Fiction Writing

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!

 

 

Would you Buy or Pass? #FridayFiveChallenge

This is my first time participating in the #FridayFiveChallenge and I was surprised how much I could do in five minutes when I tried.

Here are the rules from the #FridayFiveChallenge creator Rosie Amber:

Get yourself a cuppa and give yourself 5 minutes.

In today’s online shopping age, readers often base their buying decisions from small postage stamp size book covers (Thumb-nails), a quick glance at the book description and the review. How much time do they really spend making that buying decision?

AUTHORS – You often only have seconds to get a reader to buy your book, is your book cover and book bio up to it?

My Friday Five Challenge is this….. IN ONLY FIVE MINUTES….
1) Go to any online book supplier,
2) Randomly choose a category,
3) Speed through the book covers, choose one which has instantly appealed to your eye,
4) Read the book Bio/ Description for this book,
5) If there are reviews, check out a couple,
6) Make an instant decision, would you BUY or PASS?


And so, here is my contribution –
I chose Romantic Suspense:

Teacher Beward - romantic suspense by Charlotte Raine

Find a copy here from Amazon.com

This caught my eye because of the moody color and ‘frayed’ emotional feeling. It screams suspense and intrigue. Especially since the other romantic suspense covers look more like romance than suspense.

Book Price is listed at $3.99 for Kindle but it’s free right now.

Book Description: Thirty-one year old Grace Ellery survived being stabbed multiple times in Ohio. Two years later, she moves to Murray, Virginia to get a new lease on life.

On her first day of substitute teaching, her new life is nearly cut short when she finds herself in the middle of a shooting that leaves a married couple dead. Luckily, she is saved by Sam Meadows, a cardiologist, but the shooter has disappeared by the time the police come around.

When the shooter tries to kill Grace again, Sam and Grace realize that the killer won’t stop until she is dead. With a killer who has nothing to lose, the question isn’t if the killer will attack again, but when and who will be in the crosshairs. A romantic suspense wrapped in the aspects of life: love, family, forgiveness, danger, and death.

Number of pages 288/46,000 words.

Reviews: Mixed – There are a total of 250 reviews on Amazon.com and 99 of them are 5*.

I skimmed a few and noted several mentioning how ‘different’ the format was – with each chapter being in a different character’s point of view (hero, heroine and villain) AND in a different time-line. I’m not sure how a 46,000-word story would flow with that type of formula. I would think it would feel a bit disjointed but it was mentioned that once you get used to it, the writing is engaging, and the story was tense and exciting. I did read a 1-star review because I always do that and wasn’t sure what to make of it. The reviewer implied a political message on the part of the author and then complained the h/h slept together after the second meeting (not something that reviewer appreciated) and that book ended with a cliffhanger. The same reviewer, in responses to challenging comments on that review, clarified that all sex was behind closed doors and that the story didn’t end on a cliffhanger after all. It was the excerpt of the next book that ended with “to be continued”. I’d say that’s to be expected. Basically, for me, at least, the entire 1-star review was discredited because of those misleading parts of the it (which you had to dig into the comments to see).

Would I BUY or PASS?…… BUY

Analysis
I went back and forth with the decision whether to buy or pass on this book. It’s free, though, so ‘buy’ isn’t the right word. I love the cover, and the book’s description intrigued me. Someone who thinks she’s escaped from a murderer only to find she’s still a target? It’s the stuff of nightmares. Since it’s ‘romance’ I know there will be a happily ever, so after all that tension, there’s the promise of a satisfied sigh. Who can resist that? And for free, no less. The reason I wasn’t sure about it was the POV and time-line switches mentioned in the reviews. But… that just might add to the intrigue. If not, I won’t buy the second book. If so, I’ll buy it eagerly. And, in all honesty, one of the main factors in my decision to buy this is that rather rude and misleading 1-star review.

 

Character Interview Blog Hop – Heroes – Jake Marlon

Character Interview Blog Hop - HeroesEvery author needs to get characters talking… not just on the page, but to the author herself. And not just in every day niceties but in detail, with secret yearnings, quirks and private musings. I’m sharing a bit of that here today, Week 10 of the Character Interview Blog Hop – HEROES. My thanks to Patty Blount for passing the baton to me. Last week, Patty introduced you to Dan Ellison, the high school student and former bully from her Young Adult novel SEND. You can find her interview with Dan HERE on her blog.

Today you’ll meet my hero, small-town restaurant owner and handsome loner Jake Marlon. I met Jake ages ago and am now spit-shining his story so others can watch him reach his well-deserved and hard-fought happily-ever-after… and maybe even fall in love with him as I have.

My inpiration for Jake Marlon, hero from Tears before Love - Actor Jeffrey Dean Morgan

My inspiration for Jake Marlon     Jeffrey Dean Morgan

I had asked to meet Jake before he started work for the day but he said he starts too early. Then I asked to meet after work, but he said he finishes much too late. And so, I’ve met him at The Grill, where he’s preparing for the lunch crowd, though he’s said “crowd” is not what he’d call it. I sit on the dining room side of the pass-through window, watching him in the kitchen. He’s an impressive man, over 6′, with messy black hair and dark bedroom eyes. He works methodically, moving about the space with ease, and I have an odd sense of watching an animal born in captivity, believing there’s little if anything beyond his small enclosure.

I can tell he’s not thrilled that I’m here. His broad back is to me as he dunks a second basket of onion rings into the deep fryer. It sizzles violently. He sets a timer.

I click my pen, ready to begin, but he doesn’t look at me. I wonder if he’s forgotten I’m here… but he’s already given me the go-ahead, so I begin.

Jake…

He starts to turn when the timer buzzes for the first basket, drawing his attention. Going back, he hangs it to drain.

Character Interview Grill

What is your greatest fear… and why?

He picks up a huge knife and a glorious eggplant, and just looks at me, his dark gaze holding mine. Several emotions pass in his eyes and I find myself drawn in. I feel I should look away, allow him a private moment, but I can’t… In truth, I’m not sure I want to.

My greatest fear?

He looks around the place and it’s as if he’s looking at land from far off shore.

Losing this place.

Raw emotion thickens his voice and I realize this fear of his is real and deep.

It almost happened a few times.

He sets the eggplant on the counter, starts slicing it lengthwise. I’m amazed. Each piece appears to be of perfect ¼” thickness.

I managed to get it going again but… I might not always be so lucky.

 

Have you told this to anyone?

His slow smile captivates me. It’s a bit condescending but strangely I don’t care. I smile in response.

The hours I put in here aren’t exactly secret. Do people know what your work means to you? Or do you have to tell them?

I almost answer his question, but then remember this is not about me. I want to know more about him. He’s not just a workaholic. He has secrets. I can see them in his gaze. As I study it, he lifts a dark brow and I can’t tell whether it’s in challenge or amusement.

 

Why are you so afraid of losing this place?

His smile fades. That play of emotions is in his eyes again.

My life is here. My past. My… future. I’ve worked this place since I was a kid. Back then, my dad did everything I’m doing now. Almost. When he could. Out there…

He points through the pass-through, toward the dining room.

That belonged to my mom. She worked the room like a pro and people liked her. They tipped her good and she’d skim a bunch off the top so the old man wouldn’t get it. He’d’ve wasted it on booze, and she wanted new things for herself. And for me. She bought me a football once. With her tips.

Pissed off the old man. He wanted to know how she was able to afford it. I didn’t tell him, of course. That would’ve been ugly… He took it, you know. The football my mom bought for me. Said I’d get it back when I’d shown my worth, but I never saw it again. Not until after he died. Interesting bastard, my old man.

I want to comfort him but he’s guarded now. Clearly finished with that question, so I ask another.

 

Tell me about one person who made a positive difference in your life.

Christopher Olivieri. He’s my… godson. Tony and Maria’s boy. He notices things and asks a lot of simple questions that are hard to answer. He’s a challenge but he’s a great kid. Happy. Innocent. I have issues with his parents sometimes, mostly Medusa… sorry, I mean… Maria… but they treat him good. Like a kid should be treated. And he comes here sometimes – his parents’ place is at the other corner. The fancy Italian restaurant… they do well down there…

He brushes the eggplant and other vegetables with olive oil and herbs, lays them on the grill, smiling as they sizzle.Football

Chris brings the ball and glove I got him for his birthday and we’ll play a game of catch in the lot. He says his father’s too busy to play with him, like mine was… for different reasons, though. I’m busy, too, but the kid has a way of getting me to do things I wouldn’t normally do.

Like… take a break from this place now and then. It’s just a few tosses, not a big commitment. And off the kid goes, happy as a kid should be.

He chuckles and it’s a soft warm sound I want to hear again.

Yeah, Christopher. He’s made a difference in my life… It’s hard to explain how an eight-year-old can do that, but he did.

He turns the vegetables. Brushes them lightly.

 

Where do you go when you need time to yourself?

Used to be, I’d spend time alone here, cleaning up after closing. Then… well… I’ve had company lately. Not that I mind. Not much anyway. It’s Willy. Wilma Davis. She just started showing up here regularly around midnight. I’d be mopping the place, you know, closing up for the night. It annoyed me. Having her crashing my space like that, but… Have you met Willy? Nah, probably not, because if you did, you’d smile just from hearing her name. Or you’d go running from here, screaming.

Short skirt, pretty legs - Wilma Davis - Tears Before Love - Romantic Suspense - Debora DaleShe has that effect on people, Willy does. I follow her, you know. At night. After she leaves. She doesn’t know it. She thinks nothing of walking alone through the park in the dead of night in those heels and little skirts of hers. I watch her… I mean… I watch that she gets home okay since she lives right on the other side of the park. With her roommate. Cora.

He leans closer to me as though eager to share a secret, and I ready myself for a juicy bit of gossip.

Talk about wanting to run screaming from someone. If a bawdy redhead swings her hips your way, that’ll be Cora. Run. That’s it. Run.

There’s no down time with her around…

He transfers the fragrant, grill-seared vegetables to a chafing dish. Sits on a stool at the counter.

Sometimes, I’ll stay there, by the lake, after Willy gets home. Wait for the light to go on in her apartment… I’ll be thinking, not thinking… I’ve always done that. You know when you live above the store, you need a place to go and the lake is it…has been since I was a kid. Of course, the old man never knew about it. He’d just say I didn’t know about the cost of time.

 

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

Well, I don’t know if it’s a secret, really, but… I wonder how things would be if they’d turned out like I planned. I wanted to own a sweet little 5-star hotel somewhere, and be the head chef in its 5-star restaurant. Not too many people know about that dream. Really, only my mom and Maria knew about it – Maria, as in Christopher’s mother. Tony’s wife.

He gives his head a shake as if to bring himself back to the present.

That’s what I’d be doing if things had worked out differently.

 

Have you ever been in love? Had a broken heart?

Well, yeah. Who hasn’t?Meet Jake Marlon

He’s staring me down, or trying to, but I’m on to him now. Those dark eyes of his are rich with secrets I wish I could pry from him, so I won’t let him off the hook.

Women love to ask about other women…

When I was a kid, most of my youth, in fact, until my early twenties… I thought Maria was the one. She took my heart, filled it up…too much. Then, BAM! She popped it like a balloon.

Poor Tony.

He chuckles. Tries to wipe the smile away.

He has her now.

We were very different back then. I was 17, she was 16. We were together for a year. She’d hang out here a lot. She’d even help out. I liked watching her work. She was one sweet sight.

We were going to go to school together. Business school – hotel/restaurant management. We talked about it like it’d really happen. Then I had more and more responsibilities here and… she… didn’t understand. One night… I was supposed to meet her, out there, by the lake. I asked… I actually begged…for an hour off so I could talk to her, but my dad kept giving me stuff to do. He must have made me tally the receipts four times that night. I got to her more than an hour late, and she was with Tony. They have three kids now. Christopher’s the oldest. You know… that night the old man wouldn’t let me meet her? That night I found her with Tony? That’s the night he died. Wrapped his truck around a tree. I kept thinking I should have taken the keys… but I didn’t.

He pushes off the counter, heads into the dining room with the grilled vegetables, and lights the final sterno.

Then there’s Jessie. Not long after the old man died, my cousin’s girlfriend – Jessie – experienced the same thing. Her father was a drunk, too. Died basically the same way. She didn’t handle it too well, and Steven, my cousin, asked me to talk to her. I did. And… things just went on from there.

He unlocks the front door, flips the closed sign to open.

She’s a great woman. She’s getting married soon. We just…ended things. It wasn’t a healthy relationship. We had a lot in common. Too much, I think. Same pain, same confusion. We didn’t really help each other, just complained mostly. But she’s funny, and she’s sensitive. We both knew nothing more would come of what we had, but…well…it went on for a long time. She did the right thing in saying yes to Carl’s proposal. She knew we’d never get married but she asked me anyway, just to be sure before she gave him her answer. And now she wants me to give her away.

His smile is small. It looks less than happy. He gives me a shrug, waves a hand toward the buffet.

Hungry? It’s all-you-can-eat. Just $9.95.

The bells on the front door ring. He gives it only a passing glance then turns away, heading for the kitchen. I gather my pen and notepad and duck my head under the pass-through to thank him for his time. And that’s when I see it. There, on a shelf next to the door leading into the parking lot, propped against a vintage Diner sign is an aged though unscuffed football.

 

Be sure to look for next week’s Character Interview when Elizabeth D. Spencer will introduce you to her hero, widow farmer, Jake Callen, from her Historical Romance, WHEN CUPID CAME TO TOWN. You can find that HERE on her blog.

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!

 


 

 

Don’t Just Sit There

I had a scary few hours before the “storm for the history books” was supposed to hit New York. I thought I should share it because, if you’re like me and sit a lot for work, you know this but tend to ignore it.

As a writer, sitting for long periods of time is part of the process. I probably sit more than many writers, though, because I have three jobs and each keeps me in front of the computer for hours (and hours) at a time.

I fidget, I get up for coffee, I let the cat/s lounge across my lap and shift them around when my legs go numb… but I don’t MOVE.

Last Wednesday, I wound up with pain in my leg and thought I’d somehow pulled a muscle (hamstring). I did all the things you should do for sore muscles without thinking further about it. Until Saturday night when I saw how red the back of my thigh was, and by Sunday morning when it was still red but also solid, aching, swollen and hot to the touch.

As I said, I have cats – one of them is 18 years old. I rarely notice pokes and scratches from them anymore. I figured, one of them must have scratched my leg at some point, and I now had a reaction to it, like cat scratch fever.

By Sunday night into Monday, the pain was unbearable and all sorts of thoughts for what it could be tortured my mind.

Depositphotos_22663233_l copyMonday morning, I made an urgent appointment with my doctor, who questioned me thoroughly about my daily habits. After hearing how I work at the computer all day, she wrote a script for a doppler ultrasound of my leg to check for a blood clot. Two very long hours later, I found out I wasn’t going to die from a clot that could have been in my leg and suddenly broke off to lodge in my lung.

I have cellulitis (so I might have been right about the cat-scratch), and the antibiotics I’m on should clear it up soon enough. They’re already helping.

BUT… once my doctor heard about my routine – of sitting for hours at a time, day after day, she knew my risk of clots was pretty high up there.

So is yours if you sit a lot, too.

Her advice to reduce the risk is to sit for shorter periods at a time and really move around. If you want to write for an hour straight without getting up, she said, then do it, but don’t sit in one position. Sit up straight if you tend to lean forward toward your keyboard, put your feet up on a rest under your desk. Lower them. Put your computer on the kitchen counter, and stand while you type. Don’t do your entire day’s workout in the morning and think you’re done. Break up your sitting/writing time with additional five minute workouts throughout the day – even if the time is spent simply going up and down the stairs.

Move.

And… don’t sit on the sofa or other soft cushion with your laptop on your lap. We tend to sit ‘folded’ that way, she said, and that causes other problems (I know, I have those too).

Naturally, this was advice given to me by my own doctor. You should look further into this yourself to see what’s best for you.Be safe, be smart, be active

The pain I felt Sunday night and the fear I felt about possibly having to deal with a dangerous blood clot – with a blizzard on the way, no less – reminded me how quickly hours can go by when we’re writing, and how easily we can get caught up in the work while forgetting about taking care of ourselves.

Be safe, be smart, be active.

Have you ever noticed how much time you spend sitting in one position? For fun, or not, time yourself. A change of habit is probably in order for you, too.

I was using my treadmill during the day and “between jobs”, but then I stopped, having gotten caught up in the work. I’m bringing it back in and looking at other ways to make sure I don’t put myself at such high risk again.

What are your habits like? Do you have a way to break up hours of sitting?

Holiday Traditions

Harry Potter - The Night Bus

For this Christmas holiday,  I vacationed in Florida with my family. We visited the ever-amazing Wizarding World of Harry Potter, and spent nearly every waking moment traveling between Hogsmead and Diagon Alley via the Hogwart’s express.  It was an awesome experience filled with magical moments of discovery.Diagon Alley - Gringot's Dragon

 

But in addition to time in the world of Harry Potter at Universal Studios, we visited Disney’s World Showcase at Epcot Center. Talk about magical moments.

We strolled from Canada to the UK to France, Morocco… all around the world, taking in the sights, the sounds, the scents and flavors.

Disney's World Showcase at Epcot Center - Christmas in Germany While in each country, we learned about their holiday traditions. I was, at first, impressed by how familiar so many of those traditions were, and how many of them overlap and compliment one another. We’re all separated by borders but share so many ideas, ideals and passions.Disney World Showcase at Epcot Center - Christmas in France

Despite the similarities and the exciting differences, one country’s traditions stood out the most for me. It was unique (to me) and made me smile as I considered implementing them myself. It was in Japan.

One of their traditions involved the Daruma Doll. It is a small hollow “head” with blank white circles for eyes. The idea is to consider and plan your goals for the coming year and then to color in one of the doll’s eyes. The doll will sit on a shelf, untouched, until you have reached your goal or goals. At that time, you may color in the other eye.

Disney's World Showcase at Epcot Center - Daruma Dolls - Japan

I love that idea so much I bought tiny Daruma dolls for my family so we might each strive to reach our personal goals with this doll as a reminder to do so.

Another Japanese tradition associated with the coming of each new year, involved refreshing the home so you have a new start with the new year.

I doubt this means anything as extreme as remodeling, but rather a change of window treatments, new slipcovers, or, perhaps, a fresh coat of paint. I can see myself doing that. I can also see myself altering my furniture layout so my rooms feel new even though they are not.

Disney - Epcot Center - Spaceship EarthI don’t know about you, but I often find myself falling into a rut. When I came home from our holiday getaway, I noticed a drop in my energy and enthusiasm. While away, we were up at the crack of dawn and out well after midnight. Those couple of sleep hours were enough to propel us into each next day of adventure. While at home, if I tried to stay up that late and rise that early, I’d be dragging myself through the day and would be grouchy to boot.

Not that I intend to deprive myself of sleep every day, but the idea of a fresh start to the new year, with new draperies or shades, with new colors on the walls or even a simple rearrangement of furniture intrigues me. I can imagine wanting to spend time in this ‘new’ space and feeling good about the environment, because, I would assume, if I’ll be shifting stuff around then some of that ‘stuff’ will be left at the curb.

When it comes to living space, there is little I can do that’s more satisfying than purging. I think of how often I open my closet door, just to peak inside, after I’ve reorganized it. Admit it, you’ve done that, too. 😉

So, this year, for 2015, I will start a new tradition in my little home and freshen my space. Papers will get tossed, clothes we do not wear (or can no longer fit into) will be donated, the fridge will be cleaned, the cupboards stocked with healthy choices, the throw rugs and pillows replaced and the furniture shifted about. I will rediscover my home and be happy here. Maybe you’ll try this to? You just might find a way to bring adventure into your own home. Or do you already do something like this? What are some of your holiday traditions?The Wizarding World of Harry Potter - Hogwarts

Akemashite Omedetō Gozaimasu – Happy New Year.

May 2015 bring smiles to your face, health to you and your loved ones, peace to your home, and fulfillment to your heart.

 

 

No-no to NaNo

NaNoWriMo - CopyI’ll be honest from the start – I am a slow writer. For that reason, I’ve resisted participating in NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month) as it rolls around each year. The goal of NaNo is a great one – spend time prepping yourself for a writing marathon then enter the marathon and come out of it with more words on the page than you would have had otherwise. More specifically, the goal is to complete a 50,000-word novel in one month by writing 1667 words per day, every day for 30 days.

It sounds incredibly daunting and it is. However, there is logic within this madness.

I think of it like Christmas, which to me is the greatest time of year. I start planning early – like in the summer. By September I’ve prepared my gift-giving list and might have even started shopping. By October, I’ve planned the menu for Christmas day. By Thanksgiving, the day after actually, my house is decorated inside and out and during that following week, my family holiday picture is taken – kitties included. By the time Christmas day comes around, all that’s on my list is cooking and celebrating. The day itself is a marathon but I love it because all of the nitty-gritty has been tended to prior to the day.

So it is with NaNo. Plot your story early. Do your character charts or interviews, if you normally do those. Create your storyboard or dictate your notes into a digital recorder… whatever you do to prepare yourself before writing a new story is what you should do in the months or weeks before NaNo.

Then, shop. Stock the fridge and even consider prepping meals you can freeze so that during NaNo, you won’t have to worry about meal planning. Clean the house if a tidy house helps you focus on the story. Warn your friends and family that November will be a very busy month for you and you won’t be taking calls or receiving visitors during that month’s writing hours.

book by candle lightDitch the excuses and the inner editor at the door and give your muse permission to play. When November 1st arrives, you start. No looking back. No revisions, no self doubt, no research. Just forward motion. If you need to look into something further before you add it to your story, add a note saying you need to look into that further but don’t stop to do it now. Do it in December.

Write. Every day. You’d be surprised how, even if you were unsure where your story would go because of some unexpected blip, by staying in the story day after day, by immersing yourself in your characters’ lives, in their setting, in the action and emotion, each day’s writing will get easier. You’ll just know where to go with each new writing session because for this month you, too, will inhabit the world you’ve created.

It sounds wonderful. I so wish I could work this way. I wish I could complete even surrender1,000 words per day. However, knowing I have to, knowing that is what’s expected of me, stifles my muse. Performance anxiety, I suppose.

Even though the draft written during NaNo is for no one to see but me, I can’t bring myself to just write – or to leave “to be researched” notes in the text. I have to know NOW. I write linearly. (except for when I jump from Chapter 3 to write the final scene, then jump back to Chapter 4). What I write in one paragraph directly affects the next in a way that will not allow me to skip over details in favor of words on the page.

Since November 1st, I’ve written 4,000 words. My personal goal was 1300 words per day. By now I should be up to 18,200 words. I’m writing a novella so that would put me at the midway point. How wonderful that would be – which is why it was my goal.

The reality is very different for me. My process is different. I simply cannot write this way and trying to rework my process to fit the mold has only frustrated me. I value NaNo’s intention. I admire those who attempt it and stick with it – whether they meet the daily goal or not. But for me, it’s not an enjoyable or productive process and so I’ll be sticking to my agonize-over-every-word method of writing, wave at the NaNo marathoners as they zip past me and continue in my own way, at my own pace, and for my own pleasure. I know I’ll be among the last to cross the finish line but I don’t mind because I will cross it.

writingEmbrace your process. Whatever that may be. You should never be afraid to try something new, but neither should you be afraid to say that something new is not for you.

What has your experience been with NaNo? Thrilling? Daunting? Did your experience with it alter your ‘normal’ writing habits or did you revert back to your own process without looking back?

 

How 15 Minutes Changed My Life

vacuum

Like most people, when it comes to housework, I do it when I have to. I vacuum when clouds of cat hair rise from the carpet as I walk on it, I dust and I put stuff away. I’m not, obviously, what you’d call a happy homemaker. I never was and probably never will be. But, of course, I like a clean and tidy house. Ah, the dilemma.

I read an article recently which suggested taking 15 minutes in the morning and 15 minutes before bedtime to tidy the house – you know, pile the strewn papers, empty the bathroom trash, put away the ‘stuff’ that appears from nowhere on the kitchen counter. All of that. Morning and night.Cleaning supplies

Well, if you do that, only fifteen minutes, the first day you’ll see a whole lot of things you could put away, and feel overwhelmed, knowing it would take much longer than 15 minutes to do it. But stick to those fifteen minutes. Do it daily and soon – since you’re tidying before bedtime, too – by  morning, there’s not much to tidy. What then? Pick up a dust cloth. Spend the fifteen minutes doing that. No? Then organize a bookshelf. In the evening? Vacuum or pay the bills. I know, I know. I said those 15 minutes changed my life, how is that? By making me a happy homemaker after all?

Um. No.

By organizing and energizing me.

My routine used to be to get up at dawn, feed the cats and get to work (from home, writing). Before the rest of the house stirred, I’d take a break from working, get on the treadmill, shower make breakfast for all then head back to work… taking a serious break again only for lunch and dinner.

Each morning, my sleepy eyes would scan the mess that was my home. I knew I’d have to spend an entire day each week cleaning it and sorting the mail that had piled so high it was falling over. But I had work to do so I kept putting off that day of cleaning. Tomorrow. Tomorrow.

By forcing those 15 minutes into my morning and evening routines, the mess was gone. Once everything was in its place after a couple of 15-minute tidy sessions, it was easier to clean – and the clean was more noticeable – and lasting. I could go to work and not worry if someone came to the door unexpectedly. 😳 My bills were paid on time and papers were filed where they were supposed to be. Knowing the chore would be limited to 15 minutes made it manageable. It also awakened the worker-bee in me. I might lag when it comes to home chores, but when I work, I work hard. I looked at it as a job and a challenge. How much can I accomplish in this 15 minute block?

Something about it was energizing. It also didn’t hurt that I could scan the house and see how pretty it actually was.

The added bonus? The life-changing effect? My mind feels clearer. As if that has been tidied, too. Decluttering my space decluttered my mind, seeming to clear a path for the muse to come out and play. I picture her now, as she had been, like a hoarder trapped in her own space, tripping and climbing over clutter so she could come to rest on my shoulder all day. The more clutter there was, the longer she struggled to get through. The harder it was for me to work.

Fifteen minutes in the morning. It takes ten for the coffee to brew. Five for it to get nice and hot on the warming plate. There’s my fifteen minutes. In the evening, on the way to the bedroom, make a quick stop here and there to pick up things in the way. The incentive? Waking early and seeing everything – mostly – in its place. Of course, no matter how diligent you are, there will always – always – be that one dirty dish in the sink that no one ever recalls placing there even though the dishwasher is two inches away.

Fifteen minutes. It made the air cleaner in my house – I have cats, you know.

My Pride

Fifteen minutes. It decluttered my space and, by extension, freed my muse. Fifteen minutes. It makes unexpected company less unwelcome (ha), clears the dust from the muse’s eyes, and has, honestly, changed my life.

Rent-a-Cart

photo-5It’s amazing what we get used to and assume is normal not just for us but for everyone.

I live in a rather populated section of the city, so there are several supermarkets/grocers in my neighborhood. Of the closest, three are on the smaller size and one is quite large. I usually go to the larger one. During my last visit there, as I was returning my shopping cart to the stall, an elderly couple was standing there grumbling about something and looking rather confused. photo-2

I greeted them and they watched me with interest as I slid the front of my cart into the back of one already in the stall. And then they watched me with more interest as I popped the ‘key’ from the cart in front of mine into the slot in my cart’s handle in order to retrieve the quarter I had to pay as a refundable rental fee for the cart.

Their expressions went from confused to completely aghast. It seems they had just returned from spending several years in Florida and had never seen the contraption our grocer had set up for the shopping carts and had never considered the notion of paying for one.

photo-4It’s normal here now but it wasn’t normal here about a decade ago.

I remember when I first saw the carts all chained together. I thought, for sure, we were not permitted to use them, but I couldn’t fathom why. Annoyance soon replaced confusion however when I realized I – and all shoppers – had to have quarters at the ready so we could borrow a shopping cart.

Of course, this process of paying forced people to return those carts to the stalls rather than leave them scattered around the parking lot since the only way to get your quarter back was to chain your cart to another. It also prevented people from taking the carts home with them. And you might be surprised by how many people did just that. Some didn’t have cars so they walked their groceries home in the same cart in which they purchased them. Others used them as aides to deliver newspapers or collect nickel return recyclables from other people’s trash. And still others did it just to be wise guys and then they’d leave carts around the neighborhood in all sorts of places – like abused mutilated bodies or failed art exhibits. I guess the description depends on your point of view… photo-1

About the couple from Florida… I showed them how they, too, could gain the prize of a shopping cart, explaining how to use the key to plunge the quarter in fully in order to disengage the cart holding it in line. I laughed when the women muttered something I know I muttered when I first saw these things years ago, “What a stupid idea. Who thought of this?”

I just hope they remembered how to get their quarter back once they finished with the cart.

What about you? Do your grocers make you pay for a shopping cart? Are there other inconveniences or oddities in your area that you once thought were universal then learned were unique?

Beta Readers, Feedback, Pitch Sessions and Pride

My local writing chapter, Long Island Romance Writers, is hosting its 16th Annual Agent/Editor Luncheon this Friday, June 7th. Soon after, in July, RWA is holding its Annual Conference. Both will be a time for mingling, networking, connecting and reconnecting, and, most of all, pitching our work to interested editors and literary agents.

Often, simmering below the fear of the actual pitch is the fear of rejection. Rejections, however, are sewn into this business and no one has, as of yet, determined a workaround. The best thing to do is prepare. By that, I don’t mean we need to expect a rejection, but that we need to put rejections into perspective.

When I say rejections are sewn into this business, I not only refer to agents and editor rejections but also rejections from readers. Face it, not everyone will like our work. This is such a subjective business and we know negativity is out there – or if we don’t know, we find out soon enough.

Unfortunately, I think we tend to cling to the negative even if its dose is a tiny fraction of the positive.

I’m working on an erotic novella trilogy. Book 1 is finished, Book 2 is plotted and waiting for attention, and Book 3 is, at this point, merely a back-cover blurb. I’ve received great feedback from my beta readers. All honest, helpful and encouraging. Out of the seven people who read it, only one did not like it.

Notice, I didn’t say, six loved it.

Though six did love it, one did not. That one is the one that matters most to me. That one unhappy reader, the one negative review, tends to be the one that carries the most weight with us as artists. We pour so much of ourselves into our creations that one dissenting voice comes through as if on a bullhorn.

Alone, that’s not a bad thing. It’s what we do after we’ve digested the reason for the negativity constructive criticism (it’s all about perspective) that matters.

Do we agree? Do we see a way to make adjustments to mitigate some of the concerns raised without compromising our vision for our story? Can we take the concerns to the positive beta readers for additional feedback or perspective? Some of the most negative feedback, when applied properly, can take a rough patch of story and make it shine.

This type of refocusing attention also applies to pitching our stories to agents and editors. Some will latch onto the idea with enthusiasm while others might cringe, pleasantly say it’s simply not for them, or dismiss you – not just your story – outright. And yes, the latter has happened to people I know and love.

So what? Not everyone will love us. Not everyone will love our work. That’s fine. All is good. Criticism is criticism no matter how gently or cruelly delivered. Our job is to determine its value and our next move.

As I said, this business is subjective. It’s truly as simple as that. If we’ve studied craft, applied ourselves to the project, poured our heart, our tears and our sighs into our stories, and others have rewarded us with honest, unreserved feedback and we’ve applied common sense revisions, then we have done our job.

Someone will always be there to point out a flaw. Others will want what we have to offer because they will ‘get it’. They will get us. They will see the potential in our project and make us feel good about it.

So don’t let ‘no’ stop you. Absorb it. Understand the reason for it. Decide whether to give it weight, and if so, how much. Determine the best direction for it – additional consideration or dismissal – and move forward undeterred.

If you’re anything like me, your muse will have it no other way.   

Vanderbilt Motor Parkway – Revisited

Now, the NYC Greenway

There are bits of history everywhere. Too bad we’re often too busy to notice it, or too uninformed to be aware of it – even if it’s right under our feet.

There’s a bike path in Queens near Cunningham Park – the NYC Greenway. It’s a hidden gem not just for biking but for walking, if you’re so inclined. It’s approximately 3 miles and walking/biking from one end to the other will certainly give you a workout. I know because we walked this path yesterday morning – from one end to the other and back. So peaceful there in the woods… actually, there are no woods. Just clumps of trees on either side of the path, with homes beyond them. Continue along and beyond the trees there is the highway – Northern Parkway to be precise. So here you are strolling in what feels like a surround of nature when in reality you’re smack in the heart of the city. Ah, but the woodsy scent, bird songs and rustle of leaves as chipmunks and squirrels dart here and there make you forget about what’s going on beyond the trail.

Motor Parkway today To Alley Pond Park

The trail was not always so quiet. In fact, it was not always a trail but a high-speed motorway designed, financed and built in 1908 by and for one of the Vanderbilts. William K., to be exact.

William K. Vanderbilt was a car racing enthusiast who built this highway with the intention of using it to hold the Vanderbilt Cup. The road was graded just so for racing, the curves meant to challenge. This private motorway was the first in the nation to use bridges and overpasses to avoid intersections.

Two years of racing on this road, however, proved disappointing. Some spectators were injured and others killed during a race in 1910, and New York decided to disallow racing on anything but raceways – and that included private roads. No longer able to hold the Vanderbilt Cup, and with a need for help to pay back taxes, William K opened the road to the public – amazing that a Vanderbilt would need help paying for anything, yes? Twelve toll ‘lodges’ were built to collect a total of $2.00 in tolls. I guess you could say the road was opened to the privileged, not necessarily the public at large. These socialites traveled the road at high speed – 60mph! – in order to reach the gold-coast party circuit, then travel it back after the parties wound down. Clear sailing from Queens to Suffolk County, New York. Forty-five miles of scenic road.

Toll collectors lived in the toll lodges. Reminds me of the guards on the Great Wall of China who lived right there on the wall – their lives spent patrolling and nothing more.

This is the Meadow Brook toll/lodge

With the birth of Prohibition in the 1920’s, the road had new purpose. Rum-running. As a private road, there were no obstacles to this process, and rum-runners certainly had the funds for tolls. Ah, but William K. didn’t approve and so brought in state police to… well… police the road and run the rum-runners out.

Eventually, the road became obsolete. The need for high speed ways to get from here to there was met by the city and state. Northern Parkway was built – a FREE highway with bends and curves more conducive to leisurely driving than racing. Motor Parkway was eventually given to New York in exchange for back taxes still owed. Fourteen miles of the original road have been modified for today’s use, but sadly, other areas of it have become obscured by time, weeds, neglect and ignorance.

The three mile stretch that still exists in Queens contains some of the original cement guardrails – 100 years old.

Old and new combined

(Old and new together – Early 1900’s cement guard rails in foreground, with early 2000’s metal guard in back.)

They show age, they show neglect. They don’t come close to showing us the grandeur they once proudly guarded. And yet, they remind us to ask questions and seek answers of a past long forgotten, and truthfully, can we ask more than that?

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