Monday, July 31, 2017

in the throes of my magnum opus

Hello, dear readers.

It has been a while, hasn't it?  I've been away wandering, up strange and beautiful roads, exploring the notion of my own death.

When I was lonely, unhappy, or fearful as a child in North Carolina, Virginia, and later Indiana, I often dreamed of alpine meadows in bloom.

I did not consciously remember that I had ever seen such a place, but when I was four, I lived for one year in Oregon. It was a halcyon time of love and hope, contentment and peace, a brief era that was followed by years of grief, anger, and instability.

When I saw the North Cascades again fifteen years later, and recognized my dream landscape, I realized that in my subconscious mind those meadow had come to symbolize paradise.

So, I mentioned Death. In the earliest hours of Friday the 13th, 2015, I was diagnosed with lung cancer. In April of last year, two thirds of my right lung was removed. Since then, there is no sign of any recurrence of cancer, and I am hopeful that there will be none. I quit smoking myself more than twenty-five years ago; most of the damage, I believe, was done in my childhood. But a diagnosis of cancer, followed by a major surgical intervention, does lead one to thoughts of mortality.

Two Little Girls is my life's work. As I went under the anaesthetic last spring, I thought, If I die without finishing that book, I will feel really stupid!

So there have been no romance stories, no new pop fiction from me, and thus no online publishing, since my last Christmas story. There might be some new stories soon, though, because my vision  of Two Little Girls is clear now, though there's still a helluva lot of work to do, and I believe I can afford the more frivolous work as a break now and then.

Thursday, January 28, 2016

Being accessible vs. "selling out"

Besides writing pop fiction (sweet romance, magical romance, and ~ my latest foray into something new ~ spicy sci-fi romance!) I've been at work for more than a decade on a big, sprawling cross-genre work that takes an oblique look at the nature of the mother-daughter bond by examining my late mother's life and our relationship through biography, memoir, and fantasy.

In a recent email conversation with another writer, who's working on a series of mysteries that incorporate magical realism, we talked about making our work understandable. She said, "I am on the precipice currently" about making the novel "more reader friendly/sellable, or something I am proud of as different and unsellable."  In response to some critique she'd received, she'd "tried simplicity [but] I didn't like it."  She still runs into passages she'd rewritten for this purpose, she said, and I got the impression that they strike a false note for her. She concluded, "I know there is a compromise somewhere..."
This poem about Older Women by local poet
Afrose Ahmed seems to fit here.

This is something I've struggled with too. I believe that there is a compromise possible, and one that's ultimately necessary unless one is not just writing for oneself. 

Accessibility matters.

It's too easy for us literary writers to get on our high horses and equate salable with selling out. Frankly, I see no virtue in being deliberately unsalable. We are not nihilistic youths who glory in the incomprehensibility of their wails of adolescent angst. We're mature women, women of the world in the best sense, whose writing flows from the well of our rich and deep experience of life. 

Writing something in a deliberately different way because that's the best way you see to tell your story?  I'm with you there one hundred percent - as long as it's also accessible to your intelligent readers. Every good book is ultimately a partnership between writer and reader. If you are writing something unusual, in content or in format or both, you want readers who are willing to try something new, and also willing to maybe work harder than usual to understand what they're reading. Those readers are worthy of your respect.

Accessibility has little to do with being sellable, and nothing to do with being publishable (anyone can publish anything these days). It's about communication. If my purpose in writing a book is to communicate something of my vision to others, then I do my best to make sure that those others I want to reach can follow what I am telling them. I don't oversimplify; I don't dumb anything down, but I try always to remember that the reader does not have the same insight into my vision that I have.  It's my job to convey the vision to the reader's understanding.

This is where critique is vital. Whenever I have to explain what I've written to my critique partners, then at least some of my other readers are bound to be confused by it too ~ and I won't be on hand to explain it to them. 

So it's up to me to do everything I can, short of oversimplifying, to avoid confusion. Sometimes it's just a question of tweaking the word order, or of making new word choices, but it's very hard work! Writing a romance story is a stroll in the park compared to that labor.

Wednesday, December 30, 2015

Wrapped Up in a Good Book: Comfort Reading

When I am tired, or sick, or depressed, or just want to relax, I like to wrap myself up in a comforting book.  My husband shares that habit, and early in our life together we knew we were a good match because we both like to read at the dinner table. 

That may sound anti-social, but hey, it’s late in the day, a day in which we may have had too many stressful interactions with others, and we are winding down.  We have plenty of conversation at other times, and indeed we often share interesting or humorous passages from our dinnertime reading.

Unless one of us is immersed in something absolutely unputdownable, we don’t usually choose intense or challenging reading matter to accompany a meal, or to take when curling up in an armchair or “sprawling” on the bed (as my husband likes to do) before sleep. At such times we go for comfort reading.

So what is comfort reading?  For me it’s often an old favorite:  the novels of Jane Austen, or the lesser—but far more prolific—Georgette Heyer; romantic adventure tales popular in my youth, by Mary Stewart, Joan Aiken and her sister Jane Aiken Hodge—or Aiken’s works for younger readers, especially Midnight is a Place, Saddle the Sea, etc.  In fact, I’m still fond of a lot of so-called “juvenile fiction,” and well-written mysteries often bear rereading.  Jo Bannister's, for example - an extremely underrated author.

For my husband, it’s thrillers by Tom Clancy or Robert Ludlum; Colleen McCullough’s novels of ancient Rome; Bill Bryson’s rambles through landscapes and/or language; and the Dune books.  He loves Frank Herbert’s books, mourns Herbert’s untimely passing ,and makes scathing remarks on the inferiority of the many sequels and prequels co-authored by son Brian Herbert and Kevin J. Anderson—but he reads them anyway.  Call them methadone for Dune addicts!  

When I am truly sick or sad or sorry, I turn to Ursula Le Guin’s Earthsea books, especially the first trilogy, for their spiritual beauty, their moral compass, their honesty about the cycles of life and death.

Four years ago my grandsons, then seven-and-a-half and nine-and-a-half, suffered a terrible bereavement, and when they next came to visit, they were still mourning.  Both were impatient with cuddling or any form of “babying” so there was no easy comfort for a grandmother to offer them, except to provide their favorite foods. 

The elder was a Harry Potter addict early in life, demanding endless repeats of the first movie before he could read, and then learning to read at an early age.  He’s long since exhausted the Harry Potter books and moved on to other (often better-written) sagas of wizardry, making his way through heavy volumes at a speed that astounds even me—and I read hundreds of novels every year.

The younger boy is not such a reader himself, but his father reads aloud to him most evenings.  He used to enjoy hearing me read as well, but on the first night and the second night of that visit he refused my offers to read to him; that seemed to fall into the category of “babying” he’d no longer tolerate. 

But on the third and final night of their stay, he rummaged through my shelves and brought me a book he used to love:  The Color Kittens.  We’ve read it so many times we know it by heart:  So we curled up on the couch with a blanket and half-read, half-recited:  “green as cats eyes, green as grass, by streams of water green as glass.” At the triumphant conclusion “all the colors in the world, and the Color Kittens had made them!” he hoisted his sleepy self off the couch, kissed us goodnight, and trundled upstairs to his father who was waiting to tuck him in. Comfort reading still rules!

What is your favorite comfort reading?

Thursday, October 15, 2015

Bullets... and Bullet Points

My friend Annette Matrisciano is finishing up a wildly suspenseful crime novel called Dead Rite -- not much like this one (no coffins to speak of, though plenty of dead bodies!). But what can I say? I love John Dickson Carr's work, and was happy to stumble across this funky old cover art. Annette's book could almost be called neo-noir, for the atmosphere, but fails to be noir in one essential way: we like her two heroines. They might each of them do a few less-than-admirable things, but they are not amoral.

Anyway, Annette took some time off from stressful revisions to pen this little gem of author's irony.  Here, for your pleasure, is:

Dissecting The Mystery Novel – Chalk Outline and Bullet Points.
By Annette Matrisciano

*  Expect scenes to be liberally salted and peppered with inner dialogues exposing soul searching and freight dumping.  We all know it's gotta go somewhere.  Like landfills.

Chapter 1 - Big, fat unhappy open!!
The other 60 chapters:
●  Meet our protagonist.  Oh my, she's feisty!  Cute dog, too.
●  Meet our other protagonist - Noble princess – high ideals with silver-spoon syndrome.
●  Villain number one.  Nut job.
Follow all the above for a few more chapters.  Unless your cell phone rings.  Do you resume?
●  Scrappy handmaiden – and sex – because someone's gotta do it.
●  WTF is she thinking?  Protagonists and reader know the answer, but both continue, nonetheless.
●  True love.  Maybe. Yes.  No. Uh... still maybe.
Don't go in the attic!  Reader now sits on the edge of his or her recliner.
●  Fuck-ups, wrong turns & hubris galore balanced with, I'd pick her first for my dodge-ball team!
●  Concealed weapons and lace panties.  Always a crowd pleaser.
●  Oh, God!  The 'why me' pity-party.
The ringers – meet villains two and three.
●  Hellloooo!  You didn't see that coming?!  Reader gets to make judgements about protagonist.
●  You shoulda listened to me vs. I shoulda listened to you.
●  Confirm and deny – AKA Doubt Samplings.
Dead bodies.  A sprinkling of at least three is usually advised.
●  Occult tastings served here.
●  Career boosting bit-parts for character actors.
●  Proof he's a douche.  Lots of proof.
Requisite weeping.  Repeat.  Requisite weeping.
          ●  The “Luke, I am your father” showdown, with serial possibilities
●  Villain's long overdue kick to the groin dished out by heroine.  I have two of these final blow scenes – One for each of my complex and well drawn protagonists.
●  The BFF closer.

And when the last page is turned:
All my friends tell me how great it was.  My mother is dead, or she might have liked it, too.

Friday, May 8, 2015

Spring is here and it's time for a big giveaway from Laughing Vixen Lounge. 11 shops have come together to create one amazing Prize Pack ($280+) full of Jewelry, Perfume, Clothing, Vintage and much more! Many of the shops offer items perfect for any book lover along with lots of other unique, handcrafted and custom designs.

The Fabulous Spring Giveaway is open worldwide. 1 winner will win the Prize Pack. You can enter via the Rafflecopter below. Please visit the Laughing Vixen Lounge Blog and the Main Giveaway Post HERE to see the full prize list, participating shops and daily features during the giveaway.

Since Summer is right around the corner the giveaway theme is Vacation Memories. Each of our participating shops, and many of our blog sponsors, will be sharing some of their favorite vacation photos with you. Here are a few photos from my last beach vacation, on the Oregon Coast.

Giveaway runs May 4th - 18th. Laughing Vixen Lounge is responsible for all giveaway details. See full details HERE.

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Friday, May 1, 2015

When Janie joins a book club...

A thirty-something professional editor, Janie is naturally reserved, but as a new arrival in Oakville, she'd like to meet a few people, maybe make some new friends, so she joins a book club. She doesn't realize that love is in the air--and she's not sure she wants it to be!

Giulietta Spudich has written a light-hearted but touching sequel to my story A Mystery for Marissa.

The Right Kiss, Book 2 of The Monday Mystery Society, is free today through Sunday on Amazon

Check it out!  And if you like it, do consider posting a brief review.  Those reviews help keep us writing!

Monday, April 20, 2015


I hope you enjoyed my story A Mystery for Marissa, Book 1 of The Monday Mystery Society.  

Now here's Book 2, by my friend Giulietta Spudich.

The Right Kiss follows Janie, a dainty green-eyed young woman who may appear shy or even timid, but actually knows her own mind very well.  If she always goes silent and withdrawn with attractive young men - well, it's because she's not interested. That worries her sometimes, but not enough to change her mind.

She's holding out for the one worth waiting for:  the right man, the right time, the right kiss.  And in the meantime, no one is going to push her around.

In her reserve, her natural elegance, and her quiet certainty about who she is and what she wants, she reminds me of Fanny Price in Jane Austen's Mansfield Park.

Lovely Book 2, Giulietta.  Proud to share an anthology with you.