Monday, September 15, 2014

Finding the Right Writer's Group

I wrote this blog post more than four years ago:

Almost three years ago I joined two writers groups. I had found both on the internet. The first group consisted of retired women, mostly my senior. We met in a lovely home in Newport Beach on the beach every Monday afternoon. The second group, the Orange County Fictionaires, met every other Wednesday evening in a room on the eighth floor of a hospital. I had to audition and be voted in. So, I began in January of 2007 to attend both groups. I’d been looking for a writing group for a long time. I’d taken a number of classes and I was looking for more individualized attention. I was excited about giving and receiving feedback.

I went to one meeting in Newport and came home feeling, for a number of reasons, ambivalent.

For Fictionaires, I had to send in my material for an initial screening. If approved, I had to attend three meetings, and participate in critiquing members' work. On the third meeting, I had to read aloud and be critiqued.  after which I would leave and be voted in or out. After my first meeting, I loved the Fictionaires. I found the members to be insightful, talented and witty, and I really wanted to join.

For the Newport group, I had to print out a copy of my work, but on the second week I had a printer problem and so I asked a woman, the hostess, if she’d mind printing out my work if I e-mailed it to her. She obliged, but somewhere in cyberspace, all my indentations and quotation marks were lost (through no fault of my own). She suggested that I didn’t belong in the group since I obviously didn’t know how to use my grammatical markers. I went to the meeting feeling annoyed with her and cyberspace. When I arrived, no one was there.

Now I was seriously miffed and offended. I continued to my outrage for a day or two, but after some time came an overwhelming relief which puzzled me. I sent an e-mail thanking the Newport group and suggesting that their time schedule wouldn't work with mine. A few days later I found a message on my cell phone left on the day when I’d found no one at home in Newport telling me that our hostess had gone to the hospital. I hadn’t been stood up, but still the damage was done and I was glad and a little concerned. Remember, it would be at least a month before I would know if I’d be accepted into Fictionaires, and I still really wanted to belong to a critique group.

While running with my comedian son one morning, I related the incident to him and admitted I couldn’t understand my feelings. I really wanted a writer’s group, why would I be relieved that one hadn’t worked out? I had learned from previous classes that just reading my work aloud helped tremendously, and that I had something to learn from everyone. (I still believe that every single person has something valuable to teach.) Nathan, who had to read his material before a committee each time he preformed, told me that it was always stressful to share his work and that if I didn’t value their opinions, why should I suffer the stress?

I felt somewhat better until my turn to read in Fictionaires arrived. It was a cold February night. I brought a large chocolate cake. I remember one woman told me “I’ll never tell anyone that they can’t write,” and I wondered if she wanted to tell me that I couldn’t write. I read my work and then the critique began. I felt like I’d been surrounded by a friendly group of terriers who had morphed into pit bulls. After a few minutes of their helpful and hurtful comments, I stopped taking notes. I left completely discouraged, but by the time I got home I had a telephone call welcoming me to the group.

It's been 7 years since I joined Fictionaires. They are still insightful, witty and talented, and I’m grateful to be in their number. The adventure didn't stop there. I wrote this blog post in November of 2010:

I’m lucky for many reasons. One of the reasons I’m lucky is I get to spend large junks of time doing what I love to do and I have friends who love to do the same thing. I belong to Orange County Fictionaires. I’m on the bottom of the success totem pole, although, next year I’ll be the president. You maybe wondering why. It’s a fair question, and I don’t know the answer, but here’s what happened.

Two Wednesdays ago, after a long, tiring day and an afternoon spent with piano students who hadn’t practiced, I stood in my kitchen stirring chili. “I’m thinking of not going to my writing group tonight,” I told Larry.


There were ample reasons, lack luster piano students, chili to be eaten, TV to watch, but I said, “It’s the time of year they chose next year’s officers, and I’m afraid they’ll want to make me president.”

“Why would they make you president?”

I thought about this and realized this was a very good question. After all, Jackie's published more than 80 novels, Neal has a movie deal and last year I made $50 by placing second in a contest. Why would they want me to be president? And, further more, we already had a president for next year – Ben, this year’s vice-president and president elect. 

I ate some chili, and went to my meeting, happy. I was happy until the break when Ben announced he is moving to Colorado. No president elect. James, this year’s president, looked at me and said, “There’s no one else.” This is not true. I balked, but after a few minutes of arguing, caved.

Why don’t I want to be president of Fictionaires? Another fair question. It’s a great group. I’m in noble, talented company, and I’m honored to be among them. But, frankly, I’m tired of being at the bottom. I’m tired of the unflagging writing rejection. I’m tired of trying so hard and placing second. In fact, it’s reasonable to say that if I hadn’t been asked to be president of Fictionaires, I may have stopped going. 

I wouldn’t have stopped writing, since that began when I was eight. But, there are times when I certainly want to stop trying.

And so, I took my turn serving as president. And every few weeks, I take my turn reading my stuff. They tore down the hospital where we used to meet. We now meet in an upper room of a Catholic church. Obviously, I  haven't stopped writing. Since I wrote both of these blog posts, I've published 11 books. I plan on publishing three more stories (one novella, one short story, and one novel) before the end of the year. Would I have done this without Fictionaires? I really don't know.

Writing is solitary enough. I'm glad I don't have to do it completely alone.

Friday, September 12, 2014

Miranda Goes to Montevideo

Today, my nineteen year old daughter Miranda should arrive in Uruguay. She’s been on my mind since the moment she left. And she left on Wednesday. Today is Friday. Yes, it’s taken this long. She flew to Dallas and from Dallas to Miami. And that’s where things went south—figuratively, unfortunately not literally, as they were supposed to.  Because of a delayed flight, Miranda had to spend the night in Miami—she arrived at her hotel at 4:30 a.m.  The next flight to Montevideo wasn’t until mid-night, giving her an entire day at the Miami airport.
She’s flown alone before, but never internationally.  Of course, my mother’s heart wanted to be there with her. As soon as I learned of her delay in Dallas, I wanted to join her, to walk her through all the long lines, to show her all the hoops that airports can try and make you jump through, and to make sure that her unexpected hotel room in Miami was a safe place to stay.
But I couldn’t do that. All I could do was fret from my corner of the world while she tried to navigate through hers.
Kahlil Gibran wrote:
On Children
Your children are not your children.
They are the sons and daughters of Life's longing for itself.
They come through you but not from you,
And though they are with you yet they belong not to you.

You may give them your love but not your thoughts,
For they have their own thoughts.
You may house their bodies but not their souls,
For their souls dwell in the house of tomorrow,
which you cannot visit, not even in your dreams.
You may strive to be like them,
but seek not to make them like you.
For life goes not backward nor tarries with yesterday.

You are the bows from which your children
as living arrows are sent forth.
The archer sees the mark upon the path of the infinite,
and He bends you with His might
that His arrows may go swift and far.
Let your bending in the archer's hand be for gladness;
For even as He loves the arrow that flies,
so He loves also the bow that is stable.

Friday, September 5, 2014


Everyone who enters is automatically signed up for my newsletter and gets a chance to win my YA time travel romance, Beyond the Fortuneteller's Tent (which is a 2014 I Heart Indies finalist! I'll find out if it wins in October. Can't wait!) Also, if you want a chance to win a $50 Amazon gift card, leave your email address in the comments below.

Also, my mystery novel (with strong romantic elements) The Rhyme's Library is free until Sunday. It was a 2014 Kindle Book Review semi-finalist.
I hope that you enjoy both books, and that if you do, that you'll take a moment and write a review. I also hope you win a gift card! To visit the other hopping blogs, click on the blue banner at the top of this post, and it will direct you. 

Wednesday, September 3, 2014

The Rhyme's Library is Free Today

 A few months ago, I placed The Rhyme’s Library in the kindle select program. That means that every so often, I get free promotional days. September 3rd through the 7th are some of those days.
When I began The Rhyme's Library, this was the house in my head. It's the old Ellis house on Becky Avenue, just down the street from my dad's house. Lindie and Suzie Ellis, twins, were often my babysitters. I find it a little coincidental that Lindie died of an aggressive form of Alzheimer at age 57 and my character Charlotte also suffered from a mental illness. Although I didn’t know about Lindie’s illness until after the book was published.

I also like this house on Macloud Street. I like the weird shadow in the window. It was one of the many photos I considered for THE RHYME'S LIBRARY. Here are the others.

These are from the New York City Library, which is nothing like The Rhyme's Library in my head. I took these pictures while visiting. My girls had AP assignments to turn in, and so while they worked on the computers, I took picture. (The hand is photoshopped in.) Eventually, I came up with this idea.

I love it, because it’s exactly how I sometimes feel. 
It took me three years to write this book. I started it when all six of my children lived at home. I had six children in 5 schools. I had more carpools than any sane person should. I was also president of a women’s charitable organization…because I wasn’t busy enough. Nathan played the tuba, Bethany was a swim team captain, Adam ran track, Jared played football, Natalie played the trumpet, Miranda played the flute and everyone played the piano. And when Jared played the violin the dog would howl. Our house was noisy and chaotic and somehow I wrote this book…about craziness and murder.
Coincidence? Probably not.
On my birthday, a friend told me about a writers’ conference she went to, and, feeling somewhat envious, I went home and googled writers’ conferences. I picked one where you had to be accepted. You had to have a completed manuscript. It was in New York, and it was expensive. Thinking that I would never be accepted, I applied.
A few weeks later, I got a call. “We’re very excited about A Library in Harmony,” the voice said. (That was the original title of my book.) No one had ever said that to me before. When I told my husband about it, he said, "Go get 'em, tiger." And so I went to the conference.
I had an amazing time and met all sorts of nice people. I was in the mystery group with about 15 others. There were a handful of doctors, an attorney from Harvard, a professor from Vanderbilt—I was totally intimidated. When the first editor came and the director asked who wanted to go first, I raised my hand dead last. This actually was an amazing blessing, because when the next editor came, the director reversed the order, meaning that I went first, and he never changed it back. I went first for every editorial appointment after that. And because I would show up early, and the editor would be on time, we would then have to wait for the running late director. I always had ample time to chat with the editor. 
The morning I met with the editor from Penguin, Tom Clancy’s editor, I wore a brand new sweater and wool pants. The sweater shed. Pink sweater fluff covered my wool pants.
One guy in the group rolled his eyes at my panic and said, “He’s not going to turn down your book because of your sweater.” But sympathetic female writers understood my pain and helped me try and de-fuzz my pants with strips of scotch tape.
When I left, my dream editor, Tom Clancy’s editor, had a copy of my book. He actually looked me in the eye, and said, "I can see us working together." He had my book for ten months.
And now, the whole world can have my book for free.
This, of course, is not how I thought things would go when I left New York. I really thought Penguin would buy my book. I don’t remember being sad when I got the very nice rejection letter. I think I was too busy with my real life to spend a lot of time grieving. That weekend in New York City was like an excerpt from someone else’s life—someone without children and dogs and carpools and science projects.
I really don’t regret a moment of my crazy life. I adore my children, and the home my husband and I created for our family. I’m glad I never had to try and balance anyone else’s calendar, or fit my family’s schedule around literary deadlines.

And I’m really very happy to give copies of the Rhyme’s Library away. Please share it with everyone you know! 

Monday, September 1, 2014

Marketing Monday--Editing

What does editing have to do with marketing? Quite a bit. Especially if you want kind reviews.

I struggled with editing for a long time. I paid A LOT for editors. I have since found an editor that I love, but I came to the conclusion that I can’t rely solely on her. That’s not really fair. So, here’s my editing process. I love it. But if others have a niftier way to edit, or a tip I’ve missed, I would love to hear it.

I take my work to my writers group and my critique group. They function differently. One is a group of 10-12, and after I read my ten pages, everyone in attendance gets 2 minutes to put in their two cents. We have three readers a night, and we meet every other week. After I read my ten pages to my critique group, we talk about them in depth. Since there’s only three of us, we each read each time. Our meetings generally last about two hours.
When the book is completed, I run it through two online programs—Editminion and Grammarly. Editminion is free, and I use it mostly to catch clich├ęs. I have a year subscription to Grammarly, and it’s great for commas, word usage and sentence structure. Then I send my work to my editor.

After I get it back from her and have made changes, I use Narrator. It’s super easy. Here’s a link that explains how to use it.

 I think David (that’s the voice I listen to) is my new best friend. I actually use two computers. I don’t think you have to, but I find it easier. As David reads, I follow along, marking up weak sentences and catching any mistakes I find.

I hope this helps anyone who also has struggled with editing.

Friday, August 29, 2014

When Reality and Fiction Collide

I’d like to share an experience I had after finishing my novel Hailey’s Comments. I’d made a goal to query fifty agents and after a few weeks the rejection letters were flying in, each bringing a blow to my fragile ego. My friends own successful businesses, they teach in schools, run preschools, take in foster children- I write stories no one reads.

We were vacationing in the San Juan Islands with my husband’s family. I hadn’t written anything in weeks. When we visited Victoria, BC I knew I had to see Craigdarroch Castle. 
My novel, Hailey’s Comments takes place on a fictional island in the Pacific Northwest. The Dunsmuir home is a stone Victorian mansion, complete with turret and a widow’s walk that overlooks the ocean. In my novel the family matriarch, Helen, is murdered by her grandson, James Dunsmuir.

In Victoria, high on a hill, stands Craigdarroch Castle, but it’s not a castle with ramparts and moat. It’s a stone Victorian mansion complete with turret and a widow’s walk overlooking the ocean. It looks exactly as I’d envisioned my fictional Dunsmuir home. I stood outside on the grounds marveling. When I went upstairs, I read that the home was built by Robert Dunsmuir and after his death became the property of his widow, Joan. Joan and her son James, who shares my villain’s name, had a stormy relationship and were estranged for many years.

Until that day, I’d never visited Victoria, to my recollection I hadn’t any prior knowledge of the city’s prominent families or of Craigdarroch Castle. I’d never heard of the Dunsmuir family. As I stood on the Castle’s widow’s walk and watched the ships moving along the water, I felt a hand resting on my shoulder, pressing me forward, urging me to continue to write my dreams.

(My apologies to the Dunsmuir family. In reality, James was most likely a perfectly lovely person and if he had reasons for being estranged from his mother, I'm absolutely sure it's not because he murdered his grandmother.)

George Albert Smith said, “We are living eternal lives. Eternity doesn’t begin after this life but mortality is a crucial part of eternity. I sometimes have said to my friends when they seemed to be at the crossroads, uncertain as to which way they wanted to go, ‘Today is the beginning of eternal happiness or eternal disappointment for you.’ Our comprehension of this life is that it is eternal life—that we are living in eternity today as much as we ever will live in eternity. the intelligence that God has placed within it, that which has power to reason and to think, that which has power to sing and to speak, knows no death; it simply passes from this sphere of eternal life, and awaits This life is not given to us as a pastime. There was a solemn purpose in our creation, in the life that God has given to us. Let us study what that purpose is, that we may progress and obtain eternal life.”

Does this mean that I will become a bestselling author or that you will become an American Idol superstar? Probably not, but I can write, and I can create novels in every spare second I can find, and when someone  takes the time to tell me they loved my stories and characters—it’s more than enough of a reward. And you can do whatever you like, too, even make music—maybe you’ll be singing in a church, or a convalescent center, but if your music brings joy to you and especially to others, it will be reward enough.

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Beyond the Pale


Hooray! Look what I put up today! Beyond the Pale, the third and final book in the Beyond series.

After their encounter with the Headless Horseman in the Sleepy Hollow cemetery, Petra Baron and her immortal boyfriend, Emory Ravenswood, find themselves thrust into the bustle of modern-day New York City, where the dangers are both living and dead.

A chance encounter with Grigory Rasputin’s daughter sends Emory and Petra to St. Petersburg and the eve of the Russian Revolution. Their goal is to destroy the amulet that insures the mystic’s immortality, but their actions unintentionally set off a war between Heaven and Hell where only love can survive.