Road Trip

“Do one thing every day that scares you.” – Eleanor Roosevelt

Words haven’t come easy these last months.  I’ve struggled to simply hang on, to perform routine jobs – household projects, tasks at work – seeking a sense of normalcy in a suddenly abnormal world.  Other than two valued meetings, my once bright realm of writing dimmed into darkness.

Country Highway

But recently, out of the night shadows a plan slipped in that might help awaken my creative soul.  I decided to go on an adventure.   I would take a road trip.

So, early Friday morning I brewed strong coffee, grabbed suitcase and snacks, and climbed into the Honda Accord.  It was my husband’s car, the one he used on his daily commute.  Driving it, I still felt his warm presence.  I gave Ingrid her coordinates then began my journey across the vast green of Pennsylvania and beyond.  A three-day weekend lay ahead.

Over rivers and rolling farmland, through the turnpike’s mountain tunnels – Blue Mountain, Kittatinny, Tuscarora, Allegheny – I drove west toward Pittsburgh.  A quick stop at a service plaza netted farm-fresh peaches and a jar of homemade pear butter.  Occasionally I’d turn on the radio, scanning local stations.  Mostly I drove in comfortable silence keeping company with thoughts and memories.

Cathedral of Learning

As I neared Pittsburgh, partially cloudy skies greyed.  Ingrid guided me into the city and through the proper turns while rain splashed down.  The downpour didn’t last long.  By the time I reached my son’s apartment it was dwindling to a drizzle.

He’s a Pitt student, my middle son, as was his father’s father.  So after I toured his apartment we drove toward the University and parked.  We ate lunch at The Porch on Schenley then strolled over to the Cathedral of Learning, built during the early part of the 20th century in part by dimes collected by the nuns from area school children.  It’s a magnificent structure filled with beauty and knowledge.  My son showed me where he’ll attend classes and hear lectures this fall.  Together we walked around campus and I bought Pitt t-shirts – 2 for $12 at a corner street kiosk.  Too soon time ran short so we made plans for Sunday then hugged and parted.

I continued on my road trip, toward Cleveland and a Saturday writers’ workshop just south of the city.  It was the timing and location that first tempted me into registering for NEORWA’s one-day workshop.  It fit well with my needs, I thought, and might motivate me to begin writing again.  It was all that and more.

From 9 am until 5 pm on Saturday, prolific Texas author Candace Havens spoke to a group of 60+ writers on a myriad of writing topics.  She talked about goals, plotting, and brainstorming.  She gave a thrilling talk about Fast Draft – a way to generate the first draft of a novel in two weeks by writing 20 pages a day.  She discussed Michael Hague’s six-step plot structure, and Jim Butcher’s story arc. We broke for lunch and conversation with fellow writers.  The workshop continued into the afternoon –  “Revision Hell,” branding, marketing, and building an image in the marketplace.  An incredibly rich, motivating day.

Pitt Panther

On Sunday morning I drove back to Pittsburgh where I once more met with my son.  This time we enjoyed a full and varied Sunday breakfast buffet at Joe Mama’s on Forbes Avenue.  Under blue skies and sunshine, we again strolled around campus.  Then, as on Friday, all too soon it was time to part.

The drive east went smooth, despite heavy Sunday traffic and occasional summer road construction.  Two-thirds of the way home, I detoured down to the National Cemetery near Annville to visit my beloved’s grave.  The section where he rests isn’t filled so the sod is not yet laid.  The brown, barren ground around the granite stones gives it a stark appearance.  But that didn’t diminish the power of the site. For a long while, I stood in silent conversation then strolled back to the car.

I arrived home late evening.  It was a good trip for many reasons.  The open highway in fair weather brought some peace.   I cherished the visits with my son. I enjoyed NEORWA’s writers’ workshop and new writing friends made there.  I savored the warmth of memories relived.

And somewhere, along the way, a seed for a new story miraculously germinated and is taking root.   ♥

A New Year

It’s Sunday, January 9th, and my house is still decorated for Christmas.   I got a late start.  When I finally got around to decorating, I scattered seasonal décor with a light hand.  Instead of a 6-foot tree, I set up a table tree in our bay window.  Elsewhere our Christmas stockings, my Jim Shore Santas, two red poinsettias, and a bunch of candles spread holiday cheer in our home.  With the sparkle of the tree lights and glow of the candles, it was enough.

Now, even though Christmas is more than two weeks gone, I’m not ready to put it all away.  Call it the afterglow.  I’ve always loved reading through holiday cards and letters after the holiday.  Just as precious are the late arrivals that season our mailbox between Christmas and the New Year.  I take time to enjoy my new gifts, especially the books and CDs, bath and body products, and assorted kitchen gadgets. I love wearing my Santa socks, and posting new pictures of babies and toddlers on our refrigerator.

Still, there is a time to put it all away and bring in the New Year.  Just not yet.

In the spirit of welcoming 2011 though, as I hung my new calendar I made a few resolutions.  Mostly they pertain to health and writing.  I WILL continue to eat healthy and to lose a few more pounds. I WILL finish my latest book by April 1st.  And I WILL blog weekly.

This last resolution caught me by surprise.  It came in response to a challenge posted on, challenging us to increase our blogging time.  WP suggested we blog daily, or weekly.  I knew I’d never make the daily gig.  It’s enough for me to scribble a few more paragraphs on my book each day.  But a weekly blog?  Still, I have a good friend who’s been doing just that since she set up her blog in 2008 and she’s now published.  It’s about putting commitment and scheduling into one’s mindset.  A good idea.

So, dear reader, watch for a new blog each week.  Come summer, watch for an even healthier me.  And finally this spring, watch for word of a finished book.  My resolutions are lofty ones so could you please send a few positive thoughts my way?  I’ll hold your hand, if you hold mine.

Now, if I hang some hearts from the branches of my small tree, do you think I can keep it up until Valentine’s Day? 

Book in a Week

Reading about the RWA Kiss of Death Chapter‘s online Book in a Week (BIAW) gave me a tingle.   The timing looked perfect. It would start on Post-Thanksgiving Monday, a work holiday for me.  I haven’t written much this year.  Could be a much needed jump start.

Registering was easy enough.  So was reading the KOD online article archive.  Patricia Rosemoor graciously hosted Sunday’s pre-workshop.  Motivating!

On Monday morning, I rose early.  Of course, before I could start writing I had some chores to finish from the weekend but they wouldn’t take long.

When I finally sat down at my computer, I stared at a blank screen.  No surprise.  Despite Sunday’s strongly worded advice, I still had no inkling what storyline I wanted to pursue.  As a historical writer, I wasn’t even sure about the time period.  I took a deep breath, grabbed my coat, and flew out to visit some thrift stores.

Sometime around 1:30 pm, hunger called.  I pulled into a diner parking lot then picked up my purse and one of the books I’d just bought as an aid to motivation.  Inside, as I waited for my salad, November’s sun poured through the window. I flipped open the pages of the suspense and started reading.  Along with my delicious salad, I was soon wolfing down the story.  It had been ages since words tasted so good!

A long time later, I walked back out to my car.  An idea began to emerge. (Cue Alleluia music!)

Yesterday I wrote just over 2,300 words.  I’m posting this in my blog because I need to share, to shout it aloud.  I’m writing the post on my lunch hour so I’ll have tonight free to devote to my story.  Feels good to say that again.

Wish me well. 

Bucks County

On a Saturday afternoon in May my husband and I drove to Lake Nockamixon State Park in Bucks County.  Hand-in-hand we strolled the lake’s shoreline gazing at sailboats and ducks.  Pleasurable talks, pleasurable silences.  Later, we drove down picturesque country roads.  At a “T” formed where Highway 563 meets 412, we discovered OwWowCOW Creamery, an extraordinary ice cream shop.   A much-needed, most quiet adventure.

It was around this time that I read of an upcoming event sponsored by Bucks County Romance Writers.  An editor and two literary agents were taking part in a BCRW Chapter Special  Event. With memories of my peaceful lake visit still fresh, I registered.  As the deadline drew near, I dutifully sent off the first page of my manuscript.

The premise of this event is that a panel of publishing professionals, in this case Silhouette Editor Patience Smith, and Literary Agents Chasya Milgrom and Anne Hawkins, read the first pages of those attending.  Each then gives a brief review.

Another adventure awaited me, alone this time.  No, not alone.  Like my writing, my characters had been hibernating.  Today, as I drove south on Highway 412 and into the heart of Bucks County, they stirred and began to mutter.   Over a superb Chicken Waldorf salad at Catherine’s Restaurant, I skimmed old notes and added new.  Later, during the meeting, they awoke and began to speak.

Thank you, Bucks County RW, for providing this opportunity for your fellow writers.  And, thanks especially to Patience Smith, Chasya Milgrom, and Anne Hawkins, for your remarkable insight into such a diverse range of stories.  Like the May adventure, I needed this day.  I’m sure others did, too. 

My Darlin’ Clementine

I never saw myself as heavy, but I was.  Birthing three babies and cooking & baking for my growing family, sampling as I cooked, put on pounds.  End-of-day munchies and after-dinner snacks invited small fat cells to grow bigger.  But as I aged, even though I shopped for clothes in the Woman’s Department, no longer in Misses, I never viewed myself as overweight, or as…obese.  (What a nasty word!)  Maybe it was ego, or arrogance, but I did nothing about my weight gain, except shop for more clothes to disguise my bulges. (Another nasty word).

Humans weren’t meant to be sedentary slugs.  We were meant to be active, to use food as nutritional fuel, not to store it as excess fat.  When we carry too many bloated fat cells, the body (the mind also I think) ultimately revolts.  Finally, my body grew too tired, too sick, to keep on as it was.  That led me to my first real diet since age 21.

Diet is another nasty word.   So is the term fad diets.  They just don’t make sense.  Too many folks lose pounds then gain them back when they return to real life.  Yo-yo dieters.  Keeping weight off calls for a permanent lifestyle change, one I knew I must make.  I discovered the key in one word – moderation.

I started my change in deep winter, when I most longed to settle indoors, gorging on rich, homemade beef stew, well-buttered dinner rolls, and home-baked chocolate chip cookies followed by a big bowl of vanilla ice cream.  I think it might have been easier to start in the spring, when fresh air and sunshine cries out for activity.

Like others before me, I made a spreadsheet.  On it, I charted everything I ate, every last morsel, and included its calorie count and nutritional value.  1,200 to 1,500 calories a day.  I wrote it all down.  It often took me longer to chart, often looking up nutritional data, than it did to eat.

They say it takes 21 days to form a new habit.  I logged in my food intake for just about three weeks.  A real chore but by then I’d gained a handle on what I could and could not eat in a day.  Although I now no longer chart my calories, I seem to know how much, and what, I can safely eat.

Fruit is my salvation.  I miss homemade chocolate chip cookies until I bite into a juicy sweet, 35-calorie, Clementine orange.

So far I’ve lost over 30 pounds.  Slow and steady.  More to go, lots more, but I don’t think about that.  This is how I must live.  No other options.  Someone once said Nothing tastes as good as being thin feels!”.  While I’m not yet thin, doubtful I’ll ever be really thin, each day I’m happy to simply FEEL better.  Shopping is more fun, too.   So many more options in the Misses Department!

I hope you will share some thoughts and experiences with your own lifestyle changes.

When Worlds Meet

Conferences stimulate. And sometimes they surprise.

For my day job, I attended the annual PAEOP “Reach for the Stars” Conference in State College, PA.  As I sat down in a workshop given by Pamela Posey, President of the National Association of Educational Office Professionals, I expected simply to gather pointers that would help me in my job.  Pamela’s accent, an intriguing blend of southern Illinois and Mississippi, guided us through goal setting.  Unexpectedly, I heard her quote a familiar name.   “Margie Lawson,” she said.   Surreal.

As an educational secretary I probably would not know of Margie Lawson.  But writers of romance know her and stand in awe.  Her Deep Edits system has breathed life into countless novels.   A few years ago I attended an all-day workshop Margie presented at an event sponsored by the New Jersey Romance Writers. It was grueling.  Six hours of Deep Edits and other wisdom left me feeling whipped and wrung dry.  I drove home knowing I’d run a marathon.  But my writing improved.  God bless Margie, and other such giving writers.

I try not to mix my “gotta save for retirement” job with my career as a writer.  I lead a double life in separate worlds.   When I leave work at 4:30 or 5:00 pm each day, I eagerly shed my office skin and don my writer’s identity.  My alter ego.  Call it a need.

But yesterday, when I heard Margie Lawson’s name, my two worlds met and momentarily merged.  The experience was…interesting.

Near the end of the conference, I sat in on a roundtable discussion with other office professionals who work in offices similar to mine.  For the opening exercise we wrote on slips of paper — “some secret that few people know about me.”   The folded slips were gathered.  We then each chose someone else’s secret and tried to guess who at the table had written it.  I wrote on my slip “I write romance novels.”  It felt good. 


Spring is here. Last week I saw my first robins.  On Wednesday,yellow-flowers-0042 a volunteer from the American Cancer Society delivered bunches of daffodils for their annual fundraiser – Daffodil Days.  On Friday, the letters in the google header were shaped like pieces of fruit with a hungry caterpillar eating his way through.  This morning, as I walked through our yard, I saw that the forsythia and weigela now bear tiny buds.   The air has a new smell today, a fragrant fresh scent enjoyed but once a year.  All sure signs that spring is here.

It is fitting that our youngest son chose March 21st for his westward move.  A time of change, of rebirth.  Late this afternoon he leaves for California, flying 2,849 miles across the country to seek his fortune in his chosen field.  Our oldest son and his spouse live there, loved ones to welcome and watch over him for a spell, to acclimate him to his new city.  To provide a roof and bed until he finds his own place.  I’m glad they’ll be together.

We give them roots to grow, and wings to fly.   But it is still a bittersweet time for us.  He’s so happy about the move.  It’s what he wants, what he needs.  But must the country be so very wide?

yellow-flowers-012His move has spurred a wave of spring de-cluttering in our house.  He’s lived away since college but, like many, left rooms filled with remnants of his youth.  We’ve been cleaning, sorting, making way for other remnants he’s accumulated and has now hauled home from his nearby apartment.  Things he wants shipped once he’s established, or stored until…whenever.  Surprisingly, it’s all given me a new energy.  Energy to clean.

Energy to write.  I find myself once more waking in the middle of the night with thoughts of manuscripts yet unfinished, of characters who cry out to be heard.  I stumble to my computer and my fingers fly.   Over the winter, writing has been a struggle.   Manuscripts suffered.  But strangely enough, with our son’s imminent move in this brilliant budding spring, I feel alive.  Reborn.  Maybe his driving ambition has spilled over to his mother.  One can only hope.

Godspeed, my dear son.

Why do we write?

Recently fellow WisRWA member Jody Allen shared an article from another RWA Chapter. The post originated on Murderati (an outstanding blog) and was written by Toni McGee Causey. She titled it Comfort Reading (Click here – now!). The article was so moving, I felt compelled to help spread its message. Perhaps you’ve already read it; if so, you’ll know it’s worth reading again.

madeline3 Causey’s post brought to mind my step-mother. She’d always worked hard. While still healthy, she’d never found much time to read for pleasure. Then, on one of my later visits, after she had been diagnosed with cancer and was worn down from chemo, I saw a stack of well-read Regency Romances next to her chair – many by Georgette Heyer and Barbara Cartland. As we talked about her love for the stories, her face softened. “They take me away,” she said. We shared a smile.

As fiction writers, we have many reasons to write. Some of us write for recognition. Some of us write for money (still waiting on that one). Some of us write simply to quell those nagging voices in our heads. But of all our reasons, I believe the best reason we have to write is for others.

Keep writing, my friends!

Kiss of Death Retreat

On Thursday morning I leave for Portland, Maine and the Kiss of Death Annual Weekend Retreat. The retreat doesn’t actually start until Friday afternoon, but a good friend and I decided to get an early start.

As you see by the above link, bestselling suspense author (and sensational speaker) Lisa Gardner will speak. So will Homicide Detective Danny Agan, authors Mary Buckham, and Dianna Love Snell. Publisher Raelene Gorlinsky will join us, as will noted agent Meg Ruley.

Attendance was capped at 50. I’m not sure how many actually registered. I’m glad I did. Two friends are flying in from Wisconsin, fellow WisRWA members, and I heard at least one fellow NJRW-ite is attending. The writing life can be lonely, and I’ve always loved Maine. I can barely wait to get on that plane.

I’ll be posting daily so check back late Thursday evening for my first post from Portland – complete with pics!

Summer Blues

Today the sky is a brilliant blue, the sun a radiant yellow. Outside it is 82 degrees. Not much humidity. The lazy days of summer beckon. Through the open door, I smell the fragrance of late blooming flowers and freshly mowed grass. As my husband steps out onto the deck, a warm breeze caresses my skin. I ache to join him there, to bask in the glorious warmth of this last day of August.

But I’ve played too long. The book must be finished. I must return to it.


So I take a deep breath and close the door. Nudge up the air conditioner. Turn the blinds. Then I plant myself in the chair and mentally handcuff my wrists to my laptop.

I shut my eyes. Project myself back…back into a time of no computers, no electricity. Back into a 19th century Midwestern winter blizzard. The air conditioner kicks in but, in the distance, I imagine it is the howling wind. I shiver. Almost there now. I reach for my cup of coffee to warm my cold hands. Almost.

When I write my next book, I must figure out how to better coordinate the seasons.

Building Houses

Writing a book is like building a house. Okay, so you’ve heard that one before. So have I. It’s an old analogy. But there’s a part of it that I’d never really mulled over until this morning.

Some years ago, we built a house (not the one shown, but don’t you just love this picture?). Our builder kept us on track. Foundation dug, basement poured, structure framed, roofed, windows installed, and so on. After several months, our house was finished and we moved in.

But imagine if, after the cellar was finished, I’d decided I preferred a larger house. More digging, more cement to pour. Then, after the framing, imagine that I’d wanted to change it from a two-story colonial to a one-story sprawling ranch with huge windows. And, once the walls were painted, what if I’d said I wanted more wiring? Oh, and how about another bathroom just off the garage?

Do you see where I’m going? The house would have never been finished. At least not without a murder or two somewhere along the way (either my own, or the builder’s.) Not a good way to build a house. Not a good way to write a book either.

Houses need plans, and timelines. So do books.

As aspiring authors it is quite easy to start a story then just follow our wandering muse. Oooh, instead of a cop, what if I made the hero into a rodeo star? What if I changed the setting from Wyoming to New Zealand? It’s easy to be a writing pantser, writing by the seat of our pants, traveling where the mood takes us.

But published writers, those who are most successful, don’t allow themselves to do that. Not totally. Writing novels is a business. Successful writers make a goal, and follow a timeline.

If I am going to thrive in this business of writing, I must take a lesson from my old builder (and a few other worthy souls I’ve met along the way). Keeping my goal in sight, I must follow my timeline.

That’s how houses – and books – are built.

What is your philosophy of writing? Are you a pantser, a plotter, or a planner? Do you approach your writing as an art, or as a craft?

Things I Learned in San Francisco – RWA National

As you may have guessed by previous postings, I LOVED touring San Francisco and my experience at 2008 RWA National. Here are a few things I learned while there.

  • Chinese take-out tastes a whole lot better in California than it does in Pennsylvania.
  • All major cities are NOT alike.
  • San Francisco’s culture is unique, undefinable, and exhilarating.
  • The temperature of a city does make a difference. To me, San Francisco’s is heaven on earth.
  • When going to a conference, check in early (but try to avoid those pesky power outages).
  • A hotel lobby filled with women’s voices is very loud.
  • Quiet spaces are available, even in a hotel filled with 2,000 women (and a few men) in a city the size of San Francisco.
  • Every conference has a different mood.
  • The San Francisco Marriott has the best staff I have ever encountered in a conference hotel.
  • Conference lunches may taste the same everywhere, but extraordinary service, good company, and a great speaker can make you actually enjoy the chicken dish.
  • Late night and early morning talks are the best.
  • Networking is little more than talking and listening to other professionals – a whole lot of listening.
  • An author’s name is her brand (thank you, MH!).
  • Opportunities for success don’t come around that often. When they do, be ready.
  • Holding your published book takes persistence and raw grit, but if you want it and are willing to work for it, it will happen.
  • Getting published is only the beginning.

and finally

  • While it may true that there is no place like homeI left my heart in San Francisco

What did you learn at RWA National, or at the last conference you attended?

Going Forward

Today is the anniversary of my high school graduation. On that long ago day, I looked forward to life’s journey with hope. As a reader, I wanted to write. I wrote poetry, as teens do. But creating a novel was a foggy dream.

Years passed. I worked, read, met my future love, read with him, married, read some more. We parented three sons and I read to them. Eventually, I learned how to write a whole novel. I wrote one then another, and another. I just couldn’t pull enough together to publish them. As a born procrastinator, I found distractions.

Over the last year or so, mainly since Mom’s passing, I’ve come to a fork in the road. I can take one of three paths.

1 – I can keep traveling the same path…churning out new novels, never finishing some, never polishing others quite enough. But I’ve been plodding that muddy path for a long time now. It’s not getting me anywhere.

2 – I can pack it all away and forge ahead toward a new life, new adventures. I’d enjoy planting flowers. I’d love to return to college. Our house needs some major rehab. Traveling for adventure, not the latest writer’s conference, is appealing. But then…I wouldn’t be writing. My characters, those voices in my head, would shrivel and die. I can’t do that to them, or to me.

3 – The third path requires resolve. No more dabbling. No more distractions. This is the year I WILL publish. I’m in good shape for it. My skills and knowledge have improved. I have supportive friends and family, as never before. Despite a day job and a husband, I can squeeze in the time. I find such a resolution incredibly exciting, and a bit frightening. But this is the path I’m taking.

Have you ever felt on the edge of such joy, and fear? How did you handle it?