Posts Tagged ‘Writing’


Today is the official Day of Joy recognized by every writer on the face of the earth, I would be willing to bet. Today is the day after I finally submitted my overdue manuscript. My book is complete. (Until my brilliant editor finds the goof-ups and guides me toward revisions that will make it GOOD book!).

I am a free woman.

redman photo 82 side k pref head vert typa

But that first day of freedom, after weeks and weeks, sometimes months and months, of enslavement, is always strange. I come creeping out of my deadline cave, hunched and blinking at the daylight, asking everyone, “What year is it?” And then, just when I thought I would run skipping all over my world, screaming, “FREEDOM! BRING ON THE FUN!” I am oddly paralyzed. I’ve forgotten how to do anything but write. I’ve lost the knack of feeling anything but guilty, pressed and terrified that my words won’t be good enough.

That’s when a quiet day of reading can provide the perfect bridge. The quiet place between deadline Hell and (temporary) freedom Heaven.

I’ve got so many books stacked up I hardly know which one to select. Here are the ones I’ve started with:

penelopiad coverTHE PENELOPIAD, by Margaret Atwood.
This one will probably win, because it’s a very cool retelling of the Penelope/Odysseus myth, only this time from Penelope’s POV. I’ve begun it…and Penelope is such a wry, honest voice that I don’t see how I can switch to something else till I’ve heard what she has to say. Plus, this is a library book, and it’s due soon.

zelda book
Z: A NOVEL OF ZELDA FITZGERALD, by Therese Anne Fowler.
No, wait! This one might win, because I just saw THE GREAT GATSBY, and it put me in the mood!
I loved the Luhrmann version of Gatsby, though I have some great friends who disagree with me…almost violently! 🙂 If you saw it, I’d love to hear what you thought!
Shakespeare and Dickens booksSHAKESPEARE’S TREMOR AND ORWELL’S COUGH, The Medical Lives of Famous Writers, by John J. Ross, M.D.
This is one I can pick at, a chapter at a time, so it’ll probably just wander around with me for a few weeks, filling in odd moments. But doesn’t it sound cool? It explores the “medical mysteries” of some famous and fascinating writers.

This one probably appeals only to lit-geeks, because it explores the role of the daughter in Dickens novels. However, because I *am* a lit-geek, it’s made the short list.

babysitting ShoshieOr, I could just go out on the back porch and watch my son’s puppy play in the yard while I get started on my next book. We’re puppy-sitting for a few days, and the little rascal provided a wonderful excuse to write outside as I polished the last few chapters. I love my office setup, but there’s nothing like birdsong and sunshine to provide the inspiration a romance writer needs!

What about you? When you finish a long and difficult task, what do you do to celebrate?

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Prueba1675I have been doing more writing than reading this week.  When my deadline is closing in, I have to protect the real estate inside my head, and prevent other stories from moving in, taking over the neighborhood!

So this week I’m going to mention a few writing craft books I have pulled off the shelves and stacked beside me on the desk.  These are all books I have found so enlightening, entertaining or inspiring that just having them nearby helps, even if I don’t open them even once!

Self-Editing for Fiction Writers, by Renni Browne and Dave King. Why it stands out:  It’s great all around.  Every page makes sense.  But here’s what it does that I haven’t seen done as well anywhere else:  It compares good writing with BETTER writing.  Most how-to books will show you a badly written paragraph, then show you how to make it better.  But I suspect that most of us look at the “bad” paragraph, instinctively believe that we wouldn’t ever have made that mistake in the first place, and therefore don’t pay much attention to how to “fix” it.  In Browne and King’s book, they show you work that’s already pretty well written, the kind of stuff you DO believe you might have created.  And then they show you how it can be made even better!  It’s impressive, and it’s full of those ah-ha! lightbulb moments.

Immediate Fiction, by Jerry Cleaver. Why it stands out:  Cleaver offers a very tangible, concrete theory…  Yes, I know that’s an oxymoron.  What I mean is that Cleaver doesn’t just have a nebulous theory of how to make your work better.  He has specific advice about individual sentences.  The first time I read it, I almost felt a physical flood of relief that there were specific questions I could ask, specific sentences I could identify, specific changes I could make to achieve specific results.  My favorite take-away:  Let your character reactions to events be individual, not universal.  The inside of people’s brains are quirky and unique, and that’s what fascinates us.  I may have the details wrong, but I remember being particularly struck with his comment that a person who suddenly faces a man with a gun in an alleyway won’t necessarily start thinking, “I’ll never see my children again!” He might actually think, “OMG, now I’ll never get to pick up that dry cleaning….”

Master Class in Fiction Writing, by Adam Sexton.  Why it stands out:  You’re never going to get a more sophisticated, helpful analysis of the various POV choices than Sexton gives you here.  Not only does he differentiate among lots of sub-types, but also he shows you why they work, and what their uses are. Plus, it’s just loaded with great writing, which I find inspiring when I’m stuck. I can’t look through great romances, for fear I might subconsciously pick up a style or a phrase, but I think I’m safe looking through Nabokov’s “Lolita” without risking any unconscious plagiarism! 🙂

The Describer’s Dictionary, by David Grambs.  Why it stands out:  Admit it.  You get stuck.  I get stuck.  We all get stuck.  This book will unstick you! 🙂

Roget’s Thesaurus.  Why it stands out:  It won’t, unless you get one of the old-school versions.  The newer ones may be more user-friendly, but they just don’t have enough cool words.

emotion thesaurus coverThe Emotion Thesaurus, by Angela Ackerman and Bella Puglisi. Why it stands out:  Also excellent for unsticking.  This isn’t just an abstract, theory-of-writing book.  Though I think those are marvelous in their moment, “their moment” isn’t the eleventh hour of a deadline!

These are my favorites…the ones I wouldn’t have the nerve to write without. How about you? Have you found some great how-to books along the way? I’m always on the lookout for new gems!

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kissing computerIf you’re a social butterfly, you might not want to consider a job as a writer. It’s a pretty lonely endeavor. Most of the time, the computer is your only companion–unless you count the characters in your book, which I don’t, since my characters and I disagree about almost everything. For instance, I think they should provide me with clever banter and fascinating, fast-paced action, whereas they seem to think they should be able to loll about on the page, doing nothing at all for days at the time.

However, I’m getting sidetracked… 🙂

My point is that, while I can certainly see why writers love to hear from readers, I’ve never been really sure why readers want to connect with writers. After all, the reader has paid his money…he doesn’t owe the writer anything further. The book is right in front of him. He can read the very best ideas the writer has to offer, the funniest jokes and the wittiest one-liners. (Believe me, with a few notable exceptions like Neil Gaiman or Truman Capote, we’re rarely more interesting in person than we are on the page.)

And then, whenever the reader wants, he can set the book down and go dancing.

lorelei and k from fbSo when I was lucky enough to meet the lovely local reader who has started Lorelei’s Lit Lair on Facebook, I couldn’t wait to ask her why she seems so enthusiastic about meeting and corresponding with writers. Turns out she’s one of those wonderful people who just love to discover new things, learn about new people, and “give back” when she feels she’s been lucky enough to “receive.” She’s the kind of reader we all hope to run into someday…the kind that makes us feel pretty darn good about all those hours we spent in solitary confinement, telling stories to our keyboards.

Her enthusiasm is so infectious, and her account of her correspondence with author Kristan Higgins so uplifting that I asked if she’d share it here. I hope you enjoy reading it!
lorelei white t shirt

Q) Have you always been such an enthusiastic reader? Have you always preferred romance above other genres?

A) No, I started when my daughter wanted to read the Twilight series. I never enjoyed reading, not even paperbacks, much less would I want to read a book THAT big. ( I know, what was wrong with me!)
I asked her what it was about: Vampires and Werewolves, she said. HA! Really? I went to the first page, just to check it out, you know, to see what all the commotion was about.
7 days later, I read all 4 books and it was like a switch in me was flipped ON. Since then, I was hungry for more. I’ve read women’s fiction, drama, then I really found my match in romance!

Q) What made you decide to be more than “just” a reader–and to interact with and support your favorite authors?

A) In 2007, I found an author that I really connected with. She had all the elements I love in a story, truly gifted in my opinion and that author was Kristan Higgins. She has a great voice, makes you laugh, swoon, cry (the touching kind), and always has happy endings.
When I finished reading her 4th book, I wanted to learn more about her. I found the Dear Reader page in her book . She seemed so down to earth, and approachable. It did say, “Let me know how you enjoyed the book. It’s always such a pleasure to hear from readers.” That gave me the courage to write her an email. I told her how much I loved her work .
Honestly, I thought I’d get a response in a month or so, or maybe never.
To my surprise she replied the next day! I was ecstatic! I told my best friend and she said it was probably her publicist. I knew it was her, because I recognized her voice. I remember replying then with OooMmmGgg!
She was so nice, and I immediately followed her on Facebook. I became her BFF: Biggest Fan Forever. I realized what a wonderful group of women are out there and felt encouraged to support them. It lead me to you, Kathleen 😉

Q) Obviously you’re a huge fan of Kristan Higgins. Are there other writers you have written to, as well? What draws you to a particular writer?

A) Oh, yes. While I had to wait months for KH’s next release, she recommended other author friends. I was very impressed by the support displayed, all great recommendations. I read Nancy R. Thompson’s Angel of Provence, and wrote to her on FB. I was so thrilled and lucky to meet her! I Also wrote to PJ Sharon, Robyn Carr, Lauren Clark, Jill Shalvis, Marliss Melton, just to name a few.
These are women just like me, but with a special talent. You can tell they love what they do and are genuine.
The connection authors have with readers is what draws me to follow them and cheer them on.
It’s a special bond that’s created and I believe that’s what makes the difference in the reading experience all together.

Q) What is Lorelei’s Lit Lair? What do you want to accomplish with the site?

A) I created Lorelei’s Lit Lair to connect with readers and authors, to share our common passion for reading. It’s also a great way of supporting authors, too. I hope friends join so we can chat about what they’re reading, to find inspiring posts and have some fun! It can be about books or how your day has been or something great you’ve stumble upon. I’m a big believer of paying it forward, too.

Lorelei’s Lit Lair fills me with good vibes and I hope friends will find that, too. I love cheering people up. Once a reader was feeling down, and I shared music videos to cheer her up and it made her laugh! If feels so good helping others… My page is not just about promoting books, but connecting with people of similar interests.

I’ve made some great friendships across the world, in France, England, Canada and Australia which is awesome. The authors I’ve met, all absolutely amazing ladies.
If you like read, doesn’t matter the genre, I encourage you to join! Readers have different interests and tastes, and I hope they find something they’ll enjoy.

Q) How has your friendship with the authors you’ve met affected you? What does it bring to your life?

A) If I hadn’t gotten a reply from my first email, I probably would have continued reading or maybe I would have found another hobby to fill my days.
But what I can truly say, is the anecdotes I can share, the causes I’ve supported, the prizes I’ve won, the joy and laughter that have filled my days and most specially the friendships I’ve made with readers and authors, would never have been possible if I hadn’t received Kristan’s reply that day. It has changed my life in a positive way, brightening my days, my little escape of this busy and hectic life we live in.
I believe in the phrase ” Everything happens for a reason.” One of them, was meeting you, dear Kathleen!

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This has been a week for socializing more than reading, which has been a lot of fun. I’m about 75% introvert, but that other 25% really loves to get together with like-minded people…often other writers! I’ve had out-of-town writer buddies stopping by (something about Florida’s balmy temps while their hometowns are still getting snow flurries, perhaps?), and so I’ve been lunching, brunching, coffee-ing and dinnering like a fiend. I’ve loved every minute.

However, even during weeks like this, I read a little. I couldn’t get to sleep without reading at least a few pages of something wonderful. Here’s what I played with this week:

STUMBLED ONTO AND BREEZED THROUGH, UNEXPECTEDLY: ELLEN FOSTER, by Kaye Gibbons. I hadn’t ever heard of this little gem, though apparently it’s one of the Oprah Book Club picks. I saw it at the library, and for some reason I can’t explain, it called to me. It came out in 1987, so it’s not new, and it’s not exactly a happy read, but I loved it. The story is told by an eleven-year-old girl named Ellen Foster, and it could all by itself provide the basis for a master class in the art of voice. She’s brave, unsentimental, and unique. I won’t forget her soon.

books reading wolf gibbonsGOT SIDETRACKED BY: THE KANDY-COLORED TANGERINE-FLAKE STREAMLINE BABY, by Tom Wolfe. I wasn’t anywhere nearly cool enough to read Wolfe when I was younger, but isn’t it weird how your tastes can evolve? Because I’m excited about the upcoming HBO movie about Phil Spector, I decided to read Wolfe’s essay, “The First Tycoon of Teen,” written about Spector when he was only 23. All I can say is…wow. Strange, brilliant, stylish. Now I have to read the rest! This, too, could form a master class in writing. Except I’d want to title that class, “Great Stuff You Could Do With Style if You Were A Genius, Which You Aren’t.” Or…”Don’t Try This At Home.” 🙂

FINALLY GETTING INTO: GARDEN SPELLS, by Sarah Addison Allen. I’m probably not past page twenty, but I love it already. I understand not everyone likes magical realism (where trees throw apples over fences, and neighbors know you’ll need a breath mint long before the hunky neighbor unexpectedly drops by), but I really do.

It’s tricky, isn’t it, this matter of personal taste? So inexplicable, and yet so powerful. Take the one single issue of “paranormal,” for instance. I’m fine with it. Unless I’m not. I love Sookie Stackhouse, for instance, but was lukewarm about Jim Butcher, who is obviously brilliant. Why? I can’t put my finger on it…so how on earth is a writer to know what will work?

I even have “hot” words…words that, if I read them on the jacket blurbs, will make me put the book down like a hot potato. Some of the hot words, for me, are “espionage,” “arms dealer,” “Vietnam,” and “Mafia.” Okay, you might think, she’s just a sheltered little priss who doesn’t like disturbing topics. 🙂 And that’s not entirely untrue. But then how do you account for some of my weirder “tingle” words, the words that, if I read them on jacket blurbs, will make me hug the book and squee? “Tingle” words include “plague,” “psychopath,” “Bedlam,” and “Civil War.” If I get “hypnotically enigmatic” and “hauntingly evocative” in the same blurb, I might as well kiss my money goodbye.

And then there are the abrupt about-faces I can do if the writer somehow transcends his “hot” word. I tend to avoid “religion,” AND “1930s,” and yet I was obsessed with Susan Howatch’s series about British clergymen in the 1930s. Sometimes it even goes the other way around–I’m a fanatic about anything Tudor, and yet, in spite of a dozen enthusiastic recommendations, I can’t bring myself to read WOLF HALL.

So…what’s a writer to do? I guess the moral of the story is you have to write what you like, because, in the end, there is positively no guarantee of pleasing anyone else.

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I’m very excited to be rolling out my brand-new author photos today! For me, getting a picture taken is always stressful–and I bet it is for almost everyone!  I mean, even supermodels probably worry about bad hair days or whether they overindulged on the champagne and caviar last night… 🙂

And then there’s the picking of the perfect image!  The obsessive poring over the various shots, trying to decide which one makes me seem….Image

Well, that’s where things get confusing.  What exactly are readers looking for, when they look at author photos?  What do they hope to see?  Do they want to see intelligence?  Professionalism?  Humor?  Warmth?  Glitzy glamor?  (Oh, I hope it’s not glamor…:) )

Or…in the end, do readers really care about the author photos at all?  Is this more an exercise in personal vanity than anything else?

To be perfectly honest, I don’t pay much attention to author photos.  I don’t spend much time exploring the personal lives of writers–even my favorite ones.  Maybe especially my favorite ones! 

When I truly adore a book, I want to forget about the author entirely.  I want the characters to live and breathe independently–as if they were born, not written.  I don’t want to be thinking…oh, Margaret Mitchell decided to have Scarlett make a dress out of the drapes because Mitchell once had a cousin who did that.  I want to think…of course Scarlett made a dress out of the drapes, because that’s what fearless, think-outside-the-box survivors like my pal Scarlett always do!  🙂

What about you?  Do you like to glimpse the puppet master?  Does it spoil Oz for you to think about the little guy behind the curtain manipulating the great Wizard?  Or does glimpsing the real person behind the pages add a new, richer dimension to your appreciation of a book? Image

What, in the end, do you look for in an author photo?  Because if you want glitz, I have a rhinestone tiara and a pink boa I could dig out for the next one! 🙂 I hope you’ll give me your insights–and I’ll choose one poster to win a copy of WILD FOR THE SHERIFF, as thanks!



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I’ve always been intrigued by little things. I am awed when a craftsman of any kind can reduce something to its smallest possible perfect form. Uncluttered, unbloated. Stripped of the unnecessary. Beauty you can hold in the palm of your hand, or absorb in sixty seconds.

Exquisite miniature things, like…

Russian lacquer boxes
Tiffany eggs
Bonsai trees

And modern, sassy shorts, like…

Movie trailers
Superbowl commercials
Clever Tweets

Or…coming back to the world I work in…well-written short stories and novellas! 🙂

I’ve been doing some of that short writing lately, and it’s definitely given me a new appreciation for how hard it is to capture emotion, texture, richness and excitement in a limited space!

I have two short online reads coming up soon on Harlequin’s website, eHarlequin.com. The first one starts Monday! It’s called Hideaway Hero, and it features Greta Kinyon, a young real estate agent struggling with commitment issues, and a hunky hotelier who is haunted by his own past. Greta is one of the secondary characters from my upcoming March Superromance, THE VINEYARD OF HOPES AND DREAMS. It was great fun getting to give her a romance of her own!

Then, in May, I will have a Mother’s Day novella online—so watch here for details of that! Both online reads are offered FREE by Harlequin. (Another great small thing…price! 🙂 )

I hope you’ll come read along with Hideaway Hero, and join in the online discussion. I’ll post the link here Monday, so that you can zip over with ease!

Meanwhile, I’m celebrating the fun of the online read by offering some giveaways here. I’ve written several novellas in the past, and anyone who posts a comment on the Hideaway Hero pages at eHarlequin.com will win one of my backlist novellas! Each one is part of an anthology, so you’ll be winning a chance to read several other writers, as well—ladies who are so talented it’s an honor to share a book with them!

Here are the titles you can choose from:

Mysteries of Lost Angel Inn, a Gothic novella with Evelyn Rogers and Debra Webb.

More Than Words, with Linda Lael Miller, Sherryl Woods, Curtiss Ann Matlock, and Jennifer Archer.

That Christmas Feeling, with Brenda Novak and Karina Bliss.

Pretty awesome line-ups, right? 🙂 Remember, when you join me for the Hideaway Hero discussion at eHarlequin.com, make sure you send me your choice of titles, and your snail mail address, either here, or privately at KOBrien@aol.com, and I’ll get your book off asap.

Hope to see you there! Meanwhile, happy weekend wishes from one of my favorite tiny things…my Wee Forest Folk cutie, “Best in Show.”

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I think maybe being a writer has made me a bad reader.

I still love to read, of course—nothing short of a brain transplant will ever change that. But I don’t read the same way I used to. I’m afraid I no longer read the way “normal” readers do.

First of all, some insecure part of my psyche is always weighing the book I’m reading against the books I write. Deep inside, I’m whining something like, “Rats…I couldn’t ever think of something this clever!” or “Arghghghgh! Why can’t I write like this?”

But every writer I know does that. We learn to tune that annoying little voice right out.

What really worries me is that, because of my years as a writer, I focus on all the wrong things in a book. I am afraid that I’ve forgotten how to just sit back and enjoy the magic.

Here’s what makes me think so: The other night, my daughter and I went to see Agatha Christie’s play, “The Mousetrap.” My son-in-law had a role—he was terrific in the part of silly Mr. Paravicini—and we had a wonderful time.

But on the way home, I began thinking about the plot, and I began saying things like, “Didn’t Christie use too much coincidence, though? Why was she staying in the hotel, in the first place? Why was he there, too? I just can’t buy that much coincidence!”

Was I wrong in my criticism? Maybe not, technically. The play does rely heavily on coincidence, something all writing teachers, editors and contest judges tell us is a huge no-no.

But does that mean the play isn’t well written? Does that mean the play isn’t good? Obviously not! As Agatha Christie’s own site tells us, this is the longest-running play in the world. In the world! Since it opened on the West End in 1952, it has never been out of production.

Clearly something powerful happens when audiences watch this play. They are entranced, and they don’t give a darn about whether Christie followed the so-called writing “rules.”

The same is true, for instance, with J. K. Rowling’s Harry Potter series. It’s filled with adverbs, what the writing teachers like to call “LY” words. “LY” words are lazy writing. “LY” words are literary dead weight. “LY” words must be hunted down like zombies and have their heads lopped off.

And yet, all the “LY” dead weight in the world can’t sink a Harry Potter book. I bet most readers don’t even notice them, and if they do, they couldn’t care less.

So, bottom line is…I’m afraid I might have worked so hard to learn the “craft” of my profession that I’ve forgotten how to enjoy the magic of it. No one jumps onto Amazon, eager to post a review that let you know “This book has perfect punctuation!!!!” No one calls up a friend and says, “OMG! This writer hasn’t used a single LY word!!!!”

It’s a lot easier to pick apart a book and see where it might have broken some rules than it is to pinpoint what the author did right. And, in truth, it’s easier to weed out your “LY” words than it is to seed in some enchantment.

What about you? Do Rowling’s “ly” words bother you? What about Christie’s coincidences? Do your bookshelves (or Kindle lists) hold some story that is mocked by snobs but still warms your heart? Have you ever had to defend a beloved book from the naysayers?

I have a feeling that, in a duel between the rule-maker and the magic-maker, the magician wins every time!

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