Magical Moments

That is seriously the corniest title for a blog post ever, but I’m sticking with it. I spent the past weekend at the Create Something Magical Conference in Iselin, NJ, organised by Liberty States Fiction Writers.

Despite having depleted a good deal of my conference mojo at the Dreamspinner Author Workshop in Florida earlier this month, I had a really great time. More importantly, I met a lot of fantastic people, learned some new tricks, added a new story idea to my Big Book of Ideas (thanks, Felice Stevens) and came away freshly inspired to create (something magical). Continue reading

Following Your Heart

following-your-heartIf I had to pick the underlying theme of my many blog posts about writing, it would be me asking: what am I doing this for? The question isn’t unique to my profession, or even to creatives. From time to time, we all take a look at what we’re doing and ask why. Or we should. And it’s not something you can ask once and be done. The answer changes with time.

I set goals at the beginning of this year and felt pretty good about not only the direction I wanted to take my career, but in the number of books I wanted to write. It was a good number. Very doable. Then I got to work and started writing the wrong book. Henry and Marc’s HEA was number three on my list of projects. I went with it, though, and by the time I hit the 6k mark, I’d entered that wonderful phase where the story started to tell itself. I was golden; writing 1500-2000 words every morning, revising a two or three chapters of Irresistible, the novel I drafted last year, every afternoon.

Then I finished drafting this second book and suddenly had two books to revise. Revisions on Irresistible had ground to a halt as Counting on You hit the phase where all I wanted to do was write another chapter so I could see what happened next. This is a good thing, usually. It’s one of my favourite parts of drafting. I rushed past the finish line, took a few days to recharge, and started revising Counting on You.

So I was attacking my To Do list out of order. What did it matter, so long as I got all the books written by the end of the year? Continue reading

Looking Ahead

reading-writing-resolving-1Every January I tell myself I’m going to post about my writing goals for the year—and then I don’t. Admittedly, I wondered if anyone would care about what I was up to. Right now, though? This post is for me. My whole blog is pretty much for me. ❤ So here’s a resolution post with an outline for some reading goals, some personal goals and quick ramble about all the books I’d like to write. Continue reading

Letting Go

If there is one thing writing has taught me, it’s how to let go. It’s not an easy lesson, and out of all the lessons of the past few years, it’s the one I struggle with most—probably because it’s just so important. It affects every stage of the writing process and has value in other areas of my life.

I haven’t blogged much this month. I’ve been busy writing a book! It’s nearly done and I’m going to post a teaser for it next week and blog about the process of writing it. The knockdown, drag about fight I had with my copy edits for Block and Strike yesterday prompted this post. I wrote Block and Strike over two years ago. I revised it last year and rewrote a significant portion of it this year. Right now, it’s that book. The one I’ve invested a lot of self into. And yesterday, I finally had to let it go. Continue reading

Trying Not to Write

I’ve been writing nearly every day for about six years. Before then, I wrote every few days, reviewing books and PC games for various publications, and occasionally writing travel reviews and editorials. Then I discovered fan fiction and wrote what I fondly refer to as “my first novel,” a 93k word epic entitled The Hero of Ferelden.

The endless road…

I’d written fiction before, but never seriously. Never anything long. Never anything that consumed me in quite the same way as writing about my Warden and his allies did. I went on to write a chapter a day for eight months, producing another 500k words—two more novels, several novellas and a lot of short stories.

Then I wrote something of my own and got it published. Then I wrote something else. Meanwhile, I’d been role playing with an active forum for about three years, writing sometimes up to 9k a day in posts. Oh, and Jenn and I wrote a book together somewhere in there, a dark fantasy that topped 120k.

Together, Jenn and I wrote the Chaos Station series in about fifteen months. That’s another 360k. During that time I also wrote two other novels, five novellas and a handful of short stories. This year alone I’ve written another two novels (one of which we tossed at 55k), both with Jenn.

I’m not going to add up all these words. It’s a lot and I don’t need to see the tally to understand that. I’ve felt the load. There have been days where my brain refuses to produce the right word for anything other than tea and toast.

The first time I burned out, I took a weekend off and then got back to work. I fretted the entire time. WHAT IF I LOST MY WORDS? The second time I had to take a break, it was because my arms hurt too much to use the keyboard. And I’d lost sensation in one of my shoulders. And I couldn’t turn my neck.

Seriously.

After several months of physical therapy we traced the original injury—a pinched nerve in my neck—to a bad fall during karate class. I’d forgotten to stiffen my neck and gave myself a good dose of whiplash. I got up and tried the takedown again. Because I’m a stubborn fool. Then I ignored the pain in my neck and shoulders for five months until I literally couldn’t move.

The words, man. THE WORDS.

I took a break—or I tried to. I limited myself to 1000 words a day, in addition to all the “extras” that go along with being published. The blog posts, the newsletters, the website, the social media presence. I started taking weekends off and that worked for a while. But what I really needed (aside from weekly PT appointments where a lovely massage therapist does cruel and unusual things to my neck and shoulders) was to take a break. Something longer than four days. A break where I didn’t think or write. Where my life revolved around something other than words.

If you’re a writer, you know how hard it is not to write. It’s like…impossible. The stories are RIGHT there. The voices are LOUD. You have to write. If I took a break, I’d lose my place. I’d be stuck on a raft in the middle of a boundless ocean, floating away from the only island I knew existed.

With a trip to Australia coming up this summer, I decided to try and use my vacation as, um, vacation. I didn’t manage it last year. I spent a week in Cape May working on edits and writing blog posts. The summer before I took my laptop to New Orleans and wrote every morning in the hotel room. The summer before that…

You get the idea.

This summer I decided to actually go for it. In preparation, I worked stupid hours for a couple of weeks writing sixteen blog posts for an upcoming tour as well as revising two projects for submission, putting together synopses and query letters, and outlining another project. Oh, and I was writing a book with Jenn as the same time, one we finished a few days before I stepped on the plane. By the time I got to Australia, I was due a break.

Beer!
Beer!

The first week I fretted. I pulled my laptop out the first day and opened a file. I had a novella to outline and a proposal to write. After staring at a blank document for about five minutes, I flipped over to Facebook and watched cat videos. I was jetlagged and tired. The next day my laptop remained closed. The day after that I fretted aloud: “I really should be writing!”

The unanimous response was: “Kick back and have a beer!”

(It’s the Aussie cure for what ails you.)

Four days into my vacation, I started vacationing. I ate, drank, socialised, saw the sights and slept past 4am in the morning. I continued to worry, quietly, that my words were fading like tear stains on a pillow. For two weeks, I didn’t write a single word. I did pull out my phone to jot down the occasional idea and I spent many enjoyable a morning talking books and stories with my dad. But I did NO WORK. I didn’t write a single blog post. I didn’t craft a single promotional tweet.

This is the part where I tell you how amazing it was. Imagine me tipping my head from side to side. I don’t know if it was amazing or not. I don’t know if I’m going to sit down soon and start writing the BEST BOOK ever. What I do know is that I needed the break, mentally and physically. Regardless of what you do for a living, you cannot do it all day, every day, and not suffer the consequences. Our brains require variety. Colours and sensations and experiences. I can’t write good stories if I’m not out there living a good life. Not the kind of stories I want to tell, anyway.

What I have taken from this experience is that I’m not a shark. I can stop swimming. I’d like to write every day, but I know it’s not sustainable. I’ve discovered that I can ignore the voices for a while—if I really try—and they’ll wait for me. New ideas will crop up while I’m not writing. New characters will continue to whisper somewhere between my ears. So long as I make a note of this and that, I’ll never lose these potential words. They’ll always be with me, no matter how much time I take off.

Also, when I’m not writing, there are a heck of a lot of hours left over in the day. Like… what do regular folk do with all this time???

Cake is also good for what ails you.
Cake is also good for what ails you.

I’m five days back and I’ve spent the morning writing blog posts. I actually plan to take the rest of this week off (quelle horreur) because I have two new books releasing next week and that’s WORK right there. What I do hope is that when I finally get back to it, I love writing just as much as before.

Oh, who am I kidding? Of course I will! Otherwise I wouldn’t still be hearing those whispers. 😀

For more pictures of my vacation, connect with me on Instagram! (Scroll down past the cats and Pokémon) For info about my two new releases, check out my Coming Soon page or stay tuned. I’ll be posting about them! Oh, and if you do check out my fan fiction, remember they were written well before I understood what editing was. 😉 (My heart was totally in it!)

 

The View

When Out in the Blue released as part of Dreamspinner’s “Never Too Late” Daily Dose collection, I planned to write a post about the trail Jared and Fin hike during the story. Well, a part of the trail—my favourite part: The hike up to the summit of Mt. Tammany. In many ways, the short hike is a perfect metaphor not only for life, but for writing, and for Jared, for whom I wrote Out in the Blue. I didn’t get to the post then, as I wasn’t able to tackle the hike for a number of reasons. Thankfully, this year I’m back on my feet and fighting fit.

It’s a short hike, just over a mile and a half each way, but the elevation gain is twelve hundred feet. That’s a lot over a mile and a half and, appropriately, the trail is marked as difficult. It’s steep, it’s a definite hike, it’s hard work. This trail is not a walk in the woods. But the climb is so worth it, which is why this trail is one of the most popular in the Northeast. You do get a glimpse of success early on; a view through the trees of the Delaware River winding south, shouldered on each side by the Gap—Mt Tammany on one side, Mt. Minsi on the other.

The Gap

The trail wanders a little after that, steep, but we’re not climbing Everest here. Then we sort of are, without the snow. There are several sections where you’re on your hands and knees and you’re wondering why the heck you decided to climb a mountain today. You’re crawling, not hiking, and your thighs are burning, and you left your bottle of water in the car. It’s not feeling like fun. And all you can see ahead are more rocks and more trees.

The Trail

Where’s the view?

That’s life, isn’t it? We’re always looking for the view. We work toward goals, lured forward by the promise of a view at the end. The first sight of our finished project, or the pleasure it brings others. Financial reward, satisfaction, a job well done. They’re all the ‘view’. And the trail is rough. There are easy sections, but they’re never long enough to make up for the steep climbs.

Writing feels like that sometimes. I think any creative process can feel like that. Life is just so much like that, until we get to the view…and the climb is worth it.

The Summit

For Jared, it’s different. He’s stopped looking for the view. His life has flat lined. For uncounted years, he’s been walking the woods without looking beyond the trees. He hasn’t climbed, he hasn’t caught a glimpse of what’s around the next corner, or up the next slope. What drives him up Mt. Tammany (and along the Appalachian trail for two days before then) is something else. He knows he’s missing something, but he doesn’t know what it is. So I wrote a story to help him find it.

He climbs a mountain:

After an hour of huffing and puffing, and two false summits, they finally reached the peak of Mount Tammany. While the elevation barely scraped a thousand and a half feet—a thousand feet more than the town they’d spent the night in—the view was spectacular. Jared could see the interstate snaking into New Jersey, the river curving south. Though he’d probably see more from the window of a plane, he preferred being on the ground. The scent of old mulched leaves filled his senses, as did the pride of having accomplished something, even if it had been a relatively tame ascent. He’d climbed a hill. He’d walked for two and a half days without collapsing in a heap, and he’d climbed a mountain.

Feeling the warmth of Fin beside him, Jared turned to study the other man’s face. Fin’s expression echoed his.

“Never gets old?” Jared asked.

Fin shook his head. “Nope. Doesn’t matter how high or how far, it’s just being out here.” His lower lip disappeared beneath his teeth a moment. “Being out here is part of the essential human experience.”

Rather than ask him to qualify the statement, Jared simply nodded. He got it. He felt it.

 

Then he takes a chance with Fin:

“I want to kiss you.” He’d kissed so few men. None after Brian.

“That’s a good thing.” Fin’s breath tickled his lips.

Jared opened his eyes, sought the clear blue of Fin’s, and found only an indistinct blur pressed close. “I’m not good at this. What if—”

Fin’s lips touched his in a brief caress. “Shh. If the sex sucks, we’ll laugh about it when we get together to watch a game on Sundays.”

Oh, God. They were really going to do this.

The pressure landed, pushing air from Jared’s lungs. He didn’t understand it, his panic. He just knew it had been getting worse over the past couple of months. Since the company had grounded him, since he’d turned forty-five. Every time he contemplated being stuck in one place, his lungs locked and his ribs dug into his sides. He wouldn’t be able to ignore life when it no longer passed by the window of a plane, constrained to a view of six inches by twelve, cornered in soft angles, obscured by clouds. He’d be out there in the blue, trapped in one place. Trapped in a vastness. An emptiness. His loneliness would be real.

Canting forward, he claimed Fin’s mouth in a rough kiss. His lips were hard, stiff, teeth in the way. Jared pulled away with a gasp. He reached up to frame Fin’s face, thumbs sifting through sideburns to rest against his ears, fingers spearing into dark hair. He sucked in a quick breath, one scented by all Fin was, then kissed him again, this time with less need. Lips softened and parted beneath his.

Spoiler alert, the sex doesn’t suck. 😉 But what I loved about writing this particular scene was the promise of friendship between these guys. Because this is a love story, and the best lovers should also be best friends.

Out in the Blue is one of my favourite stories. I loved writing an older character and Jared’s journey is proof that it’s never too late to start looking for the view, or to simply learn to appreciate it for what it is.

OutintheBlueLGOut in the Blue

At forty-five, Jared Tailler suddenly feels old. When his employer grounds him, he starts thinking in terms of measuring his coffin. Well, not quite, but he’s creakier and hairier than he was ten years ago, and his closest relationship is the one he has with his frequent-flyer card.

It’s time to get out there.

On the first day of a five-day hiking trip, he meets Finley Macrae, a younger, seemingly brighter man. As they inch together in halting steps, Jared learns he’s not the only one lost out in the blue—Fin’s good cheer hides a turbulence deeper than Jared’s midlife crisis. Maybe together they can find the trail to happiness.

 

A story from the Dreamspinner Press 2015 Daily Dose package “Never Too Late.”

Amazon | ARe | Dreamspinner Press

The Careers I Might Have Had

One of the things I love about being a writer is choosing careers for my characters. This is when I think back over the things I wanted to be when I grew up and allow myself to dream a little. I wanted to be a writer. I also wanted to be a research scientist, flight attendant, architect, farmer, astronaut, witch, wife (no, those two are not related), artist and an accountant. Yes, some people actually want to be accountants.

I’m sure there are more careers I investigated, even if only briefly, but these are the ones that stand out in my memory. Interestingly enough, I only ever pursued education toward two of these goals and have found work in vastly different fields.

My characters’ careers cover a wider range, but I’ve found I have a few standbys. When I examine them, I’m not at all surprised by what they are.

The Architect

This one is pure wish fulfillment. My yearning to be an architect has never quite gone away. I am fascinated by the art of architecture. The engineering aspect intrigues me, but it’s the design part that really captures my imagination. The use of space and the statement of a building. What it means to the architect who designed it, and if it conveys the same message to all who look at it.

Whenever I am writing, I will spend days researching the architecture of a region (for an overall feel), before narrowing my focus to relevant buildings, houses and landscapes. I clip pictures and take notes. I have also invested roughly 10,000 hours designing houses and neighbourhoods in The Sims. I really ought to have a degree by now.

Mickey (Less Than Perfect) is an urban engineer. She’s an architect of a sort. All of the other architects I have written reside in works in progress. One day, I’ll get them into print!

The Accountant

I have written three accountants. Jared (Out in the Blue), Henry and Marc (Counting Fence Posts) are all accountants. Jared is a forensic accountant and his experience is based on the job my husband held when we got married. The traveling lifestyle of all three of these guys is as well. In fact, Jared so closely resembles my husband that I mentioned the fact in my acknowledgements. My husband chose to be flattered by this, and he should be! Jared is a great guy.

I did actually study accountancy—for a single year. I went to night school. Not sure if they still call it that. 😉 I excelled at contract law and computer skills, but failed the math class. It was pretty disheartening at the time. I can do math, but I have a huge disconnect when it comes to applying the right formula to the right problem. Through my guys, however, I can pretend for a little while that I’m not mathematically challenged! Also, my Google-Fu is awesome.

The I Haven’t Figured It Out Yet

I have two of these. Mac (Best in Show) and Max from another work in progress. Yeah, I have a few of these. I like writing guys who haven’t figured it out yet because, honestly, that was me in my twenties. I’d tried college three times and failed. I’d worked as a waitress, sandwich hand, in door to door sales, phone sales, as a courier, receptionist, file and mail clerk, in data entry and network engineer, as a finished artist, copy writer and book reviewer.

I don’t think Mac and Max are necessarily directionless. Instead, like me, they’re simply looking for the spark that ignites. For the career choice that clicks and makes them happy.

The Teacher

I have enormous respect for teachers. I have written two of them: Fin (Out in the Blue) and Reg (Less Than Perfect). A project I’m planning out right now has a teacher as a secondary character. I find writing a teacher somewhat challenging in that I feel I need to know something about the subject they teach in order to write them believably. Fin teaches social studies (this was my daughter’s favourite class last year because her teacher obviously loved his subject—I took notes), and Reg taught history. I say taught, because Reg’s world is post-apocalyptic and it might be a while before he gets back to teaching. He’s a bit busy dodging press gangs and aliens.

My own teaching experience is broken into two categories. I used to teach adult word processing classes—back in the days of Word Perfect! My fondest memory is of a student being afraid to use the Ctrl-Z command. They thought the computer might explode. I also taught general computer literacy to the teachers at the school where I worked for a little while. Email, internet, filling in the networked grade book I had designed for them, and producing reports. While at that school I taught two electives to the kids in computer skills and graphic design.

My teaching position was one of the few opportunities I’ve had to actually use some of my many bits and pieces of college education. 😉

The Writer

I have two writers. Julian (Best in Show) and Charlie from yet another work in progress. Charlie’s story also has an architect and a teacher in it. It’s the holy trinity of my dream careers.

Writing writers feels a little self-indulgent, but also somewhat scary because writing is such a personal career and the way I represent my writers may clash with the way others do. I suppose that’s true of all careers. Writing writers is also restful in a way, because we’re a pretty quirky bunch, so you can’t really do anything wrong. It’s also a way to explore aspects of a writing career I haven’t discovered on my own yet: being a bestseller and writing good mysteries.

Writing is another career I have actually pursued education toward, and those were the courses I had the most success in. I guess I found my niche! As with any career, though, writing comes with plenty of opportunities to continue learning as I research jobs for my characters and build the worlds they live in. I really do learn something new every day. More than that, I get to dream, and that’s not something I’d swap for anything else.

Well, except for being an architect. I do still really want to be an architect one day.

Or maybe an astronaut.

(Featured image credit: http://spacecenter.org)

When It’s Not Working

The post I had planned for today was a summary of my works in progress. I don’t often share much about what I’m writing. I’m weirdly superstitious about it—or maybe it’s just that I prefer not to tease with a new project that might never eventuate. It’d be like hearing Ben & Jerry were finally going to marry bananas and coconut, but decided it wasn’t working before the product ever got to market.

Instead of telling you about what I’m writing right now—I can do that next week, maybe—I’m going to tell you about what I’m not writing. Or what Jenn and I have just given up writing, after working on it for six weeks.

We’ve just tossed a work in progress at 55,000 words in.

You might ask how we got that far without realising it wasn’t working. Two reasons:

1) The part that wasn’t working was a progressive disease. We treated it along the way, but we missed some symptoms. Before we knew what was happening, it had spread beyond our ability to halt it.

My metaphor is a little gruesome, but adequate to describe what happened. In more real terms, we realised that we didn’t have enough conflict between our characters. Not enough tension. They liked each other too much and kept resolving their differences as they occurred. In order to shake them up, we kept introducing more difficulties. They shook them off. These guys were good together. Very sweet. The sex was outstanding. They’ll probably live happily ever after in their own universe. But on paper, their romance was just too easy and therefore neither compelling nor memorable.

2) We designed a paranormal world—and told a normal world story.

We intended to do this, sort of. We wanted to write something different. We’d hoped to put a more lighthearted story into a paranormal setting. This one didn’t work, but that doesn’t mean others won’t.

So, we’re going to replot.

The 55,000 words already written aren’t a complete waste. Both characters are ones we like and they will work in different stories, with different partners. Sorry boys, the happy ever after isn’t going to happen in this world.

In writing them this far, though, we got to know them, and we got to know the setting. We’ll be able to take advantage of that as we plot out a new story. And, once we pulled these two love birds apart and talked about what we should do with them, we discovered they were characters from two very different stories. So our exercise has not been futile. We now have potential outlines for two books where previously we had one. Best of all, though, we’re excited about both these new books in a way we weren’t about the first one. We’ve been able to take a step back to an older idea we had for this project and actually incorporate it.

Finally, even though I loved writing a guy who was NOT Felix, I will admit the character I need to create for to pair with Jenn’s for the replot has me a little excited because, well, he’ll be gruffer and more cynical than the guy who I was writing.

Maybe I just can’t write nice people.

No… that can’t possibly be it…

Anyway, you’d think I’d be more upset about tossing 55,000 words. I’m not. I don’t regret the time and I don’t see it as a waste. I enjoyed writing those words, I enjoyed writing with Jenn. We have a long history of role playing together, so in essence, every time we write together, we go back to that. So, this is just one of the stories we told ourselves instead of sharing with the world.

Now we’ll plot out and write a new one. (Or two.)