The journey continues

My hope is that everyone had a very enjoyable holiday week — or however long you celebrate Christmas, New Year’s or Hannaukkah

— and didn’t even notice that I hadn’t posted in two weeks.

I decided to go to Pennsylvania to visit my sister over Christmas. We are close in spite of the distance between us — 600 miles from my home in North Carolina to hers. I broke up the drive by staying midway in West Virginia.

I have made the trip many times since we moved south in 1977. Jim always drove while I admired the scenery. In those days, we made the trip in one day, with our kids and dogs in tow. Then it was just us. And then just me.

The first time I made the trip alone I was filled with trepidation. Or in non-literary terms, scared to death. I took steep mountain inclines (and declines) and hairpin curves at something like 40 mph, my knuckles on the steering wheel white with tension. It took me hours to relax once I got to my destination, my neck and shoulders seemingly frozen in that fear-filled posture.

This time, however, I was almost to Pittsburgh before I realized I had kept to the 70 mph speed limit, passing more cautious drivers. I had learned to trust that the highway authority wouldn’t have posted such a high speed limit if it wasn’t safe. I had learned to trust that my Malibu wouldn’t fly off the road and plunge me to my death on the valley floor. I learned to trust myself.

Here is my chance to post something clever about how the writing journey is like my trip: filled with unexpected curves, breath-taking mountain tops and frightening descents into doubt and despair. But I’m sure you already figured that out.

I’m starting a new novel and querying another.  I’ve self-published several books, out of sheer laziness. And fear of rejection. But like my driving, I need to over come that fear an begin the search for a publisher who believes in me.

I’ve gotten good feedback on “Riverbend” and “When He said Goodbye.” The first is historical and the second is contemporary, which shows you how I leap from genre to genre. I was feeling badly about that, but then decided that the stories come to me, not me to them, and I have no choice except not to write at all. Which isn’t really a choice.

Unfortunately, the comments are verbal and not on Amazon or Nook or Smashwords. I beg them to send their nice words to the universe so others can read them, but for some reason, people are reluctant to post online. I have not yet figured out the magic words that will convince them to break out of their comfort zone and post a review.

So that is where I am now. Back from my trip, facing  new year filled with possibilities, and eager to continue my writing journey.

I hope you are feeling the same.






write in the am–sketch in the pm

Last January, I had plans and a partial outline prepped for my WIP-edits; but, as I shared in last week’s post, my year was interrupted by deaths, injuries, dramas and car troubles. I was a shell-shocked hull, reserving all my energy for my Mother-in-law –who was emotionally gutted and extremely fragile. Now, we’ve survived the worst of the first eight-month hump. Many issues resolved and dramas quelled.

IMG_2070.jpgNow, I’m ready to start editing. But, when I look at my notes I find myself confused with more questions than answers. I’m also painfully out of practice. In some ways, writing for me is like sketching or music -it takes daily practice to keep sharp.

I decided a good way to hop back on that horse was to participate in NaNoWriMo or National Novel Writing Month. Since, I’ve also rebooted my art work, I’ve begun working on an illustrated novel, based on an Irish myth I found in an old mid-19th century book in the Boston Public Library reference reading room. It described the discovery of the first harp. It was a sweet story of love and compassion that stuck with me. My version of this myth will be my NaNoWriMo novel. More

Cheers! As I Pour A New Mimosa

Where have I been? MIA…


Coffee sunrise Wilmington

In January, of this year, 2018, I was optimistic about the future, our future and my future –more so than I’d been in decades. I’d spent 2017 wrapping up loose ends. I’d finished healing from health issues, ready to move forward and get back on track. I’d finished 18 months of therapy for c-PTSD. Learned it was a ghost that would be with me forever; but, I’d acquired the tools to deal with my triggers. I eagerly anticipated the hard work and path I’d chosen!

I suppose, like many women, in America now, I could (but won’t) thank 45 for being the biggest trigger, since my childhood and forcing me to face my past. My WIP’s first draft was finally done, after a complete A-Z rewrite. I had a plan for the edits, which I set a deadline of September 2018. I had my house cleaned, my office organized and I felt an effervescence in my soul. In Wver the holidays, I’d mended bridges with my in-laws and poured my soul out to my poor Father-in-law after two large glasses of wine. (Yes, I am a light-weight) We even willingly hugged farewell as they headed back north. More

Growing a book

I have been on a roll, waking every morning for the past six days to roll  out of bed  and walk two laps around the park. Then home for coffee and to read the newspaper, after which I sit down and write.

Yes, I have also been writing every day. I’m pleased with my progress and how the story is developing. Maybe I feel just a little smug as I pat myself on the back.

I fully intended to follow that routine today, but so far the walk is the only goal I can check off. It’s been hot (have I said that before?) and because it hasn’t rained in a few days, my plants started drooping. So after my walk and checking the news, I decided to water them. Then I needed to pick off the dead blossoms.

I remembered I had purchased new clippers the day before, so it seemed like a good time to try them out while it was comparatively cool. Noticing that the grass and weeds around some of the larger shrubs had grown, I got out my

I wish my astilbe looked like these!

weed-whacker and  whacked away, accidentally decapitating one lily plant. Oops.

That done, I clipped around some plants and pulled some weeds. One weed was wrapped around an astilbe, and I accidentally (not a good day) pulled out part of the plant. So I dug a hole and replanted the separated plant and while I was at it, dug up and re-planted another that had unexpectedly popped up several feet from the parent plant. So now they are all in a nice row.

Swept the sidewalk, washed my tools, and washed my knees which were muddy from kneeling on the ground.

Gardening is a little like writing. You start with an idea, and it grows. Then you need to weed out the parts that don’t belong. Sometimes a scene needs to be moved from one chapter to another to make the story flow more clearly. As you write, time slips away until you realize you have accomplished more than you had planned.

It’s a good feeling, either way. My flowers are happy and now I am off to work on my novel.






Drastic surgery

Once upon a time, I wrote a long, rambling book that I was so in love with that I couldn’t see its flaws.

Its many, fatal flaws.

I revised it several times, but I still couldn’t get anyone interested. At 180,000 words, I now know why. I love, big books. I’ve actually read “War and Peace.” Ken Follett is one of my favorite authors and I just finished “The Punishment She Deserves” by Elizabeth George which  is 690 pages long.

But Follett and George have something I did not: a established following. By that I mean readers who will follow them anywhere, even if it means reading a book that could double as a doorstop.

More to the point, most readers prefer something shorter and editors strive to give them what they want

Back to my book. It concerned two girls, Damaris and Morven, whose lives intertwine although they take different paths. It was a story of friendship and loyalty and a lot of other lovely things. I had to put aside my fondness for the story and do as doctors do when presented with conjoined twins and decide how best to separate them.

I carefully cut and pasted and managed to get Damaris’ story free of all entanglements. The result was “Riverbend,” which came out in May 2017.

Now I’m working on Morven’s story. Like Damaris, she’s a young girl alone in the world. Unlike Damaris, she doesn’t marry the first man to offer and suffer the consequences. Instead, she manages to build a family for herself and only then find true love and her HEA.

It’s a little trickier. I’m cutting entire chapters and eliminating any distracting side plots that don’t move the story along.

 I wrote this book almost 20 years ago, so as I read I am both amused and appalled by my naivety.

But I’ve learned along the way. I can (hopefully) correct my earlier mistakes. And, by letting it “sit” for awhile, I can be a little ruthless and throw away those passages I loved then but question now.

Writing isn’t always just sitting down and putting words on a page, although that seems to work for some authors. For me, it’s revision and cutting and revision and rewriting, and then revising again. Maybe that’s why I don’t publish a book every three months or even every year.

But like the tortoise, I somehow manage to get to the finish line.



Bouchercon 2015, My Mirror Moment

Writer’s Conferences are an overwhelming affair for me. While I am not an introvert, I do enjoy my chosen lifestyle of working at home. Going from my rural existence with four dogs under my desk and a husband at work to a strange hotel room and thousands of people, some I know only from FaceBook -for me it’s like walking outside into a blizzard: blinding bright world full of inspiration and perspiration.

The last Conference I attended was a well-organized circus. I was used to scientific and computer tech conferences, so I approached it the same way. I took as many classes as possible and absorbed everything. I ran home and took all this brilliant advice and ruined three WIPs. Since then, I tucked those projects into little beds and wrote another book. It was a story dear to my heart, an outline I wrote years ago. I took out the murder and tried to make it a romance.

Coming from a life of several not-happy-ever-after periods; a horrific, abusive childhood; a tragic, first marriage watching my love die for seven years; then working like a dog for ten years to pay off a medical debt triple my annual salary and years of grief and loneliness –I had the crazy idea that writing a romance now, when my life is pretty, frigging perfect would be a transformative act.

Yeah, not so much. Have you ever been caught in a riptide? Once in Wilmington NC I was caught in one. Unseen forces carry you away, away from safety and away from life. You can fight it or give in. The thing is, fighting will wear you out and leave you with no energy to survive. Giving in, while gently maneuvering yourself out of the riptide will leave you far off track but in a gentle place where you can safely swim back to shore. Writing the romance was like fighting a riptide, a dark shadow emerged from my past, the monster under the bed that I had been ignoring, the storm I had been fighting.

The traumas of my life created weak spots in my wings. It was okay if I played pigeon and walked around writing and smiling but if I tried to soar or fly (get published), these damaged areas blocked me. This epiphany stunned me. I found myself at a place in the water where the correct direction contained a riptide. So, I took the summer off and worked on healing old wounds, resting in the strong tide until I came out the other side.

At summer’s end, I was exhausted and not sure what beach I’d landed on. I was also not sure the hard therapy was worth it. During my morning walk, another thing I started over the summer, I had an idea. I had been thinking of my WIP-children, poor little babies. I realized each had a good premise, a solid story. I went home and started writing outlines, beefy paragraphs, the original stories -no forcing into a genre box. They still worked, they still empowered me. I set myself a goal, at least two thousand words a day, thirty days, a not so rough draft in a month. When I started, I was amazed at how the story flowed and at the midpoint of thirty thousand words, an epiphany -my ending reformed itself into a sledgehammer.

At this midpoint, I found myself headed to Bouchercon 2015 in Raleigh. I was a little nervous about a repeat of the previous conference -will I come home and change (ruin) everything? I went a day early, for a four hour class with James Scott Bell it was SinC into Great Writing, a lofty goal to be sure. I also limited the classes I took and allowed myself to relax, meet people and just go with the flow. The class was a watershed moment for me, it helped me realize that everything I was currently doing was spot-on correct for me and my story. It also helped me reconsider the midpoint -where I had left the story to go to the conference.

For me the most insightful lesson James Scott Bell taught in his class was the ‘magical midpoint’ the ‘mirror moment’.

He showed several movie clips featuring the midpoint moments in the story. In a character driven story, it was the place where the character looks at themselves and wonders who s/he is and where s/he is heading -kinda the Road Not Taken moment in Robert Frost’s poem. In a thriller, it’s the moment s/he makes the decision to move forward, even if it the risks are so great they might die.

The conference was great but on the third day, my immune system, more accustomed to isolation, encountered the dreaded flu. I spent a day in bed and limped home on the last day to get back into bed. There was no leaping back into the WIP for me, there was rest, elderberry syrup, orange juice and TV.

So, as I lay in bed, I played ‘look for the midpoint’ on Netflix. I looked in old movies, new movies, TV series looking and finding the mirror moment. All the while, I considered my WIP, which was at exactly 32,000 words when I left for Bouchercon last week. I left my character on a bench at the beach having a heart to heart with the character who creates the conflict. 

I had intended the scene to be between both of these characters but now I see the main character has another relationship in the mix impacting the other. She also is in a dangerous situation and in hiding. I know now that she needs to make a conscious decision for her future. She has a well-defined midpoint with both types of mirror moments entwined. I wrote this into my notebook and fell back asleep spooning a sixty pound snoring Siberian husky.

I’m still too sick to write but not too sick to play midpoints on Netflix and keep adding  ingredients to the cauldron. It is time well-spent, my notebook is full of ideas, followed by naps. Those three WIPs I put to bed? They are waking and ready for new outlines. 

Bouchercon 20125 was my mirror moment.

A rule for writers: Persevere

Some people make it big, fast. Like a comet swooping across the heavens. Their books garner five-star reviews, which push their sales to the top of the lists where people who read lists order the books and write five-star reviews and the rest is, as they say, history.

Then there are writers like moi. When I published my first book, I asked a few friends and relatives to write a review. There is nothing inherently wrong with this. If they didn’t like the book, they could politely refuse, or simply “forget” to post. No one, so far, has written a bad review, although even bad reviews don’t hurt. It proves someone read the book!

Then I started writing reviews for friends even though they didn’t ask me to. Often they did me the favor in return. And I’ve written reviews for authors I’ve never met, because I liked their work enough to take the time. I don’t expect anything in return but good karma.

But slowly, slowly, I am getting reviews from people I don’t  know. Good reviews. My head would swell if I didn’t remember a friend who told me , “I bought your book, but every time I started to read it, I fell asleep. (She did clarify that later and explained that she took the book to bed with her at night and was too tired to keep her eyes focused on the page.)

Recently, another phenomenon has happened. With Amazon now paying royalties monthly, no matter how big or small, I am getting messages saying money has been deposited into my account. Sometimes it’s a whopping $2.37. Mostly it’s been less than $20. But it is money I earned by writing. I can’t think of a bigger thrill except for the time my first author copies arrived and I held my book in my hands.

I’m writing this to tell other aspiring writers not to give up if they don’t hit the jackpot in the first months after they publish. If the book is good, it will find an audience, and that audience will talk about it.   And they will post reviews. And the sales will begin to come in.

So, no matter how discouraging it seems at the beginning, keep at it. Your day in the sun will come.




Day 4, post Halloween reflections

I am writing this on Halloween. I spent 2 hours this morning blowing leaves off my driveway and thinking of the upcoming NaNoWriMo 2013. Growing up in New Hampshire, fall was amazing foliage and long rides on my best friend, Nutmeg, my Appaloosa gelding. I’m putting him in my new book, a contemporary romance called the Widow’s Appaloosa. When I lived in Boston, leaf removal was a matter of sweeping leaves off my condo’s deck; then going for walks with my dog and various dog-park friends and tapas bar-hopping on Newbury St with friends, dressed in wool plaids and boots. In Washington, I didn’t touch the falling leaves, my apartment complex handled it; Halloween was roping an unwilling cranky person into being designated driver as we descended on coworkers’ houses with empty wine glasses.

But my move to the Foothills of Northwest, North Carolina changed the dynamics of autumn. Four acres of trees all seem to drop (congregate) on my 200 foot driveway (Let’s not even think about shoveling snow!). I ignore the crunching colored droppings until I realize that I should make sure the few trick or treaters we get, don’t fall into a creek or our pond! Knowing where the driveway is will help with that. So, I untangle 150 feet of extension cords, yup 50 feet short, so the street-end of the driveway gets swept, raked or ignored. I try to stay focused on those long trail rides of my teenage years and one ill-conceived Halloween on horseback. Little kids in costumes coupled with fresh manure doesn’t make for happy campers.

After ten minutes, I realize the whole damned morning is a good metaphor for my next NaNoWriMo. There are so many commonalities. The biggest being, all is so much easier if you do a little each day. Waiting too long and you are moving an amazing volume of work or leaves. There is also the prep work. The cords are always a big tangle since DH uses them for Christmas lights, I coil, he bunches, so today DH stands for ‘damn husband’.

Also,  keeping healthy, taking vitamins and avoiding viral contagions like other humans. I am not able to take flu vaccines. My new doctor happily said Carry On, Avoid Humans! It is irritating to me how many people stagger into the public sniffling, coughing and touching the things that I need to touch like door knobs. Or wander around complaining about how bad they feel, want sympathy? Go online and whine! But, I felt good today and rewarded myself with an amazing creamy black cherry greek yogurt and an expresso.

That said, I wish I had blown the leaves a few times over the last few weeks. It was tough, at four inches deep, I calculated 450 cubic feet of leaves. (Sorry, scientist do this, even for former scientists, math is an awesome time-wasting activity.) I considered putting all the leaves in one spot, so the dogs could play in them but there is a particular density that is nearly impossible to blow. So, it was easier to blow them into several locations.

So, as I blow leaves, I think: a minimum of 2,000 words each morning will get me to 50K by Nov 26th, in time for the arrival of in-laws. This should also enable me to write and edit my other book for my last contest of 2013 in December. And to make it even more fun, I have three medical procedures, two in November and one St Barbara’s feast day, which should be a real PIA. So, just like the knotted cables, the wheel barrel and ladder that needed to be put away, one must be prepared for the occasional setback.

November 4th, when this post goes live, I will be smiling at my laptop with a large bowl of cappuccino and a piece of raisin toast, preparing to write my daily outline and starting word 6001 and ending with at least 8,000 words. Later, I’ll be hopping on the treadmill to work off that electric buzz of residual energy.

Whatever your goals or method or process, I wish you a wonderful Monday!


Yeah, forgot about daylight savings ending, so 5 am is the old 6. No cappuccino, but a cup of ice cold Starbucks vanilla latté and no treadmill, since I fell flat on my face three times on Saturday (Meniere’s Drop Attacks) and the last time was face first onto a large granite rocks in a stream-bed -so, too bruised to tread mill or to do yoga. But, I did manage to pump out 6,893 words over the last three days and I enjoyed returning to the world of horses, if only in my mind. The way this Meniere’s is going I may have to trade the vehicle in for a horse! So, smiling at the keyboard, yup! Awaiting sunrise, check! Listening to BFF husky snoring at my feet -score!

It’s useful advice, so use it

I started buying books on writing decades ago, hoping to get some insight into this mysterious field of writing. I attend workshops and read writing columns and blogs. I subscribe to  writers’ magazines.  I belong to writers’ groups.  Some bits of information stay in my mind, some slide into the dark recesses of my memory to be pulled out during a crisis (the light-bulb moment),  and some I ignore — to  my peril.

One piece of advice I read over and over again is to print out your manuscript to proof  it.

I didn’t think this was necessary. Being a frugal type, I didn’t want to spend money on a pack of paper and a black ink cartridge for something I’d end up tossing anyway.

But a friend wanted to read the story and her computer was down. I printed it out for her.

Since I had it printed out, I sat down and went over it.

What a difference!  Now, my editor friend had kindly proofed it and found dozens of typos and raised a few questions. I thought, after making all the corrections and changes, that the ms. was as perfect as it could possibly be.

Not so. You see, all the changes I made contained typos. I blame spell-check, which gave up trying to red- or green-line misspelling or questionable grammar halfway though my novel. I use sentence fragments because that’s how people really talk, and because — well, because I. Like. Them. Which infuriated spell-check, so it pouted and quit playing.

These typos, that I had not noticed on the screen, suddenly came to life, leaping off the page.

Not only that, but it is hard to sit and read a ms. on a computer screen, so  I’d go over a chapter or so, then quit and do something else, and come back later. Sometimes, if things got busy in my non-writing life, much later.

What I discovered by sitting down reading it from beginning to end, that there were places that made no sense, jumps in time that weren’t accounted for, and characters changing goals from one scene to the next without any plausible reason.

Major re-write going on now. (Note sentence fragment.)

From here on out, I will print out the novel and proof it one last time before sending it off. The price of paper and ink is worth it when you consider a seriously messed-up ms. is never going to get past that junior-junior acquisition editor.

Ah, Sweet Mystery…

The writers I admire most are those who write mysteries. Cozy mysteries,  thrillers, historical — you name it.

I guess it’s because I am a pantser.  I create a character and send her in search of a plot.  Only when I am halfway into the story do I sit down and try to figure out where I’m going with it.

You are correct in that it doesn’t always work.  In the best case scenario, it takes a lot of rewriting and revision to end up with a story that flows from beginning to end.

But that’s how I do it. If I sat down and plotted the entire novel before I began writing, I would lose interest and it would never get written.

A writer of mysteries has to be a big-time plotter. She needs to know who the killer is before she starts, and then work in clues throughout the story that lead to the climax.  It’s like working backward.

If she does it right, the reader can say at the end, “Aha! I should have seen that coming.” Because you don’t want the killer to come out of nowhere like the Greek deus ex machina. There has to be a logical solution.

The mystery that did this the best was “The Sixth Sense.” My husband and I went back to see it a second time just so we could pick out the clues we missed the first time.

So a big hand to all the mystery writers who keep us guessing — and keep us reading.

Good job!


9-5 and settling in

I am finally settling into my new 9-5 schedule. It feels good and I am accomplishing a lot more. More

My Mad Siberian Gulag

Hostage to Two Siberian Huskies

Blue Ridge Vinlandia

The Wineries of the Applalacian Foothills

Summer in New Hampshire

NH - America's Vacationland

Mimosa Mornings Writers

Writers Wearing PJs, drinking coffee, dreaming mimosas

Jennie Spallone


The Dream Well

Dream Well, Be Well

Ozark Pagan Mamma

Folk Magic, Druidism, Heathenry, & Pagan Parenting


Sketches and Journaling

Farm to Table Asian Secrets

Full-Flavored Recipes for Every Season

The Daily Post

The Art and Craft of Blogging

Pam Grout

#1 New York Times best-selling author

Hiking Photography

Beautiful photos of hiking and other outdoor adventures.

Book Ends and Odds

Mary Incontro blogs on books, pop culture, and criminal cases

Writer Unboxed

about the craft and business of fiction

%d bloggers like this: