Thursday, December 6, 2012

The news I've been dying to share. . . .

I have so much wonderful news to share today, I scarcely know where to start. First, since you are here, you see I have a gorgeous new website, but before I talk about that, my book cover for EVIDENCE OF LIFE is out!!! And I’m dying for you to see it! Feast your eyes! I think it’s stunning, one of the most compelling book covers in the entire world of books. Okay, so maybe I’m a bit prejudiced, but, truly, if you saw these eyes peering at you on-line or, better yet, if you saw them peering at you from a shelf in a bookstore, could you walk on by? Wouldn’t you just have to pick this book up? I don’t know how I got so lucky, but this cover captures the story that is EVIDENCE OF LIFE to a tee. Eerie and intriguing, yet lovely. I love the story in this novel; I loved writing it, and I hope you will love reading it, too. Look for it in March of 2013 or pre-order it now at Amazon or Barnes and Noble.

And I’m sorry to continue gushing, but none of this would be happening without the village filled with fantastic people that opened its doors to me and extended me their faith and support, among them my fabulous agent Barbara Poelle and my equally fabulous editor, Erika Imranyi, and the whole fantastic team at MIRA. First they made this novel’s debut possible, then they framed it in this stunning, cannot-leave-it-on-the-shelf way!! It’s hard to put into words how grateful I am to them and to readers everywhere for this opportunity to put my work into your hands. Special thanks, too, to NYT bestselling authors Sophie Littlefield and Joni Rodgers for reading EVIDENCE OF LIFE and then providing their lovely endorsements. 

Now for the website. Isn’t it beautiful? To me this is one of the very best things about doing virtual business, the fact that you can build and design a virtual storefront with relative ease when compared to real world building and designing. This is noteworthy, I think, because the one thing that has been constant since I published by first indie book in August, 2010, is change. When I entered the world of virtual publishing then, my view was very different than it is now. A little over two years later, the landscape of my goals has widened considerably. Since then my opportunities have become as endless and deep as the sky. Looking back, I see that in opening that door, in allowing myself to take that leap, things, people, the right circumstances, all came together to achieve something much greater than what I originally conceived.

Imagine that the very thing you wanted to achieve is a beautiful jewel. It’s like that for me, and of course, a beautiful jewel needs an equally beautiful setting. Not one that would overwhelm the message, but one that visually, and in this case, virtually, enhances it. My website is a visual synthesis of the premise that launches each novel I’ve written and the others that are living now within the walls of my brain: At the heart of every crime, there’s a family, someone you love…  Whether it is a legally criminal act or more a breach of morality, there is collateral damage. Other people are affected, other lives devastated. The words, sentences, paragraphs in a novel spin out through the pages to unfold the story, but an image can capture a story in an instant. It can pull you through its doors in a heartbeat, or in this case, its virtual cover. Browsing websites and book covers is similar to walking along a row of shops. Why do you choose to go inside one and not another, if not for the window display, the setting for the jewel?

This particular setting, which so perfectly depicts the mood and ambience of the novels I write, was designed by Maddee James of She is a true artist with a fantastic and intuitive gift for finding out your vision for your virtual storefront and then translating it into images that capture the very essence of your idea. I loved and thoroughly enjoyed every moment of collaborating with her. She not only designed the site, she also redesigned the covers for my three indie novels.

I didn’t really intend to change those covers, but in what seems an almost universal experience in design, once one thing is done, it’s nearly impossible to stop there. While I love the old covers, I also wanted to create a cohesive look among them that would reflect the site and the nature of what I write, my brand, in other words. The gorgeous covers Maddee has designed, I think, perfectly reflect the idea of normalcy, of ordinary life … except things are a bit skewed, a bit off kilter. There’s the suggestion of impending calamity.

I am so fortunate to have found Maddee and and I can’t thank her enough. Her artistry with my site and with the covers just has exceeded my every expectation. Thank you, Maddee!


Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Sample holiday reading treasures for free

Books make terrific holiday gifts, but finding perfect books for friends and family is always a challenge. If only we could flip through a few sample pages on our own schedules. If only the bookstore could come to us. Well guess what readers, we’re doing just that!

Twelve amazing authors have come together to offer you an amazing opportunity to sample their latest novels just in time for the holidays—12 awesome samples and quirky holiday-themed interviews in one FREE downloadable PDF.

Whether you like to read mysteries, romance, young adult, women's fiction, or suspense—this group has a book for you.

First Snow – Christine Cunningham
After The Fog - -Kathleen Shoop
A Charming Crime -  Tonya Kappes
Come Back To Me – Melissa Foster
Read Me Dead – Emerald Barnes
The Halo Effect – MJ Rose
Dancing Naked In Dixie – Lauren Clark
The Last Supper – Michaelene McElroy
The Hurricane Lover – Joni Rodgers
The Hounding – Sandra de Helen
Milkshake – Joanna Weiss
The Ninth Step – Barbara Taylor Sissel

Each excerpt is prefaced by information about the book and its author. Concluding each excerpt is an order page with clickable links to several online retailers

You can download the PDF “Holiday Sampler” here, and share it with friends by sending them this link:

So go ahead and sample these fantastic novels from amazing writers! And don’t forget to help spread the word!

Happy holidays and happy reading!

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Live to tell....

In movies when a film wraps I think they say it’s in the can. I’m not sure what they say when a book is finally through it’s last round of edits, but that’s where I am now with EVIDENCE OF LIFE: finished with the last round of edits. Erika, my fabulous and stern guide and editor at MIRA, has given the novel her blessing. It should be a relief, and it is in many ways. I’m at work now on Book #2 and loving it. But some days I can’t concentrate on the writing for thinking of next April when EVIDENCE OF LIFE will make its debut into the world.

It’s not unlike the young women who make their society debuts. I find I’m thinking in those terms. Oh, she needs the proper dress. Oh, she should be introduced to the right people who can showcase her to the max. My attention wanders and all at once I’m not writing anymore, I’m looking at websites, I’m talking to publicists. I’m learning the steps to a whole new dance. Finally I organized notes and with them in hand I phoned Barbara, my fabulous, calm and experienced agent to ask for her guidance. I mentioned to her that where I was one year ago (an indie author with one book indie published) and where I am now (three indie books published and a sale to MIRA for two more) are such unbelievably different places. I have to remind myself that it’s real, that all this change has really happened. And I have to remind myself that it’s about the writing. And while that’s true, and foremost, it’s also about the business.

Because of what use is it to pour your heart and soul into your art, and to have others engaged in pouring their hearts and souls into the same endeavor, only to relegate it to some shelf where all it gathers, after its initial unveiling, is dust? I can play it safe or step off the ledge. I can go for the well-lighted, well-trod path or go for broke. Joseph Campbell suggests that to find the real treasure of ourselves we have to go into the forest through the dark gate, the one nobody else has opened.

What I’ve found along the way to this place where I am, that is both wondrous and fraught, is an unexpected and remarkable s-curve in the unfolding of my journey. Much of what I’ve experienced isn’t at all what I imagined it would be when I was chasing the rainbow of being traditionally published. In fact what I think is that I had no idea how to imagine it. What I think is that the more I know the less I know, if that makes sense. In EVIDENCE OF LIFE, my heroine, Abby, goes on a journey, too. She is similarly challenged to rethink and reprocess all she thought she knew.

Good, bad or indifferent, huge changes in life can be disconcerting. Events come along and they don’t
necessarily show up the way we planned or when we planned. Sometimes they come long after we’ve given up. Often, in the midst of them, there’s no way to see where we’re going, whether it’s safe. And it’s for sure hardest to feel there’s any gift when the worst happens, but—in my experience, anyway—the gift is always there. My son David said to me the other day that it didn’t matter whether the change was cause for celebration or desolation, the stress is the same. He also likes to quote that great John Candy line from the classically hysterical movie, Planes, Trains and Automobiles, that we have to be: “Like a twig in the shoulders of a mighty stream.” John Candy. Who knew he was a philosopher?

Maybe the essential ingredient for change is trust. Because it’s for sure when you are caught out on the ledge and you peer over into the abyss, there’s no net. But think about this too, if you don’t step off, you’ll miss the thrill of flying and with a little luck you might catch a good wind, the lift of a strong warm thermal, and who knows where you could land, what wonderful unexplored territory could be there, yours to experience and to share … if you don’t crash and burn. If, instead, you live to tell?

Wednesday, August 15, 2012


The world is loud and people are always talking, more now than ever with the advent of social networking. It doesn’t matter anymore what time of the night or day it is, you can find someone to chat with, if not in person or via telephone then virtually, through Facebook, or Twitter, or any number of virtual venues. Sometimes it’s overwhelming, so many voices, opinions, words, noise. I think everyone, regardless of how extroverted they are, how socially inclined, feels oppressed by all the racket. I think that’s why when I walked into a Barnes & Noble not long ago and saw a book titled QUIET, I was automatically drawn to it. I scarcely bothered to read the endorsements of the author, Susan Cain, nor did I care much about her credentials. It was that word: quiet. I couldn’t resist it like the man in the desert thirsting for water. I have had the thought in the past that the human brain is a bit like a car’s accelerator and once in a while the driver really does need to take their foot off the gas.

QUIET gives so much support for the beneficial effect of pure silence, of aloneness, versus the sometimes deleterious effects of near constant noise. One of the aspects of the book that I found compelling was the history behind introversion and extroversion. Back in the day, think in terms of Abraham Lincoln’s and Albert Einstein’s eras, introversion was valued above extroversion, but in the 1950’s that changed. It became imperative in public schools that children be judged/graded/rewarded/honored/accepted based on their ability to socialize. It wasn’t enough that you could read/write/create/use your imagination. It boiled down to whether you could be popular and well liked by others in addition to being honorable, virtuous and smart.

From the text: “In the nation’s earlier years it was easier for introverts to earn respect. America once embodied what the cultural historian Warren Susman called a “Culture of Character,” which valued inner strength, integrity, and the good deeds you performed when no one was looking. You could cut an impressive figure by being quiet, reserved, and dignified. Abraham Lincoln was revered as a man who did not “offend by superiority,” as Emerson put it. According to QUIET, as the Culture of Character declined, it gave rise to our modern-day Culture of Personality.

Although some critics/ reviewers have suggested QUIET is biased toward introverted types, I didn’t find that to be so … maybe a bit, but for the most part I found the treatment evenhanded. Consider this from the text:

“[I]ntroverts like to be alone--and introverts enjoy being cooperative. Studies suggest that many of the most creative people are introverts, and this is partly because of their capacity for quiet. Introverts are careful, reflective thinkers who can tolerate the solitude that the idea-generation requires. On the other hand, implementing good ideas requires cooperation, and introverts are more likely to prefer cooperative environments, while extroverts favor competitive ones.”

To me, this suggests, sensibly, for my money, that it takes both types to bring about the desires and inventions of mankind. Regardless of which category we fall into, we can use a hand from the other. Nothing was ever created in a vacuum. As an introvert I have to say I was glad for the validation. It was a true and real relief to learn that living in my head is not the curse I’ve imagined it to be all these years. I’m not retarded, odd, or mentally ill. And it was interesting to discover that introverts can often be very social in the right circumstances, that, in fact, they can be extroverts, which I have been at times in my life. It works the other way, too. One note I was inspired to jot down while reading is that people will make a lot of noise in their heads to keep from having to confront, learn, deal with who they really are.

QUIET explains a lot about our psyche, the way we work and why. It is thoughtful and insightful, gentle, but very compelling in its tone. It is quiet and I highly recommend it.

Visit Susan at her website, which itself is worth the trip.

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

A tiny nest for grand creating

I have always loved making a home and for me, the experience of doing this begins at the street’s edge and extends to the limit of my view and ability and right to design to my taste the sort of story I want to tell, to share with passersby and visitors alike. I never used to think of designing a home in that way, that in bringing together elements we love, and collecting and arranging them just so, we are really telling a story about ourselves. We are teaching and learning and expressing who we are. What is that if not a story? It may even speak louder than our voices if it’s true that a picture is worth a thousand words. I know people who come into my home know me. They see the stuff I’ve dragged in here, from bird’s nests, to beetles, to a gorgeous antique French armoire and a tattered leather-bound edition of a novel titled Lucile that was in my great-grandparents’ library and they get a sense of who I am. Possibly that I like nature and old things and gardens, all of which is true.

There are days when being creative at writing fails me. I think its resistance. I am determined to tell the story in my head, the one that’s going to make a novel, but my brain refuses to cooperate. If perseverance doesn’t break down the barrier, I leave the writing and find a project. I get into my stuff, my home stuff, and I play. I add to my nest. I am like a bird bringing the new new bit of straw, or a dried flower, or a tuft of lint from the drier that caught on the grass, into my little place. I’m weaving a different sort of story, but for me it’s a story all the same. It’s as if my muse appreciates a different venue, another way to find expression. Often the resistance dissolves in the happy light of doing this, of making new art.

The other day, a very dear friend of mine, knowing our shared love of making a home, recommended a magazine, Romantic Prairie Style, and in it I found a tiny poem that perfectly expresses the way I feel, and in such an economy of words, I am in awe. It is called My Home and it’s by Ella Wheeler Wilcox:

This is the place that I love best,
A little brown house, like a ground-birds nest,
Hid among grasses, and vines, and trees,
Summer retreat of the birds and bees.
Far from the city’s dust and heat,
I get but sounds and odors sweet.
Who can wonder I love to stay,
Week after week, here hidden away,
In this sly nook that I love the best—
This little brown house like a ground-bird’s nest?

James Prosek's creative nest
Another very dear friend, Guida Jackson, without whose mentorship I might never have become a writer, commented recently on something I posted on Facebook about tiny homes. She said my fascination with them and all things tiny reminded her of an interview she heard on NPR with an artist, James Prosek. I was intrigued and visiting his website found his space described as “cozy” and “slightly rustic”, comparable in size to a “two-car garage”. It has a potbellied stove and sleeping loft beneath a pitched roof made from wide planks of chestnut wood. Six low-hung windows usher in an abundance of natural light. I can only imagine the serenity and joy he must find in painting and writing there.

“It's my little room,” he says. “All of my stuff is here and no one can get at me.” He goes on to say, “I try to make it sound smaller than it is. There’s a small space where I work because I want it to be a humble space. Humility is a big part of being open and receptive to everything you see. Part of being a good observer is to know you don’t know anything.”

Like Ella Wheeler Wilcox’s poem, this says so eloquently in just a few words how making a home is so much more than the stuff. It’s the receptacle that contains the sense of yourself, your essence. It describes us and defines us. It informs us and others of who we are. “Artists need a story,” Prosek says. “This space is my story.”

I couldn’t put it better myself. My home/work space is my story too.

Wednesday, June 27, 2012

The beautiful wreckage

Today I finished a draft of EVIDENCE OF LIFE, the novel MIRA will publish in April of next year. You would think I would feel elated or relieved, something happy, but that isn’t ever how this process seems to work for me. I feel more like a motel on the side of the road, the one everybody forgot when the big highway got built, that has the “Vacancy” sign lit all the time. I feel like that announcement, “Elvis has left the building,” if you were to substitute “My brain” or “My sensibility” for Elvis. The focus for me when I edit is so intense. For days/weeks/even months on end, I try to hold in my mind the story’s timeline, the position/interaction of all the characters, the plot points, red herrings, pacing, character growth, emotional tenor … all these details in a single dish, arranged in a coherent pattern. Does each element proceed with grace to the next? Beads on a necklace, matched pearls, or as nearly perfect as I can get them. By this point I love these people; I know them like my own family. I want them to step, full-blown, off the pages for the readers as they do for me. I think the letdown I feel once I’m done, before the sense of accomplishment comes, (because it does, finally, every time!) is connected to my sense that I can believe to the center of my being I have done them and the story justice and I am, indeed, finished, and yet, I know it's a lie because if I were to look again, take a peek at the pages, I’d change something. I’d look in my Thesaurus for a better word. I’d rearrange a sentence, a paragraph, something. My difficulty is in letting go, pushing the manuscript out the door, off-loading it from my machine onto my lovely partners’ in crime, my agent’s and editor’s, machines. But I did it today. It’s done, so yay!

And then I went to the grocery store. The one in my neighborhood has beautiful fresh flowers for sale. I usually stay far away because fresh flowers are my weakness, but today I thought I could have something beautiful and so I treated myself to a bouquet of peonies. They were a favorite flower of my mother’s. She grew a row of them along our fence line in Des Moines. They were so beautiful and smelled divine and when I saw them today, I thought of her and I thought how thrilled I am to be an author for MIRA with a novel coming out next spring. And I wished she were here. I wished I could see her smile. She was a writer too and passed her love of the written word, her love of exacting self-expression, of finding just the right way for that, to me. In regard to books and life in general, she challenged me to read between the lines for meaning. She said if it was the truth, I would recognize it by the way it resonated. She taught me to stretch beyond my capacity to understand, to look deeper, and then she took time to talk about what I read and what I thought  with me as if it were valuable. I can see her at her desk clacking away on her Smith Corona. She wrote short stories, adult stories and children’s stories. She wrote poetry. She sent us outside, my sister and brother and me, to play on summer mornings and we’d hear the typewriter through the open windows. She mailed off her stuff and she got rejected, over and over. It broke her heart and made her sad. I remember that too.

And I remember the day I told her I wanted to write, that I didn’t want to study classical ballet anymore as she had wished/planned/paid for lessons we couldn’t really afford. I remember when I made my announcement, she wasn’t very happy and said, a tish sarcastically, how fine it would be if I were to be published before her. I never wrote another line after that, not for years and years, except for my journals. Not until after she died. I didn’t realize it then, that her response came from her unhappiness over never having fulfilled her own dreams. She wouldn’t say that to me now. She would be thrilled for me, I know. Why else would the florist shop in the grocery store in Texas have peonies so late in June? When they seldom have them even in spring and they usually cost an arm and two legs?! And I brought home not one, but two beautiful bunches for less than ten bucks! It was her gift to me, her bouquet of love and congratulations. She’s the one who taught me to look deeper than the surface, to read between the lines, that there’s the text and the subtext. I know she sees me, what I’ve accomplished; I just know it, that she’s with me. Thank you, Mommy! For the unique and beautiful wreckage of my childhood, its hidden layers, its unexpected gifts of wisdom. And for the gorgeous peonies!

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

What is your safe place?

Lion head brass and wrought iron bed circa 1880

This month, in honor of Dawn Raffel's wonderfully inspiring book, The Secret Life of Objects , a memoir of personal objects and mementos that are made meaningful and treasured by the passage of time, the League of Extraordinary Authors blog has invited writers and readers to share thoughts and memories about artifacts large and small that connect them to important people, places and moments of their lives. Today, I shared a story about this rather large artifact, a brass and wrought iron bed that I slept in as a child that as an adult became an island of safety for me. I hope you'll come and read my short piece here and the others as well, and perhaps contribute one of your own.

Monday, April 30, 2012

Buy This Book: Losing Clementine by Ashley Ream

Fiction is full of characters but they are seldom as individual or as memorably rendered and irresistible as Clementine Pritchard is in Ashley Ream’s boldly written debut novel, LOSING CLEMENTINE. From the start it’s clear that Clementine is planning to kill herself. She’s given herself thirty days to pull off a clinical, no-muss-no-fuss suicide. The reveal of her motive develops page-by-page through Clementine’s often abrasive, yet compellingly honest voice that comes spiked with great doses of fall down laughing gallows humor.

Some say suicide is the ultimate act of selfishness, but faced with the heartrending circumstances of Clementine’s life, the tragedy that lies in her past, its horrible legacy that has resulted in some form of pain for her and those whom she has loved every day since, it would seem that killing herself would bring the ultimate relief. What is striking, riveting even, is that as the story unfolds, it becomes apparent that her decision is less to do with her own release and driven more by her concern—gallows humor aside—for everyone else. You might say in her case it is the ultimate act of love.

But will she go through with it?

This novel is a real page turner, one you do not want to miss.

For more about Ashley, visit her website.

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Emily Brontë's Desk

I’ve been doing a lot of writing. It isn’t unusual for me as I ordinarily write every day. Even before I signed with MIRA, I spent hours writing at my desk. The difference now is that I have a deadline that is other than self imposed and I have editorial input from someone who cares as much about this novel, EVIDENCE OF LIFE (to be published by MIRA in April of 2013), as I do, my very talented editor, Erika Imranyi. I don’t know why exactly, but for some reason as I’ve been rewriting, picking out and adding threads in accordance with Erika’s suggestions, I started wondering about Emily Brontë, specifically, her edits for WUTHERING HEIGHTS, which is one of my all-time favorite books.

I re-read it recently and still love it. Imagine it! That story of love and loss and betrayal has lived more than 100 years. Probably because these themes are timeless. I know they contribute to the plot in Evidence of Life.

[caption id="attachment_826" align="alignright" width="300" caption="Emily's lovely fold-up writing desk with interesting contents"][/caption]

But what about Emily’s editing process, I wondered? Where I type and delete using a computer, she would have written longhand, in ink. If she wrote something that wouldn’t do, she would have had to scratch it out. I see her in in my mind’s eye pausing mid scene to ponder. Perhaps she is facing a window, gaze untethered, sightless, watching the characters in her mind, listening as they speak, writing down what she sees, feeling their words. Weighing them for their plausibility, their integrity. Asking all along the way, Is that right? At least I imagine it was this way for her because it’s how I work. But how painstaking to write in ink, in longhand! Would I? I have done short pieces by hand. I still journal almost daily that way. But a whole novel?

Emily was the fifth of six children. She lost her mother in 1821 and her two oldest sisters in 1825. That left siblings Charlotte, Anna, and their brother, Branwell. They were all avid readers and writers although Anna and Branwell are not as well known. There was such bias against female authors in the Victorian era that the three girls wrote under male nom de plumes; Emily’s was Ellis Bell. When at the publication of Anne’s second novel, written as Acton Bell, her publisher tried to pass the book off as having been authored by the more successful author of JANE EYRE, Currer Bell, aka Charlotte, she and Anne went to London to set straight the mystery of their gender and their identity. Emily didn’t go. She was reclusive for all that she was strong and at times bad-tempered. Branwell died suddenly in 1848 at the age of thirty-one from tuberculosis. He had undermined his health by abusing drugs and alcohol. Emily and Anna, who hadn’t, so far as I know, followed him shortly thereafter. Charlotte turned to her writing to sustain her through her grief and it was a surprise to me to learn that when permission was gained from the original publisher of Wuthering Heights to republish the novel, Charlotte edited the work, correcting many of the errors that appeared in the first edition. She also took the liberty of embellishing the story with her own creative voice. I wonder how much of the original story she altered. I wonder how Emily might feel if she knew.

[caption id="attachment_827" align="alignleft" width="124" caption="My less than lovely desk"][/caption]

To me, even when you love it, editing another author’s work is requiring of such delicacy. It means suspending judgment and prejudice. It means reading with as much of an open mind as possible. As an author, considering an editor’s suggestions requires the same skills: delicacy, the suspension of judgment and prejudice, an open mind. The whole thing is a true symbiosis; it is two people in different capacities working toward a unified vision for the work. It’s really a rather remarkable process, but it’s also painstaking, even laborious, sometimes confusing and occasionally frustrating. I bet Charlotte missed Emily when she was doing the edits for Wuthering Heights. I know I’m glad I have a partner.



Sunday, April 15, 2012

Three weeks ago I signed with MIRA to publish two books. The news sent me over the moon. The very day the decision was made my lovely editor, Erika Imranyi, called me and we talked about the story; she gave me some editorial direction, things she thought needed tweaking. But mostly she was so complimentary of the writing and so enthusiastic that I knew I'd landed in the right place. What struck me during our conversation was that all of what she said had substance and meaning, even the good stuff. Letting someone know what works can educate them too. She offered around three or four suggestions for tweaking that I consider major. I wrote them down. The next day, I got an email from my fabulous agent, Barbara Poelle, and among other things it listed the schedule of deadlines for each book. I looked at it and felt like a professional, but when I tried to recover my usual focus, the focus I'd had only hours before, I couldn't do it.

[caption id="attachment_815" align="alignleft" width="225" caption="Artfully displayed things from Emily Bronte's Desk"][/caption]

My head was full of change, not only the changes Erika suggested for the manuscript, but the huge alteration in my life that was shaping itself out of an opening and fantastic opportunity. I thought how quickly the status quo can change. But that’s how life is. Adaptation is key and it’s easier to maintain balance if you can train yourself to live in the present moment. I strive to do that. But it’s impossible in the big moments of life, I think. At times like these, it’s best to let go, to let the current sweep you along and trust you’ll recover your wits.

I wanted to go to work on my edits, but in those first days after receiving my news, I couldn’t settle. I kept wandering out to the garden. I drove to the nursery. I even went clothes shopping which I don't enjoy much. I cleaned house (I don't enjoy that either!) and thought: I don’t have time for this. Every time I was in one place, I would think I should be in another. I didn't sleep well. Then it began to dawn on me what the trouble was. I wasn’t letting go. Some perverse need to cling to the life plan that was in place until word of this miracle arrived refused to let the new current take me. I didn't trust that even in the midst of so much confusion, the melange of emotion, caught in the thrill of it all, I was in the right place. I love this quote from Joseph Campbell: “You must be willing to get rid of the life you planned so as to have the life you’ve been waiting for.”

I not only love it, I believe it. It makes sense to me. So now I have to walk my talk. I have to let go.

[caption id="attachment_816" align="alignright" width="224" caption="Not so artfully displayed things on my desk."][/caption]

To that end, a few days ago I finally sat down and opened Erika’s file, the one where she has put her editorial notes in the margins, and taking a deep breath, I began the process of implementing her suggestions. And as I worked, the welter of emotion returned. I am elated to have her fresh, clear-eyed direction. Her care comes through every comment, but at one point, my hands stilled on the keyboard and I worriedly thought, This isn’t only my story now. Not in the way it was before and it never will be again. Of course, the professional writer in me knows it’ll be a better story, but the mother hen part says, Oh, dear! I remember that I briefly and wildly considered not enrolling my children in kindergarten, too. As if I could have kept them from venturing into the world, as if I would have even wanted to! I don’t know what that is, the yearning to hold your creations close, while at the same time, you’re eagerly flinging them out there, praying someone will notice and want to share them with you.

This is what I understand now after having gone through a seemingly endless query process in search of the right agent who would then pair me with the right editor: that when a professional in either capacity suggests they weren't sufficiently compelled by the story to take it on, be grateful. Because no matter how flawless your manuscript is, no matter how well-told the story, if your partners, in this case your agent and editor, don't love it as much as you do, they can't help you. It isn't personal; it isn't an indictment against your ability. It's just the facts as hard as they can be to swallow. As I sit every day reading and revising and trying to maintain a fresh perspective of my own work that I've read countless times, I know it is an act of love, that it's love that fuels my determination, that love is why I have persisted, why I won't give up. But what of Barbara and Erika and their commitment? I mean it's easy to love your own child. But someone else's? And not just one someone else's but several.

Friday, March 30, 2012

Cinderella: It's not just a fairy tale....

I think I know a little bit how she must have felt on that magical night! One week ago today I received word that a long-held dream had come true and just as magically, like that, my life changed course. I was a freelance writer/editor and author who six months ago had indie published her own fiction in e-book format. Now, in addition, my fiction is to be print published. I will hold in my hands an actual book and when you have loved books your whole life the way I have this is a gift, a true miracle. I am especially grateful, too, because it was the love of books and reading that inspired my desire to write. I wanted to give back, or give on, the wealth of joy that I found in stories. To me reading a story is like opening a door into another world, one I can’t experience in any other way. It is a way to explore human nature and to peer into its mind. It is a way to know myself. My big sister taught me to read. We’ve shared the love of reading our whole lives. Together with our mother we have always revered books. In life there is so much change and upheaval. For me books are the one constant, the single reliable presence. The source for light and joy. They have lifted me out of myself, provided me with inspiration, moved me to tears and to laughter. Taught me to think, helped me to discover and to question. Now there is this possibility for me to give this same gift to others through my stories, to give pleasure, to give food for thought and imagination.

Some have voiced concern that as the result of the electronic revolution, printed books will be lost to the world. Maybe, although I can’t imagine it and don’t ever want to see that happen. In any case, the art of story will never be lost. It’s woven into our DNA, threaded into the very nature of life. The universe itself tells a story.

In some of my indie book reader mail and reviews, readers have said they felt as though they were with the characters or living in the character’s heads while reading the stories. I love knowing that the world I create in a book and the people who are brought to life from the page are that vivid. I love hearing that a reader has been moved by a story, that something inside them has shifted as a result, a thought, a belief, perhaps a judgment against or a prejudice is reconsidered.  One reader said reading gave her relief from disturbing issues in her own life, that for awhile she was just lost in a different world. I wish there were a way for me to convey to every reader how much these comments mean to me or how thrilled I am for this new opportunity to reach many more readers, to put something solid into their hands … a gift with beautiful art on the cover and pages to turn.

EVIDENCE OF LIFE will be published by MIRA in April of 2013. The process is unfolding now and I have so much to learn, but it is such a joy because every day I will be doing what I love to do. Thank you to Barbara Poelle, my wonderful agent, whose guidance and insight honed the novel’s focus and thank you to Erika Imranyi, my fabulous editor at MIRA, whose enthusiasm and encouraging words have made me that much more determined to be the best writer I can possibly be. They have both inspired in me a desire to work harder, although when it is so gratifying to me, I almost can’t think of it as work.

I am planning to chronicle the journey here, from now until next April I’ll post about progress on a regular basis. I don’t want to lose the memory of one minute of this experience. I hope you’ll want to join me.

On Facebook the other day, I commented that I was so happy I caught myself skipping in the grocery store parking lot. I didn’t even care that people stared. That’s having joy. I so hope I can share that here, sprinkle it around so everyone feels the benefit. People should never be too old to skip or to dream or to have their dreams come true. They should never be too old to believe miracles can and do happen.  I know because one has happened to me.

Sunday, March 11, 2012

Interview With Cover Artist Darla Tagrin: The facts & science fiction

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They say you can’t judge a book by its cover, but for plenty of readers that’s how the initial connection is made and the cover for The Ninth Step would never have come together so beautifully without the right artist. I nearly gave up my search until one day I happened upon a blog post about cover art. It wasn’t information I hadn’t read a hundred times before and I was only skimming until my eye caught on a comment that had been left by an artist Darla Tagrin. She did book cover art, she said, and gave a link to one of her paintings as an example of her work. It was titled "Door Into Dreams" and the moment I clicked through and saw it, I was entranced. The painting said everything to me about my experience of books, how they have opened doors for me, how they have brought light into and out of my mind. The message as I engaged with the painting went even deeper, unfolding in layers, but that is a discussion for another post! Suffice to say that I felt intuitively that Darla and I would be able to work together on the cover for my novel.

[caption id="attachment_742" align="alignright" width="140" caption="Free download through midnight PST tonight!"][/caption]

Within a very short time, she brought the vision I had in mind to life. She gave it color and an intensity and impact that went beyond my expectation. Plus, my cover, from an original oil painting, is a beautiful work of art that will remain unique. Of course I highly recommend her, but I’m going to step aside now so she can talk a little about who she is and how she works.

Darla, thank you so much for stopping by today. Perhaps we should begin by learning a bit about your background i.e.: When did you first know you wanted to pursue painting? Art study? Organizations you belong to. Have you always worked in oil?

I grew up in a very small town in western New York.  I always liked drawing; you can draw anything you want, any way you want; and if you do it enough you will get better at it.  No grownups needed!

We had art as part of our classes in those days, and I was lucky enough to have a very good art teacher in high school who had us all do quick figure studies of each other.  I went to a small private college in Erie, PA, and studied art and psychology (I know, strange combination.) Unfortunately, that was in the late ‘70’s when figurative art and illustration was looked down upon; I refer to that era as the “drip and splatter” period.  I didn’t learn much painting technique, but I did learn how to develop ideas into visual art.

I really started painting just after I got married. My husband Larry and I used to go to science fiction conventions, and he persuaded me to put some of my old art into the convention arts shows. Much to my surprise, it started selling! I would recommend going to one of these SF conventions for any artist or writer of science fiction/fantasy if you can; there are usually lots of workshops by professionals, and opportunities to display your art (you must rent a panel and sign up ahead of time.)

I did interior illustrations for Tomorrow magazine before it went completely online, and maps and illustrations for Carole Douglas’ Irene Adler mystery series.  (I met her and Algis Budrys, the Tomorrow editor, at SF conventions.) Those illustrations were mostly in pen and ink and scratchboard. I’ve done quite a few portraits of people and their pets, in oil and colored pencil. I like oils because you can blend and layer them, and they don’t change color when they dry as much as acrylics do. Colored pencil and scratchboard are good for detailed portraits, but they take as much time or more to do than oils.

I’ve taken lessons and workshops in painting off and on over the years.  I live near Washington, DC and there are more art groups, shows and opportunities than I can take advantage of now. I do the newsletter for our local arts group, the Gaithersburg Fine Arts Association.

Where do you go and/or what do you do for inspiration?

I go for a walk with my little digital camera, look at my art books and magazines or go to the library to look at different ones, but the best inspiration is going to a gallery or art exhibit to see other people’s art. I usually get several ideas on different ways to approach a painting. One thing to do is to look at something that you really like, try to figure out exactly what it is that you like about it, and paint that element or apply it to something different.

What draws you to the design of book covers?

I always wanted to do illustration because I loved books so much, and I have little talent for writing. It’s very satisfying to work through the themes and events in the story and translate them to a visual scene that will make someone want to read the book, but not give away the story. Just like with writing, there are a lot of underpinnings and design elements that are not obvious in the final product.

Can you describe a bit about how you like to work with an author on their project? (In my case you read the manuscript and we discussed some ideas. You did a series of sketches.) 

Usually I will read the story and do a lot of preliminary sketches, send a couple of the most successful ones to the author, editor or art department head, and make any changes that are suggested. After the sketch is approved, I do the actual painting.  Years ago, I would send the actual illustration, but now I just send a high-resolution scan. I don’t paint the lettering; I do it in Photoshop on the scanned file, or the book designer will do it.

How quickly can an author expect to have a finished cover?

Usually three or four weeks after the sketch is approved.  I prefer to have a deadline date to work to.

What about the cost? Do you have a set fee or does it vary with the individual project? 

The fee varies on what the job is; for an ebook cover, it would be about $150 (prices may change in the future!) For a printed book, the price may be more than that because the actual painting would probably have to be larger. That is for the use of the cover image for the book and publicity purposes; the actual painting and copyright to it remain with the artist.

Where can authors needing cover art reach you? Website/email address?

My web site is still under construction; you can reach me at If you send me an email, I will send you a link to the site when it is up.

I'll post the link here as well. In closing, I just want to add that Darla is a wonderful artist, thoughtful, patient and intuitive, and lovely to work with.

Wednesday, March 7, 2012

Buy This Book: Come Back To Me

Come Back To Me, by Melissa Foster, is a compelling portrayal of what happens when the human heart is subjected to loss and uncertainty. It is a story that proves that the language of the heart is spoken and understood in the same way the world over regardless of the hostility that is generated through our differences when it comes to matters of race, religion or culture. It is also a story that illustrates that hope is always possible.

I love the title of this book: Come Back To Me. It is what we ask, universally, of those we love when they leave us whether they are going to fulfill an obligation to their country or to pursue a dream. It is the truest test of love when we can open our hands to set the one we love free. The story begins with this request, but, ultimately, it becomes a story about courage and coming to terms. It is about being brave in the face of danger and keeping faith right in the teeth of every logical argument from every friend we have who says we’re foolish. It’s about being true to yourself and what you believe in no matter how often those beliefs are tested. Be prepared, though, for an ending that may not be quite what you expected.

For more about Melissa, visit her website.

Friday, March 2, 2012

Buy This Book: The Hurricane Lover

In part The Hurricane Lover is a story about bad, murdering weather. Weather that’s named Katrina in this case, and what happens when people, when entire cities, don’t pay attention. But it’s also about how some people get off on danger. A storm comes and they want to go out and howl. They want to hurl themselves at it and into it. While an entire city is brought to its knees by one of the most dangerous storms ever, there’s someone loose in the streets who’s getting off on it. A crazy, pathological someone who’s using it to make something and take something … like some hapless victim’s identity, even their life. Shay Hoovestahl just wants to report the weather. You know, the pretty details, like how to lash down your patio furniture so the big wind won’t blow it away. Shay’s got no idea as she does the last of her puff pieces before the lights go out what’s ahead of her when the big wind reaches its full terrifying force, the levees break, and the filthy, debris and varmint-choked gulf water rises in the city’s streets. She is as ill prepared as New Orleans and when she finds herself on the trail of this psychotic killer, she’s got to face facts: that puff just won’t cut it.

Gulf Coast climatologist Dr. Corbin Thibodeaux tried to warn her. Prior to Katrina’s landfall, he struggled to get folks to understand the massive threat Katrina posed. But few listened judging from the alarming tone of inanity and ineptitude that’s indicated in the spate of email correspondence that came down from FEMA head Michael Brown. And not even Corbin realizes the unwitting role he’s playing in abetting the killer’s plan as they play hide and seek in the churning walls of one hideous monster of a storm.

The Hurricane Lover is a taut, seductive thriller that reads like the finest in docudrama. The atmosphere is eerily real and the characters are fully and richly drawn. Relationships are poignant and compelling with an undertow of dark humor that comes on like the best of surprises. Joni Rodgers is a masterful storyteller with a gift for writing dialogue that will leave you breathless. I loved this book and highly recommend it. For more about Joni, visit her website.

Sunday, February 26, 2012

Buy this book: The Hurricane Lover

The Hurricane Lover, in part, is a story about bad, murdering weather. Weather that’s named Katrina in this case, and what happens when people, when entire cities, don’t pay attention. It’s about how some people get off on danger. They want to go out and howl. They want to hurl themselves at it and into it. As an entire city is brought to it’s knees by some of the most dangerous weather ever, they use it to make something and take something … like some hapless victim’s identity, even their life. Shay Hoovestahl just wants to report it. You know, the pretty details, like how to lash down your patio furniture so the big wind won’t blow it away. Shay’s got no idea as she does the last of her puff pieces before the lights go out what’s ahead of her when the big wind reaches its full terrifying force, the levees break, and the filthy, debris-choked gulf water rises in the city’s streets. She is as ill prepared as New Orleans and when she finds herself on the trail of a psychotic killer, she’s got to face facts: that puff just won’t cut it.

Gulf Coast climatologist Dr. Corbin Thibodeaux tried to warn her. Prior to Katrina’s landfall, he struggled to get folks to understand the massive threat Katrina posed. But few listened judging from the alarming tone of inanity and ineptitude that’s indicated in the spate of email correspondence that came down from FEMA head Michael Brown. And not even Corbin realizes the unwitting role he’s playing in abetting the killer’s plan as they play hide and seek in the churning walls of one hideous monster of a storm.

The Hurricane Lover is a taut, seductive thriller that reads like the finest in docudrama. The atmosphere is eerily real and the  characters are fully and richly drawn. Relationships are poignant and compelling with an undertow of dark humor that comes on like the best of surprises. Joni Rodgers is a masterful storyteller with a gift for writing dialogue that will leave you breathless. I loved this book and highly recommend it.

Thursday, February 16, 2012

Hush, don't tell.


Emily was at home when Shannon came over to confess she was pregnant. The girls were best friends, barely 17, and had just started their senior year of high school. Shannon was a class beauty. She was a homecoming queen nominee. But it was the Sixties; nice girls—class beauties, homecoming queens—didn’t get pregnant.
There had to be some way to take care of the problem. The girls drove the dusty back roads to the smaller towns around the metropolitan area where they lived naively assuming they could find a doctor who would rid Shannon of her difficulty. All declined. Back at Emily’s, Shannon lay down alongside Emily’s bed. Her plan was for Emily to jump from the bed onto her abdomen. The mistake would then be expelled and Shannon could return to being the carefree teenager she was before having unprotected sex with a guy who supposedly was in love with her but, after all, didn’t care. Emily refused. Shannon’s class beauty picture was removed from the high school annual. Shannon herself was expelled and forced to leave home. Frightened and alone, she gave birth in a strange place under the cold, judging eye of relatives who disapproved.

Katherine had a roommate who came to be in a similar situation. Donna managed to hide her condition from her employers until two weeks prior to her delivery date. The only doctor she saw during the term of her pregnancy was the one who confirmed her condition. Again, the father of the child, who had professed love, didn’t. Donna took a leave of absence from work; she gave birth to her baby in a home for unwed mothers. Denied the right to even see the child, she gave it up for adoption. She returned to work. Donna and Katherine never spoke of it, but the silence and the sorrow weighed on them and eventually eroded their friendship.

Vicky’s roommate Tanya also hid her condition. Only Vicky knew. Tanya carried her baby to term. The girls, twenty-somethings, had no plan other than Vicky would drive Tanya to the hospital when her time came; she would deliver her baby and then decide whether to keep it or give it up. Other than that, the matter wasn’t discussed. It was as if by ignoring the fact, it might disappear. It didn’t. When Tanya’s water broke, she found Vicky across the hall watching television with her boyfriend. The boyfriend drove the girls to the hospital, but after that, he never spoke to Vicky again. The fact that Vicky associated with, lived with a girl who was pregnant out of wedlock tarred her with the same brush, and in his eyes, the “sin” was unforgivable. Tanya’s baby was stillborn. The hospital staff insisted she give it a proper funeral or the baby’s soul would be lost in purgatory and when she refused, they shamed her.

These stories are true. Only the names and certain facts have been changed to protect privacy.

I ran across these accounts while doing research for The Volunteer after my character Sophia got herself into this same predicament at age 16. Her mother turned her back and what happens as a result, while realistic, is terrible, even horrifying. Because regardless of our beliefs on the issues of premarital sex and pregnancy, silence is not the answer. Neither is judgment against or consignment to hell. That was life before birth control. I don’t think we want to go back to that. To the lies and the secrecy, the labeling unfit, the name-calling. But the stigma continues to exist. To some degree, girls are still shunned when compassion is called for; they and the services that are in place to guide them are consigned to hell by religions that claim love and human kindness are their foundation and with devastating consequences. In The Volunteer, the consequences for Sophia span a lifetime and the truth, when it is finally exposed, will shock her to her core.

Posting a link today (3/14/12) to yet more foolishness regarding this issue: An article in the e-zine Jezebel that reports Arizona's latest bid to ban contraception as a method of birth control. It would be laughable if this same attitude hadn't had such tragic consequences in the past.

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

When books get wings, they fly....

Within an hour or so of publishing The Ninth Step last August, I was elated to see a few sales. I (naively) imagined the trend would continue and figured I would just keep writing another book while The Ninth Step flew off the virtual shelves. Hah! I was wrong of course, but then I have always been enamored of Pollyanna and I loved the movie Field of Dreams and its message “if you build it, they will come”. In a sense writing and sharing my work with others is my field of dreams and even now six months later, I’m loathe to relinquish the notion that if you create something out of a vision you hold in your heart and mind, that it won’t draw attention. It’s a simple enough idea on the surface, to make a thing and assume its success in the marketplace, but almost nothing will fly on its own. Even the Wright brothers’ machine had wings and a propeller. And of course the Wright brothers persisted; they wouldn’t take no for an answer; they had tremendous determination. So these are a few more things you need in addition to your burning faith and desire.

And once the thing is made, there’s another essential element to the process if your goal is to bring interest and attention to your creation. You’re going to need visibility, preferably of the sort that is targeted to your particular market. There are a wealth of resources available in the indie publishing world, and one of the most valuable are book bloggers and reviewers who out of their sheer love for books devote so much time and care to reading every sort of book, fiction or non fiction, and then generously share their thoughts across a network of virtual venues.

Jersey Girl Book Reviews is the creation of Kathleen Higgins Anderson. I was lucky enough to find her website almost immediately after publishing The Ninth Step and I was drawn in first by the artwork on her site and then by the genuine warmth of her reviews. She provides such full-bodied and richly detailed commentary that in no way reveals too much of the story, but rather it fuels your desire to read the book for yourself. When I contacted her, she got back to me immediately and was so gracious in her response. I was new to the indie publishing game and a little nervous; her professionalism meant a lot. Today her review of The Ninth Step is one of the books featured on Jersey Girl Book Reviews and she has included my guest post on her blog. I am fortunate that she has given wings to my novel and to my hope of sharing it with a widening circle of readers. Many thanks, Kathleen.

Saturday, February 4, 2012

Persistence: Another four-letter word that isn’t

I ran across this quote a few days ago: The art of love … is largely in the art of persistence. Albert Ellis said it. And it is sticking in my mind, sticking to it in much the same way oatmeal sticks to your ribs. At first I thought of writing, how it is an act of love and how persistence is such a huge part of that love. I remember, vividly, painfully, the first time I was invited to join a critique group. They asked that I come to the meeting with a sample of my writing that I would be prepared to read out loud, in front of strangers. I worked hard and managed to produce one page of the novel I had in mind to write, that I thought might be fit to read, but when my turn came, my voice faltered. My mouth was so dry. I can’t imagine how I got through the ordeal. It was worse than the public speaking class I took in college where I was the only girl student in a roomful of guys. Who would want to endure that experience again? Much less week after week? Yet I did. I went back to the critique group and over time, I learned the craft of writing—through persistence. Was it me or was it the love for the art form, for the work itself, in me?

Then I extrapolated … what of my love for my children? How much of loving them was/is persistence? The moment they were settled into my arms after birth, I melted. I thought my heart would explode, I was in such awe, but then there were days. You know the ones. Those tests of love days. I would think: I am going to lose it here! I would go into the bathroom, shut the door and sit on the closed toilet lid and I would talk myself down, return to the fray, mete out whatever discipline was required. When everyone was calm again, we talked about what happened. It was an act of love, but wasn’t it also an act of persistence?

You fight with your spouse, you walk away and come back, talk it out. Isn’t that persistence? Love is like a visitor knocking on your door, persistently knocking until you open it and allow in the flood of inspiration, revelation, joy … the treasure that is there, that is inside you. We recognize that in each other and we persist in every way we can to connect with each other. We persist in loving one another, and our work, if we’re fortunate in that regard and often it is in the face of what seem to be insurmountable odds.

Oh, that single page of that novel?—the one I persisted through huge resistance to write? It’s titled The Last Innocent Hour and it’s free for one more day, today. I’d love it if you’d download it … read that first page, imagine a mouse squeaking out the words. I’m sure that’s how I sounded!