Blood from a Stone - The Journey to Finish the Damn Novel

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It started as a story shared by a coworker. 

One of the nicer perks of working for a corporate executive—besides a beautiful office that included quite a bit of solitude and free coffee—was the occasional opportunity to visit with staff. I had developed a pretty good camaraderie with most of them as they sat in guest chairs, waiting for the boss to become available.

One day, several years ago, I was speaking with a woman who told me about her niece. The girl had lost three friends in a terrible accident and, had she been with them that night, she too would’ve lost her life.

The story struck such a chord with me, I started thinking about what it must be like to know that you dodged a bullet like that. You’re basically being given a second chance at life and what a colossal amount of guilt must go along with that type of fortune. 

Your friends died, so you may truly live. 

I started researching the accident, formulated a fictionalized story from it, and began the journey of writing The Girl Who Didn’t Go.

In the summer of 2014, I participated in an online writer’s retreat. Camp NaNoWriMo, held every July, was my chance to work out some scenes for the novel I wanted to write. I decided on my selected word count—30,000 if memory serves—and proceeded to hit that goal by the end of the month.

I humbly admit, I wrote some pretty good scenes, but it needed work. 30,000 words was barely a first act. And, as usual, life and other story ideas got in the way, and I put The Girl Who Didn’t Go aside.

***

Let’s break here for a moment and discuss the well-being of the writer—this writer specifically.

The writer is a strange character. Alone but rarely lonely. Hunched over a keyboard typing out the stories of make believe people in fictionalized places doing crazy ass things with and to one another.

Sometimes it involves turning on a specific playlist or talking to oneself. Sometimes it’s rewatching the movie that motivated you to write your own story. Or reading resource books to help you become better at your craft.

It’s about your arms at 90 degree angles, imperfect posture, arthritis sinking into joints thanks to hours upon hours of tapping or handwriting (cramping hands I feel ya). 

The mental gets caught up in the storytelling. 

The physical suffers because if it.

For years, cervical issues have plagued me. It’s caused many a sleepless night, it’s led to several rounds of injections, physical therapy, self-medicating (wine). It’s been the excuse for long breaks of not writing a thing for weeks, and it’s the struggle to power through in order to write the words you need to expel despite your aching joints.

 Yes that’s a needle going into my neck…

Yes that’s a needle going into my neck…

After almost a decade, I finally decided to do something about this busted old neck of mine. The spine surgeon recommended a plate and screws in my C6-C7 to alleviate the pressure on my nerve. I agreed it was time. The pain is consuming me and I can’t continue like this. Surgery was the answer. But, it had to be on my terms. 

There’s the day job stuff that needs to be in order before I even think about taking time off. The Thanksgiving holiday I look forward to every year, where I do all the cooking. And the mental preparation it takes to have surgery, knowing there’s recovery and down time I truly feel I deserve after this last year of other “life stuff” going on. 

But more importantly, to me, I had vowed to participate in NaNoWriMo this year—the 30-day writing competition where you write 50,000 words in the month of November. I wasn’t going to miss this opportunity to write TGWDG, and maybe there’s a little procrastination on my part because, yeah, I’m freaked out about the surgery.

Therefore, on December 4th, while I’m basking in my NaNoWriMo glow, I’ll get the surgery and fix my shit.

***

There comes a time when you hit the wall. You love the story, you just don’t love the work it takes to finish it. 

I burn out all the time when I’m writing. I feel overwhelmed and find that I start to focus on a different story, whether it’s new or old. A new motivation and inspiration comes with the alternate story and I feel invigorated.

The down side, is that when I’m ready to return to an old novel, I forget a lot of what I’ve written and have to reread the manuscript.

Well, it’s four years later. I find myself stuck in a novel I’m working on. Tame My Racing Heart was already winning awards (along with another unpublished WIP), but I was growing weary of it. I needed a break. I needed to focus on something else for a while.

I was working on the edits for a short story that’s being included in an anthology when something made me think of TGWDG. The excitement I felt in 2014 for the story’s possibilities came rushing back.

Around this time, I had also listened to a webcast (Jeff Goins - How to write a bestseller), and it hit me as I reread the work I’d completed in 2014. I had been writing a series of things that were happening to my characters, and not an exciting, thrilling, suspenseful novel someone would stay up all night to read.

Immediately, I pulled out all the instruments for a successful writing experience. Outlines, resource books, the research from the actual event, and so on. I started brainstorming. I could feel the story coming together again, even better than the original draft. I added another POV, gave everyone purpose, and even came up with a hook and a twist. But something was still missing.

It needed to be richer, more interesting, situations more dire and my characters needed to stop sounding like whiny bitches.

If this was going to be a suspense novel, then I needed to research how best to write it, read some of my favorite authors (Sandra Brown, I’m talking’ to you), and I needed to plot the outline within an inch of its life to take the story to the next level.

I couldn’t phone it in when it came to my characters’ careers.

If my main character was a forensics expert, then I needed to become one. 

Off to the library I went (on a Friday!). I checked out books on criminal investigations and criminalistics. Side note—law enforcement has always been an area of interest for me, I had written stories in high school and college about undercover cops (I blame 21 Jumpstreet. The TV show, kids, not the goofy movie). Maybe if I’d taken a different path, I would’ve had a career in the system. 

 This closet has had its share of story taped to it…

This closet has had its share of story taped to it…

When I cracked The Bodies We Buried: Inside the National Forensic Academy, I thought to myself, take notes and use things that will help you sound like you know what the main character does for a living. Make it general for your audience, don’t get too technical.

Well…

I didn’t expect to get so caught up in this world. There is so much to forensic science. I became engrossed in the book. I discovered little details that will enrich the narrative. I now know how a crime scene is processed, and sometimes, corrupted.

I felt a rush of excitement as ideas burst onto the page. Now, if I could just connect the dots. I took the month of October to do just that. Note cards taped to my office’s closet doors, a binder with handwritten ideas scribbled onto legal pads cut and taped into each chapter, a pile of other books tabbed and highlighted. And an ending that not only gave the main character retribution, but all characters get a little somethin-somethin, if you know what I mean. No stone left unturned here. It all came together. Now I just have to write the damn thing.

Because really, that is always the hardest part. The start.

***

Welcome to NaNoWriMo. See you on the other side.

The Music Muse - Part Four

  Elegant, seductive and cool...Bryan Ferry

Elegant, seductive and cool...Bryan Ferry

I love when a song wiggles its way into my ear and tells my brain "hey that's pretty cool" like it did a few weeks ago when WXRT (still Chicago's BEST radio station for new music) played a song called "This Is It." At first, it sounded like Bryan Ferry might have released a new single. Then I found out it was a group called Lo Moon

Similarly, I was blindsided by a song called "Dream Lover" by the Vaccines -- a band we saw a few years back at Lolla at the suggestion of a coworker. I can't say since that show I'd given this band much thought until last night as I was going to bed. I turned on Palladia (now called MTV Live, but I still refer to it as Palladia because the name gives the channel street-cred, where MTV hasn't properly portrayed the "M" in it's name since the mid-90's). The show "Later...with Jools Holland" was on and admittedly it's always a treat. Holland, a former member of the band Squeeze, and a hugely talented musician, has been hosting "Later..." since 1992. There've been many times when Jools helped me uncover songs I probably never would've heard on terrestrial radio, or even some of my favorite streaming stations (I'm looking at you RadioParadise, love of my life). This episode just happened to catch my fancy and I had to know...what is this song!

This happens pretty regularly.

And immediately, I add these gems to my iTunes playlist of Favorites_All.

I call it Favorites_All because that's the dumping ground. It's where the complete albums, randoms and Shazam-adds fall to. It's the most played of all my playlists. It's my go to for music. It's where my song of songs co-exist. And, it's a pretty safe bet that a good number of these tunes will end up in a themed playlist, such as Good Stuff, or Easy Now, or lately, it's been Sunny D.

Sunny D is the summer playlist I'm putting together for our well-deserved, totally-f***ing-earned, family pilgrimage to the Gulf side of Florida in 42 days (not that I have an app tracker or anything like that...I totally do). After a handful of years dealing with my dad's health issues (open heart surgery and a knee replacement), we NEED this trip. And the songs making their way into this playlist are a culmination of the types of songs you play when life throw you a bag of sh** and you need some soul-defining, motivational, tunes to capture the moments.

  7th Heaven...the best cover band with original material

7th Heaven...the best cover band with original material

Here's some key tunes on the playlist so far:

Beautiful Life - 7th Heaven

Toes & Knee Deep - Zac Brown Band

Everything's Gonna Be Alright - David Lee Murphy & Kenny Chesney

Earned it - The Weeknd

Silver Lining - Mt. Joy

All Summer Long - Kid Rock (go ahead roll your eyes, I love this song)

Good Life - One Republic

Here Comes The Sun - The Beatles

There's Nothing Holding Me Back - Shawn Mendes

  Kid Rock...no apologies

Kid Rock...no apologies

Can't Stop This Feeling - Justin Timberlake

Sun Is Shining - Bob Marley

Summer Soul - Jorge Blanco (just discovered it Friday night!)

Summer Time - DJ Jazzy Jeff & The Fresh Prince

Walking on Sunshine - Katrina & The Waves

Crazy Life - Toad The Wet Sprocket

  Tim McGraw, damn you and those lyrics

Tim McGraw, damn you and those lyrics

Day Drinking - Little Big Town

Live Like You Were Dying - Tim McGraw

Okay, that last one...sappy as it can be, gets me every f***ing time. If that isn't a theme for living life to its fullest, I don't know what is.

Music, as always, defines my soul. 

It's why I continue to exist on this messed up planet. Without it, life wouldn't be worth shit.

No censoring that time. That's how serious it is for me.

Take it all...just leave me the music.

<3

 

 

What Women Really Want

Fabio ain't got nothing on a man who will help your aging dad to the bathroom.

For those of you who are too young to know what a "Fabio" is, I'll show you.

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Fabio has graced the cover of hundreds of romance novels since the 1980's. The long, wind-swept hair and the bulging muscles are supposed to depict the perfect male form...yeah, ok.

Honestly, I'll take Loki, Sherlock Holmes, James Bay and Josh Tillman over Dwayne The Rock Johnson any day.

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It seems most men think what women really want are the brutes of romance novels and action movies, where their muscles rip through their shirts and they have little to say outside a grunt or two. Sure, they're great to have around when you need a couch moved, and I'm sure they're "good for other things" (wink, wink), but in the grand scheme of things, I'd take a man who'll watch a sappy movie, take out the garbage, do the taxes, and kill a spider, any day.

Twenty-one years ago today, my husband and I had our first date at the Abbey Pub (I've told this story many times). We'd met at the video store where he worked (and where I was sent to the porn section as a prank...no, really, I thought it was new releases!). We dated for four years and got engaged seventeen years ago today...see the theme here? We waited three years to get married because we were living together and in no rush to drop a shit-ton of dough on a party, and have been married fourteen years today.

Over the last twenty-one years, my hubby has seen me at my best (he insists I have a best all the time, I don't see it at all) and some of the worst shit I've ever faced. From my mom passing away from breast cancer, to my dad's stroke/heart attack/knee replacement and the aftermath of each situation, to my own health issues, to me getting fired, getting my dream job, leaving it to pursue other opportunities ending in a layoff, to a new job in a new industry and a new role that's challenging me every day.

The men who grace these romance novels aren't real. What's real is a man who stands by you through shit and more shit. Who supports you in your successes and failures. Who still finishes your thoughts and sentences, who finds the same delight in the things that move you, and sure, who can move a couch and is "good for other things" (wink wink).

Face it, Fabio. I'm a lucky girl.

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The Daunting Task of Editing

What is it that drives an author to sit their ass in the chair for hours (sometimes it's only minutes when you're a busy human) and write a bunch of words that may later be deleted?

Seems like a painful, tedious, and maybe an irrelevant exercise.

It is. Oh boy, it is.

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For me, the writing is the easy part. It's the editing that's frustrating. I've written 85,000 words in my current work-in-progress and only about half of them are any good. In fact, I've archived almost 40,000 words that were probably written on a whim with no semblance of order. During the editing process, I found those ideas and situations that I thought were utter brilliance--were total garbage.

So why keep at it, one might ask. If you spend all that time, writing words you'll only end up deleting, why even bother?

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For some writers, it's a means of survival. It keeps food on the table if you're lucky. Maybe it's part of your job. Or, it's something innate with the wiring of your brain. That's my deal. I have stories inside my head that I need to get out. I can't not write them down.

No matter how much work they might need on the back end, I've always dumped those words onto the page knowing I'd have to go back and fix them later.

And that's the hard part. The fixing. Seeing a huge novel in front of you, knowing maybe half of it isn't worth it's salt. Realizing all that time you put in will probably double because of rewrites.

Why not try to get it right the first time?

Easier said than done.

I've spent enough time in classes, seminars, conferences, and behind a resource book (or a dozen), that I've been able to train myself to write with an editor's eye. The result is that it takes me a lot longer to put any words on the page because I spend so much time trying to get it right. Talk about tedious. Plus, I feel like I'm doing myself a disservice when I do it.

Sometimes, letting the words flow and going back later to chop them like Gordon Ramsay in Hell's Kitchen, is the way to go.

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But it's so ominous, this editing business.

It is. That's why it's key to set targets for yourself. For example: "Today I will edit two chapters" is realistic and more likely to be completed than diving in without a plan.

Next, carve out time in your schedule, even if it's only on the weekends. 

If you're like me, you might even print out those two chapters, close your laptop (so the time-wasting interwebs don't call to you), and grab that red pen. Make sure you have some sort of outline for your story nearby, even if it's incomplete or will change as you go. It'll keep you on track.

If you haven't been at this for as long as I have, google yourself some editing guidelines (or reach out to me, I can point you to my favorite writing helpers' websites).

Perhaps the most important piece of this editing business?

Cut words you don't need.

I have called myself the "queen of words" at times because I use SO MANY of them. I'm sure if I went back and reread this blog post again, I'd find a dozen words to cut. 

It's daunting this writing business. I've been at it for 40 years in one way or another. Sometimes, it's so intimidating, I don't write for weeks.

But then, I remember why I'm doing it.

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Wait, it's already February?

I forgot to blog in January. Just. Plain. Forgot.

Looking back at my last blog of 2017, I wrote:

Anything I attempt to tackle in 2018 falls under the "awesome umbrella."

Even if I attempt to do absolutely nothing. LOL.

I guess I was just being lazy the first month of the year. Therefore, I've exceeded all expectations!

Still, I need to be better with planning my time.

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Calendars, next to journals, are one of my favorite things. You know, the ones you actually write in using an old fashioned pen? While I do put things in Outlook for myself, work and personal, there's nothing like an old school planner. I get super excited when it's time to buy a new one each year.

I always keep one on the island in my kitchen where I park all the important stuff in my life (purse, backpack and jacket hung on the chair). It's the corner of the house where I leave myself notes, create lists for the grocery store, keep that important piece of paper I don't want to lose or forget about. And for years, I used a rather large monthly calendar. There must be something about visually seeing it every day that reminds me of the important dates and events coming up. Plus, whenever my sis comes over, she leaves funny little notes in them that I find later. 

When I was in the market for my 2018 calendar, I thought about buying something I could use to help me manage my life better. Lately, I find myself drawn to the goal-setter type of calendar. I have the ARC system from Staples but I grew tired of carrying around the equivalent of a small binder with me. Then I checked out a nicely bound planner, like a moleskin journal. It offers areas for daily goals, gratitude and things you're excited about. Some even let you jot down an end of day review. Some have places for "best moment of the day" and "things I can improve." They look really cool but there's so much work involved, I'd have to schedule time in my planner to fill out my planner. 

For now, I like this smaller monthly calendar with the llamas on the front. I bought it in the small store in my office building. It takes up less space, and is used for only the most important events--and notes from my sis. Plus it's cute!

I guess it's time to schedule the remaining blogs of 2018 in that darn thing.

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The Year in Review & a Look Ahead to 2018

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This year has gone unbelievably fast. I know as you get older time seems to speed up, but this is ridiculous!

Every year, at Thanksgiving, my hubby and I sit at our kitchen island prepping the stuffing, listening to "Alice's Restaurant," and we always comment on how the last time we chopped up chestnuts seems like it were yesterday. A year feels like months, hours like minutes (unless you're at work, I suppose, where time sometimes seems to stand still, LOL).

I look back at some of the goals I set for myself for 2017, and have to admit I'm disappointed I didn't stay focused enough to achieve many of them.

But, rather than obsess over what I didn't get to in these measly 12 months (like finish my novel), I thought I'd end the year looking back at one goal I did achieve (even when I "phoned it in") and, of course, make a few resolutions.

12 Months of Blogging

This was part of my business plan as a writer and really the only thing that stuck. I mean, how hard is it to find twelve topics to write about? Funny enough, pretty dang hard! But here are links to all the topics (and a few comments) from my blog this year.

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January - Hello 2017

I start off the year with a few resolutions to write, read, share knowledge and blog. I did spend a lot of time writing, but I still haven't made the progress I wanted. However, I was able to finally flush out the third act in my outline for Tame My Racing Heart, so I can finish the book. 

I had a goal to read 24 books. I read 19. Most were for pleasure. The books I loved this year were "All In (Only One Night #1)" by Simona Ahrnstedt, "Hollywood Dirt" by Alessandra Torre, "The Collector" by Nora Roberts, and "Bet Me" by Jennifer Crusie. But the BEST book of all (followed by the HBO mini-series) was "Big Little Lies" by Liane Moriarty. So, so good.

February - What About Love?

I discuss the history of the romance novel, and a few movies whose love stories have affected me.

March - Is It Just Blind Luck?

The key to becoming a published author is shared in this blog. It even includes some words of wisdom from a revered author who has several publications under his belt. 

April - 20 Years, 2 Decades, 10 Bienniums, 4 Lustrums

An obsession with a band I played on the air in college radio led me to twenty years with a man who is my best friend, my biggest cheerleader, and my husband. 

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May - A Nod to Non-Moms

A continuation of April's blog, sort of. I talk about losing my mom seventeen years ago and the moment when I made a decision that changed the course of my future. 

June - What I Learned about Myself While Reading The Happiness Project by Gretchen Rubin

Read this on the plane to and from Charlotte (a business trip I took, that ended with a Nascar race aka research for my novel). I created my own "12 Commandments" per the author's suggestion. It's also where I call myself out on the excuses I make, thus sabotaging myself from hitting my goals.

July - Ernie in the Sandbox...My Very First Story

How a puppet from Sesame Street encouraged my imagination, and led to a lifetime of stories about cute boys and love.

August - TMRH

I will admit this was a month I cheated a little by taking an excerpt from my work-in-progress and using it as a topic. It's one of my favorite scenes from TMRH (Gray and his mom talk about edibles, LOL) and I'd been working diligently on the weekends trying to make progress on the outline. August was a month where I tried to spend more time writing and less time procrastinating.

September - Back to "School"

My notebook obsession is in the spotlight here. I can't help myself when I see a cute notebook. Most of them I don't even write in! The words have to really be important for me to put them down in these blank pages. Some people have a purse obsession (ok, I do too) but really it's the notebook that brings me joy.

October - Location, Location, Location

A trip into the city (where I work every day and spend some of my evenings in too) inspired me. Chicago has been the backdrop for many of my stories. Here I reminisce about the mystery of the city when I was younger, and tease the plot of my next novel.

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November - Superstar (Not Me, Just the Name of my Story, But Also Me)

I took a break from my novel to participate in NaNoWriMo, and this is the result of that endeavor. Although it's unfinished, it was a story I'd been wanting to get out for years and will be something I go back to eventually. Based on Jesus Christ Superstar (without the religious connotation), this is a modern day story about betrayal and stardom.

December - you're reading it!

2018 Goals

Really, one goal...

Be F***ing Awesome!

Really, that's it.

I made a deal with myself. Anything I attempt to tackle in 2018 falls under the "awesome umbrella." Even if I attempt to do absolutely nothing. LOL.

BTW, that's a trick...the second I made that deal with myself, I was inspired and motivated and actually did stuff. So, if rule #1 of my 10 Commandments is "don't sweat the small shit," I will be able to achieve great things this year because I'm not obsessing over the unimportant stuff.

Hope everyone can do the same and Be F***ing Awesome too!

Happy new year!