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,



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:

  2. WRITE
  3. INVITE (critique)

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!).




Two Truths and a Lie

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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!

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.


Fresh Ink Flipped: Q&A with Natalia Sylvester

ChasingTheSunLima-e1403897593544I can’t tell you how happy I am to post this interview with writer friend Natalia Sylvester—because it means her debut novel Chasing the Sun has been released! I hope you’ll forgive me for injecting a loud “YAHOO” here… because Natalia and I have been great blogging and Twitter friends since I first went online, and I have followed her path to publication with great anticipation and excitement. In addition to being a close writer friend, she is one of the finest writers I’ve met through social networking. I have been fortunate to have Natalia as a super-duper early reader on two of my novel WIPs, and she gave me invaluable feedback that helped me shape my thoughts not just about the partials she read but also about my fiction writing in general—thank you Natalia! Although Natalia and I have not yet met in person, I’ve had the great pleasure to talk to her via Google Chat, and I can tell you she is as charming in person as her book is in writing.

I highly recommend Chasing the Sun…And here’s the good news! You could win your own signed copy of this wonderful novel—Natalia has generously offered to give one copy away. Simply enter the Rafflecopter at the end of this post!

Natalia and I are often on the same wavelength in our blog posts (and without any coordination have posted about very similar topics on the very same day)…but her Fresh Ink series is uniquely her own. Fresh Ink focuses on debut novelists and their journey to publication. When I prepared for this Q&A, I thought it might be fun to ask Natalia some of her own Fresh Ink questions…and here’s what Natalia said when I asked her:

You won’t believe this! Talk about being on the same wavelength: JUST the other day I was thinking how it’d be fun to ask someone to do a Fresh Ink interview with me, flipped! So of course I’m beyond ecstatic to see question #1 (but not surprised that you read my mind).

I just want to take a moment to say how thrilled I am to be a guest at your blog today, Julia. You’re one of the first bloggers who I connected with when I sought out social media to meet other writers, and I never imagined that I’d not only find writers, but true friends. Thank you so much for having me!

Thank you, Natalia! The feeling is entirely mutual!

1. Here goes…this first question is Fresh Ink…flipped!

Length of time from book’s start to pub date: 9 years (Though I did set this book aside for a period of 5 years in between.)

# of agents you queried before signing: 17

# of books written before this one: 1

# of revisions you went through: 3 complete rewrites and probably 3 revisions per rewrite

We’re lucky that there are so many great resources for writers to learn about publishing these days. That being said, what’s the one aspect of the process you never could have predicted?

I never would have predicted how much I’d learn throughout the process of talking about the book and being asked questions I’d never really thought about. Since the book launched, I’ve learned that the first memory I have—one that I thought took place after we’d moved away from Peru—is actually me remembering a night in Peru when we all the power had gone off in our house. These blackouts were common at the time; groups like the Shining Path would often set off bombs, set fires, or set off the power throughout the city.

ChasingtheSun_Cover_jpegI’ve also remembered the moment I learned about my grandfather’s kidnapping in more vivid detail that ever before, because talking about it forced me to dig deeper than I’d tried to dig in the past. I’d always expected writing a book to be an act of self-discovery, but hadn’t anticipated that promoting it would be just as eye-opening. The curiosity that readers bring to a story opens up a whole other world of possibilities.

2. Can you describe a little bit about your writing process? I know that in addition to being a novelist you’re also a busy freelance writer—how do you balance those two (potentially competing) writing endeavors?

It’s funny that you ask how I balance them, when in fact I feel like they balance me! Writing fiction has always been a very emotionally intense process for me: most days, I’m overwhelmed by insecurity, wondering if the words will come, if the story and the characters will take shape like I hope they will. This, paired with the scary or difficult-to-imagine places that fiction tasks us with going, can be draining. So I can’t imagine writing fiction all day every day, but my work as a freelance copywriter allows me to keep pulling from my writing “toolbox” daily. Things like voice, word choice, tone, and the importance of telling a story, are parts of the craft I get to practice through copywriting.

At the same time, switching between the two forms doesn’t always come easy for me, so I try to write fiction first thing in the morning—two hours before I’d normally wake—and then spend the rest of the day on social media, marketing, and also my freelance work. Of course, that’s in ideal conditions! I’ve had deadlines for revision force me to mix things up a bit, and that’s always a welcome challenge because it pushes me out of my comfort zone.

3. You’ve talked about how Chasing the Sun was partially inspired by your grandfather’s kidnapping in Peru. Having written fiction that started with a tiny germ of my own life, I know it doesn’t take much…and I’m so curious how your story strayed from reality and where…

Where it’s most rooted in reality is in the questions I was hoping to answer through the story, things I’d always wondered about my grandfather’s kidnapping but had been too afraid to ask: How does living through an experience like this affect a person? How does it affect not just the victim, but the family, who are also victims tormented by the waiting and the not knowing? What happens when this person returns—can things ever go back to normal, and does normal even exist? And most importantly, is there any hope left once we’ve survived such a dark, traumatic experience?

But from the beginning, it strayed from reality starting with the characters because I wanted this story to be about something bigger than my family. At the same time, I wanted to create some distance and give my grandfather’s story the privacy and respect to be his own, while still exploring it in what I hoped would be a more universal approach. Andres and Marabela very quickly took on a life of their own—I didn’t even realize they were having marital problems until the end of one of the first drafts. Suddenly the story wasn’t just about a kidnapping. It was about a frail marriage, and on top of it, Marabela is taken and all these hairline cracks in their relationship are exposed. I was much more interested in this because even tragedy doesn’t happen in a vacuum, under ideal conditions. There are always so many complex factors at play, rooted in the deeply personal. So the book also became a character study, which I think all stories are, to some extent: if we’re only looking at the action and not at the characters it’s affecting, are really looking close enough?

4. One of the things I loved about Chasing the Sun was your use of language—your writing flowed beautifully and simply and yet was complex in language (I hope that makes sense), and I found it quite reminiscent of Gabriel Garcia Marquez in its descriptions and visual richness. I felt I was seeing the world as the characters saw it, particularly so with Andres. His voice and presence is so loud and clear. Very impressive. Can you describe a bit how you came to see the world through his eyes and talk through his voice? How did you make him come alive to yourself and to the reader?

You awe and flatter me by bringing up Gabriel Garcia Marquez—thank you! Much too kind of you!

It’s interesting that you bring up Andres’s voice because out of all the characters in the book, his voice was the one I struggled with the least. I think it’s because, while I don’t agree with a lot of the choices he’d made in his life (and does make throughout the story) I could most relate to him being on the outside perspective of this kidnapping, because that’s how I’d felt my whole life in relation to my grandfather’s kidnapping: I didn’t know what it’d been like for him, and all I could grasp at were my imagination and unanswered questions.

I also knew from the beginning that he was a very driven businessman, that he’d put everything into starting his company and growing it, sometimes at the expense of spending time with his family and nurturing his relationship with Marabela. As a freelancer, I’ve also started my own company, and though I don’t feel I’ve neglected my family for it, I’ve often feared getting to that point. So developing Andres’s character ended up being an exercise in placing myself in some of my deepest fears in order to better understand a person like him.

5. I love when I find a line in a novel that makes me realize where the title originated—and when I read the sentence about Andres driving like he was chasing the sun, I immediately understood the significance and the importance of the title. I know you had a different working title…and I’m wondering, can you discuss how you came up with the first—and this—title?

Oh my goodness, titles, my weakness! I went through so many throughout many stages of the process, but once I submitted it to my agent (it was called Take This Woman then, and already I was begging for alternate suggestions!) we decided to shop it as Where We Once Belonged, and that’s what it sold as.

During the revision process with my editor, we discussed how, while the title was beautiful and hinted at the importance of the past and relationships, it didn’t have a sense of urgency, or any heat (yes! She and my agent actually used that word). I reread the book, highlighted lines that stood out to me, and kept coming back to Chasing the Sun for many reasons. One: the sun is such an important symbol in Peruvian culture. For the Incas, the sun was their god (named Inti, Quechua for sun) and even our currency was once called the Inti and later became the Sol. And two, I felt Chasing the Sun captured how so many of the characters, including Andres, are always chasing after what most eludes them, and what perhaps will always be out of their reach.

6. “In the eerie glow of the red light, they work in silence, and when they’re done the room is just another poorly lit windowless office with a view to nowhere.” This sentence (on page 68) was so evocative for me. I loved that Marabela was a photographer during the time of darkrooms—as a photographer myself, I can say you described the processes and feelings and products so very well…particularly later about the spools for the film, in the pitch dark. Have you worked in a darkroom?

I took photography in high school, and this was a couple of years before digital had really become a thing. My school had this big, beautiful darkroom where I would spend hours and hours developing pictures, waiting for the images to manifest in the liquid-filled trays, and even days after, I could always smell the chemicals still on my fingertips. I loved everything about the process because it was so sensual: not just sight and smell, but a special kind of silence, paired with the act of feeling your way through the dark, developing spools of film in complete blackness. I have to admit this is one part of the novel that involved very little research. I miss the darkroom so much that really, Marabela’s desire to go back there is my own. It’s really what made her come alive for me, because I didn’t know she was a photographer until the second to last draft. Suddenly, we shared a passion and I felt I understood her, and how she saw the world, so much more clearly.

7. If you were a novelist being interviewed for your own Fresh Ink, what question would you ask her/yourself? (And then please answer!)

One question I was recently asked that I really enjoyed was from a reporter who said he loved the exploration of masculinity and what it entails, particularly because Ignacio, Andres’s son, is a teenager but also on the cusp of being a man. He wanted to know if this was intentional. I was fascinated by the question because I wonder how much of what we write is truly intentional, and does it really matter? Intentional or not, these words and themes still come out of us, sometimes from our subconscious, and the process of writing actually becomes a process of learning about ourselves. So while Ignacio’s struggle with becoming a man is something that I didn’t originally set out to explore, once I noticed it in my drafts it felt very true, and I intentionally left it in. I think in writing there are choices we make, and choices we don’t realize we make, and both teach us something new about ourselves.

Thank you again, Natalia. I am so thrilled to have had you on my blog for this Q&A! 

N_Sylvester-150x150A former magazine editor, Natalia Sylvester now works as a freelance writer in Austin, Texas. Her articles have appeared in Latina Magazine, Writer’s Digest, The Writer, and NBCLatino.com. CHASING THE SUN, partially inspired by family events, is her first novel. Connect with Natalia on Twitter and Facebook and on her blog, too.


Readers…don’t forget to enter the Rafflecopter for your chance to win a copy of Natalia’s book!

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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?



Erika’s All About the Love

Guest House Final CoverI’m delighted to once again welcome my wonderful writer friend Erika Marks to my blog! Erika is one of the first writers I got to know in the Twitter-blogosphere, and we became fast friends over writing, birding, and Maine . . . Erika lives in North Carolina, but she grew up in Maine, very near where I live now. We met in person when she was here last summer, and it was a blast! Two years ago, when I first met Erika, she had just announced the release date of her debut novel LITTLE GALE GUMBOLast fall her second novel THE MERMAID COLLECTOR came out. Today, Erika is here to talk about her third novel THE GUEST HOUSE.

Erika has generously offered to give one lucky commenter a signed copy of THE GUEST HOUSE! You will definitely want to read this book (I loved it and concur with Erika about Cooper!), so please leave a comment by midnight on Saturday (7/13), and I’ll let you know next Sunday if you win!

Please welcome Erika Marks!!



So what’s love got to do with it?

Well, for me, everything.

I know there are many, many life-shattering and world-changing issues that make for incredible stories. I’ve read those stories and I’ve bawled my eyes out and I’ve thought, time and time again, why couldn’t I explore one of those issues in my next novel?

Call me a one-trick pony, but for me, writing always comes back to one topic: love.

Recently, I was on a panel at a book festival and was asked why I had tried writing in so many different genres before finally settling on Women’s Fiction. I had explained that through the course of writing 14 unsold manuscripts (and believe me, there was very good reason they were never sold!), I had tried my hand at possibly every genre out there. You name it, I wrote a book for it. Sci-fi, horror, westerns, Viking romance, time travel, among others. And yet, as different as the genres were, every agent I queried them with always remarked that the strongest element was always the romantic subplot. By manuscript 11, I finally listened and began writing stories that featured romantic relationships as the driving force in the novel.

So what’s so great about writing about love?

What isn’t?

There’s a reason 9 out of 10 songs on the radio are about love*. We’ve all known about love, we’ve all searched for it, we’ve all lost it, and we’ve all, hopefully, found it again.

I’m happy to say that my newest novel, THE GUEST HOUSE, is my most romantic book yet. While there is a bit of mystery in its plot, the core of its story revolves around the love and enduring passion that ties together two rival families at a rambling cottage on Cape Cod, summer after summer.

What amazes me is how each time I sit down to write a novel, I still get that same excitement knowing that I will be creating a new love story with new characters. Even though the course of romance is often a road travelled many times before, I know that each romance will be different, each courtship fresh and unknown because the lovers are fresh and unknown to me before I flesh them out in the story. Sometimes they shock me, sometimes they frustrate me, sometimes they even make me swoon (I’m looking at YOU, Cooper)—and I can say with absolute certainty, that I will NEVER tire of writing love stories, in all their thrilling, confusing, heart-breaking glory.

I certainly hope readers will never tire of reading them.


*Please note: this is not an actual statistic derived from any real source except my own obsessive radio playing in the car. I’m just guessing here.


OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAErika Marks is a native New Englander who was raised in Maine and has worked as an illustrator, carpenter, and cake decorator. She lives in Charlotte, North Carolina, with her husband and their two daughters. THE GUEST HOUSE is her third novel.

Website: erikamarksauthor.com

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/ErikaMarksAuthor

Twitter: https://twitter.com/erikamarksauthr

Blog: http://erikamarks.wordpress.com/


My Name is Ann, and I’m a Foodie

Ann’s food journal and a few of her HUNDREDS of cookbooks

I am so happy today to welcome my friend Ann as a guest to my blog! I met Ann when I first started blogging two years ago. She had a wonderful cooking blog, and I simply loved all the recipes she posted. We became fast friends. Last year Ann retired from blogging, but we still kept in touch and shared photos and recipes. Recently when I wrote a post about my new Moleskinejournal, I found out, in comments, that Ann keeps a very special kind of journal. I asked her if she would write a guest post about it. Being the generous friend she is, Ann agreed without hesitation, and I couldn’t be happier!
Please enjoy this post by my friend Ann!
About two years ago, I stumbled on Julia’s blog and since then, I’ve made a cozy home here as a devoted reader…and never left. Whodathunk?! A writer, who writes about WRITING who is so…interesting…so captivating?!  I figure that’s the hallmark of a talented writer, and Julia certainly is that!  She is positively MADE of awesome! 

My name is Ann and I am a foodie…

Recently, I came to the realization that canning and bread making are a lost art. I decided to take up the mantle and continue both. Happily, I discovered, both online and in person, that there are pockets of folks who think the same, and I am enjoying the old-fashioned culinary arts.

Speaking of old-fashioned…I have to confess that I adore electronics. I have an e-reader, an iPad, an iPhone, a Macbook, and a regular Mac computer. I keep my calendar, address book and just about everything else online. I haven’t bought a paper book in five years. I have, however, purchased 392 ebooks in that time (I checked…).

There is one exception—and to me, it’s an old-fashioned biggie! When it comes to cooking, I want a paper book. I want to touch it, I want to put tabs on marked pages. I write notes in the margins about the recipe and notate any changes I made. I cook 95% of the time from a cookbook and try 3-5 new recipes each week, so this is helpful to me. Did I mention that I have several HUNDRED cookbooks? 
So, here I am, a foodie chatting with a writer…

….who was gifted a Moleskine journal!

Julia and I started a conversation–via the comments section—about MY journal. The conversation quickly moved onto texts so we could chat more. Since I am a woman of limited interest, my journal is a FOOD journal!

I have a beautiful leather-bound journal where I keep my week’s menu, my grocery list and any party planning I do. When I have a party (or do the occasional catering for a friend), I keep a detailed plan, including the menu, timeline for cooking and setting up…even the table or buffet plate placements.

It’s also a resource when I want to re-make a recipe. Rather than search through all the books—which is it’s own kind of fun. I flip through my journal to the time I made the recipe, and I have the title, the date I made it, and what book and page number it’s on!

Flipping through my journal gives me a tremendous amount of pleasure and a great sense of accomplishment. I cheered Julia on with starting a journal…any journal!  Whatever you’re interested in, keeping a record of your time is never a waste of it. I am a richer person because of my little brown leather bound book, and I know Julia will enjoy her new Moleskine.

I also wanted to share another favorite. I think everyone has their favorite cookbook…here is mine! I love thisbook so much that if I’m stranded on a deserted island, THIS is the book I’d take with me!  This book has it all!  I love, LOVE it!  When it doubt, I run home to this book!  (This is not a paid endorsement—I’m a small fry who adores this book—no one’s paying me or twisting my arm, I promise!)

Julia asked if I was willing to make a recipe for you, and I did from my favorite cookbook. I made the classic (dare I say old-fashioned?) Quiche Lorraine. The classics are called that for a reason. This recipe is deceptively simple, but packs a real flavor punch. Rather than take up a bunch of room with the recipe, here’s the link!

…And here are a couple more iPhone shots (just a small sampling!) of what I’ve been canning lately!

Thanks a gazillion, bajillion Julia for letting me guest post on one of my favorite blogs, you really do rock, girlfriend! You rock, too, Ann! I love your journal even more now that I’ve seen the photos, and I love quiche and can’t wait to make the Quiche Lorraine! Your canning photos are wonderful, too…
Please let us know in comments: What’s your favorite recipe or cookbook? Do you keep a journal? Ann and I would love to hear all about your cooking, recipes, cookbooks and journals!

Julia & Ann

Understanding the Unethical?

The writing life. Most of mine is spent sitting in a chair, usually at the dining room table, laptop in front of me with books and papers spread out on either side.
It’s a solitary existence usually with little feedback or reward. In fact, most days my only social contact is with my husband before and after work, online writer friends, sometimes the mailman or UPS guy delivering a box of books, Mr. Appliance who is still fixing my dishwasher, and occasionally coffee with a friend. Oh, and the rejection emails from agents (as I query one of my novels).

Where am I going with this? Well, last Friday I went to see THE WORDS, a new movie about writers. I thought it was excellent, but this is not a movie review, and I won’t give anything away, don’t worry. Let’s just say the movie has to do with a writer who makes a choice. A choice that changes the course of his life. It’s a moral dilemma, an ethical (perhaps more accurately an UNethical) choice. And that choice ripples through his life, naturally.

And it got me thinking. I’ve read (we’ve all read) so many stories lately about sock puppetry, hiring book reviewers to get higher ratings, stealing ideas, plagiarism, making up quotes and creating composite characters. I’m sure I’m missing something. The bottom line is there are writers out there, people out there, who make bad choices. Unethical, illegal, bad decisions about their writing, their careers, their lives.

While some days it’s hard, impossible, for me to understand how a writer could choose to do something unscrupulous to bolster a book or their career, there are other days it’s easier to understand. Don’t get me wrong, I would never, could never do something unethical or immoral, let alone illegal; that’s the stuff of my fiction. But there are those days, when I feel discouraged, when rejections get me down. When nothing I write seems like it will ever see the light of day or even is very good, regardless of the heart and soul I pour into the words. Those days when I hear of unsavory decisions other writers make, especially when I consider the envy I feel, the desire to be published? And if I’m completely honest? 

Those days it at least seems possible to understand the motivation.
What about you? Can you understand the temptation to step over the line? It’s a complex thing, this writing life, the decisions we make, the desires we have, the hours we spend. How do you feel about the unethical choices some writers make? Have you seen THE WORDS? Did you like it as much as I did?


Step Away from the Wi-fi

Photo by Vasile Cotovanu (flickr CreativeCommons)
Two weeks ago, I wrote a post about social networking addiction. You can see it here. At the end of the post I announced there would be a Part 2—more about social networking addiction. But then a funny thing happened. 
I got busy writing. I started writing more and turning off the Internet more. I made a personal decision that when my husband is home or when I’m away from the computer, I won’t check my phone (unless one of our kids calls or texts). Do you know the average person checks his or her cell phone for messages, emails, etc., every ten minutes?

To be honest, I wasn’t even going to write this follow up post (and I felt pretty guilty about it—I said I would write it, and I don’t like reneging on my word). Then something happened to prompt me to write this second part. I was at Target yesterday, and round about when I was in the shampoo aisle, I heard a voice that sounded like a TV show host or a how-to-show host. After a few minutes of hearing it I got curious, figuring it must be a new Target demo or something. But when I turned down the next aisle, all I saw was a little girl (about three years old) in a cart being pushed by her grandma.

And the voice? It was coming from an iPhone the little girl was holding—she was watching videos on youtube (I assumed), glued to the tube, while she was in Target spending time with her grandmother. And here’s what really bothered me. They weren’t interacting at all. Now, lest you think I am being too harsh, that the poor grandma was just distracting the little girl for a few seconds while she picked out a toothpaste. You would be wrong. I kept seeing the two in and out of the same aisles I was in for about fifteen minutes—and only once did I hear them interact—when the little girl said “Look at this, Grandma.” In her only defense, the grandma did look.

I know a little girl watching youtube videos instead of chatting with her grandma at Target is not exactly like a writer being addicted to social networking (nor is it the worst thing in the world, I realize that). But it reminded me once again that sometimes too much of a good thing is, well, too much of a good thing. It reinforced my desire to disconnect more, to stop looking at my phone (or email or Twitter) every ten minutes, to focus on real life at least as much as I focus on online life.

But what I’ve come to realize is that it’s not quite as easy as it might seem. As writers, we spend a lot of time alone, we’re very contemplative and introspective by nature. We don’t all have our grandmas to chat with like that lucky little girl did. And so—even though I know my online “presence” sometimes does interfere with writing—I won’t give up on it completely.

Still, I had to do something. I considered all the great techniques other writers use—left in comments on my first post about social networking addiction, things like: scheduling tweets and posts ahead of time, tweeting and blogging less frequently, slowing down Facebook postings, increasing other non-writing creative endeavors, unplug from the Internet for certain times of day, work outside the house (like at a coffee shop), restrict Twitter to specific times of day and for limited amounts of time, “disappear” (for more prolonged periods) to get writing done, turn off the computer and get away from it, don’t get online after work hours or on the weekends, take a “digital sabbatical,” cut down on the impulse to “check social media nonstop,” step back while the kids are home for summer vacation, don’t get a smart phone.

So last week I started a new routine. When I’m working on my WIP, I turn off the wi-fi. At first I noticed I would still scroll down to check email—I was amazed at how often I tried to check (maybe every ten minutes, go figure)! But after a few days I stopped trying. I remembered that it was writing time. My word count shot up. I started writing at least double what I had been prior to the Internet chill.

Another interesting thing happened, too. It’s easier for me to manage my time in general. I don’t feel as pulled to do a million things at once. In short I’m more focused—which in turn allows me to get even more control over my writing life. And that hopefully will lead me even further down the path to my goal of being a published author.

What about you? Since you read my first post, have you done anything differently to manage your online time? Are you, like I am, trying to limit your iPhone/smart phone time?



Multiple Genre Obsession

This work is in the public domain in the United
States because it was published (or registered with
the U.S. Copyright Office) before January 1, 1923.

I’ve become a bit obsessed with the idea of writing (and reading) in a variety of genres, especially those new to me. For the past week I’ve been trying to figure out how to sum it all up—how to write a post about my new writing obsession. Then today, just when I gave up and decided to write a post about something else, I read Henry Denker’s obituary in the New York Times.

If you’re like me, maybe you don’t know who Henry Denker was (I’m a little sad and a little embarrassed that this is the case, by the way.). The headline grabbed me: Henry Denker, Author in Many Genres, Dies at 99. But if that hadn’t pulled me in, this quote would have:

“A writer should be active in several forms of his trade. Writing is a business and should be practiced as such. On days when you think you can’t possibly write a line you do it anyhow.”

When I read that, I knew I would’ve liked Henry. And the more I read, the more I liked him: Henry had a prolific career, during which he wrote plays, radio scripts, television movies, novels (over 30!), and more. And his writing sounds fascinating and important—I will definitely be checking it out.

But what really struck me about Henry Denker was his versatility as a writer and his interest in writing a variety of genres. Henry Denker and I, we’re cut from the same cloth in this way, because although right now my heart lies with women’s fiction, I’ve also written short stories, picture books, and middle grade novels; I’ve dabbled in ghost stories, romance, and humor. (This doesn’t begin to sum up my nonfiction writing experience, but that’s a horse of another color.)

My current WIP is a modern-cozy mystery. I’m also in the planning stages of a dark romantic-suspenseful women’s fiction novel. But in truth I’m fascinated with writing in other genres, many genres. And I confess the more I read, the more interested I am in writing an even wider variety of fiction.

A few weeks ago I read two books that gave me pause to think….what if? Would I want to try to write something like one of thesebooks, way outside anything I’ve written before?

One was a romance: The Bro-Magnet (A Nice Guy Romance Novel)by Lauren Baratz-Logsted. This novel is told from the male POV. One of the reasons I find this so fascinating is that one of my WIPs has three main characters and two are male, and I’ve been thinking of writing from each character’s POV. This novel made me think outside the box, and I like that. It was a unique and different novel, which I also like. And it was a fast and funny read, too.

The other book was Drawn, by Marie Lamba. I’ll be honest. I started this novel because a sample chapter was available free on Amazon for Kindle. I read the sample chapter and was hooked: it’s about a young woman who moves to England and starts sketching drawings of a “hot ghost” from the 1400s. Yes, this novel is a paranormal YA novel, and it’s only the second YA book I’ve ever read. I rarely even consider reading paranormal books, but I LOVED this book. It absolutely captivated me, and it actually made me think about writing a paranormal and/or a YA novel. I highly recommend it.

Because here’s the thing. As I read in a wider circle, I’ve realized I like writing a variety of fiction. And these two books—and now Henry Denker—made me think that maybe I might expand my “genre writing circle” even more. It also made me realize once again, how much I love writing about almost anythingreally everything.

And then it made me wonder… how many other writers out there are like Henry and me? I’m so curious how other writers—how you—feel about cross genre writing. Are you tempted to write in a variety of genres? And if so, have you written in multiple genres? Or are you true blue to just one? I’m so interested to hear!



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?



The Glamorous Writing Life

One of my blogging/Twitter writer friends, Natalia Sylvester, and I joke about the glamorous writing life—you know the one we all have in all our free time, lounging around and writing in our PJs…eating bonbons, that one. Sometimes I think about that life these days—when I’m deep in a project like I have been recently, because then….

The house goes down the tubes—as the expression goes—like it always does during one of my intense writing sprees. As I worked steadily at the dining room table, toward the final draft of my WIP, each and every one of the other surfaces in the house eventually got covered.

The kitchen table: by whatever came into the house (oh that was also MEH’s—My Engineer Husband’s chosen work at home spot, quite possibly because I’d consumed every other spot). The office “home desk” is covered with bills and incoming mail; my desk in the office is covered with various other writing and research projects. Yet another, a table we use for games, still has a half-finished and very dusty jigsaw puzzle left from my daughter’s last visit home.

This weekend, as I de-cluttered the dining room table and loaded up a file box with all my notes and research folders and everything else from the finished novel, I started cleaning up a little, too. Because when I stopped writing so intensely, I noticed the house was an abject mess. Let me just say, I could never be described as a neat freak…. but I also do not like an overly messy but especially not an overly dirty house. I hate that. Nonetheless, that’s what I have.

It’s one of the (very) few luxuries about having an empty nest: not worrying too much (if at all) about the house being remotely clean. (Don’t ask me about the other luxuries, I don’t write that kind of blog.) We don’t entertain a whole lot; if we see friends we usually meet them somewhere else. That means no one really comes in and out of the house except us. Used to be our kids’ friends’ parents would drop by to pick up their kids from play dates and gasp at the drifting dog hair. In truth this never actually happened at my house but once I picked up my daughter at a friend’s house and was truly shocked, truly, by the large quantities of dog hair drifting by—something I’ve thought of once or twice or every hour as I pondered the near-ankle-deep dog hair in my own dining room. When you have a black lab, like we do, especially in the spring these things happen, or that’s what I told myself…

On Saturday a Furminatorarrived in the mail. (If you don’t know what a Furminator is and you have a dog that sheds, especially a dark coloreddog, you should definitely check it out because “unbelievable results” does not begin to describe this dog brush.) Okay, this is pretty embarrassing…but here goes: we bought ours on rush order by direct instruction from our vet; last week she tested Abby for hypothyroidism because she (the dog, not the vet) had gained some weight and her fur looked “uneven and unkempt,” something that might indicate her thyroid is out of whack. It wasn’t—out of whack—it was because we didn’t have time to brush our dog (and were giving her too many peanut butter treats). The vet called to give me, as she said, the good and the bad news… “Her results are normal. Here’s what I want you to do. No more peanut butter treats and buy a Furminator.” We bought.

But it wasn’t just the dog hair. Laundry was piling up. A lot of it. In fact yesterday when I sorted it all out on the kitchen floor, there were ten loads in all. Don’t judge too harshly. Six of the ten loads were sheets and towels—the kids are coming home and we’re preparing. But it wasn’t even just the laundry.

Every spice I’d used in the last month or so (maybe even since the new year started) was out on the kitchen counter, and I use a lot of spices…. And even the sprinkles I used on MEH’s April Fool’s Day birthday cake had not been put away. To be fair to myself (and MEH, who pulls half the cleaning duties in the house), we did do the basics: washed dishes, loaded and unloaded the dishwasher, took out the trash, washed and wore clean clothes (most days), fed and walked the dog, wiped up spills on the stove, occasionally (very) swept the dried up mud out of the mudroom. But beyond the basics? Not a lot.

And there was a lot to be done. So yesterday I did some cleaning—not all of it but I got a good start—and I’ll admit I feel a lot better: the spices and sprinkles are back in the cabinet, the counter’s cleared off, the jigsaw’s still there (and will be until my daughter is home next month…who knows, maybe she’ll still want to do it…yeah, that’s it) but the rest of the tables got cleared off. We vacuumed the drifts of dog hair in the dining room. Oh, and we “furminated” Abby.

Last night I literally gasped with pleasure as I slid between our clean sheets (nothing more about that! Remember? Not that kind of blog…). This morning I woke up and saw only three loads of laundry lingering on the kitchen floor. Another gasp. And then I knew it was true… I really do lead the glamorous writer’s life.

Today as I sit down to start anew, the fresh and shiny WIP awaiting me on the cleared-off kitchen table, I’ll happily watch the dog hair build around me, the spices congregate on the counter, and the tables fill one by one…. Because in truth, there is no other life I’d pick over this one, not one.



Walking the Line

How do I choose what to blog about? How do you choose?

I read a great post that got me thinking about this (again). Sharon Bially, who blogs at Veronica’s Nap—with a newly-published paperback novel of the same title, has a great series of posts, Promo Tips for Authors. The latest tip: Blog About Something Other Than Writing.

Sharon wrote that as writers, “the broader writing population is not necessarily your book’s target audience,” and more importantly the “…‘writing’ space in the blogosphere is saturated.” She suggests that if you blog about other things (than writing) you’re interested in, specifically promo-friendly topics in your book, you’re “far more likely to draw an audience of potential readers.”

Although I don’t yet have a book to promote, I hope to one day. And I agree with Sharon. When I started my blog, I was focused on “my platform” and getting my name out there. I thought I’d be writing primarily about words (hence the name wordsxo: love of words) and writing. But a funny thing happened as I started to blog: I wrote about everything all over the map—mostly about things important to me, but always with an eye on my audience.

Because as a writer, a journalist to be specific, that’s how I’ve been trained: to be keyed into the audience. To write with my audience in mind. For a magazine or other focused medium, this can be pretty straight forward: a hard news story about world events; a feature story on what to expect when you’re heading to a job interview or taking your child to the first day of school; a “color” story about the wonderful woman around the corner that no one ever realized accumulated millions by being frugal her whole life. For a technical manual: how to use the machine.

But for blogging? The world is our oyster. The sky’s the limit. In its original form a blog or weblog originated as an online diary. We can blog about anything and everything we might imagine.

Or so it would seem. But really? Do we really ever feel free to write what we want? Do you? I don’t. I’m still concerned.

I try not to write about controversial subjects. But is there any way to know for sure that something won’t be controversial to someone?

More, will my readers like what I write? Am I serious enough? Too funny? Or not funny enough? If I post fiction will they like it? Or not? Will I offend someone? Will I get an offensive or hurtful comment? How much is too much to share about me? About my life? My family? Will I be safe? Will I be popular? How many followers will I get?

In the end, will it sell me? My book?

The truth is there is no easy answer, and it’s a personal choice each of us makes each time we post. And me?

I walk the line every day between what I want to write and what I think others want to read.

What about you? Do you think about your audience when you write your posts? Are you concerned about offending readers? Have you ever reconsidered posting something based on how you think it might be perceived?



Are We Competing?

Truman Capote (From Wikimedia Commons)

Note: all statistics in this post are made up. Nothing refers to a real person (except when I talk about myself, Harper Lee, or Truman Capote.)

Sometimes when I look at my “numbers,” I get scared. Am I a good enough blogger? I have 86 blog followers, but she has 229. I have almost 800 followers on Twitter, but he has over 1000. I got 15 comments on my last post, but that blog got 74.

I get more scared when I think of publication: She’s twenty years younger than I am but has 4 books published, and I’ve had only one short story and some essays published. Wait, I try to reassure myself, I used to be a technical writer—do 400-page technical manuals count? He has an agent, and all I have is two unfinished WIPs sitting on my kitchen table.

Before my daughter left to go back to college, we sat down to watch Hey Boo: Harper Lee and To Kill a Mockingbird—a documentary about Harper Lee. To Kill a Mockingbird may be my daughter’s all-time favorite book, and we’d been waiting all summer for Hey Boo to come out on Netflix DVD. I was so happy it came before she left!

And it was a great movie—I think I may have actually liked it more than anyone else. Maybe because it talked so much about how Harper Lee wrote the book: her writing style, her writing life, her avoidance of the fame the book brought her, her fears and her insecurities. The fact that Harper Lee never has written another book since.

In an interview this year with the Daily Telegraph, one of her close friends said Lee told him she never wrote another book for two reasons:

“…one, I wouldn’t go through the pressure and publicity I went through with To Kill a Mockingbird for any amount of money. Second, I have said what I wanted to say and I will not say it again.”

But more than that, what struck me as the most interesting part of the movie was Harper Lee’s friendship with Truman Capote. I knew the two were friends, but I never realized they grew up next door to one another in Monroeville, Alabama. I also didn’t realize that the character Dill, in To Kill a Mockingbird, was inspired by Truman Capote. And further, Harper Lee inspired a character in Truman Capote’s novel Other Voices, Other Rooms.

Harper Lee receives the PresidentialMedal of Freedom
in 2007. I’m guessing Truman Capote would have
been jealous of this, too. (From Wikimedia Commons)
The two remained friends for many years—in fact Lee went with Capote to Kansas to help him research material for what would become In Cold Blood. But their friendship soured. In Hey Boo, Lee’s sister said after Lee won the Pulitzer Prize Capote was consumed with jealousy.

I’ve thought a lot about the movie: about writers’ friendships and competition and about publicity—something that I certainly hope to have some of (if one of those WIPs on the kitchen table is ever published) but the movie made me wonder: how much is too much?

Are we as writers competing on a daily basis—for blog readers? On Twitter for followers? For a spot in the limited marketplace? A share of the spotlight? And—like Truman Capote with Harper Lee—are we also competing against each other? Or could Truman Capote have been as insecure as I sometimes feel?

It’s a paradox because my favorite part, hands down, of blogging is the writer friends I’ve made, and I certainly root when each of my friends has a victory: lands an agent, publishes a short story, sees a debut novel in print. But deep down, am I envious? If I watched a writer friend win a Pulitzer Prize would I ever be so envious or so jealous, like Truman Capote, to end a friendship?

Really Truman? Isn’t there enough to go around?
How about you? Do you look at your “numbers”? Do you compare? Do you ever feel like you’re competing with other writers? For blog readers? For publication? For numbers in social media? What would it take? The Pulitzer Prize? Would you or have you ever ended a friendship because you were jealous about a writer friend’s success?


Is Anyone Out There Listening?

It was a beautiful moonlit night

With all writing, you throw things out to see what sticks, if anyone connects with it. Usually for us as writers it’s a blog post, an article, maybe a book (if we’re lucky). We wait and we find out if it was a good idea—if anyone out there is reading what we write.

But sometimes it’s literal, you really throw it out there—like if you’re communicating via a message in a bottle thrown into the Atlantic Ocean.

Such it was that last Friday night, by beautiful moonlight, MEH (My Engineer Husband), MOD (My Outstanding Daughter) and I found ourselves in the car under the cloak of darkness. We had a mission: throw three bottles containing messages into flowing bodies of water leading to the Atlantic Ocean.

Just the words message in a bottle conjure up a romantic vision….not to mention they’ve inspired songs like the 1979 hit “Message in a Bottle”  by The Police; short stories like “MS. Found in a Bottle” by Edgar Allan Poe; and of course the book (and subsequent movie) by Nicholas Sparks, Message in a Bottle.

Legend and Wikipedia have it that the first known message in a bottle was released around 310 BC by Greek philosopher Theophrastus—as part of an experiment on water flow.

I was curious, what would happen if I did the same thing? Would I ever hear anything back? Would bottles get lost or end up as seaglass on some near or far beach? 

MOD generously agreed to help me with this “fun activity.” For our experiment, to ensure best success, I purchased three clear glass bottles with screw on tops. Okay, in the interest of full disclosure, I’ll admit I bought the two cheapest bottles of wine I could find at Trader Joes (plus one bottle of “fizzy water”). Suffice to say we enjoyed the contents.
If you see one of these bottles on a beach near
you, please let me know! 
I wrote three identical messages and put one into each of the bottles, then wrote on the outside of the bottles in black permanent marker and in pink nail polish: “Message in Bottle” and 

“Open Message.”

Friday night we started making the rounds, first to a harbor at a river mouth. We stood at the end of the public dock and I flung the bottle in. Unfortunately tide was coming in, so the bottle immediately started flowing toward me. Not exactly encouraged, we moved locations, to the bridge overlook (where we take the videos each week). This spot had much deeper water, but was problematic because we had to stop in the middle of the bridge.

Traffic was light (actually we probably saw two other cars the whole time we were out), and MEH stopped mid-bridge. I got out and flung the bottle into the dark water below. MOD hunched in the backseat, not wanting to be seen. I offered MOD the opportunity to throw the bottle, but she declined:

“No, Mom, I don’t want to be arrested for littering. I don’t want a record for my medical school application.” (MOD wants to be a doctor.)

Just as I threw the bottle, MEH said: “I hope it doesn’t hit a seal.” And then he yelped.

Gales of laughter filled the car as I got back in. (You had to be there; take my word for it, it was pretty funny at the time.)

Our last stop was a small point where boats are harbored, where there’s also a public dock. MEH and I walked out onto the dock. This time MEH did the deed and flung the bottle out into the darkness. MOD stayed off the dock, pretending to be involved with texting a friend (okay, she may have actually been texting a friend since this is an almost-continuous activity for college students).

As I watched the bottles, one after another, floating toward us, I thought about the irony of communicating with someone via such an ancient method during this electronic era—and decided that Theophrastus and me, we’re on the same wavelength.

The bottles flowed toward us, so fortunately our
message is not as dire as if we were shipwrecked!
But not just Theophrastus; I join a long line of other famous and well-known bottle messengers, including: Christopher Columbus, the British Navy during World War I, and a group of 88 shipwrecked migrants who in 2005 were rescued off the coast of Costa Rica after they placed an SOS message into a bottle.

Fortunately my message isn’t so dire. Honestly, I’m just plain interested in whether or not anyone will find it and how far it might travel. It’s such a romantic notion—to toss a sealed bottle with a note into the ocean and have it travel to somewhere far away and have someone you don’t even know, on a far away beach, find it and read its contents. What’s not to love? 

Stay tuned to find out what happens!

Have you ever sent a message in a bottle? What happened? What other non-electronic communication methods fascinate you? Have you considered trying them and then blogging about them?

And for us as writers? Do you, like me, ever feel like blogging and writing for the Internet is almost like throwing a bottle out into the ocean? Do you ever wonder if anyone is listening?



What’s Your Writer’s Dream?

Guess who Meredith is talking to!?

This week one of my big writer’s dreams ended. You know, the carried-away dreaming we pre-published writers do about what it will be like when our book is published?

One of my biggies was dashed yesterday with Meredith Vieira’s retirement from the Today Show—following closely on the heels of Oprah Winfrey’s last show. Because for me, the dream was to be interviewed by Oprah and Meredith about my book

I know, it sounds pretty lame (even to me) when I actually write it down, but it’s true: I have always hoped, dreamed (dare I say fantasized!) that I would one day be interviewed by one (or both!) of these women!

And here’s how it would have gone down:

(After the introductory applause died down on Oprah or on the Today Show Matt and Ann and Natalie and Al all finished congratulating and hugging me….)

Oprah/Meredith: I cannot tell you how much I loved your book!

Me: Really? Thank you so much!

O/M: It gave me such insight, it really touched me. You have no idea. It taught me so much about myself and yet it was so entertaining! I couldn’t put it down.  (And then Oprah would of course do the ugly cry and Meredith would lean over and pat me on the knee, smiling with pursed lips, tears in her eyes.)

Me: Thank you so much! (smiling like an idiot)

O/M: Where do you get your ideas? Is this based on your own life?

Me: Well, not really…. (smiling like an idiot)

O/M: How are you handling the fame? How do you like being at the center of attention?

Me: Ummmmm….. (smiling like an idiot)

O/M: What’s next? Apparently Meryl Streep is talking about producing a big blockbuster movie, and you’re writing the screen play?

Me: I know, right? (smiling like an idiot)

O/M: Thank you so much for joining us today—are you free for lunch so we can continue this fascinating conversation? And, will you be my new best friend?

Me: Of course!

Guess who Oprah is waving (regretfully) at?
And then the three of us: Meredith, Oprah, and I head off to have a lovely lunch together….which of course would forge a lifelong beautiful friendship with these two women who undoubtedly would come and spend long weekends in Maine—not for the natural beauty of the landscape and the relaxation of the sea, but to see moi!

But it’s not to be. And now it’s time to say goodbye to the dream. And maybe, just maybe…after replaying this interview in my mind, it’s a good thing, too!

What’s your big writer’s dream? And, if you’re already a published author, please tell me what your dreams are, how they differ from before you were published, and how those pre-published dreams stacked up to reality!



Are You a Comfy Writer?

The Writer's Desk
The Writer’s Desk

By guest blogger Milli Thornton

The Writer’s Desk by Jill Krementz features 58 black-and-white photos of writers either at their desks or working in a favorite spot—such as Veronica Chambers sitting cross-legged on her kitchen counter working on her laptop. Each photo comes with fascinating thoughts from the writer on where and how he or she likes to work.

By far my most favorite is the picture of William Maxwell (1908-2000) sitting at his electric typewriter. Wearing two undershirts, white pajamas and a checkered robe, Maxwell leans on his elbow and stares unimpressed at the camera, embodying the seasoned writer.

In the photo he appears to be in his eighties, but his pajama habit did not stem from age. When Maxwell retired from The New Yorker they offered him an office to write in, which he said was generous since they were short on space. As fiction editor for forty years, I’m sure they felt he had earned it. He ultimately decided he had no use for a perk that would require him to put on his trousers and ride the subway downtown to his typewriter.

Maxwell explained how he habitually wrote at home in his sleeping gear until lunchtime. Everyone from the elevator man in his apartment building to the delivery boy from Gristedes was accustomed to seeing him like that.

“You can have me after I’ve got my trousers on,” he says in the book, “but not before.”

I might word it a little more delicately but I agree. Being a highly sensitive person (HSP) with a dash of sensory defensiveness, I have an issue with clothing in general. I’ve ruined new clothes trying to unpick the label because I can’t bear the feeling of it on my neck. I never wear jeans to write in—they cut off my circulation. (I never wear items that require ironing, but that’s another story.)

Hello Kitty writes with me in the winter
Hello Kitty writes with me in the winter

Pj’s are my ultimate comfort choice for writing. Whenever I do force myself to get dressed, the offending articles must pass the “Can I sit all day at my desk wearing this?” test.

In honor of this post, I’m clad in my Simply Vera Wang spring/summer/fall jammies that I got for a song during a Kohl’s sale. Both the design and fabric are heavenly . . . I always feel better the instant I shed my day clothes and slip into the stretchy top and pants.

Like Julia, who coined the term, I keep a dry-witted MEH (My Engineer Husband) around the house. He works at home like I do so he sees how late I get dressed. And I sometimes change back into my Vera Wangs so soon after dinner, MEH will joke, “New wardrobe?”

Aspiring novelist Susan Smith of the San Antonio area is passionate on this subject and believes pajamas help her get more writing done.

“Why do I write in my pajamas?” she said. “Besides my jammies being so darned comfortable (I am one of those people who has to munch to be creative so a relaxed waistband is a must), I think it has to do with the mindset of putting the usual chores of the day to one side.

“When I get up in the morning but don’t get out of my jammies, it’s like I’m saying ‘no’ to the whole mundane mess that normally consumes my daythe cleaning, the cooking, the laundry, the bills, the phone calls, and so on. If I’m not dressed for any of this, I certainly can’t do any of it, and since I can’t do any of it, then the only thing I can do is write. Twisted logic, to be sure, but it works for me.”

@IQOkie's writing robe
@IQOkie’s writing robe

Her favorites are “a terrific pair of worn-out flannels with teddy bears and glow-in-the-dark stars on them.”

Writer @IQOkie from Tricia Sutton’s Blog, who admits she’s “prone to comic misadventure,” became my hero after she appeared in her bio pic on my Fear of Writing blog wearing what she calls her writing robe. I had never contemplated having myself published wearing jammies, but after seeing Tricia’s couragenay, nonchalancein this department, I decided I could follow bravely in her footsteps and be on the Internet in my Hello Kitty winter jams.

During an intimate email interview @IQOkie had this to share: “My summer writing attire is very loose clothing. Bra optional, though I usually option not. The robe is my winter attire, even if I’m wearing street clothes underneath. I’m cold bloodeda reptileand a sweater is too light and a jacket too bulky. A robe is just right.”

Hear, hear, baby bear.

Are you a comfy writer? Or can you write in fashionable attire without a thought for comfort? What is the most bizarre thing you’ve ever worn to write in?


Milli ThorntonMilli Thornton is the author of Fear of Writing: for writers & closet writers. She is owner of the Fear of Writing Online Course, where her mission is to put the fun back into writing. Milli blogs at Milliver’s Travels and the Fear of Writing Blog, and coaches writers at Writer’s Muse.

2 Truths and a Lie

Are you a writer who has quirks? Superstitions? Or unusual habits? If so, you’re in very good company. Many well-known authors have some unusual writing and/or life habits or experiences (or so they say, I wonder).

§ Benjamin Franklin reportedly wrote in his bathtub. (He’s also credited for bringing the first bathtub to America.)

§ Every morning John Cheever got up, put on a suit, then took an elevator to the basement storage area of his building, where he would strip down to his boxers, then write until lunch. Then? You guessed it: suit back on, back upstairs, ate lunch. After? Yep, back down to the basement!

§ Isabel Allende starts every book on January 8, the same day she started writing her debut novel THE HOUSE OF SPIRITS.

§ Alexander Dumas wrote on different colored paper, depending on what he was writing: pink for non-fiction, blue for fiction, yellow for poetry.

§ Vladimir Nabokov wrote most of his novels on index cards.

§ Dan Brown keeps an hourglass on his desk and, at the end of every hour does calisthenics.

§ Poet William Wordsworth recited his poetry to his dog as he walked. If his dog barked or seemed agitated by what he read, Wordsworth would rewrite the poem.

§ Everyday before writing, P.G. Wodehouse ate the same breakfast of toast and honey or marmalade, a slice of coffee cake, and a mug of tea; as he ate, he read a “breakfast book” like a Rex Stout or an Ngaio Marsh mystery.

§ Novelist Richard Powers writes in bed, speaking his novels aloud to a laptop computer with voice-recognition software.

As I researched the information for this blog, here’s what I realized: most writers—heck, most people—have quirks and habits that would seem weird to other people….but are they true? Who knows! Because, as much as I want to believe these and other facts about writers I found on the Internet, the Internet is not always the most reliable source of information. So who knows if any of these things I just said are true!? Kind of reminds me of that game: two truths and a lie, you just never know.

I do know that if/when I get a book published, in order to get maximum publicity, I will make up the most outrageous story I can about my writing quirks and habits. Because hey, everyone can use some free publicity, right Ben Franklin?

Just to get ready, here I go again! (Even though yesterday I blogged with 7 things about me, and you might already know more about me than you really need to.) Two truths and a lie:

§ I once dined on barbecued hippopotamus on the banks of the Nile River. Tasty!

§ In Kenya, flying ants are considered a delicacy, and when I lived there, I ate a live flying ant. Delish!

§ When I took vertebrate zoology, the professor provided a cookbook for the animals we dissected. Yum!

Can you pick out which thing was a lie? What quirky things do you want to be remembered for? What are two truths and a lie about you?



From Julius with Love

I’ve learned a lot since I started blogging, most of it good, but one thing I’ve learned stands out as a man among men. Not figuratively but literally. Because—wait for it—I write like a man.

For some reason I seem to have the old Frankie Valli song “Walk like a man” running through my head when I write about this, but anyway, in one of my recent blogs, I mentioned that in a future blog I would explain “why and how I know I write like a man.” In a response to that, I got one of the sweetest comments ever from Cynthia Robertson, a blogging tweeting friend, when she said:

“…What do you mean you write like a man? You write like Julia. One of a kind Maine girl. Perfect.”

I know, sweet, right? (In this case, especially the part about me being a girl!)

In the interest of full disclosure, I must tell you, however, that I only write fiction like a man. Blogging? Like a woman. (So maybe I better send Cynthia a sample of my fiction so she can comment on that….)

Anyway, it doesn’t completely take away the sting of the reality. For one thing, even admitting I write like a man—doesn’t that make you wonder who I really am? I mean there’s always the fear in the back of all our minds that we don’t really know who’s on the other end of the Internet connection we’ve gotten to know.

Am I really “Julia, one of a kind Maine girl,” or am I perhaps “Julius, one of a kind 16-year-old-kid hammering away at his laptop in the dark basement of his parent’s home”? I assure you it’s the former….but I’m just saying…we never do really know.

I know what you’re thinking—this wacky babe still hasn’t explained how she even knows that she writes like a man. What is this kooky chick talking about? When I first started on Twitter, way back about what feels like a hundred years ago (but is in actuality only a little over 3 months), I saw a link to a website that would tell me if I wrote like a man or a woman.

At that site, you paste in at least 500 words of your writing, and voila, you find out if you write like a man or a woman. Now on the surface, this may sound like an arbitrary ruling…man vs. woman. How do “they” know?

Well apparently a team of Israeli scientists wrote a computer software program that predicts an author’s sex (with 80% accuracy). According to the developers, women are more comfortable and more likely to be “involved” in their talking, thinking and writing, like about relationships (using more pronouns). Men like to be “informational” in the way they write—about things (using more words that identify nouns, like a, the, that or one, two, more).

Kind of the whole Mars-Venus thing again.

But why does it really bother me? It’s one more way for me to question my writing. If I write like a man, will others—for example publishers and agents—not look twice at me? Will they start to read and think: “This woman writes like a man, feh to her!” Then fling my manuscript to the dark corner of her (or his!) office?

Maybe I’m “too straightforward and informational” as a writer? For years I wrote technical manuals and user guides, writing informational information for informative purposes. Is this the reason? Is it something I can be trained to not do? Maybe go to a de-programming school somewhere to figure out how to get in touch with my female-writing-brain?

Or maybe there’s a support group for gals like me: “Hi, my name is Julia, and I write like a man…”

Or maybe it’s just the way I write, my style, my voice, okay man? When I blog: woman. When I write fiction: man. It’s just how this wacky babe, chick, gal, girl, woman rolls.

How about you? Man or Woman? Do you have the conjones (or is it ovaries?) do find out? Here’s a link to the Gender Genie…let me know!



Refreshing the Writing Life

This weekend I stepped away from the computer. Saturday morning we drove to Bailey Island, and whenever I travel along the Maine coast, I inevitably think of Robert McCloskey, the famous children’s book writer and illustrator. Although he was born in Ohio and lived much of his life in Massachusetts then New York, he summered in Maine and eventually moved here.

A double Caldecott Medal winner (for Make Way for Ducklings and Time of Wonder), McCloskey wrote and drew what he knew: small town life and people and, yes, even ducklings. Three of his most memorable books for me are Homer Price, One Morning in Maine, and Blueberries for Sal—and may even be partially responsible for making me want to move to Maine.

Lobster boats with traps on raft, in foreground
Two of these books take place in Maine. And although Homer Price was written about his hometown in Ohio, I think it was also influenced by Maine life, scenery, and people, too. I can really relate to its small town feel.

Bailey Island is 15 miles away as the crow flies, but a 50 minute drive—first north, then down a peninsula, across several islands, and eventually ending up further south than we started! The Maine coastline is like that. I know weird, right? But, more importantly, it feels like a lifetime away. I know what you’re thinking: how cliché. Yes, very. But also very true.

Lobster trap buoys
Alongside the huge new vacation houses and shiny new boats, we also saw the tools of the trade that have been the same for decades: the lobsters are still trapped the same way, the boats still bob in the harbors, the traps and buoys are stacked outside lobstermens’ houses, and the signs of the sea are all around—even a mermaid weather vane atop a barn.

A statue at Land’s End:
“A Memorial to All Maine
Fishermen who have
devoted their lives to the sea”
Just like in McCloskey’s books, children marveled at nature: climbing the rocks, running down to the sea at the small beach at Land’s End (as it’s called), at the tip of Bailey Island. As I stood there, with the salt wind and sun on my face, I could well imagine Homer Price or Sal standing right next to me, watching a man row a small rowboat out to an island, just like 100 years ago and more.

Robert McCloskey wrote about humanity, with settings in small towns, about people going about their daily lives and jobs. By driving those 50 minutes, we transported ourselves from a small room connected to the world via the Internet, into Robert McCloskey’s world, with life all around. And it reminded me that great stories and joy can be found in everyday life, as simple as a young girl collecting blueberries or seashells, a boy cooking donuts, or a man rowing a rowboat.

The small beach at Land’s End, Bailey Island, Maine
I returned to my computer this morning, with a rich personal experience to add to my writing—connected to a slice of real life on Bailey Island and connected to a great writer I admire. I returned to my computer as refreshed as the salty fresh air I breathed on Land’s End.

Who are the writers you admire? Have you ever visited a place that they wrote about or that reminded you of them? What do you do to refresh yourself and your writing?