Friday, December 29, 2017

When Your Writing Life Takes a Back Seat

It’s been a tumultuous year, but I’m grateful for how it worked out. Lords of Kur is published. I made one of the biggest transitions in my career for far, moving from the realm of writing and editing to one of data science. As much as I love working in writing and social media, it’s time to take a deep dive behind the online world and learn everything I can about analytics, big data, and how to optimize the online experience. I joined a marketing agency this fall. I’m thrilled by the opportunity, but it’s a high-intensity role with big goals locked in place for 2018, and the learning curve is daunting. While the current phase of my life feels volatile, I’m gaining invaluable experience that will carry my career to its next phase. Yet it comes at a cost. There will be little time for writing in 2018.

Research for my fifth novel is happening at a slow pace. So is a business plan that I’m working on—but that’s okay. Focusing on data science now will only help my future business. Blogging? Sure, when I can, both here and at my food blog, Savored Words. A couple fiction-streams-via-Twitter accounts are also in development. I have no trouble finding cool things to be involved in, but finding time is a problem.

We’ll see how it goes.

Even though I love this new career track of data science, it does feel weird to be in a job that isn’t based in writing. Journaling before bed keeps the Muses from going stir crazy, but it’s more like therapy than creative writing at this point. In a way, it feels like a necessary sabbatical. Completing and publishing Lords of Kur was a herculean task. There is a ton of research to do before even coming up with a basic character list and plot outline.

For many writers today, pressure mounts to publish all the time. A good deal of it is surely self-imposed. Other times, it’s bad advice from somewhere in a writer’s circle of influence. Tons of well-meaning posts offering up advice and special promotions on Twitter certainly adds to it. Whenever I scroll through my feed at the dazzling array of book covers, blog posts (oh hi…), and author photos, I do wonder how well the social media push works for them. I never seemed to find my groove in marketing my own work. I try to implement new social media and networking plans, but when pressed for time, self-promotion is the first thing to go. Once a novel flies the coop, I’m already grappling with the Muses about which story to focus on next.

There was a time when the idea of not being able to dedicate a major portion of my life to writing would have thrown me into a panic. I have crazy self-imposed deadlines to meet! The list of novels and short stories grows! While my passion for writing has never waned, I’ve mellowed over the years. Not all the projects on my list are even going to be written; I keep them on hand as a reference of where the Muses steered me over the years. There will be time. Until there isn’t. In the meantime, as I navigate my life into unknown waters, it’s all about staying focused and trying to avoid the storms. Wherever this journey brings me, the Muses will always be part of it. 

Sunday, October 15, 2017

Getting Back on Course

The past few months have been charging ahead at a break-neck pace. Life threw a series of curveballs, and I’ve been scrambling. I hardly celebrated the publication of my fourth novel in June, which took 23 years to complete. Before I knew it, leaves were turning yellow and orange and days have blurred together and are now navigated by meeting schedules. It feels as though everything is in chaos: the cringe-worthy political landscape, revelations that have me re-evaluating my long-term career goals, and the sundry life events that remind you stability is a precious, fleeting thing. 

Keeping up with 3 blogs, marketing myself as an indie author, exploring new territory as I face the latter half of my career, and keeping up with the everyday grist got to be unwieldy. I beat myself up for it. As my husband works a second job some evenings, I pour out my heart in my journal and reiterate lists of things I can’t lose sight of: appointments, to-do lists for my writing life, and notes for recipes. Most of the time I’ve felt like I’m spinning my wheels. I had lengthy time-outs in the world of Skyrim. After downloading the special edition, I gave Skyrim a final play before retiring it. Those sessions were a balm as I struggled to figure out the path forward. 

And finally, just like that, the Muses returned. It was sunny weekend—the last few warm days of the season. I had finally caught up on some reading and prepared the post for Savored Words, my food blog. I’ve been struggling with conceptualizing my fifth novel, which will be set in Down East Maine during the War of 1812. As I gathered history books for research and revived some genealogy research, I longed for that magic moment where I lose myself in worldbuilding. Hours pass and as the sun’s light shifts across my dining room table, I sit there, taking notes and turning pages. It’s been a routine since childhood. I immersed myself so deep in a world that the day would pass and I’d be stirred out of my reverie to have dinner. Today I balance cooking with research—a good excuse to roam the kitchen and stretch every so often. But the spirit of the experience remains the same. There’s a certain euphoria when the Muse arrives, an ancient joy that I look forward to the moment when a story takes shape and in a spark, has a soul. 

I know who the central characters are going to be in the fifth novel. Stark visuals are forming about how they dress and how they speak. I’m only in the early phases of doing research for the novel, and the project is complicated by its external components: a cookbook of family recipes inspired by our heritage in Eastport, Maine, and a short story to connect to the novel from a modern perspective. I hadn’t given much thought to figuring out our family tree, but once we discovered a connection to smuggling, it suddenly became a lot more interesting. I’ve never included much in terms of personal reflection in my other stories. I love finding the extraordinary women who’ve been marginalized by history and give them a voice to tell their tale. That’s always been my gig. I didn’t expect to find myself blending fiction and family history, but here I am. I'm hoping that next month, I can dive in and do a draft zero of this novel for NaNoWriMo. We'll see if time is kind. 

My third and fourth novels were based in deserts. I look forward to going back to the seafaring spirit that drove my novel about Granía O’Malley in Dark Lady of Doona. There’s something about being out on the water that feels like home. It took me a long time to recognize it and embrace it. The closer I get to the past, the more I realize how comforting the sea is. I love the moments when, drifting off to sleep, I still feel the swells and wakes after being on a boat for a few hours. Ultimately, I see myself moving northward—back to Maine for my family, and taking root where the story began. It’s a journey that reveal its secrets over time, and I look forward to gazing out from the same coves as relatives from generations ago who I’m only just beginning to understand. 

Draft Zero

I was having lunch with a writer-friend recently, and she mentioned a great term that helped me put NaNoWriMo into sharper context: Draft Zero.  

I’ve participated in National Novel Writing Month since 2011. In each case, I’ve cut the majority of the manuscript once November passed. I wrote more than 56,000 words for the initial round of my third novel, Whiskey and Rue, and only 6,000 of those words made it into the final version that was published. Some writers panic at the thought of extensive revisions. I used to as well.  

The value of a 30-day freewriting session became clear while reviewing Whiskey and Rue. Carefully thinking out each scene can be restrictive. Any online writing forum, be it a group on Facebook or Google+ or elsewhere (I miss you, Scribophile—I hope to come back soon!), will have debates between “plotters and pansters,” i.e., those who plot out every detail in their notes and those who just sit down and write. For most of my works, I’ve had detailed notes and chapter outlines. Whiskey and Rue is the first instance in which I didn’t. I attribute it to the wonders of NaNoWriMo.  

During that 30-day frenzy, scenes came to life that I doubt would’ve appeared if I had stuck to my meticulously crafted chapter outline. Some of the inspiration was from my own Muse; some of it came from prompts from the NaNo Sprints Twitter account. Their often funny prompts spawned a handful of quirky ideas that somehow fit right into the novel. A writing challenge on Chuck Wendig’s blog provided me with the last three pages of the story. It’s a puzzle that formed in sections. If I ran out of ideas for a chapter, I moved on. I leapt ahead whole chapters to capture a scene that would fit in sooner or later. But the end result of NaNoWriMo—not really a first draft.  

My friend’s concept described it perfectly—you can’t read draft zero through as a complete arc. It’s a series of ideas that eventually coalesce into a real draft. For me, it takes three real drafts before I feel ready to show it to beta readers and editors. Draft zero is shown to no one.  

Draft zero is a mess.  

You pick through the pieces—finding the gems among the dross—and save them.  

It isn’t wasted time. None of the discarded words are. All practice is beneficial, even when you don’t save much of it. It’s the same with sketching for me, though I (regrettably) practice that much less.  

Draft zero can be the source of the best kind of inspiration; it just needs work. Veteran authors implore, admonish, and plead for new writers to be patient and work through several revisions before self-publishing. And I have to admit, when I see the special offers for publishing newly scribbled works right after NaNo is over, I cringe. Better to focus on the special offers for editorial services. A manuscript critique. Something that shows the process of the writing life for real.  

For me, there are always works in various stages of development. There is at least one draft zero to pick up when it’s ready. A manuscript in full form, going through a first deep edit. There’s always something to work on, and it’s great to be able to shift gears and work on another novel when I realize it’s time to give a work a time-out for a while.  

Draft zero may need to live in your desk drawer—okay, old phrase—may need to live in the cloud—for a long time before you can work on it again. Like a barren planet being terraformed, or a peaty single malt scotch (I’m looking at you, Lagavulin!), draft zero needs time to reach the perfect state of being. No matter what, whether you hit that 50K or not at the end of the month, draft zero has the potential to be a winner.  

(Originally published December 2014) 

Sunday, July 9, 2017

Smashwords Summer Sale

In the fast-paced world of day jobs, writing novels, short stories, and blog posts, alongside a number of other home improvement and side projects, it's easy to forget what's been accomplished in the past. Just a couple of weeks ago, when my fourth novel, Lords of Kur, was published, I returned to the Smashwords publishing platform and realized that despite how much I may beat myself up over not having written as much as I'd hoped, there were more stories on the list than I gave myself credit for. But then, I have a history of selling myself short. So to get back in the indie author game, I joined the Smashwords July promotion program, and most of my novels are free through the end of the month. If you're looking for something new, check them out!  

The Free Books 

Use code SW100 at checkout to apply discount.  

Legend has it that the love of Prince Vlad Dracula’s life committed suicide during a siege when the odds of winning were slim. This is the story of Ecaterina Floari, consort to the Wallachian prince who served as inspiration for Bram Stoker’s Dracula. A ruthless warlord in the fifteenth century, Prince Dracula fought valiantly against those who would control the land of his ancestors. As his consort, Ecaterina accompanied him in the turbulent years of exile and discovered an ancient force influencing their lives. Her devotion to him was eternal, and she followed him into immortality… 

Known as “Granía of the Gamblers,” Granía O’Malley makes a high-stakes bet to buy her freedom and the ability to continue her livelihood as pirate queen on Ireland’s west coast. She enters into a dangerous agreement with Queen Elizabeth’s spymaster, Sir Francis Walsingham, and soon finds herself caught up in a web of intrigue that is plunging her country, as well as her family, into chaos. At war with a cruel governor while serving as one of Walsingham’s many spies, Granía struggles to maintain stability within her family and fleet and provide an enduring legacy for her heir to the seas. A story full of adventure and passion, Dark Lady of Doona portrays the life of a formidable woman who defied traditions by commanding her own fleet of ships and leading her loyal followers into rebellion. 

A young noblewoman dreams of accompanying her beloved into battle and becoming a legendary heroine. The year is 1588, and King Philip II of Spain sends his armada on a holy war against Queen Elizabeth I. Despite her lover’s warnings, she schemes to join him on the Nuestra Señora del Rosario, flagship of the Andalusian Squadron. She wasn’t prepared for the harsh conditions, fierce storms, and ultimately, crossing paths with the queen’s most formidable privateer, Sir Francis Drakea man who carries her fate in his pocket. Through an enchanted mirror, a mysterious force from the New World is summoned, and Consuela waits, held captive on a foreign shore, in hope of rescue.  

The New Release 

Use code SW75 at checkout to apply discount and get for a mere $1! 

In the Sumer-Akkad Federation, false oracles cultivate selfish ideologies that lead to widespread corruption and oppression. Neglected gods send emissaries to find true oracles and set a revolution in motion. Two friends become a force for change in the ancient heart of the federation—and both make perilous journeys that shape the course of history. 

Friday, July 7, 2017


Callie wasn't sure of it was thunder or fireworks at first, then a piece of notebook paper rose up in a curl from the table and drifted through the air like a ghost. From her vantage point from the couch, she watched the paper settle on the dark dining room floor. The distant clashes came again. Rain splattered through the screens on the windows on the north side of the house. After a short while, the rain died down and a new, engineered series of booms followed. Fireworks kicked off the beach season in the next town over. As the concussive explosions faded, a woman's voice called out from a nearby yard. A pet was missing. There was a pause, then a screen door slammed shut. As the wind picked up, the leaves rattled, and a solitary meow filled the air.

Thursday, February 23, 2017

Wolves of Sorrow

Dagmar stood on the wooden platform in the middle of the forest, waiting for the ritual to end. The rich scent of the earth’s awakening to spring brought anxiety to the forefront of her mind. I should be planting crops, not grieving. I don’t even know what to say about this…She wiped the tears away, catching a slightly disapproving look from the priestess, Birgit. No more tears. That time is done.

No tears.

They would not hand her the shield if she continued to cry. It belonged to her husband. It lay over his body when his companions brought him home. Birgit took the shield from his body and presented it to Dagmar with an invitation to join the Wolves of Sorrow. Her heart full of rage at the warriors across the sea who killed him, Dagmar accepted without a thought. Now she wondered if her courage would match her desire for revenge.

Her husband’s shield had been repainted with a depiction of a wolf’s face in dark purple. A single tear appeared under the left eye, the eye sacrificed for knowledge by Odin the Allfather. She accepted the redesigned shield with a grateful bow.

She was no stranger to battle. Everyone in the village could sharpen weapons and step through the basic attack and defensive movements. With Björn by her side, she fought in a skirmish to keep raiders from plundering their village several years ago.

And now she stood with the widow-warriors, about to voyage across the sea to protect the settlements and hunt the men who broke the treaty. Her husband’s friends told her that he had been killed by the king himself.

The priestess held up a sword to the crowd of women surrounding the platform. “We know this belongs to one of King Cuthbert’s soldiers. They may not have been wearing the armor of their kingdom, but they still carried the king’s weapons. They are no more than well-paid bandits, and we’ll show them what it means to rob us.”

The resounding cheers swept her up and she held up the shield, mimicking Björn’s battlecry. As the women marched down the hill from the forest and through the village, they beat their axes against their shields, each bearing the same wolf face. Villagers paused in their tracks for the procession. Onward, thought Dagmar as she raised her axe and shield and shouted. Onward to war.

They reached the shore and waded out to the dragon ships. The Wolves of Sorrow took up three boats, followed by the vikings who made their lives by exploring and raiding other lands. They pushed out with their oars and slowly rowed out of the narrow bay.

Clouds played among the mountaintops as they passed down the bay to the open ocean. The evergreen trees towered over each other and the occasional cry of golden eagles soared over the water. Dagmar shivered suddenly at the world around her. Rarely having left the village, she now realized the vast beauty around her in a new way. That Björn didn’t return standing at the prow of the dragon ship still seemed surreal to Dagmar. For days, she expected to see him walk by the hearth and sit next to her on the bench, and share a story from his travels or offer her some mead. Alas, his side of the bed remained cold. Cold as the light breeze that came down the bay. As placid as the water that stretched out on both sides of the ships. His blanket untouched, though she longed to wrap herself up in it and sleep to forget the world without him.

No storms accompanied them across the sea. The priestess said it was a blessing. “They favor the Wolves of Sorrow,” she said. “They’ll guide us right through the king’s front gates. Cuthbert will fall to his knees and beg us for mercy. We will grant him none.” The widow-warriors shouted in agreement. Steadily and with unflagging determination, they reached the shores of Northumbria, where dark clouds began to gather.

Low thunder rolled across the sky, as though the gods grumbled in impatience. The warriors made camp near the windowless citadel where the petty king resided. A nearby monastery bustled with activity. Monks tended their gardens and loaded barrels of ale onto wagons.

Like the gods, Dagmar was growing impatient. The moment came when the king led a hunting party out of the citadel’s front gate. Accompanied by a couple dozen friends and guards, they rode out into the woods in a column.

A while later, a young scout, Askr, appeared with his bright eyes through the leaves where the warriors hid and watched. “They’re far enough away from the citadel! They’re busy setting up tents and drinking—now is the perfect time!”

The ambush happened quickly. The Wolves of Sorrow led the charge into King Cuthbert’s distracted encampment with raised axes and shields. The Northumbrian men were taken aback at first, bewildered by the sight of the women in armor. A man with a black and white striped beard laughed. Others joined him. The laughter turned to a bellow of disbelief and agony when Dagmar’s axe cut into his shoulder and almost severed his arm from his body. The men gaped and fumbled for their swords. Unprepared, they scrambled as the warrior-widows tore through them in flashes of steel and blood with the rain pounding down on them all. Lightning cracked overhead, illuminating the steel.

Dagmar advanced on the king with her axe held high. “It was you.”

She saw that he didn’t understand her words, but he trembled slightly, his path blocked from any weapon. Her lip twitched in a smile as he held up his hands. His words trembled too.

She plucked the crown from his head and hitched it on the end of the scabbard on her belt. “My son will wear this. We will make him king of Northumbria.” She drove the blade into the side of the king’s neck and it was done. Dagmar turned to the other warriors, emerging into the camp now that the Wolves of Sorrow slaked their thirst. The widows howled and bayed, their prey conquered, their pack ever stronger.

Monday, January 2, 2017

The Smell of the Apocalypse

The 10-alarm blaze displaced 125 people. Several cars exploded as the fire spread from house to house. Local news reports showed plumes of smoke drifting for miles away from the fire. The following morning, Callie paused on the walkway on her way to the bus stop. The acrid odor of smoke hung heavily in the air. On this quiet morning surrounded by silent houses, it conjured an eerie sensation.  

There was no traffic. The combination of smoke and silence triggered a survivalist impulse. The lyricism of Cormac McCarthy’s The Road came to mind, bringing forth images of charred trees and a world laid to waste. The post-election newsfeed on her phone promised a bleak future. A worldwide dystopia run by a coalition of dictators was to come, and the time to plan for revolution is now. It feels like it’s already over, and the sixth extinction has come to pass, Callie thought as the bitter tang of soot settled around herThis is what the apocalypse smells like