Monday, December 24, 2012

Highlights of 2012

Merry Christmas, everyone! With just one week left 'til New Year's Eve ... can you believe it? 

So what did 2012 bring for you? For me it was a mixture of creativity, big changes, and a whole lot of fun, starting with:
  1. Publishing my Gothic romance novel, Overtaken in both paperback and Kindle editions.
  2. Creating the book trailer for Overtaken.
  3. I sold my house (a miracle in this current market).
  4. Moved into a rental condo--and I love it. No maintenance. No gardening. No "what if I want to sell it?"
  5. My day job moved into spacious new premises.
  6. Although I had a great little studio at my old house, I now have a new space three times bigger.
  7. I participated in National Novel Writing Month, and reached my 50K goal!
  8. Took a fantastic 3-day screenwriting seminar aka "screenwriting boot camp" and learned that writing a screenplay is just as difficult as I thought it was, LOL.
  9. I also took a 6-week oil pastel class and found my true north. I absolutely adore oil pastels now--especially Sennelier brand.
  10. Went camping in an RV for the very first time--and found out I love RVs. Will have to do this one again very soon.
  11. Prepared two manuscripts for 2013 submission: my nonfiction book, A Pet Owner's Book of Days, and a new novel, The Abyssal Plain.
  12. Kept up with this blog and had two fantastic giveaways. Big congratulations to my winners!
That's a lot--more than enough, I think--for one year's worth of memories. 2012 has been a fantastic year for me, and I hope the same is true for you. Drop me a line and let me know some of your favorite moments!

Tip of the Day: As a journaling exercise for next year, make a practice every evening of writing down 12 things that made the day special for you in some way: for instance, accomplishments both large and small; important insights that arrived unexpectedly; a line from a book that caught your imagination. Remember to not judge, just write.

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

My Top 7 Reads of 2012

Here we are nearly at the end of the year and my TBR pile is growing at an alarming rate--not that I mind in the least. There's nothing more satisfying to me than a delicious pile of good books to read, especially in the winter when I go to bed early, snuggle under the duvet, and disappear between the pages.

It's also the time of year when I reflect on the books that have really mattered to me over the past twelve months; the ones I couldn't put down and that I wanted to journal about after I was finished reading. For 2012 this came down to a list of seven:

Best Historical Romance: Dagon's Blood, by Virginia Lee. This is one big, riveting swashbuckler--and thoroughly researched--five-hankie read. If you enjoy eighteenth-century Scottish romance along the lines of Diana Gabaldon's Outlander series, you will love Dagon's Blood. Rich with detail, emotion, and a complex plot, Dagon's Blood goes beyond "just romance." Lady Leigha's life journey and the eventual choices she makes are perfect material for book club discussions. Unforgettable.

Best Contemporary Romance: The Secrets Between Us, by Louise Douglas. Talk about tension. I wanted to read this book in one sitting, but like Dagon's Blood, it's a big book that kept me happy (and scared to death) for days--weeks, actually. As soon as I thought I had the main secret figured out, the next few pages would convince me I was wrong; and then back and forth right up until the end. Whew.

Best Mystery: Death Comes to Pemberley, by P.D. James. As a life-long P.D. James fan, it's always been my opinion that her writing voice is remarkably close to that of Jane Austen. So who else could do a better job writing a sequel to Pride and Prejudice, and one with murder thrown into the mix? This is a fine and elegant book, and as engrossing as the mystery is, my favorite part was James's take on the continued and maturing relationship between Elizabeth and the esteemed Mr. D'Arcy. A must-read.

Best Mainstream: Returning to Earth, by Jim Harrison. Because this is a book about death, it's really a book about life, or I should say, the acceptance of life and all it has to offer. Much of the plot delves into Native American beliefs and interpretations of what it means to be a family walking upon this earth, at this time--and in the future.

Best Literary: Small as a Mustard Seed, by Shelli Johnson. This award-winning book is so strong, so sad, and so important. The plot revolves around post-traumatic stress disorder and how it affects the lives of two young sisters and their war-ravaged parents. Growing up in an unpredictable household of terror and denial, the girls find two very different and heartbreaking ways to cope with problems no one, especially children, should ever have to deal with.

Best Short Story Collection: Beneath the Liquid Skin, by Berit Ellingsen. I debated whether the contents of this small but evocative book were actually stories, or poetry, prose poetry, or something entirely new. I think they are something entirely new. I love experimental, edgy, unexpected books that take me to places I've never been before. And I love it when the writer uses language in a way that I know will stay with me for the rest of my life. I can't explain this book, and quite frankly I think explanations would destroy it--like when a well-meaning friend tries to analyze a dream for you. I'll be re-reading, and re-analyzing, this dream of a book for a long time to come.

Best Nonfiction: The Principles of Uncertainty, by Maira Kalman. This book is like reading someone else's art journal without getting into trouble for snooping! A grown-up's picture book, the text is full of pithy non sequiturs, memoir, literary factoids, and is exactly where I'm trying to go with my own attempts at creating an altered book. Definitely a keeper.

Tip of the Day: Recording your thoughts in a dedicated book journal is a good way to explore what you'd like to include, or discard, in your own writing. Daily entries can be used as starting points for freewriting, which can then be used as handy references for book reviews. And everyone needs a good review!

In the meantime, Happy Holidays, book fans!
Keep reading; keep writing!

Monday, December 10, 2012

Season's Greetings From Dava Books, and a Special Giveaway!

Happy Holidays, Everyone! Deck the halls, spread good cheer, dress up, eat cake, and . . . get ready to write in 2013!

From now until the end of the year, I'm having a special book giveaway on my website, With any book order placed from my site, I'll include a FREE copy of The Essential Guide for New Writers, From Idea to Finished Manuscript. All book orders from my site always include free domestic shipping, too. Offer will end at the stroke of midnight, January 1, 2013.

Tip of the Day: Books make the best holiday gifts. Ever. (And they're so easy to wrap.) Share your favorites with friends and family, and don't miss out on my FREE offer. Enjoy the season!

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

12 Ways to Break Through Writer's Block

Yay! Our first question from the first winner of my blog birthday giveaway:
Diana asks: "How do you deal with writer's block?" A great question, especially now that Nanowrimo has finished and some of us may be feeling completely burnt-out.

To answer Diana, I think it's important to define "writer's block." For me, it's whatever makes me want to run away from my writing:
  • Perfectionism.
  • Fear that my words won't match my vision.
  • Fear of not making the right choices.
  • Fear that I'm going too slow.
  • Fear of submission.
  • Fear of my own voice.
  • The WIP is just too big and ambitious.
Grrr! So how to burst through those blocks? How about:

 1. Collage. A stack of old magazines, a glue stick, a damp clean-up cloth, and some kind of paper or journal can keep me happy and "writing" for hours. There's something so dreamy and magical about the process, I could almost say it's the answer for every life problem in existence! Whether it's a scene, a character's wardrobe, or the solution to a plot-hole, collage can save the day.

2. Change genres. It's good advice to "write what you love to read," but sometimes you can too easily compare yourself to your favorite writers, and bingo--you're blocked. Try reading and/or writing in a genre you've never met before.

3. Make an appointment to meet yourself somewhere outside the house or usual work place. I particularly like bookstore cafes, but laundromats, hotel lobbies, and waiting rooms make great places to sit down and "just write" without the need to explain myself.

4. Take an old manuscript and tackle it from a different approach . An old,  unsold manuscript can feel like a millstone, one that's sapping your energy for fresh work. So start over: maybe the wrong character is telling the story. Or maybe you need several points of view. Perhaps present tense will add a new tension. Experiment.

5. Write with a friend. Writing with a buddy or a writer's group is a great way to stay productive. Go for at least an hour (no talking!); read your work to each other, then write for another hour.

6. Use a book of prompts such as A Writer's Book of Days by Judith Reeves for a month. Decide how many pages to write per day (5 is a good number), but don't re-read any of your writing until the end of the month.

7. At the end of the month, find the connections between your entries. The mind loves to create order out of chaos. Reading through a month's worth of freewriting is an excellent way to find a theme, a character, or a setting you want to explore more deeply.

8. What's on your mind? Try some letters to the editor, or concentrate on writing blog comments as a daily writing exercise.

9. Start a new blog on a topic you love, but don't usually write about. Save and print out your entries--submit them as articles, or turn them into a complete book!

10. Forget about publication. Get a special journal, pens, whatever makes you happy, and just write--anything. It's your writing, written for yourself and nobody else.

11. Write about your resistance to writing. What's stopping you from writing? Let it all out. Interview your writing and your characters. Ask them what the problem is. The answers may surprise you--and get you writing again.

12. Keep a "still-life" journal or notebook. Instead of worrying about transitions, plots, and character arcs, spend some time just writing descriptions. Take a cue from still-life paintings: what objects are included? What's the setting? Mood? Why? What is the artist trying to say? Keep adding entries even on the days you're writing full steam ahead.

Tip of the Day: As lofty as "write every day" may sound, the truth is you don't always HAVE to write to be a writer. Enjoying and participating in the world around you can be just as important, and necessary, as a daily word count. Read, draw, travel, visit antique or thrift stores, go for a walk, observe and play. Taking regular time-outs goes a long way to preventing creative block. And be sure to pay a visit to LadyDBooks--rest and renewal guaranteed!

Monday, November 26, 2012

Why I Love National Novel Writing Month

Here we are at the last week of National Novel Writing Month and the big question looms: how's your word count? If you're falling behind (like me), take heart. We still have a good five days to catch up, and I suggest we grab those pens and/or open those Word files right now, or at least as soon as you finish reading this post!

On the other hand (and there always is another side to every story), you may have reached the point in your manuscript where you're thinking it doesn't matter whether you make it to the required 50K or not. You've done your best to write when you could during the month; you've made a great start to your story; and you got what you came for: inspiration. That's a good result too. It would still be nice if you could cross the finishing line, but there's more to Nanowrimo than just printing out your winner's certificate on 11/30. Some of my reasons for participating regardless of whether or not I win include:
  • Nanowrimo is an excellent break and time-out away from my regular schedule of editing and rewriting my current WIP.
  • It's a chance to re-discover and reconnect with my writer's soul.
  • I get a new book out of it!
  • It reminds me of why I do any of this: I can't wait to find out what happens next. And if I want to know, I have to write it.
  • I can turn it into a writer's retreat during what is usually a very hectic month and time of year.
  • It's a meditation.
  • It's a chance to practice a new genre or style I might not ordinarily explore.
  • I get to do some artwork. Whether it's a collage with my magazine cut-outs grouped together for writing prompts, or a drawing of one of my character's homes or ball gowns, it's all creative expression.
  • Nanowrimo is community. All those other writers in the same boat; it's the one time of year when we can seriously discuss our progress, problems, plans and ideas.
  • It's an opportunity to throw "publishing" and all it entails out the window. Yay!
  • It renews my writer's license: I can make left-hand turns! Parallel park! Reverse! Easy-peasy. So take THAT, Inner Critic!
No matter where you are in your manuscript this week--and many of you may have already reached your goal (my hearty congratulations to you)--the main thing to keep in mind is, you're a creative genius. The fact you signed up for Nanowrimo is the proof in the pudding. Now all you have to do is choose whether you want chocolate, butterscotch, or pistachio. And ... keep writing.

Tip of the Day: Five days, people. You can do a lot with that. If you're feeling a little blah about everything, here's an idea:  make yourself a digital collage using a site such as or a royalty-free picture library that illustrates a scene in your story. I did that last week with the picture heading this post. The autumn leaves and violet earrings matched a section of Four Girls and Six Colleges perfectly and got my pen moving in the right direction--toward THE END.

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

We Have Winners!

We have winners for my Big Blog Birthday Giveaway: (How many times can you say that fast?)

Congratulations, ladies, and thank you so much to everyone who contributed to making my blog giveaway a success. Even if you didn't manage to make it to the top three, I truly appreciate your questions and suggestions for blog posts, and will be using them over the coming weeks. Better still--your names will be going into my next blog giveaway sometime next year, whether you leave a comment then or not. So don't worry, I'm making a list and checking it twice! Congratulations again to my winners; be sure to watch the mail for your prize packages.

Tip of the Day: Winning any kind of contest or random drawing is always a cause for celebration--but first you have to enter! The Internet and blogosphere is full of great places to win prizes. From now until the end of the year, start looking for writing and art/creative blogs or websites calling for entries. With any luck you could be their next winner!

Thursday, November 1, 2012

My Altered Book and Nanowrimo 2012

This past week I've been obsessed with getting ready for National Novel Writing Month. Yes, I'm going for it again, but this time with a unique purpose: I want to write the text for my altered book.

I haven't blogged about the altered book project for a while, but that doesn't mean I've been ignoring it. To date, I've:
  • Gessoed all the pages.
  • Laid down layers of water color crayon on each page for my backgrounds.
  • Collaged each page with at least four images, sometimes more.
And there are a lot of pages--way too many and far more than I had bargained for. In hindsight, I now realize I should have gone through the book and gessoed several pages together to make a maximum of 24 thick pages instead of the dozens and dozens of thin ones it's taken me months to fill. Oh, well. Live and learn!

The stage I'm now at is I need to find--and write--my text, and here's where Nanowrimo comes in. My plan is to write a 50,000 word novella based on my altered book's title: Four Girls and Six Colleges, and then take random sections of text to paste or write out by hand onto my collaged pages. The hope is to end up with a completed altered book, as well as an illustrated novella, and maybe something more: I'm considering turning it all into a small animated film as well. Exciting!

Tip of the Day: Join me for Nanowrimo. Seriously. Although I've been planning my entry for a few months now, spontaneity can often be the key to success. And it's only 1650 words a day--you can do it.

P.S. Don't forget there's still time to enter my giveaway; the drawing will be at midnight tonight.  All you need to do is join the site and leave a comment. Super easy!

Monday, October 29, 2012

Got Blog? The Party Continues....

Happy Monday--and Happy Birthday to my blog the day after! Although the actual "birthday" was yesterday, there's still time to join the site before Friday, leave a comment telling me what you'd like to see in a future post, and have a chance to win one of my 3 prize packages, details here.

Today I was thinking about some of the reasons I started blogging all those four years ago.  Here's what I came up with:
  • Initially I wanted a vehicle to help get the word out so I could sell more books. Yes, commercialism was high on my list!
  • I also needed a way to build my "platform." Although I have a website complete with book ordering info and other pages:, I needed something to supplement the standing text there. A blog seemed the perfect way to do that.
  • I'm busy, you're busy, we're all busy--too busy, unfortunately, to write lengthy personal emails (which replaced lengthy snail mail letters) to each other. But a blog is something I can write and then share with friends and family in one swoop. Believe me, I'm thinking of everyone one of you when I sit down to write each week.
  • I love to teach writing. My how-to book The Essential Guide for New Writers, From Idea to Finished Manuscript has helped hundreds of writers to get their words down on paper. Blogging about writing is a way to continue that inspiration.
  • I enjoy combining art with my own writing--and blogging fits right in with the creative arts. I have so much fun designing the digital collages that head up most of my posts.
  • Working on my blog sometimes feels like I'm in charge of my own little literary magazine. I often think of what I would like to know more about if I was reading a magazine article, and then I write a post about it.
  • Blogging has become an important writing practice and discipline for me. It's especially been helpful for encouraging me to show my artwork, eliminating much of my previous anxiety about opening my sketchbooks and portfolios for public viewing.
  • More than anything, blogging has become a vehicle to share a conversation with my readers and other bloggers. Oftentimes this conversation is held on places like Twitter and Facebook, and even my writer's group, taking the blog off site and into a larger arena.
  • And hey, it's just exciting to be a BLOGGER.
But bloggers need TOPICS, and here's where you come in:

Tip of the Day: If you haven't already, join the site, then leave a comment suggesting a topic you'd like me to write about in the future. I'll give you full credit for the idea as well as include a link to your own blog or website. And you might even win one of the giveaways! Good luck and happy creating. Drawing will be held on midnight, November 2, 2012.

Thursday, October 25, 2012

Celebrating My Blog's Birthday--With A Giveaway!

Happy Birthday to My Blog! Four years old on Sunday, October 28. I can't believe how the time has gone so quickly, or that I've managed to stay dedicated and happy to keep the ball rolling. It's been a wonderful four years, and I want to thank you for staying with me and supporting my books and writing. And the best way I can do that is with a giveaway!

From now until midnight November 2, 2012, all you have to do to be entered into my random drawing is:

1. Join up and follow my blog (button on sidebar).
2. Leave a comment on this or my
next post telling me what you would like to read
about in a future post.

Easy! There will be 3 winners and each one will receive the same giveaway package:
1. A copy of the book I co-authored with parapsychologist, William Roll:
2. A copy of my how-to book: The Essential Guide for New Writers,
3. A journal.
4. A pack of my new-favorite (and very colorful!) InkJoy pens.
I think this is going to be a lot of fun. If you already follow my blog, that's great--just leave a comment regarding a future blog post, and you'll be entered in the drawing.

Tip of the Day: Let's party! Put on your thinking caps and do your best to come up with some interesting questions or a topic you'd like me to discuss. Even if you don't place in the giveaway, I'll be sure to give you credit and add a link to your own blog or website if I choose your topic. Good luck--I can't wait to hear from you all!

Thursday, October 18, 2012

Art Journaling and More With Mini-Collages

If you've been reading my blog for any length of time now you'll know how much I enjoy working with magazine cut-outs: words, phrases, photos; I collect them all. Whether I'm using them to plot out my next novel, or simply illustrating my art journal, I can't imagine being without my various files of cut-outs.

The sizes range all the way from items so big I have to crop them (or fold then into quarters) to fit my pages, to teensy-tinsy little things I find in the classified or other obscure sections of magazines and catalogs. I've ended up with so many of these miniature gems that I've started using them for what I call "mini-collages," small pictures no larger than 6" square, usually less.

The best thing about mini-collages is they can be put together in minutes--they're almost like doodling. The materials are easy to carry to work, or while you're on vacation: just a glue stick and a Zip-loc bag of images and supports. They're especially great for those times when I don't have an art journal handy--once I've finished I just stack them up to glue into my journal later.

Readily-available supports for mini-collages can include:
  • Index cards; lined or unlined; white, pastel, or fluorescent.
  • Business cards.
  • Old greeting cards.
  • New greeting cards (treat yourself!).
  • Envelopes--new and used.
  • Origami paper.
  • Scrapbooking papers cut or torn into smaller pieces.
  • Mini-canvases and art boards sold in small packs from art supply stores.
  • Disposable coasters.
  • Cocktail napkins (especially the pretty, printed ones).
  • Old calendars divided into pieces. The page-a-day type work well, too.
  • Old paperback book covers--both the backs and the fronts.
  • "Failed" drawings and paintings, cut up or torn.
  • Empty matchbooks.
  • Old photos (duplicates, or ones that are no longer important, of course!)
  • Larger-sized magazine cut-outs.
Right now I'm using mini-collages mainly for my art journal, but here are some ideas I thought would be fun to try in the future:
  • Add to, or frame, a larger collage.
  • Glue on top of small cardboard or wooden boxes.
  • Turn into greeting cards (even the ones made from old greeting cards!)
  • Use one as the basis for a book cover design.
  • Use as templates for drawings.
  • Photograph, scan, enlarge, and make transfers for T-shirts, tote bags, or cushions.
  • Use as the background to a website, blog, or social network sites.
  • Create a deck of prompt cards for creative inspiration or meditation.
Let's go! 

Tip of the Day: The next time you're gathering magazine photos for prompts or other uses, don't overlook anything you might think is "too small." Good things DO come in small packages, especially when put together as a group: see how many mini-collages you can make in one sitting.

Friday, October 12, 2012

Deadlines or Dreadlines?

This month I seem to have a lot of deadlines. I don't really like them. That said, I also know they are a necessary evil for every stage of the creative process, whether they're for sending in an article to a magazine on time, or setting up personal completion dates for various manuscript drafts. Which still doesn't make me happy with them!

The first time I ever had a real contract deadline I worked right up until the very last second I could, then rushed to the post office right on the nickel. My manuscript made it to the publisher on time, thank goodness, but the next day when I spoke to my editor by phone, she told me I was "very slow." Wow. I was a newbie at that stage and didn't know much about the publishing world. There and then I vowed to not make the same mistake twice.

Since that first professional submission, I can't say I've made friends with deadlines, but I've also learned a few ways to make them bearable, and perhaps more importantly, do-able. These include:
  • Deadlines are not about killing yourself--or the work. Pacing is everything! Take some days off in between writing.
  • If you need to move a deadline forward--be honest with yourself (and your editor), but don't use the opportunity to change dates as a way to procrastinate and avoid completing the work.
  • If a serious emergency occurs that may delay or prevent you reaching your deadline--let your editor know ASAP. Don't be embarrassed to be human.
  • The best thing about assigning a deadline to your own private work schedule is it makes you STOP working on a piece before you take all the life out of it.
  • Always keep a deadline calendar that is only for your manuscript or other creative project deadlines. Work out realistic stopping points.
  • Try not to be too public about personal deadlines--letting everyone know a certain date for being finished with your WIP or similar, and then not being able to deliver might keep you from working with deadlines ever again.
  • If possible, do your best to be a few days early with your professional deadlines.
  • Don't agree to absurd deadlines unless you really, really know you can comply. Sometimes we can be so hungry for a sale or a shot at publication we'll agree to unreasonable demands--and then find we're mired in an impossible task. Better to walk away without signing if something doesn't feel "right."
  • Know your boundaries and energy limits. Know your working style and how much you can (or can't) do.
  • Schedule and plan out your work pace. Don't be a "last minute sprinter" working on sheer adrenaline. Just like tackling exam questions, work on the easy parts of your manuscript assignment first, then take the more difficult areas line by line, one paragraph at a sitting.
  • Give yourself space between deadlines to breathe and regroup.
  • Even when you finish a piece, give it 24 hours to gel. Whether it's a blog post, a query letter, or a finished manuscript, don't push "send" the second you finish writing. Let it wait.
  • Whenever possible, practice working with deadlines. Finished work is the key to success; deadlines will help you get there.
Tip of the Day: Create some easy deadlines for yourself. For instance, give yourself a week to write a short story. Break the work into sections: e.g., one day for research, one day for the first and last paragraphs, one day to polish, and another to rewrite. Slow and steady does win the race (and keeps you ready and rested for more!).

Wednesday, October 3, 2012

Manuscript Organization 101

Except for tweeting and some very quick emails, I have to write longhand. Everything. I can't even fill out a simple questionnaire without writing out my answers by hand first. So when it comes to writing the first drafts of my book-length manuscripts, or working on my writing practice sessions, or just tracking my ideas, I need some way to keep each project separate from the others.

For me, the best solution has been good old-fashioned legal pads. After years and years of writing in fancy--and expensive--journals, I've found that nothing beats a good-quality, white paper, three-hole-punched, stiff-backed legal pad--brand name as shown in the photo above!

I started using these wonderful tablets when I found myself writing mainly manuscripts, rather than journal entries, in exquisite blank books, only to then transcribe the writing into proper manuscript form, and then be left with a beautiful, but unnecessary, first draft. My recent move into condo living this year facilitated finally parting with all those gorgeous notebooks, and I must say it feels great. Although I still want to continue keeping lovely art journals and sketchbooks, as well as my commonplace book, from here on out anything that costs more than five dollars is going to be for "special."

So here's how I'm using legal pads right now. To start with, I have about 6-8 going at any one time. These are:
  • Morning pages. Legal pads are particularly good for morning pages. I usually will write my pages for at least a week, give them a quick read-through over the weekend, follow up with any notes I need to keep in a more permanent form, and then tear everything up and toss. Easy!
  • Blog Ideas. During the day I often get an idea I want to share via my blog. So it's good to have a dedicated place to jot it down and even expand on the theme whether I'm blogging that day or not. Added benefit: doing this has helped me blog more consistently.
  • Freewriting. I am a great believer in writing practice and working from prompts as much as possible. None of this is guaranteed to be great writing, or even usable writing, but more often than not I will come up with a scene for my current WIP, or a character or premise I'd like to use in the future. After I've filled up every line and reached the cardboard backing, I can either add my pre-punched pages to a specific WIP binder, or simply file the pages away in various places for later use.
  • Poetry. I like to keep poetry separate from prose. Not only am I using a different voice when I write poetry, but it also just makes everything easier to find when I do file or transcribe the pages.
  • The Novel WIP. My current fiction WIP is already transcribed and printed in manuscript format, but now I'm going through the massive job of re-reading and taking notes on the text. Keeping these together in a single pad/place has been helpful as I go chapter by chapter, page by page, line by line to look for inconsistencies, plot glitches, and places where I could use more foreshadowing, action, or description.
  • The Screenplay WIP. This is where I keep absolutely everything that occurs to me re: my screenplay WIP. It's a place where I can over-write and put in all the emotional/mental content and back story my heart desires--all the things that aren't supposed to go in my actual script. These are valuable notes when it comes to trying to get the most out of the least amount of acceptable page- and word counts.
  • Marketing. At least once a day I try to do something that adds to my marketing efforts. Whether it's simply making a list of potential reviewers, or discovering new blogs to read and comment on, this is where I put my notes and information. I also use this particular pad for practicing my synopses, queries, and cover letters.
  • Fiction Ideas in General. They just won't stop!  And in order to get on with my day and keep them quietly in one place, I've given them their very own pad. Whew.
With the exception of the "Morning Pages" pad, I like to keep writing straight to the last page before I read through any of the previous pages. Once I've reached that point, however, I then file what I plan to keep, and discard the rest.

I also have to say that it's kind of fun to watch the pages fill up on the pad. Seeing that I "did the work" seems to help me get right back into it the next day. A growing stack of orderly pages helps me to feel that I am making some serious progress rather than floundering around jotting down a mish-mash of themes, plans, and journal entries in a single, confusing notebook.  The best part is that I never feel anything is so precious that I can't part with it. Added benefit: more clutter-free closets, yay!

Tip of the Day: If the thought of starting with as many (or more) legal pads as I've outlined here is a little overwhelming, why not just start with 3? I suggest keeping one for your current WIP, one for marketing, and one for general ideas. Let me know how it goes.

Thursday, September 27, 2012

Bride and Prejudice

I don't usually write movie reviews--in fact, I don't think I've ever written a single one, but I couldn't resist blogging about how much I enjoyed watching "Bride and Prejudice" two weekends back.

Made in 2004 and directed by Gurinder Chadhu of "Bend it Like Beckham" fame, the movie was one I've wanted to see for some time but never seemed to get around to it. Recently, however, I've been on a bit of a Jane Austen tangent, so when I was at the library the other day and saw the film on the DVD shelf, I knew it was the right time for a little fairy tale fantasy.

It turned out to be a serendipitous choice--I absolutely LOVED this movie. For those of you who haven't seen it, it's a modern-day version of Pride and Prejudice set in rural India. Aishwarya Rai (aka "the most beautiful woman in the world") and Martin Henderson play the parts of Lalita Bakshi and Will Darcy, or as we might recognize them from the original Austen text: Elizabeth Bennet and Mr. Fitzwilliam Darcy.

Moving the story up a few centuries and taking it from the English countryside to Amritsar was an incredibly clever interpretation of a much beloved classic. The Bakshi family was the perfect remake of the Bennets; Will and Lalita were just as conflict-ridden as their original counterparts; and the chemistry between all the characters--including Jaya (Jane) and Mr. Balraj (Bingley) was almost better than the book!

I've always been a big fan of Bollywood: lots of bling, embroidered silk veils and saris, singing and dancing for no reason whatsoever, dreamy couples who seem to have all the money and time they need to fly around the world to gaze wistfully at sunsets and each other, and of course the 3-hankie happily-ever-after ending. Bollywood is the ultimate escapist, love-conquers-all movie moment. "Bride and Prejudice" was no exception.

Which got me thinking about what makes a great romance book or movie. And this is what I've come up with: two strong, intelligent characters overcome their very real differences so they can learn to work together. Yep, it's all about work. Kissing is the easy part. Getting to the altar takes courage. And a lot of singing and dancing.

I've always thought Pride and Prejudice is essentially a story about marriage. The relationship between the parents--the Bennets in Pride, and the Bakshis in Bride--truly intrigues me. Mismatched on the surface but made for each other; their bond is what has made Jaya and Lalita the heroines they are. My favorite line from "Bride and Prejudice" is when a distraught Mrs. Bakshi is scolding her daughters on being so concerned about marrying for love. She turns and points to a sheepish-looking Mr. Bakshi. "Where was love in the beginning?" she chides. Where indeed? And yet here she is, with four pretty girls, a home of her own, and a husband who obviously cares for her. Awww. As the girls sing after dinner with the endearingly awful Mr. Kholi: "No Life Without Wife!"

Tip of the Day: Watch this movie! Afterward you might like to think about your other favorite romantic films or books. What makes for good chemistry between the characters? Anything you want to change in your own writing? And now it's time for some more singing:                                                                   

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Life is a Playground

When I was little, I could play all day. ALL DAY. From the minute I woke up to the second I fell into bed, I was in play mode. For weeks on end I could live in a world of my own, a fantastic landscape filled with talking animals, altered realities, and pith helmets. (I always had to wear my imaginary pith helmet.) Not that I didn't get into trouble; I don't think a single report card ever went home without "Too much daydreaming" scrawled across the bottom. Sigh.

Report cards aside, I still managed to grow up into a fairly disciplined person, so much so that when I made the comment in my writer's group that "life was a school," I was somewhat surprised when another member countered with, "Actually, life is a playground."

When I started thinking about it, however, the idea made a lot of sense to me. Playgrounds, as I remembered them, were a place to let off steam, have snacks, and learn to take turns with the ball. They were a place to sit quietly and talk with my friends, or else to go find a team and run around and scream--as loudly as possible.

Being allowed out of the classroom was a reward for enduring what seemed like endless hours of boredom and repetition: math, spelling, "current events." Instead of rulers and leaky pens there were slides and swings, scraped knees, split lips, and badge-of-honor Band-Aids. When it rained we couldn’t go outside but we invented indoor games and turned our classroom into a makeshift playground. And when nobody was there on the weekend, the empty fields could sometimes feel like the loneliest place on earth--a feeling I rather liked when it conjured up visions of ghosts and captured fairy princesses.

So what made me turn my back on the playground? Perhaps it was the fear of looking too happy, or even foolish. Real writers frowned and worried about their manuscripts. They complained about editors and constant rewrites. Yet I should have known better: literary history is ripe with successful fools: wise fools, holy fools, jesters, clowns, Nasrudin and Silly Billy. In the tarot deck, the fool can be the smartest person in the room. So shouldn't we all be fools for our art? Fool around. Just fooling. April Fools. Feast of Fools. Ship of Fools.

The best way, I realized, to get back to the playground is to examine what is so much creative fun we're embarrassed to admit it. It can be anything: from crayons to mud pies aka ceramics. It can even be an obsession with cats.

Some of the benefits of returning to a playful mindset can include:
  • Play is infectious. Editors and readers will pick up on, and appreciate, your ability to entertain.
  • Constantly marketing or submitting work for publication or other venues can be depressing if you're not seeing the results you want. It's good to take time off from relentless social networking and always being "on."
  • You can withstand rejection and negative critiquing better when you remember that you started all this to have fun. (They don't call 'em "screenplays" for nothing!)

Tip of the Day: When’s the last time you chose the playground over work? If it's been a while, you might want to ask yourself why. Write a journal entry, perhaps in the form of an unsent letter to whatever, or whoever made you stop playing. Or perhaps you'd prefer to create a collage mapping out some future play dates. Be sure to take them!


Monday, September 10, 2012

I Love Cats!

True confession: If you send me a link to a video with cats, or tell me there will be a cat somewhere in the middle of the video if I look closely, or even tell me it just features 1-nanosecond of something that remotely resembles a cat, I will watch it. In fact, I will not only watch it, I will watch it again. And again. And then want to watch the sequel and probably read the book if one exists. 

The other day I got the full package when a good friend sent me a link to the absurdly, impossibly ridiculous faux E-Harmony video of "Debbie who loves cats," that has around 22+ million hits of which I've contributed about 5 or 6. If you've seen it already, I apologize in advance, and if you haven't, well, here it is. (Go on, you know you want to watch it. Again.)

After about the 6th time viewing it, I then realized there were spin-off videos of "Debbie": satires and diatribes, posers and posters and posts and so on. My favorite was the "Songify" version.

And then while I was laughing hysterically, tears at the corners of my eyes, I suddenly took a look at my office and computer table (yes, I know I should have been working on my writing rather than watching viral videos. . .). I was surrounded by cat images, i.e.,
  • My hand was resting on a cat mousepad.
  • A Mexican cat figurine was on my desk.
  • My favorite cat tote bag was on a chair facing me.
  • I was wearing cat earrings.
  • The binder holding my WIP, a nonfiction manuscript on pet ownership was covered in a cat collage I'd made to inspire my writing.
  • A stack of cat stickers was on the shelf of my computer hutch ready to be placed in my journal.
  • And for the last few weeks, I've been drawing cats and kittens in my sketchbook.
I was as bad as "Debbie"!

I loved their ears!

I loved their whiskers and noses!

And their little bow ties!

I had a problem!
Or maybe I just love cats?
Tip of the Day: What do you love? What's your passion? Basing our writing and creativity on the subjects we love is a surefire way to guarantee a constant source of inspiration.

Wednesday, September 5, 2012


Happy September! The year is flying by too fast--way too fast, which doesn't mean "give up" because time is running out; it means: Do all those fun things you've been dreaming about!

With that in mind, I couldn't wait to visit The Sketchbook Challenge to see what the latest theme for the month would be, and I was very excited to see it was "Patterns." I've always loved patterns, and am constantly on the lookout for new ones to include in my drawing and collage work. Even better is the way the topic lends itself so nicely to writing and journaling, starting with one of my favorite poems since childhood, "Patterns," by Amy Lowell.

Other than poetry, which is perhaps at the top of literary pattern-making, I also thought of investigating:
  • Animal fur, hair, hide, and skin.
  • Fabric swatches.
  • Architecture: structure, decorative detailing, even the random plaster and stucco work.
  • Plant material, e.g., seed pods, bark, leaves, fungi.
  • Seashells.
  • NASA photos of star formation.
  • Antique books with their intricate borders and covers.
  • Wallpaper.
  • Gift wrap.
  • Ceramic dinnerware, good China plates, tea sets.
  • Lace, ribbon, and braided sewing trims.
  • Jewelry.
I'm sure there are dozens of other sources you can think of too, but this list seemed to be a good place to begin--at least as far as the physical world is concerned. But what about the other side of "patterns," as in "habits," or dare I say it, "ruts"?

I felt I needed to ask myself some questions about my own patterns, especially those connected to my creativity and daily living. Some of the thoughts I jotted down in my journal were:
  • What patterns do I fall into too easily?
  • How could I create some new patterns for myself?
  • What about the patterns I create for my characters--how can I make them more interesting, lively, and surprising?
  • When I write, draw, or paint, am I focusing enough on the overall pattern of the actual piece? How can I improve or work on this?
  • Is there an artist, writer, or mentor I'd like to pattern my own work/life upon?
  • What would happen if I didn't have any patterns to follow?
I haven't written down my answers yet, but I'm looking forward to whatever comes up for me. I have a feeling this is going to be a good September.

Tip of the Day: What are your favorite natural patterns? How can you bring them into your own work? Over the next few weeks, make a daily practice of observing and recording the patterns you see in the world around you.

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Stacked Journaling and the Sketchbook Challenge

Over the weekend I discovered two new ways to work in both my journal and my sketchbook: The Sketchbook Challenge, and Stacked Journaling as taught by artist Judi Hurwitt on her blog, Approachable Art.

I found these great sites simply by entering the search terms "how to use a sketchbook." Admittedly that sounds like a really basic search, but I was looking for creative ways to get re-inspired for those times when I sit down to journal and/or sketch and suddenly get a bad case of the blahs.

As soon as I came across The Sketchbook Challenge however, I knew I'd struck gold. Not only was this a place to share and study sketching with an online community of productive artists, the site provides a theme every month for filling up those sketchbooks. No more excuses and I don't know what to draw. . . Right now the August 2012 theme is "Shelter," and so for my first attempt I did a quick sketch with Derwent Inktense pencils of the patio off my new condo's bedroom, a very sheltering place, indeed.

Later that day back on the computer, I discovered the term "stacked journal." As soon as I realized it had nothing to do with turning old journals into furniture or door-stoppers, but instead was a way of writing decoratively into your journal, the idea appealed to me. Basically, the technique is to write a paragraph at one angle, turn your pages to another angle and write over the previous paragraph, and so on until you feel ready to finish. For my first attempt it seemed appropriate to continue using the theme of "shelter," which I added to my drawing of the patio.

Here's a closer look at the journal entry on its own:

The results were extremely pleasing to me, and I know this is something I want to continue using in the future:
  • It's a way to turn emotional (and overly-emotional) content into art, with the emphasis on the word "transformation."
  • I love line and drawing. Using my handwriting as a line in itself truly expresses my style and direction.
  • I can see that it will be an interesting way to match and complement the subject I'm drawing, eventually creating an outline or shape that I can fill in with color or collage.
  • It could also be a unique way to deal with "negative space," the area around an object.
  • Writing into a gessoed background with a tool such as a paintbrush handle or a twig could create a very special texture for oil pastel, watercolor, and even collage.
  • Best of all, it seems an excellent way to write my heart out and then not feel I have to hide or throw away whatever I've put on the page. Instead of wondering "what do I do with this?" it can now be a work of art!
  • On top of everything else, it's just so surprisingly enjoyable and attractive at the same time. I'm excited about  the way it combines journaling, art journaling, and my sketchbook all under one umbrella. Very efficient, if you ask me.
Tip of the Day: Okay, start stacking those journal entries! Have fun, let go, and if you need more direction, please go visit Approachable Art. Let me know how it works for you.

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Overtaken: Where Do You Get Your Ideas?

Before I get started with today's topic of "ideas," here's a good one to mention first: Overtaken is now on Kindle, and for the great price of just $4.99. I'd like to invite all you e-book fans to take advantage of this new opportunity to indulge in the lush, gothic, and romantic world of my heroine, Sara Bergsen. And of course, if you're still like me and not quite ready for virtual reading, you can always order a paperback copy direct from me or any other bookseller.

Which leads me back to ideas in general. While I was submitting my e-files for this new edition of Overtaken, I was reminded of my original inspiration and motivation for writing the story in the first place. So often I am asked (as are most other authors, I'm sure): Where do you get your ideas? On the surface it sometimes seems like a standard question, one that's easy to gloss over. After all, ideas are everywhere, the hard part is winnowing through the crop to finally settle on just one. But when I really thought about it, there were definite instances, experiences, and prompts I could point to throughout my creative life that have each influenced my work and given me my ideas.

One of the main sources to thank for much of Overtaken is The International Women's Writing Guild. At one of the IWWG Skidmore College summer conferences where I was teaching a workshop on self-publishing, I had the great privilege of attending classes with authors Emily Hanlon and Marylou Streznewski. The very last page of Overtaken was written before any other part of the book in Emily's class, and one of my dream sequences I eventually assigned to Sara was written under the guidance of Marylou. So thank you, ladies!

After returning home from the conference I continued to work on the book, mainly in the form of journal entries, morning pages, and other writing exercises from both how-to books and my writing groups. Within these writing sessions I would find myself wanting to write about different times and experiences from my own life, for instance:
  • London. Oh, how I love London. And just like Sara, for a while it was my home. Fortunately I've been able to go back a few times, but I still can't get enough of the place, so any excuse to set a story in London takes me back to my favorite shops, streets, museums, and galleries.
  • Sara is an artist--and I try my best to follow in her footsteps. Of course she is much more highly skilled than I am (she makes her living as a professional portrait artist), but it was fun to imagine the kind of paintings and style she preferred.
  • The Theosophical Society. For many years I've been intrigued and interested in the work of Helena Blavatsky and the society she founded. Even if you're inclined to regard (or dismiss) her writing as sheer myth and storytelling, it's mythology on a grand scale. The language of metaphor, symbolism, and "what if" helped me imagine the possibility of Sara and my other characters inhabiting parallel universes and realities.
  • From the TS, I was introduced to the work of Russian artist Nicholas Roerich, especially his costume and set designs for the Diaghilev Ballet, which then worked its way into my plot line as well.
  • Editor Ellen Datlow and her great anthologies of speculative fiction. Whenever I've come across these books I've devoured them. After several volumes I was inspired to write my own paranormal tale. The result was Overtaken.
  • My favorite pieces in the Datlow anthologies seemed to stem from fairy tales, and my favorite fairy tale of all time was, and is, Lona by Dare Wright. So it was natural that I asked myself the question: What if the Princess has to rescue the Prince? Hence the disappearance of Sara's new husband, Miles, and the primary story problem.
  • Greece. Okay, I've never been to Greece, but I've always wanted to go and I wanted Sara to go there too. The best way I found to start my research was with magazine cut-outs and collage. Collage helped me to "feel" where Sara was once she arrived there, and how she would react to her environment. It also provided me with some specific details I would never have found just by reading about the country.
  • Color; and the year my mother made hats. This is probably my most obscure motivation for writing Overtaken, but all of my life I've loved color, the more unusual the shade the better, and I think it stems from the time when I was in the first grade and my mother studied hat-making from a Hollywood dress maker. Every day after school we would go to the woman's house which was filled with the most fabulous fabrics, trims, and furbelows I have ever seen then or since. While my mother learned the intricacies of wiring Gainsborough-style brims, I got to play in the walk-in closet and try on the seemingly endless array of netted petticoats and gowns in every color imaginable: peacock blues; poison apple greens; Jezebel scarlets. I was in heaven! Now, as an author, I was able to relive that wonderful time by giving my heroine a similar immersion into her wardrobe, environment, and artistic palette.
Tip of the Day: Now it's my turn to ask you: Where do you get your ideas? Writing down your answers is a great way to prepare your marketing material for editors, publishers, and readers alike. This is an exercise that can work for artists and all creative-types, too. Don't hold back; enquiring minds really do want to know what makes your work personal and unique.