Tag Archives: writing

Murder Etc

While writing away on my happy Christmas story, the novel I decided to write when the one I’d been working on got too bloody and I needed a break from the gore so I went to humor and seasonal cheer…

Somebody got killed.

I didn’t see it coming but after it happened I realized how I’d set it up, how it was inevitable, and how there was no turning back. I could not erase it.

I blame Charlaine Harris. I’m doing NaNoWriMo this year (46K out of the required 50K as of today!) and they have famous writers come and give us pep talks every so often. Because we really need them.


This week Charlaine wrote about the middle of the book, where things can get messy. Beginnings and endings of stories are pretty safe bets. You’re setting up your story and characters or you’re wrapping things up. But the middle can be tricky, tedious, swampy, even. So Ms. Harris wrote about how she handles the middle. She kills somebody. I’m apparently quite suggestible. Not a day later and I do the same thing.

But wait. My last three novels have all had murder in them. The first of the murder books, Love and Death in Blue Lake, is now available for pre-order on Amazon and in print through my publisher, The Wild Rose Press. It makes me wonder if I’m transitioning from my contemporary women’s fiction type story into something more along the lines of domestic thrillers. I do like reading those psychological thriller type stories. I’m a fan of aberrant behavior, at least as far as reading fiction goes. So maybe this is finally settling into my writing self as well.

Reading is like the gateway drug for writing. And guess I’ll just accept that writing domestic novels are the gateway to writing domestic thrillers, at least for me.


More Writer’s Block Fixes

Life is like a novel: full of unexpected twists and irony. For example, several years ago, I wrote a series of posts on writer’s block. Through 45 years of writing,  I’d never had writer’s block, so Ten Fixes For Writer’s Block could have been arrogant nonsense. But as a creative writing teacher, I had come across so many kinds of writer’s block in my students that I felt compelled to write about ways to fix it. After all, it was my job to help young writers.

Little did I know when I was writing those fixes that one day I would need my own advice. A surprise: my younger self knew things my older self forgot. Because, yes, I have been struggling with writer’s block for a few months now. I’m not completely blocked. Obviously, writing this post proves that. Which is a relief because I really don’t know what I’d do with myself if I didn’t write, having no other hobbies except binge watching Longmire on Netflix.

(Photo credit: A&E)

For so long, I was absolutely sure that I would write until I died. I couldn’t imagine a time when I would not wake up in the morning with my current novel perking in my neocortex. That is just the way it has been for so long, I thought it would always be true. Especially when I retired from teaching. I couldn’t wait to write full time. How productive I would be! How prolific! Instead, I struggled to write and I struggled to understand why I was having to struggle. Finally I remembered a series of posts I compiled way back when I thought I’d never have a serious problem with writer’s block. Maybe I should look that up, I thought. I might learn something from myself.

Today, I checked over the list. It seems I have ALL of the ten reasons I listed. Maybe what I missed when I was busy being prolific is that writer’s block is complex and involves many moving parts, not just one thing you can tick off and be done with. I also read my advice on how to “fix” these problems and it’s solid. I should take my own advice, but first I am trying an additional experiment given to me by my awesome therapist, Dr. B.

Last session, I brought up my growing worry that I was done writing novels. In the past couple of months I had started and stopped two novels. I lacked the passion, the intrinsic motivation, the drive. It just dried up on me and I wasn’t sure why. Dr B suggested an experiment: go two weeks without working on a novel. She said something so wise “If you find yourself missing it, that will tell you something. If you find you don’t miss it, that will tell you something, too. Either way, you have more information.”

Isn’t she a genius? Because I have come to believe that there may be a time when I stop writing novels. I’m not sure when, but I can see now that day might come. That’s what the next two weeks will tell me. In the three days since Dr. B gave me this advice, I have learned one thing: I am not ready to stop writing books yet. I want to finish those two novels I started. I want to write more novels after those, too. The question remains: do I want it enough?

Here’s the irony: I found my younger self’s answer to that question embedded in the original post. I called it a “Reality Check” and went on to say “People can become blocked because they dread the time and effort involved to really make their writing shine. In that case, your writer’s block is telling you something important. You might have a bit of talent for writing, but you don’t have the passion it takes to bring that talent to the next level. And that’s okay. It’s good to know exactly why you’re blocked, what your options are, and whether you might be happier doing something else with your creative energy.”

I felt this bit of advice like a slap in the face. One thing age teaches you is that vital chemicals (hormones) deplete as you grow older. This is why older folks suffer from insomnia: their melatonin levels are low. Women in menopause lack powerful hormones that impact many areas of joyful living. Men lose testosterone. And bones become brittle because the calcium is not there anymore. What if passion is also finite? What if mine is gone forever?

I don’t really believe this. Passion is a feeling, not a hormone or a vitamin. There are ways to restore passion for writing, and I’ve found a few. There’s Dr. B’s advice, which I think could work for anyone. Julia Cameron suggests Artist Dates. Writing prompts can be can be useful. Deadlines too. NaNoWriMo is coming up in November. That’s always inspiring. Lists help. For example, I got the idea for writing this post from Molly Greene’s terrific list of 101 Fabulous Blog Topic Ideas.

I have not given up hope. I plan to rekindle my passion, and I’ll keep you posted on my progress. Meanwhile, if you are now going through a dry spell, or if you’ve had writer’s block in the past and broke through it, I’d love to hear your story.

Beware of Darkness

colt3.FullSizeRender-3A year ago, after a lifetime of being an advocate for gun control, a switch flipped inside my head. I decided I needed to learn how to shoot and own a gun. I discussed it with my husband who agreed to take lessons with me and to purchase a pair of handguns. As an older American, I felt vulnerable. A gun (or two) could protect us. This thinking was such a huge departure for me. I ruminated over it long and hard, talked it over with plenty of friends and family. I was surprised to learn how many already had guns and knew how to shoot them.

At the same time, my writing also took a darker tone. As often is the case, a character I loved acted out things I had been thinking, like taking shooting lessons and buying guns for self-protection. She also felt vulnerable. The title of my upcoming novel reflects this blacker mood in my world view. I finished that book, which I am proud of despite its darker themes. That’s the way it works with writers, or with me anyway. Whatever is on my mind finds its way into my current work. The books, in my view, are always stronger for it.


Still in the pro-gun frame of mind, I began another novel with my same beloved character. I wanted her to find a way out of her darkness. I thought it could be a psychological thriller with a victorious turnaround for my damaged character who had suffered so much. There were two shootings in the first chapter. Of course my character is on the side of the righteous and wants to find the shooter and see justice done. It was my job to help her do that.

Meanwhile, in real life, I never did push for those shooting lessons. I started to think maybe we didn’t need guns in the house after all. And I noticed I was reluctant to continue with the draft of this more violent novel. I thought I was being silly, and, ignoring my inner voice, forced myself to continue writing, telling myself It’s fiction! It’s not real! It’s a challenge. The pages accumulated and I had a solid start on a new and different novel in a fresh voice. My critique group thought it was great.


Then yesterday: the mass shooting in Oregon. After much reflection and the familiar unwillingness to sit down with my manuscript, I finally admitted to myself that I may not be up to this particular writing challenge. I just don’t have the stomach for it. Not now. Maybe not ever. Sure it’s just a book, but after yesterday it hit home: I don’t need or want to add any more to the world’s darkness, or my own, not even a little bit.

Lost My Crown & Other Lines

Isn’t this cover photo lovely? What a gorgeous veil. Like a crown. And gorgeous like Alice Hoffman’s writing. She writes like velvet. See, I write that sentence and it lays there. She would write. “Her words are pinned like bright stars on a deep blue velvet sky.”

Why can’t I write like that? Oh, wait. I can. I just don’t bother. Until I read someone like Hoffman who is a master on the sentence level, on the word level, on the vowel level. Honestly. Read her. The new one is The Marriage of Opposites and the story is just as captivating as the prose.

It’s so important for writers to read really good writing. No matter your genre, reach for the greats. I love my thrillers and my rom coms but sometimes you just have to go deep to reach high. Hoffman will inspire you to do that.

Meanwhile I really did lose my crown. Luckily it is only temporary and even more fortuitously my dentist is seeing me as an emergency at 10 am in the morning. Meanwhile I am eating a banana on one side of my mouth and sipping a coconut rum drink from a straw. This is all Hoffman’s influence. Her story takes place on the island of rum and bananas and coconuts…St Thomas in the nineteenth century.

My husband is away for the weekend and this whole tooth thing just has me feeling reckless drinking rum in the late afternoon all alone reading a really good book. Life could be worse, even minus the crown.

Guns & Opera: Blasting Through Stubborn Starts

I’m talking about a novel but this could be advice for starting anything, from a diet to an exercise program to a new career. I’ve been working on a book for awhile now. Various things got in the way, mostly myself. I was ill, I was tired, the room wasn’t the right color.

Maybe not the worst excuses but nevertheless there comes a time when you have to say “today I begin.” And then you do. And if you’re like me maybe you dither and take days off and lose the plot and just don’t get that groove. The book, the diet, the whatever has not had a chance to dig in and become a habit.

That takes a month or two. Of every day (or every week or whatever your commitment is) to happen. It’s those first 60 days–at least for me, for you it could be 30 or even less–that I need under my belt to cement the habit and begin to crave it. There is one way that this stubborn woman (me) who never does anything on a schedule has been able to get a schedule and here it is. Ready?


Write it down. On a calendar. Make a special chart if you’re doing a diet with certain foods or an exercise program with several components. Nothing feels better than checking a line on a list. Nothing. I didn’t think this would work for me, but it did. Another thing that works is DO IT FIRST. Or at least first thing after coffee.

I do not know why I only know it works. The third part, for me, for the book, is a page limit. Mine is three. Write three pages. It is easy. It is doable. It doesn’t have to be good. I just have to fill those pages. So there you go. Write it down. Do it first. Limit yourself to something easily accomplished.

That might sound counter-intuitive but if you write three pages consistently, pretty soon you’ll write more. If you walk 20 minutes, soon it will be 30. If you eat one bowl of kale, well, never mind, if you eat one bowl of kale you are a rock star, okay?

It’s just starting. And these three things are the easy on ramp to start. For me, personally, I like to think of life as art. Always refining, revising, reinventing. I find housework a drag unless I also rearrange the furniture, you know? And for all the mundane, I use the breath and the now. I take in the space around me in present moment time and I breath, I follow my breath and what is happening. It is endlessly changing and fascinating. No, honest!


My talent (everyone has a talent, find yours!) is writing and I like to always have a novel going. And it has to be totally different than the one before. I’ve been called a romance writer, but I’ve written really only one pure  romance novel out of the ten books I’ve published. The new one is a thriller, I think. For the thrill of the new, of course. I’m researching not just this new genre and structure but also things like guns and opera. It is so fun. And that’s the real ticket to starting anything new and keeping it going: make it fun.

Coming Out of the Cold Dark Cave

I woke up this morning and nothing hurt. Not my heart, not my knee, not my spine, not my belly with its girdle of barbed wire. True, I’d only had six hours of sleep, but I’ll take it. Nothing hurts. All is well. Like a miracle I am me again. And all it took was one year and two gallons of ardent coral paint.


When you live with situational depression, in my case I had a falling-apart marriage and a too-stressful job, or chronic physical pain that almost comically morphs from torn ACL to fractured bone to shingles to strep throat with all the pills and their side effects in between, and one thing just happens after the next, there comes a point where you accept the pain and learn to live along side it. I don’t want to say I made friends with the pain, but I didn’t try to ditch it every second of every day anymore. I sat with it. I let myself feel it.


I’m a reader and a meditator, I have tools. First I got a therapist. There’s something about cognitive therapy that feels like unpicking a knotted gold chain. And another thing happens calls transference. Sometimes the patient (that’s me) transfers her anger, pain, distress, or even love onto her therapist. In my case, I transferred my friend-gene. I had lost the ability almost entirely to talk to my friends. Physical sickness does that to me. And I didn’t want to tell anyone about my crumbling marriage, either. So Dr. B became my confidant, she became my best friend and gold knot untangler. Stars did she do a heavenly job.

We were almost done with the mental aspects, and the marriage was looking pretty good, when the physical stuff hit. Dr. B, like any good best friend, stuck with me through that because I needed her to cope with the way the pain wore me down and also all the pills. My aim is to get out of this cold dark cave un-addicted to food, to pills, to wine, to whining. I want nothing less than shining health.


See that light on top of the room? Al brought that home for me from his travels. It had been his mothers and his father had given it to him. Now Harrison men are not vocal in their appreciation and love, but I knew that Al’s dad didn’t give Al the light for his man cave. And I knew Al didn’t show it to me so I could say it was pretty. I knew it  for the gift it was. Love of a mom no longer with us shining down on my new room where I can write in peace on the other side of a year of pain.

Here’s to Bob

Bob just published his first novel! Yay!

And I had the pleasure of taking that journey with him, from the minute he sat in my Advanced Creative Writing class with at least one completed manuscript and a whole lot of determination.

To be a writer you need those three things: determination, some pages with words you wrote upon them, and a tribe. That’s my tribe, above: I’m sitting next to Bob, next to Tom, next to Vernie.

That writing class was Bob’s tribe for the moment. We writers move around. I don’t even teach college anymore; I write full time now. Neither Bob nor I were published when we met.

How Bob Baker became a friend of mine is pretty straightforward. I recognized his talent. I encouraged him. I was apparently nice enough so that he felt okay emailing me after our school semester was over. I was confident enough in his talent to invite him into my writing group, and he was confident enough to accept. Thus, a tribe was formed.

My writing group–it’s a small group, just four of us–came about through many offers for participants on my part and much comings and goings on the part of others until we settled into a fine quartet. We’ve been meeting there or four years now once a month with 10-20 pages each. We spend five hours tearing each other’s work apart giving each other constructive criticism and talking about writing in general. Publishing, too.

When the group began, we had two published writers and two unpublished. Bob has rounded it out so that now with the advent of Hiding Tom Hawk we are all published, all quite pleased with ourselves. And my best advice to any writer is to find your tribe. There’s no mystery to getting published. Practice and show your work to a few trusted souls and follow the well worn path that the internet is very happy to set out.

Here's to you, Bob!

Here’s to you, Bob!

I’ve got a book about it. I wish I could give every one of you a copy but it sold out in print although there’s a newer edition of Your Words, Your Story anyway with the whole scoop on indie publishing, and whether you are published by a traditional press or as an indie, (and I’v been both) nothing will ever feel better than holding your first book in your hands.

To help say congrats to Bob, I will send free copies of both e-books, mine and his, to the first three people who comment today. And thanks for reading about my lovely band of merry writers.

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