If I Had to Do It All Again…

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You get to a certain age, and you start to think, “If I could go back and start over…” Real life doesn’t give us a “do over,” but it’s nice sometimes to fantasize. I’m at that age, and as wonderful as my life is, sometimes I think about the roads I didn’t take.

I talked about my process for writing A Second Chance House recently. Though my characters started out as two people talking, I had to turn them into characters others would relate to. Otherwise, no one will stick with your story. Think about any movie or book you enjoyed. Part of the reason you liked the characters in that story so much was because you saw a piece of yourself in there. Do you remember the show Roseanne starring Roseanne Barr? Why was that show such a success? Because women everywhere said, “that’s what my house looks and sounds like!” Relatable.

I’ll tell you a little secret. I have a hard time writing women. A strong female lead has to be, well…strong, independent, smart, tough, vulnerable, wounded (otherwise there’s no character arc,) emotional, but not whiny, she can have insecurities, but she can’t be too desperate. That’s a tall order, and it takes me more than one pass through to get my heroine right. (Personally, I don’t like the unreliable protagonist so in books like The Girl on the Train, I just get mad at her repeated poor choices.)

How did I make Grace relatable? It wasn’t easy. In the first draft, when we first meet her she’s in the library crying her eyes out. Ugh.

But Grace became relatable because as I got to know her, she fantasized about a fresh start. Grace gets one, at the exact moment she needs it. Not that she knows that at first. In fact, she doesn’t know she wants a fresh start at all until she realizes she’s a walking cliche and all her planning, following the rules, playing it safe has backfired in her face. She’s also a little stubborn. She wants to prove everyone who told her she couldn’t renovate a house in a town she didn’t know – wrong! Yay for Grace! It’s a good feeling to tell the nay sayers in our lives to shove it. We can relate to that too.

I put Grace in my age bracket because it is in the middle of our lives with as much time behind us as ahead that we start to wonder if this is all there is. It’s also during the middle of our lives when people act out on those what ifs. We’ve seen a lot of bald, paunchy men in red sports cars, no? Just saying. I can relate to women my age, and why shouldn’t women in their forties be the heroines of a love story? They fall in love too. Love the second or third time around is a different love than the first one. I wanted to read about a woman my age who’d been married, had children, wondered what if. I figured other women did too.

So, I now have a middle-aged woman faced with the tough choice to start over or not. She isn’t a risk taker. I’m setting up the conflict for her. Go or stay? She goes. Brava! But when she gets there, she gets more than she’s bargained for. More conflict. And when she meets the sexy neighbor, he is the exact opposite of who she is. What is she supposed to do about that?

What’s great about writing books is I get to control the ending. I can’t control much of anything in real life, but believe me I try. When we sit down and take the journey with Grace, she gets to do the things that maybe we can’t. We don’t always get a second chance to start over. And we can’t predict the ending of our love story. But we root for Grace to achieve her goals and fall in love.

Will the woman who never takes a risk, risk it all – and possibly fall in love? If given the chance, would you be that person?

Music is so important to me and my hero, Blaise Savage. I’m having a book launch concert at Patrick’s Pub, Neptune, NJ, March 28th 7 pm. I’ll be signing books and doing a reading. And right along side me will be fantastic bands playing awesome music. (I won’t be singing. Don’t worry.) If you’re in the area, stop by and say hi.

Thanks to the kindness and generosity of Arell Rivers, I’ll be taking over Arell’s Angels (she’s a wonderful author. Check out her stuff.) on Facebook. April 15th, from 6 -8 pm to celebrate the release of A Second Chance House. Stop by for games and prizes, and to talk about writing, or whatever else you fancy.  We had a blast at the last Facebook party. If you missed it, here’s another chance for some fun.







The Line Between Sanity and Fiction

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Merriam-Webster defines sane as mentally sound; especially :  able to anticipate and appraise the effect of one’s actions.

She defines fiction as an assumption of a possibility as a fact irrespective of the question of its truth.

Here’s the problem: as an author I’m able to anticipate the effect of my character’s actions because I’m their God, and in my mind anything they do always contains the possibility of fact. You’ve heard the old adage: there’s truth in fiction. I can’t have my readers say, “that could never happen!”

The line between sanity and fiction is a blur for me.

Two summers ago I struggled to finish Welcome to Skull Mountain, the third book in my middle grade series. While I forced the words onto the page, a man and a woman started talking to each other in my head. They would talk when I should’ve been writing WTSM. The spoke when I was reading for pleasure, driving in my car, and taking long walks.

I heard songs on the radio that meant something to them. I found myself creating a sound track of songs fitting their story. When they popped up in my head I played the music suited to their relationship. I listened to them fall in love, have arguments, and was even a voyeur while my male main character came down with appendicitis. The entire time they invaded my space I thought  – Shut up! You’re driving me crazy.

They made me nuts because I couldn’t think about anything else. I wanted to know what they were up to next. I decided the only way to quiet the noise in my head was to write their story. They became Grace and Blaise in the first book of my women’s fiction/contemporary romance series. Thanks to Grace and Blaise I sold that book, A Second Chance House, to The Wild Rose Press in a three book deal. (Due out probably early next year. Still waiting on a publication date. Publishing doesn’t move quickly.)

I’m very attached to my characters. I spend a lot of time with them. I hear what they hear, see what they see, smell what they smell, and feel what they feel. I’ve developed a crush on Blaise because of the many hours I’ve spent in his company. (Hopefully, Grace will forgive me. If she doesn’t, I can just knock her off. I am still her God. It’s not insane to think you’re a God, is it?)

Author, Editor, Social Media expert Kristen Lamb says authors play literary Barbies. We make them move, say, and do whatever we want them to do. (Often times, they do what they want to do no matter how much we try and force them to do our bidding. Kind of like having kids.) But, we basically pose them, tell them what we want them to say, wind them up, and set them loose.

Recently, I played music from off my phone. The Coffee King came in and asked who I was listening to. I told him. I added that this guy wrote a song that would be perfect for Colton and Harley. (The protagonists of book two in the same series.) CK scrunched up his face, looked at me and said. “It’s like you’re playing with Little People.” Yup. Just grown up versions who curse and have sex.

I worry about myself. While I’m deep in the worlds of my characters I can be found laughing out loud at something they’ve said or done. The other day my writing buddy KM Fawcett looked across the table at me and said, “Are you crying?” I was. I couldn’t help it. Colton often makes me laugh and cry.

The good news is many other authors react similarly to their characters. I know authors who have cried when a character dies. I haven’t killed anyone I cared deeply about. I’m sure I will cry then too. At the moment, I’d rather someone cut my arm off before I had to hurt Grace, Blaise, Colton or Harley in a tragic way. (There’s so many people to worry about.)

Do you see what I’m saying? Insanity? Or possibly good at what I do? I’m going with the former. No offense to my author friends who cry and laugh through their work. I can only speak for myself.

I’m not sure how to handle my situation. Should I seek therapy? Do therapists lock people away for thinking someone is in your head talking? I don’t talk back. That must be a good thing.

Until I find a support group for my mental illness, I’ll return to Heritage River. I left Harley in a parking lot in the middle of a very important conversation with her BFF.


“Dispute not with her: she is lunatic.”
William Shakespeare, Richard III



Editing Tip Tuesday

Professorhinkle frosty the snowman

How’s the writing going? Slow, words are flowing, staring at a blank screen, characters with minds of their own, too many words, not enough words, need more conflict. All appropriate answers.

I’m a believer that all stories are character driven. Sometimes you’ll hear stories are plot driven. Maybe, but I don’t think so. Characters under pressure drive the story. You can have the best idea in the world, but if you don’t have your characters making choices under pressure it doesn’t matter how good your story idea is because nothing is happening.

It’s important to know who your characters are before you even begin writing. I write character sketches of all of my main characters, not just the protagonist or antagonist or in a romance not just hero/heroine. When you know you’re characters well you’ll know what kind of choices they’ll make.

There’s also a difference between characterization and character. Characterization are all things we know about our character. Character is revealed in the choices they make under pressure.

Here’s an example of questions I ask and tell other writers to ask about their characters:

Gender, Age, Hair/Eye Color, Birthmarks, Height, Body Type, Family Life, Education, Jobs, Where did they grow up, Style of Speech, Attitudes and Opinions, Religion, What do they like to eat, Hobbies, Sports,

First date, First crush, first kiss, did they go to the prom, college, travel

Are they weak or strong emotionally, honest or a liar, cruel or kind, generous or selfish

You can keep going from there. The more you know the easier it will be to drive the story.

Any questions? I’d love to hear from you.

WinerywtableAre you having trouble keeping the distractions from creeping into your writing time? I’m hosting a distraction free writing retreat on September 10, 2016 in Ringoes, NJ at Old York Cellars Vineyard. It’s a day dedicated to keep you moving forward on your manuscript. Designated writing areas with no Wi-Fi, no cell phone zones. We also have optional activities to participate in: writing sprints, group walks, critiques, neck and shoulder massage, discussion groups for brainstorming, plotting, craft, etc. Sample wine in the tasting room.

For more information and to can sign up go to our Facebook page http://www.facebook.com/writenowwritersretreat