Writer's Life

Spring Break Staycation

The view from our balcony. Snow, Christmas lights, overcast sky.

The view from our balcony. Snow, Christmas lights, overcast sky.

Yesterday was the beginning of Spring Break. Normally we try to take at least a short vacation. This year we are staying close to home because I am afraid of leaving Chloe alone. She’s our brindle terrier mix, and she runs the house. She’s 15 years old and doesn’t feel well much of the time. She also seems to be getting separation anxiety, as we have to be in her sight at all times or she whines in distress. Our poor baby girl.

It’s fun to look back at some of our trips. Others, not so much. A few years ago, we had reservations at Trappe Family Lodge in Stowe, Vermont. We looked forward to sitting in the nice warm lodge and watching the snow. We would nap, drink tea and hot chocolate, eat from their wonderful menu. We would relax. At home, meteorologists predicted a dusting. 

 They were wrong.

The second evening of our vacation, our sitter called to ask if any of our neighbors might be able to feed and walk our dogs. She was afraid she wouldn’t be able to get out to make her visits with him. Turns out the prediction of snow had changed drastically, and the governor would be closing the roads over heavy snow. I panicked. All of our neighbors are elderly and none of them able to care for our dogs. Our only option was to immediately return home. We hurriedly packed and talked with hotel staff. We were booked for the week. Fortunately, the manager was kind and didn’t ask us to pay for the remainder of the week, despite the fact that she was entitled to do so.

As we drove through the night, not a single snowflake fell. We finally found an all-night grocery store where we bought a large supply of junk food and soda to sustain us on the trip. Since we had been on the go since early morning, we struggled to stay awake and alert.

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We made it to Hartford as the sun rose. Snow started falling as we pulled into the driveway. We unpacked and quickly checked food supplies since we had not shopped before leaving.

Finally satisfied that we didn’t need any supplies, our dogs were in good shape, and we were okay, too, we went to sleep. It was still snowing when we woke, and the accumulation was deep. I was able to dig a short path from our back door to allow the dogs out. They really were not happy—the snow was taller then each of them!

It snowed for 2 more days. The neighborhood was so quiet and peaceful. We kept some of the path clear for the dogs by using a long shovel we kept inside for that purpose, but we weren’t able to open the doors wide enough for us to leave.  Didn’t matter; the city didn’t plow our road for three days. 

The takeaway is simple. No more long trips over spring break. Fine by me; it’s snowing again today.

But She's Chloe

By this time in January, my partner and I have usually taken 1 or 2 mini vacations, seen lots of movies, and in general had big fun. Not this year.

Christmas evening, we returned home to find our Chloe laying in bed, still. She barely looked up at us. We were petrified. Despite being 14 years old, our Chloe (or Chlorine Baconskin, as we call her when trying to retrieve something she’s stolen) was an energetic, marauding thief who bosses her younger brother and sister (and us) around. The next day was no better. She also began to vomit. Off to the vet.

Bloodwork showed her liver enzymes were off the chart, immeasurably high. Her pancreatic enzymes were off as well. An ultrasound showed two masses—one on her liver and one by her pancreas. The doctors announced two possibilities: a serious infection or cancer.

No, that’s not possible. It’s Chloe, marauder extraordinaire.

We waited over a week for the results of the biopsy. Meanwhile, Chloe began to get better. More active. More bossy and complaining if supper was two minutes past the usual time. Finally, we got word that no sign of cancer or infection were found. Our primary vet, who has treated her for most of her life, warned us that the next step would likely entail more invasive procedures that would tax her already distressed liver.

Today, Chloe is her usual marauding self. Just this afternoon we discovered she’d hidden a box of tissues to rip into shreds as the mood arises. That’s why we’re staying home. To see that the girl is comfortable and happy. To keep tabs on her thievery. To get her dinner on time. And to make sure she knows she’s loved—Just because she’s Chloe.

My Chloe. Don't you just love her?

A Wish for You

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A major theme in my writing is that we are happiest when we can be who we are. I think it resonates with me because I spent so much of my life trying to be the person others expected me to be. Maybe you've had similar experiences. 

I'm starting a quest for the new year. Part envisioning, part goal setting. Why not join me? 

Once a month I'll send out a short email offering ideas and action steps to put us on the journey to living the life we imagine. Don't worry; I'll still talk about books and things. To start us off, I'm offering a brief tool to keep track of where you're going. Just click the button to join my email list. You’ll then be directed to the booklet. It will open in your browser for you to download in the usual way. You can print it double-sided, and then fold it into a booklet. I find it helpful to have something I can write on.

2019 is going to be awesome.

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FanGirl Forever

You should have seen me when I found this little gem in Dollar Tree. I had to contain my giddy voice and behavior while making sure to put two of these babies in my basket before anyone else could grab them.

I’ve had the fortune to meet Jason Momoa a few times at fan events. At one of them, I spent a lot of time with him, including having breakfast with him. He remembered me, too. When he would pass me in the hall he’d yell out “Connecticut!”. It was awesome.

At that event and every other one, he was exactly the man you think he is. Gorgeous. Hyperactive. Hilariously funny. A little goofy. And did I say extremely gorgeous?

Of course, intellectually I knew that no one was going to snatch the bags out of my hands, but my excited fangirl-self wasn’t going to take a chance. I mean: Jason Momoa. Aquaman. Can you blame me?

My only regret is not buying three.

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All That Remains the Same is Change

Welcome to Living After Midnight 2.0. It was time to upgrade and to explore new horizons. That, and my other host made my site vulnerable to too many spam comments. So please, while you’re here, take a moment to look around and let me know what you think. 

I’m one of those people who loves change. I like exploring new places and meeting new people. I like rearranging the furniture and painting a room in a wild new color. I like moving, although admittedly I don’t do it as often as I used to. I even enjoy learning about why people resist change so vehemently.

What about you? Do you embrace change?

A Viking Weekend

My partner and I headed off to Mystic, Connecticut for Viking Weekend at Mystic Seaport. I’m not sure why we were so interested (other than we’re members of the Seaport and it was a gorgeous weekend), but off we went for a two day adventure. It was a blast. On the Commons, a settlement of tents depicted how they may have lived. Many men and women of all ages, shapes, and sizes were dressed in Viking warrior or period garb. (Some were actors paid by the Seaport but most were simply Viking enthusiasts.) There were Viking ships, exhibits of tools, battle gear and weapons. Vendors sold all sorts of paraphernalia, from hand crafted satchels to leather sword shields. Still other sellers offered authentic food of the period, or so they claimed.  And if you wanted to learn how to make mead, they had you covered too.

Knowing little about Viking culture, we attended three lectures. My favorite was given by one of the Seaport’s boat builders and lead shipwrights . He’d spent three months reconstructing a Viking ship using only the tools available in that time and shared his experiences through stories, pictures and videos of his journey.

The two other lectures were given by purported experts in Viking culture, but interestingly they contradicted each other on many points so I can’t vouch for accuracy. Here’s a smattering of what was said:

  • Vikings were not pillaging raiders, but young sons seeking their fortunes.
  • Viking warriors operated under a strict moral code, never stealing or hurting the weak.
  • They routinely raided monasteries, sometimes returning to ones previously attacked.
  • Their raids extended as far as Northern Africa.
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See what I mean? What they both agreed on, however, was that we have scant records of this time period, leaving much for experts to interpret from a few stories and reverse engineering. For example, there is no information about fighting strategies, but what we believe to be true was gleaned from a small handful of personal accounts, as well as assumed from artifacts and remains.

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All in all, it was a great event. The weather was beautiful, the people were friendly, and we learned a thing or two. Now to find some Viking clothes and gear for our next excursion. Any idea where we can find a good leather arm guard?

A Concert to Remember: Sir Tom Jones

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It should be no surprise to those who know me that I go to as many concerts as I can. Even in the wake of the passing of the One and Only (Prince), I still have an appetite for good music and talented musicians. When I had the opportunity to see Tom Jones in concert, I knew I had to do it.

I was just a kid when he was on TV, but I remember watching his variety show with my mother. She, like many women in her day, was entirely smitten by him. Not only could the man sing, but he could Move. That's Move, with a capital M. Move in the way that, even just watching, your body remembers. Yeah, my mother would have been one to toss her bra and panties on stage if she'd gone to a show. (They don't still do that, by the way. I wish they did. I probably would have joined in.)

Today, Sir Tom is 78. It would be untrue to say that he is sexy for a man of his age. He is gorgeous and sexy for ANY age! The salt and pepper hair and beard, that freaking twinkle in his eyes...The man still has it. But when he started to sing, I nearly slid off of my seat. His voice is exquisite. It has always been extraordinary and it is still. Strong. Perfect. One of the songs he sang was Tower of Song, by Leonard Cohen. It is so beautiful it brought tears to my eyes. Tower of Song.  He also did a slow, uber sexy version of his hit, Sex Bomb. Sexy with a capital S. Sexy in the way that even just listening, your body remembers--Listen for yourself::Sex Bomb on YouTube

Unfortunately, the Foxwoods audience wasn't well-behaved enough for me to completely immerse myself in the music. The group of entitled, middle-aged beer drinkers sitting right in front of me (six deep, men and women) were loud, continually in and out of their seats getting--guess what--more beer. When they weren't shouting to each other or drinking, they were on their phones or drunkenly begging my friend to dance with them. I guess I looked too irritated to bother asking.

Sir Tom sang and played with the audience for a full two hours, no break. When he broke into his fast hits like  Delilah, What's New Pussycat?, She's a Lady and It's Not Unusual, the crowd went wild. So did I.

And its no wonder. Guess when he was born? June 7th.Same day as Prince.

Ladies and gentlemen, there are no coincidences.

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Characters and Settings: How I Keep It Together #MFRWAuthors

I stumbled around for a long time trying to work out a system of getting characters and settings settled in my mind. I usually start with an actor who could play the character I have in mind. Being able to see real people makes their physical characteristics easier to describe.But after awhile I tended to mix them up with other characters in the book—or even another book. Sometimes I totally forget what I’ve written. My haphazard records didn’t ensure that my characters eye color or hair didn’t change from one page to the next. In 2009, everything changed. I discovered a book called Break Into Fiction by Mary Buckham and Dianna Love. I worked through all the exercises and pulled all my notes together. I didn’t have to generate new information about my characters but this book gave me a record keeping system.

Since then I’ve looked at several systems for creating characters and settings but none have been as helpful as this book. Moreover, I attended two weekend workshops with Ms. Buckham which cleared up questions I had.

I’m afraid I’m not as particular about settings. The ones in my books tend to be real places I have been or seen. For example, Zander’s apartment in House of the Rising Son is modeled after Brian Kinney’s loft in Queer as Folk. Although I may change a few things, having concrete places in mind keeps me from having settings change constantly.

Today when I have a new plot percolating, one of the first things I do is to pull out my copy of Break Into Fiction and tackle those worksheets. I may not come up with all the answers when I start but this system reminds me that I need to know them to finish.

I Like Keeping Them With Me #MFRWAuthor

You may have heard the warning about never making a writer mad at you or you will meet a disastrous end in their book. I will admit to having desire to serve justice in writing on occasion but I don't believe I have ever done it. What would be the point? It would serve as a reminder of my anger every time I read it. I've never had a family member in a story either. They just don't fit into the kind of stories I write. Last time I checked they were all human and not a rock star in the bunch.

On the other hand, I have a few friends who have appeared on the page. Ria and Jewell are composites of people I know. Auntie Vi, a major player in Volume Two of Cheyenne's story, has been in the background for awhile waiting for her curtain call. Chance, the star of WOLVES (from my upcoming New Adult urban fantasy) is very much one of my friends. I wonder if he will recognize himself. My doctor will make an appearance in WOLVES, at his request. Yes, you read that correctly. He asked to be a character in the novel. My doctor is a very cool guy.

In truth, my characters are more likely based on actors, sports figures, or musicians who have the look I am going for. I will base my character on those looks, changing some of the details here and there as I see fit. My take on their personalities comes from what feelings their looks evoke.

Often, I'll develop a character and spend months playing in that character's world but not finish a story about him (it's usually a him). A hundred percent of the time, however, these beloved characters will appear in supporting roles in other stories--sometimes multiple other stories. I suppose I like keeping my “friends” with me.

Finishing a Book: Complex Endings and Beginnings

I have friends who throw parties when their manuscript is finished. One even rented a hall, catered it, and signed books for the occasion. Others unceremoniously set it aside and start the next one. And others who throw up their hands in exasperation and declare they are sick of the whole thing, refusing to look at it again. I have elements of each of those extreme reactions, with a healthy dose of relief that comes completing a big project that is personally significant, and a little bit of grief that it's over. Not that I ever finish a manuscript. Rather, I am more likely to have it taken from me before I “edit all the life out of it”. Even after it has been sent off to the editor, I am likely to keep rewriting it in my mind.My best luck at letting go seems to be when I can bury myself in a new project. I keep a notebook of ideas and rely on a gem inside to intrigue me enough to pull me away.

There is so much that has to happen to successfully launch a book I am not sure how anyone finds the time to celebrate at all. And because for me, writing is something I'm driven to do, have no choice but to do, I forget what a monumental accomplishment completing a novel truly is. Going forward, I plan to honor my achievement by buying myself something nice. Some possibilities?

  • A Barnes and Noble shopping Spree
  • An Amazon gift card
  • A new tote bag
  • A fancy pen
  • A fancy journal
  • Chocolate

Hmm. Now that I look at these all in a row like that, it seems what I want for finishing a book includes only books and writing related things. Which bring me right back to writing. Oh, well.

Yes. Chocolate is involved. Chocolate is always involved. #don'tjudgeme

I Can Hardly Imagine Worse

I don't understand negative book reviews, and I have never been compelled to write one. If a book doesn't click with me, it doesn't click with me. Maybe if the book were racist, sexiest, and undecipherable, maybe I'd think that it would benefit society to hear my opinion. Otherwise, I recognize that nothing pleases everyone so if I read a book I don't like, I move on to the next book. My opinion about negative reviews was, unfortunately, exacerbated by my very worst one. You see, my worst review was also my FIRST review.

That's right. The very first review I received for my debut novel, HOUSE OF THE RISING SON, was a 1-star review. And it gets worse. The reviewer remarked, "I admit it. I skimmed it." She went on to say that she didn't like the main characters.

She hadn't even read it.

I am a realist. I hadn't expected the world to fall in love with me at first reading. I didn't think I was the next Laurell K. Hamilton. I just hoped some folks would find my book and enjoy the story, maybe connect with my characters. I knew that a book about a bisexual incubus with kids and a screwed up childhood wouldn't be everyone's cup of tea. Still, I couldn't have anticipated that someone who "skimmed" the book would be so publicly and permanently negative. Yes, 1-star reviews are permanent. They affect an overall rating in a way that is difficult to overcome, mathematically speaking. Fortunately, I'm surrounded by kind, generous, and experienced authors who talked me off of the ledge. I recall, in particular, a letter from syndicated columnist and author Vicki Williams. Her words of support and encouragement meant (and still mean) so much to me.

For giggles I read the 1-star reviews of my favorite books.Doing so helped me to understand something about the review process. Since nothing pleases everyone and we live in a world where the internet makes it easy for people to express all sorts of views, negative reviews are the cost of being a writer. Our work is public, therefore opinions about it will be too. It is also clear to me that most people don't understand the ramifications of negative reviews and consequently don't hesitate to give a very low rating for peculiar reasons. For instance:

  • "I skimmed it."  How do you know if it was good or bad?
  • "I hated the cover." Not a commentary on the story.
  • "Just got the book, I'll change the review after I read it." No. Just no.
  • "Not the type of book I care to read." And that deserves a low rating?
  • "I skipped every scene this character was in...The book was confusing." Of course it was confusing.

Overtime, House of the Rising Son received more reviews, including many 4 and 5-star accolades. The fact that readers enjoy Cheyenne's story (and find him as sexy as I do) is encouraging, and has strengthened my commitment to continue writing. I do still read my reviews (can't help myself) but I take them for what they are: One person's experience. Bad reviews are going to happen. So are good ones.

Writing Contests: An Unfortunate Peek Behind the Curtain

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I don't “do” contests, either to enter or to judge. As a newbie writer, I competed in a couple of them early on, but a few meetings of various writer’s group cured me of thinking the feedback would be worth the money they charged. A writing group I'd joined spent several meetings trying to come up with money making ideas. One such idea was to offer critiques for a fee. Although I admit that I was skeptical of this as a fundraising strategy, I listened to seasoned writers refusing to “waste their time”. I listened to people with one or two books under their belts wanting to charge hundreds of dollars to read and comment on entries. I listened to someone who had never been able to pitch a book successfully wanting to charge to critique pitches and offer developmental critiques. The entire process had me wondering if we might do more harm than good offering such services.

For my first bad personal experience, I was in a meeting where the officers were giving an update on the progress of the contest. A simple discussion turned into a tirade by members of the club’s contest who apparently thought they were unduly burdened. For more than 40 minutes people complained. They were sick of the horrendous writing and burdened by the contest rules which required them to offer meaningful critiques. On and on they lamented about wasting their time on writers who were clearly clueless and never going to be publishable. Yes, they actually said these things and worse. I was mortified for those in the room who, in good faith, had submitted their work. I vowed then to never enter another contest.

I decided to never again judge a contest due to a similar ridiculous circumstance. I was asked to help my group out and critique a few contest entries. I was skeptical of my ability as I was newly published and still learning to be a better writer myself. But I figured I'd view my role as one of a beta reader and offer my take on the author's story structure and ability to draw me in as a reader. I explained this and was assured that my plan was in line with the rules/goals of the contest. I was also assured (and in fact, the rules of the contest stated explicitly) that the judges' feedback and scores would be anonymous.

Flash forward to weeks after the winners were announced. To my horror, one of the contestants approached me and complained about the score she'd received. As you might imagine, I was stunned. I did keep my cool, and reminded her to look at my comments and not just the score because I, in fact, liked her story. I scored her in accordance with the judges' rubric and offered meaningful and kind feedback. To add insult to injury, every time we ran into each other over the next year or so, she pointed at me and announced to whoever was nearby (including agents and editors!) that "she hates my writing".

Yes, I did go back to the contest's organizers to complain. I was assured there was "no way she could know". Funny. Because she did know.

By no means do I discount all writing contests. There are many notable competitions resulting in significant accolades and opportunities for winners and runner ups. My advice to new writers would be to investigate each contest thoroughly. Just a few sample inquiries: What is the reputation of the sponsoring group? Are there many participants? What are the qualifications of the judges? What kind of feedback will you receive?

Have you entered or judged any writing contests? What was your experience? I hope lightyears better than mine.