how much we age. And if we want to feel young again, maybe all we need to do is remember that—and listen to a little Jo Stafford.

Now it’s your turn to tell the Rockville 8. No matter your age, what makes you feel young again?

Monday, September 3, 2012

What we did on our summer vacations!

Remember those reports we used to do back in the day, "What we did on our summer vacation?" Well, the R8 thought we'd revive the tradition this year. In honor of Labor Day, below we share what kept us busy through the lazy, hazy, crazy days of summer:

Shellie –

I engaged in some experiential learning with a jetski ride around the Currituck Sound while vacationing in the Outer Banks. I admit to a certain nervousness about getting on this machine, but it turned out to be easy and fun. As the beefcake who set me up on the jetski said: “It's pretty easy. Squeeze the lever and it goes--like a bullet."  

Candy –
Summer of Fun! What a great summer. Lots of travel and friends and family for me this summer. June started off with a bang when I attended the In Your Write Mind writers’ retreat at Seton Hill University in Greensburg, PA. Awesome time hanging out with my grad school buddies and attending writers’ workshops.

July brought a trip to the RWA National Conference in Anaheim, CA. Spectacular workshops, rousing keynote speakers, and lots of wine and fun with my romance writer friends--both old ones and new ones. Thank you! Pitched stories to agent Sara Megibow and Harlequin editor Brenda Chin. Great conference. Well worth the time & effort! 

Finally, August rounded out the perfect summer with a family trip to Myrtle Beach, SC. We spent a week with my brother’s family at a resort on the beach. It was a blast. Seven males and two moms in a three-bedroom, three-bath condo. Well, to be fair, we weren’t inside all that much. Fun in the sun, on the beach, and at the lazy river. Enjoyed every minute of my summer and the memories I built! 


Nichole –

My summer's been a bit light on vacation, but it's been a great season all the same. I kicked off my summer on a sticky day in May when I graduated with a master's degree from Georgetown University. That day was the culmination of three, long years of hard work. Whew! By midsummer, I wrapped up revisions on my Work In Progress, and sent the manuscript to my agent. Writers hope for that moment. I'm thrilled I got to have it. Now, at the end of summer, I'm knee-deep in a new manuscript, reading all the light-hearted books I can get my hands on, and making plans to adopt a dog. Good books and a new best friend can make for a vacation any day.
Evie –
Holy cow, June, July, and August just flew past me this year. Looking at my calendar I see that I spent lots of quality time with my writing friends, ten incandescent days with my kids and grandkid in town, and last but not least, I turned 50. I also see that I didn't spend a lot of quality time with my butt in the chair and my hands on the keyboard. I will be changing that this weekend. But if I could sum up my summer in one picture, it would be this one, of my granddaughter playing in the bubbles. It's going to be my screensaver this winter, when the temperatures take a dive. 

Lisa –
I spent the summer near the water, charging my batteries for the coming winter (summer is my favorite season).  We also took a trip to Colorado, Wyoming and South Dakota.  Some of the things we saw were Pikes Peak, Mount Rushmore and Yellowstone.  It was a great opportunity to revisit some places I'd visited as a child and to learn about some new ones.  And, of course, it was an opportunity to spend time with my family, which I treasure.


Keely –

My summer jump started with a week in Boston visiting my dad and stepmother over the Fourth of July. What a walkable, beautiful city (not something I ever said before the Big Dig came a-knockin’)! Though I admit, I didn't do a lot of walking in my cheetah print mules. I'm fashion forward, not a masochist! Later in the month, I popped up to Berkeley Springs, WV for an awesome and productive writing weekend with some chapter-mates. And in August I had the pleasure of meeting up with my Thrall family relatives in Long Island for a little mini-family reunion. Oh, and I started a kitchen renovation. And, and, and…actually, I’m kinda ready for fall. Cooler weather, less travel, and…progress on the new kitchen!

Tell us, what did YOU do on your summer vacation?