A Writer’s Life: Euphoria and Frustration

Happy Last Day of November. Whew! In a little over a month, we’ll be looking at the start of a brand-new year.

Fresh starts are always great. We set out to achieve new goals and break old habits. When it comes to writing, a fresh start—i.e, a new manuscript—falls somewhere between euphoria and frustration for me.

I love beginning a new book.
There are character names to decide, backgrounds to construct, settings to create, and plot bunnies to round up.

I hate beginning a new book.
There are character names to decide, backgrounds to construct, settings to create, and plot bunnies to round up.

Getting the picture? Euphoria and frustration.

I’m currently constructing book two of my Hode’s Hill series. The original plan for this novel was to tie in the life of a carnival sideshow performer of the late 1800s (think freakshow). What can I say—I like odd. I even spent a good deal of time on research.

It was only after I finished book one of the series, Cusp of Night, that I saw too much similarity in theme. Since I didn’t want End of Day to appear repetitious, I scratched the idea and came up with a new one that utilizes old legends of Church Grims and Folk Memories.

Great, right? I was jazzed about the change until I wrote the opening. I read it through once and thought it was crap. Not the power passage I was looking for to start a new book. It left me feeling like this…

woman with glasses has head down, hands clasped in hair, looking exhausted. Open laptop and blank notebook on desk in front of her

Sulking, I avoided the file for three days before I opened it again. Guess what? Everyone says wait and read with fresh eyes. My beginning needed a few tweaks to spruce it up, but they were minor when I put everything in perspective. Frustration gave way to euphoria.

Close up of woman screaming in excitment

It’s made me realize that as much as I love dreaming up a new project, sitting down and writing the first few scenes is the hardest part of the novel. At least, for me. I second guess everything—and I do mean everything. From the strength of the opening scene to the way my characters behave—to the segues between scenes and chapters, I drive myself batty. I don’t think I truly get comfortable until I’m at least halfway through the manuscript.

As an example, I wrote half of Cusp of Night feeling disconnected from my main character, Hannah Norfolk. It took me that long to realize she needed a stronger background, and the name “Hannah” didn’t fit her. Once she became Maya Sinclair and I beefed up her history, she started to write herself. Of course, those changes—especially her personal background—meant altering earlier chapters and a major plot thread. It’s a good thing I have an understanding and adaptable critique partner (thank you, Staci!).

For now, I’m in euphoria-mode again. I like my beginning, I have direction, and things are going well. I know it’s only a matter of time until frustration rears its ugly head, but I’ll ride this wave for as long as I can.

How about you? What aspects of working on a new project do you find the most maddening? What inspires moments of sheer bliss? Am I the only one who waffles between euphoria and frustration, or is it simply the norm for a writer’s life?

Guest blogger Julie Holmes: Writing by the Seasons

It’s finally starting to feel like fall in central Pennsylvania after an unseasonably warm October. That change in temps is the perfect intro for my next guest who takes an in-depth look at using the seasons to influence the plot of your story.

Julie Holmes blogs at Facets of a Muse and is an uber supportive friend and blogger. She’s got a fun and quirky sense of humor that shows in posts about her muse (who is always drafting mine for pub crawls), the writing life, gardening and cats. You can’t go wrong with cats. Just saying.

Hop over to Julie’s, check out her blog, then show her some comment luv below. She’s placed her own wonderful spin on writing for the seasons. Take it away, Julie…

~ooOOoo~

Hello! *waves* A hearty “Thank You” to Mae for once again inviting me to guest on her blog. This is a nice place, Mae. Can’t wait to hear more about your new series (hint 🙂 ).

Since Mae left me up to my own devices when it came to a subject for a guest post (insert evil laugh here 😀 ), I shuffled through my mental idea bag as an October rainstorm poured outside. Not to mention Mae’s recent post about writing by the seasons on Story Empire. Well, it seems Mother Nature is trying to get my attention.

Living in Minnesota allows me the privilege of experiencing all four seasons. Each season seems to have its own attitudes and personality. Spring is hopeful and happy—most of the time. When Spring is moody and rainy, she often makes up for it with rainbows.

beautiful rainbow over open field

Summer is brilliant and fun-loving, but sometimes likes to be the center of attention a little too much with blasting heat or angry storms.

golf course backed by lake

Autumn is quiet, the friend you call when you want a companion on a walk. Sometimes she can be a blowhard, which just ruins her dye job.

autumn bank and tree in fiery colors over dark lake

And winter, well, they don’t call it the Old Man for nothing. Winter’s attitude swings from peaceful stillness to howling bluster.

cluster of trees covered with snow

Okay, I know not everyone has all four seasons, and if they do, they may not be as distinct as they are in the upper Midwest. When you experience one or more of the seasons, using the seasons as part of your setting is almost second nature. The fun comes in when you use the season as more than just the backdrop for your story.

Say you’re writing a romance. Summer just begs to be the backdrop. Think walks along the beach or summer dresses or lounging in the sun. Eating dinner on a patio. Barbeques. Pretty typical fare, right? Well, unless it’s one of those holiday romance stories about Christmas parties and sleigh rides and cuddling by the fireplace. Still, pretty typical.

Okay, now give the season a bigger part in the story. Maybe switch it up a bit. Spring rains, thunderstorms, and wind. The heroine gets stuck in the mud, and the hunky neighbor guy stops to tow her out. If it hadn’t been spring and rainy, it wouldn’t have been muddy, and the hunky neighbor would have to have another excuse to cross paths with the heroine.

Let’s try autumn. Falling leaves, apple cider, pumpkin patches, harvest, Halloween. Our heroine is helping her grandfather get the harvest in. Her grandfather has a heart attack, and can’t finish getting the harvest in. She can’t do it alone. Along comes the hunky grandson of her grandfather’s “arch enemy”, who offers to help bring in the harvest.

Hmm. What about winter? Winter’s easy. PIck anything: furnace goes out, roads blocked by a snowstorm, the holidays. It’s a gimmee, that FREE space on the bingo card.

For example, in my upcoming book, I use winter as my season character. One of the key scenes between the main female character and main male character takes place only because of a blizzard. The blizzard forces them together, because the female protagonist can’t easily get to a safe refuge, and the male protagonist won’t let her stay alone. (You’ll have to read the book for the rest—mwahahahaha!)

In the second book, spring is my chosen season, because the snow melt of spring causes rivers to run high and fast, perfect for disposing of a body. And they’re cold, which hampers the M.E. determining time of death. On a less morbid note, the awakening of spring flowers and fresh leaves on the trees has a romantic effect on the story. Sudden spring storms can also toss wrenches into plans.

Summer offers possibilities beyond outdoor concerts and swimsuits. How about a gardener who has a family emergency and asks the neighbor to water the garden. Guess what? The neighbor either forgets and the garden dries up, or the neighbor remembers, but it rains for three days straight, and the garden drowns. What does the gardener do upon returning home? If they got along before the emergency, do they still get along? What if the gardener was growing his prize-winning dahlias? Or a special tomato hybrid he was betting on to help him win first place at the state fair?

Use the season as more than just window dressing. Use it to enhance conflict. The key is to use the season to affect the choices the protagonist or antagonist must make in the story. Those choices can take the story in one direction or another. Use it to make solving the crime more difficult, to force two opposing characters together, to make characters take alternate routes that take them to no-man’s land or paradise.

Try to utilize the season in a way that is unexpected. A sudden summer deluge can cause a mudslide that can keep the bad guys from getting to the hero, or strand the heroine with no way of contacting help. A fall bonfire can get out of control, a hay ride can be the vehicle of romance, or a leaf pile can cover a body. And there’s Halloween. Let your imagination run.

Another hearty thank you to Mae for hosting me. I’m off to check out the changing leaves and figure out how I can cast my favorite season in a story.

 

Surviving a Deadline

I am so happy to be back in the blogging world!

Most of my regular followers know I’ve been burning the midnight oil on my latest manuscript to meet a publisher’s deadline. I’m happy—make that ecstatic—to say I finished on time and my editor graciously gave me another week for clean-up. I also have to send a huge shout-out to my excellent critique partner, Staci Troilo, who went above and beyond in turning sections around quickly—and expertly—so I could meet my deadline. Staci, my friend, you rock!!

I’ve been up against deadlines before, but this one was the toughest by far. Part of my problem was I languished on the beginning, and by the end of July only had 19K of the 80K I needed. I ended up writing 61K in 6 weeks—while working full-time! It’s amazing what you can produce under pressure, but it’s not something I EVER want to duplicate again. I can do without the anxiety attacks at 3:00 A.M.

Fortunately, my deadline for book 2 has more of a buffer. This one was tight because my publisher didn’t want to go over a year between releases from A Desolate Hour. I fully respect that decision. It’s all about keeping your name forefront in the mind of readers—not easy to do even when you have multiple releases close together.

I’ve already got my revamped blurb from Kensington. Earlier, I submitted my suggestion. Their gurus work from that and send an updated version. I liked theirs better, but did ask for a few minor tweaks. No cover yet, but I can’t wait to see what they come up with.

The book delves into the old Spiritualist practices of the late 1890s—think mediums and séances—but also has a full storyline set in the present. I’ve got two mysteries going on in this book, along with a haunted house, and an urban legend about a Spring Heeled Jack-like creature. The research was riveting!

This is a Ouija board with lit candle on the antique setting.

One thing my publisher wants to change is the title—The Blue Lady of Hode’s Hill. We’ve already decided this will be book one of the Hode’s Hill Mystery Series, but Kensington’s marketing team isn’t in love with my title. I can understand why. When it comes to marketing, it’s a mouthful. So we’re currently debating other titles. I’ll definitely be spreading the word when we’ve settled on one.

I’m expecting first round edits from my editor tomorrow and hope to have changes back to her by Monday. I’m heading out of town the end of October and she’s already agreed to work with my schedule. I’m sure we’ll finish things up before I leave. In the meantime, I’m steadily getting back to visiting everyone again and will be sharing blog posts of my own. Thanks for sticking with me while I worked through my deadline hurdle.

It’s great to be back among friends! 🙂

Apologies…

white keyboard with a red panic button and red delete button

Hey, everyone, this is just a quick update to let you know I haven’t disappeared. I know I’ve missed commenting on a lot of blog posts lately, and I’m hoping you’ll excuse my absence. I’m working under an extremely tight publisher’s deadline.

I promise to resurface and get back to my regular blog visits after September 15 (deadline date). This is just a head’s up that you probably won’t see me online much until then.

I miss you guys and promise I will be back. I’ve never had to disappear like this before, but I’ve got to concentrate and wrap this manuscript. Hope you understand!

Writing Dark Poetry #amwriting

Some people write beautiful uplifting poetry. I am not a poet, but when I dabbled in verse (back in my twenties) my poetry was heavily influenced by the music I was listening to at the time. That included King Crimson, an orchestral rock band that meshed the antiquated with modern arrangements.

I’ve shared a few of my poems before. Today, I’ve got an interesting story about one of them. During one of my early jobs I had a co-worker whose teen daughter enjoyed writing poetry. “Leslie” knew I liked to write, and shared some of her daughter’s poems with me. Somewhere during the course of encouraging her daughter to write, I foolishly mentioned that I had dabbled in poetry. Of course, that resulted in pleas to read my poems.

I’ve never been shy about sharing my prose, but poetry is different. Those creations are raw, a slice of soul we don’t normally expose. After repeated requests from Leslie, I finally gave her several of my poems to share with her daughter. Days passed with no feedback. Finally, I pushed the envelope and asked what her daughter thought of my poems.

Leslie was uncomfortable, even embarrassed She finally admitted that after reading my work, her daughter had asked “Mom, is she evil?”

Evil?

I’ve never shared another poem until putting them on my blog.

Okay, I get that if you don’t know me, you might find my penchant for the dark and unusual, well…dark. Because I love fictional accounts about ghosts and all things odds, people are generally surprised to learn I won’t set foot in a haunted house, or take part in a seance. I won’t even have my fortune read!

And movies about demons and exorcisms? Forget it. In real life, I’m pretty much a wuss. But that hasn’t stopped me from conjuring fiction and poetry tinged with a darker side.

Here’s a poem inspired by my King Crimson period, and one which left me tagged with….well, that “E” word I shudder to repeat:

Simple wooden cross on nature grave in the forestA Funeral for the Fallen

In forests dark, the Harvest Witch smiles,
a black-draped carriage passes her by,
a silent trek through crossroads and hollows,
championed by Death’s primordial scythe,

Horses of ebony stamp their hooves in the stillness,
the strike of shod iron upon moss,
icy breath plumes in the air,
and shrivels upon the casket’s gold cross.

The Harvest Witch grins and turns to her hex,
drawn with the sprig of a sapling oak,
etched on the soft, pungent floor of the forest,
where enchantments are whispered, and spells are invoked.

Mushrooms and toadstools, she gathers for portents,
a funeral of the fallen is a soul to collect,
bound to the forest by a fragile, pale vision,
are the shards of a life fate failed to protect.

Comes now a pale horseman topping the rise,
the black-draped procession pretends not to see,
the Harvest Witch plucks at the bones of the earth,
and summons the Herald to the funeral’s debris.

The forest is silent, brooding with souls,
a funeral for the fallen matters not in the end;
how fleetingly mortal and fragile are lives,
which in conscience forever, our sprits transcend.

Tada! So what do think? Was I thoroughly warped or did I just enjoy experimenting with imagery and archaic ideas? Anyone out there remember King Crimson as fondly as I do? As a writer, do you ever find your niche misjudged by others? Chat away in the comments below. I’d love to hear your thoughts!

Where do you find inspiration? #amwriting

A recent family excursion dovetailed nicely with my latest WIP. The Blue Lady of Hode’s Hill is set in an urban river town, much like the area in which I grew up. A few weeks ago, my nephew turned 40 and his husband booked a riverboat for a private party. Everyone had a blast. Here’s a group of us, all family. I’m second from the right, hubby is second from the left (my nephew is not in this photo).

family group celebrating at party

In addition to enjoying a 2-hour riverboat cruise, complete with yummy hors d’oeuvres and fireworks (there was an event at one of the islands that coincided with the party), I had the opportunity to snap a number of photos. I’m saving these for inspiration to use in my fictional town of Hode’s Hill, which has a walking bridge much like this one.

walking bridge over river at night

I was also able to capture a few shots of the skyline. Even though I’m a country girl at heart, there’s something mesmerizing about city lights at night.

city skyline at night with reflections on river

In The Blue Lady of Hode’s Hill, I introduce the town as “Caught somewhere between quaint and struggling for expansion, Hode’s Hill was a blend of old homes, converted factories, cozy eateries, and civic buildings.”

Into this setting, I’ve set the urban legend of The Fiend—a creature with a devil-like face and cat-like agility responsible for several murders at the turn of the twentieth century. The book is set in present day, but each chapter begins with a scene from the past. The reader follows two mysteries—one involving Maya Sinclair in the present and another focused on a spiritualist, Lucinda Glass, in the past.

Eventually, the two plotlines intersect for the novel’s conclusion. It’s been fun—and challenging—weaving dual storylines. Even better, the story has been a virtual playground of oddities including ghosts, spiritualism, creatures, and a town caught up in fear. Plenty of my scenes have been set along the banks of my fictitious river, the Chinkwe, which is why I enjoyed my recent cruise. Did I mention the boat was an old-fashioned two-story paddle boat?

In closing, I thought I’d share my latest look (yes, I need to update my author photo). New glasses and I had three inches cut off my hair. Is this a sign I’m getting old (those darn glasses are bifocals).

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Do you find inspiration in every day events? Are you as reliant on glasses as I am?  Have you ever read a book with dual timelines and do you enjoy them? For the gals out there, do you freak when you change your hairstyle (guys, you can weigh in too 🙂 ) Chat away in the comments below!

Where Have All the Bloggers Gone?

Recently, it dawned on me that many of the bloggers I followed five years ago have faded into the woodwork. I was a newbie back then, and there was a core group of writers I developed a rapport with, many starting out themselves. Most of us bonded through Six Sentence Sunday, a weekly blog share. Over the years many have stopped posting, a few embraced Facebook as their platform of choice, and—sadly—one passed away.

Every now and then I might hear from an old friend and that contact instills a sense of whimsy for the early days. When publishing was new and scary, and terms like blog tour, media kit, and and mobi were Greek. If I’ve lost contact, some of that is my own fault.

After two books that were romantic in nature, I made a switch to mysteries and romantic suspense. As an author I’m happy where I’m at, straddling a line that crosses genres and has moved the emphasis away from the bedroom. But it makes me wonder—where have all the bloggers gone?

a stack of old letters tied together with string beside a fountain pen

Even within the last few years, new friends have come and gone, surfacing on the grid while working on their novel, only to disappear after the release. My Twitter stream is filled with authors who launched a profile only to have crickets replace their feed months later. What is it about this industry—yes, it is an industry to those who stick with it—that devours staying power?

Is it the fact that we have to juggle multiple tasks—writing, editing, book promotion, social media exposure, reading, betas, ARCs—in addition to our family life and day careers? Being an author is not for the faint of heart, and I will be the first to admit there have been  times when the pressure made me want to toss in the towel. The only thing that kept me going was the thought that I would have to start over, rebuilding all that I had worked to obtain. For even as I thought about quitting there was no doubt that I would be back. Writing is not something I can walk away from. It’s been a constant in my life from the time I was a child, and I have no doubt it will remain so until I leave this Earth for good.

That said, my blog has languished recently due to the constraints of daily life. I’m going to try to rectify that and hope to return to a more regular posting routine. For those of you who don’t already know, I vanish offline each week from Friday evening to Sunday evening, the intervening hours set aside for family and my regular writing routine. I try to catch up with the blog posts I have missed by Monday, but due to the sheer volume of blogs I follow, it’s not always possible. If I miss you on the weekend, I will catch you during the week. I don’t want to be one of those bloggers who vanishes into the woodwork. I have made many good friends over the last few years. New friends I don’t want to lose.

Where have all the bloggers gone? Right where we’ve always been—supporting and helping each other. For the record, you guys rock.

Old Writings and Decades Past

Monday of a new week, almost a new month, seemed a good time to roll out something I’ve never really shared before. Back in the day (way back in the day) I used to experiment with poetry. I don’t know anything about forms, or proper meter, but that never stopped me from experimenting. Recently, while digging around in computer files, I came across my poetry folder. Random exercises, these have been languishing on my computer. They’re never going to see the light of day in a book or anywhere else, so I decided to share some of them here. We all have early forms of writing we experiment with, and this was one of mine.

The first piece is about King David of the Old Testament. He is someone I loved reading about and still do. Back in day I penned this short poem to express that fondness:

Stained glass image of King David with harpFor the Psalmist 

Ancient words
penned by an ancient hand,
centuries faded but music still sweet.
From pasture to kingdom
your harp sang praise.
That I might do the same
and dance before the ark
or mourn beloved Absalom,
taken before peace could be sown.

Sweet singer of Israel,
Son of Jesse,
I linger still
in the melody of your song.

~ooOOoo~

That was one of the very few poems I wrote without rhyming verse. I still remember as a kid, when my dad introduced me to a rhyming dictionary and explained how it worked. He knew I loved to write, but poetry was something I’d never tried. My first attempts failed miserably. I was in my twenties when I wrote this:

Crossfire

night sky illuminated with lightning above silhouette of treesLightning dances on a midnight sky,
mushrooming fire and ancient sword,
conjured, unleashed by the Nether Lord.

How we struggle to appease our guilt,
puppets pulled by tattered string,
jesters dancing on a broken gallows,
capering and scraping to the Gallow’s King.

The Weaver of Life threads her loom,
cracking and shuddering beneath destiny’s hand.
We wander down corridors soiled with souls,
never stopping to ponder life’s final command,

In a cathedral of stone, we unleash fragile dragons,
quietly ruing our own masquerade,
forever refining and silently polishing,
gold-plaited images of Self we have made.

Tarnished but chosen, we forge our own demons,
plucked from the bowels of a mute, angry fire,
we are children of circumstance, knighted by time,
torn between failure and noble desire.

~ooOOoo~

Yes, I tended to be a bit strange even then. But all of that strangeness and those old creativity avenues—including my attempts at poetry (more to come)—allowed my writing to venture into the areas it has today. I haven’t written poetry in years, but I still look back on those moments with fondness.

What types of writing did you experiment with when you were younger? Have they shaped your writing today? Did you ever try your hand at poetry? Share your thoughts in the comments below.

Can I Start My Weekend Now?

If there was ever any doubt, let it be known that I love Fridays. The weekend is looming around the corner, and I’m already in countdown. Now that summer has arrived, I will be spending sunny afternoons plotting and/or reading poolside. I still need to work in my normal writing schedule but I’m hoping to grab a little down time as well.

funny cat peeking over shelf at camera

I’m also hoping to get back to a more regular blogging schedule. This past week, saw an award (thank you, Jess Bakkers) and a surprise from my husband (thank you, love of my life). If you’re interested in either post, just follow the links.

Looking back:
On Story Empire, Joan Hall shared a post that cleverly combined The Beatles, Sgt. Peppers and Writing and Harmony Kent shared Part One of her series Commas and How to Use Them. Today, you can find the weekly Curated Writing Content gathered by the authors of Story Empire. I hope some of these appeal to you.

Looking ahead:
My own writing projects are moving forward. A Desolate Hour will be releasing on July 18th, and I recently submitted a short story for an anthology I was invited to participate in. You’ll be hearing more on the latter as publication time approaches.

Book cover for Ghosts by Gaslight, a book on Spiritualism by Troy TaylorCurrently, I’m knee deep in research mode for my next novel, The Blue Lady of Hode’s Hill.  Although I read daily, I’ve been entrenched in non-fiction as opposed to putting a dent in my TBR.

Half of Blue Lady deals with Spiritualism in the late 1800s as related to practicing mediums and fraud. I’ve been reading a book called Ghosts by Gaslight by Troy Taylor in order to get up to snuff. It’s fascinating, but dense, especially as I’m making notes as I go. I also just picked up a massive tome on Harry Houdini, someone who has always intrigued me—more so as I delve into the late 19th century and early 20th century.

We’re spending tomorrow evening with friends so this weekend is more about fun and pool time, but I’ll work writing and research in somehow.

What about you? What project or book is calling you and are you a Friday Fanatic like I am?

A Brick in the Walk

My husband catches me by surprise sometimes. I mean really by surprise. We joke a lot because he’s not much of a reader and doesn’t understand why anyone would “waste time” reading a story. He’ll read instructional manuals and text books, but fiction? Not going to happen. The cosmic joke is that he’s married to a fiction writer.

Wait. It gets better.

After working for State Government for many long years, he was able to retire early with full benefits. That was great until a year later when he ran out of projects to do around the house, and decided he wanted to go back to work part time. So he got a job at—cosmic joke #2—a library!

It’s an easy job, something to keep him busy, but I think he enjoys it. He does meeting room set-ups and some minor maintenance around the place. The man is surrounded by books every day and by librarians who rattle on about their love of the written word. He’s come to appreciate the importance of libraries and the programs they offer, while the librarians couldn’t be happier to have someone of his work ethics. He has them completely spoiled.

The library itself is inviting, and I love going there. Among other amenities, there are plenty of comfy sitting areas both inside and out. One of the outside areas is in a section where people are able to purchase “memory bricks” for special occasions or in honor of loved ones. People place milestones there—anniversaries, awards, and names of family members. Take a seat on the bench that overlooks the area, and this is what you’ll see immediately to the left.

Brick that says Mae Clair

Yep. My husband surprised me with that. My name at our local library—a place of books, learning and imagination. I was thoroughly caught off guard. There were tears, hugs and laughter.

My books are in that library and now my name will hang around outside forever, long after I’m gone. Like I said, the man really surprises me sometimes.  🙂

multiple bricks with names