Getting started

Isn’t that the hardest part sometimes? Just sitting down and putting the first lines on paper. I can’t seem to move forward until I get a first paragraph that I feel good about and the very first line needs to feel just right. I’ve realized that many of my books begin with taking a first step, crossing a threshold, which is usually a signal that things for the main character are about to change.

For my newest work in progress, Spencer’s Cove, there is no first step. There’s a cat, who has no concept of how much he weighs (18 lbs.) and a mystery to be solved… oh, and a painfully shy heiress.

Now, back to work on that first chapter.

Spencers Cove LOW res

The Wisdom of Rocks and Making Time to Create

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Some rocks from  my rock collection. That white rock is from a writing retreat I did in Spain.

I was driving home last night from work thinking of what I’d say in an end-of-the-year blog post. It didn’t take long for me to circle back to early 2017 when I began research for my current work-in-progress, Proxima Five. One of the main characters in the novel is a geologist named Leah Warren. So, first things first, find a geologist to talk to. Plans were laid to meet my friends Darlene and Peggy for dinner at a local restaurant named Sweet T’s. Peggy is a geologist and we share an active love of rocks. We talked over dinner about the geological clock and how slowly it moves. How the youngest rock is tens of thousands of years old. And over the past year as the pace of stories about debacles in our nation’s capital have glutted the daily news cycle I’ve longed for a bit of that geological pace. Wouldn’t it be nice if things just slowed a bit?

But that isn’t exactly where my thoughts ended up on the drive home. Thinking about time came later. What immediately came to mind was the fact that Sweet T’s, a local favorite, is gone. Completely leveled in the Tubbs Fire that raged through Santa Rosa during October. So much happened in 2017. One small crisis after another, culminating with an inferno in October. And this was before the intense fires in southern California later in the year.

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Sweet T’s after the Tubbs Fire of 2017.

Repeatedly during the year, I was grateful to be able to find a respite from reality while writing fiction. However, as I look back, the story of Proxima Five evolved over the last few months, influenced by the reality of our times. A story that began as an examination about what happens when power rules unchecked, became a more nuanced narrative about power dynamics, sex, and culture, about the mechanisms that come to exist in society as a result of those factors.

It’s fortuitous that I would have the opportunity to write Proxima Five. It gives me a place to put thoughts into something constructive. But Proxima Five is an epic shift from my newest book, Love at Cooper’s Creek, due out February 1 by Bold Strokes Books.

LoveAtCooper'sCreekLove at Cooper’s Creek is a meditation on small town America in the Deep South. It’s sweet, hopeful, funny, and heartfelt. The story is partly about running away and at the same time, being found.

“A sense of connection, a sense of belonging washed over Shaw. She looked at Kate who had covered her mouth with her hand. The wet paths of tears were on her cheeks. Shaw didn’t have the language to explain the emotion that crowded her chest. It was as if Charlie had sent her a message of kinship from some other place, some place beyond knowing, beyond words. She couldn’t explain it. The moving monument was like some secret presence of the divine, and in that instant, she knew she’d been loved.” (from Love at Cooper’s Creek)

I guess the moral of this end-of-the-year blog post, if one exists, is that 2017 made me realize how important it is to give ourselves breathing room, breaks from reality to create, in whatever form that takes.

Our studio has a holiday lunch to celebrate the end of the year. As the host of the gathering I always try and have some inspiring quote that I share with the team. This year’s quote was from Mary Oliver and I intend to make it my goal for the New Year. I always tell people, invest in yourself. When I say that I don’t mean financially, I mean, give yourself time.

“The most regretful people on earth are those who felt the call to creative work, who felt their own creative power restive and uprising, and gave to it neither power nor time.” ― Mary Oliver

Happy New Year.

The End

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My wife Evelyn took this picture.

I finished the first draft of the manuscript for Crossing The Wide Forever today. Weighing in at just over 67,000 words it’s the longest story I’ve written to date.

There seems to be a moment about seventy-five percent into every book that I have written thus far where the whole thing stalls and I worry that I’ve gone off the rails and have no idea how it’s all going to come together. I lose sleep, I fret, I drive my wife Evelyn crazy recapping scenes in the story. (She says not, but I’m sure I do.)

With a fourth cup of coffee in hand, my writing playlist piping in through noise-cancelling headphones and the lights in my studio dim… I write the next 1,000 words. Because you just have to. You have to push through to the other side.

Four thousand words later I crawl into bed, exhausted, frustrated, and dream about the book. Scenes flash through my mind like I’m watching a movie. And then it happens. Somewhere between asleep and awake, at about four o’clock in the morning the whole thing comes together in my head. I can see it all the way through.

In the dark I get up and go downstairs to scribble all of it down on a giant yellow legal pad. My cat Otis is happy. He finally has somewhere to sit. (Cats and paper, what is that?)

I’ve also noticed that every time I finish a book, the minute I type the words “The end,” I’m euphoric. My head feels lighter. I can finally stop worrying about these characters that I’ve been living with for weeks. I’ve gotten them through to the end and they’re going to be okay.

Everyone gets what they need in the end, except me, because now I’m feeling sad. I begin missing those characters. They have more stories to tell.

I email the acquisitions editor Sandy at Bold Strokes Books and tell her I have a great idea for a sequel. Sandy is always kind in her correspondence, so she promptly replies and gently reminds me sequels don’t sell as well. Sigh.

#TheWritingLife

Feeling Good About Letting Go

“Abundance is a process of letting go; that which is empty can receive.”
— Bryant H. McGill

If any of you follow me on Facebook then you know that I posted earlier in the week about getting stuck on the villain character in my current work in progress. Thanks to everyone who responded and just as an update, in case you were curious, I’m unstuck.

I realized this morning while driving to work that part of getting unstuck was the willingness to let go. The novel that I am currently working on for Bold Strokes Books, Birthright, is a story I first started to think about back in 1997. It’s crazy to think that this concept has been sitting around for that long and I’m just now making it real. Basically, I have this “suitcase of ideas.” And yes, it’s literally a suitcase. In it are story outlines, character drawings, names, imaginary maps and references for all kinds of things. Birthright was in that suitcase. And maybe that’s why I ended up getting stuck.

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My suitcase of ideas.

Sometimes I think if an idea ferments for too long you become too attached to certain aspects of the initial concept. In this case I needed to let some things go. I needed to allow this story to evolve into something new, something better.

Secondary characters are now taking more of a lead role. The villain has a second-in-command. Names have changed and the original intent of the story has expanded. All for the better I think (I hope). I realized that by trying to force the narrative to adhere to my original concept I was holding the story back.

Anyway, I just felt like sharing this. As a writer, and as encouragement for other writers and creators, it feels good to let go. Especially when letting go means allowing the characters to move forward with their story.

Getting Stuck to Find Your Way

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“I’ve always run by the hierarchy of ‘If not funny, interesting. If not interesting, hot. If not hot, bizarre. If not bizarre, break something.” — Jon Stewart

I’ve been working for several weeks on my second book in my first lesbian romance series. (I can’t wait to officially announce my debut novel! It’s with my editor at the moment.) But this narrative hasn’t been like the first, which seemed to come to me all at once like I was channeling some long forgotten tale. This second book has dropped into my head in bits and pieces: random conversations, glimpses of scenes, feelings.

For the last couple of weeks I’ve also had this unsettling notion that all of what I’ve written is crap. If I’m feeling bored with it and I’m the one in control of the story, then there’s definitely a problem. I was talking with a friend of mine about it and mentioned that I had written myself into a corner. More accurately, I wrote myself into a ditch, some sad rut that I haven’t been able to steer out of.

Then it hit me.

This story I’ve been laboring over is bogged down because it got off track. Somewhere after chapter two I took a side road to nowhere. But all is not lost, because what I realized is that this story is actually part of book four in the series. Or book four is part of this book… At any rate the two storylines fit together like puzzle pieces filling in the dead spaces in both. I don’t know why I didn’t see it before. I think I was lost in a maze of my own creation. Not only that, when scenes and words become too precious to be reconsidered, or edited, or cut, then you may be your worst enemy.

Make strong coffee. Deconstruct. Amend. Revise. Rewrite.

Suddenly it all makes sense. The story has life again, and it’s a full one.

This goes out to my fellow writers… Has this ever happened to you?