Tuesday, December 27, 2011

The Year of the Pen

    Since it’s the end of the year, it seems like a good time to do some inventory. I’ve already compiled the stats on my reading in 2011. Now I’m looking at my writing.
    I use a spreadsheet to track my word-count. I’ve already explained my love of spreadsheets, so I won’t go into it again. But I am particularly proud of my word count/calendar spreadsheet.
    Since January 2011, I have written 100,769 words. The best month was July, with 29,114 words (I had two weeks off work and no vacation plans). The next highest was November, when I was participating in NaNoWriMo, and racked up 15,749 words. The worst month was January, when I didn’t write a single word (or at least, didn’t log any). I also haven’t logged anything in December, but have been thinking about my stories nearly nonstop and will probably get some writing in this week before I return to work.
    This translates into a monthly average of approximately 8,400 words. Broken down even more, I wrote an average of 1,900 each week. The highest daily total in 2012 was in July, when I wrote 8,542 words. If I recall correctly, that included a middle-of-the-night burst of creativity and a trip to my favorite coffee shop later in the day. During NaNoWriMo, my highest daily total was 3,602 words.
    I’m happy to see the six-digit total on my word count. But the results in the real world are less encouraging, at least to me. I am brilliant at starting books. Finishing? Not so much. I did track how many words were written per project, and boy howdy, do I have a lot of unfinished projects.
    The project that I spent most of my time on was a romantic suspense novel that I’m still working on. I added about 56,500 to that one. Then I wrote 21,400 on a story that came out of nowhere and smacked me about the brain until I got out of bed and wrote down the idea. I think it’s going to turn into a trilogy of novellas, and I did write about 3,000 words on the final story.
    I wrote 15,749 on the Nano project. I also wrote about 4,500 words on an old project that I technically had finished, but it was an early work and needs a lot of editing. And an entirely new ending. And well, just a lot of work. I also added a few hundred words here and there on other projects that may or may not ever get finished.
    So, next on my list is to formulate some goals for 2012. You can bet one of them will be to finish something.

    Update:  I got a few more days of writing in, so my final word-count tally for 2011 is 105,986. This changed my monthly and weekly averages to 8,832/month and 2,038/week. See, this is why I love spreadsheets.

Saturday, December 24, 2011

Merry, Merry

An old family recipe for the holidays. It's not Christmas until there are mugs of Tom & Jerry being passed around.

Tom & Jerry Batter
2 16-oz packages superfine sugar
4 eggs
2 tsps each:  cinnamon, cloves, nutmeg, allspice
Separate eggs, beat whites until stiff as you can get them. Beat eggs yolks in with the whites, then gradually add 2 packages of sugar. Add spices all at once. Store in airtight container in refrigerator. If spices separate after being stored, just beat again.

To Mix a Tom & Jerry
Mix a heaping teaspoon of batter into a cup of hot milk, add bourbon. Stir. Hand your keys to someone else.

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

A Blur of Bright Lights and Cookies

Where have I been?
Well, same as you I expect:  shopping, baking, wrapping, delivering packages, decorating, writing cards, making lists, checking twice, panicking about shipping deadlines, attending holiday parties, throwing holiday parties, cleaning up lots of sticky Tom & Jerry mugs, photographing the neighbor's over-the-top light display, making travel plans, more baking, eating, eating, eating, more shopping.

Oh, and dog-sitting.

And working, for a couple more days. After that, I'll be adding skiing (snow gods permitting). I will be back after Christmas. Until then, have a wonderful holiday season.

Sunday, December 11, 2011

2011 in Books

    For the last two years, I’ve been keeping track of the books I read in a spreadsheet. Also in the last two years, I’ve discovered that I adore spreadsheets. They bring a tiny bit of order to my chaotic life. Anyway, the books. Since it’s nearing the end of the year, I thought I should look at how many books and what type and my comments on them. I don’t plan on posting reviews, but I do take notes for myself in my spreadsheet.
     In 2011, I have read (or started) 47 books. Of these, eight were nonfiction. Six were audiobooks, 13 were paper books and 28 were on my Kindle.
     In 2010, the first year I started getting all statistical about my reading, I also listened to six audiobooks. Only four of the 49 books I read that year were actual paper books. Only four were nonfiction.     
    Here’s a few of the highpoints in my 2011 reading list:
    Three of these — The Informationist, A Field of Darkness, and The Restorer were the first books in planned series. This is great news, because who doesn’t like to hear that there’s more good reading coming soon. But in the case of The Restorer, a little frustrating because it’s a trilogy and the book left a lot of questions unanswered and also because I didn’t realize until I was very near the end that the story couldn’t possibly be wrapped up in the next few pages. Still, it was good to find three more authors whose work I am now avidly following.     
    The other thing that jumps out at me as I look over the list is that I really need to stop saying that I don’t like first-person narration. This is clearly a lie, as three of my four favorites were first person, as were many of the books I read this year. I also read a whole lot of romance last year, and even most of the mysteries and suspense had romantic elements.
     One entry I haven't put on my spreadsheet is the price of the books I've read. I may start tracking that next year, though I wonder if I really want to know how much I spend on books in a year. I am rethinking my Audible subscription because I'm obviously not listening to 12 audiobooks a year. It might be time to take a break and listen to all the ones I've bought in the last two years.
     There are still a few dozen books on my to-be-read pile and I may add a few stats to this year's total before the end of the year. And I've already got several books queued up for next year that I'm dying to start (including Karen Moning's Darkfever, which has been recommended to me by so many people lately that I just had to buy it, despite my self-imposed book-buying ban).
     So that was my literary year. What was yours like?

Thursday, December 1, 2011

Pencils Down

    Congratulations to all the Nano writers who hit their goals -- whether that was 50,000 words or not! I'm very happy to have participated this year, even though I was on a truncated schedule due to work commitments. And then there was the Thanksgiving holiday. (Really, Mr. Baty, why November?)
    In past years, I've started Nano, only to lose steam within two weeks. For me, the difference this year was the planning. I started an outline early and completed it (for the most part) before I started writing. When I wrote, I just grabbed the next scene on my list and wrote and didn't worry about whether it was any good or if I should shuffle the scenes around. If I had doubts, I just wrote myself a note for the revision process. I realized that I will probably need to add some characters so I can kill some of them off, but I didn't stop to create new backgrounds for those unfortunate souls.
    The result is 15,749 words toward a new WIP, plus an outline that I can continue to work from. It's far from the finish line, but I'm absolutely thrilled with what I managed to accomplish.
    Though, seriously. Why not March or April? There's not much going on then. 

Monday, November 28, 2011

Everyone's a Winner

View from hotel balcony in Sorrento, looking toward Mt. Vesuvius.
     This has been a lovely five-day weekend, though not very restful. I'm ready for a vacation to recover from the week of house guests, preparations for the Thanksgiving holiday, and then cleaning up after the feast.
     I added another 1,000 words to my Nano total yesterday -- the first time I was able to sit down and write in several days. I also revisited an older WIP that I put on the back burner while I dove into the Nano project and I think I'm ready to pick it up again. The brief trip to the beach in my Nano WIP was a good vacation, but it's time to head back to mid-winter Minnesota.
     First, though, I have several days of Nano left yet and intend to keep writing on my Nano WIP until the deadline. It won't be complete, or anywhere near 50,000 words. But that's not why I did it. I wanted a short-term commitment to jump-start my creativity and that is what happened. I came up with a great, twisty story that I can't wait to flesh out. But I also came up with several ideas about how to fix my other WIP and I'm excited to get back to those characters.
     I may not get the Nano merit badge, but I feel very good about my participation certificate.

Sunday, November 27, 2011

Is There No End To This Turkey?

    There was still far too much turkey left in the fridge, so today I made the obligatory leftover recipe — turkey pot pie.
    I started with this recipe — Leftover Turkey Pot Pie from the Pioneer Woman — and then made changes to accommodate the ingredients I had on hand. So, here’s my version:
    Start with the turkey and dice up a lot of it. The recipe calls for 2 cups, but that doesn’t look like enough, so throw in more. Are you really going to want to make yet another turkey recipe tomorrow? No? Then keep dicing.
    Dice up some carrots, onion and celery. What? You don’t have carrots or celery left over? Are you sure? What about that veggie tray you put out for the guests? Yes, in the back of the refrigerator is the baggie with the celery sticks and carrots. Chop them up.
    Saute the veggies in some butter for a few minutes.
    Add the turkey. Sprinkle some flour over the turkey and veggies, stir and cook for a few minutes.
    Raid the fridge again. See any leftover white wine? Look for something along the lines of chardonnay or sauvignon blanc. Stay away from anything sweet. Splash some into the pot.
    Add some chicken broth. A single recipe calls for 2 cups. I added twice that.
    While that’s coming to a boil, back to the fridge. Any leftover roasted vegetables? Throw them in, too. I used the vegetables roasted with olive oil and fresh herbs, about a cup or so.
    Got any green bean casserole left over? Throw that in too.
    Hey, how about the cranberry sauce? No. Put that back.
    Add a cup of heavy whipping cream, or more if you’re doubling the recipe.
    Add fresh thyme, salt and pepper. I added some chopped parsley. Taste it to make sure you’ve got it seasoned well. You don’t want to under-season it. Bring to a boil until it thickens, which probably won’t be too long because you’ve just thrown in the contents of your fridge.
    I used this recipe for the pie crust and highly recommend it. I think it’s the vinegar. Unlike the recipe, I line the pie tins with crust and put a crust on top. I like crust.
    Preheat the oven to 400 degrees. Bake for 30 minutes or until crust is golden brown.

Saturday, November 26, 2011

The Home Team Advantage

    Twenty-one people. Ten pounds of potatoes. Two turkeys. Wine in almost every color and flavor imaginable.
    But it’s over and no one cried. Well, there was a minor meltdown over the chocolate cake, but I swear it wasn’t me. And the poor 3-year-old who was at eye-level with a triple chocolate mousse cake cannot be blamed for getting upset after being repeatedly told she can't have any just yet.
    It was a hectic, but fun get-together that included family and friends. Spending time with my family, including two of my three siblings, reminded me to give thanks for my family. My loud, funny, generous, and smart family.
    We were not raised with material excess, but there was always money for books. My parents worked hard, but there was always time for a trip to the library. There were difficult times, but there were more water balloon fights, hide-and-seek games (usually in a dark house, for extra adrenaline), camping trips, practical jokes, and games of all sorts, than I could ever count. I am thankful that my parents raised their four children to value education at all stages of life and nurtured our intellectual curiosity. That they taught us to find the laughter in any bad situation.
    What I value most, though, that they raised us to be a team — to look out for each other. I think that couldn’t have been an easy thing to accomplish with four kids whose ages span a decade. Somehow, they did it. I knew my two older brothers were always looking out for me, just as I was keeping an eye on my younger sister.
    These instincts don’t fade over time. Now, instead of looking out for each other in the halls of the high school, we’re there for each other after job losses and divorces and other grown-up issues. There is some bond that develops after years of exchanging promises not to tell mom and dad. It's a bond that outlives the mutually assured destruction of sharing and keeping those secrets.
     Of course, it would be a terrible breach of tradition to have my brother stay for the weekend and not short-sheet his bed. Or not to needle my sister about her love-life. Or for them to not tell the story — yet again — about how I wrecked my parents’ car on the way back from the garage where it was being repaired after my first accident.
    This Thanksgiving, I’m thankful that these wonderful people are my family and are on my team.

Sunday, November 20, 2011

Giving Thanks

    It’s early yet, but in the spirit of John Scalzi’s Thanksgiving Advent Calendar, I thought I would focus on the things for which I am grateful. I have much for which to be thankful, including a mother who taught me not to end a sentence with a preposition, which is why I rewrote that previous sentence.
    Today’s exercise in gratitude is dedicated to my day job.
    I would love to be able to be a full-time writer. I daydream of waking up, going for a walk, then coming home to sit down at my computer and spend the day telling stories, hanging out with my imaginary friends, and researching the issues that confront them. But I know that is a daydream, a near impossibility for me. Why? Well, there’s the student loans that I will have hanging over my head for the next 30 years or so. And how my self-employed husband and I have come to enjoy the luxury of health insurance.
    I am lucky, though, to have found a career that I love. I know many lawyers don’t like their jobs. Many of my friends who are lawyers would gladly chuck their jobs to do, well, pretty much anything else. I actually like my job. It can be frustrating, difficult, and at times even heartbreaking. But I get to challenge myself intellectually and, best of all, help people who are in a bad situation. That is rewarding.
    I also get to tell those people’s stories, though not with the creative license I would have if I were a full-time fiction writer. The true stories that I get to share with judges and juries, however, are often every bit as compelling.
    So, yes, I will probably bitch about my day job. But if given a whopping advance to write, say, a multi-book series — well, that would be a tough call.
    For about a minute.
    Until a whopping advance gets thrown my way, I’m happy to keep working in a job that lets me meet interesting people, learn something new every day, and work with fun, smart co-workers.
    And I’m thankful for that.

Monday, November 14, 2011

Ten Days In

     It's 10 days into my ill-advised commitment to writing a novel this month and I've logged a little over 11,000 words. How did that happen? I've been working a ton of hours and trying to muck out my house to prepare for the onslaught of relatives coming over for Thanksgiving.
     Oh, right. I completely abandoned quality control. Told my muse to take the wheel while I gagged my internal editor and threw her in the trunk. Those two don't get along at all, so the muse was happy to oblige. I'll let the editor out next month and she can take care of the adverb problem I've developed.
     While I'm short of where I'd like to be at this stage of Nano, it's 11,000 words (and a completed outline) that I didn't have two weeks ago.
      For all you participating in Nano this year, good luck and keep writing. I'll see you, and my internal editor, in December!

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Bubbly Goodness

Three be the things I shall never attain:  Envy, content, and sufficient champagne.      -- Dorothy Parker. 
I'm pretty sure that Nano was created by and for insomniacs. One late night bout with sleeplessness and I finished my plot outline for my new project. I haven't included that in my word count, but I'm really happy with the scene list so far. Sure, there's a couple holes still, but I can fill those in as things progress.

This calls for a celebration, right? I think so. Which is why I'm writing this (slightly) under the influence of a nice crisp Spanish cava.


Friday, November 4, 2011

Nano - The Planning Stages

    Work, work, work. It’s totally getting the way of my life and my NaNoWriMo project. Because I expected to be tied up with work until early next week, I’m still in the thinking-planning-dreaming phase of my Nano project. And, with some luck, I may get to start writing earlier than I planned.
    In the meantime, I’m pulling together a playlist of music. Actually, I’m putting together two playlists — one for the present day and one from 1992, which is when a major event takes place that has a huge effect on the characters now. Picture it: a cross-country road trip, summer of 1992, a man on the run from the law and from some very bad men, and he’s got his 9-year-old daughter with him. What music is on the radio?
    The present-day playlist has been easy to put together. Here’s what’s been playing on my commute, setting the mood for a beachside mystery. 
  • California — Phantom Planet
  • Earthquake Weather — Beck
  • Still in Hollywood — Concrete Blond
  • Into the Ocean — Blue October
  • Angeles — Elliott Smith
  • The Horizon has been Defeated — Jack Johnson
  • Six O’Clock News — Kathleen Edwards
  • La Cienega Just Smiled — Ryan Adams
  • Dani California — Red Hot Chili Peppers
  • California — Rufus Wainwright
    There’s more, but I’m pretty sure the theme is emerging. Or at least perhaps a setting. You may have picked up on it.
     But seriously, anyone who recalls 1992, please suggest some music for my cross-country road-trip.

Friday, October 28, 2011


That work thing I've been working on nonstop for a couple weeks is not going so terribly well. On the plus side, it can't last forever.

I hope to get back to, oh, a life outside of my office sometime in the next week or so. Until then, here is an illustration of what I've been muttering under my breath.

It's from Fort Point in San Francisco. I highly recommend a visit to the historic fort, unless you have a fear of narrow, steep, circular stone stairways. Then I recommend that you hang out on the first floor and enjoy the history and stay away from the roof, even though the views are amazing. Personally, the stairs freak me out a little but obviously I got over my vertigo or I'd be writing this from the roof of a historic fort under the Golden Gate Bridge.

Have a good week!

Monday, October 24, 2011

Not Much Else Going On, Might As Well Write A Novel

    In what must be an insane delusion, I signed up for NaNoWriMo this year. I won’t be starting until my work commitment is finished, so I may only get a half a month to write a novel. I’m still not sure why this seemed like a good idea, but now that I’ve decided to do it, I need to figure out a strategy. Work on the novella trilogy that’s been hounding me? Or on the new idea that just surfaced? Or cheat completely and work on the 2/3-finished novel that I want to wrap up by the end of the year?
    I’m leaning toward the new idea – tentatively titled “Pacific Daylight Time.” If there is such a creature, I'd say it's going to be a noir romance. Now that I think of it, there is probably no such genre. But I’m going with it anyway. Since I have 48 hours before I have to dive back into work, I’m going to work on outlining so I have something to work with when I start writing in a couple weeks.
    While it’s a daunting task to commit to writing 50,000 words in a month (or fewer, since I plan to pro-rate my word count based on my schedule), I’m really looking forward to creating a new world and uncovering the story as I go. After the next couple of weeks at work, I’m going to need a vacation. I’ll just be taking it in my imagination.  

Sunday, October 23, 2011

Vitamin ZZZZZ Deficiency

    I’ve touched on insomnia before, but it bears mentioning again because today I am suffering from a severe sleep deficiency. It must be severe because I just volunteered to host Thanksgiving at my home this year. Thanksgiving falls approximately two days after a major work event. This should be interesting.
    I’ve hosted Thanksgiving before, so in theory, I know what I’m doing. Not everyone one is convinced of this. The first time I hosted, my mother-in-law showed up with a turkey, stuffing, and gravy — “just in case.” Many people would have been insulted by this, but I just laughed. It was easy to laugh since my turkey was better (the secret:  brine that sucker). And then I filed that episode away for use in a future book.
    This year, we’ll probably have fewer than a dozen people, which is small for my family. My mother-in-law is going to bring green beans and an appetizer (ONE appetizer, I stressed. I expect a full buffet of snacks to emerge from her Buick.) Learning from past mistakes, I assigned my perpetually tardy sister-in-law to bring dessert. Other family members have volunteered to bring side dishes and I find that other than the turkey, my only task is going to be finding enough chairs and setting the table.
    I think this hosting gig is going to work out pretty well for me. But that could be the sleep deprivation talking. Stay tuned…

Friday, October 21, 2011

Inspiration Strikes Inconveniently

    I’ve been working long days — 10 to 12 hours — and doing a lot of traveling for work in preparation for a multiple-week work commitment. This not only requires prepping for that, but also getting everything else in the office in such a state that it can be neglected for at least two weeks. I’m exhausted and over-caffeinated.
    I want nothing more than to get a full night of sleep and spend a day or two working on my own writing projects. My imaginary people are waiting for me to get back to them and resolve their problems (they have no idea that things are going to get much worse for them before they get better). I’d like to wrap up one WIP by the end of the year and I can see that light at the end of the tunnel, if I can just find some time to sit down and focus.
    Of course, this is the perfect time for a new story idea to pop into my brain.
    A really good idea, too. One that I desperately want to write. A main character with a fascinating back story and an uncertain future. A setting that I know and love. I’ve even started compiling a soundtrack.    
    And yet, I have no idea when I’ll be able to explore this new world. Already on my plate are a romantic suspense novel that’s about 2/3 complete, and an idea and rough outline for a novella that has been haunting me since summer and which has since morphed into a trilogy of sorts. Not to mention that pesky full-time job.
    So what is it about a pending deadline that sparks my brain to start conjuring new stories to develop and uncover? Why does inspiration strike at the most inconvenient times? Or how can I channel that inspiration to the projects in front of me, so that they get completed?

Saturday, October 8, 2011

Busy, busy, busy here, so I haven't had much time for my own writing lately.

View of the Golden Gate Bridge from Fort Point, July 2011.

Instead, here's a nice photo, so I can say that I'm still updating weekly. Or weakly. Whatever.

Friday, September 30, 2011


    Taking the advice of Lani Diane Rich, whose Storywonk podcast is my new favorite discovery, I am putting together a soundtrack for my current WIP. She recommends a playlist of music that is new, so you haven’t already associated memories with the songs. The soundtrack should become an auditory signal to your muse, allowing you to easily slip into that creative state where your characters speak to you.
    Rather than go on a major spending spree on iTunes (yet), I’ve managed to come up with a playlist to start with. As I started compiling the songs, I realized that the titles were, well, rather appropriate to my setting and story.
    The story, a romantic suspense, takes place in Minnesota in the middle of winter. The two main characters are competing newspaper reporters who return to their hometown to cover a murder trial.
    And here are the first 10 songs on my playlist:
  1. Ice Melts – Matt & Kim
  2. White Sky – Vampire Weekend
  3. Lies – Peter Bjorn & John
  4. Someone’s Missing – MGMT
  5. Miss Murder – A.F.I.
  6. Cold Hands – A.F.I.
  7. Anything Can Happen – The Finn Brothers
  8. Home Is Where Your Heart Is – The Sounds
  9. Antarctica – The Weepies
  10. The Interview – A.F.I.
    Clearly, my mind has already prepared for a cold winter setting. For good measure, I threw in Small Town Romance, by Richard Thompson, and When I Write The Book, by Nick Lowe, among about two dozen other songs. I’m happy with the list, but may still tinker with it a little. And a short shopping spree at iTunes might still be in the works. 

Saturday, September 24, 2011

Scrivener and the Art of Organization

    I use Scrivener to write. I use it because I LOOOOOVE it and every so often, even after using it since Summer 2010, I will learn something that causes me to exclaim, “oh my GOD, that’s so cool.” Like this morning, when I learned that you can easily see thesaurus alternatives by hovering over the word and hitting Control-Command-D. A little bubble pops up and gives alternative words.
    I learned that little trick by reading David Hewson’s book Writing a Novel Using Scrivener. It was so worth the $5.99. I will say that the book is much easier to read on a computer, using the Kindle program for Mac (or PC, if that’s your preference), than on the handheld Kindle device because of the many screen shots. That might have something to do with the fact that I have a 2nd generation Kindle and the latest version, I hear, has better contrast.
    Scrivener works for me because I can adapt it so that it fits my writing style. I’m not quite a plotter — my outlines are rough descriptions of scenes, some of which are out of order, and they only go about 3/4 of the way through the novel. But I’m not a pantser because I do like having a map, however sketchy, to guide me through the writing process.
    I set up my Scrivener projects so I have a folder called “Storyboard” that contains the scenes I expect to write. This is my outline. I can move the scenes around, especially in the index card mode, as things change. Then I have a folder for the actual manuscript, which contains a folder for each chapter. As I write a scene, it goes into chapter folder. I also have folders for character sheets and research, such as photos and articles. I like having all my notes, outline, research, and current draft in one place. It makes me feel organized, trust me, I very rarely feel organized.
    Anyway, my tips for today:
1)  Give Scrivener a try. It’s cheap and fun and who doesn’t like cheap and fun? Remember college? (No, I don’t mean you were cheap and fun. You were just popular.) It’s easy to get distracted with the many software options out there, and you don’t want to waste time learning yet another new writing program that isn’t going to write your book for you. But this one inspires me to write, the way a trip to the office supply warehouses does. (I am a sucker for office supplies. Your pens are not safe near me.)
2)  If you do try Scrivener, check out David Hewson’s book. He’s a working writer who uses the program to write his novels and shares what works for him. But what’s so great about Scrivener is that even if Hewson’s method doesn’t work for you, you’re not stuck with it. There are a billion (give or take) ways to change the program to suit your style.

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

On the Nightstand

    The pile of books on my nightstand threatened to topple and smother me in my sleep, so I added a small bookshelf next to it. Problem solved? Not exactly. The additional space seemed to just beg me to buy more books.
    As a result, I now have a small mountain of books threatening to topple and kill me in my sleep, plus a bookcase with an equally unstable pillar of books.

I had to move a stack of books because they were blocking the light
    This, by the way, doesn’t include the audiobooks — four on my iPhone right now. Many more on my hard drive.
    Or the Kindle.
    Damn. It’s really a sickness, isn’t it?
    Currently, I’m reading one paper book (Kiss Me While I Sleep, by Linda Howard), one audiobook (A Field of Darkness, by Cornelia Read*), and am working through a couple writing guides on my Kindle. This probably makes me sound distracted. Which is true, but I have a system. I read the book at night before I go to sleep, listen to the audiobook on my commute, and read whatever is currently keeping my attention on the Kindle ... OK, a confession, I read the Kindle when I'm drying my hair. WHAT? You can't do that with a book, the pages won't stay put! It's totally normal!
  Ahem. If I sound defensive, it's because I live with a non-reader who totally doesn't get my need to surround myself with books.
  So, with this huge stack looming over me I've decided that I'm going to take a consumer hiatus and finish these, or at least a good portion of these, before I buy any more books this year. Of course, this new rule doesn't count the books I pre-ordered. And I do have a birthday approaching... So I don't imagine my nightstand will look uncluttered anytime soon.

* Can I take a minute to rave about A Field of Darkness? Well, it’s my blog, so yes, I can. God, it’s so good. I am loving it! It’s so good, I wish I were reading it and not listening to it, so I could go back and savor the author’s turns of phrase. She has a wonderful voice and I am enjoying all of the characters. I also love that it takes place in the late 1980s. I’ve already purchased the second book in the series and there’s a third, too! I am very, very happy.**

** Did I really just footnote a blog post? Damn you, law school!

Sunday, September 11, 2011

A Decade Later

    Ten years ago, I was getting ready for work when my phone rang. The college intern working the early shift in the newsroom said in an uncertain voice, “LA called? They said I needed to call everyone and make sure you were aware of what was going on? In New York?”
    Fifteen minutes later, I was driving to work with my wet hair in a ponytail, listening to a live broadcast of the collapse of one of the towers. My mind flipped through its internal rolodex of everyone I knew who resided or worked in New York, then in Washington D.C., then Pennsylvania.
     The rest of the day passed in a blur. I do not remember many specifics, just the constant feeling that my colleagues on the East Coast needed help to cover this monumental story, but it felt like there was little those of us on the West Coast could do. Planes were grounded, there was no way to send reporters or photographers to assist them. We did what we could, which was not enough.
    I do remember the exact place where I finally broke down and started sobbing, where I had to pull my car over after 12 hours at work listening to stories of loss and horror.
    I think it was about three weeks later when my husband and I stood nervously in line at Virgin Air in San Francisco International Airport, waiting to fly to London for a long-planned vacation. We had asked about canceling, but the airline said no refunds. It was only our second time taking an overseas vacation and we had saved for a year for this trip, so we went – despite our mothers’ pleas to reconsider.
    What I remember most about the trip to England was how we were greeted. It seemed as though we were the only tourists foolish enough, or broke enough, to keep our travel plans. We had the country to ourselves. And each time we met someone, our American accents gave us away.
    “So terrible, dear, what happened,” a store clerk said, placing a consoling hand on mine as I paid for a purchase. Her eyes welled up with tears and so did mine.
    In York, a small shrine was set up in front of the cathedral, small American flags among the flowers, candles, and notes. In small towns, our flag was displayed in stores, in windows, and in public squares.
    The fear and horror of that first day eventually faded, replaced by deep sadness for the families and friends of those who died. But the feeling of solidarity and sympathy is what stays with me after a decade. The goodwill of friends I didn’t know I had, many of whom had lived through terrible attacks on their homeland. That remains and still inspires me.    
    While it is not always possible to hold the hand of someone touched by a disaster – man-made or natural – if you are so inclined, please consider reaching out in solidarity and support to those who need help:
    Partners in Health
    Doctors Without Borders
    American Red Cross
    Don’t know where to start researching charitable organizations? You might check: 
    Charity Watch (American Institute of Philanthropy).

Sunday, September 4, 2011

Podcasts, Or The Reason I Just Missed My Exit

    Oh, how I love them. As I wait for my iPod to sync with all of my new podcasts, I thought I might talk about a few of my favorites.

    I love all things bookish – reading and writing – so podcasts about books or writing are tops on this list. My favorite writing podcasts are, in no particular order:
Writing Excuses – No, I do not read or write fantasy or sci-fi. But these writers are a treasure trove of good advice, no matter the genre. I love that it’s concise, 15 minute long, so it doesn’t get bogged down in banter. If the topic starts to stray, they “can of worm” it and save it for another podcast. They’re funny, intelligent, and great guides for beginning writers. They’ve also broadened my reading list with their recommendations, so actually, I should revise that first sentence to say, “I used to not read fantasy or SF.”
I Should Be Writing – Mur Lafferty’s podcast is another writing podcast that inspires me to keep writing. She’s a writer who talks about how damn hard it is to write sometimes and the many ways there are to get discouraged. But she also keeps writing - no matter how hard it is. And she does great interviews. I appreciate that she is sharing her own writing journey with the rest of us.
Packing Heat – Unfortunately, no longer updated, but author Jordan Castillo Price put together 140+ podcasts that kick ass. Ignore the part where it says it’s for wannabe erotic fiction writers. This is just plain awesome advice for all writers. She talks about craft (dialogue, description, plotting, character arcs), business (the ins and outs of publishing, book covers, marketing, online presence), and many other helpful bits of advice (new software for writing, systems for backing up and versioning drafts, getting over writers block). Yes, she writes m/m erotic thrillers, which may not be your cup of tea. Get over it. She’s a damn good writer and has much wisdom to share. And it never hurts to have a few more synonyms for cock, right?

    I am a total news junkie. It’s a sickness. My news podcasts include:  BBC Documentaries, BBC Africa, NPR’s Planet Money, In Our Time with Melvyn Bragg, World Affairs Council of Northern California, and the International Spy Museum SpyCast. To name a few.

How to categorize the others?
The Moth – Storytelling at its finest.
This American Life – I really don’t have to explain this to you, do I?
The Reading and Writing Podcast – Maybe this should go up under writing, but I tend to think of it more as a book podcast. Good interviews with authors, including Lee Childs, Carla Neggers and many others.
NPR’s Wait Wait… Don’t Tell Me! – Makes me laugh in traffic. Other drivers fear me. As they should.

    What podcasts can you recommend? Have you considered starting one? What would it be about?

Thursday, August 18, 2011

A Bad Day

    What makes a bad day?
    Clearly, death of a loved one makes the list, so let's just go past the major, life-changing bad days and go straight to everyday run-of-the-mill bad days that years later you can look back and laugh about. Ha. Ha. Heh.
    Many years ago, a very famous actor was considering running for governor of California. No, not that one. This was before the word Governator entered my lexicon. (Hint: It was Warren Beatty). It was my first day in a new office and Warren Beatty called looking to talk to a hot shot political reporter and when I went to tell him that there was a call for him, hot shot political reporter waved me away because he was on the phone with someone Very Important. That guy was a bit of a diva. Anyway, I went back to the phone, told Warren Beatty that Hot Shot Reporter couldn’t take his call, then when I went to transfer him to voicemail, I hung up on him.
    I hung up on Warren Beatty. On my first day at a new job.
    That was a bad day.
    I think Warren may have been having a bad day, too, because apparently he had just tried to call the Washington D.C. branch of our organization to talk to a national big deal political reporter, but was put on hold indefinitely, so that’s how he ended up in my incompetent hands.
    More recently, I had a bad birthday, which sucked extra hard. It was one of those birthdays with a zero attached (Hint: I am not saying which one). I had raging PMS, a big deadline at work, I jumped an age category on most surveys to a range that should include my mother, not me. At one point, I walked into the copy room and stepped on a piece of paper and my foot shot out in front of me. My first thought: “Good Lord, don’t break a hip.”
    Then, the kicker. My husband forgot my birthday. So I didn’t get any presents.
    “But you said you didn’t want a birthday party,” my husband said. “I thought that meant you didn’t want presents, either.”
    “Why would you think that? Of course I want presents. Presents make everything better.”
    And that’s how I ended up with a Kindle.
    Wait, how did I get here? Oh, right, bad days.
    This topic came to mind because I’m writing a novella that starts with my heroine having a bad day. As she sits in a holding cell at the county courthouse (never a sign of a good day), she compares this to other bad days:
     This was possibly the worst day of her life, Lindsey thought. Worse than the time she got pulled over on the way to her brother’s wedding and had to do a sobriety test on the side of the road while wearing a bridesmaids dress.
     Worse than the time she accidentally gave her boss a peanut-laced cookie and he swelled up like a parade float and had to be revived by paramedics in the middle of the newsroom.
     Even worse than the time she went out on a date with that lawyer who talked about his job all night, even though she was clearly trying to hear what that sleazy lobbyist was promising the mayor, and then didn’t ever call her again, even though the kissing portion of their date was fairly spectacular. Objectively speaking, she had to admit that it was a terrible date. She probably wouldn’t have called her, if their situations were reversed. Except for that part in the car. That was definitely worth a phone call.
     She didn’t expect to see Ben Gillespie ever again, but especially not under these circumstances. Not locked in a cell, waiting to face an angry judge.    
    I have to say, it was really fun to come up with other people’s bad days. So, have you had a bad day recently? What happened to make it so bad? Fender-bender? Ripped pants? Trip going up stairs? Flat tire? And how long did it take you to laugh about it?

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

The Big Awake

    Insomnia is fun, isn’t it? Those of us who cannot shut off our brains get that extra four hours of a day. The house is quiet and dark and peaceful. It would be a perfect time to drift off to sleep, but the insomniac's brain is going full throttle, reliving perceived slights, a mortifying social faux pas, or pondering a Big Question.
    That question is, of course, “Can you give a dog Bean-o?"

Who, me? 
    Well, sometimes that's the question keeping me awake. Other times it’s questions about work (“What was that deadline?” or “Did I sign that before it got filed?”); family (“How is she ever going to get out from under that horrible mortgage?”); or just general worries over things one cannot control (“Ebola!”).
    Sometimes, the things that keep me awake are fun. Recently, it was a title. The title jumped into my mind and I immediately came up with an opening scene and then the next one and then… I got out of bed and wrote a couple thousand words. It’s unusual for me to come up with a title first, because I usually just slap a working title that consists of a character's name on a WIP until something happens to change my mind. I know from seasoned professionals not to get too attached to any title I put on a story because it’s likely to get changed.
    But I do hope that my middle-of-the-night title stays, because it still makes me laugh.In fact, as I wrote the opening scene, I found myself giggling a little. Even after I finally went back to bed, I was still happy and looking forward to discovering what trouble my characters were going to get into next. I don't mind sleepless nights like that, at all.

Sunday, August 14, 2011

I Got Nothin'

Well, nothing to write about anyway. But thanks to the UPS man, I do have these:

It's love, I tell you. L-O-V-E.

Saturday, August 13, 2011

Writing Faster by Slowing Down

I write fast. Well, I write fast when I write. It comes from working on deadline as a reporter for several years, an impatient editor sending me increasingly annoyed instant messages while I organized my paragraphs, added quotes, and lastly, wrote a lede. (Yes, that's spelled l-e-d-e. I don't know why.)
My day job now requires a lot of writing and I still write fast, according to my colleagues, but nowhere near as fast as I used to be able to crank out the wordcount. I think it's more of a steady pace, but not nearly at the speed that used to be required of me.
But when it comes to writing that I do for myself, the fiction writing, I am more likely to write in bursts. Part of this is just my schedule. I usually only have time to write on the weekends, so I try and get as much done as I can. If I write during the week, before or after work, it's most likely to be just a couple hundred words -- if I'm lucky.
So this article, How to write faster, was of great interest to me. In particular, I identified with this passage:
One also finds dreadful confirmation of one's worst habits: "Binge writing—hypomanic, euphoric marathon sessions to meet unrealistic deadlines—is generally counterproductive and potentially a source of depression and blocking," sums up the work of Robert Boice.
Well, hell. That pretty much describes my modus operandi. And explains quite a bit about why I have so many half-finished works-in-progress taunting me from my hard drive. I'm at that last stage, depression and blocking, right now. I took a two week vacation and wrote nearly 30,000 words on two different projects. That's a lot of words. Since I returned to work, though, I've written very little.
The solution, as the article points out, is exactly as I feared -- the literary equivalent of "eat less, exercise more":
Alas, the cognitive literature offers no easy solutions. The same formula appears: "Self-regulation through daily writing, brief work sessions, realistic deadlines, and maintaining low emotional arousal." My old enemy, self-regulation. We meet again.
I started to think about what gets me writing. If I leave the house to write, such as taking my laptop to my favorite coffee shop, I will write. If I read my critique partner's work, I usually get inspired to write. When I get back a critiqued chapter, I'm inspired to write.
Since I just submitted my latest critique to my CP, and I have the day to myself, I am feeling inspired. If you need me, I'll be at the coffee shop with my laptop. And in the back of my mind, I will be thinking about developing a daily writing habit.

Sunday, August 7, 2011

Please Allow Myself to Introduce...Myself

I did not abandon my blog only a week after I started it. Honest. I just haven't decided yet what to talk about here. I have thoughts and opinions (oh, do I have opinions). But since I'm basically talking to myself at this point, I haven't yet decided what sort of dialog I'll be having with myself.
So, until I decide, here's a photo from a trip to Mexico several years ago.

Sunday, July 31, 2011

Dark and Stormy

My favorite time of year has arrived. The results of the Bulwer-Lytton Fiction Contest. I do love a good pun (or is it a bad pun?). These opening lines never fail to make me laugh. My favorite this year got a dishonorable mention:
They called her The Cat, because she made love the way she fought, rolling rapidly across the floor in a big, blurry ball of shrieking hair, fury, and dander, which usually solicited a “Shut up!” and flung shoe from one of the neighbors, and left her exhilarated lover with serious patchy bald spots and the occasional nicked ear. 

That's a helluva opening line. To celebrate, I will probably make myself a Dark and Stormy, sit out on the patio and read something less overwrought than Bulwyer-Lytton's work. Join me? Here's the recipe for a Dark and Stormy.

Crushed ice and lots of it
Pour one shot of dark rum, the good stuff, over the ice
Add ginger beer to taste. 
Best enjoyed on a hot summer day with a view of the sea, but a lake, river, or pool will do in a pinch.


Saturday, July 30, 2011

...I want to be Laura Lippman

Yes, it's true. When I grow up, I want to be Laura Lippman. Or maybe Susan Elizabeth Phillips. Or Daniel Silva. Or whichever author whose book I recently read that left me with that wonderful feeling of having just been on an exciting adventure with entertaining friends.
That is what I want to be when I grow up.
Now, I already have a career. But writing is something I have done since I was a child. Even before I could write, I told fantastic stories, at least according to my mother. Sure, most of those were probably creative ways of blaming my sister and brothers for my misdeeds, but they were entertaining.
In the past year, I've revisited the idea of storytelling and have set a goal of finishing one of the many unfinished novels languishing on my hard drive. I started this blog because I got some good advice from writers who are far more successful than me.
I have no idea what I'll be writing about here. But I will take requests.