In Search of the Zone

By Daniel via Flickr’s Creative Commons

Last week I wrote about by desire to re-enter the writing zone.

My intention was to have a resolution list ready to go on January 1. Things I’d do in 2019 to help me “get there”—back to the zone—but here it is January 15, and I’m just sitting down to capture my new year’s writing resolutions.

I keep an “everything list,” I update every month or so (most recently at the beginning of this new year), everything from decluttering closets to finding more vegetarian and vegan recipes to catching up on all the things I didn’t do in 2018. None of the things on this list will necessarily bring me closer to my writing goal.

Enter List 2. Ways to bring back the writing zone. In addition to continuing to go to the therapist, here are the things I’m planning to do to try and recapture the writing magic.

  1. On the top of this second list is the nebulous goal to “do new things.” This is similar to how Julia Cameron suggests going on “artist dates” with yourself: “a once-weekly, festive, solo expedition to explore something that interests you.” To ask yourself, “What sounds fun?” I’m hoping introducing new things into my daily or weekly routine (though not necessarily always festive or artistic) will spark ideas and creativity.
  2. Another of Julia Cameron’s suggestions: morning pages. I have not been particularly successful at this in the past, feeling inhibited as I write, perhaps worried I’ll be upset or self-conscious when I read things later? (I’m not sure about why, to be honest.) The editor I’m working with suggested I shred the pages after I write them. I’ve done this a few times and it really helps me write more freely. My goal is to write pages every morning.
  3. Regular exercise—a tried and true method for kicking my creativity into higher gear—has fallen by the wayside as 2018 got busy.
  4. Write regularly. As in a daily word count for fiction. This has worked for me in the past; I’m hoping it will work again. Also, blog weekly.
  5. Read more.
  6. Less screen time. Specifically, less social media.
  7. Use my “happy light” every morning for half an hour or more. The Mayo Clinic says light therapy may help “if you typically have fall and winter depression, you may notice symptoms during prolonged periods of cloudy or rainy weather during other seasons.” Maine winters are notoriously long and dark—the county I live in ranks 2,622 out of 3,111 counties in the country for solar radiation. Mind you, this is an annual average, and during the summer we get a lot more sunlight. In the winter, it starts to get dark a little after three. BTW, curious where your county ranks for natural happiness light? Check out this cool map.

Most of the things on my writing resolution list are things I like to do as soon as I get up (exercise, write morning or daily pages, write fiction). My energy for these things fades as the day goes on. I’m thinking of using the therapy light later in the day to see if I can emulate the early morning hours, to see if it stimulates more creativity.

That’s my plan. It has not escaped me that I’m approaching the recapturing of a very untethered feeling (the writing zone) in a very structured manner. This does and does not worry me because whether it’s by design or through some mysterious alchemy, it doesn’t really matter, I just want to get back there.

To that end, at the end of last year, I started to feel tiny sparks from time-to-time, sensations of writing days past. These glimpses have become more frequent. Maybe this will morph into the writing excitement of days gone by? When the twinges first started, I felt sad—they seemed so out of reach—now when I get these feelings, I’m more excited . . . and curious. This makes me hopeful that a breakthrough is getting closer.

I’ll keep you posted. Do you have a new year’s writing list? I’d love to hear! We’re all in this together!

I’m a Writer, Not a Waiter!

inspiration writing fiction Julia Munroe Martin Poynter amwriting One of my writer friends has a sticker on her computer that says, “Waiting for inspiration to write is like standing at the airport waiting for a train.”

I’ve been feeling a little bit like that lately, which could explain why I haven’t blogged since December. It doesn’t mean I haven’t been writing, but my writing inspiration has been challenged, and I can really relate to the quote above and others from Dan Poynter—because it turns out that’s who wrote that airport train quote.

He also said, “If you wait for inspiration to write, you’re not a writer, you’re a waiter.”

I feel a bit like a poser. Like an imposter. But I’m working actively against those feelings, and one thing I do as frequently as I can to combat them is to hang out with other writers, particularly at conferences and retreats.

Hence, I just got home from the New England Romance Writer’s Conference, and although I do not technically consider myself a romance writer (even though I do write about love and I am co-writing a romance novel), I go to every conference I can conveniently get to because I always learn so much.

This one was no different. Here are some of the things I learned:

  • It’s really, really wonderful to be around other writers all day long—they “get it.” Meaning what it means to be a writer, and that’s a very comforting feeling.
  • I always meet people who are fascinating to talk to: writers but also non-writers who are traveling through the conference venue.
  • I agree with another writer (sorry, I can’t remember her name) who said she always comes away inspired to write more. Me too—thank goodness, because I’m not sure I could write less.
  • My author time is spent almost exclusively on writing, with almost no time spent on the business side of being a writer, and I need to learn more about marketing and SEO—thank you to Nam Patel and Sarina Bowen for the really excellent sessions on these topics.
  • Closely related: I don’t and have never done enough marketing of my indie-published novel, Desired to Death, written as J.M. Maison. This seems particularly important right now as I’m getting ready to publish the second book in that mystery series.
  • I pitched manuscripts to two literary agents, and I was reminded that any time I have a chance to meet face-to-face with literary agents is time well spent. I’ve read that some authors and some agents, too, have mixed feelings about pitch sessions, but I love them—not only because I can pitch my work, but because I get valuable information from every literary agent I talk to, and also because meeting agents as people helps me humanize the whole experience.

Finally, a word about Dan Poynter. When I decided to write about his quote, I had no idea who he was. Dan Poynter was an author, publisher, passionate skydiver, and parachute designer, who wrote over 130 books and 800 magazine articles. I can’t be sure, but I imagine that Mr. Poynter wrote through some rough patches because he wrote such apt quotes. But more so, I imagine he went through those periods because every writer I’ve ever known has gone through them.

I’ll talk about what I’m doing to address my own rough patch in future blog posts—one of the goals I made while I was at the conference was to set a regular blogging schedule—but I haven’t done that yet…

Stay tuned!

What are your writing goals? Have you ever had a rough patch? If so, what do you do to be a writer not a waiter?



Hello Old Friends

Writing friends at the Ungathering in Vermont last month. Photo by Therese Walsh (who should be in the picture!)

Writing friends at the Ungathering in Vermont last month. Photo by Therese Walsh (who should be in the picture!)

My blog started—almost seven years ago (I can hardly believe that!)—as a daily endeavor to get me writing fiction every day. I blogged every single day for a year, then a little less often, then even less often, until now I blog, well, sporadically. In 2016 I blogged eight times, and this is only my third post for 2017.

I’ve thought about shutting the whole thing down, but the truth is, I like having a blog, knowing it’s here if I want to write a post. I’ll keep my domain name regardless, so why not the blog?

A little update on where my fiction writing stands.

I’m focusing on finishing the second book in my mystery series. I self-published Desired to Death about three years ago under the pseudonym J.M. Maison. That book is languishing on Amazon, but I still get occasional downloads, and I’m hoping to breathe new life into it with book two—it’s always been my goal to have a mystery series.

I’m also really happy to announce that I’m co-writing a novel with my friend Amy Rachiele, mob fiction romance, the first in a trilogy. It’s been a long-time goal to co-author a novel, and I can’t think of a better partner. We have a lot of fun together, and I’m honored to be writing with someone who has so many successes. Check out Amy’s page on Amazon.

Earlier this year, I shelved a novel (commercial/literary) I’d spent about a year working on; I wrote a blog about that for Writer Unboxed.

I’m still looking for traditional homes for two other (commercial/literary) novels I wrote in the last few years. One is a time travel novel, the other is a historical novel about a Vietnam era love story. I had an offer for representation this year, but it wasn’t a great fit so I turned it down. That was a tough decision, but I see it as another commitment to my writing. To the professionalism of my writing—making conscious choices about how and where and when I want to direct what I’m writing.

At the end of 2016 I attended my second-ever writing conference—the Writer Unboxed Unconference. I can say that experience was truly life changing. Since then, I’ve attended two other conferences and two retreats, all with a subset of my “Uncon” friends. These writers, along with my accountability partner Jess, whom I talk to every Monday, and a few other writers I’ve been fortunate to meet along my writer’s journey, keep me writing on a regular basis. I can’t say enough about how much my writing friends have helped me—something I wrote about in another blog on Writer Unboxed.

As I embark on the new year, my goals remain the same as when I started this blog. To write fiction every day. To seek traditional publication for my work. I’ll add one more goal this year: to self-publish at least the second book in my mystery series and the first book in the trilogy with Amy.

None of this would be possible without all of you. You all keep me writing.

What are your goals for 2018, friends?

Happy New Year,



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,


Do You Believe in Magic?


Back to the coffee shop… more magic!

It’s all coming back to me. Two days into NaNoWriMo and the drama has begun. And it’s not all about the writing. I’m beginning to think NaNo (or birthing a first draft of a novel) is a bit like birthing a baby. You forget all the bad parts—the physical pain, the fears and the feelings it can’t be done, the fear that something will go wrong, the sleepless nights, the anguish of worry—or maybe you’d never be willing to do it again.

Last year I “won” NaNo. That is, I wrote 50,000 words during the month of November: National Novel Writing Month. Actually, to be technically accurate, I wrote more than 50,000 words. And I finished the first draft of a novel.

Last year I also wrote four blogs about my NaNo drama. In one, I detailed how I decided (somewhat spur of the moment) to commit to NaNo. In one I recounted my injury that I was afraid might sideline me from finishing (I shut my hand in the car door)—well actually MEH (My Engineer Husband) typed that one for me. In one I recounted certain NaNo truths (and lies). And in a final one, I talked about how I won.

Today I reread those four blogs. Believe it or not, I’d forgotten all about them—except the one that talked about winning! I forgot I slammed my hand in the car door. I forgot it was a last minute decision. I even forgot how much fun it was. It kind of went by in a whirlwind to be honest.

Yesterday after my first writing session (I wrote only 782 words—and I knew that to finish the 50K I’d need to average about 1600 a day), I was discouraged. I felt pretty sure that my idea wasn’t a very good one. Then this morning I got up early. I made a pot of coffee and started writing. Before I knew it I’d written a thousand words. Then two thousand. The idea still didn’t feel like the best one I’d ever had, but I was inhabiting the world, I was seeing the scenes in my mind. I’d even identified a song that was emblematic of the story. (It wasn’t  one of the ones from my last post. It’s “A Sky Full of Stars” by Coldplay. It’s now on endless loop while I write. Yesterday I heard it on the radio in the car and I had to turn it off—I started to feel my eyes drift closed, started to feel a writing trance coming on…no, really.)

And there’s more. That drama. It’s all falling into place. Like magic.


I forgot when I got up that it was Daylight Savings. In fact, last night I accidentally set my clock ahead instead of back. So did I wake up two hours early?

I made coffee.

I wrote my words (2695 this morning).

I went into the kitchen and a spaghetti squash fell off the counter onto my little toe (as MEH said, “a squash squashed your toe.”

The first snow of the season started to fall.

After I posted a snowy pic on Instagram, I started thinking more about the novel I’m calling TYAAD.

More pieces fell into place, and I fell a little more in love.


What are you doing for the month of November? Do you believe in magic? I do.



p.s. if you’re doing NaNo, too, let’s be buddies! I’m Julia.M.Martin!!

Going to the Birds


The Arctic Tern


Summertime is prime bird watching time in Maine. We get the songbirds of the meadows and woodlands, but we also get the water birds. Gulls, terns, waders like Great Blue Herons and Egrets. A lot of birds of prey too. Ospreys and Eagles and hawks, oh my.

I confess I love them all.

Yesterday MEH (My Engineer Husband) and I went for a drive to Wolfe’s Neck Farm (yes it’s as beautiful as it sounds). We saw all kinds of birds. In fact on the mouth of the Little River, where it flows into the bay—on the tidal flat—we saw six Egrets along the river. It was an amazing sight. We took a few photos from afar, but when I got home I looked at them and decided none was close enough nor could be enlarged without looking blurry so I threw them away.

A hawk... I think a Broad Winged (any birders out there want to chime, er, chirp in?)

A hawk… I think a Broad Winged (any birders out there want to chime, er, chirp in?)

This is very uncharacteristic (I have almost 10,000 photos on my computer and another 6,000 on my iPhone, so clearly I rarely trash anything), and I immediately regretted it (well when I decided to write this blog). I wanted to include that distant photo of the six egrets but I didn’t have it anymore. Moral: don’t throw anything away. Better moral: Keep at least one photo of everything. Addendum: buy an external hard drive to store photos.

Anyway, last night we watched A Birder’s Guide to Everything—a sweet coming of age movie about bird watching and life. And today I went bird watching again at the Town Landing in the next town over, the place I go almost everyday. And boy was I glad I went. I immediately saw several small seabirds flitting around, plunging into the water and diving for fish. I knew they were terns, but what I didn’t know until I got home was that I was watching the Arctic Tern.

This gives you an idea of the speed these birds move. I guess they have to in order to cover as much ground as they do!

This gives you an idea of the speed these birds move. I guess they have to in order to cover as much ground as they do!

This is what I learned from the Cornell Bird site: the Arctic Tern has the farthest yearly journey of any bird. It migrates up to 25,000 miles from its Arctic breeding ground to where it winters in Antarctica. I probably could’ve stood on the dock and watched these birds all day. They were as beautiful as they were acrobatic.

Although there's no bird in this photo, it is my favorite of the week. Partly because it's so beautiful, partly because the people in the photo are friends of mine and I know how happy they are while they're out sailing together!

Although there’s no bird in this photo, it is my favorite of the week. Partly because it’s so beautiful, but mostly because the people in the photo are friends of mine and I know how happy they are while they’re out sailing together!

Although none of my photos of the Arctic Tern are that great, I still decided to include them in this post (I learned my lesson with the egrets!), because I guess the Arctic Tern may top my list as my favorite bird this year.  My all-time favorite is still the Hermit Thrush. A songbird, its song is just beautiful. (If you have time, you should follow the link and listen to the “typical voice,” well worth it!)

Are you a bird watcher? What’s your favorite bird? What’s your favorite outdoor activity this summer?



My Writing Process: blog tour

photo copy

“Ships at a distance have every man’s wish on board.” Zora Neale Thurston, Their Eyes Were Watching God

I’m not sure how, but all of a sudden it’s the beginning of June. It seemed like forever to get here, but now the sun is shining, boats are in the water, the lilacs are in full bloom, and our garden is a weed patch waiting for tending.

Meanwhile, there’s writing to tend to as well, and I’d like to thank my friend Jamie Miles for inviting me to participate in the “My Writing Process” blog tour. With a million things going on, I’m not sure I’d have gotten around to blogging this week at all. So thank you Jamie! If you haven’t visited Jamie’s wonderful blog, you should go take a look—she’s one of my favorites: lots of humor and life observations and full of heart. Well worth the read!

What are you working on?

I’m finishing up the ninth draft of my latest novel—I call it near-historical fiction coming of age. The seed of the idea came from a real life experience you can read about in another blog post. A teenage girl falls in love with a young man who is about to leave to serve in the Vietnam War, and after he deploys, she learns about and forms ideas about the war based on interactions with four other young men in her life. I wrote the first draft of this novel during NaNoWriMo last year.

I am also working on my next novel idea. It’s about an adrenaline junkie—so I’m challenging my fears by doing some of the things that I’ll write about in the book.

How does your work differ from others’ work in the same genre?

This is a tough question because most of what I write is cross-genre. I’ve written mystery that has elements of women’s fiction (I self published Desired to Deathas J.M. Maison). I’ve written historical fiction that is combined with magical realism (I’m querying this novel); and my current novel is near-historical fiction (1960s), but it is also coming of age with elements of literary fiction.

Why do you write what you do?

I’m almost always drawn to stories of loss and change and themes of home, probably at least partly because I moved around a lot as a kid. I’m also the product of a broken family: my father walked out when I was only two years old. I often write about family and parental problems that I believe have a profound effect on children for their whole life long. Hence (regardless of their age) many of my characters are trying to figure out how to cope with the hands dealt them in childhood. I also tend to address topics that produce fear for me in my life (for instance writing about an adrenaline junkie or being forced to say good-bye to a friend or lover forever). These explorations help me make sense of my own life, fears, and limitations, while at the same time helping to distract me and make me feel less alone with my problems and fears. My stories also always include at least one love story—I love to write about love and relationships—often the foundation of life’s greatest joys and biggest heartaches.

How does your writing process work?

This is an interesting question because my process seems to be constantly evolving. It used to be that I’d always write a (pretty detailed) outline prior to starting to write. Then with my last WIP, I started writing and wrote about two or three chapters before I even started to outline—then I outlined the entire book. With my current WIP, I didn’t outline at all before I started to write and after I was finished with the first draft, I pulled the entire book apart, outlined it, and restructured it.

The one thing that hasn’t changed in all my outlining and writing process changes is that when I’m writing a first draft, I write every day. I like to write first thing in the morning, but I can write anytime. I think the reason NaNoWriMo worked so well for me is that I usually write fast and hard. During first draft, I’ll write between 1000 and 7000 words a day. I almost always go into “the writer’s zone,” and I barely notice what’s going on around me. When I’m in the zone I can write anywhere. In the past two years, I’ve come to realize that I can force myself into the zone with music related (in my mind only) to the story I’m writing. Ever since then, I’ve created a playlist for every WIP, and for the hour or so leading up to writing I’ll listen to the music, and I also listen to the music (but don’t really hear) while I write.  As I write, I become completely and totally immersed in the world I create.

Next week…

I’ve invited my blogging friend Jackie Cangro to participate in “My Writing Process.” Jackie and I met several years ago via Twitter and/or mutual blogging friends (I can’t remember exactly how)—you know how these things go. I absolutely love Jackie’s posts. She always delivers something entertaining but thought provoking, too, and I love her writing style. I also enjoy hearing stories and updates about her amazing dog Reggie.

What’s up with you this early summer? Writing? Vacationing? I’d love to hear!




My Shrinking World

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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?



Five Weeks

I turned twelve the year Pat went to Vietnam.

Pat taught riding lessons at a horse stable. Every week my parents dropped me off at the small stables a few miles from our house, and for one blissful hour I would ride around a ring on the back of a horse that I wished with all my heart was my very own. Pat was icing on the cake. He was my riding instructor, but he was much more than that. He was also my first crush. But, truth is, Pat at nineteen had no idea I existed beyond the confines of the small circle of riders in that class.

That didn’t stop me from mooning over him. Pat stood tall and handsome in the middle of the arena—sporting cowboy boots and a cowboy hat. He had an easy way about him—one that horses and kids alike took to. All of us sat a little taller in the saddle when Pat gave a compliment. He was the kind of teacher that made you want to learn a little better. At the time I imagined he paid special attention to me, a dreamy look on his face when he looked my way, but now—looking back with an adult perspective—I can see that the look I mistook for affection was more likely teacher interest possibly mixed with weariness from breathing in the dry California dirt kicked up by class after class of horse hooves.

After Pat left for basic training then Vietnam, his mother took over teaching the classes, and—my love of horses still going strong—I kept going. But it wasn’t ever the same without him.

One week when we arrived at the stable, Pat’s mom wasn’t there either. A young woman introduced herself giving no explanation of where Pat’s mom was, and she proceeded with the lesson, picking up where we’d left off the week before. The class was more somber than usual, we were just going through the motions, and about halfway through, another young woman came into the ring to talk to the instructor. She looked like she’d been crying, and the two young women hugged for a long time. Our circle of riders slowed to a stop along the arena’s fence, watching, wondering.

Eventually the two women pulled apart and our instructor called us into the center of the ring—to tell us the awful news. Pat had been killed in action the day before.

I stopped taking riding lessons after that—to be honest I think the stable might have closed, I’m just not sure. My family went to live out of the country the next year, and after that I started high school. I found other interests, moved on to new crushes, grew up and lived my life. But every once in a while I’d think about Pat. With sadness. And just a few weeks ago, a conversation with a friend made me think of him again. His love of horses, his handsome good looks, his easy way—but mostly, his dedication to his country. His love of freedom so strong he was willing to put his life on the line.

Pat only fought in Vietnam for five weeks before he was killed. But I know that the five weeks he was there, he gave it everything he had. That was his way. To stand and protect and defend what he believed in—wholeheartedly—and in Vietnam he was defending what he believed in most of all: his country’s freedom. I didn’t wholly understand it then—my feelings of sadness and confusion overwhelming everything—but I understand it now, and I’d like to say what I never had a chance to say then: thank you.

Because Pat was and always will be my hero.



Dissection of a Book Cover

I was surprised how much I love this cover
(one of my favorites). The mix of bright and
black is both eye catching and evocative. I
also like the diagonal font because it jars me.

Yesterday MEH (My Engineer Husband) and I took a road trip to Barnes & Noble. I know what you’re thinking… a road trip to a bookstore? This is a big deal?

Sad but true, it is a big deal. Maine has only one large bookstore in the entire state—an hour from where we live—and for this particular mission I needed a large volume of books. Lest you get up in arms about me ignoring the indie bookstores in our area, I’ve already been to the two in my neck of the woods.

Anyway, I digress. This trip was not a pleasure trip (although it could hardly be called torture). I was going specifically for one purpose: to check out book covers of mystery novels.

This has been one of my biggest qualms as an aspiring indie author: picking out an appropriate cover for my book. I envy authors who have an agent, editor, publishing house to give opinions—even to force a certain cover. It’s all on me. That little online thumbnail is stress enough. But then I think about having a book launch at my local library or sitting at a table at a book fair. Not only does the cover need to represent the book, but it has to represent me, too, so it has to be something I’m proud of.

And I’m picky about book covers.

MEH kindly agreed to be my wingman. My job was to identify covers I liked and take photos of them, and his job was to measure the books and take notes about who designed what cover. Despite an initial speed bump when MEH realized (as we pulled into a parking space after driving for an hour) that we didn’t have the tape measure with us, fortunately there was a Michaels Craft Store right next door, and we were able to buy one.

There were no more speed bumps. We spent two hours perusing the mysteries. I saw about five covers I loved. And I came away with some very good ideas. I also broke some of the misconceptions I had about what I liked. For instance, I knew without any doubt, before going in, that I wanted a matte cover for my book. But guess what? I liked the glossy covers more. What really surprised me most, however, was that I was drawn more to the brighter colors than to the muted (this has not been the case in the past).

That’s not to say I don’t still have qualms and stresses. I want the book cover to portray the contents of the book—and there are certain secret rules, of this I feel certain: more lighthearted mysteries (like mine) should have these colors, more graphic and heavier mysteries, others. But I’m not totally sure what they are—and believe me, I’ve put in hoursof research. And, let’s be frank here, we all know that to some extent we all judge a book by its cover or at least analyze them.

I like the more traditional feel of this cover
but, I miss the brighter colors (like the
red cover behind).

Writer friend, Melissa Crytzer Fry, recently posted a blog about just this thing from a reader’s and writer’s point of view. Her post, Don’t Judge a Book by Its Cover, came at a perfect time for me. In it, Melissa poses this question:

Do I put too much stock into cover art? Maybe. Or is it just human nature to (literally) judge a book by its cover? Artwork – colors, photos, drawings, font size, graphic treatment – creates mood, doesn’t it? A cover tells its own story, right? It’s a huge marketing tool for the sale of books…

If you haven’t read her post, I highly recommend it; it provided an excellent analysis of several covers and addressed many of my concerns. The discussion in comments is informative and excellent as well.

Finally, once I decide what I want the cover to look like, I still need to find a designer who can carry out my vision. For this, I’ve again combed the web, asked other indie authors I know, and—yes—have even gotten names off book jackets. But I haven’t settled on anyone or anything yet, so the search is still on.

Stay tuned.

I’m interested in what you think…would you (like me) be stressing over this? Do you have preconceived ideas of which genres should have what kind of covers? Colors? Shiny or matte? Are you self published and were particularly pleased (or disappointed) in your cover? Can you recommend a designer? Or web service? Have you heard of 99designs? Know anyone who’s ever used it?



Amidst Swirling Words & Leaves

Yesterday MEH (My Engineer Husband) and I went “leaf peeping,” which is to say we went out for the sole purpose of looking at the changing fall foliage. In this small and excellent adventure, words became a central part—as they often do for me. Because it’s funny how we use words without thinking (and when I say “we,” let me be clear, it’s the universal “we”). In other words, words and expressions become second nature to our daily life—yet others may have no idea whatsoever what we’re talking about.

And so it was with leaf peeping, which (it turns out) is a bit of a New England colloquialism, something I found out when I told Arizona writer friend Melissa Crytzer Fry we were going out to do some of the aforementioned leaf peeping. Thank goodness for Google so Melissa could figure out what the heck I was talking about. Otherwise she may have thought I was peeping through the leaves to spy on neighbors (although if you recall previous posts, I do that too…).

But my story doesn’t end there. Our leaf peeping travels took us to nearby Bowdoin College where once again I found myself thinking of words. This time older ones, because some years ago Bowdoin College graduated some pretty noteworthy writers: Henry Wadsworth Longfellow and Nathaniel Hawthorne. Turns out these two great literary men (along with Horatio Bridge and Franklin Pierce) were good friends and graduated in Bowdoin’s class of 1825.

Bowdoin College’s Massachusetts Hall 

As we strolled and took photographs, we walked the paths they’d walked. And in addition to the leaves, we peeped the original three buildings that comprised the Bowdoin campus during those long ago years: the chapel, Maine Hall, and Massachusetts Hall (that now houses, appropriately, the English department). While we walked, I thought about words these early writers might have used to describe what we were seeing, and when I got home to my computer, I was delighted to learn that Henry Wadsworth Longfellow once wrote a poem about autumn.


Thou comest, Autumn, heralded by the rain,

With banners, by great gales incessant fanned,

Brighter than brightest silks of Samarcand,

And stately oxen harnessed to thy wain!

Thou standest, like imperial Charlemagne,

Upon thy bridge of gold; thy royal hand

Outstretched with benedictions o’er the land,

Blessing the farms through all thy vast domain!

Thy shield is the red harvest moon, suspended

So long beneath the heaven’s o’er-hanging eaves;

Thy steps are by the farmer’s prayers attended;

Like flames upon an altar shine the sheaves;

And, following thee, in thy ovation splendid,

Thine almoner, the wind, scatters the golden leaves! 

And while not all the words in Longfellow’s poem are in common use today—Samarcand, almoner, wain, as examples—the verse is clearly English. Still, the language has changed enough over time that I had to read through it more than once and look up some of the words on Google—just like Melissa when I told her we were leaf peeping—to fully grasp its meaning.

This photo reminded me of the descriptions
in Longfellow’s poem.

All this made me realize that whether by distance of time or geography, words can take on different meanings or at times make no sense at all. Yet as writers this is our purpose and daily endeavor: to take words and make them meaningful, to help them take on a life of their own, and to ultimately help others feel the things we felt when we wrote them.

All in all it was a wonderful day amidst swirling leaves and words: “the golden leaves,” as Longfellow said. And as Hawthorne penned (and I can’t disagree):

“I cannot endure to waste anything as precious as autumn sunshine by staying in the house. So I spend almost all the daylight hours in the open air.”

What are some words and phrases (whether colloquial or from another time or language) that you’ve labored to understand? Do you think by exploring and stretching they make you a better writer—like I do? As for autumn, is it autumn where you are? Or do you live somewhere that you don’t experience the changing seasons at all?


Words for the Picking

In my backyard, the blueberries are ripening—plump and dark blue, bursting with flavor—so many on one bush they’re almost falling to the ground. But we have three bushes, and the other two have noripening berries, in fact they have no berries at all. It’s a mystery. All three bushes planted in a row. Why are there berries on one bush but not on the other two?

I know enough about gardening to know there must be a botanical answer: the soil is not acidic enough or the bushes are too shaded or they don’t get enough water or the bees got tired after buzzing around the first bush, or… some other unknown buried deep in the cells of the blueberry bush. But I also know enough to cover the one bush that does have berries—we draped it with netting—to keep those amazing blueberries to ourselves and away from the birds—and soon they’ll be ready for the picking.

As I’ve kept an eye on those berries, I’m thinking about something else, too—my writing. My current WIP is approaching 30,000 words, and most days (these days) the writing is easy, like the first blueberry bush, with lots of words—almost falling to the page in fact. But other days I can’t seem to write a word, and my pages are as barren as those two bushes void of berries.

I know enough about writing (and myself) to know that it could be I’m grumpy or didn’t get enough sleep or am allowing self doubt to creep in or my mind is wandering, or… something else buried deep in the cells of my brain. But just like the berries I cover to keep safe, I protect my words. I make writing a habit: I sit down every day, I reread what I’ve already written, I write as much as I can, and sometimes if that doesn’t work, I read.

And I wait, confident that like the blueberries, my words will grow and ripen, and soon be ready for the picking.

How is your writing going? Are your words there for the picking or do you sometimes feel barren of words?



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?



On Lawn Mowing and Book Titles

This isn’t my neighbor’s lawn mower, it’s just what it sounds like in my head

In a crazy twist, today my concentration is interrupted by a neighbor mowing her lawn….apparently endlessly. Why a crazy twist? Because my last posting was about snow (less than a week ago!), and now we’re into lawn mowing season.

So, instead of revising the last 1000 or so words of my WIP, I find myself nursing a headache, looking desperately for noise-canceling headphones, and thinking up a new title for my book (my working title, soon to be a querying title, is…well… not working).

As I was contemplating and making lists of alternative titles, I came across a very cool website that analyzes a book’s title. In fact it claims to be able to tell you the likelihood a title “has what it takes for bestseller success.”

The program, developed by a statistician, looked at 50 years of New York Times Bestseller novel titles and compared them to less successful titles by the same authors. According to the website, the program is successful in 70% of cases they tried.

Here’s one of the best things about the “LuluTitlescorer”: you need to enter grammar and parts-of-sentence information about your title. Thus you get two things in one: a fun grammar refresher AND a title scorer.

Once you enter the title and all the requested variables, you click on “Analyze My Title,” and voila it tells you the chance between 9% and 83% that your book’s title will fit bestseller success!!

For me, the four I tried were 10%, 26%, 44% and 69%. Pretty decent odds… just one more piece of information as I zero-in on a title. And something for me to think about while I finish the revisions, because—hallelujah—the mowing just stopped!

Here’s the link to the LuluTitlescorer! If you try it, I’d love to know how your title(s) fare… so come back and tell me!



Today I’m Making Snowman-Ade!

MEH and I made this snowman.
Yes, this morning

I’m not going to lie. When I looked outside this morning and saw snow—more than a dusting but certainly not a blizzard—my heart sank.

It’s March 28, people, “you” didn’t warn us. And by “you” I think I mean the weather people, although I’m not sure why… for one thing, I don’t watch the weather….I do look at the NOAA forecasts, the iPhone forecasts, and occasionally listen to the radio. So, yes, THOSE PEOPLE. They said there would be sleet today. A 50 percent chance.

Which does not translate to measurable snow. Not in my book.

And speaking of books, that’s why I’m annoyed. Because I’m a hair’s breadth (whatever THAT expression means) from being done. I don’t like unexpected things, like snow apparently, to happen when I want things to be predictable.

I want my ducks in a row, smooth sailing, no surprises, so I can sit and write and finish and not worry about anything new or unexpected.

Like snow.

Or a potential power outage.

Or undependable weather forecasters.

Or the fact that maybe the real reason I’m upset is that this business of writing? It’s kind of like the snow: unpredictable. Just when I think I’m close, a hair’s breadth, I realize that Chapter 4? It really is too much backstory. And in Chapter 22? My MC would never do that.

And then? Then all of a sudden it’s snowing in my novel and it takes place at the end of summer. What will my MC do? Maybe build a snowman.

So this morning? When it’s snowing? This morning, instead of being upset anymore?

This morning, I’m making snowman-ade!

How about you? What do you do when the unexpected strikes? Are you like me, first thrown for a loop but then figure out Plan B and go with it? Writers: do you make snowman-ade when your writing doesn’t go as planned?



p.s. and if you (like me) are curious what hair’s breadth means (by the way, I did think it was hair’s breath ’til I read this!)… check out this link!

Some Words About Word

My current WIP is in the final stages of edits—over 300 manuscript pages, 30 chapters, over 80,000 words.
And almost every day when I sit down to edit, revise, hone my words, I struggle with MS-Word: the word processor I use (I can’t say word processor of choice, it’s just what I have, what I use). And MS-Word and I? We often don’t get along. And that’s a problem because I spend a lot of time with Word, approximately 12 hours a day these days.

First, some background: I’ve been using word processing software since before there was word processing software. The truth is I’ve been using computers to write since before computers were used to write—since typewriters were used to write. And I’ve written users’ guides about computer software. So I know a thing or two about software and computers. Furthermore, I’ve read a lot about using MS-Word.

So why can’t I figure out the best way to use MS-Word to write a book?

For one thing, Word keeps changing—I recently upgraded to Word for Mac 2011 and had to learn a whole new way of using it. Frustrating in the middle of trying to finish my novel. But as much as it changed, some of the most annoying things remained the same, for instance: “Why the heck did you auto format that? Please don’t make that into a list…indent that text…change the font size…start a new page…or whatever else you did automatically—unless I want you to!” (Yes that’s in quotes because I actually speak out loud to my computer, specifically to MS-Word.)

But that’s not why I’m writing this post—the real reason I’m writing this post—the thing that is really confounding me about MS-Word right now is: “Why do you not have a way to write (and by write I mean manage) a long document, say a novel?”

The thing is, I keep all my chapters in separate files—for me they’re easier to manage that way, easier to revise as I’m writing, easier to go through, easier to find things in. But now… toward the end, it’s so annoying. To have to repaginate everything every time I make a change, doing seemingly endless searches through 30 chapters for things I want to change. Keeping track of which chapters I’ve changed what things in. And I can’t believe there’s not a better way.

I have writer friends who have one long novel-length document—which is what I started to create this morning from all the separate chapters—but I worry: will it be unwieldy? Will it take too long to load? To search? Should I use an MS-Word “master document” with chapters as contents—which is one of the ways MS-Word suggests to do long documents? (Not that I’m particularly interested in any advice MS-Word has for me.)

And that’s why I’m writing this post, to ask you my writer friends: how do you manage your long documents? What are the tricks you’ve developed, the resources you use? If not for this novel, this WIP, then for the next, I’ll be ready and start with a system that works. So that when I reach the end of my novel, I’m not equally consumed with figuring out MS-Word as I am with celebrating THE END of my novel.

Please leave your advice in comments!



MEH, the Wild Life, and Me

Charlie II

We live a wild life in Maine. Oh yes we do.

Let me back up. It all started yesterday when I came downstairs and saw a mouse by the toaster. Let me back up even farther. It all really started last year when we trapped and released 51 mice.

Because, here’s the thing. MEH and I—and let me extend that now to our children—do not believe in harming woodland creatures. This extends to insects of all kinds (with exceptions noted below), rodents large and small (including the chipmunk that was loose in our house two years ago), and even scaly animals (yes, that was a snake we found in the downstairs of one of our houses years ago).

So it was this morning we found ourselves transporting Charlie II in the car to be released in the Dog Walk Park. As MEH carried the live trap to the car, I mused:

“Should it be in a bag or something, what if it escapes?”

“It can’t escape.”

“Famous last words…”

This post is not about Charlie II disappearing into the depths of our car. He did not escape.

MEH carries the trap to the car
By now you’re probably wondering: Why Charlie? I can say only this: last year when we trapped (and released) those 51 mice, MEH started to wonder…does this mouse look familiar? So when there was a new mouse in the trap every morning, he’d scrutinize it as he released it. Then he’d come back in the house (yes, in those naïve days we were actually releasing the mouse into the compost pit about 50 feet from our house), and say:

“That mouse looked awfully familiar…”

When our college age daughter came home for break, she suggested something startling. Maybe it really was the same mouse coming back again and again. (For the record, and since this is my blog it is my record, I still believe it was different mice, all those 51, yes. You say naïve, I say denial.)

So this morning, with our first mouse of the season, we decided to play it safe. When we got to the park, MEH carefully carried the trap to the softball field (yes the very one where we feed the crows). He opened the trap. My job was to get the picture as the mouse jumped out of the trap. But of that mouse? All we could see was a tail.

MEH shook the trap. Still only the tail. I took about six photos of a mouse tail sticking out from the internal workings of the trap.

“Really?” MEH said, shaking the trap a little more vigorously.

“Maybe it’s dead,” I said, remembering the years we’ve found dead mice in the traps. I walked away, not willing to take a photo of a dead mouse.

“It’s not dead.” MEH said, now shaking the trap up and down as hard as possible. “Seriously?”

Understand this. MEH may have been slightly enhanced for this blog—to the point of hero status. He does have his fatal flaws, just like all heroes. Patience with mice is not one of his strong suits. This may well be because he’s trapped and released approximately, give or take 7 trillion mice over the course of our marriage. I’m just sayin’.

Five minutes later, MEH pounded the metal trap onto the ground in a valiant attempt to dislodge what now must be a terrified mouse suffering from shaken-baby syndrome. I walked further away, but MEH reported later that the mouse tail vibrated back and forth with every pound. Finally the mouse gave up and jumped from the box to safer havens of winter in Maine. (I should add that this morning was a balmy 50 degrees—although we havereleased mice in subzero weather, Charlie II lucked out.)

Charlie II lives and breathes the good life in Maine. And our wild life is back in nature’s balance. For now.

This was the amazing sky we saw while we were
at the Dog Park releasing Charlie II,
feeding the crows…oh, and walking the dog!
And about those insect exceptions? We do kill mosquitos and house flies and we once killed a Black Widow that was in our then-baby son’s room. Yikes. We only lived in that house for two years although it backed up to a beautiful view of an open field in Colorado and we could hear coyotes howling at night, it was plagued by mice, snakes, and that Black Widow. We never knew what we’d find by the toaster in that place!

Have you had experiences with wildlife in the house?  Or outside? What do you do? For writers: my productivity went down to zippo while focusing on the mouse—although it did give me this blog. What reduces your writing productivity? Have you ever been inspired to write based on a wildlife experience?



Dog Walking in the Dark

Next weekend Daylight Savings begins. And I for one am ready.  Every morning these days, you’ll find MEH (My Engineering Husband) and me walking our dog Abby in the dark….off leash at a rural dog park where the gates to get into the parking lot are still locked. We get there that early!

I imagine walking any dog at night is challenging—but Abby is a black lab, and that makes it especially hard to find her. I feel lucky that she’s not one of those dogs that wanders, she stays pretty close. Still, we bring a flashlight to find her or more likely her toy, which we lose at least three times every morning. Luckily it glows in the dark (by design!). But we use the flashlight sparingly, so we can marvel at the brightness of the stars….and the moon.

Abby stays close to the toy–and to us!
As we walk across the silent field we awaken even birds. A startled Killdeer rustles then flies out of the tall grass right in front of us. Other than that, we hear no birds, we’ve even beaten the Dawn Chorus. And later in the day there will be others at the dog park—lately way too many!—it’s a definite benefit of coming early: no other dog walkers or dogs to contend with.

The light from a faraway farmhouse dots the dark
On this particular morning a fog lies close to the ground; the cold, damp air against my face smells fresh and clean. It feels like camping, and we should be starting a campfire, sitting and drinking coffee while we watch the ragged sunrise over pine trees.

We saw this sign by the trash can, I have no
idea why it was there. We thought it was
pretty funny to find it in the dark!

As we end our walk, the sun begins to rise. The policeman arrives to unlock the gate, and we chat briefly—he ending his shift, us starting our day. A solitary woman runner glides by, making her way into the park for her early morning run. A car with two dogs pulls into the parking lot. We head home to our waiting coffee.

This post is part of #iPPP (iPhone Photo Phun)