Sunday, September 23, 2018

Fast Or Slow?

Years ago, before I realized I was a better writer than a seamstress, I made quilts. And years ago, there were two schools of thought regarding quilting–you could either do it fast or you could do it slow. The fast way involved machine sewing all those little squares and triangles together and then either tying your three layers together (backing, batting and top) or doing a minimal amount of hand quilting. The Long Arm quilting machines were only then coming into existence.

The slow way involved cutting out each individual triangle or square from a template and pinning it to the next piece to make a block, which then was joined to another similar block. Borders were added and then it was all pinned together and the three layers were painstakingly quilted by hand. Believe me, punching a needle through three layers of fabric and batting was not for the faint of heart and it was a source of pride when you could get your quilting stitch fine and consistent enough to reach 10 or 12 stitches to the inch. The quilt shown here was laboriously hand sewn and hand quilted while I was racing around the country years ago. While my friend took over the driving, I stitched the little triangles together in my lap. The pattern was appropriately called the Wild Goose Chase.

I attended a quilting exhibition on Friday and was amazed and disappointed to find only two quilts that were quilted by hand. There were some exquisite tops in vivid design and detail, but to me, the effect was lost because of the long arm machine quilting. As intricate as the stitching was, the quilts didn't have the puffy consistency that you got from hand quilting. They looked flat to me.

So why am I telling you this? Because last weekend, I attended a writer's conference where one of the  speakers talked about outlining your novel before you begin writing it. Her goal is to publish six books a year, and in order to do so, she creates an extensive outline for each one before starting. Her detailed chapter outline even included snippets of dialogue that she thought would be appropriate in the chapter. It's the writer's version of the long arm quilting machine.

I'm not one to disparage a writer's methods. We each have to find our own way of being creative, and if someone like Danielle Steel or this woman from the conference thinks outlines are the way to go, who am I to argue? If it works for them, fine. But to me, it felt flat. Leaving no room for creativity to take over in the middle of a scene, to connect the dots that only your subconscious is aware of before they come together on the page, seems more like a grind than a grin. But that's me and that's why I can't produce six books a year.

What about you? If  you're a plotter, do you use an outline? Write the synopsis first? Use a beat sheet?  How detailed do you get before you begin to put words on a blank screen?

Sunday, September 16, 2018


This week, an old Girl Scout song has been humming through my mind.
“Make new friends, but keep the old. One is silver and the other is gold” 
I sang this chant, along with my other Girl Scouts, back in the 1960s, and it never had much meaning to me until this week. I came back to Ohio, back to the Northeast Ohio chapter of RWA, for probably the final time. Seeing all my old friends who came along the publication journey with me, who shared in my excitement of my first book being published, was a real treat. Those two days of the conference, the endless hugs, and the whispered conversations, are something I won't ever forget. Old friends. 
But I now live in North Carolina, and have joined a new chapter of RWA that's just a tad closer than Ohio. The Heart of the Carolinas chapter, in Raleigh, is my new home, and I'll be attending their annual conference in October. I hope to get to know these ladies a bit better at this conference and make some new friends. 
Authors may write their manuscripts in a solitary environment, but we all need networks of like-minded friends to help us on our journeys. That's why I have more than one publisher. Not only does it offer a measure of safety, should a publishing house decide on a whim to close its doors, but you gain access to a whole new tribe of authors who all will cheer your successes, and help lift your spirits if you fail. The larger the circle, the better and more successful you will become. 

So here's to my friends, both old and new. May we always share love, laughter and success. Oh, and wine.

Sunday, September 9, 2018

Breaking With Tradition

Anyone who's spent any time writing romance knows one of the cardinal rules of the genre is that the initial meeting of the hero and heroine must take place no later than Chapter Two.

I never liked following the rules.

My current WIP features a couple who are operating under false pretenses, not of their own making. She had been informed of his death six years ago, on a far-away battlefield. He had been informed of her marriage to another. He's a spy now, involved in an undercover operation and has assumed a different identity. So a meeting in the first chapter or two would undermine the entire concept of the book.

But what to do? If hero and heroine don't even have a conversation until page 100, how can I get around it, do what is expected of a romance and let them interact with each other? This is where brainstorming with my writing buddies pays off. We kicked around a couple of ideas and I finally decided a few lusty dream sequences by the heroine were in order. I've been adding in little snippets of dreams here and there before page 100, and it seems to be working. Maybe add in some fog, since the setting is London, after all.

I'll let you know how it pans out in the long run.

Sunday, September 2, 2018

Rounding The Corner

My struggles to get my books back up on Amazon are finally sorting themselves out. Thanks to all of you who offered advice and suggestions. Both The Reluctant Debutante and The Abolitionist's Secret are now available, with Banking on Temperance and The Tempestuous Debutante slated for September.

Then, in October, I'll get new royalty (or, in my case, lack of royalty) statements from Simon & Schuster, which will clear the way for the rights to more of those books to be reverted to me. I will then work with my new publisher, Prairie Rose, to add new covers, rejuvenate the blurbs, and re-edit the work.

It's been a good feeling to see the revised versions back up on Amazon, and I'm excited about the new Kindle Unlimited option, where people can borrow the book instead of buying it and I get a certain amount for each page read. It's a great idea for those of us with already overloaded Kindles, and I've been quite happy with the results from the two books I have already in that  program.

In a few short weeks, I'm heading to Cleveland for a conference with my old RWA chapter. I'll get a face to face with my agent, and hope we can pound out a sensible plan to move my career onto an entirely new level.

I don't play baseball, but if I did, I'd be rounding third and heading for home about now. 2019 is just around the corner and it's going to be a great year. Bring it on. In the words of the immortal Stephen King:

Sunday, August 26, 2018

Filling In

I've used the analogy before of comparing the body of a book to a body of a human. I am proud to say I just finished the skeleton of my current manuscript and now am working on adding meat to my story.

I read through the story last week and am pleased with the way it spools out, but I noticed a few things that need fixing. There are a couple beats in the book that must be BIG, and right now they're only big. I need to strengthen them, beef up those sections of the book, maximize their impact. I'm working on it.

Most of you who follow along with me weekly know I've started going to a fitness center on a regular basis for the first time in my adult life. I alternate between water walking and using the Lightline exercise equipment. I've noticed a few little muscles starting to define my upper arms. I'm working on it.

Now I just have to do the same with my story. Give those sections of the book more definition, a better-looking mid-section. I've enjoyed a lot of my female characters–Ginger Fitzpatrick, Elise Lafontaine and Rosemary Fitzpatrick come to mind readily as favorites. But Iris Wilson, a mild mannered bespectacled bookkeeper who has kept her family on an even keel for years, may be my best heroine yet. Can't wait to share her beefed up story with you.

Keep an eye out for it.

Sunday, August 19, 2018

The Journey Continues

I continue to find myself in uncharted territory this year. Having the rights on my first four books reverted to me was only the start of the journey. I had to find a new publisher for the books, since I made the hard decision not to go solo with indie publishing.

Then, I had to work with the publisher to get just the right cover and blurb copy. After all, if I'm going to commit to putting this series back up on Amazon, it has to be better than before. Thankfully, my publisher, Prairie Rose Publications, is agreeable to working with me on cover development, so we had several back and forth tries before settling on this. The book, The Reluctant Debutante, is now available on Amazon in print version. The eBook copy will be coming along, hopefully in a few days. While I'm glad Amazon is inspecting all these re-releases carefully, it has me postponing my shouting from the rooftops moment. Maybe next week...

Read a bit more about this book. 

Beautiful Ginger Fitzpatrick wants nothing to do with New York City’s conventional society— after all, she is a bloomer-wearing suffragette who holds a position in her father’s bank! Her mother is determined her willful daughter must go to the popular Cotillion ball and look for a suitable husband during the “season”—and Ginger is given no choice.  But when she meets her brother’s best friend, handsome Joseph Lafontaine, the mysterious man sets Ginger ablaze with a mere glance—and gives her second thoughts about remaining single.

Joseph knows he can never have Ginger. He’s totally unsuitable as a husband for this spirited, cultured woman, for many reasons. He’s from the rough-and-ready Western city of St. Louis, and he’s her brother’s best friend. But there’s one thing he can never overcome: he’s a half-breed Ojibwa, forever tainted in the eyes of these high-society whites from the East. Despite the budding love between them, her family will never accept him.
Joseph returns to St. Louis, and months later, Ginger follows with her father to attend to banking business there. Through a twist of Fate, a deadly accident brings Joseph and Ginger together once more, and this time, neither will allow another separation. Can they find happiness together despite their different backgrounds? It’s all or nothing for THE RELUCTANT DEBUTANTE…

Now, for a taste of what's inside: 

New York City, February 1855  Ginger Fitzpatrick was in a pickle, that much was certain.
Her mother took her by surprise at breakfast by announcing to the family that Ginger would participate in the Cotillion ball two months hence. While her younger sisters squealed in excitement, Ginger couldn‘t find her voice to object to her mother‘s idea. She knew she must, considering that her father was known to grant every wish his wife had, but Ginger could only stare in confusion. And that wasn‘t the worst of it.
“George, her mother stated calmly to her father, “you must relieve Ginger of her duties at the bank so I have time to teach her the rules of etiquette she‘ll need for a full season of events. Dear Lord, I have only a couple months to cram in everything.
Astonished and stunned, Ginger turned to her father, hanging onto a thread of hope that her valued involvement at the bank would save her.
“Let me think about the best way to handle the shift in responsibility, darling. I‘ll make sure Ginger is free by the end of the week. He glanced at Ginger‘s stupefied expression and reached across the table for her hand. “Perhaps we could also offer a reward of some kind. Possibly a trip to St. Louis if she gets through the season without incident?
He had actually smiled over the breakfast table at her. As if the allure of a trip would make everything all right.
Now, Ginger strode down the hallway of the bank to talk to her father before he could continue the discussion with her mother. She had always been able to convince him of anything, if she wanted it strongly enough. After all, he allowed her to work alongside him at the bank, which went against all the rules of society and a woman‘s place in it. She stopped briefly at the window overlooking the street, watching the snow falling outside. It clung to the red bricks of the ornate bank building, and she longed to be as capricious as one of the snowflakes. Instead she had to present a strong argument to make her father see the folly in her mother‘s latest idea.
She stopped in front of his office door and smoothed her long gray skirt. Brushing her hand over her quivering stomach, she knocked.
Ginger was certain she could right this ship and make her father see things her way. At his gruff reply to enter, she inhaled deeply. She was going to have to tread softly to get out of this predicament.
“Papa, may I further discuss Mother‘s idea with you? “Yes, of course, my dear. But you know by now that once your mother makes up her mind, it‘s best to go along with it. Ginger glanced at him as her voice quavered. “But, Papa ...”
Her father merely raised a perfectly arched eyebrow.
Hmmm, the trembling voice trick usually worked. She‘d have to try a different tactic. Tears, maybe? She hated resorting to something as totally feminine as sobbing.
She cleared her throat and started again. “You are aware, are you not, of my worth here at the bank? With a sigh her father laid down his fountain pen and began to reposition his sleeves, which had been rolled up to avoid staining them with ink. “Your mother‘s decision for you to participate in the Cotillion has nothing to do with your abilities at the bank. I‘m well aware of your contributions. Now, do you want to talk about what‘s really at issue here?
Ginger attempted to regain her calm and to remember the precise arguments she‘d planned to present. “You obviously believe dangling a trip to St. Louis before me will be enough to get me through the Cotillion ball and the season Mother wants for me. And I agree with part of your logic. I should go to St. Louis, but without any strings attached. Basil has written to me, Papa, and told me about the West. Men there are more open-minded and not so stringent about what a woman can and cannot do. She began to pace around the office as she warmed to her subject. “Basil might be able to charm little old ladies into depositing their life savings into our bank, but I can make their money work for the good of the bank and for them at the same time. She turned to face her father. “Please, Papa, I am begging you to let me go now before the season begins. I must get away from stuffy old New York City. Our clients in St. Louis need me now, not in the fall.
“I agree it would be a good move for you, my child, even though I have full confidence in your brother‘s ability to run the St. Louis branch. Your mother is the one who needs convincing. And you know what she considers important.
“The Cotillion, Ginger whispered her reply, as tears began to well up in her eyes, unbidden. She knew she was losing this argument. Nonetheless, she persevered. “Who thought up this wretched ball idea anyway? I will feel like a piece of horseflesh at the Cotillion, being paraded about like a fine filly and up for grabs to the highest bidder. She stamped her foot in frustration.
Ginger watched her father‘s jaw flex. He was not an imposing man, but he had a will of iron. He needed a strong constitution to have successfully raised nine children and to have provided a privileged life for all of them. So, when she saw the movement of his jaw, she knew what it meant. Things were not going to go her way.
George Fitzpatrick stood and placed a comforting hand on her shoulder. “I know you despise the idea, but you are not the only one concerned here. You have your sisters to consider. You know how high society works in New York, especially when the Astors and Schemerhorns are involved. If a precedent is not set this year for our family, your sisters will bear the brunt of it.
“But, Papa ...”
He raised a hand to silence her. “They will not be invited to any future balls and will miss their opportunities to be presented to society, all because of your selfish acts. I doubt you want to carry that mantle on your shoulders for the rest of your days, do you? He smiled to soften his words.
“Papa, you can‘t be serious! My actions really won‘t have any impact on my sisters, will they?
He nodded in affirmation, and his eyes flashed at her. “Should you choose not to participate, or to make life difficult for your mother, there will be no trip to St. Louis for you, now or in the future. You‘ll stay at our home here in New York with only your sisters for company, who will be forever known as the ‘Spinster Fitzpatricks.’ Won‘t you have a lovely existence to look forward to?
She dropped her head and softly asked, “So exactly what do I have to do?
George raised both hands in front of him, ticking off each item on his fingers. “You will do whatever your mother wants. Obviously, there will be fittings for new clothes between now and the ball in April, so you will be relieved of your duties here at the bank as of Friday. You will also limit the amount of time you spend with that rabble-rouser, Amelia Bloomer. Your mother will spend the next two months giving you the etiquette lessons you‘ve been avoiding for years, in preparation for the high social season of balls, parties, plays, and operas. You will participate in each and every event and will present yourself with dignity in accordance with our family‘s position in society. You will appear to have a good time, even if it means you will be putting on an act every night. All this will be over and done with by August, and if you have done everything to your mother‘s satisfaction, I will allow you to go to St. Louis. But only if you still want to.
“Of course I‘ll still want to.
Ginger gulped as a tear slid down her cheek. She turned her face away, hoping her father wouldn‘t notice her moist eyes. He had never been this unreasonable before. For one of only a few times in her life, she could not cajole him into doing her bidding. She brushed the tear away, smoothed her skirt, and then turned back to him, meeting his tough yet tender gaze.
“All right then. I will do what you ask, Papa, to appease Mother and for the sake of my sisters. But I want you to know I will hate every moment of it. I will be marking off the days between now and the end of August when I can escape the bonds of conventional society and move to the frontier. I will never become any man‘s chattel.
Her father smiled. “That‘s all I ask for, Ginger. Peace and harmony on the home front. Thank you for being so agreeable. His voice held more than a touch of irony.
She closed her father‘s door and walked slowly back to her office. Ginger stood in the middle of the small room and placed her hands on her hips. Under her breath she muttered, “Bless my bloomers, I‘ve been outfoxed.

Sunday, August 12, 2018

Holding Myself Accountable

Shortly after moving to North Carolina, my publisher decided to pull the plug on the Crimson Romance line of books. I had been frantically working on the next book in the series when suddenly I didn't have a publisher, a series or a deadline.

For the first time in six years, I didn't have a book due every six months. There was nothing looming over me. I was in a new place, trying to find my way to the grocery store, the library, etc., and now I was faced with the possibility of never being published again. What to do?

I made a list of things to accomplish that week, both personal and professional. Items like getting a new driver's license went alongside writing 1000 words a day for five days. I really enjoyed marking things off the list. It gave me a sense of purpose and of pride when I could rip off the page with everything crossed off.

As I settled into my new life, I continued making a list each week. The list grew longer as I added things to my routine–the fitness club three times a week, physical therapy twice a week, taking care of my friend's mother every other weekend, writing 5000 words a week, applying for part-time work, etc.

Now it's become my routine to make a new list each Monday morning. So far, I've continued my program goal at the fitness center three times a week, I'm starting my second month of physical therapy, my agent and I have come up with a solid plan for my abandoned series and I've finished the first draft of my current work. Things are looking up, all thanks to finding a way to hold myself accountable during turbulent times.

How about you? What is your method for getting things done?