Tuesday, October 27, 2009

The Pumpkin Patch

Last weekend, I was out for a nice leisurely drive with my family and had a chance to just stare out the window for a half hour or so just taking in the scenery: the rocky brown terrain of inland Southern California as you climb gently over the recently burned out slopes to reach mini-mountain elevations. Okay, well, truthfully - we were on our way to the pumpkin patch with an over-tired 18 month old singing her version of the Barney theme song, the digital shooting sounds of a 10 year old on a Star Wars DS game, and an ornery 8 year old complaining of hunger and heat. In her defense, it was 92 degrees at the pumpkin patch, so maybe she was hot. But regardless of the chatter and noise, I DID manage to get 30 minutes sitting still and looking out the window. I wasn't handing over cheerios or lathering sun screen on bare arms, I was just sitting. And what I realized while I was looking out the window was that I love scenery. Now my husband would call me a liar because I am rarely moved by the view from a skyscraper or the view from a cliff overlooking a lush, green valley...and frankly, I never knew why. Why am I not in awe of these inspiring views when I truly love beautiful places. And what I discovered was that I don't love a good view. I love scenery. I love driving through an area and picturing how people live there. I love how scenes float by the car window slowly so that you can draw out the experience and almost become one with it. A view is simply one dimensional to me. But scenery is completely 3D.

I mention this - not so much to ramble on - which I tend to do, but because I realize that most of my ideas for stories come from scenery that is intriguing or places I've been that speak to me so strongly that I just HAVE to create characters to experience it for me. My first novel was set among the cattle ranches of Oklahoma where I had been just once but held so much passion and heart that I had to get back there if only on paper. My current novel is set on the rolling hillsides of Lancaster County, Pennsylvania where people live a simpler life...perhaps a nod to my inner need to reduce stress in my life?

I just find it amazing when a piece of my writing process becomes clearer to me - more concrete.

It's an amazing journey we are on as writers. I'm so glad to be here among you all!

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Tortured Souls

Sometimes I wonder if we writers are simply a collection of tortured souls agonizing to get our stories out. It seems to me that writers, the really good ones anyway, are able to tap into raw emotions that seem to transmit effortlessly to the page. Of course, those of us endeavoring to do just this know how difficult it is to not only harness this emotion but find words to portray it.

I believe everyone has a story within. Everyone has at some time or another felt so deeply that their little pinky toe radiates the feeling. But it is the courage to share these feelings - the sorrow, the embarrassment, the tenderness - that sets a great writer apart from a mediocre one. And it is precisely this courage that I continue to strive for with each sentence that I write. And I find that it is those emotions that scare you to death are the ones that you need to put on paper. It is the courageous writing that stuns its readers into voracious consumption.

We always hear: write what you know. Well, it makes sense then that to successfully transmit deep emotion - whether it be joy, love, fear, worry, agony - the writer needs to relive it in a way. The challenge is to relive it while remaining focused enough not to be lost in it: to hover on the brink of insanity it seems. We need to kind of fade in and out of a deep emotional consciousness so that we can get the words on the page before the feeling is lost. For me, this is the hardest part of writing. I could write endlessly about a character and about her trials and tribulations or I can feel intensely. But to infuse a one dimensional being with three dimensional emotion that allows her to come alive for everyone who reads it is the true test of a successful novel.

What it wouldn't mean to me to have someone read my novel and cry when my character does - then I'd know it was a job well done. But occasionally when I am writing, I know that I am on the verge of something great, something unique and important, but I just can't get there. The intensity is missing.

What do you do when the emotion just isn't there? Have you ever had the courage to write about something that terrifies you?

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Creative Blogger Award!

Many thanks to Fran Caldwell for passing on the "Kreativ Blogger" award...though I'm in agreement about the "Kreativ" use of spelling here...

As stipulated by the award, I need to let you all in on 7 things you don't know about me. Hmmm...the pressure to be interesting yet not weird is somewhat overwhelming! Nonetheless, here it is:

1. I wanted to be a pediatric nurse in high school...but decided to major in creative writing instead.

2. I would love to take my next vacation to Nashville.

3. I played with Barbie dolls until I was 12 (perhaps getting the creative juices flowing?)

4. I wanted 5 kids up until I had number 3...now I'm good.

5. I dread public speaking and break into a cold sweat whenever the need arises.

6. I like cleaning...I find it therapeutic!

7. My biggest accomplishment thus far in life was potty training my first child...if you don't have children, please withhold judgement!

And although it is difficult to narrow it down, I'll now reveal my nominees for Creative Blogs that I enjoy regularly and think you should too: Barb at Finding My Voice, Cindy R. Wilson, Sonia at The Gutsy Writer, and Charlie at Approaching Utopia. Thanks to all of you for your inspiring posts!

Saturday, October 10, 2009

Submission Tally

44 queries sent, 1 request for partial received.

Although the ratio of query to interest may not be the best, I'm over the moon about it. Thank God that little bit of interest from a "highly intelligent" agent came through when it did...I was beginning to get a bit of the rejection blues.

So now I'll wait cross my fingers...and my toes...and well, yes, maybe even my eyes...and hope that she likes my partial as much as my query.


Monday, September 28, 2009

In my first book, I had quotations at the beginning of each chapter that in some way had to do with the theme of the following pages. I have since removed them because I found that the quotes were in most cases more helpful and meaningful to me as a way to regroup my thoughts and pin-point exactly what I wanted to say and less important to the overall impact of the novel. But there are a few that remain so inspiring to me that I thought I'd share them here:

"The greatest obstacle to discovery is not ignorance - it is the illusion of knowledge." -David Boorstin

"Truly it is in darkness that one finds the light, so when we are in sorrow, then this light is nearest of all to us." -Meister Eckhart

And my personal favorite:

"For me, writing something down was the only road out." -Anne Tyler

And just the other day, a friend told me "the surest way to be happy is to really, really want what you already have..." Big aha moment for me. So you see, I'm a sucker for a great quote if you have one to share!

Thursday, September 24, 2009

How do you research?

I'm finding that my current WIP is requiring quite a bit of research on two specific topics. Up to now I've been doing a combo of writing/researching depending on how the mood strikes me and what my day is like. For instance: if I'm at home with my daughter napping, I write; but if I'm spending the afternoon running taxi service for piano, soccer, scouts etc...I just pack up my research and head out to do it on the fly sitting in the car or wherever I end up. But lately it seems I'm being less than productive. In fact, I've been researching so much that I'm feeling guilty for NOT writing. But WOW am I learning a lot!

It occurs to me that perhaps I need to pick one or the other. Perhaps I should just research day in and day out until I'm confident about my material and then sit down to write. Or maybe I should just write as it comes and then research later and fill in where necessary. I'm leaning toward the first, but I can't shake the nagging feeling that I'm wasting time.

So I'm wondering: how do you handle topics in your own work that require research?

Wednesday, September 16, 2009



Yes, I know I said that before, but this time I mean it. I have FINALLY finished my third and final edit - including changing all my spacing from two to one after all the periods...ugh!!!! It has taken me almost a full 7 months longer than anticipated, but I feel so happy because I truly feel that it is a tighter, stronger manuscript the way it now stands. In my gut I always knew it wasn't ready to sprout wings, but I also wasn't ready to do the necessary work and cut here and chop there. I wasn't ready to let go of one little word. But I did (almost 13,000 of them) and I'm glad.

So here's the newest stats: 16 queries sent, 3 rejections (or "no thank you's" as I prefer to call them) and more on their way out.

Now it is finally back to my WIP that I left simmering on the back burner all summer to re-edit the first work. Mind you, it has been simmering and I do believe it is downright steamy now and ready to take off the fire! I'm so excited, can you tell?

So it's back to work...thanks to all of you that have been patient while I meandered my way through the last couple of months!

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

Where have I been?

I realize I took some time off from my writing while my oldest two kids were small, but I'm surprised every day by the little editing things that have changed over the years...where have I been?

My latest frustration: the fact that only one space now follows a period! Yes, I do think it is more eye appealing but my fingers don't want to just type one space...they are conditioned from years of practice to put two spaces after each and every period! Even more frustrating is trying to go back and edit my novel with the new rule (okay, it may not be THAT new but it is to me!)

So if this rule has changed, it makes me wonder: What other little rules have changed in the past ten years?

Thursday, August 13, 2009

Yikes...where have I been? Well, let's see: back to school shopping, planning an insanely hectic Luau party for my 8 year old's birthday, breaking a toe (yes, you can say ouch!) and editing, editing, editing...

Still, no excuses. Now school is back in session Monday and my daytime will once again be my own...well, if you subtract the time necessitated by a 16 month old...okay so nap time will once again be my own!

Can't wait to sit down and delve into all the wonderful blogs I follow and have been missing...talk to you all soon!

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

To prologue or not to prologue - that is the question!

I've been pondering this question for a while now and then decided who better to poll then my fellow enthusiasts!

My first novel, which I am currently about to finish editing, begins with a flashback. In actuality, it begins with two flashbacks which I consider more of a double prologue. You see the story is told from the POV of a daughter who finds her mother's body after she commits suicide and then follows her along the path of self-discovery as she searches for the reason for her mother's death. It becomes apparent during the course of the novel that her mother and father's relationship was doomed from the beginning and the two flashback sequences - one told from the father's POV and one from the mother's POV- foreshadow this revelation.

I love this beginning (of course, I do since I wrote it!) but have been advised by a few readers (mostly other writers) that I shouldn't begin this way. I realize it breaks many rules: begin with heavy action, keep the same POV throughout etc. But I am reluctant to scrap it because it felt right to me...but am willing to do the old heave-ho if it is truly in the best interest of the work. Mostly I'm afraid that it will turn off the agents I am submitting to if they only read the first chapter or two.

At the moment, I'm thinking of compromising and only including the flashback of the mother. It is shorter more action packed.

Thoughts? Suggestions? I'm desperate to get this right!

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

My reading dilemma

Here's the dilemma: Once I begin a book, I cannot stop - even if it is REALLY, REALLY bad!

Does anyone else have this problem?

Last night I got all the kiddos to bed and climbed into my bed looking forward to a couple hours of uninterrupted reading before hitting the hay. As I reached for the book on my bedside table (the book I've been reading for a week now and am on a whopping page 150!), I groaned a little. This current book I've committed to has proven to be less than exciting and even less inspiring.

Why don't I just put this book aside (or swap it on my favorite site: paperbackswap.com)? Because I can't. I can't bring myself to stop reading until the very last word has been duly noted and processed. I've made it through many a novel this way, all the while wondering when it would get interesting and begin to captivate me.

Often, I've been bountifully rewarded with a great ending or a story that finally grabs me in the middle. It's how I made it through The Historian by Elizabeth Kostova and Fortune's Rock by Anita Shreve - I hung in there and am ever grateful that I did. But just as often, I struggle through the beginning pages of a book and reach the end only to be thankful that it is over and I can move on - my commitment to the author complete.

And of course there are countless books that I sail through, greedily devouring each word from beginning to end - like the Kite Runner that I read large parts of while stirring macaroni and cheese on the stove because I was so busy reading that I almost forgot to make dinner!

But what irks me is my misguided need to finish every book I pick up. Even now I feel confident that tonight I'll choose a new book and put to rest the current one (which shall remain nameless), but I know that when that fateful time comes, I'll likely be consumed by guilt and fear that on the very next page - the very next one that I'll never get to - there will be the great break through: those awe inspiring words I've been waiting for.

Hmmm...what to do...

Monday, August 3, 2009

Out of the mouths of babes...

Kids are the best.

I have spent the greater part of my adulthood raising my kids. Teaching them, nurturing them, advising them... Yet it is always surprising when they turn around and teach me a lesson back. So this morning I thought I'd share one of these moments while the cherubs are all still asleep and I enjoy my morning coffee.

We had a family meeting this weekend as the last month of summer arrived and thoughts of back to school supplies and new teachers swirled in our heads. It has been an especially fun summer with lots of friends and beach time and the baby starting to walk. So we wanted to regroup and refocus. During our meeting, we spoke about goals for the next year...specifically what we wanted to accomplish.

When it came time to share our individual goals, I specifically chose ones that were family friendly and things I thought the kids could relate to (you know, eat more carrots and less chocolate, more exercise...)

Then my 7 year old daughter looked at me with these big brown eyes and said, "Mom! How about finishing your book? That should be your goal!"

Duh, right? I had been thinking that my writing life was simply that: MY writing life. But when I stop and think about it, my writing is a huge part of their life too. It is the "other" part of me that compliments the mommy and caregiver part to make me a whole and fulfilled person. And, yes, finishing my book IS my goal, I just didn't think my children would see that. So no more procrastination, no more whining over how tedious this editing is becoming. Back to work!

How pleasantly surprised I am to learn that in my children's eyes, I already am what I have always wanted to be: A WRITER.

Saturday, August 1, 2009

A hard nut to crack

Have you ever wanted to hit your head against the wall for missed opportunities to plug your work and yourself as a writer? If I followed through on this urge, I'd for sure be missing half of my temporal lobe by now!

My characters and story are in my head CONSTANTLY to the point that I should set them a seat at my table along with my children, yet I have the hardest time speaking about them to other people.

Recently, a good friend asked me what my book was about. She was genuinely interested but I became a bumbling idiot sadly resembling my first attempt at asking a boy to the Sadie Hawkins dance in high school. I don't know if I'm worried that the person isn't really interested and just being polite or if I just generally am too close to the whole thing to put it into words. It's almost as if someone had asked me to sum up my whole world in a sentence or two.

The most frustrating thing is that I know talking easily and convincingly about my work is essential to success. I KNOW that if I'm not enthusiastic and clear then neither will anyone else be.

But it is proving to be a hard nut to crack for this aspiring writer...

Saturday, July 18, 2009

My First "Award"!

Many thanks to Kit Courtney for honoring me with my first blogger award!

Kit's blog Kit Courtney Writes was the first one I stumbled upon and began following about six months ago and I have been enjoying it ever since!

So I believe I am supposed to pass the ONE LOVELY BLOG AWARD on to 5 other talented bloggers that I enjoy on a regular basis.

After much consideration I have chosen:

1. Working My Muse by Eric because his insight into his own writing successes and challenges causes me to look deeper into my own writing life.

2. Fran Caldwell's Notebook because Fran's journey has been inspiring as I followed her from writing her queries and sending them out to getting her first deal!

3. Cindy R. Wilson because I love the professional quality and tone to her blogging!

4. Belletrinsic for always giving me a good kick in the butt with her take no prisoner posts!

5. Gutsy Writer because I love Sonia's free-thinker mind and can often relate to her challenges and triumphs!

Thanks to all of these bloggers for the piece of inspiration that they provide to everyone who reads them and I encourage all of you to check them out!

Sunday, July 12, 2009


I've recently noticed a disturbing trend in my work.

I'm killing off the mothers.

Wow, that felt good to finally say...to come clean and admit it.

I've been putting alot of time into my query and getting ready to get the next round out there (thus, my neglect of my blog...) In my rewrite, I've been really struggling to find a theme that would resonate with people. But in my search, I found my "mother-slaying."

You see in my first novel, the mother is killed off in the very beginning. In fact you never even meet her first hand. Her tragic story is revealed through her daughter and her own self discoveries. Yet in a way, the mother is the heroine of the book so I felt rather comfortable with killing her off. But now that I've written part of my second novel, I realize that I have killed the mother on the first page. Not a brutal murder, but a sad and lonely accidental overdose.

I'm so disturbed by this trend, in fact, that I've rewritten the beginning part so she doesn't actually die. I'm not sure yet which way I'll finally let it play out. WHEN (not if, right?) I finally do get published, do I want to be the author known for writing about dead mothers?

I seem to have this Bambi-esque theme through my stories in which the mother has to die for the daughter to find her legs...her true self.

Hmmm.... How's that for a theme? :)

Have you ever discovered an interesting trend in your own writing - was it liberating or disturbing?

Sunday, June 28, 2009

4 days and counting...

Ok. It has been 4 days since I've been on Authonomy. (Deep breath) I'm fighting the urge as we speak, but I'm not going to do it. (I'm leaning toward eating a box of cookies instead, but that's a whole other issue...)

Yes, my rank is sliding. Yes, the Editor's Desk is getting farther and farther away. And yes, I'm happy to be back to my life as I knew it.

Thanks for all who encouraged me to get off Authonomy and back to doing what I should be: WRITING!

Thursday, June 18, 2009

Dialogue vs. Narrative Prose

I am the first to confess that I love writing description. Drive me by a hillside of grazing sheep and maybe a stray butterfly floating on the wind (see, there I go again) and I will describe the heck out of it...for pages...and pages...and then maybe just one more...

This is what I've been told lately and so have been diligently working to correct this **ahem** flaw so to speak. It is painful for me to let go of any word (I love them so...) let alone whole paragraphs. And it has been a struggle to turn some of my narration into dialogue, but I do see the difference when I re-read. I do see my work becoming more "active" so to speak.

I still believe there is a place for narrative prose in literary works and sometimes wonder if perhaps some of my beta readers are comparing my manuscript to chick lit work or science fiction pieces. I know as a reader of literary fiction, I am forgiving (and actually enjoy) the paragraphs of description and detail but wonder sometimes if I'm the exception.

So tell me, where do you sit on the dialogue vs. narrative debate? What do you lean toward in your own writing?

Tuesday, June 16, 2009


So where have I been lately? Certainly not blogging as much as I'd like and certainly not keeping up my word counts the way I had planned.

I'll come right out with it...I've been addicted to the Authonomy website. A few months ago I had posted part of my first novel there hoping for friendly camaraderie with other writers and helpful critiques for yet another edit. Of course there was the coveted Harper Collins Editor's Desk looming on the horizon for the top 5 peer ranked books each month, but that's not what I was gunning for...at least not at the beginning. So I delved in with enthusiasm, reading other novice manuscripts and I began receiving confidence boosting praise and helpful nit-picks for my own revision. The tips and advice were right on and my work was improving.

Life was good.

But then a wonderful-awful thing happened. My work began to climb...and quickly. Suddenly the ED was not looming in the distance but edging at the end of a sprint line. So what was the awful part? The fact that authonomy has been consuming my entire life! Reading and commenting, returning swaps, digesting the crits and editing...yikes! It makes me wonder who has been feeding and bathing the kids this past month!

So today, I'm frustrated and rebelling...I'm not looking. Nope. Not looking. (Okay, well I looked once but I'm not reading...) I'm going to the beach. I'm taking a mental health day because I've decided we writerly types weren't cut out for such cut throat races and competition. We're a leisurely, friendly bunch...a group needing the inspiration of nature and the companionship of PEOPLE to help our work thrive and flourish.

After my initial thoughts on the brilliance of such a website dedicated to the mutual critique of aspiring writers in which the best will pull forward and garner deserved attention, I now wonder if it doesn't create unnecessary competition and dastardly nit picks. I write literary fiction so I'm frustrated by the writers of chick lit advising that my sentences are too long or that there isn't enough dialogue. I'm tired of writer's of science fiction telling me that my work didn't catch their imagination. I've decided that mass reading and critquing may not be the answer I'm looking for.

After all, isn't writing an art? Isn't there room on the Barnes and Nobles book shelf for all our books?

Wednesday, June 10, 2009


I have a feeling that I'm somewhat archaic in my dislike of e-books. This doesn't mean I'm not willing to change...given the right techniques of persuasion, of course.

You see, my husband is constantly regaling me with great e-books he has seen and down-loaded. He's constantly telling me (to be supportive, I've no doubt!) that when I get published, the e-book will get my work out there to the masses so much more efficiently than simply sitting on the Barnes and Nobles book shelf.

And each time - if I'm honest - I cringe.

I have a mental block it seems about reading literature on a computer screen. I think it takes away from the entire beauty of what reading really is and ought to be. When I read a novel, for instance, it isn't just the story that carries me away, it is the holding of the book in my hands and feeling the crispness of the pages against my fingers. It is the smell of a book too. It can be the raw and heady scent of a brand new book with it's tight binding and pages that occasionally stick together. Or the smell of the book I last had on the beach smelling faintly of sun screen and sand. There is something truly delightful about holding a book in my hands and sliding a bookmark into the place where I leave off that I don't think any other medium can even come close to let alone replace.

In fact, I won't even let my circle of trusted readers take a look at my manuscript online...I'm afraid it will come off like a textbook or research. I want my book to be an experience.

I can remember just where I was when I read The Kite Runner: I was sitting in the car waiting for soccer practice to be over, and then I was standing by the stove stirring macaroni and cheese, and then I was lying in bed with just my clip on book light for the end. See? It was a total experience that would have been tragically different had I been tied to my computer screen for the duration.

But I'm a reasonable person. I'm open to finding out if my vision of reading and publishing is old fashioned and out-dated.

Have you published an e-book? Would you? I'm open to being persuaded...if you do a good job, perhaps you can even convince me to download my first book!

Monday, June 8, 2009

I'm feeling so happy today.

Yup. Just thought I'd share.

Maybe it's the sun shining and the kids getting out of school for the summer - the promise of long days at the beach writing (which as I've said before, is my most productive spot...)

Maybe it's reading all the wonderful blogs of my fellow writers that has inspired me to keep at it and stop feeling like an unpublished fraud...

Maybe it's having finally stumbled upon THE song that has re-energized my new novel...

Maybe it's the continuing climb on the Authonomy.com for Scream Out Loud...every day one step closer to their editor's desk...

Don't know. Maybe it's the diet coke I'm drinking...could be...

Over the weekend I started my third re-read and edit of Scream Out Loud using the helpful critiques of fellow writers on Authonomy and if truth be told, found the whole experience joyful. Yes. Joyful. There's no other word for it.

You see, someone had suggested that I insert dialogue for two areas of prose that felt particularly heavy with back story. So I sat down with the enormous task of turning this beautifully descriptive narrative (I'm allowed to say that since I wrote it!) into lively, informative dialogue. Yikes.

But I did what I was told and put the proverbial butt in chair and refused to get up until it was finished. The result? A much more cohesive and attention grabbing first chapter!

I'm so grateful for all the helpful hints and suggestions I have been getting from fellow writers and readers. What have been the best (and worst!) suggestions you have received to improve your own manuscripts?

Wednesday, June 3, 2009

Yesterday's Aha! Moment

My son was watching me create my database for agent queries...

Son: Mom, how many agents are there in the world?

Me : Hundreds. Thousands. (admittedly distracted)

Son: That's great, mom!

Me: Great? How's that great? (Bear in mind, I'm in the throws of reading hundreds...thousands of agent websites...)

Son: Because you only need one to say yes!

And there it is: Aha!

Monday, June 1, 2009

$*&@# This Query Letter!

As you can see, I am reworking my query letter for a second round of agent submissions and am in agony! I've done my research and read the guidelines for "the perfect query letter." But is there really such a thing? Is there really a perfect query?

It seems this right-brain letter writing is getting the best of left-brain little me.

I've written so many pitches (my comparative pitch, my teaser pitch...I've tried them all) only to find out from the last agent website I visited, that they dislike this approach all together and prefer simply a one page synopsis (which of course, is anything but simple!)

I guess what has me frozen with fear is the thought that this is it...this is the make or break chance for my manuscript to come to life for someone else. My chance to get it noticed. Yikes. The pressure.

So, are there any tricks of the trade lurking out there that you'd like to share? Any nuggets of wisdom? Any paragons of pitches to inspire those of us still in the query quagmire?

Friday, May 29, 2009

To Self Publish or Not Self Publish: That is the Question!

Okay, the self-publishing controversy is driving me batty.

It seems that everyone has an opinion driven by their own motivations. Agents and writing publications warn against self-publication as a taboo that will make you undesirable to "real" publishers, while other frustrated writers hail it as a life-line for the undiscovered members of the never ending slush pile.

So which is it? Will self-publishing really hurt my chances of ever becoming the author I want to be? Or is it just that this industry - like so many others - is simply resistant to change? Could it be that the growth of self-publication is just a logical next step that corporate publishers don't want to acknowledge?

What do I think? I have to admit that self-publishing looks enticing. Not only because of how hard it is to find that traditional agent and publisher, but because of the creative control that you maintain as an artist - and as a control freak, that sounds great. The idea of handing over my fledgling manuscript to strangers who aren't nearly as invested in each word and detail is frightening to me.

So I'm wondering...how many of you out there have ridden the self-publication wave? And for those of you who haven't, what stops you?

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

My Rant

People do it on the couch. They do it on the beach. They do it on airplanes and trains...

It's a fact. People love to read. They do. They love to curl up on the couch under a warm blanket with a hot cup of tea. They like to lay out with the sun blistering on their backs while they turn page after page. People love to read so much that there are whole genres titled simply by the places people like to read: "a good beach book" or a "rainy day book"... People create entire clubs around the books they read to discuss the words and lines they like the most!

So I ask you. If people love to read so much, why don't they treat those of us in the midst of providing them such pleasure with a bit of respect? Why do we have to prove ourselves? Why is it not a worthwhile endeavor in the world's eyes until we are published and making money for some big firm?

Don't people realize that we writers AGONIZE over sentence structure and plot lines...we AGONIZE over which word choice will give you, the reader, the maximum emotion or understanding... And what do we get for this exhausting and time consuming AGONY? Nada. We get our toil and work called a "hobby" or "long-shot".

Well, if every would be writer gave up so easily and didn't follow their passion and aim for that "long shot" success, then we'd all be missing out on the the great heirlooms of literature like Gone With The Wind and Of Mice and Men...we'd have missed out on the sleeper successes of The Kite Runner and Memoirs of a Geisha...

So for every reader out there who looks at the aspiring writer and wonders why they are wasting their time or calls their life's work a "hobby", next time just think where you might be if all the would be writers in the world instead went out and became engineers and pediatricians.

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Excerpt from Chapter 4 of Scream Out Loud

“I think you are about done there, love,” Aunt Kitty said, scooping up the rubbery dough into her floury hands. “What are you so busy day dreaming about anyway?”

Andie smiled and leaned back against the counter. She wiped her hands on the gingham apron at her waist. “Just about my mom. About how we used to make pies like this when I was little.”

“Really?” Her Aunt raised a disbelieving eyebrow.

“Well, sure.” Andie threw her hands up in mock exasperation. “Well, okay, when I was REALLY little…before all the black tie benefits and stuff. But I remember it very clearly.”

“What happened, Andie?”

“What do you mean?”

“What happened to your mom? What made her so sad? So hopeless.” Kitty turned to face her now, her face pale and drawn. “When she left Fairfax, she was full of dreams and promise. Full of life.”

“People change,” Andie said flatly.

“I’m sorry, sweetheart.” She pulled Andie into the fold of her warm arms and squeezed tight.

“Aunt Kitty?”

“Hmmmm?” Her voice muffled against Andie’s hair.

“I think my dad took it from her.” Kitty loosened her hold and tried to catch Andie’s eyes, but she had turned quickly to wash her hands at the sink. “He took up all the dreams…all the spotlight, she said. “I guess even though my mom found things to do, she never found something to make her whole. She just wasn’t whole without him. It was like she left Oklahoma with all sorts of plans and ambitions, you know? And then his dreams just took over. His medicine took over.”

“And you?”


“Yes, Andie. Are you whole?” Kitty stopped and lowered her voice to a whisper. “Are you happy?”

“I’m trying, Aunt Kitty. I thought I was. I really want to be.” The kitchen filled with silence as Andie wiped the flour from the counter top onto her hand and flung it into the sink. The kitchen smelled of Fantastic and bleach and reminded her more than a little of the emergency room at her dad’s hospital. Sterile.

“I found her you know,” she finally said evenly. As she glanced up, she saw her Aunt leaning against the door jam with quiet tears sliding down her cheeks and forming little polka dots on her apron. It struck Andie yet again how someone else could be brimming – no, overflowing - with deep and raw emotion while at the same exact moment, she felt completely detached from it all. She would have given almost anything to taste just a moment of that fire. Selfishly, she decided to go on. She decided that she needed to see the emotion face to face even if she herself could not feel it. So she began matter of factly with her back leaning against the light blue corion counter top.

“I had left work early that day to help my mom get ready for my dad’s big night. The hospital was presenting him with the Thomas Jefferson Memorial Award for dedication to patient care and innovation in surgical procedure.” She sniffed at the irony of a man so in tune with his patients and yet so out of touch with his own family.

“My mom and I talked every morning on my way to the office and usually again on my way home. I’d tell her about my newest case or a judge that had really pissed me off. She’d always throw in her two cents and tell me I deserved a treat. Often she’d say my dad was working late and offer to meet me for dinner. We had a little Pub just outside the city where we always met. We’d take a table near the jukebox so she could pump five dollars worth of quarters into it to guarantee a healthy portion of country tunes mixed in with the usual pop and rock. We’d laugh whenever Kenny Rogers or Ronnie Millsap rolled up right after Funky Cold Medina.” A smile turned the corners of her mouth ever so slightly at the memory.

“When I called that last morning, my mom had sounded a little under the weather, so I left work early to go see if I could help her get ready for the banquet. It wasn’t like her to sound so low. Usually before a big event, she’d be flitting around getting her nails and hair done. I figured she must be really sick. When I got there, the house was dark so I let myself in and turned on the kettle. I thought a cup of tea and honey might perk her up enough to attend the dinner later. Then I went upstairs - careful to avoid the top step that had creaked ever since I was a kid. It used to tip me off when she was coming upstairs at night so I could turn off my light and pretend I was asleep.”

“When I got to the end of the hallway, her bedroom door was ajar so I pushed it open a little and called softly to her from the doorway. When she didn’t answer, I opened the curtains. You know, I thought a little light might wake her up gently. Then I climbed under the covers just like I always used to do when I’d have a bad dream in the middle of the night. I put my arm across her belly. I was lying so close that I could smell the lavender of her hair. Mommy, I whispered. It’s time to get up. And as I lay there waiting for a murmured hello or her gentle tug on my hand pulling me closer to her, I knew that something was wrong. I just felt it. Then I saw the pills. Two bottles open on the bedside table. Both empty. She was gone.” Andie stopped and wrapped her arms tighter around herself. Her voice was steady and unmoved.

“Her body was still warm from being under the duvet and I couldn’t help but snuggle closer to her. When my dad came home to get ready, he was carrying his tuxedo and a corsage of African Violets. He found us there.”

By now Kitty was sobbing into her hands. Not the soft rhythmic cries of sadness but the loud and uncontrolled hiccupping sobs of utter despair. Andie stood motionless, taking it in and feeling comforted in a way by the hysteria around her.

Finally she went to her Aunt and wrapped her in her arms. “It’s okay,” she said softly. “It’s okay.”

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Okay, so I've been a little distracted lately. Could be the lovely spring weather. Could be all the fuss around the house about the 20 days left of school. Could be the baby turning one. Could be the cat being sick. It could be a number of things. But it isn't.

I think I'm just still in mourning about putting my first project behind me. It's rather lonely without it. I miss carrying it around with me and jotting notes in the margins when a really great idea strikes. I even find myself thinking about Andie late at night as I fall asleep. Yup, I've got it bad.

But today I'm pulling myself up by the boot straps and getting back to work.

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Writing Mumbo Jumbo

Is it just me or does writing turn your mind to blubber?

Yesterday I went to my children's school to help out with a project after school and discovered that I have become a blathering idiot seemingly overnight! Picture it: a group of mom's standing around (looking all cute in their matching track suits and fresh mani-pedi's, of course) chatting. Enter me in my jeans and t-shirt (possibly sporting a matching baby puree from lunch) trying to make some small talk. The only difference is that I can't think of a thing to say! I am consumed with my latest character's plight. I mean how am I to think about up-do's and hot lunches when Sadie's about to be sent off to foster care?

My mind is reeling about 10 steps behind each of them...you went where? last night's homework was what? next week's field trip to where? So I stand there innocently hoping that I don't look like I'm writing my next chapter in my head. Crap. I fiddle around in my pocket fishing for a scrap of paper...a receipt...anything to write down a great thought I just had. Nothing. Crap.

All the sudden, the attention turns to me. Hmmm? How many cookies should we order for the end of year party? I try to do the math quickly in my head, but I can't think. I can't do it. My left brain has completely overrun my right. Noooooo!!!!!!!

So from now on I think I'll just have a standard answer at the ready for when people have the gall to speak to me or ask me these seemingly innocuous questions: I'm sorry, you'll have to forgive me - I'm writing a book.

Friday, April 24, 2009


Of course there is no kind way to say we don't like your work, but surely there is a way to say it in the vein of it's not you, it's me.

I don't think any writer relishes the time and effort spent packaging their work to meet each agent or editor's individual specifications...query only, query and synopsis, query and first 1000 words, synopsis and first three chapters.... You fellow writers know what I mean. My favorite is that simply requesting a synopsis isn't good enough anymore. Apparently there is a regular synopsis of 4 or 5 pages, a one page synopsis, a 500 word synopsis and who knows what request I'll have to fulfill next! Don't they get that if I could fit the action, plot and characters of my manuscript into one page, I would do it to begin with?

But nonetheless, I methodically give them what they want and send it off hoping for the best.

Then the rejections start coming back. Now, it's not that I don't expect a fair number of rejections. I do. But it is the way the rejections come back that has begun to irk me. The ones I have received come as form letters on photocopied paper with the left margin faded like their printer was running out of ink on the original copy. They come without letter heads and unsigned...and my favorite was the rejection postcard.

Couldn't these agencies - that make their living off of our work - at least fork out an original print on letterhead so that we feel rejected by a classy, sought after firm? That would be easier to stomach. The ones I receive make me feel that I've been rejected by the last surviving agency on the planet in the slums of the publishing world.

The last rejection I received simply said "I have reviewed your material and it is not anything I wish to work with at this time." Ouch. That's like saying 'you look nice, but you're not anything I wish to date right now.' When then? Maybe when hell freezes over? When all the good stuff stops rolling in? I much prefer the kinder, gentler approach: Thank you for your submission, but I will not be able to represent you at this time and I wish you best of luck with your manuscript.

After all, there's no reason to be rude...I know what you mean either way you say it.

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

I'm a sponge. Yes, a sponge.

In the past few weeks that I've been networking and hawking my book online and to agents, I've become a sponge soaking up this wonderful culture of writers and editors until I'm fairly brimming with formats and function keys! I look around the house and find formatting notes scribbled in corners of sticky-notes on the fridge and margin dimensions written on receipt edges in my wallet.

So now I've got serious questions rattling around in my head: Courier New or Times Roman? I've got serious format issues to correct: like underlining all my italicized words (errrghhh...) and changing the line spacing to ensure 250 words on a page (irritating!) Let's not even mention that I have to find a way to cut 15,000 words (all of which are essential, of course!) But I guess it's not surprising that writing as a profession has been forced into all the same boxes as other industries...where has the love of creativity and admiration of art in its purist form gone?

Some days it seems unfair that a writer can't just write - why do we have to be responsible for packaging and formatting too? Isn't the computer genius side of the brain completely separate from the creative side? Hmmm...

Although if I'm being honest, on other days, it seems like a relief to have a task with a clear beginning and end. A task with an absolute right or wrong to bring me back to reality. So maybe the editing and formatting side of writing a novel is a good way to bring all us writers back down to earth once in a while. Maybe it's a good give and take after all.

Thursday, April 9, 2009


People often ask me what genre I write, but I am always reluctant to put my book into a box so small. First, it's fiction. Family Saga to be more specific. Women's Literature - even better. But what I really want to write is an Oprah book. You know, the kind. A thought provoking, heart wrenching tale that just won't let you put it down. The kind of book that draws you in and book clubs start talking about the use of metaphor and symbolism. What I want to be is INSPIRING! Whether I succeeded with my first novel remains to be seen, but recently I've decided that maybe writing an Oprah book, isn't the be all and end all of my journey as a writer.

As I've mentioned previously, I write ALL the time and ANYWHERE, so it isn't unusual for my kids to saunter up on the beach, boogie board in hand, and ask: "So what's your book about?" It isn't strange to glance up from a park bench at the playground and find a jump rope wielding 7 year old wondering: "Is there a horse in this one?" They'll offer names for pets or suggest themselves as characters, but I have never taken their interest as more than a passing whimsy.

But the other day I found a post it note stuck to the door of the computer room. On it was written a poem in my 10 year old son's handwriting. It was a haiku. When I thanked him for the lovely poem ( which was really quite good...but I may be biased!), he said: "It's for your blog to go with your picture of the ocean at the top. Maybe you can put it on there with your writing."

Since then I have found haiku's in every place imaginable - random index cards abound in nooks and crannies alive with colorful adjectives and adverbs of note. It turns out that he loves writing these short poems of the things around him...just the way I write stories about things I think and feel.

Hmmm...maybe I have already inspired someone.

Maybe I have already succeeded:

In the ocean a

Dolphin plays joyfully and

Silence returns again

Tuesday, April 7, 2009

Music moves me.

It doesn't have to be a certain genre or a particular artist, but the right song with the right lyrics can really inspire me. Perhaps it's because a good song is really just poetry set to music. So for me, great music is kind of like reading a best seller while driving the car or making dinner...

When I was in the middle of my first novel, I happened across my husband's James Blunt CD in the car and, being too lazy to change the setting (or maybe just too pregnant!), I discovered the songs that would be my motivation each day. As my story began to delve into topics that were often dark and painful...childhood abuse, suicide, loss of a parent...it was a daily challenge to find my heroine's 'truth' as a real person with a heart and mind of her own.

But there on that James Blunt CD, I found the "theme songs" of my hero and heroine and I played them religiously on the way home from dropping my kids off at school each day. I'd listen to the songs (tracks 4 and 5 respectively...) and instantly reconnect with Andie and Tony and know what they would do next. It was largely this music that let me see my characters in my mind's eye as real and human.

I still listen to the CD, though less often, with a certain wistfulness of days gone by.

So now, I'm currently stumped at 8000 words on my latest work and wonder if maybe I'm just missing the requisite music. I've heard of method acting: maybe this is my "method-writing". But finding that just right piece of music that particularly moves me is like looking for the proverbial needle in a haystack. I'm driving myself crazy!

I'm sure it's like anything else and when I stop looking - or listening - I'll find it. Until then, I'll plod along getting to know Sadie, my new heroine, by what she chooses to do today...and tomorrow...and the next day...

As a newbie writer, the process just keeps amazing me! I love feeling like I'm reading the book even as I'm writing it...

Just wondering if anyone else has an interesting way they get "connected". The more off-beat the better!

Thursday, April 2, 2009

An excerpt from Scream Out Loud

Maggie sat down on the floor at her mother's feet watching the yarn unravel in small circles from the knitting bag as the needles click clacked together in a rhythm of their own. She always seemed to know when Maggie entered a room- as if they shared a magnetic charge that pulled them together over and over.

"Feeling better?" Her mother's eyes remained fixed on the sky blue yarn.



"No. Maybe later."

"Okay." Click clack. Click clack. "Maggie?"

"Yes, mama."

Click clack. Click clack. Silence. Maggie looked up as the yarn stopped unwinding. Her mother's weather beaten face was drawn taut like leather and tiny wrinkle lines showed around her eyes and lips. A single tear escaped quickly from her eyelashes and rolled off her chin leaving a tell tale line of clarity in the path it had traveled.

"You know I love you." She said.

Maggie nodded, wishing she could hate this woman but knowing that she was tied to her forever...knowing that she was just like her.

"Because I really do." Her mother reached down to run a hand through Maggie's poker straight locks. It flowed through her fingers like a sheet of satin...soft and elegant.

Behind them the screen opened in the kitchen and Wayde's bare feet padded across the linoleum floor toward the TV room where his mother and sister sat enmeshed in wordless conversation. The click clack resumed with a renewed fervor and in its wake the yarn began to unwind again - just as it did every evening in the little farmhouse on her father's ranch.

Tuesday, March 31, 2009

So True...

Not only is Gone With the Wind a staple American classic novel, but Margaret Mitchell wins the award for my favorite quote of all time:

"In a moment of weakness I have written a book..." 11-19-1935

Me too, Ms. Mitchell, me too.

Friday, March 27, 2009

Am I the only writer still toting around a spiral notebook and my favorite fine point pen?

Okay, let's face it: there is a very stereotypical view of what a writer looks like floating around out there in Hollywood. On one hand it is nice to see the writing world authenticated as a real profession, but why does it have to be romanticized and appear so glamorous everywhere I look. On Sex In The City, Carrie eats Chinese with chopsticks while rattling off her thoughts cross legged before her keyboard, completely unhampered by a sexy phone call or the honking taxi's outside her window. Hell, she might even stop mid-article to put on a super-glam outfit and meet the girls for brunch. I mean, wow, that looks great! It makes me want to be a writer! And then in Something's Gotta Give, Diane Keaton dresses angelically in pure white and writes her plays in a crisp, clean room in the Hamptons, taking long walks on the beach and heated rolls in the hay. Now that looks great too...I want to be a writer like that.

But in truth, I have yet to meet a writer that lives or works quite like that. The ones I have met are holed up in dark rooms wearing yesterday's faded sweatpants and a fun-bun hair-do surrounded by stale pretzels and several half empty coffee mugs. And have I mentioned that they write amid the piles of clutter that never fails to gather as their work begins to pick up steam. Sleep? Never. Long walks? A thing of the past. The only thing that exists is the work.

I, for one, write when I can - in the parking lot at school, on a bench at the playground, on the beach (my most productive!) - I steal every spare moment. It seems that my characters stubbornly move along at their own pace and rarely wait for a convenient moment for me...the mere documentarian of their lives.

So I watch these writers on TV and in the movies and wonder why everyone hasn't tried to become a writer. Or have they? Is that why it is almost impossible to get published?

Tuesday, March 24, 2009


Ok, so I love words. I do. I'm a word-a-holic. I love the way a good word feels when it slips off your tongue. I love getting the word of the day e-mailed directly to me from dictionary.com. But I especially love finding words that say just what you mean...words that can stand alone and yet say everything. I have found that using the right word can literally save a sentence otherwise doomed to boredom. It is one of the greatest pleasures I know to stumble upon that perfect word.

So I want to share with you my very favorite word on the planet: ferhoodled. Yes, ferhoodled. Go ahead, don't be embarrassed - say it. Say it out loud. Now say it with a little pizazz. Admit it...it's a great word! I happened upon it while reading a work by Beverly Lewis and instantly fell in love. The official definition (as per dictionary.com, of course!) is to confuse or mix up as in: Don't ferhoodle things in that drawer! But the way I read it in context the first time was in describing a woman as so completely ferhoodled that she couldn't do anything quite right. Now that is absolutely fabulous!!! Ferhoodled. Don't we all get that way now and again, not just confused or mixed up but just completely ferhoodled?

Since my brilliant discovery, my family has adopted 'ferhoodled' into our household vocabulary. This word has changed our outlook on minor infractions and added some fun to the little conundrums (another great word, by the way!) that pop up here and there. Yesterday, for example, I found the ice-cream in the refrigerator all liquidy and seeping onto the shelf. I did my usual rant through the house looking for the culprit with fire in my eyes and melted mint chocolate chip still fresh on my fingers. I found my son in his room with a green tell-tale ring around his mouth and said "Aha!" He just looked at me and my sticky hands with big eyes as the realization of what he had done set in and said: "I was having dessert with my homework and the long division completely ferhoodled me!" Oh. I get that. I've been there more than once, like when I found my car keys in my sock drawer...

We all get confused and stressed out now and then...wouldn't it be nice to just throw your hands up in the air and say: Aaahhh, I'm so ferhoodled!

Friday, March 20, 2009

So What Am I? A Writer?

I realize that as a writer, part of the job is marketing yourself and putting yourself (and your work) out there for critique and recognition. But I also find this part of the process not simply foreign to me but largely uncomfortable. After all isn't that why I write? I like putting my thoughts on paper and letting them go on before me...kind of like an introduction to the person behind the scenes.

When I began my first book, I simply set out to finish something I had begun years before -mostly for personal satisfaction but also to get back to the person I had been before diapers and soccer practice consumed my life. But sometime during those two years, I began to feel the passion for my work returning until it began to consume me instead...my characters began to go off in directions of their own without waiting for my lead. I began to worry about the choices they were making by day and dreaming about their futures by night. I began to feel and act like a writer. Nonetheless, I waited and plodded away secretly until my friends began to notice I was MIA from usual play groups and afternoon conversations. Only my children knew to find me in the office upstairs if they were hungry or tired.

But finally my novel was finished. My book that I had written with almost no one knowing about it was done and I wanted to shout my news from the rooftops and hold it out to everyone I met. But when I stood there at the top of the world and looked out it was just a tiny squeak that slipped from my lips...i wrote a book...I whispered into the wind that swallowed it whole.

It seemed I hadn't prepared for the finishing of my novel - I hadn't prepared for what I would do when I finally crossed that last t and dotted that last i. I had been so lost in the process. So absorbed by my endeavor. So I waited. I waited for a voice to call out from the heavens proclaiming me a WRITER and perhaps even dreamed for a little 3 by 2 business card to waft down on a breeze giving me an instant title and credibility in the world of authordom. Needless to say, it didn't pan out quite that way. Instead I sat down to dinner that night much the same person I had been for the past two years, thinking about my book and the characters that had become my friends and feeling an unexpected loss. What would happen to them now that I had moved on?

Then, a few weeks later, the strangest thing happened. My husband was on the telephone with a business colleague and I heard him say: "My wife? She's a writer. She just finished her first novel." I was incredulous and - if I'm being honest - a tad embarrassed too. How could I have the gall to call myself a writer? Dostoyevsky, James Joyce, Maya Angelo...those are writers. I haven't been published! If I met someone at a cocktail party and they introduced themselves as a writer, I would ask what they had done and upon finding them unpublished just chalk it up to inflated ego. (Perhaps I am a tougher critic than most, but I doubt it!)

In the days that followed, I spent endless hours mulling the possibility over in my mind and testing the sound of it on my tongue...Hi, I'm Johanna, I'm a writer. Sounds kind of nice actually. In fact in all other aspects of my life I adopted my job description titles rather easily and with gusto...At 24 I got married and within minutes called myself a WIFE having done little or nothing to earn the title. And at 26 I had my first child and as soon as the nurse handed me the little swaddled bundle, I called myself MOTHER - never mind that I had no professional training or certification in that realm - I simply was. I birthed a baby and became a mother. So here I am, having birthed a novel - a novel of 125,000 words which I figure is at least equivalent to birthing a 10 pound baby minus the epidural... Therefore, I am a writer.

So I introduce myself here as a writer, in written words with which I am so comfortable. But don't mind me if we meet on the street and I introduce myself just as Johanna, wife and mother. Afterall, I am a work in progress.

Thursday, March 19, 2009

It all started with a school girl's journal and moved rapidly into the colorful notebooks of high school English until slowly my stories took over my life...now armed with a lap top computer and a panoply of ideas spun carefully in my mind's eye, I have finally finished my first novel!

Since then my weary fingers have worked the keyboard, searching endlessly for the camaraderie of other writer-hopefuls in this vast outlet of the internet where ANYTHING can be found but often never is. With so much to say and so much to share about the highly personal and rarely published process of writing, I have begun this blog to share my random stream of consciousness that has pervaded my thoughts on every step of my journey to becoming a real, bonafide writer.

My hope is that others will share their experiences and revelations in a similar fashion and maybe even enjoy a few excerpts of my work.