Sunday, March 31, 2019

Sneak Peak of a Work in Progress

I lived in Glanmire, Co. Cork, Ireland from 1985 to the summer of 1988. My grandparents owned the Vienna Woods Hotel and my family operated it. We lived in a bungalow at the top of the hill, above the hotel and surrounded by woods. We kept the wood open and maintained the paths. Some of the growth was ancient and some ornamental from the time the hotel was a private home. It was an amazing place to grow up.

I take terrible selfies.
I concentrate too much on the mechanics.
My husband, two daughters, and I visited Ireland this past summer. My eldest daughter, then thirteen, was the same age I was when we left. I tried to share my experiences but the hotel and grounds had changed so much that I felt very little connection and the lack was heartbreaking. I had built this homecoming experience up so much that nothing could have matched the expectation. The saddest part was that the wood was completely inaccessible and even the main opening at the top of the hill was blocked by dumping. One owner at some point had used the wood as their own private waste
disposal for debris from expanding the hotel (it is now about 3 times the size of the original structure). For the record, the hotel was in great condition, the staff welcoming (surprisingly so considering I was probably really weird), and the restaurant experience great. We stayed in a vacation bungalow.

I need to go back and spend time not being a tourist and just let myself experience Ireland slowly, day to day. I know I will and soon, but in the meantime I hold on to memories of belonging that I never had again after moving back to the states.

One of my manuscripts in progress is set on the grounds of the Vienna Woods (although morphed for my creative use because a writer I am all powerful). The premise is that a woman returns to the Ireland seeking the connection she'd had to the land, an elemental power within the earth, something that pulsed through the forest itself. Due to disrespect and greed the forest is in peril and with it the spirit that feeds nature itself. This story is a paranormal romantic suspense with only the seeds of my own life experiences at its core. This is The Gift meets Quiet Man meets Avatar and is quirky and creepy and endearing all at once. I look forward to actually finishing it to my satisfaction (I have finished it  twice now :(, but both went in the wrong direction).

Click below to read a selection from the manuscript when Gillian first steps into the wood after thirty years away.

Friday, February 1, 2019

Do the Thing

There are so many things I intend to do... eventually. I put them off because I'm lazy, afraid, or awkward in general.

This past year has taught me that you may not get that eventual opportunity and then regret sinks in. So do that thing, whatever it is. Whether you think it's for you or someone else, it's actually for you because living with NOT doing it is your burden.

So here's a public service announcement:

Paint that picture even if it may be horrible. Write the books and stop all the excuses. Go to France and try to speak the French you learned, even if it's not good enough. Clean up the pile in the corner and give the costumes to someone who can use them. Make that doctor appointment you've been avoiding. Put together the photo album you meant to do fifteen years ago. Tell that person you love them even if it's awkward and uncomfortable -- it will be worse when you no longer have the opportunity. Eventually they will be gone. Eventually you will be gone. Make your mark and do it with gusto. With chutzpah. With excitement. Be fearless. Do it because you still can.

No, I am not ill or dying (besides general fact that we're all dying), but my family has dealt with loss this past year and reminded me that time is short.

All the things I listed above, I should do them (maybe not the France thing, not right away at least). Right now I'm writing one of the books, book one of The Merry Midwives of Windshear Abbey. Then I'll write the next one. Funny how that's less daunting than the pile of crates in the corner full of Elizabethan costumes.

What thing are you going to do?

Monday, December 17, 2018

Love Thyself

This is, in part, about the word "fat," but mainly about allowing yourself to be beautiful.

I first discovered I was fat when I was 13 and my mother put me on a Slimfast diet. I was 5' 7" and about 130 lbs (which is actually underweight for that height). My body was still figuring itself out and it would later settle in a curvaceous 38-24-36... and I still thought I was fat. I wore over-sized clothes and, even though I was in dance and had legs of iron, never wore shorts. By the end of my senior year I figured out that I shouldn't be ashamed of my body, but I still thought I was fat because I wasn't skinny.

I haven't used the word "fat" to describe myself or anyone else in over fourteen years. What changed? I had a daughter and an epiphany about self-love. I am not fat, I have fat. I have more fat than I should for my height and it's not healthy, but it has nothing to do with how I face the world or my sense of worth. If I want to lose weight it is for health, not to meet someone else's standards. I can feel more attractive at a size 16 than I did at a size 8. When I hear someone complain about or judge someone for being fat I cringe at the word as strongly as I might if they used a racial slur.

I now have two daughters, both young teens and nature is working itself out. One has very, very low body fat, that's how she's built. One is more like teenage me, and that's how she's built. I have tried to promote portion size and nutritional values, but I don't teach calories. They know I am overweight and need to exercise for my health. They encourage me to exercise because they love me, not because I should meet some standard of beauty. I don't want "fat" to become part of their regular vocabulary or value system. They will face plenty of struggles in their lives without the ever-present specter of being fat or being afraid of being fat following them constantly.

How does this relate to writing:

Romance heroines are beautiful... but what does that mean? In my first draft I wrote Frances LeSieur as so-so (with or without the makeover). Not unattractive, but not stunning. I wanted the sense of her beauty to shine more and more and Henry fell in love with her. My beta reader's feedback said I should change that. Why? Because romance has that element of fantasy full of beautiful people.

The rest of my heroines are, so far and forevermore will be, beautiful. That doesn't mean they will be created from cookie cutters from Playboy.

Beauty is so many things. Frances is a size 8-10 and has a body that has born five babies. Mary is too slim to be fashionable then but would be adequate today in a size 2-4. In her era, however, this was not a positive trait. Jane (coming soon in Courtly Abandon) is petite and curvaceous in a way that wouldn't fit most clothing today--she would have to shop in the petite plus size section (she is, in fact, more in line with the standard of beauty appropriate to the era). While none of these ladies are a 2XL (yet) they are beautiful in their own ways and highly attractive to their mate.

None of them worry about being fat. None of their friends complain to them about their fat legs or pooch or flabby arms. It's a non-issue. Mary is a little self-conscious about a very toothy smile and tries to emphasize her bust, but, out of all of them, she might bemoan NOT having more girth.

If I had to whittle this down to my main points it would be that beauty is subjective and something we force on ourselves, so why destroy it with self-hatred? Romance novel heroines may be figures of beauty (in the book, based on the book's standards) but even there there is no standard they all meet. They find what is beautiful about themselves and learn they are worth the effort of claiming happiness.

I have fat and I am not thin, but I am me I am beautiful in my way.


Saturday, December 1, 2018

Extended Imaginary Epilogue

Courtly Scandals is set over the twelve days of Christmas. This means Mary and Charles have twelve days to find their happily ever after. While the fates (me) put them in the position to find each other and have a common goal binding them, it's hard to pave the way for them to have a viable future. Sex is easy (although it's something I have difficulty writing, especially with my kids not respecting the fact that I REALLY am working right now), it's the possibilities of what will come next that is really tricky.

I like to see the potential for success in their relationship. Marriage is tricky and the infatuation based love that comes from our innate instinct to mate and reproduce, is not a long lasting condition. This means the couple has to be able to be friends and have similar values when it comes to fidelity, honor, and the willingness to work on staying in love. This is why I have trouble suspending disbelief for the tropes of the maiden and the rake, especially if there is a broad age difference.

Personally, I write beta males that can be alpha when needed. Don't get me wrong, they're confident, strong, attractive, and smart but they are not pushy. While the man who takes what is his can be sexy in an escapist fantasy, I want a man who listens and respects the woman he loves. That sort of man would never push a woman to the point where, even though she was saying no, her body was saying yes. He would never steamroll over her dreams. It's not just about consent, it's about trust and friendship. I have a hard time visualizing alpha males being true partners as parents or supporting their wife while she deals with depression or what-have-you. The alpha is so set as himself that it would be hard to grow and change with his partner.

While I do write epilogues that give the flavor of what comes next, it would be fun to do something ten or twenty years down the road. Julia Quinn re-released some of her books with extended epilogues and I bought them even though I owned the originals (and loved them). I love seeing what happens next. Romance is so full of potential and hope--it helps promote faith in humanity to see that potential realized. Love can work if you work it and, I think, my characters can stand the test of time. For all that romance is fantasy, it's a good model for life and can help guide good choices for big decisions, even if it's not easy. There's a quote on Julia Quinn's page that says:

“In some ways, portraying a 
healthy relationship in literature
 is the most revolutionary 
thing you can do.” 

—Julia Quinn

When you read romance do you think about what comes next?

Saturday, October 27, 2018

Thank You for Happily-Ever-Afters

Romance gets a bad rap for being formulaic. The truth is that the genre of romance only has two requirements.
1. It has a central love story.
2. It has an emotionally satisfying happily ever after.

Other than these two guidelines, romance can be anything. I'm not going to jump into a rhetoric of the vast possibilities within the genre versus the stereotypes because that will get me on a self-righteous rant and that is not the purpose of this blog.

So what is the purpose of this blog post?

This is a thank you to the romance genre as a whole for giving me the promise of escape into a world where good wins and love conquers everything. Thank you to romance writers who introduce me to beautifully flawed characters and reinforce that perseverance in the face of adversity can lead to happiness. Thank you for feeding my optimism and sense of hope.

Without going into details, this summer was the worst of my life and, I feel confident to assume, my husband and daughters' lives. My youngest daughter and I were able escape the world into our books. She flew through everything Rick Riordan. Among others, I read Alyssa Cole, Kristin Higgins, Elizabeth Hoyt, Kianna Alexander, and re-read some Julia Quinn because I needed the warm hug and affirmation these books promised. I had to put down Ken Follett because I wasn't in a strong emotional place to take the gritty darkness without a promise that it would all end well.

So thank you to all the happily-ever-afters that give us hope. I needed it and now I can get back to writing it.

Tuesday, September 11, 2018

Research May Kill Me Yet

What is the bare minimum of people/artisans/laborers to run a subsistence level medieval town?

What are the Elizabethan laws about women artisans? And do those apply outside London? If so, how are they regulated?

Learn more about medieval:
White washing
Sewage solutions

Can you dig a fresh water well on a cliff near the sea?

How would an architect find skilled labor in the middle of nowhere?

If a countess was a guest in the home of a knight's wife, would precedence still favor the countess or the hostess?

What is the bare minimum of staff a gentleman's house can have? What roles are filled by women? Could they be?

I am taking the bones of a medieval town and reworking it into a feminine utopia and, while fantasy is implicit in romance, I'm not sure how much I can get away with in regard to reasonably flipping historical norms on their head. Part of the challenge and appeal is the unorthodox nature of Windshear Abbey. Within my story, my reinvented standards are born from necessity and survival, but there's only so much change you can throw at a medieval peasant and it has to make sense. This means a lot of sociology, anthropology, and history research on my part. While courtly norms at this time were specific to the Elizabethans (and I am very comfortable with these), not much changed in the small towns or among the working poor far away from urban centers so it's safe to use medieval models. But that doesn't make it easier. It's such a BIG undertaking and is getting in the way of actually writing the story itself.

The good news is that once I've built my foundation in this book I'll be free to write forward within my established norms in the unlimited potential of the Merry Wives of Windshear Abbey. I have so many ideas percolating and can't wait until these stories start to tell themselves.

In the meantime, can you have successful beehives on a coastal cliff?
How do you make beeswax candles?
How long can a milk cow healthily produce?
How much acreage could three women plant and harvest?
Would a small town have seeds to sell or only enough to plant for themselves?

Thursday, July 26, 2018

Celebrating Successes

By the time Courtly Pleasures was released I was thick into edits for Courtly Scandals. My husband wanted to have a release date party but it was on a Monday and it was my Mom's birthday and the kids had dance class... can we do it later? Or maybe after the series comes out?

We never did it and I didn't mind. I felt weird about celebrating myself, especially when there was so much to be done.

Fast forward six months to the 2018 Romance Writer's of America national conference in Denver and there I sat, at my first conference as a published author, feeling just as awkward as I always had. Not much had changed. I was still working toward whatever was supposed to come next but, unlike that first conference years ago, it was without a sense of joy. Instead I was stressed out about the books I haven't written yet and needed to write yesterday.

What happened to me? I should be more excited, more innovative, more confident and productive... right?

I was in a workshop given by Rosanne Bane about ways to get past writer's block and had a moment of personal insight. The entirety of her workshop had to do with the physiological function of the brain and the way it responds to stress and, in turn, the way we, as writers, respond (usually by creatively shutting down). She gave a list of better brain responses and the way to train myself to shut down my limbic system response and get back into the creativity of my cortex. The PowerPoint is available to you here.

Her points were easily understandable, the solutions reasonable, and I have already started to change my approaches to self care.

One point she made, more of a side note in the section about the lateral habenula (the teeny tiny section within the limbic system that decreases dopamine) was to follow through on rewards. She advised us to set incremental goals with corresponding rewards for goal completion. I never did this because I was always too busy with the next step. How simple would it be to take the time to pause and congratulate myself?  To be proud and excited and feel successful? Instead I jump right back in and feel only the weight of everything else left undone.

I should have celebrated that contract and the first round of edits. I should have celebrated the second and third round of edits and the book cover. All of these milestones along my journey deserved a moment of acknowledgement. I deserve to acknowledge my own successes as they come. Writing a book, following through, publishing... all of that is hard work and I wouldn't do it, couldn't do it, if I didn't believe in myself. I don't know if it's false humility or that I'm just an absolute buzz-kill, but I feel guilty being proud of myself and celebrating myself and I think it has put a big fat damper on my joy about my craft.


I'm going to set goals (baby-steps) and celebrate myself when I achieve them. I don't think it's a carrot on a stick--I think it's allowing myself to write without worrying about everything I could be doing better and just do it. After all, If I'm not writing forward, I'm accomplishing nothing. So huzzah for me.

Current goal: build sexual tension between my main characters (which is rough because she just had a baby and had been abandoned by her husband before she even knew she was pregnant). It's easier said than done because every time I write, she gets irritable and irrationally suspicious  Once I accomplish this I will get a pedicure as a reward and celebration.

Do you reward yourself for goal completion?

***Note 8/5/18: I finished the chapter that I was struggling with in regard to building sexual tension and then I did NOT go for the promised pedicure because I felt like the reward was bigger than the goal and added a new section to the goal (to lay the foundation for a future conflict) and have not been able to write anything since. I think I need to 1. get that pedicure and 2. make sure my rewards are of like weight with the goal. In this case I should have promised myself a cookie.

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