Two Truths and a Lie

Version 2

Truth: One of my favorite things to photograph are dinghies.

When my friend Hallie Sawyer tagged me today to write a post based on the Two Truths and a Lie game, of course I jumped at the chance. For one thing, I haven’t posted a blog since February. (Truth. Sad, but still a truth.) For another, Hallie and I just talked about how I wanted to blog more (Again, truth). But, most importantly, Hallie is one of my very favorite friends I’ve met in the blogging world. (Truth.) Hallie is one of the funniest women I know–we laugh together all the time–and she has a heart the size of Kansas. She’s a mom to three kids, a holistic health advocate, and a physical fitness guru who has helped me become more physically fit. So when she tagged me, I couldn’t turn her down. (Truth. This one’s for you, Hal. Love you.)

I’m going to list two truths and a lie, and then I’ll challenge another blogger to do the same. So…here goes…one of these is a lie and the two others are truths:

  1. My first kiss was with a boy named Martin, and I married a man with the last name Martin.
  2. When I was in college, I worked as a squid cleaner at a seafood restaurant.
  3. I grew up all over the world, and I’ve lived on every continent.

Leave me a comment with your guess of which one is a lie (or which two are truths). Come back on Monday when I’ll post another blog and you can find out whether you’re right! Thank you Hallie for the push to post a blog. You’re the best (Truth.).

Now my turn to tag someone: Jamie Miles, one of my favorite bloggers. To be honest, I can’t remember exactly where I met Jamie…but it was about four years ago. We connected over our sense of humor and our kids and (of course) writing: Jamie has been a beta reader for one of my novels, and I hope to return the favor. She lives in Georgia, she’s an award winning humor columnist, she blogs, and she writes fiction. Jamie has three kids and one of her kids has the same name as one of mine (Truth.). She and I both love okra (Truth. I’m not sure Jamie knows this; I learned it today from her blog.). She is an avid runner and, I’m just guessing here, is always on the go. Will you play along, Jamie? I hope so because I love your blog posts–they always make me laugh!

Jamie, this is a two post game–like Hallie said–you state your three things in one post, adding a link to the blogger who tagged you (that’s me!). In the second post, you admit which of the three things was a lie, and you tag another blogger.

Now, you should go read Hallie’s Two Lies and a Truth post…and then subscribe to her blog. Because she’s the best. If you want a blast from the past, here’s another Two Lies and a Truth post I wrote back in 2011!

And don’t forget to guess which of my three statements is a lie. And just for fun…leave me three of your own and I’ll guess, too!

Great New Books Favorites

2014 GNB Favorite Books copy

One of the best things I’ve done this year was to become a contributor to the Great New Books blog team. When my writer friend (and Great New Books founder) Jennifer Lyn King visited Maine last year, she contacted me and asked me if I had time for a cup of coffee. Instead, Jennifer and I took a tour of my little corner of coastal Maine. Jennifer and I both love photography and the day we went out was absolutely gorgeous…we had an amazing day and both of us posted photos on Instagram before Jennifer headed out for a sunset lobster dinner with her family (who I also had the happy opportunity to meet).

I digress. Before we parted ways, Jennifer asked if I might be interested in joining the Great New Books team—if an opening came up. I quickly said yes, and I was thrilled when just about a month later she emailed and said she was expanding the team and asked if I would like to join.

When I joined Great New Books, I became a part of an amazing group of readers and writers; in addition to founder Jennifer, they’re Hallie Sawyer, Nina Badzin, Jessica Vealitzek, Lindsey Mead, Stacey Loscalzo, Cathleen Holst, and Katie Noah Gibson.

Great New Books is all about weekly sharing of a new book one of us loves:

Our passion is for recommending quality books which keep us turning pages long through the night, great books which have the potential to touch hearts, and lives, and open doors to a better world.

But Great New Books is so much more than that. We’re nine women. All from different backgrounds, at different stages of life, but our lives intersect at a passion for reading and writing. And I can now happily say that I call these eight remarkable women friends. We share our lives through weekly emails, something I count on every week…continuity in my life that’s a little discontinuous of late. For that I’d like to say thank you. To Jennifer for the invitation to join, and to the other women in the group. Thank you for being a part of my life and for allowing me to be a part of yours.

This week’s posting on Great New Books is even more special than usual because we each contributed to it (Jennifer did an amazing job compiling it, too!). Each of us picked the favorite book we read this year, and that’s what this week’s post is all about.

Over the past several weeks, the nine of us on our GNB team — Lindsey Mead, Nina Badzin, Jess Vealitzek, Hallie Sawyer, Stacey Loscalzo, Cathleen Holst, Katie Noah Gibson, Julia Munroe Martin, and Jennifer King — have worked hard to each try and pick our favorite book from 2014. Between the nine of us, we’ve read over 450 books this year. It hasn’t been an easy task to choose just one book apiece. But here, after long deliberation, are our favorite book picks (old and new) we’ve read this year …

So please head over to the Great New Books blog. Read about our favorites, and sign up to receive the weekly posts while you’re there, too. I can promise that every week you’ll read about books that we feel passionately about—and isn’t that what reading is all about?

Happy New Year,

Julia

 

 

 

It’s All About Relationships: A Conversation with Novelist Erika Marks

9780451418869_large_It_Comes_In_WavesToday I’m beyond excited to be interviewing my author friend Erika Marks – here with her fourth novel It Comes In Waves. As with each of her novels, Erika has been kind enough to visit my blog. Thank you, my friend! Erika describes herself in her bio this way: “a native New Englander who now makes her home in North Carolina with her husband and their two little mermaids.” Here’s what the bio doesn’t say: she’s one of the nicest and funniest and most-fun-to-talk-to writers I’ve had the good fortune to get to know online. But here’s the best part. Erika grew up very near where I live today, which we realized  after we met through our blogs, and so we can talk about all the places I go that she used to. So fun! I’ve also met her in person when she was home visiting!! Believe me that was one fun meeting and I have high hopes we’ll meet again next time she’s in her hometown here in Maine.

If you haven’t already read it, you should check out Erika’s new novel It Comes in WavesI loved it as I have all her wonderful novels: The Guest House, The Mermaid Collector, and Little Gale Gumbo.

It’s All About Relationships: A Conversation with Novelist Erika Marks

It Comes in Waves addresses many kinds of relationships—romantic love, friendship between women, friendship between men, mother-child, father-child, even grandparent-grandchild. This Q&A will focus on those relationships…and I’ve learned through her four books that Erika is a pro at describing these relationships. It’s one of the reasons I wanted to focus this Q&A on just that.

I warned you I would ask this question! One of the things I really enjoy about your novels is that each of them has a (well, at least one) love triangle. It Comes In Waves is no different. I don’t want to give anything away but how could anyone not be in love with Foss? What is it about the “rule of three” that makes love relationships more interesting to write about than “just problems” and tension in a relationship? Where do you get your ideas for the love triangles…do they come from your real life, or…?

This IS a great question—and I know you will think I’m being coy, but the truth is the theme of love triangles is not born of my own experience but there’s no question I find the idea intriguing. Okay, maybe it had something to do with playing Helena in my high school production of A Midsummer Night’s Dream—and as anyone familiar with the play knows, there is no end to the drama (and humor!) when a love triangle (or square in the case of AMND!) ensues. However, I am always interested in exploring how we evolve in our relationships and how, as we grow, our attractions grow and change—which will often lead to having conflicting romantic feelings and not knowing how to express them, which is what I think happens to many of the characters in my novels. Dahlia from Little Gale Gumbo, and Foss from It Comes In Waves, are examples of that.

I’m not giving anything away (it’s on the back of the book) when I divulge that best friends Claire and Jill reunite after a long estrangement. Have you ever had a friendship that ended? If so, did you end up reuniting? If not, did you base the Jill/Claire story on other friendships you watched crumble? How did your own friendships make you more or less sympathetic to each woman?

Believe it or not, so often my fictional relationships come out of a lack of personal experience. I think of a situation that I may not have any context for, and it fascinates me to explore it through the novel. Sometimes pieces of my own life creep in (You’re a writer, Julia, so I know you know how can it not, right?), but from the outset, it is the unfamiliarity of the relationship that intrigues me and compels me to write about it.

Slight spoiler question… if you haven’t read the book you might want to skip this one. Am I the biggest sap in the world? I kept hoping that the third generation (Jill’s son and Claire’s daughter) might end up together. I was kind of surprised, in fact, that Claire’s daughter left Folly Beach. Did you consider this possibility? Claire and her daughter have a tense relationship with some serious trust issues. Is it strange that when I write about teenagers I always take their side (not the parents’), so I’m curious—are you the same way? Did you find yourself on one side or the other or are you more impartial than I am?

Such a great question because I can’t tell you how many times my husband and I will comment after watching a movie how you know you’re a parent when you identify more with the plight of the adult than the child. However, that said, when I write, I go back and forth, depending on the character. In the scenes of Claire as a teenager, I definitely took her side more but when it came time to show her present conflicts with her daughter, I wanted to be more balanced, as I hoped to be when showing Claire’s tensions with her own mother in the present. What interests me as a writer is seeing both sides and showing them because the older I get, the more I see the different perspectives and I think it makes for a more interesting and compelling story to reveal both sides—or at least, have the characters grow through understanding that the other side exists.

Re: Luke and Lizzie, it’s funny—when my mom started the book, she assumed Luke and Lizzie would end up together too—and honestly, I never considered it. But now, I can’t help but wonder What if…

I don’t know if you ever saw that old movie Romancing the Stone? At the beginning of the movie, the main character is crying as she’s writing…she always does. I’m that kind of writer. When I’m writing, I always cry…at emotional times in the story but especially if there’s heartbreak and always when I’m writing (or reading) the end. I’m curious, do you cry when you write? If so, what kinds of things make you cry? What parts of It Comes In Waves did you think were the most sad…that you thought, as you were writing, would make readers feel most sad?

You mean, have I seen it in the last two months??!! (It’s one of my very favorites—and was even before I became published!) I love that you cry as you write—very rarely do I, but sometimes when I’m at the very end of the process, maybe far enough away from all the edits and can see the story through fresh eyes again, I will definitely tear up. (And of course, I always hope I look even one quarter as adorable doing it as Kathleen Tuner does in Romancing the Stone!) In writing WAVES, I definitely teared up when Ivy spoke of needing a place to honor her son’s memory—and when Luke admits that he didn’t want to see the shop go because it might mean losing the only tie he had to his father.

I’m playing relationship therapist here a bit! Here’s a list of (some of) the relationships in It Comes in Waves… for each pair, can you give me a few words to describe the relationship and tell me which character in each pair you related to more or perhaps felt more sympathy for? Also (of all of them) which of was easiest to write, which was hardest to write? For those of you who haven’t read the book, I’ve noted the relationship…now you can see what I mean about Erika being the expert, right?!

Jill & Luke (mother-son)  I related to Jill more but I definitely felt for Luke. I have daughters but I think there is something different about sons—so possibly this was one of the harder relationships for me to write.

Claire & Lizzie (mother-daughter)  It went back and forth—I felt for Claire needing a closeness to her daughter and being so afraid of losing that bond but I also felt for Lizzie’s need for independence.

Claire & Jill  (estranged best friends)  Honestly, this one was challenging to write, but in a good way. As I wrote their scenes, I vacillated between who I felt more tenderly for, depending on the scene. I wanted the balance because I didn’t want one woman to come off as “the good one” and the other “the bad one” which might have been easy to do based on their history.

Foster & Shep  (best friends)   For whatever reason, maybe because I had so many male friends growing up, and was very observant of the way males relate to one another, I felt this relationship came together very naturally as I wrote it.

Jill & Foster  (love)   I loved writing their relationship because there was a purity to their growing feelings, a sense that they belonged together and they both knew it, even if they didn’t dare act on their feelings for a long time to spare the hearts of those they loved.

Claire & Foster  (love)   This one was tough because I knew as I wrote it that their love would eventually become unbalanced and I hurt for Claire’s longing for something Foster couldn’t give her. The mother in me came out, wanting to protect Claire from heartache but knowing she had to feel the blow before she would accept the truth.

Jill & Shep  (love)   This was a tougher relationship to unearth, because there is so much history, and because Shep takes Jill back after she leaves him for Foster. But it was the layers of that history that made it such an interesting relationship to explore.

Claire & Maura  (mother-daughter)   I felt more for Claire when she was young in this relationship but in the present, I definitely felt torn between the two. For better or for worse, Maura is who she is, and Claire is resistant to accepting that, as well as resistant to taking responsibility for her own choices and not blaming them on her parents.

Ivy & Claire (friends…and kind of MIL/DIL…well, it’s complicated)  There was such warmth there—the mother figure Claire never got to have with her own mother, and Ivy saw so much of herself in Claire.

Ivy & Jill   (MIL-DIL)  By contrast, Ivy and Jill were forever prickly, but their relationship was a fascinating one to write, because the tension was thick and I knew eventually it would boil over—but what would be the final straw?

Ivy & Luke  (grandmother-grandson)  Like Foster, Luke is Ivy’s everything and he validates her choices and her dreams—even if she knows deep down they are ill-fated. I loved writing their scenes.

Gus & Claire (new love)  Gus is such a dude and I couldn’t wait for him to swoop in and shake things up for Claire. The fact that he knew her from way-back-when and reminds her of her passion for surfing (and the fiercely independent young woman she once was) makes him so irresistible and lovable. And let’s not forget…

Margot & Gus (just joking but you still have to answer…dog-man)  A man who loves his dog and makes her as much a part of his world as anyone? Sign me up! I know this will come as a big shock to you, Julia, but I’m tempted to say this might have been the easiest relationship of all of them to write!

Thank you again, my friend! So happy you were able to take the time for this visit!

Bio: Erika Marks is a native New Englander who now makes her home in North Carolina with her husband and their two little mermaids. She is also the author of THE GUEST HOUSE, THE MERMAID COLLECTOR, and LITTLE GALE GUMBO.

 

An Interview with Jolina Petersheim, author of The Midwife

untitled (6 of 18)Please welcome author friend Jolina Petersheim to my blog! This is her second visit; not quite a year ago, she was here with a Q&A about her debut novel The Outcast. Today she returns with a Q&A about her second book The Midwife. Jolina was one of the first bloggers who reached out to me when I  joined Twitter—over three years ago—and she remains one of my closest blogger friends. I’m so happy to congratulate her on The Midwife, a fascinating book that absolutely captivated me. What I love most about Jolina’s books is that they pull me into wonderfully engaging new worlds. Thank you for taking the time to visit my blog for the second time, Jolina, and congratulations on your second book baby!

At the end of this Q&A you’ll have a chance to enter a Rafflecopter for a chance to win a copy of one of Jolina’s books, a Starbucks gift card, or an Amish wall hanging!

I read that you got the idea for The Midwife after a friend considered using a gestational surrogate. In the course of writing the book did you talk to surrogates or parents who used surrogates? What types of research did you do before and while writing this book? Was there anything that surprised you about surrogacy or swayed your own opinions about it?

I didn’t talk to parents who used surrogates or to surrogates themselves, but I did discover an online surrogacy forum early in the research of The Midwife that just transformed everything, providing me with a range of valuable information at the click of the mouse (which was very convenient since I had a newborn at the time). I didn’t realize, for instance, that a surrogate has to have carried a child to full-term and had a natural birth to qualify for surrogacy. This threw me off at first, because I wasn’t anticipating for Beth Winslow—the surrogate in The Midwife—to have lost a child through adoption when she was in college. However, as Beth’s backstory started to reveal itself to me, I realized that this loss of a previous child is one of the main reasons she refuses to lose the child in her womb when the biological parents of the surrogacy learn there might be a genetic abnormality and attempt to coerce Beth into terminating the pregnancy, which she refuses to do and instead runs and hides in an Old Order Mennonite home for unwed mothers called Hopen Haus.

You balance writing with motherhood—what advice would you give to a woman about to embark on a career in writing combined with motherhood? What has worked particularly well for you? What has been the most challenging?

Give yourself time! I wrote The Outcast (my first book) in six months—working up to eight hours a day because I had an agent’s interest but no official contract, and also because I knew I had a narrow window of time until my daughter was born. After her birth, however, I signed a two-book contract with my publisher. While talking about the timeline for my next book, I asked for a year instead of six months, and they kindly agreed. Trying to find my footing as a debut author and as a debut mom was a little challenging for a while, but with my husband’s and family’s help, it all worked out. I found that taking an afternoon to write at the library or at the coffee shop really strengthened my focus and gave me renewed zest for the story. And now, looking back, I see that having a creative outlet to pour myself into during my daughter’s difficult period of sleep deprivation was such a blessing to me. I would do it all over again!

978-1-4143-7935-7What inspires you as a writer and keeps you writing? Follow on: how do you keep track of your writing ideas? Do you keep a daily journal or notebook?

Books inspire me! I keep one next to the bathtub, one next to the bed, one in the diaper bag and/or my purse. Since my daughter’s birth two years ago, I haven’t had quite as much time to read, but I’ve made up for that by listening to audiobooks in the car or while I’m cooking. Hearing the story rather than reading it is almost more rewarding, in a way, as so many of the performers put their entire heart into the work (like the wonderful narrator, Tavia Gilbert, in The Outcast and The Midwife; I love working with her!). If I’m ever having a dry time creatively, taking a day or two to read or listen to a quality piece of literature refreshes me like nothing else. For instance, I read The Orchardist while I was working on the first draft of The Midwife, and those lyrical passages reminded me that writing is an art form, and we should give it the respect and time that it deserves.

As for recording ideas: I kept a journal from the time I could write until I got married, but six months after I married my husband, I started blogging and drafting my first novel (the latter which shall never see the light of day!). So, rather than using my spare time to record our life in my journal, I used the spare time to work on my story. This pattern has continued to this day. I used to think that finding a story idea must be the most difficult aspect of writing, but now that I’ve trained myself, I can see the ideas everywhere. Now I realize the difficult aspect is turning ideas into story!

Do you follow a certain daily ritual and/or schedule? Do you write at the same time every day? Are there things that have to be the same in order for you to write, e.g., a lucky coffee cup or other token you always need to have with you? How did these things change or remain the same after you had a child?

My husband teases me and says I’m one of the most routine-oriented creatures he’s ever known. Indeed, I do get a little flustered when something throws my day off, and I’ve had to acquire more flexibility after giving birth to my daughter, because newborns and toddlers have a schedule all their own! However, usually I try to write in the morning from 6 until 8. My husband, at 7, gets our daughter up and gives her breakfast before he leaves for work. I respond to emails and do a little social media by sitting on the tiled floor during my daughter’s bath time (she would stay in there until her fingers and toes are pickled!), and then – during her nap – I work for two more hours. Rarely do I work more than four hours a day, even on deadline. It just doesn’t seem to work out with my family’s schedule. Still, I’ve found that slow and steady does win the race, so I just plod away a little bit each weekday (saving blogging and guest posts for weekends), and at the end of the year, I usually have a manuscript.

I don’t have any special place that I write, though in the winter I do gravitate toward a comfy chair in the living room with a footstool (sometimes, if cajoled, my husband will build a fire in the fireplace). The other seasons, I like to write outside on the front porch that has a panoramic view of our field and the surrounding mountains. This past week, the farmers baled our hay, and it was so beautiful to watch the gold pieces rising into the air and the grasshoppers springing across the field.

Before my daughter’s birth, I used to write up to eight hours on weekdays, so that has certainly changed, but I have definitely found a routine that I love now and that works for everyone. Come September, though, when our other baby is due, I know that this routine is going to change. By the time I’m eighty, I’m really going to have this flexibility thing down pat!

I really liked the name Ernest Looper, and I’m fascinated by the name Rhoda Mummau—and I’m wondering if there’s significance to these name or other names in the book? Do you choose based on just “what you like” or is there a method to the naming?

Earnest Looper was actually a road sign we passed one afternoon, and I liked the sound of it and just changed the spelling a little. Rhoda seemed, to me, like the name of someone you wouldn’t want to trifle with—which Rhoda closes herself off to the pregnant, unwed girls in her midwifery care, although she is ministering to them in such intimate ways—so it fit. Mummau was actually the last name of my great grandmother, Verna. I like to choose names that I am familiar with in some capacity because I think they ring true. I have a nonfiction book on my shelf called The David and Anna Miller story, which records the names of everyone in my Mennonite heritage, back to the 18th century. I like to sort through the names and rearrange a first and last name until I find one that I enjoy. For instance, I found the name Leona Ebersole—the main character in my next book—by using this method.

Sometimes during my writing, I find one character in the book that I can identify most closely with—was there a character in The Midwife you felt most similar to? If so, why?

Though Beth Winslow, the surrogate in The Midwife, is an introvert and I’m about as extroverted as a golden retriever, I really found myself relating to her journey of learning to overcome fear with faith.

Because she has lost a child in the past, she holds on to the child she’s carrying as a surrogate with an even greater fervency. When her worst fear comes true, and she is unable to get the child back from her biological parents because they share no genetic connection, she must walk through a journey of healing and self-discovery.

I was in the editorial process of The Midwife when my husband and I miscarried a child at ten weeks, and suddenly I found that Beth’s journey of healing and self-discovery was my own. It was such an incredibly powerful time for me—rereading the scenes that my own fingers had typed before our family’s loss and seeing how God had orchestrated those scenes to later minister to my soul. I believe the redemption I experienced during the editorial process is conveyed in the midwife’s story, as it is not just the midwife’s story, it is also my own.

When I interviewed you for your last book The Outcast, I asked if you had actors in mind who might play the characters in a movie or in a reader’s mind. I’ll ask the same for this book… what actors might play the lead characters in this book?

I love this question! Again, I had so much fun with it that I created a Pinterest board with the characters. I would share the names of the actors I’ve chosen, but I believe you have to see them in the poses that I’ve selected to get an idea about what kind of character I imagine.

Thanks for having me here, Julia; what an incredible honor to visit with you!

The honor is all mine, Jolina! Thank you so much for being a return visitor to my blog! You can connect with Jolina on Twitter, on Facebook, and on Goodreads. And don’t forget to enter the Rafflecopter for a chance to win one of her wonderful novels.

 

a Rafflecopter giveaway

My Shrinking World

photo copy 5

The photo that started me thinking

In my last post I wrote about how addicted much I love Instagram. If anything—since I wrote that post I’ve become even more of a fan. But that’s not what this post is about.

The other day (for the first time ever) I met an Instagrammer in person (@montaukpete)—someone I’d never met before nor do I “know” on Instagram. A guy was getting ready to kayak on the river I pass each morning on my walk. I asked him if I could take a photo of him for Instagram and that’s when he told me he was on Instagram too!

That’s not what this post is about either—not exactly.

I’m also on Facebook where I’m “friends” not just with people who are friends in real life but also (probably like a lot of you reading this blog) lots of other writers and readers, too, most of whom I’ve never met in real life. The other day I posted one of my photos on FB instead of on Instagram (the accounts are not linked and I plan to keep it that way)—

That’s when it happened—and what this post is about. My worlds collided.

First things first: right before I posted the photo, I became friends on FB with two Instagram friends. It was wonderful. One in Montana and one in Norway. The kind of connections we all hope to make in social networking. Friends without boundaries. One of those Instagram friends “liked” that FB photo. But so did my daughter, my cousin, and my son’s girlfriend. A neighbor. The mother of one of my daughter’s friends who has become a close friend. And another two close IRL friends. Then several bloggers who are now also FB friends. Next a couple of friends I’ve also only met on Facebook. A few of these Internet friends I’ve been fortunate enough to talk to on Google Chat, too—and they’ve become IRL friends.

Back to the photo. It was also liked by my hairdresser and a former co-worker who has become a good friend, and a friend I’ve known since high school. That photo brought into sharp focus that I have several different worlds, Instagram being my latest. I also have my world of Mom and family. My world of Facebook and author friends. My world of Writer Unboxed (where I’m a contributor and also an admin assistant). My world of Twitter and blogging that I’ve been part of for over three years. My real world of neighbors and town as a Maine citizen. And the world of my childhood.

But with that one photograph, I also realized that all my worlds are closing in fast to create one small world. Kind of like a reverse big bang. And I have to say, I’m a fan. Now there’s something I like even more than Instagram—because the way I see it, no matter how I find friends (or they find me) I can never have enough of them.

Which leaves me with just this: thank you for being a part of my world, my friend.

How has your world changed with social networking? Have you made friends with people online who have become IRL friends? Do you like your life blended or do you prefer to keep it compartmentalized?

Cheers,

Julia

Friends along the way: Shary and Lola

lola

Lola says good-bye to me (note the coffee mug in the background…it kept me going to the next blogging stop!)

Yesterday I got home from my cross-country road trip, and it’s feeling awfully quiet and a little lonely at the dining room table. You see, in addition to all the driving and sightseeing along the way, I also saw some old friends, some family, and I had the opportunity to meet two of my blogging friends, too!

The first of my visits was with Shary Hover (@sharyhover on Twitter) and her dog Lola. The three of us took a lovely walk in her San Diego neighborhood—the weather was perfect as only San Diego can be—and then we sat outside in Shary’s backyard. Shary is quite the gardener, let me tell you. It was a delightful reprieve from road weariness to sit at a shady table and have a glass of wine and talk about books and writing with a good friend. I’ve known Shary since I first started blogging over two years ago, and not only are we blogging/Twitter buddies but Shary is also a trusted critique partner, so we’ve had the opportunity to talk on the phone several times, but this was our first in-person meeting.

Shary was lovely and welcoming and the tour of her garden and neighborhood was a lot of fun, but I have to say that a true highlight of my visit was Lola. She is one smart dog, let me tell you. Not only does she help Shary with her blog posts, but she is a master at tricks! She does the usual: sit and stay, down, but then… on command she can also do a high five, wave with both paws(!), crawl along the floor on her belly, and perform a twist and a ric (turn one way then the other). She also knows the difference between her inside and outside tennis balls, and she alerts Shary when there are airplanes “in her airspace” or squirrels and birds in the trees. In addition to her great intelligence, she is light on her feet, and her fur is beautiful and soft. She’s also one of the snuggliest dog I’ve ever met. Shary says Lola has faults, but I don’t actually believe it!

After a delicious dinner with Shary and her husband, I had a great night’s sleep and for breakfast some of the most delicious California grapes I’d ever had (no, this is not a paid endorsement for grapes or for San Diego, either), I hit the road with a travel mug filled with delicious coffee, heading for my next destination: blogging friend Melissa Crytzer Fry’s desert abode. More about that later this week!

I feel incredibly lucky to have met Shary in person. I only wish we lived closer by so we could meet more than once in a blue moon! Thank you again for being so welcoming, Shary!

Have you ever met a blogging friend in person? Please share your experience!

Cheers,
Julia

The Case for Blogging


The box holds my just finished WIP;
the blue folder is my WIP mystery;
the slim notebook in front: WIP #3!
The tulips? A gift from MEH!

Yesterday WordCount Blogathon 2012 started, and I was tempted to join…because it brought back great memories. One year ago I participated in Blogathon 2011: pledging to blog daily for the month of May. In fact, for the first four months of my blog (February through May) I posted daily. Because I started out that way, it didn’t seem like any big deal—daily blogging was a way of life.
One of my original blogging goals was to kick start my fiction writing—and that happened. By June I was writing fiction every day and blogging about every other day. Then gradually it started to shift. In October I blogged twelve times, in November ten, in December seven, until finally last month I blogged four times—I am now consistently blogging once a week.

I also finished one of my WIPs, something I haven’t done since around 2001 when I finished a middle grade novel entitled Sciurus Maximus. This book—which was never accepted for publication—was finished when both my children were at home, and my life was much different. My days rose and fell by the school day, meals were arranged around sporting events and other extracurricular activities, and I had two built in beta readers anxiously interested in reading everything I wrote. I was a full-time, very happy mom. I should add that I was also a part-time, very happy writer…until something happened.

One very close and very good rejection from a big publishing house, a mere re-write short of a sure thing (as it turned out it was not so sure a thing). It took the wind out of my sails, that close call. And now, I have three middle grade manuscripts in a filing box under my desk—in the drawer so to speak. And it took me all those ten years to want to write fiction again. Sure I dabbled, but nothing very regularly—at all.
When I stopped writing fiction all that time ago, I had a partially written women’s fiction manuscript. I had it outlined and about one third written. Last year, after beginning to blog, and kick starting my writing, I pulled that manuscript out and I started writing again. My life was very different. Both my children out of the nest—one in college and one in medical school—now my days rise and fall by the call of the computer: to write. And last September I finished a draft, and two weeks ago I started to query agents with The Cottage on Quarry Island.

Now, I have two more WIPs. One I started a few years ago—a mystery starring Maggie and Joe, amateur detectives—it is fully outlined, and I’ll start to write next week. The other is women’s fiction—dark and suspenseful—that I’ve almost fully outlined. It came to me one night last month as I was lying on the couch, from a simple and very random comment from MEH (My Engineer Husband). It is developing into a full-blown, very deep and rich, very exciting story.

I know there are a lot of different opinions about whether blogging is a good or bad thing, necessary or not, to do as a fiction writer. If I hadn’t started blogging, I don’t know if I ever would have started writing again. It gave me the boost in confidence and the daily deadline I needed to get started. In fact, blogging kick started me so well that I wrote an estimated 200,000 words last year. It kick started me so well that I spend eight to ten to twelve hours every single day either writing or thinking about writing. My WIPs run through my mind as though they are movies, and I see my characters in the faces and actions of many people I cross paths with every single day. My ideas and energy for writing are seemingly endless.

So back to that question about whether blogging is a good or bad thing for fiction writers? I can’t speak to everyone, but for me? For this writer? I owe blogging and you, my blog readers, a huge debt of gratitude. Because I will take the opinion that blogging is good—no make that very very good—and for me I would even say a necessity. Blogging kick started my writing and is now my lifeline to continue to pursue that passion.

Writers, what do you think, is blogging good or bad for your fiction writing? And if you’re a reader—do you enjoy reading blogs by fiction writers whose books you love?

Cheers,

Julia

7 Links: Past, Present, Future

The PRESENT

When one of my very favorite blogger friends, Melissa Crytzer Fry (my Mr. Bacon Partner-in-Crime!) nominated me to take part in the 7 Links Challenge, I was honored and happy!

Then I was daunted. To go through 178 posts from the past 8 months and pick just 7 to highlight in specific categories? It was pretty overwhelming. To be honest, when I started to go through them I realized there were some posts I’d completely forgotten about!

In the end, I felt like Melissa had given me a present, and I enjoyed re-visiting blogs of wordsxo past. I hope you do too!

The PAST

Most Beautiful Post: Melissa cheated on one of her categories, so I’m going to too; I’m going to say that my Sunday videos have been my most beautiful posts. In fact, I’ve been surprised at how popular these have become. I started out thinking I’d make a video once a week of one certain beach spot near where I live: through the seasons, low and high tide, regardless of the weather. Here are two examples: “Waiting for Irene” and “Vacationland Real-live Beach Day Video.”

Most Popular Post: This one was hard. I couldn’t decide: should I list the most popular by number of comments—in which case it was a tie between “What’s a Writer to Do?” and “Are We Competing?” (each with 31 comments—not counting my responses). Or by number of hits on the post—in which case it was a guest post “Are you a Comfy Writer?” by Milli Thornton. In any case, cheating again here and listing them all! (See how I am?)

Most Controversial Post: One of my goals when I started my blog was to not write anything controversial. That said, I did write a post that was controversial without even trying! And believe it or not it was one about punctuation—commas to be exact: “I’m Just a Serial Girl.”

Go figure, writers have strong feelings about commas!

Most Helpful Post: As a rule, I don’t offer advice in my posts—I only talk about my personal experiences. However, one of my earliest posts, called “True or False, I can Help You with Your Resume” offered some tongue-in-cheek advice on resume writing. If nothing else, it’s worth a laugh and it only received one comment, so it deserves some blog love!

Most Surprisingly Successful Post: I’m tempted to say it was the posts I wrote about the message in a bottle, because I was pretty surprised at how many people enjoyed those posts! But the truth is that “Mamas Please Let Your Babies Grow up to be Librarians” surprised me most. It was one of my early posts that helped people find my blog—and it continues to be one of my very most popular posts. It was a review of Marilyn Johnson’s wonderful book: THIS BOOK IS OVERDUE! and led me to actually meeting Marilyn when she was in Portland at a book reading, which led to another very popular post: Libraries Rule, Part 3!

Post That Didn’t Get the Attention It Deserved: In my early days of blogging there were posts that never got any comments. And then there was a period of time that posts would get just one or two comments each. Like most bloggers, I spend a lot of time writing my posts and when they don’t get many comments, it can be dispiriting. That said, if I have to pick just one post (suddenly I’m a rule follower? What’s up with that?) then it’s: “MEH, the Amygdala, and Me.” When I first started out I wanted to write about science, and this was an early attempt to write about science in a humorous way.

Post I Am Most Proud Of: Of all the posts I’ve written, I’m most proud of the “personal essay” posts. Those are the posts that are closest to my heart, and I’ve written about friends, my house & neighbors, my grandmother, my kids, and MEH (My Engineer Husband). But the one that I think I’m proudest of is “The Ghost and Mr. Able” because it’s outside the usual realm of what I write, but it was still very well received.

The FUTURE

The final part of the 7 Links Challenge is to nominate five bloggers to participate in this challenge. Here are five blogs I read regularly, and I think you may enjoy reading them too! (There are many more I could have nominated, but I can only name 5!)


And now…a question…do you have a favorite post of mine that I haven’t mentioned? I’d love to hear about it!

1 in 140 Million

With approximately 140 million bloggers and 175 million tweeps out there, what are the odds that it’s possible to make connections? To build friendships?
When I started blogging four months ago my goal was simple: to “build a writer’s platform.” Beyond that, I expected nothing. Beyond that I knew nothing. In short, I had no idea what I was getting into….

But the truth is, I found out the real power and strength behind blogging and Twitter is in the relationships and friendships you build, like the one I have with Natalia Sylvester who writes beautifully at one of my favorite blogs: finding truth through fiction.

So today I’m happy to say that I’m guest blogging at Natalia’s blog about this very thing. How against the odds, the massive number of bloggers and tweeters out there, it’s possible to build real friendships and connections like I have with Natalia and my other Twitter and blogging friends.

Please be my guest and read my guest blog What are the Odds? at Natalia’s blog!
Cheers,
Julia

“I’d Rather Eat an Earthworm than Blog”

The other day I went to pick up my friend Betsy. She was finishing up a session with a photographer.
“This is my friend, Julia,” Betsy said, introducing me. “Watch out what you say to her or it might end up in a blog.”

This has become a standard joke between Betsy and me, ever since she appeared in one of my early blogs about handwritten notes.

Still, I winced a little. It was true. In fact, at a recent party for MEH (My Engineer Husband)’s birthday, four of the six attendees had been mentioned or made starring appearances in a blog. I don’t think I’m that different than many bloggers. In fact in Technorati’s State of the Blogosphere 2010, 66% of bloggers stated that conversations with friends influence what they write about.

The photographer looked up from the bag she was packing.

“Really? You blog?” She sounded interested, maybe even experienced. I thought I might have actually stumbled upon another blogger! (For the record, since I started blogging, I have not met another blogger—except online—which is pretty surprising since there are an estimated 200 million blogs, according to Technorati.)

“Yes. You blog too?”

“I’d rather eat earthworms than blog.” She said it with a very pleasant smile on her face, but I could tell she was dead serious.

I couldn’t help but laugh.

After I stopped laughing, of course I asked her if she would mind if I used THAT in a blog, and she more-than-quickly gave me full permission.

But the truth is, more than getting a funny line, it gave me pause to think. The more I become immersed in this cycle of blogging-tweeting-blog commenting-retweeting-answering comments-re-retweeting, the more I just assume that everyone is doing it. So I wondered, is that true? (Clearly my new friend, the photographer, would say no.)

Being the naturally curious person I am, I had to find out. The thing I was most interested in was how many blogging writers there are. Interestingly, it is not so easy to pin these numbers down. I searched for about an hour (about all the research time I was interested in investing in today’s blog), and the best I could do was the Technorati’s State of the Blogosphere 2010. Of 7,200 respondents to Technorati’s survey, 33% of bloggers said that at sometime they had worked as “a writer, reporter, producer, or on air personality in traditional media.”

And 26% of bloggers stated that they blog specifically to “get published or featured in traditional media.” I’m assuming that means that those 26% of bloggers are writers, like me. Let’s see…26% of 200 million bloggers, that’s 52 million.

Perhaps needless to say, after reading all these statistics and doing the calculations, I was no longer interested purely for interest’s sake or curiosity, but I was borderline horrified, even terrified. 52 million bloggers, blogging specifically to get published!

Now, I think I’d rather eat an earthworm.

Where do you get inspiration for the things you write about in your blog? From friends, sometimes, like I do? Have you ever had someone get mad at you about blogging about them (Technorati says 7% of relationships have suffered due to blogs but 33% have brought friends and family closer together.). Are you daunted by the number of writers who are blogging to get published?

Cheers,

Julia

p.s. Here’s the link to the full Technorati’s State of the Blogosphere 2010.

An Aegis of Peeps, Tweeps, and Bleeps!

Yesterday I had a bad day. If you read my blog, you know that. But here’s what you don’t know: in response to that bad day blog, I got amazing love and support!

One of the reasons I started blogging and tweeting was for the feeling of community. It’s a solitary life, this writing one, with usually just me and the dog. And sometimes that’s tough. Even for an introvert like me.

With some trepidation, about a month ago, I started blogging and tweeting—it’s hard to put myself out there. But I hoped for the best. And boy am I glad. You guys came through yesterday in spades: on Twitter and in comments. Much appreciated!

So this morning, in a much-improved mood (thank you so much!), when I saw the word of the day from wordsmith.org, aegis:

(noun) Protection, support, guidance, or sponsorship of a particular person or organization – A.Word.A.Day (today) from wordsmith.org

…I immediately thought of all of you. This blog is about, and for, all of you writers—my community—of bloggers and tweeters. Amazing one and all.

And while I know this may not be exactly the right way to use the word, here goes! I feel the love from the aegis of my fellow writers: my peers, peeps, tweeps, bleeps (BLogging peEEPs), one and all. And I hope you feel it from me too!

With love from wordsxo,

Julia

p.s. How has blogging and tweeting made a difference in your writing life? Do you, like me, feel like you’ve entered a community, under the protection of an aegis? I’d love to hear your stories of support, too!