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My Plot Bunny is a Poodle!

For this cycle’s theme of weirdest plot bunnies, I’m sort of at a loss: all of my bunnies are weird! I write about what I love, and that includes a few things that are fairly niche. Semi-obscure middle aged musicians as romantic leads, 1950’s tourist traps, muscle cars, the nobility of rescuing a rundown motel, and a marine invertebrate or two have all inspired my stories. Not usually all in the same one, but hey, the rich tapestry and all that…

But one element has always found it’s way into my story: the dog–usually a poodle. It might not be a main character (or it might be), but he or she is always there. Why? Because every word I’ve written this past 20 years for school, work, or this insane journey called writing fiction for publication, has been supported and accompanied by a fluffy friend curled up at my feet or right by my side, including these words I’m typing today. Sometimes life may be hard, stressful and sucky, and every word may feel like a hard-earned failure. But all along, no matter what, I’ve had the uncomplicated love of a fluffy little friend. So, to Rosebud and Busco in Doggie Heaven, and Leonidas (pictured below), I dedicate this post to you.

Do you have a special pet you’ve written into a story, or one who’s just a writing buddy? I’d love to hear about them!

S Carroll Lee Selfie

5 Comments

Notebook Nirvana!

In keeping with Sophia’s excellent gift recommendations, I propose to add one of my dearest obsessions to the list: notebooks! You can never have too many, there is no place or situation that could not be edified by a notebook’s inspiring, yet practical presence. The more notebooks you have, the more opportunity to jot down dialogue, plot ideas, grocery lists, or random attempts at spelling if you have a pre-K human in your family! And if all that fails to grab you, what about all the pretty colors?? Of the infinite variety to choose from, here are a few of my picks:

For the purist, what could be better than the classic moleskine notebook? I’m partial to willow green:

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Or, you could choose something more whimsical based on the writer’s genre or favorite things:

mermaid-notebook

octopus-notebook

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

What about inspiration from a favorite book? I’m totally getting this for my Harry Potter-loving niece:

harry-potter-notebook

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

For Historical Fiction folks:

victorian-notebook-etsy

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Any Southern girl needs a monogrammed one:

monogram-journal-etsy

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

And last, but not least, for the author(s) in your life who are under insane deadline dilemmas, publisher problems, or egregious edits, you need this:

okay-journal

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

So, from me to you, Happy Holidays and Happy Writing (in an awesome new notebook)!

Love,

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In doubt? Just ask, “What would Bowie do?”

I was a wee whippersnapper when I first became interested in music, and from that point onward, David Bowie was my hero. Thirty five-ish years later, he’s sadly been promoted from my music/style icon to patron saint. Beyond the sadness, though, is mad respect. Who else could maintain such a lifetime of creativity and artistic expression on his own terms, right to the end?

When I came upon this interview a couple of months ago, his advice resonated. I was at a moment in assessing my writing career, and where I wanted to go, versus where I thought I was capable of going. Should I stay in my comfort zone, even if I get bored with it? If I don’t, what if I overshoot, and can’t deliver the story I want? How will I know I’m at the “right” place?  I don’t know if this happens to y’all or not, but when I’m reading a book and really enjoying it, I often think, oh, this is so awesome… I don’t know how Author Awesome does it. I could never pull off a story with the plot/concept/depth that she does! A really great book can be intimidating, much like Bowie had to have been to pretty much every rock musician, ever. But seeing the advice he gives in this interview put my mind at ease. Even though it’s probably geared more to musicians or visual artists, it still perfectly sums up the very question I’d been struggling with. Don’t create according to others’ expectations of you. Stretch yourself, go a little (not a lot) out of your depth.  It’s short, simple, and sweet–but if I get advice from my patron saint, I’ll damn well take it. And if it worked for the Thin White Duke, it ought to work for me!

So remember, when in doubt, just ask yourself what would Bowie do?

All the best,

 

 

4 Comments

All in the Name of Research

As a writer, I’m lucky enough to immerse myself in a world of my own making on a daily basis. Sometimes, though, I need a little bit of help to make sure I’m being accurate, truthful, or conveying an experience as clearly as I can to my reader. Research is extremely important in historical fiction, or whenever writing about cultures not one’s own, but it’s equally important in helping to get the right feel of things. So, hard as it is, I make an effort to do good research when I can.

A few of the tougher things I’ve had to do in the name of research:

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  • Spent a sunny day kayaking to scout some perfect Old Florida scenery,
  • Chartered a sailboat,
  • Had dinner with fellow Bad Girlz at a tiki restaurant that’s been in business over 50 years,
  • Sampled countless cocktail recipes to create the perfect signature drink mentioned in my manuscript,
  • Gone to the oldest-school beauty parlor I could find for a shampoo and roller set,
  • Visited Weeki Wachee Springs to see the famous mermaid show to see how it all works,

To further my research and to get the really authentic experience, I sought out The Mertailor for a tail of my own…

Which brings me to the point of this post:

Yours Truly, Swimming in a mermaid tail…. as you do! It’s a tough life, but I do it for the stories 🙂

What’s the weirdest thing you’ve done in the name of research?

 

12 Comments

A Space to Create

It’s just a little nook at the top of the stairs, but it’s mine, all mine. Some time ago, I wrote a post about my goal to have a writing space of my own. At the time, it was only a frustrating wish, as we had recently gotten our floors refinished, and all the random boxed stuff that hadn’t been put away yet was stacked all over my area, which had never really been set up properly in the first place. Fast forward a year or so, and I’m happy to finally update. I have a space to create! It’s a little more cluttered than I’d like, mainly because it doubles as a sewing studio due to our square footage constraints. While it’s no pæan to sleek modernism, it’s functional and decorated with love and inspiring bits of this and that. Allow me to give you a tour!

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Pending projects, fabric stash, happy art, including some my grandmother painted… and most importantly, my writing buddy.

 

All the necessities, including the giant glass of iced tea!

Antique motel postcards, and vintage patterns help put me in the creative mode for both writing and sewing. There are also the obvious necessities, especially the giant glass of iced tea!

My knockoff Hans Wegner Rope chair, the perfect place to sit and ponder.

My knockoff Hans Wegner Rope chair, the perfect place to sit and ponder.

Hello, who's this? The vintage gown I hope to wear to the Rita/Golden Heart Awards banquet at RWA Nationals in San Diego! She's still in rehab, but I have every reason to hope for a glorious recovery.

Hello, who’s this? The vintage gown I hope to wear to the Rita/Golden Heart Awards banquet at RWA Nationals in San Diego! She’s still in rehab, but I have every reason to hope for a glorious recovery.

 

Well, that’s the grand tour of a tiny, happy place! What’s your space like? Are you lucky enough to be all Virginia Woolf with a room of your own, or do you have to make do with a corner somewhere? Does it make you happy? How have you made it yours? I’d love to see or hear about it!

 

Happy Writing,

10 Comments

I sew vintage!

When I’m not writing, working the day job, or wife-and-mothering, one of the first places my imagination goes is to the sewing table. I first learned to sew in high school following the instruction of my mom and grandmother. In college, I worked my first retail job in one of the lowest-end fabric stores imaginable–I mean, really–there was no 100% cotton in the whole store. Since then, I’ve have had on and off bouts of sewing obsession. And thanks to former Bad Girl Frances Fowlkes and her wonderful print dresses, I’m in the throes of one, now.

Where writing is mental and emotional, sewing is physical and mental. As a writer, I have a lot of angsty moments: sending off queries, waiting to hear feedback, and the never-ending doubts about the story, direction, and everything, not to mention life’s moments that make me too wound up or pissed off to write a coherent paragraph. There’s something about cutting out fabric, pinning and planning that’s therapeutic. It makes me focus on something immediately in the present, and it’s challenging enough that I’m not obsessing about whatever is bothering me. And then, there’s the potential! The real appeal of sewing for me is taking an idea and making it real…kind of the same thing as writing, now that I think about it! When I think about sewing, I imagine what it will be like when I wear the creation I’m imagining. A cocktail dress for a RWA conference, a gathered skirt for work, a vintage muu-muu maxi dress for patio time this summer.

About 80% of my sewing projects are vintage patterns or reissues of vintage patterns. I’m not a full-on vintage girl all the time, but I like to incorporate the aesthetic whenever I can. Since many of my stories are set in the past, wearing vintage gives me an opportunity to feel what my characters feel–the rustle of petticoats, a nipped-in waist, stockings and garters. Also, the pattern art is the best!

So here are a few of my latest obsessions, finished, planned, and in-progress:

Here’s me in Butterick 6285 (skirt), with a petticoat underneath. I liked this so much, I’m working on a second one!

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And, now for the planned/pending stuff! This is Butterick 6318. I’m planning to do this in black and white seersucker for graduation and RWA. And I may have cut my hair shorter based on how much I love this pattern art…

 

Butterick 6318

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

A play suit/bathing suit cover up (I’m doing the short version in an umbrella print):

simplicity 8085

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

And, last but not least, the vintage muu-muu for après-swim patio time! This pattern is circa 1967 and it’s almost finished. The plan is to wear it on Mother’s Day while doing absolutely nothing.

simplicity vintage mu-mu

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

So do you sew or have a craft that makes you semi-obsessed? I’d love to hear about it!

10 Comments

Pre-published? What’s your path?

beach pool signpostOver the past couple of months I’ve been slowly wading into the querying process for Smiling Underwater, the first book in my series about women who perform as mermaids at a tourist trap in 1950’s Florida. I’ve sent out about a dozen queries so far, and I’ve had several full requests. Out of those, two Nice Rejections, in which the agents said extremely complimentary things, although no dice. Still waiting to hear on the other full from this batch, as well as a larger handful of partials out there in the void. Meanwhile, I wait.

So what do I do while I’m waiting? Get my next batch of queries ready for submission, first of all. Continue drafting Book Two. And then/simultaneously, question my entire existence as a writer! Maybe that’s too strong, but there is definitely something about sending one’s work out into the world that brings out the hardcore doubts. What if my subject is too niche? What if there’s too much romance for women’s fiction or too much women’s fiction for romance? What if the time period makes it unmarketable? What if, what if, what if……(insert downward spiral here). So with that going on along with the pressures of upholding my title of Last Unpublished Bad Girl Blogger, I realized I needed a plan… or several plans.

Plan A is to carry on as if I have no doubts. I’m this close, and The Call could be right around the corner. Priority One is to sign with an agent, as my ultimate goal is to be traditionally published, ideally in trade paperback. Hard cover would be nice, but I’m not getting ahead of myself! During this time, I’m writing the other books in my series.

Now, for a brief interruption by our sponsor, Writer Doubt…. But what if I can’t sell this book? Won’t my whole time writing Books Two and Three be a waste if I can’t sell the first one? Glad you asked! That brings me to Plan B.

Plan B applies only if the work is good enough. If I continue to get complimentary rejections, contest finals, and excellent feedback from beta readers, I veer onto the other path. My story is niche. I get it. But I’m not the only one into that niche. I believe I could be successful self-publishing or releasing through a small press with the right research and effort. So that’s settled, then.

The one trouble with this is the open-endedness of the query process. When do I know it’s time to take the other path? How long? How many agents should I query? All of them? It might take a year to hear back. And if I batch out my queries over time, that’s…. yikes. I want my work out there. Some of this might stem from being the last unpublished Bad Girl on the blog, but most is that I’m ready, despite the doubts. That means I need, not a new plan, but an amendment.

Plan A (i): Carry on parent Plan A, as I write the other books in the series. If I haven’t sold by the time I’ve finished Book Three, I implement Plan B. And I’ll have three books!

And as Plan B unfolds, I begin Plan B (i): write the contemporary that’s in my brain-queue, and when it’s ready for submission, resume Plan A.

So that’s my planned path. I’m sure things will change, because they always do, but at least I know where I’m going, and that’s gone a long way to ease the doubt. Fellow unpublished writers: do you have a path mapped out? And published peeps, what did you do? Drop me a comment–I’d love to hear about it!

Happy writing,

 

 

5 Comments

The One That Got Me Hooked!

sight for sore eyes coverEver since we started the current blog topic of the books and authors that inspired us to become writers, I’ve been wondering exactly how to approach it. I’ve been a reader since I was three, and a writer of stories, poetry, and embarrassing handwritten fan fiction for almost that long, it only occurred to me to try writing novels fairly recently. What flipped that switch was an intersection of some ideas, a creative itch, and a summer full of free time. I’m a visual person. I love stories that draw me into their world, that make me feel like I’m there–and I strive to achieve that in my own work. Also (and you may not believe this about me), I’m a talker. I love to tell stories. It’s probably this desire to entertain people as much as anything else that made me a writer.

There are so many authors that I love and have read religiously for years, but if I had to choose the most inspiring one, it’s the incomparable, late, Ruth Rendell. She was the epitome of the lifelong author, publishing her first novel in the 1960s, and she continued to write up to her death this past May… and in her later years, she did it while also being a Member of Parliament. She’s deservedly one of the queens of British mystery, because of her long-running Inspector Wexford novels, but my personal favorites are the more psychological studies she creates in her standalone books, both as Ruth Rendell and the more Gothic/Literary ones penned as Barbara Vine. Seriously, folks, there are more good books written by this lady than I can count! Do you like dark humor? Do you like razor-sharp insights into the stranger aspects of human nature? Do you like getting into the mind of the villain or weirdo character? Plots that weave the lives of random strangers together with shocking consequences? How about being immersed in London’s neighborhoods and atmosphere? If you answered “Yes” to one or more of these questions, my friends, then you owe it to yourselves to get on closer terms with this legend!

It all started innocently enough, about fifteen years ago, with A Sight for Sore Eyes. I found it on the shelf of the public library, where I was looking for some non-algae based reading material (I was in the midst of writing my Master’s thesis at the time…now that was riveting prose, let me tell you). I meant to read a few pages, take a little break before getting back to the scientific journals and my computer. Later, I realized the day was gone, it was the middle of the night, and I’d done nothing but read that book and pee since coming home from the library!

Her prose is cool and spare, no extra words anywhere, but you are right there in that story, witnessing the making of a sociopath. And sort of understanding him, if not actually rooting for him. And OMG, the hooks! Hooks at the end of every scene! The creeping dread and ominous buildup–and the absolute creepiest of poetic justice at the end! All bow down to the Queen, people.

Even though my light women’s fiction is about as far away as you can get from what you might find in the pages of a typical Ruth Rendell book, she still inspires me. Her hooks, her settings, the absolute realness of the inner and outer worlds of her characters…. if my stories could achieve half for what she did on the daily, that would be a lifetime achievement for me.

So what do you think? Have you ever read any of her books? If you’re a writer, do you have a favorite author who writes in a completely different genre? And most importantly, do you need any more awesome Ruth Rendell/Barbara Vine recs? Hint: A Dark-Adapted Eye is just as awesome as ASFSE, but with added WWII intrigue!

Happy (and creepy) Reading!

 

8 Comments

The good, the bad, and the ugly-crying

In this current thread of writer bests vs. worsts (is worsts a word? It is now.), I’m treading over well-worn territory. To piggyback on Jenna P’s excellent, honest, and oh-so-true post previous to this one, I, too, am a re-published author. Why do I feel like I’m standing up in an AA meeting right now?
Anyway…

My best times as a writer so far include all the obvious things that show me that while I have yet to get The Call, I’m heading in the right direction. Contest finals, agents that actually want to read more of my work, and the like. But perhaps even more, my best days as a writer are when I’m in the zone writing, cranking out word count, and by golly, most of it isn’t crap! Getting in touch with my writer friends, either by text or a long-awaited get-together, is another best. And my brass ring of bests, which I someday hope to achieve, is having a book out there in the wild that hooks a reader so he or she can’t get anything else done until reaching the end. That’s what I want, and it will be the best.

What are the worst days for me? Well, I haven’t had a worst day, per se. I haven’t had a nasty review or been dropped by a publisher yet. And pretty much all the rejections I’ve received up to this point have been well-deserved. But I have had a worst year or two. Sunshine Boy was planned, healthy, and very much wanted. I was so lucky I felt blessed. Even so, adjusting to motherhood was hard for me…harder than I ever imagined. That’s a whole food service-sized can of guilt and inadequacy in itself, but the effect it had on my creativity was devastating. I went from feeling like I was so close to success, to not having the energy to open my laptop. Even for Facebook. And what kind of new mother doesn’t post gleeful accounts of her new bliss on the hour? See, I told you I sucked. For a while there, writing felt like yet another thing I was failing at. And you know the old saw, “writers write?” Well, there was my proof that I didn’t belong anymore. That was the worst.

I didn’t quit, but I gave myself permission to declare myself on hiatus. And funnily enough, that took off enough pressure to get the ideas flowing again. It still took time, though. But time went on, and with it, came sleeping through the night again, and witnessing all the awesome changes that Sunshine Boy was going through. My creativity returned, my sense of self returned, and joy returned. Now, I feel ready to take on the world again, and I wouldn’t trade any of it for the world. In a way, getting through those feelings and looking back from the other side a stronger and better person might actually be my best.

If you’re struggling with an issue, big or small, that’s making you question yourself as a writer, a parent, or a person in general, know you’re not the only one, and it won’t last forever.

8 Comments

If I can do it…

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So, I’m fresh from the Georgia Romance Writers Moonlight and Magnolias Conference for a much needed weekend of bonding with my fellow authors. Attending conferences always renews my enthusiasm for my work and recharges my creativity. Then, like always, life gets in the way again and tries to shove my writing to the backseat, somewhere under the preschool papers and the towel I keep there in case the dog pukes on a road trip.

This year, though, I had the opportunity to attend a craft workshop led by Candace Havens: Fast Draft/Revision Hell. This was an amazing experience! In Fast Draft, she explains a process that will lead to–you guessed it–extremely fast drafting! How fast? Pretty much fast enough to get a bare-bones, messed up first draft of a novel done within a two week period. Now, I’m not going to be spreading her trade secrets around, but I will tell you this: a big part of her method is about accountability, and moving forward. Sounds like obvious, common sense, but somehow, it all clicked like it never would have in a million years had I not heard it in the way she presented it.

I’ll admit, I’m not really fast drafting as she prescribes it. I have a manuscript to finish, and with about 30% left to go, I was sputtering on fumes. So, as soon as I got home, I decided to apply her techniques to my situation, and as of Day 3, I’ve accomplished so much, that I’ll be finished within about three more days worth of similar output. It’s not quite the true fast-drafting output, but it’s easily double the word count of what I’d previously considered a “full” writing day.

I’m not a fast writer. I fiddle and fuss, I re-read and edit as I go. That’s against the rules in Fast Draft! I still deliberate over what I put on the page, but I keep moving forward. You mean moving forward results in more productivity? I know!! Imagine! Ooh! Ooh! Guess what else!! I quit wasting so much damn time! Instead of starting the day with email and internet nonsense, I wait until after writing time. I leave my phone downstairs. In my writing time, I just write. And damn, if it isn’t working!

Accountability is also a big motivator, so I’m checking in daily with fellow fast-drafting Bad Girlz for a daily review of our respective ass-kicking and name-taking. I don’t know exactly how something so simple works so well, but it’s totally clicked and I’m feeling the magic. If any of you feel like you need that little extra kick in the pants to really get motivated and get some results, I highly recommend this workshop!

Oh, also, Candace says it’s very important to reward yourself after making a goal. So here’s a GIF of the bassist from the Clash taking his shirt off….. You’re welcome.

 

simonon

 

 

 

Happy writing!

 

 

 

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