So… How’s the Writing Going?

I hated that question for most of last year. Why? Because the writing wasn’t going. As in, not at all. (I talked about why in this post.) However, I didn’t want to say that, because that would have been hugely discouraging. Discouraging to whom, you might ask? For starters, it wouldn’t have been the best news for the readers who have told me that they are excited about my next book. And it certainly wouldn’t have been at all encouraging to any of those just-starting-out authors I met at conferences, classes or other events.

But also, it would have felt profoundly discouraging to me. Continue reading

The Long and Winding Road

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I attended the James River Writers Conference for the very first time in 2006. I was just beginning to explore this idea that perhaps I could write something (hesitant to call myself a writer). I was working on my first story (hesitant to call it a novel). Last weekend, nine years later, I attended the conference as a writer who has written two novels and two novellas. I taught a master class, moderated two panels and participated on a third. I was busy preparing to speak and speaking and meeting other authors that I “knew” only in the online world, and so, as often happens in the most significant moments in life, I missed the gravity of this weekend until well after it was over. Continue reading

A Tale of Two Conversations

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I’ve written before about identifying myself as a writer, how it didn’t come naturally at first, and how I used to always feel compelled to qualify it in some way. I’ve come a long way in that regard and, while it still isn’t totally habitual, I usually remember to answer “writer” when asked what I do.

This always leads to interesting conversations; two of the most common of which occurred this past weekend at a fancy Paris-themed event at the art museum. (Hence my picture in front of the Eiffel Tower, above.) Here’s how they go: Continue reading

2014: My Not So Terrible Twos

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When you’re working on something really huge, you know, something like getting a degree, starting a business, becoming healthier or building a house– you do these little incremental things everyday that support that goal. Sometimes it doesn’t seem like much, right? We say things like I only wrote one page of my dissertation or got that one little corner of my website done. Or maybe, I didn’t eat that WHOLE cookie the size of my head, just half or I painted that one wall in the bathroom. It’s easy to minimize these daily successes, but the thing is– Continue reading

All Things Merry & Bright

Had a little long distance happy hour with my friends (and awesome authors) Julia Kelly and Alexis Anne last night.  We talked about holiday-themed novellas and whether we read them (Julia) or not (Alexis and I).  We also chatted about using the holidays in our own writing, as well as about some of our own personal traditions.  Hope you’ll grab a beer/wine/whiskey/hot tea and join us.  And please share some of your own favorite holiday reads and/or traditions in the comments below!

Happy Holidays!

Warning: May Cause Cravings

Recently my friend (and awesome romance writer), Alexis Anne, shared with me that reading Neverending Beginnings made her want to make lasagna for dinner.  (My main character in the novel repeats the same week over and over, and therefore makes lasagna over and over.)  This has to be one of the coolest things anyone has told me about my novel and it got us both thinking about the role food plays in fiction.  This week we sat down to chat about my use of food in both Neverending Beginnings and Delayed. Grab a snack and enjoy!

Hungry?  Here are the recipes for Kate’s Lasagna and the Beer Chili I mentioned in the video.  And be sure to check out Alexis’ website for a chance to win a copy of Delayed!

 

The Old Apartment (and the New Novella!)

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This past weekend, I broke into my old apartment.  I have written before about basing my main character, Kate’s, apartment in Neverending Beginnings on my own first apartment in Richmond (pictured in the background above).  The story I just finished writing picks up at the end of the novel, but follows Kate’s neighbor, Carolyn.  Since I had just been writing about it, I couldn’t resist sneaking away from a wedding I was attending (the building also houses a beautiful event space), to peek at the apartments. Continue reading

Failure.

Ever tried. Ever Failed. No matter. Try again. Fail again. Fail better. – Samuel Beckett

The instructor of the first writing workshop I ever attended shared this quote with us all on the first night of class and it has stuck with me over the years. We live in a success focused world. Yet, seldom does success occur in the absence of failure. Listen to any person you consider to be successful speak about how they arrived at the place they are today and I’m certain they will mention something that went wrong. You have to listen closely though, because they will likely give this a prettier name than failure – it will be a challenge or setback or stumbling block.

This instinct to dress up failure stems from the need to make certain that it wasn’t all dust and ashes and scraps; make it clear that there was a lesson. “I faced a challenge that made me stronger.” “It was a setback, but now I’m back on track.” “I stumbled just a bit, but I’m standing upright again now.” I am a fan of the positivity of these statements, yet find myself drawn to the bluntness in Beckett’s words. To me, there is freedom in simple and dressed down statement – I failed. The permission to close the door and move on.

I wrote a second novel. I wrote it to fill a formula that I created from editors’ rejections of Neverending Beginnings: a big premise, strong secondary characters, and a separate story line for those characters. I sent it out to a few agents and received standard rejections (note: this is not the part about failure, this is normal). I sat the novel aside for just a few weeks while I waited to attend a workshop on query letters to polish mine a bit. After this event I sat down to re-write a super-shiny new query letter and decided it would be helpful to skim through my work again for inspiration. With that foolproof formula I had created no longer so front and center in my head, I realized something that I had missed until that moment – my story had no soul.

There was a big premise, and strong secondary characters moving through a lovely little vignette but there was no spark. When I was writing Neverending Beginnings I would lose myself in Kate and Ben and Amy and Jack for hours. Sometimes I would forget they weren’t actually people I knew. With Novel Two this never happened. I never connected. I failed to let the story lead me and instead tried to cram it into a very specific, incorrectly sized box. I tried to treat this experience as a little hiccup (a stumbling block, if you will). I tried to make edits to revive it, but it was really still a crumpled mess. Labeling it a unrevivable failure is what finally allowed me to move on.

And yes, of course I learned something from this; there are huge lessons in the mess. But I am happy to say I failed.

Making a Space

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Deciding where the characters in a story live  is key.  The world you create, has to be real to the reader, whether it exists or not.  In fantasy this requires detailed descriptions to help the reader see a world with pink trees and streets paved in black licorice as if it were their own. (Fantasy writers please pardon my terrible example. This is precisely why I don’t write in that genre).  In realistic fiction it involves giving enough detail that readers can see your characters in their space without being drawn out of the story by idiosyncrasies (i.e., “wait a second, K street doesn’t intersect DuPont”).

So when I started Neverending Beginnings I decided to set it in Richmond and I moved my main character, Kate, into the apartment I lived in when I first moved to the city.  It was a fabulous one bedroom in the Renaissance Conference Center .  The apartment was on the second floor, the same floor as a large ballroom that can be rented out.  I still laugh about the December evenings I would run into the fabulously dressed couples headed to their corporate holiday parties while I (wearing sweatpants) was on the way upstairs to do my laundry.  The other awesome thing about this apartment was that the building had previously been owned by the Masons.  The walk-in safe that was part of their offices became my (huge!) closet; the painted, cast iron safe door a prominent feature in my bedroom.

Safe/ Closet Door

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The safe/closet interior. (aka the closet that made all other closets in my life seem inadequate)

The safe/closet interior. (aka the closet that made all other closets in my life seem inadequate)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Here’s an excerpt from my novel featuring the building and the safe turned closet:

“Well, this is me.”  I said stopping in front of my building.

“No way. I just helped my friend’s girlfriend move in here this past weekend.”

“Is her name Carolyn, by any chance?”

“Yeah. You know her?”

“We were college roommates, freshman year.  In some weird twist of housing fate, she’s my next door neighbor now.”

“No way.”  I just nodded, and he continued. “This is an amazing old building.  I think it was a Masonic temple at some point, right?”

I nodded again.  “Did you get to see the ballroom on the second floor?”

“It was locked.”

“You have to catch it when there’s a wedding reception or party that they’re setting up for. I’ve gotten to peek in a few times.  It has this amazing high ceiling and huge windows.”

“I saw the windows from the back of the building the other day.  They are pretty impressive.”

“The closet in my bedroom is actually the old safe from when the Masons were here.  It has the original iron door and everything.”

“You mean, right there on the wall in your bedroom.”

I nodded.

“Wow.  I would love to see that sometime,” he said, still staring at the building. Then he snapped back into reality, and quickly, apologetically, stumbled. “ I mean I’d love to see the how they repurposed the old safe, uh . . . not specifically your bedroom.  I wasn’t trying to be an ass.”

“I knew what you meant,” I said.

“So, this was fun . . .” he said sort of softly.

“Definitely.”  I shuffled my feet and started glanced at the ground.

“Right, so I guess I’ll see you Friday, um . . . at the rehearsal dinner.”

“Right.  See you then.”

“Okay,” he said as he turned and walked away.

As I watched him walk away I thought strong my urge to kiss him had been, pretty much from the adorably unnecessary apology on.  Much like my disappointment when he explained his move to Seattle, I had no idea where the idea even came from.  But the one thing I did know was that there was no point to any of it if he was leaving.  Why bother, if I already knew the ending?

Published

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It was sort of a surreal experience; one moment there was this manuscript on my computer and the next it was out there in the electronic universe, just waiting to be clicked on. It still doesn’t particularly seem real to see it’s little icon sitting there on my virtual bookshelf.

Just like the band labeled an overnight success has actually played in basements and bars for years, my published overnight novel has a much longer backstory. It all began with a few chapters in a writing class at Visual Arts Center, probably about four years ago. I enrolled in the class just to explore whether or not I enjoyed writing and I left with the beginning of a story that wouldn’t let go until all 365 pages of it were out.

I finished the novel right around the time of the James River Writers annual conference and decided to pitch it to an agent. My plan was for this to be a “practice pitch” so that I would get some pointers on things to include in the query letters I would soon begin writing. The agent I spoke to asked me to send her the first few chapters. Then the full novel.

She ultimately passed on it, but offered some very insightful advice on how I might improve my manuscript. She indicated I should feel free to submit other work to her in the future. I loved her suggestions and could immediately see how they would make my work stronger; my themes more poignant. I made some fairly significant changes to my original manuscript and queried the same agent again. She accepted.

After numerous submissions to editors and another significant rewrite it became clear that the novel was not going to sell. I set it aside and began working on other projects. For way, way longer than I would like to admit I told myself that this novel would just end up being my second novel, after I published something else.

I can’t say exactly what caused the major “ah-ha” moment for me. The thing that finally caused me to give serious consideration to self-publishing. It was certainly something I knew existed as an option, I just didn’t view it as the right option for me until recently. It’s not at all that I’ve stopped believing in traditional publishing, or even that I won’t still try to go this route with my current projects in progress. I think it’s just that I finally realized that stories are meant to be read. On paper. On iPad. On Kindle. On Nook. On Kobo. On whatever else. It was time for my story to be heard.

I’m so excited that “Neverending Beginnings” is no longer just a file on my computer. I’m thrilled to be sharing it with all of you.

Here’s the “back cover” synopsis:

Kate is alarmed to find out that her best friend Amy is getting married after dating for only six months. Her alarm turns to shock when she learns that the groom-to-be is Kate’s old college ex. As the big day approaches, Kate’s inability to hide her feelings is threatening to ruin her friendship with Amy.

Kate’s last minute, vodka-fueled wedding toast has her wishing she could turn back the clock and make things right. Imagine her surprise when she wakes up the next day and finds out she can.

Forced to relive one of the most painful weeks of her life, Kate slowly works to repair the damage she has done. In the process, she learns a lot about herself and a finds herself looking forward to getting to know the cynically charming best man, Ben, better.

And here’s where to find it at your cyber-bookstore of choice:

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Thanks for reading, I’d love to know what you think!