NaNoWriMo Fail…Life Win

 

The sunrise over Salem Harbor

Sunrise over Salem Harbor

This year’s National Novel Writing Month goes down as a fail…in word count, anyway. In fact, I wrote fewer words in November than I have in any month this year.

But I see the month as a personal success. Big time. Here’s why.

In early November I attended the Writer Unboxed Unconference. I learned from the greats: Don Maass, Lisa Cron, Kathryn Craft, and Anne Greenwood Brown (to name a few). See my post at Writer Unboxed about one tiny part of what I learned. I made progress on my WIP in ways I’m still unraveling. I met writer friends I’d to date met only online or talked to on the phone: most notably Therese Walsh, my fearless and amazing editor at WU; Kim Bullock, my wonderful fellow assistant editor; Kathryn Craft and Vaughn Roycroft and John Kelley and Mike Swift and Jo Eberhardt and Rebeca Schiller and Chris Blake and Heather Webb and Keith Cronin and Tonia Marie Harris and Jeannine Thibodeau and Bernadette Phipps-Lincke…so many…writers on WU I’ve known for years. But what surprised me most was the friends I made that I’d never met online. Wonderful and loving writers all, now amazing friends for life. I could go on and on because “the UnCon” was truly a life-changing event for me, at least in part because as an introvert, I was afraid to go (almost didn’t)…but I challenged my fear…and I did it.

Later in the month, I went to Virginia to see my son and his wonderful girlfriend. While in Charlottesville, my son and I went to Monticello, where we had an amazing tour with one of the best tour guides I’ve ever had anywhere, which of course inspired more story ideas; we read and wrote a lot together (they are both studying for big exams); and we ate a lot of good food. It was a marvelous trip. And…to make the trip, I challenged my fear of flying…I was only slightly terrified, but I did it.

Finally, November is a win because I am reinvigorated in my story. I am looking at it in new ways and realizing how close I am to the (very rough draft) end. I’m hitting December with a positive attitude about writing and life—and that’s bound to translate into a winning December and coming year in word count and in happiness.

How can I ask for any better result from a NaNoWriMo fail?

How was your month? How are you feeling about your writing (and life) as you head into December and the new year? 

Happy Book Birthday: Author in Progress

 

Today I’m excited to announce the release of Author in Progress, a book for novelists in progress, published by Writer’s Digest and written by the writers on Writer Unboxed (including me!!). On Writer Unboxed today, there’s a full description of the chapters in the book, along with a GIVEAWAY!!

A little over four years ago I had my first post at Writer Unboxed: I’m Not Above Spying. Since then, I’ve gone from being an occasional contributor to a regular contributor to an assistant editor and contributor. Writer Unboxed started out as—and still is—my favorite blog for writers. It inspires, educates, informs, but above all else it’s positive and empowering. This is what sets WU articles apart from what you might see on other sites for writers, and it’s also what sets Author In Progress apart from other books for writers—all thanks to the vision of editor Therese Walsh, also the co-founder and editorial director for Writer Unboxed.

Author in Progress is for novelists in progress at every level, featuring all new essays on everything from how to push through challenges to how to thrive throughout the process of writing a novel, broken into 7 sections:

  1. PREPARE
  2. WRITE
  3. INVITE (critique)
  4. IMPROVE
  5. REWRITE
  6. PERSEVERE
  7. RELEASE

My essay is very-appropriately located in the section on persevering. It’s called, “The Torturous Waiting: How Waiting Becomes a part of Writing”—because I’ve done a lot of that. Let’s face it, we all do a lot of that—waiting for agents, for publishers, for critique partners—and it’s important to keep a positive attitude while we wait, focusing on the one thing we really can control: the writing.

Here’s a tip I offer in the article: find a writing accountability partner (like I have), someone to check in with weekly, to talk about how the writing is going, and to bounce ideas off of.

I hope you enjoy the book and find it as useful as I’ve found it (and I hope you’ll check out Writer Unboxed, if you don’t already!).

Cheers,

Julia

 

Adaptation: The Missing Link

IMG_2928Today I’m on Writer Unboxed with a post about Adaptation. Specifically, as a writer why it’s so necessary during life changes to reassess how things are working in your writing life then to adapt to current circumstances—but more specifically than that, about why it’s so necessary in my writing life right now.

It didn’t feel right doing that (talking about things, deeply personal things) that I haven’t shared on my personal blog. So here I am, out of my comfort zone for the second time this month (see last week’s post), writing about something I’ve grappled with about whether or not I want to talk about publicly.

Here’s the thing. A few years ago, I wrote about MEH (My Engineer Husband) losing his job. I’ve written a lot about MEH in general—he is, after all, a huge part of my life. My partner in crime. My ummer (don’t worry, I don’t expect you to understand—he will). Last week I wrote about how I met MEH. The story of how we fell in love.

What I haven’t written about here is MEH’s depression. After he lost his job, he fell into a depression. Clinically diagnosed. It’s been hard—hardest for him, of course, but hard on our relationship, too. And hard for me. MEH has always been the most positive, upbeat person I’ve ever met. It was hard to see him not be that way.

Things are much better. We’re okay now. More importantly, MEH’s back. Really back. For a while I felt like I was holding my breath, but now I can breathe again. That doesn’t mean we don’t have a ways to go (he does, we do), but the depression is in our rearview mirror. And that’s a very good thing.

My post on Writer Unboxed isn’t about the depression—not really. I only mention the depression in passing, to illustrate my point—but it didn’t feel right to not tell the story here first, the whole story (as much of the whole story as I’ll tell right now). Because you all know MEH, some of you have even met him in person.

So, now that you know, I hope you’ll read my post on WU. It would mean a lot. Because for a while now, it’s been hard to write, and now I feel pretty vulnerable even posting a blog at all, but especially a blog post that is this intensely personal, and I could really use your support right now.

What have you struggled with that’s been hard to write about? More importantly, what do you need from me right now? I’m here for you.

Sending love to all of you, and out into the world, too,

Julia

Getting In Touch With my Inner Perfectionist

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A photo from my recent trip to California

“I need to make a change,” I said to MEH (My Engineer Husband), my feet hitting the floor much too early this morning.

“What?” He mumbled.

I have a blog going live on Writer Unboxed today. (You can read it here.) I’d worked on the post all day yesterday, the day before, too. As I always do, I woke up early, especially early knowing I have a post going live.

I used to blog everyday. Everyday. My husband reminded me of that. But I don’t do that anymore. In fact, I’ve neglected my blog a bit lately. Probably because my writing is more varied, a lot going on. I have two novels under revision; in addition to being a contributing writer, I’m also an assistant editor for Writer Unboxed; I’m helping a friend with a tech start-up company (I’m doing the—big surprise—writing; I’m also about to start a part-time gig with another tech company.

What hasn’t changed is that I’m still a perfectionist. I get nervous when any of my work is about to go public—whether it’s on a blog (my own or another), in a published article, to a tech customer, on submission to an editor or agent, and even being read by a beta reader. I want to put my best foot forward, but more than that, I want my writing to make a difference.

For some of my writing—the technical or business—that means helping someone understand a product or service. For some of my writing—the fiction—it means connecting on a more personal, a feeling level. Finding a way to infuse my writing with the feelings I have, with the feelings I’d like my readers to have.

And that brings me full circle. My post today on Writer Unboxed is about just that. Feeling the feelings. Recapturing the feelings. Because whether I’m writing for a technical audience or a more personal one, that’s important to me. Reaching the reader. Getting to the heart. In that way, writing is writing. Bringing me even more full circle—this is why I started blogging (over four years ago), to say this: Words are words. And whatever those words communicate, and for whatever purposed, they better be the right ones to communicate the right thing.

Because I’m a perfectionist that way.

Summer, How I’ve Grown to Love Thee

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“It’s gonna be a hot one,” he said as he stepped onto the boat.

I’m not a summer person. What I mean by that is I don’t like the heat (usually).

But I grew to love summer when my kids were young and they played outside all day long, soaking up the summer warmth and fun. I loved it even more when they were school age and teens, when summer meant long vacations, sleeping in (for them), leisurely trips to the beach, long summer car vacations. In short, I loved summer with my kids.

My kids no longer have summer vacations (not long ones anyway, they both work full time)—although they’ve both been to Maine for a taste of summer—and I’m rethinking how I feel about summer, in general… Last winter was the winter from hell. It was colder and snowier than any winter we’ve had in a long time, and now I suddenly find myself a fan of summer. I can’t even seem to mind the heat. And I don’t want it to end.

Yesterday we—and by “we” I of course mean MEH (My Engineer Husband) and I—went to take sunrise photos on the dock at Littlejohn Island (that’s one of the photos I took at the top of the post). As we stood and watched the sun rise, a fisherman walked down to the dock and stood with his gear, waiting. “Mornin’,” he said as he walked by. Across the water, we could hear a boat approach from Chebeague Island. As MEH and I watched, the commercial fishing boat pulled up to the dock and the fisherman got on board.

He looked up at us as he stepped onto the boat and said, “It’s gonna be a hot one.” He smiled and waved as the boat pulled away. He was right.

This summer I’ve found lots to do. I haven’t blogged (here on my blog) for almost two months—the longest break I’ve taken ever from posting a blog. I’ve been doing other things during my summer break…

Writing. I’ve revised one novel (cut over 15,000 words and wrote a new first chapter), and now I’m querying. I’m also 20,000 words into a new novel; it opens with four kids graduating from high school and starting summer vacation. It’s sweeping me away.

Reading. I’ve read a lot of books this summer. I really loved middle grade When You Reach Me by Rebecca Stead. And Miss Emily by Nuala O’Connor—which I just wrote this review about for Great New Books.

Editing. At the beginning of this summer Therese Walsh asked if I’d be an assistant editor for Writer Unboxed. I was honored. I’ve been working for Writer Unboxed, coordinating guest posts, for about a year and a half. I’ve also been blogging there for about three years (how is that possible?). I had two posts there this summer, one about why I’m rethinking my spying ways, and last week, I posted one about my writing rules (and why I have only one).

Watching. MEH and I just finished binge watching Alias, which I loved. I also watched HawthoRNe (not about the famous writer, which is why I started watching in the first place), which I didn’t love. VEEP, which we loved and laughed through, and I strongly recommend. We watched movies. Spy in the theater, which we loved and laughed through, and also strongly recommend. We went to see Paper Towns which I wasn’t crazy about (I read the book, too, also not so crazy about it). And last night we watched The Rewrite on DVD and it was (yes) about writing and was a good movie although not deep in the least.

Gardening. But not enough. The weeds and woods are taking over the garden. And the deer ate most of the beans and a good deal of the Swiss Chard, and about half the potato crop was eaten by some kind of grubs. It’s the way life is as a backyard farmer in Maine. But we still have lots of tomatoes and kale. And we have a lovely volunteer pumpkin (the plant reseeded itself from last year). And we’ve been going to the Portland Farmers’ Market every Saturday where we’ve bought the best blueberries we’ve ever eaten. Summer makes eating local so easy and good.

And that’s what I’ve been doing on my summer vacation, how about you?

Cheers,

Julia

Love Notes: things to love mid-winter

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This photo was from a much warmer day (last summer), but it seemed perfect for a post about love… 

I meant to get this blog posted yesterday, for Valentine’s Day, but I didn’t, and here’s why…

Another blizzard. More snow predicted. But here’s the thing: it missed us. (Collective sigh, followed by a cheer.) Various predictions said we’d get one to two more feet of snow out of this storm, adding to the four feet of snow already on the ground. Instead we woke up to two inches! Yesterday was a flurry of activity to get ready for the possible power outage, being snowed in, etc. We even succumbed to the “bread and milk” grocery run, except since we were baking bread and I’m lactose intolerant, instead we bought flour and yeast. (By the way, if you haven’t seen the hilarious bread and milk youtube video, here’s a link.)

Here are a few more things I love this month:

For my post on Writer Unboxed yesterday I asked other Writer Unboxed writers to contribute Valentines to Writing. Why and how they love writing. Check out “Writing…Will You Be My Valentine?” to see the twenty wonderful love letters, poems, and words about writing. I loved compiling this Valentine box of words.

At Great New Books this month I posted a recommendation for Roz Chast’s graphic memoir Can’t We Talk About Something More Pleasant. I saw this book as a long love letter to her parents (as they went through the aging process). The book is at turns hilarious and heartbreaking and Chast is amazing at expressing feelings through her cartoons. I loved this book.

Lately I’ve seen a lot of Common Ravens. These massive black birds, “cousins” of the crow, are larger than a Red-tailed Hawk, and I don’t see them often in Maine. (I don’t think… they are solitary birds so if I saw one alone, without comparison to another bird, I might think it’s a crow—crows weigh about half as much, but without comparison, this difference is hard to see). You can tell ravens from crows in flight by the raven’s wedge-shaped tail. I saw a lot of ravens in the west when I drove across the country, but it’s really spectacular to see them in the snow. The contrast is beautiful and striking. I haven’t gotten a photo of one yet, but I would love to by the end of the winter.

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Winter is far from over. This is a shot of the Cousins Island Bridge, looking toward the mainland.

Winter…which is far from over, despite the lack of snow from this particular blizzard. We are in the deep chill, with temperatures well below freezing (we’ve had thirteen days below zero in February; I don’t love that). I still go out and take photos, but with clear skies, sunrises and sunsets are less spectacular (we’ve had a few good ones), most boats are out of the water, and it’s harder to get access to beautiful areas—the snow banks are huge.

Another thing I really love today is that it’s only 32 days until the Spring Equinox. And even though I’m sure we’ll still have snow on the ground, there’s a lot of hope resting on that day!

How’s your winter going? What do you love this month?

Confessions of a Constant Writer

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It felt a little like this. Darkness with light around the edges.

Last year I had a writing crisis.

That’s not completely true. I had a blogging crisis. Based on a cascade of events that I don’t fully understand, my blogging fell off. Almost off the edge of the world, or that’s what it felt like.

I was writing like a demon—don’t get me wrong—I finished one manuscript, started another, edited a third. But I was blogging shy. It started with a bad comment experience, then my confidence and blogging interest started freefalling. The experience soured me. (That’s all I’ll say about that.)

I’m back now. And truth is, I was never gone. Not really. Not in my mind. Here’s the thing. My first confession. When I started my blog almost four years ago (then called Wordsxo), I wrote a post a day. I loved it. Because I write everyday. I’m not talking “butt in the chair time” or fiction or even words on the page/screen. I’m talking head writing. Mind writing. Constant and unceasing and incessant writing. In the background. All the time.

Have you seen the movie Stranger than Fiction? It’s kind of like that. I almost hear a narrator in my mind.

My second confession. If I’m not writing, I’m thinking about how I’ll write something. The event that’s happening.

So when I went to the library on Saturday and ran into my sometimes-I-go-to (okay I’ve been twice) knitting group, my first thought was about writing…the characters (of course).

When our dishwasher broke down, I wondered how’d I turn that into a blog.

Saying good-bye to my kids at the airport, wiping a tear away, I confess I truly thought first about my breaking heart…then my very next thought was how would I write this heartbreak, how it might translate into fiction.

Yet, here’s where I stumble. In fiction I don’t “go there” (very often).

In blogging it’s the same. I’m a very private person. It’s hard for me to be open up about my personal life, my feelings. I want to blog about things, but sometimes I hold back (it’s why I took my semi-hiatus after all—the very hurtful thing that almost stopped me completely from blogging is still too hot to touch).

It’s a paradox. When people leave comments on my blog or on my posts at Writer Unboxed (like my last one called The Lonely Writer), I get comments about how open I am, how brave, how transparent. But I hold back. Is it because I’m open and transparent about what I do reveal? Or am I good at making things up? Embellishing? I’m not quite sure.

Here’s what I do know. My final confession. I have a hard time being open. Transparent. I want to go there. To stop being afraid, to stop holding myself back. I wrote about this last year in my post about Pushing Through, after our beloved Abby dog died.

But it’s hard. And I’ve accepted that like my writing I’m a work in progress. The very things I want to write about, so I can touch people, make people think and feel, are the very things I skirt. (Part 2 of my final confession: Sometimes I wonder if it’s why I haven’t gotten published yet.)

The very first thought after I wrote the paragraph above, was how would I write that? In a character. My second thought was, what would I tell a writer friend? I like that question more. Because I’ve had writer friends lament that fear to me. And to them I say what I need to say to myself.

Be gentle and kind and patient with yourself. Don’t get me wrong: Write like a motherfucker. Never stop writing. But don’t be so hard on yourself. You can do this. Keep the faith. And when you’re afraid, come find me. I’m here for you. We’re in this together.

Have you ever had a writing crisis? (I’m here for you.)

 

 

 

 

Are You A Lonely Writer (like I am)?

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Maine winters are long. Not just by the month, but by the day. Darkness falls around four in the afternoon and the sun doesn’t rise again until after seven. Then there’s the snow. A lot of snow. Worse, once it falls, it never goes. Piles and piles and heaps of it stick around until at least late March, could be May.

This post is not about the weather.

All that darkness and gloom takes its toll. On a body, on a mind. On a writer. More time inside. More isolation. More potential for aloneness and loneliness.

For me, this has already been a problem this year. In case you wonder what loneliness looks like, this is what it looks like for me.

You know that overly-chatty mailman you usually run into your house to get away from? You invite him into your mudroom when he delivers a certified letter—then you chat for five minutes. You’re sorry to see him go. When you hire a carpenter to do some work around your house, he tells you, “We need to limit our conversations to two minutes a day.” (No I didn’t make this up.) You have gone through your friend list—twice—and wonder why it’s taken half a day (okay ten minutes) for people to respond to coffee invitations. You look forward to grand re-openings of the grocery store, of the library, of the new bridge to town. You spend more and more time on social networking (which of course raises its own set of issues). Your characters become your best friends, and you talk to other people about them as though they are real. You stop random people on the beach to tell them how much their dog reminds you of yours that died the month before (except they have a Shizh Tzu and you had a black Lab)…

That’s an excerpt from my post on Writer Unboxed today: The Lonely Writer. I hope you’ll head over to read it—it talks about the loneliness of being a writer, of this writer, but it also talks about ways to cope.

I’ll look forward to your thoughts, your input, but mostly I’ll look forward to having one more writer friend by my side along this solitary path.

 

Saturday Six

Here’s what’s happening this week in my world…keep reading for how to enter a giveaway for an ITunes gift card!

1. Fact or Fiction? Today I’m on Writer Unboxed with a post called Gender Bias: Fact or Fiction about three things that got me thinking about whether men have an edge over women in the publishing and writing world. Here’s the beginning:

 Lest you think I’m a ‘man-hating feminist,’ let me assure you I am not. In fact, I like to think that in my day-to-day life mine is a pretty equal world—all things considered. But when I hear things that make me think that women aren’t equal (for whatever reason), I pay attention…

A huge thank you to my wonderful daughter for taking time (on very, extremely short notice) from her busy job to give me her insight and help in editing this piece.

2. Diary of the Fall. This week I also had my first post on the Great New Books blog! I wrote about Diary of the Fall by Michel Laub and translated by Margaret Jull Costa. It’s about three generations of diarists, and it’s an interesting book on many levels—for me it was most interesting in its structure: nonlinear in nature and very short chapters. I hope you’ll take a look at the post, here’s an excerpt.

Lately I’ve been fascinated with nonlinear stories—in fact I’ve been searching them out. That’s how I stumbled onto Diary of the Fall written by Michel Laub and translated by Margaret Jull Costa.

This story of three generations of men—all diarists—is told through the eyes of a single narrator: a forty-something (unnamed) man, who relives and retells the story of a dangerous prank he and other Jewish thirteen-year-olds at an elite school in Brazil play on their one non-Jewish classmate, João. At João’s thirteenth birthday party, the boys decide as a group to drop João during a ceremonial “13-bumps” tradition, and João is seriously injured in “the fall.”

3. That giveaway. I’m putting together a new play list for the WIP I’ll write during NaNoWriMo. If anyone can guess what I’m writing about based on this playlist, you’ll win a $10 gift card from ITunes. Here’s a screenshot of the songs I’m listening to in repeat while I’m in planning mode.

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click to enlarge

Not that this will necessarily help you with your guess, but my favorite song so far is “Cool Kids” by EchoSmith. (I never was one of the cool kids, by the way, maybe that’s why.) Seriously, leave a comment and if you guess correctly (or even close!), I’ll send you that gift card.

4. It just goes on and on. We’re still in the midst of one of the most prolonged and beautiful falls I can remember. In fact, we’re just about “at peak.” The colors are dazzling and distracting and stunning…I can’t think of enough descriptors, so how about another photo?

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This sugar maple next to a neighbor’s house is what I’m talking about…dazzling right?

5. King Tide. I missed the lunar eclipse but caught the “King Tide,” the year’s highest astronomical tide, and it was something. I stood on the tiny piece of remaining shore on Cousins Island Beach and let the water wash over my sandaled feet. Yes, it’s still been that warm here…in Maine…in October. It’s amazing and wonderful.

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This is all that was left of the beach during King Tide!

6. Can’t break the habit! MEH (My Engineer Husband) and I gave up cable TV a few years ago—actually right around when I first started blogging. Now, instead, we binge watch TV. (No, it doesn’t make a whole lot of sense to me either, except that we no longer have a cable TV bill.) We’ve gone through Rescue Me, The Guardian, The Mentalist, Castle, The Mindy Project, and now we’re about to wind up Chuck. Any suggestions on what we should start next would be greatly appreciated. Clearly we like an eclectic mix but tend to like quirky and shows that have (at least some) humor and a lot of mystery.

How are things in your corner of the world? What are you writing and watching and listening to? Don’t forget to guess what my new WIP is about, and you could win that ITunes gift card.

Cheers,

Julia

On Starting Again, Again

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Because wouldn’t you rather look at this amazing sunrise than a blank screen?

The blank page (er, screen)…

It’s staring me in the face these days.

That’s not entirely true. My alter-ego, mystery-writing self J.M. Maison is busy at work on the next book in The Empty Nest Can Be Murder mystery series (it will be done soon).

But me? Myself? I?

I’m starting over, again. The wheels are churning. I have an idea, several, they’re coming together (I wrote about it here on Writer Unboxed last month…about cooking an idea). I’m hoping this: that I’ll finish the mysterious first draft, then just in time for NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month in November) the pieces will have fallen into place for the next novel.

That’s what happened last year. NaNo was a big success for me (you can read my husband’s funny post about it here). I wrote the first draft of a novel (I’m now querying). I love the exciting wind-in-my-hair feeling I got from NaNo. And I think I’m going to do it again.

Okay, that’s all today—I’m off to write. Have a great day everyone!

What about you? Have you ever NaNo-ed? Did you like it? Or not so much?

Cheers,

Julia

Magenta is the New Red

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That’s it: the InkJoy 500 RT!

These days you’ll find me in revision and editing mode. The manuscript I (almost) finished during NaNoWriMo is now just about at first draft stage. I’m doing a read through, and while I do I have my favorite editing pen close at hand: a magenta PaperMate InkJoy 500 RT. No, this is not an endorsement nor an advertisement, and I’m not being paid a penny for saying what I’m about to say.

Still, I’ll say it. I’ve always been a red-pen kind of writer (I can thank Professor Drechsel for this: Newswriting 101). In fact, editing with a red pen was one of my regular habits—like writing at one particular table in one particular coffee shop, listening to the same set of songs prior to and during writing, and wearing a special pair of socks while writing (okay that last one is untrue, but rule of three and all…).

Anyway, last Christmas my son’s lovely girlfriend gave me a pack of PaperMate InkJoy 500 RT pens (assorted colors), and I got particularly attached to said magenta pen. Not to be mistaken for the InkJoy 550 or 100, mind you—something that came up when I tried to replace my favorite pen and I accidentally bought the 100s (this is when I also found out that the RT stands for retractable, thank you kind Staples associate for this key piece of information).

But why was I in need of replacing my favorite pen, you might ask. No, it didn’t run out of ink. I actually left it somewhere quite on purpose, in a particular circumstance. I’m not trying to be overly mysterious or dramatic here, just trying to pique your curiosity enough that you’ll head over to read the whole story on Writer Unboxed… let me add that it involves Nathaniel Hawthorne, probably my favorite author of all time.

Please head over to Writer Unboxed and read: I Left My Heart At Authors Ridge!

Cheers,

Julia