Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Wacky Wednesdays!

Hello, hello. The Rain -- She has returned.

To make it all better, Awesome Novelist Phillip Thomas Duck posted my interview for his Wacky Wednesday Series over on his blog Excuse Me, Miss. He asked really cool questions and I, hopefully, gave interesting answers.

Here's one of those question:

Phillip: What kind of candy represents your character? Why?

Me: A Sour Patch Kid. I can be a little cranky, a bit of a (socialized) hermit but after you get past the sour and the pucker, I’m actually really sweet and I have a tendency to stick around but just when that stickiness gets annoying, I melt away and become nothing but a sensational memory. At least that’s what this fortune cookie says.

(Note: Sometimes I forget I am not my character since I write in first-person. And so I answered in first-person without realizing that I had. Scary Writer Stuff, y'all.)

Pop over to Phillip's blog to read the rest!

The View from Here - Chapters 3 & 4

I am not a science writer by training—I earned my degree in English and American Literature. After college, though, poems and novels could no longer answer my questions about life and love. Back then, I had applied for the assistant writer position at CelluTech, fifty miles north of Los Angeles because science never lied and never wavered. A molecule did this, and genes (even defective ones) did that. Sure: science often reinvented itself. For instance, quantum physics contradicts traditional physics; and some researchers believe that cancer stem cells exist while other researchers believe that there are no such things. But even in this chaos, science still followed hard-and-fast rules.

I had stayed with CelluTech since then because science always anticipated the discovery of a better life and a better cure. And psychically, I needed to belong to any effort that offered that much hope to the world.

As I left Dr. Tremaine’s office, though, I didn’t drive back to work, and I didn’t care about stem cells or quantum physics or belonging.

I had purchased tickets (third row, center) for Truman and me to see Wicked at the Pantages. I had made reservations at Providence for dinner afterward, and over lobster risotto for me and a rib-eye for him, we would talk to one another instead of throw words in the air in hopes that the other person captured them in their intended order and spirit. Because sentences like, “Will you pull in the trash cans after the trash man empties them?” were becoming interpreted as, “You don’t pull in the trash cans after the trash man empties them.”

In honor of tonight’s “date night” (Truman and I hadn’t been out together in months), my husband sent me a bouquet of white Casablanca lilies. The tiny card nestled in the fragrant bundle read, Can’t wait to get wicked with you after Wicked. I love you, babe! Tru. “I love you, too,” I said with a smile, then placed the vase on the dining room table.

In the soft golden candlelight of a restaurant, Truman would remember falling in love with me thirteen years ago. He would realize that he was damn lucky to still be married to me even though we no longer went out dancing or gave each other back rubs; or ate barbecued ribs like we used to every Monday night; even though the showers we used to take together had become solo endeavors. He used to tuck me in bed. We used to make love before he left the room. I used to fall asleep afterward, not waking until the morning.

If anything was haunting our house, it was the Ghost of Used To.

We couldn’t blame ear infections, or PTA meetings or soccer practices for our inability to communicate. We didn’t have children. We didn’t own a dog. Our recent bouts of bickering resulted from our failures to talk and listen to each other, husband to wife.

Now, instead of taking walks to the reservoir, cooking tacos together, or battling each other in rounds of Guitar Hero, I retreated alone to the upstairs den to watch The Simpsons. I’d sit there, pissed and uncomfortable about being pissed, waiting to hear the security panel ping and Truman shout, “Hey, babe! It’s me.” On many nights, The Simpsons melted into Jeopardy. Since his promotion to Executive Vice-President, Jeopardy melted into Lost or C.S.I. and then, the ten o’clock rerun of Seinfeld.

And it wasn’t as though I had nothing else to do in my life other than wait for him to come home. I had been active in my sorority. I had attended author readings at bookstores. I had worked late at my office on many nights. But I didn’t want to relax with my sorors. I didn’t aim to share a life with best-selling novelists and their fans. I had married for a reason.
Truman and I had argued about his insane schedule, and he had apologized, and he would come home at a reasonable hour to eat tacos and watch American Idol; or see a movie at The Grove; or hike up to the reservoir.

Until the next week.

But on this night, he had promised—promised—to show up.

I slipped a Jill Scott CD into the player, and sang as I showered, dressed and primped. I ignored the pipe’s strange rumblings as I pulled on a crimson silk dress that clung to my hips, caressed my thighs and boosted my cleavage. I looked hot. Smoking hot.

I sat at the dining room table, still and stiff to avoid shiny face, flat hair and sweaty underarms. I wanted to pop a Paxil, but I couldn’t. Not anymore. The positive ClearBlue Easy pregnancy tests had nixed my pill-popping. So, I stared at the vase of lilies in the table’s center, fantasized about standing in the lobby of the Pantages with Truman on my arm, and afterwards, eating lobster risotto and chocolate ganache cake.

I glanced at the clock in the telephone’s display: 7:33. The theater’s curtain rose at eight o’clock.

Where is he?

He hadn’t called, hadn’t e-mailed, hadn’t text-messaged.

I dialed his cell-phone number.

No answer.

I stomped to the living room and jabbed the stereo’s power button—Jill, then no Jill. I dialed his number again.

No answer.

I retreated to the kitchen and peered out the window to the driveway.

Just my Volvo.

Where was he? What was he doing? Are those his headlights zooming around the bend?

At 7:40, I stopped keeping watch at the window, and started pacing. Did he get in an accident? Did he get pulled over by the police? The telephone chirped and caller I.D. droned Baxter, Truman, Baxter, Truman. I grabbed the receiver, and shouted, “Where are you?”

“I’m still at the pool,” Truman said. “Trying to get in some extra dive time. I didn’t realize how late it was.”

I rubbed my temples—anger headache. “The show starts at eight.”

“I know, babe. I should’ve called earlier—”

“Yes, you should’ve.” I lurched to the living room. A tear rolled down my cheek, and my fingers picked at my lips, drying beneath coats of lipstick.

“I didn’t realize how late it was. When I got off work, we rushed down to the pool—”


“Penelope and me,” he said.

Penelope Villagrana worked with Truman at FOX Sports Network. She partnered with him on climbs, dives and jumps. She was also single, had the body of an Amazon, and was rumored to be as adventurous in the bedroom as she was on the mountaintop.

“We got here late,” Truman was saying. “And Flex was pissed. You know how he is. He doesn’t care about anything else, and he doesn’t want his students to care about anything else, either. When you dive, you’re supposed to focus on being under.

“Plus, my allergies were bothering me, and my eyes were a little scratchy, and I couldn’t take a Sudafed, and so my mind was just… This was the first time I glanced at a clock. You won’t believe—”

“Are you coming or not?”

Truman paused, then said, “I can’t, Nic. I’m sorry. I just… I don’t want anything to go wrong when I’m a hundred feet under next week. And I know you don’t want that, either, right?”

I didn’t speak, angry that he had exploited my fears to justify his selfishness.

“I’ll make it up to you,” he said. “I promise.”

“I’ll add it to the list,” I said, hoping that he sensed my dissatisfaction.

He laughed, not sensing anything. “I’ll call when I’m on my way home. Love you.”

A dial tone told me that he had hung up.

I threw the telephone at the fireplace, but it didn’t shatter into billions of tiny pieces like I had wanted. Instead, the phone hit the brick with a thud, and landed on the floor with a crack. Anger unquenched, I buzzed around the room. My heart pounded so hard, I thought it would explode. My ears rang, and then, I couldn’t hear my heart anymore. It worked, though—knife blades were stabbing at it like freshly-sharpened Henckels in a rump roast. I grabbed my left arm and sipped air. Couldn’t breathe... Pain in my chest… I was suffocating and having a heart attack at the same time.

I squeezed my eyes shut, and took deep breaths. One… Two… Three…

Penelope Villagrana.

I kicked the coffee table, and yelped. Tears burned in my eyes as fire blazed from my toes up my calf.

The house laughed–I swear it laughed. Not the low groans of a settling foundation, but high-pitched pings. Hee. Hee. Hee.

If I didn’t leave, I would hurt myself again and destroy items more precious than magazines and telephones. Like the porcelain bowl from Paris. Or the delicate crystal picture frames from Tiffany. Or the black clay vase from Mazatlan. Exquisite, throwable things.

I limped to the breakfast bar and grabbed for my keys beneath the fruit bowl. Grabbed my purse from the pantry and stomped to the car.

Dark sky and distant stars hid behind thin, wispy clouds. Misty rain had thickened the musty smell of burnt chaparral, and in seconds, my hair lost all curl and lay flat against my head. My eyelashes clumped, the mascara liquefying into a thick, gooey paste. Melting. I’m melting. What a world, what a world.

I climbed into the car, and at the base of the hill, I grabbed my cell-phone and called Leilani. “What are you doing right now?”

Leilani chuckled. “You mean, who am I doing right now.”

In the background, a man laughed.

Leilani and I had shared a dorm room during our freshman year at UC Santa Cruz. Her working-class Pentecostal family lived in Cerritos, California. Her father, Douglas Baxter, worked in construction on the week days and as a head deacon on Sundays, and her mother Cassandra made casseroles and frittatas between prayer meetings, choir practices and world mission ministries. Leilani’s big brother, Truman, had forsaken the church and Cerritos to earn a math degree at M.I.T.

I frowned. “Okay. T.M.I. I’ll call you later.”

“It’s cool,” she said. “I’m done. He’s leaving. What’s up?”

“I need to talk or… or…”

She sighed. “What did Truman do this time?”

I bit my lip, not wanting to cry. “One guess.”

“Did you eat?”


“And I sure as hell didn’t cook,” she said. “Let’s meet at Dan Tana’s. I’ll call Mo.”

Truman was climbing out of his car as I pulled back into the driveway. We didn’t speak as we entered the kitchen. We didn’t touch. Didn’t kiss. Just strangers sharing the mortgage payment.

The house was quiet and cold. The living room smelled of my perfume and the lilies sitting on the dining room table.

I retreated upstairs to the bedroom as Truman checked the locks and armed the security panel. I kicked off my heels, pulled off my dress, then grabbed shorts and a tank top from the drawer. In the bathroom, I scrubbed my face free of makeup, then wrapped my hair in a scarf—a nonverbal cue that I had no interest in “making up.”

Truman sat at the foot of the bed, staring at the hardwood floor. He looked pale sitting there, gazing at his blue Vans.

I hesitated in the bathroom doorway. “You okay?”

He didn’t answer at first, and continued to stare at the floor. “Tired,” he finally mumbled. “Been a long day.” He glanced at me, his brown eyes dark and troubled. Then, he stood, an abrupt and noisy motion in the quiet. “I have some work to do. You shouldn’t wait up.”

Alone again, I stood at the window and pushed aside the crimson curtains. I rested my forehead against the cold pane. Darkness and fog kept me from seeing much, and I glimpsed the meaty, red petals of my peonies on the edges of our stamp-sized back yard. Somewhere in the neighborhood, a German shepherd howled, ruining the quiet. I hated that dog, but his barks kept my mind from sifting through the tatters of the day.


I glanced over my shoulder.

Truman stood in the doorway.

I crossed my arms. “Yes?”

“Where were you? Before you drove back home, I mean.”

I smirked, then said, “Out.”

His shoulders hunched at his ears and his nostrils flared. “Who were you out with?”

“Why does it matter? I wasn’t out with you like I was supposed to be.”

Truman glared at me, and said nothing.

“You haven’t even apologized for flaking on me… again,” I said. “Who the hell do you think you are, standing there, looking at me like that, being pissed?” I turned to glare out the window. “I’m the one who gets to be angry. Not you.”

“But I called—”

“Twenty minutes before the show started!”

Outside, the German shepherd’s barks turned shrill—at war with a raccoon.

“Who were you with?” he asked again.

I snorted, then placed my hands on my hips. “I had dinner with your sister and Mo. Is that okay with you? Wanna call them to confirm?”

Truman shook his head. “I apologize for my reaction. And I’m sorry for not showing up tonight, okay?”

Still angry, I muttered, “Yeah.”

“Great. See you in the morning.” Then, he retreated back down the hallway.

On the next morning, sunbeams pushed through the usual June gloom, and my bedroom blazed bright with light. I glanced at the clock on the nightstand—a little past eight o’clock. I should’ve been zooming off my freeway exit by now, but sandbags weighed down my arms and legs, and I struggled to leave the bed. Couldn’t tell whether Truman had slept beside me or not—the sheets were twisted around my hips, and the comforter had been kicked to the floor.

Morning sunshine filled the kitchen. Weird: in June, Los Angeles never saw the sun until late-afternoons.

Truman had cooked himself breakfast, the stink of eggs and burnt butter the only clues of his presence.

As I reached to open the refrigerator, I noticed that he had used words from my magnetic poetry journal to leave a message on the door.

Diamond goddess soars
Frantic turtle dreams
I worship magic
You twirl in purple
Use my sausage

Silliness as a peace offering.

Purchase your own e-copy of The View from Here at Amazon or Barnes & Noble.

Monday, December 27, 2010

My Writing Life

Awesome blogstress Syria interviewed me over at her awesome blog, Syria Says. Check it out as I bare my soul with anyone who cares to see my bared soul.

Here's one of just several questions and thrilling answers!

Syria Says:
What was your earliest attempt at writing?

Rachel Howzell:
I wrote my first play in third grade -- “A Blue Monday” It offered a glimpse of my stories of the future. The heroine wakes up and everything goes wrong… I still have it and read it to my 6-year old daughter the other day. As a child and teen, I kept diaries (again, which I still have) and they provide a great source of background material for my novels.

Go now! Please.

Sunday, December 26, 2010

Stand Up Straight and Stop Twirling Your Mustache!

On Friday nights, I watch a DVD from either the Life or Planet Earth series.

In one very-special Planet Earth episode, walruses had to protect their babies from a hungry male polar bear. There was much roaring and gnashing of tusks and ripping of hides and blubber flying. In the end, the polar bear lost and the baby walruses survived. Music swelled and I cried because baby walruses are just so dang cute.

On another Friday, I watched a very-special Life episode that followed the hardships of a family of lions in the Namid Desert. So harsh out there, in the desert, and the lions were close to starvation. One cub died as the tribe hunted for food, another got separated from the tribe. Just when you were depressed and crying and packing a trunk of rib-eyes to send to the lions, the tribe came upon a watering hole fat with wildebeest. Glory, glory! The lions ate and their bellies filled and you didn't see their ribs and they found the lost lion club.

In one story, the hunter was the villain. In another story, the hunter was the hero.

Let's look at the second story about the lions.

The producers and writers of this particular episode wrote the narrative so that viewers would have sympathy for the meat-eaters. We wanted the lions to succeed, we understood that they were what they were -- meat-eaters -- and we wanted them to find food. The polar bear had the same needs, the same journey and as the viewer, you understood that, and it kinda sucked that the bear couldn't live off the snow, but we wanted the walrus to protect the babies.

As a novelist, you have to do that with your villains -- even if the character is the polar bear. I still FELT. I still CARED.

Gregory Maguire did the same thing in Wicked -- taking mega-villain Wicked Witch of the West and giving her the name Elphaba and making her a woman who has been wronged and discriminated against. You understood why she hated Glinda and people and on and on.

A writer must remember this:

The villain is the hero in his story. He has reasons for everything he does. The reader should care about him even if the reader doesn't care for him, dig?

Write a scene from your villain's point of view. Why is she trying to steal the MacGuffin? Why is she trying to kill the good guy? What happened to her that has made her so bitter and vindictive?

By doing this, you create a complex character, someone who isn't simply evil. The reader will feel for them even if they want the villain to lose.

Writing In My Car... With Thea Atkinson

All writing is not the same. Sometimes, you try and you just can't cross genres. Yes, there are verbs and nouns and adverbs (not too many) but if you write suspense, it's very difficult to write romance. Just like it's difficult for a romance writer to pen a dark and edgy mystery.

Novelist Thea Atkinson knows what I'm talking about and she'd like to share her writing journey with all of us. So. let's welcome Thea, author of four novels, including the most recent Anomaly.

What is Anomaly about, you ask? J isn’t your run-of-the-mill, everyday kind of troubled GenXer. He’s a recovering addict who is more concerned about his encroaching gender relapse than his meth addiction. That is, until his best friend comes to visit and gives him worse things to worry about. Anomaly is a litfic tale of self-acceptance. Discover how one week can change a man for a lifetime.

Here's Thea!

I spent some time writing this up so I didn't forget it over the holidays. I hope it's something like what you were looking for. Let me know if it wasn't what you expected and I'll rewrite.

Alas, I'm no Jodi Picoult

I have a friend who keeps asking me to write a book for her. Let’s call her Alicia. Alicia keeps saying things to me like, "Write me a romance, Thea. Write a good relationship book with lots of romance. Write me a good love story."

I keep having to answer her back in ways she doesn’t want to hear. I keep saying things like, "That's not the style I write; I don't have a romantic bone in my body. I don't even remember my own wedding anniversary."

She's persistent. It's one of the things I like about her. So a few years ago, while I was bemoaning the fact that my agent hadn’t found a publisher who wanted to take a chance on a new literary writer, she piped up again: "You need to write a romance. A good story like Jodi Picoult."

I told her I would try a short story first, see if I could do it before investing the many months it took to write a novel. I was excited. Maybe if I tried hard enough, I could write something that people all over the world would want to read; no, would want to pay for.

I settled down to write, then filled my mind with Alicia’s encouraging words: "You’re a good writer, Thea. Surely you can write a love story."

I could. Of course, I could.

Imagine my discomfort a few days later when I had to admit to Alicia of the path that this little "romance" actually took. There I was, sipping tea, feeling sheepish as I confessed that the couple in the story were both octogenarians and that he accidentally broke a few of her bones while being romantic. Worse yet, that she ended up dying during the encounter.

I think Alicia might have blinked once or twice the way they do in cartoons when they've experienced a shock. I think I might have shrugged comically, helplessly.

I did try, after all. As much as I might like to believe that I could write a mass appeal novel and sell multiple copies, enough to buy me a new laptop, a brand-new thesaurus, and maybe a little trip to Petra, I have had to make my peace with the fact that I write dark literary fiction: a genre that by some descriptions is: that which does not sell.

Every now and then, Alicia still brings the subject up. She still persists, God bless her. She says I'm capable of writing the kind of story she loves to read and I feel so humbled every time she tries to support the writer in me by believing in me.

Now, I just remind her that the tale will end up in some very strange places. It won’t have mass appeal, it won’t sell a million copies, but despite the fact that I can’t write romance, it will be an honest-to-goodness Thea made story.

And then I ask her if she's ready to read that.

The first thing you should know about me is I'm a Canuck--and one from the Maritimes where the water means almost everything to the people who live here. It shows up in my fiction a lot.

I have a dog. I wish I had three or four. I love dogs.

Some of my earliest memories are my fondest: like when my older brother put snakes in my rubber boots and I felt them slithering up my ankle when I put one on to go outside to play. Or when my younger brother pilfered every bit of babysitting money I'd hidden until I discovered the only safe hiding place for money was in the pages of a book. Or when my baby brother somehow got into my Dad's wine and threw up in the bathtub. Ah. The life of a sister. Those boys have given me some memorable images to take with me into old age.

Can I help it then, if bits and pieces of these also characters show up in my fiction in some way or other?

I tend towards literary fiction--or at least I try to. My agent thinks I write dark, and one day we'll find the perfect match of story and darkness to make us both happy.

I've been fortunate enough to write for money, but I prefer writing for passion. I've published throughout the US, the UK, and my home country of Canada in various lit journals, but I'm a novelist at heart.

At present, 4 of my novels are available on and 3 are available from Smashwords. All offer free sampling if you have an ereader of some sort. You can also check me out on goodreads, or Facebook, or my blog.

Thanks for sharing, Thea!

Please stop by Thea Atkinson's blog. There, you will find more essays on writing, as well as posts on the life of a writer.

Monday, December 20, 2010


I wanted to post an essay about villains today but alas, I am SICK.

But not the bad sick.

The good sick. The kind of sick that comes from having the flu shot two weeks ago. And even though I'm coughing and hacking and trembling and my ribs hurt and my head feels tight, it's ALL GOOD. Cuz I have the Lesser Flu. A demon, not the Devil.


Something may be up tomorrow -- it's all on a pink Post-It, just waiting... waiting...

Until then, have you bought your copy of The View from Here yet? It's getting great reviews over on Amazon...

Writing in My Car... with Steve Emmett

I don't know about you, but I am always eager to learn about another writer's process. What inspires them. What they find interesting. Legal pad or straight to the computer. And so, I've reached out to writer-friends across the galaxy and they will be sharing their writing lives with you and me.

Let's welcome Steve Emmett, the author of Diavolino.

What is this novel about, you ask? The chance to build a dream home on a private island in Italy’s most beautiful lake offers architect Tom Lupton the fresh start he’s been yearning for. But when he arrives with his family on Diavolino, he finds the terrified locals dead set against his arrival. The island, whose very existence has been shrouded in secrecy for half a millennium, has a dark history that no one cares to remember, and as their opposition to Tom grows, so grows a brooding evil that will lead them to the very doors of hell…

Here's Steve!

To reach the age of fifty as the world implodes is not the greatest thing that can happen to anyone, yet that is precisely what started me off on my writing career. We had just celebrated my half-century at the charming Chateau de Camon near Carcassonne in south-west France and were driving eastwards towards Italy where we were living at the time. I turned on the car radio to hear that Lehman Brothers had collapsed. Prone to drama from an early age, I turned to my partner and said, “It’s the beginning of the end of life as we know it.” And it was.

I’d been in the real estate business for over twenty-years - the luxury second home market - and I knew that we were in for a rough time. We relied heavily on the UK and US markets and, as I expected, those buyers simply disappeared overnight. As it happened, I had grown tired of what I was doing. I was bored and derived no intellectual satisfaction from it. So I made the decision then to change. I’d fancied being a writer for a while and thought I’d try.

I have always believed in getting good advice when venturing into new territory, so I signed up for a novel writing course which I thoroughly enjoyed and completed in super-fast time. At the end of it I was about a third of the way through my novel. Over the coming months, as one life disintegrated another began to take shape. At times I thought I would never finish writing the novel but I pressed on. Rewriting, polishing, studying critiques from trusted readers. Eventually, I sent out a few queries and received the rejections back promptly.

Around this time we returned to England and I had to take a break from writing just to get organised. It was so hard to get back into the novel after weeks of doing mundane tasks. Fortunately, my partner pushed me. Approaching it with refreshed eyes I spotted what were, for me, weaknesses and set about a rewrite. God, it seemed endless!

The next round of submissions brought rejections. I could so easily have given up but I just had a feeling that I would find a publisher in time. I really believed in my novel. Another round of polishing until I could find nothing else to do with it. I sent out six queries and said, “If one of these doesn’t come in then I’ll have to put this novel aside and move on.”

The rest, as they say, is history. Diavolino, my supernatural thriller set in Italy, is published by Etopia Press. I’m now writing the sequel and it’s developing so well I may produce a trilogy. So, as I keep saying to aspiring authors - don’t give up.

Thanks for sharing, Steve!

Please stop by Steve Emmett's blog. There, you will find more essays on writing, as well as gorgeous pictures of Italy (and you will shake your fists at the rainy sky and the traffic and the noise).

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

A Novel Idea - the Life of a Chapter II

I've been busy, busy, busy since the last la vida de chapter. Yes, yes, yes! You remember pitiful little Chapter 7, with its handwritten text and its blank lines and unformed ideas?

Well, Chapter 7 is now a grade-schooler with its missing front teeth, and ponytails and such. Still unformed and far from final but definitely not an infant.

Here it is now (click on each image to read):

So what's changed?

Well, first off, it is now Chapter 6, and it's transformed from pen to computer. A

And now, I have a working title: A Devil Within.

Also, I know my characters' names and I'm figuring out the roles they will play throughout the story.

Further, I decided to use the "We" point of view since the neighbors will try to figure out 'whodunnit.'

And I know now what the note says... For now...

I am still homing in on personalities, and I'm still quite short on environmental description and character actions. That will come in the next draft.

Stay tuned!

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Amen to That!

Writing is hard. Writing for an agent is even harder. Writing for an editor considering your book but wanting a rewrite first is like climbing Everest without a Sherpa in a snowstorm... and you have conjuctivitis and cramps and OfficeDepot has run out of pens... forever.

Sometimes, you succeed and you land a contract and it's awesome and you love everybody and wow, is that my book on the shelf at my favorite bookstore. Many times, too many times, you don't succeed and you have six reams worth of revisions that went nowhere, seven months of your life gone, your confidence mauled like a pillow by a Golden Retriever.

Author Natalie Whipple wrote an incredibly-thoughtful piece about this Great Disappointment over at her blog Between Fact and Fiction. Her essay, What Happens When It Is You" talks about being on submission and the journey she's experienced.

She writes:

Today is a serious day. I'm going to talk about things I've kept off this blog for about 15 months. I'm going to talk about being on submission—more specifically about what it's like to experience all those things writers dread happening.

Because, really, no writer wants to be that person. The one who has to go through hell just to get a book on the shelf. You hope with all your being that your journey won't be too horrible. And you should. Without that hope? I don't know how I'd be where I am, even if it's not entirely where I want to be.

But what happens when it is you? What happens when writers list off "horror stories" about their publishing journey and you realize you've basically been through all of them?

If you want to know, read on. If not, stop here and go eat a cupcake. Actually, everyone should eat a cupcake while reading this. It'll take the edge off.

Now, I told myself that I wouldn't talk about submissions on my blog when I was out. I didn't want editors to know how long I'd been out or if I was struggling. But after 15 months? Heck, I think I've earned a little bit of a right to talk about it. And what does it matter that anyone knows how long I've been out? Does it make me less of a writer? Do I suck because my book hasn't sold?

If you'd like to read more, please pop on over to Natalie's blog. Honest writing about... writing.

Thanks for letting me re-post, Natalie!

A Novelist’s Wish List for Santa Claus

We writers don’t require much in life -- that’s why we’re writers and not actors or politicians or anthropologists. Pens, paper and maybe a computer loaded with Solitaire will suffice most times. But every year, we, too, wish upon the Christmas Star for cool things.

I’ve asked writer-friends from across the Interwebs what they’d like Santa to bring.

From writer-friends Yvonne, Teresa and Jennifer at Goodreads:

My book to be stocked at Barnes & Noble.

To win just a big enough lottery so that I could quit my day job and do nothing but read, research, write and publish and never have to spend time trying to promote.

For my novel's genre to be more popular. Paranormal romance? Yeah, sure, everyone wants that right now, but paranormal comedy? Not as easy to market, unfortunately.

From writer-friends Thumper, RJ Keller, terryr, victorine, Jennifer Erickson, Scott Neumyer, Mark Adair and sandynight over at Kindle Boards:

The gift of quick wit and an eloquence in putting it to virtual paper.

A pound or two of dark chocolate covered espresso beans.

Two hours of absolute silence (this includes cooperation from cats, telephoning teenage boy/girlfriends, and neighborhood horn honkers) once a week, for uninterrupted writing.
Another pound of dark chocolate covered espresso beans.

I'd settle for being able to pay my rent January 1st.

I want someone to read my book, enjoy it, then write a review. They don't even have to buy it. And I want $2000 for more coffee, tequila and chocolate!

Hitting that Top 10 Paid on Kindle would be awesome.

I'll settle for the top 100.

A brief mention by Oprah on her book club thing...yeah, that's it, Santa.

A doggie door, so all my mini-dachshunds can let themselves in and out instead of harassing me while I'm writing.

And from writer-friends VTWriter, Birol, Wayne K, storyteller 5, sonya bateman, milly, jallenecs, quicklime, gothicangel, RJK, maestrowork, idiotsrus, ASwimmerWrites, Jamesaritchie, dangerousbill, aimless lady, stormie, Frank Kelso, Nya RAyne, Esmeralda, benbradley, AlwaysJuly, Shadow Ferret, Eddyz Aquila, Etola, James D. MacDonald, MissAimee, Amrose, Kaiser-Kun, Hip-Hop-a-potamus, Stormhawk, ambri, Rachel Udin, Alyssalynne, Jessianodel and IrishWristWatch over at Absolute Write:

A case of Dom Perignon... because this is going to be the year.

Good coffee, preferably beans not grounds. A coffee cup warmer that plugs into the USB port of the computer.

Amazon gift certificates.

A gift certificate for a weekend a month in a cabin in the mountains somewhere to be write and edit and just take some time to breathe with my WIP

A signed, notarized affidavit from my Muse, swearing I'll only have one bad writing day a month for the next ten years

A copy of Strunk to replace the one I cannot seem to find....

The CWA Debut Dagger 2010.

Ability, Talent, Perseverance, Luck.

My very own spot (with my name on it) at the coffee shop with ample light, little traffic, a comfy chair and lots of power outlets. Oh yeah, and a seven-figure contract.

A log cabin in the garden for writing in. Must have kettle and fridge. No internet.

Someone to do the housework for me. Some proper bookcases in said log cabin. Big enough to actually hold all my books rather than have to pile them on the floor as currently. The confidence that I can continue to write passably well, rather than suffer that 'Ack! Gods! I loved the last book so much, who can I love this one/write this one any better? What if I've peaked?' feeling. An inexhaustible supply of pens. I buy them in their droves then the house eats them.

A roommate who is unerringly faithful to my writing cause and does things like make my meals, take my exams, and pay for my necessities. Oh, and it would be awesome if she was also a gifted beta reader crazy about my MSs.

Fountain pens and writing boxes. One of these, to be specific:

Two of me. One for surfing. One for writing.

A Macbook Air.

An I.O.U one contract offer from a well established agent. Enthusiasm that never dwindles.

Quick turnaround time from agents. And publishers. And a desire to never wake from that dream.

I would like the Montblanc Mark Twain fountain pen and a barrel of Wild Turkey rare breed because I'm a firm believer in the the credo, "Write drunk, edit sober."

A six figure contract on my first book, seven figure contract on my second book.

A housekeeper, a cook and a cozy office with a good view out the window would also be nice.

And I wouldn't say no to a ski machine/cross-trainer to get my blood pumping and my ideas churning.

On the twelfth day of Christmas my agent sent to me
Twelve author copies
Eleven copyedits
Ten award nominations
A nine-city book tour
Eight splendid blurb-quotes
Seven publishing offers
Six movie options
A five-figure advance
Four royalty checks
Three fan letters
Two swell reviews
And a pack with a new ARC

A big bag of Wine Gums... I like them when the writing is going slow.

An app for the iPad (I'd also like an iPad) where it looks like you're writing on loose-leaf with a stylus and as you're handwriting, the app is creating a Word (or comparable software) document with what you've handwritten including scratch outs.

Jim Butcher as my editor.

A machine that allows me to sync up my brain with my computer so I can just think at the computer and words come out, so I can get books done faster.

A 7 figure contract, with which I will:
1. Buy my own house again instead of renting.
2. Install a lovely garden shed in back with electric, heat, and internet.
3. A comfy spot in said garden shed to do my work, including desk, lots of bookshelves, and comfy armchair (oh, and a daybed for brainstorming and naps).
4. Travel, travel, travel! (I need to see these places I'm writing about to further kick butt in the description area).
That'll get me started.

To be a lifelong member of the Chocolate Of The Month club. Make that Chocolate Of the Day. (Need chocolate to sustain me while writing).

A box or two of my very favorite roller ball pens. An ipod and/ or gift card from iTunes, chocolate, coffee, wine to keep me going. Oh, and an agent would be nice.

I just want a killer high concept with a built-in story with beginning, middle and end that only I can write.

An oceanfront hotel suite in some quiet tropical paradise for a month so I can finish my novel without the distractions of obnoxious roommates.

An editor who thinks exactly like me. Or better yet, the ability to edit and fix up my book while I'm sleeping...and writing as that has kept me up many a night.


So, Santa. Dude. Get to ho-ho-hoing and jingle-belling. If it wasn’t for writers, no one would know who you were. Recognize. Oh, and Merry Christmas.

Sunday, December 12, 2010

Driving a Nitroglycerine Truck Can Help You Write That Novel!

A few days ago, I visited one of my favorite sites, Poets & Writers. One discussion forum talked about good jobs for writers. I chimed in since I’m a little opinionated, and as I wrote my reply twice (the first reply disappeared into the ether), I thought I’d shared what I thought at Writing in my Car.

In my day-time life, I am a proposal writer at City of Hope, a national leader in cancer research and treatment. Doing this helps with writing fiction -- I take difficult, science-y stuff and make it into plain English for regular people so that they donate money to advance cancer research. Writing proposals and reports have helped me slow down in my writing, break language down into its simplest, be compelling while still sticking to the point, and not assume that the reader knows what I'm talking about.

Stephen King taught high school history.
Jack London was an oyster pirate.
Langston Hughes worked as a busboy at a hotel in D.C.
Dan Brown taught high school English.
J.K. Rowling taught English as a Second Language, and was on welfare when she wrote the first Harry Potter novel.
And Harlan Ellison was a short-order cook and a nitroglycerin truck driver.

I always fantasize about writing novels full-time. But working a day job, and being away from my personal writing, is truly a blessing and an inspiration.

What type of crack am I smoking, you ask? Have I gone around the bend and off the cliff? Drank the Kool-Aid about how awesome work is? (And FYI, they drank grape Flavor-Aid on that unfortunate day.)

Think about it.

Does your house feature as many 'characters' at the Widget Factory?

And are they as interesting as your widget-making colleagues -- the ones who look like they may be the shooter if lay-offs ever happened? The ones who use up all your coffee creamer and never say thanks? That woman who refuses to learn how to use the copier and so she comes to your office and asks for your help and you glare at her because you just helped her two days ago but she apologizes and says she just doesn't understand cuz there are just so many buttons?

And at home, you don't have stupid rules like 'No heating fish in the microwave' or require signs that say ‘Please wash your hands after using the toilet.’ If you ever become bug-eyed and shake your head and mutter, who are these people, that means you have great material for your book.

At one of my jobs, there had been a never-ending e-mail string about how to kill the mice in the building -- traps, bring in a cat, let them be? Attorneys, paralegals, fundraisers, support staff going on and on and on and on and on and on about killing mice.

Dude, you can't make this stuff up.

And really: why should you? It's RIGHT THERE, in that memo, in that boss, in the way you never hold the elevator for that creepy guy from Accounting cuz what's his deal and why does he look at you like that and you heard things about him and his wife but that couldn't have really happened, could it, OMG here he comes?

A writer needs all of these crazy and needlessly dramatic shenanigans to populate a story's world. So, pay attention and start carrying your moleskin and quill pen! Start looking around -- the break room, the bathroom, staff meetings, the elevator, the computer where crazy comes in emails about how many Christmas decorations you can have in your cubicle.

In the end, I'd say any job is a good job for a writer. Your character, your chapter, your plot twist may present itself between the business hours of nine and five.

Writing in my Car... with D.E. Sievers

I don't know about you, but I am always eager to learn about another writer's process. What inspires them. What they find interesting. Legal pad or straight to the computer. And so, I've reached out to writer-friends across the galaxy and they will be sharing their writing lives with you and me.

Let's welcome D.E. Sievers, the author of The Trees in Winter.

What is this novel about, you ask? The Trees in Winter tells the story of Blake Thomas, aspiring jazz musician, who wants only to compose and play music--until he falls in love with Penny D'Arcy. As Blake settles down with Penny and the years unfurl, he comes to appreciate how choices made as a young man determine the kind of life he can have--and the kind he cannot. In sharp contrast to Blake's life is the life of his college friend, Benson Munro, a successful unmarried author whose interest in Blake's life--and wife--may exceed anything Blake could have imagined. The Trees in Winter is at once family saga, bildungsroman, and meditation on the restless nature of the creative impulse.

Here's D.E.!

Having the passion to write was never a problem for me. Making the time to write, however, was a challenge—but only until I made it a priority!

About three years ago, I began writing a novel. It was clear to me that, without committing myself to a daily writing regimen, I would never achieve my goal. So I began going to my regular job at 6:30 a.m. and leaving at 3:30 p.m. Fortunately, my job allowed me this flexibility. Between 3:30 p.m. and 6:30 p.m., my time was devoted to writing. And has been ever since.

I finished the novel. Then wrote a novella. And have now begun a non-fiction book about the remarkable artist who painted the cover art for my novel. Writing every day is important. It is what gets books written. It is what magnifies one's capabilities. It is what makes somebody a writer.

My writing method is this: I sit with a 9½ x 5⅜, 80-page, Cambridge notebook in my hand and, using a cheap ballpoint pen, scrawl nearly illegible words onto the yellow pages. I have done this in parks, hotel lobbies and lounges, coffee shops, my backyard—anyplace where I am free from people I know and other distractions—places where I can retreat into the private solitude of my own thoughts. Some days yield pages filled with words, other days a single sentence, and on the occasional unlucky day, a single word or not even that. What's important is that, for three hours every day, the pad and pen are in my hands, and the time is entirely theirs. I have learned that if I feed my writing passion the time it craves, it will pay me back with words, pages, books.

At some point, I face the necessary evil of transcribing my words from paper and ink to bits and bytes. I detest this chore, and sometimes defer it longer than is prudent.

When writing the novel, I began by writing no more than two or three chapters before transcribing; at some point, I switched to transcribing after I'd written ten chapters (my novel contains eighty chapters). When I wrote the novella, I didn't transcribe until I'd written the entire thing. When I have a good momentum going, all I want is to remain deeply submerged in the world of my story, and just keep on writing. At such times, I am more than happy to defer the transcribing. And because I am writing in a notebook, I can take my notebook and pen with me everywhere I go. I do not require a battery or a power source. I can whip out my notebook inconspicuously in mixed company, whether on a bus or in a department store or even during a boring lecture, and I can instantly transport my thoughts onto the page. Who knows when that flash of inspiration may come? Should I risk losing a valuable line of inspired dialogue because I chose to depend upon a machine, which may prove unreliable or inconvenient, or because I have allowed myself to believe that I can write in no other way than by means of a machine?

No, I say! I will depend upon nothing and no one but myself as I strive to perform this magical and capricious process known as writing. Nothing except my little notebook and my pen. And the machine that is my brain, which I carry with me wherever I go. And when I can no longer depend on that machine ... well, friends, that will be all she wrote.

Thanks for sharing! D.E. Sievers authors a blog called Enamored of Fiction. There, you can read more about the mechanics of writing (i.e., pen vs. keyboard), as well as view a series of author Lit-Vids and enjoy various fiction-related blog entries.

Thursday, December 9, 2010

The Frugal eReader: The View from Here, Rachel Howzell ~ $3.99

The Frugal eReader: The View from Here, Rachel Howzell ~ $3.99: "The View from Here focuses on the beauties and hardships of marriage; the betrayals and promises made between husbands and wives; and the gr..."

Monday, December 6, 2010

Writing in My Car: What Do You Mean, H.G. Wells Never Met a Martian?

Writing in My Car: What Do You Mean, H.G. Wells Never Met a Martian?: "I know! Because he wrote about our encounter with those hostile aliens as through they were neighbors pissed off because Herbert's dog alway..."

Writing in my Car... with Sean Reardon

I don't know about you, but I am always eager to learn about another writer's process. What inspires them. What they find interesting. Legal pad or straight to the computer. And so, I've reached out to writer-friends across the galaxy and they will be sharing their writing lives with you and me.

Let's welcome Sean Patrick Reardon, author of Mindjacker. What is this novel about, you ask? Well, when wealthy Russian mobsters contract L.A. psychologist Joel Fischer to develop a device to manipulate minds, the DreemWeever exceeds all expectations. Everything is on track for delivery and a big payday, until two adventurous stoners steal his Dodge Challenger that, unknown to them, contains the DreemWeever in its trunk. Fischer and his crew have two days to get it back or he dies.

Here's Sean!

If I had to identify a moment in time that totally changed both my outlook and approach to writing, it was in 2008 when I purchased and read Stephen King's On Writing . This book is often mentioned in writing circles and I would also highly recommend it to any aspiring writers. Like most writers, I'm very busy with work and family responsibilities.

Time to write is always at a premium. Taking Mr. King's advice, I write in the room above my garage almost every night between 9:00 pm and 1:00 am and try to come up with between 500 and 1000 words. It was tough at first, but after a couple weeks of doing this, things started to happen and I have stuck with it ever since.

The writer who inspired me to write I would have to say is F.Scott Fitzgerald. The "Great Gatsby" is my favorite novel and I love all of his short stories. I have studied Fitzgerald extensively and find him to be a fascinating person as well as a writer. Besides Stephen King, other contemporary writers I enjoy reading are Elmore Leonard, Chuck Palahniuk, Hunter S Thompson, Adrian McKinty, Declan Burke, and Stuart Neville.

Like a lot of writers, my stories start with a simple idea or situation and I just build on it. With my novel Mindjacker, I had written a short story that came in at about 4,500 words. For me at least, that is almost too long to ask a reader to stay with you for a short. I really felt like the story could be turned into something bigger, so I decided to try my hand at a novel length piece and I'm glad I did.

My favorite movie and novel genres are crime and thriller, especially the heist. I like stories about the bad guys, who can sometimes be good guys and it was only natural that I decided to write in that genre. Unless a cop is corrupt, I don’t enjoy reading or writing about them, plus that opens you up to a whole new world of research and reader scrutiny that I don't want to deal with. Research is hard enough as it is and I make good use of Google, especially for location and setting details.

I can only write on my laptop and use MS Word. I just can't seem to get anything done if I had to manually write anything, but I am always writing down any ideas that pop into my head. No matter where I am, I usually have access to a pen and something to write on, even if it is on my skin.

If you want to learn more about Sean and his writing, please visit him at his blog.

Thanks for sharing, Sean!

What Do You Mean, H.G. Wells Never Met a Martian?

I know! Because he wrote about our encounter with those hostile aliens as through they were neighbors pissed off because Herbert's dog always barked in the middle of the night and because Herbert never picked up his newspapers from the lawn. But Herbert never met a Martian. (Not that I was there when he wrote War of the Worlds in 1898, but I'm almost certain.)

"Then, how did he write it then? Cuz that would be writing what you don't know."

Yep. That's what it is. And that make our job [writing] so damned cool.

Writers are naturally a curious bunch, always reading and wondering and imagining things. And if we only wrote about the stuff we knew about first-hand, then there would be a glut of stories involving Uniball pens, The World of Warcraft, The Writer's Journey and recaps of the final season of "The Wire."

When I wrote A Quiet Storm, I had not experienced bipolar disorder in my personal life, nor did I know anything about losing a husband to the Pacific like Nicole does in The View from Here. I've never painted a room purple one day only to paint it orange four days later. And I've never had an affair, and therefore, never lived with that type of guilt. I've popped Valium twice in my life (after Lasik surgery) but never enough of anything to start seeing the dead.

"How did you write about all that, then?" you ask.

Research. Reading. Talking to people who have experienced all that I'm curious about. Then, I read some more. And I read about subjects tangentially related to the original subject.

I do most of my research after the completion of my first draft -- while I'm writing that first draft, I don't know a lot about my story so I hold off on the Googles.

For instance, in the story I'm working on now, the heroine (I don't even know her name right now) started out as a cop. But as I wrote, I decided that I wanted her to be a claims investigator of an insurance company. Now, do I do any claims investigators? Nuh un. But my neighbor sells insurance and I'm sure he knows one, and so I will get a referral from him and email this person and pick her brain and then go to the Googles and learn so much stuff that every conversation I'll have thereafter will feature a tidbit about insurance.

So, you must read. You must read everything. You must become a Google whore.

Here are a few of my favorite information sites you may find handy:

The Quotations Page

How Stuff Works

Cliche Finder

Cop Seek


Forensic Science Resources

Drug Watch

Absolute Write

Fun with Sign Language

So, I went to Vegas this weekend to celebrate the birthday of one of my bestest friends in THE WORLD (Hey, Gigi!). We all stayed at the Hard Rock Hotel. Nice play to stay but wouldn't want to live there... unlike the Manadalay Bay. Oh boy, don't get me started on the loveliness of the Mandalay Bay.

Anyhoo... the Hard Rock Hotel has this little sign at the mini-bar. Click to enlarge.