Fiction Writing

The Romance Heroine and Childhood Trauma

The heroine in my romantic suspense novel, Surrender at Canyon Road, (available May 2020!) survived trauma as a child through sheer wit, determination and courage. As a young girl, she was forced to adapt to the fluctuating moods of a severely ill parent who self-medicated rather than medicate properly. She had to endure the unpredictable rages of a parent who tried to drink his pain away. This left her fearful and perpetually on edge, always trying to appease, to hide, and to escape. She, as most children in unstable situations, carried the scars of that chaotic and frightening upbringing into adulthood.

The Lingerings Shadow of Trauma

As a survivor of a toxic prior relationship myself, I realize victims of abuse or other continuing trauma, whether child or adult, are often more focused on surviving each day than on anything else. They’re hopeful help is out there, but they’re often closed off from it, whether by their own fear or from the perilousness of their situation.

Once they’ve escaped, it’s often easier to pretend, on some level, that it never happened. Seeking help means looking back and facing the trauma, when in fact, the instinct is to keep going forward; taking with you all the survival techniques you had previously been forced to employ.

the thumbpint on the throat of many people is childhood trauma that goes unprocesses and unrecognized

In a recent post, Not Your Mother’s Romantic Suspense, I discussed the heroines of the past and present. It seems to me, a heroine abused or traumatized as a child or young adult in an old dime-story novel would see that abuse continue at the hands of the “hero”. Those heroes were all “alpha”, they commanded the world around them and gave pittance in return for loyalty and dedication. It wasn’t until the heroine soothed him, that we’d glimpse his more tender side. Yet, in the end, her past demons were never excised. Rather, she suddenly overcame the trauma once her bad boy was tamed. And they lived happily ever after. The pain of what brought that heroine to this point, of what created the person she now was in that story, forgotten, rather than addressed.

When things get hairy again, she immediately calls on the tried and true techniques that helped her endure the past

Lessons of the Past

As Surrender at Canyon Road opens, Dani is about to taste freedom and opportunity for the first time. She embraces the newness of it all with cautious glee. But she is fully aware of why she’s running; her wounds are still fresh. Despite that, she believes she’s distanced herself from it all enough to move forward. Naturally, she hasn’t.Childhood trauma taught her to be invisible - Surrender at Canyon Road

Her past has colored the way she sees the world now. And when things get hairy again, she immediately calls on the tried and true techniques that helped her endure the past, hoping, once modified and applied to fit new and escalating peril –not just for herself but for others in need of her help—she, and they, will somehow survive.

Have there been moments in your life so difficult you’re unsure how you came out of them whole? Do you try to ignore that they ever occurred, or have you dealt with the trauma of them in time? Perhaps you’ve gone through the five stages of grief: denial, anger, bargaining, depression and finally acceptance. My hope is whatever the trauma from your past, in the present you’ve found inner peace, stability, and…one step beyond acceptance…happiness. Find me on Facebook or Twitter to add to the discussion.

Not Your Mother’s Romantic Suspense

Romantic Suspense of Yore

When I think of the Romantic Suspense genre from days gone by, the kind I once loved to read, I think of the innocent heroine, oblivious to the ways of the world, coddled and naïve, unaware of her own body and certainly oblivious about sex. Her role in the story wasn’t as much to follow her own dreams as to become the hero’s lover—by choice or by force. Of course, she’d eventually fall madly in love with the rogue, tame him then happily settle into her duties as wife and lady of the house. Naturally, some of the heroines did hold their own. As they tamed their hero, they absorbed some of his cunning, thus assuring us, the readers, things would be interesting for this couple beyond the confines of their book.

These men saved the day seemingly with ease, while stealing the heroine’s heart. And virginity.

The heroes who populated those works were strong silent alpha-males. Big and burly, they answered to no one but themselves. Everyone jumped or cowered at their barked commands. They were mysterious, angsty, and full of envious manly muscles. Everywhere. These men saved the day seemingly with ease, while stealing the heroine’s heart. And virginity. No matter the mess in which our heroine found herself, we always knew the hero would come to her rescue. It wouldn’t surprise us if the hero resented having to do so, nor would it surprise us if the heroine spent a good part of the following chapters ‘thanking’ him.

The villains of that period were rarely as dimensional, as cunning or powerful – or handsome – as the hero. As if all evil was flat, a prop that came out of a mist wrapped in a black cloak, face either hidden or hideous, with bad breath, bad intent, and no clear motivation beyond lust for power, revenge, or destruction.

Today’s Heroes, Heroines and Villains

I’d be surprised to find those kinds of characters in today’s romantic suspense novels. I wouldn’t be surprised, however, to find layered, even sympathetic villains, heroes who are extraordinarily ordinary men who learn as they go, who show fear and tenderness along with wit and determination, and heroines who not only outsmart, out maneuver, and out sex, but also kick ass.

Men and women Virginia Woolf - Not your Mother's Romantic Suspense

Yesteryear’s romantic suspense still holds a special place in my heart. I devoured those books. I adored the adventure, the possibility of an innocent heroine being loved by a worldly man who’d never given his heart to another – or who had, and since vowed never to do so again.

Today’s hero and heroine are worthy adversaries and even more worthy allies.

But today’s romantic suspense, the kind I now love to read and write, thrills me with a kind of intrigue of mind. A hero and heroine on equal footing is exciting to me. Their mental duels, and how they’re an integral part of the budding romance, are delicious.

Mostly, I enjoy discovering who the characters were prior to their being perilously thrust together. I especially love unraveling the intricacies of their pasts and seeing how those pasts stop them from forging ahead or spur them on; equally, because now, the heroine’s backstory is as rich and vital as the hero’s, with flaws, strengths and challenges.

The wounded sullen hero of today, whether alpha, beta or somewhere in between, is as layered as any man might be. He has his own flaws and strengths. He also has compassion. Today’s hero and heroine are worthy adversaries and even more worthy allies.

Do you look for a specific type of hero or heroine to populate your romantic suspense? Do you prefer heroes who appear on the page ready to take on the world or would you rather watch them come into their own as their story progresses? And your heroine…do you prefer her to be kickass, passive or somewhere in between? I’d love to know your thoughts. Share them with me on twitter, or Facebook.

 

9/11 – 17 Years On

“No Day Shall Erase You from the Memory of Time”

Once the true horror of the attacks of September 11, 2001 became clear, once the magnitude of the attack, of the hate, of the vengeance against the West, had awakened us all, a true and gripping sense of community poured out. We saw it in the American flags so many in the States wore on their lapels, hung from poles, or secured magnetically to their bumpers. We saw it in the silence that followed, in the acceptance and warmth of neighbor to neighbor. In the support for our first responders, who had so much to lose and lost even more.

The Good, The Bad, The Ugly

Sadly, what brought out the best in us, also brought out the worst. The acceptance and warmth of neighbors turned to suspicion and violence for some. For too many. Rather than truly pull together, some among us chose to wage their own attacks on people they deemed responsible. That suspicion and rage lingers still, all these years later, most noticeably from the people who are supposed to lead us, to assure us, but who have, of late, chosen to divide us.

Of course we can never assume 9/11 was an anomaly, a catastrophe the likes of which will never happen again. But neither was that sense of community, of a shared experience. That’s part of what America is about–an awareness and appreciation of our diversity, commonality in our unique experiences. That’s what has always been the secret to America’s “greatness”.

The 9/11 Memorial Museum displays, in rich profound detail, the many faces of NYC and her neighbors. People who worked here, lived here, protected here, came here to help in any way possible. During a recent tour of the museum, I was struck by the varied accents heard on recordings captured that day–of voice messages left for loved ones, of first responders calling out to their units, of reporters and witnesses.

I live here in NYC. I hear a wide variety of languages and accents daily, so much so that I no longer notice them. But while there, in the museum, listening to one account after another in full-throated and brusque New York-ese, in broken English, in Spanish, in a New England drawl and other accents not so easily identifiable, I felt at home. One among many. Sharing the same memories, the same pain, the same hope for a better future.


Scenes from The New York Memorial at Ground Zero:

Ladder 3

North Tower Antenna

 

The magnificent work of artist, Spencer Finch, titled: “Trying To Remember the Color of the Sky on That September Morning”. Each of the squares of Fabriano Italian paper that make up this piece is hand-painted a different shade of blue. There are 2,983 squares/shades in all–one for each person killed in the 1993 WTC bombing and on 9/11.

 

A 9/11 Memorial in New Paltz, New York – about 90 minutes north of the city:


Never Forget

Every year, on the anniversary of this heartbreaking day, we come together to remember those who perished. We remember their lives, their sacrifices and their humanity. In doing so, in standing together in remembrance, we’re reminded of the bond we have as citizens of this world. How I wish that understanding, that bond, held during our every-day existence and not just in times of tumult and pain.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Back to School

It’s the first day of school here in NYC. I can’t help feel sad for all the kids returning to the constant grind of early rising and carrying bookbags as big as themselves as they’re sent away from home and forced to work on command by strangers all day, only to then hurry home and have to work some more.

Perhaps it’s a true dislike of school or perhaps it’s PTSD, I’m not sure, but something about this time of year, the end of summer and beginning of an annual ten-month sentence, deeply saddens me.

At Summer’s End…

I feel a sense of loss and grief as if the sunny days of playtime and dreaming – of childhood innocence and wonder – are cruelly snuffed out then forgotten as the rigorous months ahead take form and distract.

Summer memories fade no matter how we wish they would linger. And every year at this time, I feel the same sense of despair.

I’m always surprised when I speak to other people about their childhood experiences with school. Many loved going, enjoyed the social aspect of it, the newness of it all, the discovery. That forces me to dig deeper to understand what it is that bothered me so – then as now. It wasn’t studying or learning as my wonder and thirst for knowledge was as keen as everyone else’s – then as now. Rather, for me, it was the feeling of being ripped away from home, of being sent somewhere that I didn’t want to be without having any say in the matter.

I’m a free spirit at heart and school felt like prison to me – so much that I doubled up on classes in my senior year so I could graduate early and never look back. I didn’t even attend graduation. Once I was out, I was out and glad to be rid of it.

And now, as I look out my window and see a small army of children trudging along with their weighty bookbags on their backs, I feel sad for them, too. I don’t share the ‘joy’ we see on TV commercials where parents are celebrating their children’s back-to-school days.

My Own Child Starts School

When my own child turned school age, I dreaded sending her. I feared she might feel as I did – that she was being shipped off, sent away from home, forced to be someplace she didn’t want to be. I made sure to prepare her, to let her know it would be as happy a place as she made it and that I’d be waiting for her when she came home. We, my husband and I, became actively involved in her school, letting her know she was not alone while still giving her room to roam, and grow, and learn.

But as elementary school ended for her, so did the excitement of it all, the newness, the discovery. The friendships formed remained; however, the drudgery became burdensome and overwhelming.

Middle school teachers in our district treated the kids in their care like tyrants, insisting that the pre-teen years were the worst, that kids needed to know who was boss. That they needed to be kept busy lest they find themselves with free time and get into trouble.

It was then that we decided enough was enough.

Our Homeschooling Adventure Began

As a child, I felt like school was a punishment for some unknown slight. As a parent, I refused to allow anyone to treat my child that way.

My daughter was one month into middle school when we began our homeschool adventure. With thousands of NYC children being homeschooled, finding programs, activities and social outings was easier than I could have hoped or imagined.

We formed additional friendships with other homeschooling families while discovering a new and exciting way of learning.

We discovered learning through play, adventure and exploration, which incorporated the wonder of a child’s imagination and the freedom to just ‘be’.

I do miss the homeschooling days. They were a magical time that not only fed my child’s hunger for knowledge but also soothed the confused and angry child that lingered within me.

Time Marches On

Now, as always, the summer has come to another close and children head back to school. And I feel the old familiar twinges of sadness for them as I did for myself all those years ago.

I’d love to hear your thoughts about your own school days or those of your children. Were they happy and exciting or burdensome and frustrating?

 

 

“Happee Birthdae Harry”

The Magic Begins

 

Hedwig’s Theme, Opening Notes

Happee Birthdae, Harry Potter

On July 31st, 1991, Harry Potter turned 11. It was on that day, 27 years ago today, when Hagrid presented Harry with his Hogwarts’ letter. The same day Harry received his letter, his life – and the lives of nearly an entire generation of children – was forever changed.

I was introduced to the Harry Potter franchise when my daughter was in first grade. It was Halloween, and there was a parade at her elementary school. Children and teachers alike wore costumes – pirates, Power Puff Girls, Ninja Turtles, and more. Most memorable, however, was the school principal’s costume, which was a long black hooded robe, round glasses, a wand and a hand-drawn lightning-bolt scar on her forehead. I confess, I had to ask her who she was supposed to be. She looked at me, dumbfounded, and said, “Well…Harry Potter, of course!”

But of course.

 

Harry Potter: The Boy Who Lived…and Learned

“It matters not what someone is born, but what they grow to be.” Albus Dumbledore

Immediately after that, I introduced my daughter to the books, and then to the movies. And that was when we became a Harry Potter family. We watched in awe and wonder as Harry, Ron, Hermione – and all the rest – grew from wide-eyed wizards studying potions and wand-work, to young adults bravely fighting demons so fierce, so cruel, even the elders among them doubted their chance for success.

“The world isn’t split into good people and Death Eaters.” ―Sirius Black

As adults, we often teach our children that the world is not black and white, that our foes are sketched in as many shades of gray as our friends. Yet, I wonder whether we teach that lesson in word only, rather than by example. And I wonder, too, whether our children are wiser than we might expect and see those shades of gray all on their own.

“We’ve all got both light and dark inside us. What matters is the part we choose to act on. That’s who we really are.” ―Sirius Black

As we read the books and watched the movies, Harry, his friends, and even Draco, grew into young adults with a healthy skepticism of those around them. They had a keen awareness of a complacent media unwilling to address the first hints of danger. They also harbored a healthy rebelliousness against language and ideas that were divisive, bitter, and cruel, even when that language and those ideas came from authority figures.

We watched young Harry become a man as he learned that while those who chose to be Death Eaters were one form of evil, so too were those who willingly ignored the slow and steady rise of evil in favor of personal gain. We even watched as Draco came into his own as he learned, too late, that ‘otherness’, which was so passionately loathed by the elders he idolized, was not, in fact a “crime” at all, nor was it an offense worthy of death.

“It takes a great deal of bravery to stand up to our enemies, but just as much to stand up to our friends.” Albus Dumbledore

I wish our kids the same fortitude displayed by Harry and the gang as they face the challenges this world presents. I wish them stamina, foresight, and trust in themselves – no matter what others say – to know they have the ability to change the world. To turn on the lights when times are dark. To see the value in friends, family, and strangers – both familiar and unique. And I wish them the wisdom to know that, while they each have those abilities within themselves, we are all so much stronger together.

“We are only as strong as we are united, as weak as we are divided.” Albus Dumbledore

Happy Birthday, Harry… or perhaps I should say “Happee Birthdae, Harry”, as Hagrid did that magical day so long ago. And thank you.

 

 

Related post – The  Potter Generation

 

 

Should I Stay or Should I Go

I started on my journey toward publication years ago, more than 15 in fact. I had a full-time job, a child, pets, and volunteer work at a local animal shelter. But, I also had the dream of seeing my name in print on the spine of a book on a bookstore shelf. I pursued that dream by scraping up time here and there, and writing.

I dreamt about it. I breathed it. I loved it.

But, it was a lonely and confusing process.

I’d heard people say I should look into organizations for people like me. People with the dream to be published. I heeded the advice and found an international organization that promised support and guidance and understanding. That promise was fulfilled many times over as the years passed and as I grew as a writer.

I took workshops, forged friendships, felt empowered and validated. I even found myself offering advice to newer newbies than I. It was an incredible experience. The memories of it – as well as the friendships I still have – will remain with me, hopefully, forever.

But… I’m no longer part of that organization. It changed. I changed. And I decided it was time to close that chapter and start a new one.

I’ve grown not only as a writer, which isn’t to say there isn’t a whole lot more for me to learn, but also as a person. A woman. I’m no longer concerned about doing things the ‘wrong’ way. Instead, I’m interested in finding the ‘right’ way. For me. Which, as I have found, isn’t necessarily right for others… especially those who believe the path that’s been laid out for them is the only path any of us should follow.

I learned, by meeting some amazing authors at all levels of their careers, that no single path works for everyone or for one person all the time. There has to be room for individuality. There has to be time for us to stand back for a bit and breathe, to relish the moment rather than be caught in the tsunami of deadlines and demands. And most of all, there has to be room for us to stumble without being made to feel inferior. We do that to ourselves often enough, we don’t need those we thought we could count on to do it to us as well.

And so I walked.

I thought I would feel lost and alone. Basically, I thought my world, as I knew it, would end. I thought my muse would pack up and leave in a huff, that the pleasure I received from my writing – the plotting, constant forming of story ideas, hearing characters’ voices in my head, the connection with other writers, the drive to continue writing and hoping and dreaming – would all dry up and become a memory. Nothing more.

Oh, boy was I wrong. By remaining as long as I did with an organization whose ideas, ideals, methods, restrictions and labels morphed into something that seemed rather strange to me, I stifled myself. I felt that to belong, I needed to fit myself into a mold not of my choosing… that everyone had to…and it finally dawned on me that my way of working, my process and my vision, were just that: mine.

No one, no matter how tightly they intend to hold the reigns, was–is– going to hold me back. Only I can do that. And only I can urge myself forward.

The beauty of having both options, and this new freedom, is that I and I alone get to choose in which direction I’d like to go.

I’m taking the high road without setting my nose in the air. My ears are open to suggestion, yet closed to the naysayers. My eyes are focused now that I know what’s right for me, and what is not. My hope remains and my respect for many in the industry is as great as ever.

Freedom – and the confidence to grab it – is an amazing thing. I can’t help wonder if this is how the women of Stepford would have felt had they been able to see their transformations reversed.

American Exceptionalism, Indeed

Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses...

In 1890, the superintendent of police in New Orleans was murdered. His dying words were: “The dagoes did it.”

At the time, Italian Americans – especially Sicilians – were viewed by the public and by many officials as “filthy”, “dangerous” and “bloodthirsty”.

Now, the roots of my family tree tunnel deep into Italian soil, with the deepest in Sicily. And while my family was not involved in any nefarious activities, and was not filthy, dangerous or blood thirsty, I admit there were some Sicilians who gave the rest a bad name. It should have been known that beyond the Sicilian mob – of which everyday Sicilians were also intimidated – most Sicilians were hard-working honorable family members with a gut-deep sense of community. I know this because my family, my grandparents and my great-grandparents, all valued family, personal integrity and community above all.

Sadly, despite the true heart of the Sicilian community as a whole, prejudice ruled, and after the murder of the New Orleans superintendent of police, the mayor of New Orleans ordered Sicilians in the area rounded up and jailed as suspects in the case. About 150 were taken into custody…but the courts, eventually, found most of them innocent.

With these verdicts, the community grew yet more intolerant and indignant. A mob descended on the jail where the remaining Sicilian men awaited for their turn in court. Officials did nothing to stop that mob from storming the jail, hauling the men out, lynching eleven right there in front of the prison and lining others up then shooting them, firing-squad style, until they were dead.

Afterward, upon hearing word of this ignorant, disgusting slaughter of innocents, Teddy Roosevelt, yes, THAT Teddy Roosevelt, a man who would eventually become the President of the United States, a man who had no tolerance for “hyphenated Americans”, said of the murders of these Sicilian men that it was “a rather good thing”. He boasted of saying this many times, proudly adding that he had said it in front of several “dago diplomats”.

Prejudice is nothing new in this country. Neither is Statue of Liberty - public domain imageignorance. Neither is danger or violence. One does not excuse the other yet each is fuel that feeds the fire of hatred, which in turn breeds further ignorance, further prejudice and further violence.

I like to think we’ve grown and matured, yet I look at people in my own state, in my own country…I look at men who wish to be President of the United States, Leader of the Free World, and I shudder in terror. Not because of the dangers they point out – how terrorism has come to our shores – but because of the ugly discourse they spout, the violence they carry out, the fuel of hatred which spills from their mouths and their actions to our kids and to people around the world, and I cry inside because this is not who we’re supposed to be.

Yet, clearly, it’s who we’ve been, who we are, and who, it seems, we’ll be for generations to come. American exceptionalism indeed.

 

 

Blue Satin Sashes – a writing prompt

My muse has been known to take wrong turns now and then, wandering as it does in a never-ending search for something dark and mysterious or sparkley and fun to play with. Because of that never-ending quest, it’s not uncommon for my wandering muse to wind up caught in some murky, quick-sandy bit of gray matter. How do I lure it out? Exercise, coffee, daydreaming… and writing prompts. Bits of story fodder lie everywhere but when the muse is otherwise occupied, they can be hard to find, or, once found, impossible to develop.

A story prompt sits right in front of your eyes, luring the muse from that darkened corner, tempting it with just what it’s been seeking. A dark and mysterious idea or a fun playful place in which to frolic.

Today, my muse has been lured by Jon Nathanial Corres and Willow Raven and my thanks go to them for providing a beautiful and magical writing prompt. You should see it full size – and can find it here – Willow Raven – BLUE SATIN SASHES.

Along with the prompt came a challenge which was, actually, posted in June even though I’ve just found it now. The challenge is to write a short piece inspired by the Blue Satin Sashes image… and, of course, a short piece has the potential to grow into a larger piece… unless the muse steps into quicksand again.

I’ve accepted the much-needed challenge, and I have titled my short piece: His Again. This was fun to write and I hope you find it fun to read.

Here’s a small version of Willow’s stunning visual prompt:

Willow Raven - Blue Satin Sashes Visual Writing Prompt

His Again

Debora Dale

Snow filled the air like down from a pillow, softly floating in waves playful and billowy. White and innocent, it shimmered in the moonlight, unfazed by the cold and dark.

He held out his hand, palm up, to capture the beauty. It faded, wounded by his heat, writhing until only a single droplet remained. Cold, small. Gone.

A low rumble of hooves broke through the silence, and a golden light bobbed in the distance. Snow stirred from the ground as the carriage neared and falling flakes scattered as to clear a path far and wide.

With a small nod and a touch to the brim of his hat, he welcomed the bundled coachman. And then on he strode to the carriage door.

Through the small window, he saw her. Her white winter cloak, as innocent as snow. Her bonnet tied beneath her chin with a blue satin sash.

He met her gaze, and saw moisture there. It was from cold, he would believe, for despite the past, she had chosen to see him again.

She rose and he hesitated, not wishing to mar such exquisite beauty. She waited. Her eyes, blue as the satin, challenged.

He dared hold out his hand, palm up, to capture the beauty. And she laid her hand upon it. Cold. Small. It did not fade but remained. Solid and warming. His to hold once again.

 


 

What do you think? Did the image stir your muse? I loved writing this short and would love to read yours, too. If you write one, please let me know in the comments.

 

No, I Won’t be Attending NYC’s Writer’s Conference

My writing organization membership just expired. By choice. I had been a member of the largest organization for romance authors for more than a decade. I’d made some amazing friends during my time there. I found my writer’s ‘voice’ and I learned to trust my process. Well, recently, new rules were applied within the organization about what it meant to be a member of it, and what it meant, by extension, to be considered in “serious pursuit’ of a career in writing. I realized, then, that my vision did not in any way match that of the new board of directors, and the direction of the organization did not fit with my personal plan for myself as an author. And so, I chose to let my membership lapse.

Writing is a solitary act. I don’t mind that, but I do like to interact with others in the industry. Fortunately, since I made a number of writing friends over the years, I am now part of another group of writers who value the level at which each of us stand now and where we hope to be – as well as what route we might choose to take to get there. There is nothing quite as fulfilling as belonging to a group that doesn’t force you to conform or make you feel inferior for choosing your own course.

And that brings me to the huge writer’s conference planned, this year, in NYC.

I attended the last writer’s conference in NYC four years ago. Thousands of authors were there. Editors from big publishing houses were there and available. Literary agents were there, as were authors who had already reached the golden ring – Sylvia Day, Sherrilyn Kenyon, Kate Pearce, Cherry Adair…

And then there were the rest of us. Thousands of us each vying for the same readership, the same golden ring.

The keynote speech at the luncheon was phenomenal. A tale of overcoming outrageous and discouraging odds. It was funny and sad and cheer-worthy. The unpublished and published writing awards were thrilling. How wonderful to celebrate with other authors, those who finaled, and those who took home the coveted awards.

There was one winner in each of the two contests. There were a handful of successful authors who signed books, gave workshops, and otherwise engaged those of us who had yet to reach that status but instead remained unpublished.

Where did we fit in? Was there even room forBlog - Conference 1 us? Would anyone notice if we weren’t there? Would anyone miss us? Care? Would it make a difference in our own pursuit – gee, is it “serious” enough? – if we attended every workshop or instead chose to rub shoulders with the more successful? Was there a path to follow? A yellow-brick-road leading to publication?

How about a path to some self-confidence or a way to look at all the other wannabes, wish them the best, yet still believe in yourself and your own chances? Was there a way to convince your muse that, yes, you have something unique to say, something readers will enjoy enough to buy. Perhaps a way to view your own process as one of pleasure not one of pressure – pressure to beat out every other wannabe vying for success in the romance genre.

Some of the workshop lecturers told attendees the genre they coveted (in my case, Romantic Suspense) was a dying genre and that no one made it in that genre unless they’d already created a name for themselves in it (this was actually said during one workshop which directly contradicted another). Some workshop lecturers offered tried and true methods for getting an entire story down in just a couple of days. Others offered advice on how to revise an entire novel in one week.

It was all fascinating and clearly worked for each of the speakers. Their enthusiasm soared as they spoke and offered advice and guidance – all of it, in my experience, generous and freely presented.

I was pumped when I left, thinking I could refer to my notes and the experience and forge a new path for myself. One lined with encouraging signs and constant forward motion.

Blog - Conference 3Instead, my muse fell silent.

The vast amount of advice was overwhelming enough, but when dissected and compared and, therefore, exposed as contradictory or non-applicable to ‘my’ situation, or just plain awkward given the way I need to work… it became a jumble of nonsense for me. A muddled vision of the huge undertaking that still lay ahead for me… and the thousands more who wished to one day see their own name on a book.

It took months to get myself psyched again. To wake the muse, to rework the creative muscles that had atrophied. To realize the methods that fueled the few success stories relayed there were as varied as the stories sitting on bookstore shelves. That the ‘right’ road toward publication might detour into all of those areas – or none – since we each need to follow our own course, as is creativity’s demand.Blog - Conference 2

There is no room for conformity in creativity. There is no one tried-and-true way to advance to a level of success (and no single definition for “success”). To shuffle along with the crowd, to be told what it means to be serious about the craft, to have all of your effort dismissed for not fitting into that definition, is to stifle the muse, crush the spirit and demand conformity… which limits creativity.

I am not attending the conference in NYC because while some authors are encouraged and invigorated by all it has to offer – and good for them to benefit from the experience – the last time I went, I was left doubting my own desires and my own efforts. Had I left there overwhelmed with possibilities, it would have been wonderful – a cause to return – but that was not to be.

So… while a huge flow of there-already and getting-there authors gather in NYC for a few days and nights of excitement and enlightenment, I will thank my lucky stars for the chance to have experienced it once… and for the ability to have overcome its paralyzing effects.

I know now that there is no yellow-brick-road to follow. There is, however, a man behind the curtain. And now that I’ve seen him for who he is, I realize he is no better than I… or any other author.

 

all images in this post were purchased from depositphotos.com

Character Interview Blog Hop – Heroines – Eden Widow

Character Interview Blog Hop - Heroes

I have so enjoyed the interviews from this blog hop, and the ease with which it seemed each participating author managed to get their heroes and heroines talking. Patty Blount’s interview from last week, with the brainy and secretive Julie Murphy from her amazing Young Adult novel, SEND, was no different. In case you missed it, you can find that interview on Patty’s blog – HERE.

When I thought about interviewing a heroine from one of my own stories, I hoped the process would be smooth for me as well. As smooth as a slice of creamy New York cheesecake. I would interview Eden Widow, the haunted yet graceful heroine from my second novel, SAFE IN HIS ARMS. Her story was originally a subplot in my first book but it grew into its own.

Eden is most comfortable in her apartment on Manhattan’s Upper West Side overlooking Central Park, so we meet there. I hear her buzzing me into the building seconds after I’ve already walked in behind a woman with two little white dogs wearing pink bows in their hair. We all ride the elevator together and as I watch the numbers climb, I’d swear the little dogs watch as well.

My inspiration for Eden Widow - atherine Zeta-Jones

My inspiration for Eden Widow –
Catherine Zeta-Jones

The moment I step into Eden’s apartment, I’m struck by a panoramic view she has of Central Park from her picture window. A desk sits before it, centered, with plenty of space to either side for a clear unobstructed view. A luxurious cream-colored sofa and club chair sit conversation style with enough room to walk around them to be spacious yet cozy. Besides the view, what strikes me most is the array of cheerful flowers in vases placed on every flat surface I see. The flowers are all the same – white daisies and yellow forsythia sprays. They’re in bud vases, bowls, urns, fluted vases… not overdone, just simply lovely. They’re everywhere I look and make me smile, like this space is a happy one because they make it so.

I follow Eden through the living room to a small breakfast nook where she has tea prepared for us. She moves across the rooms with a confident grace, as though her every movement is part of an intimate choreographed dance. She pours my tea and smiles as I thank her for having me. I take a seat across from her at the delicate round table.

“Please feel free to begin any time.”

Her voice is smoky, though not gruff. Her expressive eyes nearly as dark as her black hair.

I take out my pen and notepad and ask the first, rather blunt, question.

 

What is your greatest fear and have you told anyone? Why or why not?

She continues to pour the tea, into her cup now. Then she gently sets the teapot down, not looking at me or answering and I wonder if she heard my question. And then she lifts her teacup and speaks again – with that intriguing voice of hers.

Firefighters battling blaze“My greatest fear is one which haunts me night and day. It’s the recurring nightmares and whatever truth they’re keeping from me. I want to know what it is as much as I fear knowing.

“I’ve told Luke about them, my brother. It would be impossible not to. We’re not twins, he and I, but we could be, it’s been only us for so long and we couldn’t be closer. Besides, he knows all about my dreams since I’ve had them from youth… from when I… from when our parents died… in a tragic fire…

“That fire started it all… I still smell it. I still feel the heat of it on my face. I still hear my own hoarse screams and pleas from when I fought to go back inside to save them and the fireman held me back. I had nightmares for the longest time after that. They were uncontrollable.”

She sips her tea and I can’t help but look around her apartment. There are candles placed here and there – floating candles, pillars, scented jars. All have blackened wicks. I’m no expert, but I’m a little surprised someone so traumatized by fire would have flame-lit, not battery-powered, candles around.

The light clink of her teacup on the saucer draws my attention back to her.

“Luke was there for me. He understood because he had gone through it, too. He held it together for my sake but when I finally realized how tormented he was by my pain, I found an outlet for it. I took all of the images from my dreams, all of the unanswered questions and disturbed emotions, and turned them into fiction. I adopted the pen name Gerard Blackwood, whose tales of murder and mayhem are depraved and gruesome… and… beloved by an insatiable and loyal audience. The more I wrote, the more time there was between nightmares, until they finally subsided.

But something happened recently…”

She looks at me without speaking, a small uncomfortable smile playing upon her full lips. I sense her apprehension and fear, and realize she’s struggling for composure. I cover her hand with mine and she closes her eyes for a moment. When she opens them she seems stronger.

“I… was assaulted. Here in this very apartment. I… know this because I woke in the hospital with worried faces all around me. Everyone wanted to know what had happened, who I had let into my apartment, did I know the man… but I couldn’t remember. When I tried, panic blurred the memory, blended what happened before, with the fire, with what happened now and… it was all too much… and then the nightmares started again. They’re more violent now, more cryptic, and my writing has become darker because of it… I’m not sure my mind will ever unmuddle the memory of what really happened to me. I wish I could say I am in a state of blissful ignorance but I am not. The memory teases. My greatest fear is that the teasing will stop and the truth will become clear.”

 

I can imagine either would be terrifying. Can you tell me about one person who made a positive difference in your life?

She smiles and though it’s not a grand smile, I am taken in by the beauty of her eyes as it reaches them.

“That is an easy one. Scott Parker. He has been Flowers and tea cupso patient with me. I have dated men before, not  many, but enough. At one time I was even engaged to a man I adored and who adored me. Too much, perhaps. Dylan James. He is a beautiful man, strong. Solid. Sooty eyes and hair. He’s part of the family now because his sister married my brother. But he had a tendency to smother me. It wasn’t meant to be cruel, just attentive and… protective, I suppose. Especially when it came to my nightmares. The questions he would ask me about them… sometimes they frightened me more than the dreams.

“Scott is different. He doesn’t push or plead. He’s confident in his own skin. Confident enough for both of us, in fact. He loves me, I know it without question, and I love him, but he does not need to hear that from me at every meeting, during every conversation. He just knows. We can just be, and it’s enough. He trusts me to make my own choices, unlike Dylan, who tried to orchestrate my every move, as though he feared I might shatter…like spun glass.”

She offers more tea and I accept though she does not pour more for herself.

 

Where do you go when you need time to yourself?

“As an author with deadlines, I have a lot of time to myself. Too much sometimes. I must say, I so look forward to time with Scott. His home upstate is lovely. His property ends where stunning and serene parkland begins, so it looks and feels like it goes on and on. A stroll in the gardens on his property is all it takes to unwind. Especially when he’s with me. I find my most peaceful and fulfilling moments are with him. There in his space…and even here. With him. In mine.

 

Do you have a secret? If so, why do you feel the need to keep it secret?

Meet Eden Widow“I do have a secret. It’s one I wish to learn… the meaning behind my dreams. I know something happened to me. Something besides the fire. Something that frightened me so much I have been unable to see it. And so it haunts me. I do not feel the need to keep it secret… yet, there are times, moments, when the answer seems too close, and I turn away. When I awake… I am still unsure what my secret might be.”

Her phone rings and I wait, certain she’ll answer it, but she doesn’t.

“That would be Luke. He and his wife have invited me to dinner this evening. Along with Dylan. Please accept my apologies but I must get ready.”

I understand and say so I as I pack up my pen and notepad. And then a deep male voice comes over her answering machine.


“Hey E, it’s me. Kristen’s craving Mexican now, so no Italian tonight.
Unless she changes her mind again. She still wants the ice cream so
don’t forget to bring that. If you didn’t get it already, you might have
to head into Queens for it ’cause I’m sure I bought out all of Manhattan.
Don’t be late.”

Eden smiles as she walks me to the door. I tell her I hope she won’t have to drive to Queens for the ice cream and she laughs softly.

“Thank you but I won’t need to. I’ve been stocking ice cream for Kristen for months now.”

I step into the hall saying I have just one more question. She waits and I ask.

 

If you could ask for one thing, what would it be?

I see that same effort for composure as before and I wish I could withdraw the question, not wanting to leave her feeling low but rather with that sweet, content smile. She breathes softly.

“If I could ask for one thing, it would be to go back in time and unplug the potpourri pot that overheated, started a fire that destroyed our house… and killed our parents.”

She eases the door closed between us.

I have missed Eden and Scott, and all the other characters from this book. I cannot wait to revisit them and again watch Eden reach her much-deserved Happily Ever After.

Next week’s Character Interview will feature Elizabeth D. Spencer’s heroine, Rebecca Simmons from her Historical Romance, WHEN CUPID CAME TO TOWN. You’ll find that interview on Elizabeth’s blog – HERE

Elizabeth D. Spencer lives on Long Island, New York with her husband, three children, and two energetic Sheltie puppies, Brinkley and Carson. (Named for the dog from You’ve Got Mail and Downton Abbey’s very own Carson, the butler.) She shares a love of history with her family and a love of books. Her days and nights are spent writing. When she is not writing Appellate briefs for the day job, she is busy writing historical romance novels. The greatest challenge has been learning to balance it all. Coffee has been a tremendous help!

 

 

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