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    August 2012
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Writing recharge

No matter what you do for a living (or hobby), you probably need a recharge every once in a while. A shot in the arm to inspire and motivate you. For me, the Romance Writers of America annual conference is the hit of adrenaline that gets me excited about writing again.

There’s something about being surrounded by nearly 2000 other people—mostly women in this case—who “get” me. They know my struggles to find the perfect word, patch a plot hole, and recover from the inevitable rejections. They understand why I stare at the wall, procrastinate by cleaning—okay, maybe I don’t clean, but I find other ways to avoid writing when I don’t know what should come next—and hate revisions.

I love meeting people I’d previously only known online (like several of the wonderful ladies on this blog), making new friends, and renewing old acquaintances.

The workshops remind of things I’d forgotten, increase my understanding of something I thought I already knew, and enlighten me on new ways to improve my craft.

And nothing provides inspiration and motivation to keep going like listening to big name authors tell their stories of perseverance. One writer had 17 books under her belt before getting the big contract. Yes, 17! And she’s kind of a big deal now.

Another waited ten years for her call.

That makes my 3.5 years and five manuscripts (plus a few half-written ones) seem like nothing in comparison. Sometimes I need the reminder to be patient.

Being around so many creative minds jumpstarts my muse and the ideas start flowing. I come home rejuvenated and raring to write again.

What about you? How do you recharge?

Photo credit: By Chocolateoak (Own work) [CC-BY-SA-3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons


Opportunity Knocked

The meeting of preparation with opportunity generates the offspring we call luck. ~ Tony Robbins

I’ve spent the last three years writing and submitting my butt off trying to get published in romantic suspense. So what’s my first book credit going to be? Scrivener For Dummies.

Say what?

Here’s how it happened.

When I quit my stressful day job four years ago to stay home with my kids, I knew I wanted to use the time they were at school to pursue my long-delayed dream of writing.

But what to write? Sounds stupid, doesn’t it? Thrillers and mysteries were my books of choice before I discovered romance, but I didn’t have those stories in me. So it made sense to me that I’d write nonfiction. After all, I’d done well on written assignments since high school, kind of enjoyed writing my thesis, and actually aced the undergraduate writing exam when I retook it in grad school. Nonfiction made sense.

Until I started researching the life of a freelance writer. What topics could possibly hold my interest long enough to make enough money selling articles? If I wrote a book, what the heck would it be about? I didn’t have a topic burning inside me waiting to get out. I wasn’t an expert on anything I cared to write about, and the topics I cared about had all been written to death.

I was just about frustrated enough to give up when I found romance, and realized the ideas in my head were love stories. Aha! From that day forward I set myself to romance, eventually folding in my love of intrigue to write romantic suspense.

Along the way, something funny happened. A friend introduced me to the writing software Scrivener, and I found a new love story. Without realizing it, I’d found a topic worth writing about. The techie in me couldn’t help but explore Scrivener’s tools, and when I realized other writers were unaware of them, I started blogging about the cool features I unearthed.

Then I started digging for more neat things about the software so I’d have something to blog about. Bonus: I learned something new too. Suddenly my site became a resource for other Scrivener users, and hits were coming from all over the world, especially when the friendly guys at Literature & Latte (L&L) mentioned a post.

My growing following of readers began telling me I should teach classes and write a book. Oh, silly readers, I write romance. All this extra Scrivener stuff is just for fun.

But I love teaching, and that idea took root, so when one of my chapters offered a free class on how to create and pitch an online class, I took it. What I learned gave me the confidence to create and pitch a Scrivener course, which has become, happily, quite popular.

Through word of mouth, continued blogging, and continued support from L&L, my name got around. People bandied about titles like Scrivener Goddess/Ninja… It was a crazy thing that I never planned for, and didn’t do much to promote other than blogging, and tweeting about my blog posts.

So in February, when the folks who publish the For Dummies books found themselves working on a Scrivener book without an author, they went hunting on Twitter and found me (and several others). After an exhausting proposal and outline process, I got the call on February 24th!

And here I am, back where I started, writing nonfiction. The actual event that got me here was a blip and makes it sound like some kind of dream scenario. Like that writer whose first manuscript is picked up on her first submission. Or Daryl Hannah getting discovered while walking across the USC campus.

Sure, it was good luck. But becoming the writer for Scrivener For Dummies has been four years–maybe a whole lifetime–in the making. My good luck was “the meeting of preparation and opportunity” in the truest sense I can imagine. The luck part was that I didn’t go looking for it.

Not generally the best strategy for getting published, but hey, I’ll take it.

Isn’t it romantic?

My husband and I will celebrate our 17th wedding anniversary this month. Somehow, even though the crazy, frenzied part of our romance has settled, something much deeper, and much stronger, has taken its place.

That’s not to say that spark isn’t still there. Just that I don’t pine for him every minute he’s gone—and thank goodness, or I’d never get anything done!—like I did in the beginning.

I love these definitions of romance by the Free Dictionary: a. A love affair. b. Ardent emotional attachment or involvement between people; love.

Something about “ardent emotional attachment” really speaks to me. In a lot of people’s minds—I think especially those who aren’t sure how to show their feelings—romance has come to mean cards, flowers, jewelry, and a nice dinner. While all of those things are great—and might show that the other person was thinking about you during the day—I don’t believe you can sustain a long-term relationship on gifts.

Why? Because ardent emotional attachment requires action. A necklace is not ardent. A love affair requires action. There’s no passion in a flower. Okay, maybe a card with nicely thought out sentiments, but still. Just like in writing where we’re constantly reminded to show the emotion, romance demands action.

The phone call from work just to say “hi”. The unexpected shoulder rub. The willingness to listen. A kiss on the back of the neck while making dinner…

Those actions say “love” far better than any card or box of candy ever could. And when the romance is there every day, then the rare occasions when I do get gifts are that much more special.

That’s my idea of romance. What about you?

Photo credit: LAY DOWN – GIRL UNDER © Frenk And Danielle Kaufmann | Dreamstime.com

Nothing personal

Have you ever read a book and thought the author’s tale was so authentic she must have lived through something similar? I know some writers fear that a reader will think a scene or storyline comes from experience. Write about sexual abuse, you must have experienced it. Bad parents? Yours must be monsters.

I admit the thought has crossed my mind on occasion.

Of course, if I write about being chased by a hunky cowboy or pursued by a dashing CEO I’m pretty sure readers won’t think it’s autobiographical.

While personal experience might inspire a story, mine are a mishmash of my own adventures, copious amounts of research—thank goodness for the Internet and the library—and, above all, pure fantasy.

For example, I worked at the football office of a San Diego university as a college student. I did not work at the basketball office, get rejected after a one-night stand with the star forward, and eventually fall in love with an athletic trainer while being stalked by a coworker at my new job.

I’ve been on a few boats, and I have a friend who was a cop assigned to a DEA task force once. I have not been kidnapped by members of a drug cartel, escaped from a fishing trawler, or been rescued by an undercover agent on a yacht.

I haven’t been shot at, protected by a hot pararescue jumper-turned-mercenary, kissed by a handsome billionaire, born a bank heiress, or gone for a ride in a Lamborghini Murcielago. Though I’m suddenly feeling the need to rectify a couple of those.

As a reader, I don’t usually think much about the author at all when I’m reading a good book. Other than, “Damn, how does she suck me in like that? I hate her for being so much better than me,” and other petty thoughts, I pretty much assume the fiction I’m reading is just that. Fiction.

How about you? If you’re a reader, do you ever stop to wonder if the author has first-hand experience with her tales? Writers, do you ever shy away from subjects that readers might mistake as autobiographical?

Photo credits:
YOUNG COUPLE ON THE BEACH © Elizabeth Moore | Dreamstime.com
United States Air Force photo by Master Sergeant Val Gempis

My other TBR pile

After college I remember thinking I’d never want to read anything but fiction again for the rest of my life. I probably had the same thought after grad school. But then I immediately picked up The Toyota Way because I actually like this stuff and I thought it might apply to my new job.

Nowadays, I read a lot of romance and the occasional thriller or mystery, but I still read a fair amount of nonfiction. Aside from books on writing, I read for background research, to learn something new, or just on a topic of interest.

Here are a few of the nonfiction books sitting on my—virtual or actual—shelf waiting anxiously for me to get caught up. *snort* Like that will happen.

  • Rogue Warrior by Richard Marcinko
  • The Kind Diet by Alicia Silverstone
  • Band of Sisters: American Women at War in Iraq by Kristen Holmstedt
  • Story by Robert McKee
  • The Art of Intrusion: The Real Stories Behind the Exploits of Hackers, Intruders and Deceivers by Kevin D. Mitnick
  • Danger Close: Tactical Air Controllers in Afghanistan and Iraq by Steve Call
  • Bad And Beautiful: Inside the Dazzling and Deadly World of Supermodels by Ian Halperin
  • SuperFreakonomics by Steven D. Levitt and Stephen J. Dubner

I could actually go on and on—I have a whole list of books I haven’t even acquired yet sitting on my Evernote app—but I’ll spare you. 😉

What’s on your nonfiction TBR? Or do you stick strictly to fiction?

Photo credit: BOOKS © Mykola Velychko | Dreamstime.com

Sticky notes

I love office supplies. There’s something about colorful binder clips; eighteen shapes, sizes, and colors of sticky notes; and a bucket full of Sharpies that makes me happy.

I like dry-erase boards, cork boards, magnet boards, and keepsake boards with ribbon.

Give me notebooks, Bic pens, and file folders. Paper clips—especially those big X-shaped ones—push pins, and little tiny magnets shaped like cylinders that are super strong.

Do I need half this crap? No. Do I even own half of it? No. If I had all of those things would I use them? Probably not.

But I covet.

I hate shopping, but I could spend hours in the Target office supply section with all those pretty folders and eco-friendly binders. It’s almost as seductive as the book aisle.

I don’t use bookmarks to keep my place when I read, I use sticky flags. That way I know exactly which page and line I’m on. And you can tell when I’ve read a good nonfiction book because it’ll have dozens of colorful flags protruding from the pages. I like bookmarking on my Nook, but it’s just not the same.

For me, brainstorming works best on paper or whiteboard. There’s something about the movement of my hand that triggers better ideas. I think I also like that I can erase the whiteboard, so nothing is permanently recorded until I decide it’s worthy. That lack of permanence frees up my brain to go a little wild.

Someday I want the six-by-four, dual-sided dry erase board on wheels. My husband and I are in negotiations since my office is in our bedroom.

I don’t miss too much about my old day job, but I really miss my private-ish cubby with its huge desktop, two deep file drawers, a bookshelf, whiteboard, and unlimited yellow note pads (two sizes!) and pens.

I’m no Luddite. My whole life has revolved around computers and technology. I love my laptop, my extra monitor, my iPhone, and my Nook.

But sometimes a girl just needs a few sticky notes.

Do you have an odd obsession? Am I the only one who drools more over 3M products than Jimmy Choos?

Photo credit: STICKY NOTES © Paul Brennan | Dreamstime.com

My other grandmother

Celebrating my high school graduation, 1990.

Today would have been my maternal grandmother’s 100th birthday. Growing up, she was the hands-off grandma, the intellectual who rarely sat on the floor to play, the subdued one who loved me, but wasn’t “fun”.

But something funny happened when I hit high school, especially once I started driving. I spent several mornings a month cleaning her house, but really we spent a good deal of the time hanging out at her kitchen table talking, and working on the NYT crossword.

Somewhere along the way she became a lot more fun as my interests changed from playing nurse to learning about her decades as a night shift nurse supervisor in an era where many women stopped working once they got married.

She told me her Depression stories and her World War II rationing stories. Very similar to those of my other grandma, whom I never outgrew, but who was a kindergarten teacher and generally bubbly lady. We argued politics and issues, discussed the news, and solved word clues. She fed my intellectual side.

I learned about her childhood, her lost dreams, and the type of person she was, and began to understand why she was the serious one, the quiet one, the not-so-playful one. And I learned that everyone loves in their own way.

Both ladies gave me their unconditional love, they just had different ways of showing it. A useful lesson, especially since my two boys, while similar in many ways, have very different personalities. Not only do they love in different ways, but what they need from me isn’t always the same.

So, to my intelligent, inspiring, amazing, thoughtful, quiet, loving grandmother, whom I miss very much: Happy 100.

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