The Mentor Maze: 4 weeks, 2 authors, 1 book

images-2According to Costco Magazine, January is Mentoring Month.

I’m not sure it’s necessary to have an official month since most adults already mentor someone – parents to children, teachers to students, managers to staff – but this January that news meant something to me. I had just become a mentor to a newbie author.

This wasn’t my first time. Thirty years ago I mentored a woman  who had a wonderful story to tell. For three months I labored over her work giving it as much (if not more) attention as my own. One day she informed me that writing was too much work. I was bewildered. Of course writing is a lot of work. Continue Reading →

WARNING! THE FOLLOWING CONTAINS INSPIRATION

UnknownChristmas is almost packed away, tonight is New Years Eve, tomorrow  is 2016. I wasn’t going to write a blog. I mean, really. Who needs to hear about my resolutions (there aren’t any) or the things I’m happy to leave behind from 2015 (too few to mention), or how my husband and I will get all wild and crazy celebrating the holiday (dinner at six, asleep by 10:30)?

I changed my mind when I saw the message below. It came from a dear friend, the woman who wrote me my first fan letter over 25 years ago. I don’t know who wrote this piece. If I did I would happily give credit where it is due because this is the kind of thinking that gives me hope and attainable direction. It is written with words that make me smile. Whoever the author is, thank you. Your optimism is catching and this message cries out to be shared. So here it is, words from an unknown author, noticed by a friend, who sent them to me, so that I could send it to you. I couldn’t have said  this better.

DEAR ALL,

The Boarding on Flight 2016 has been announced. Hope you have checked in only the best souvenirs from 2015 in your luggage. The BAD and SAD moments if carried, must be thrown away in the garbage on arrival.  The flight will be for 12 months long. So, loosen your seat belts, jingle and mingle.

Continue Reading →

5 Essential Things to Bring to Thanksgiving Dinner

turkey-hidingIt’s that time again. Time to be thankful. Time to reflect. Time to fight over the drumstick. It’s also the time when we ask our Thanksgiving host or hostess:

“What can I bring?”

You know what’s on the list: salad, rolls, maybe a pie or two. But here are 5 essential things you should take with you that your hostess may not ask for.

1)Yourself. Seriously leave the entourage at home. Your boss, your kid’s teacher, your ex, and the guy who sideswiped your car last week have their own turkey dinners to gobble up. If they want to drag you along to their party let ’em, but take a tip from the turkey and stuff your baggage.

2) A camera. Do not bring a phone, a tablet, a computer or any multi-tasking electronic thing. Bring an old fashioned camera, point it at people and remember why you are taking their picture. Hint: it is because you love them and want to remember them. Make them smile, catch them in a kiss, or capture the cook in the kitchen. Upload. Share. Feel good. You might even want to frame a real, honest-to-goodness print.

3) A covered dish. Who can resist a covered dish? The first thing people do is lift the top to see what’s inside. Your dish doesn’t have to be filled with food. Put something fun inside: wax lips from the party store, crayons and paper, candy, or cards.

4) Curiosity. Don’t just nod to those friends and relatives you see once a year before making a beeline for the couch. Ask everyone at least one question. You’ll be amazed how interested they will be in you when they know that you are interested in them. Caution: trying this on teenagers can be tough but hang in there. They speak eventually.

5) Gratitude. Don’t  serve it up like lumpy gravy, just take a second and acknowledge your good fortune. Come on, there will be at least one thing to be grateful for and you’ll probably think of a baker’s dozen once you get started. I venture to say that someone around the table might just be putting you on their gratitude list too – especially if you take a nice picture of them.

Have an awesome Thanksgiving and let me know what you decide to put in that covered dish.

 

 

The Day Bailey Devlin Was Born (or the story of a long, painful, labor of love)

BD_Horoscope_Final_Digital By the time you read this, I will have published the Bailey Devlin Series. These three books were written over the course of six grueling months. It is a miracle that I am still married and that my children still speak to me. Pretty much, about three months into the process, I morphed into a walking nerve and stayed that way until I typed ‘the end’. Conversations around our house kind of went like this:

Husband: “What do you want for dinner?”

Me:             “I don’t think these books are funny. They’re supposed to be funny. I’m not sure

they are funny. People have to laugh. Or at least smile when they read them.”

Husband:   I’m sure they’re fine.”

Me:  “I want a taco.”

Husband:   “Sounds good. I’ll go to. . .”

Me:   “You don’t think it will be fine, do you? I can hear it in your voice. You’re just being nice. You don’t think they’re funny, I can tell. I don’t think I can eat.”

Husband:  “I’m sure they’re funny. You’re funny. . . (pause). . . you were funny. Before. . .”

He mumbles something as he goes upstairs and closes the bedroom door. No dinner.

I yell up the stairs: “What do you think? About the books, I mean? Being funny?”

I recall having conversations like this when I was pregnant – just substitute fat for funny. The only difference is that I got tacos when I was pregnant. To be exact, I got giant burritos. I ate a giant burrito and a waddled around the block the day I went into labor. At three in the morning I thought my labor pains were indigestion. Neither was pleasant.

I swore off burritos.

I had one more baby then I swore off babies.

Now that the Bailey Devlin series is launched, my literary hormones have settled, I am ready to tell you the truth. The truth is that being an indie author – one who has gone rogue and written outside her normal thriller genre – is just like childbirth and here’s why.

1) Conception: Fun, exciting, and takes place in a burst of extraordinary passion. That’s what it was like conceiving Bailey Devlin. My mother asked for some books-with-out-bodies. Not that she didn’t like my thrillers, it’s just that she wanted to see if I could actually put more than three sentences together without killing a character. I heard that wistful tone in her voice. It sounded like ‘will I ever be the grandmother to a book-baby that makes me smile?” Her 91st birthday was in September and Bailey Devlin was her present. It took a few tries, it took some restraint not to kill Bailey off, but eventually the seed was planted; Bailey Devlin was more than a twinkle in my eye.

2) Gestation: No morning sickness, no sleepless nights, no discomfort. The Day Bailey Devlin’s Horoscope Came True came trippingly off the keyboard. Piece of cake. The Day Bailey Devlin Picked Up a Penny took a little longer and by the time The Day Bailey Devlin’s Ship Came In, mine had sailed, leaving me adrift in a sea of doubt. Were these books as funny as I thought? Would anyone really care about Bailey? Was she ever going to pass the bar and find happiness? Who did she really love? Would she have my eyes but her father’s feet? Can’t they give me something for the pain? Oh, sorry, keep getting these two events confused. We’re talking books not childbirth.

3) Labor: It never goes as smoothly as you think it will. No matter how often you’re coached, you forget to breathe. I knew there would be the mind numbing pain but I didn’t realize I would be the one inflicting it. My very patient editor* was not fooled by the fake smiley faces at the end of each email asking, WELL? HAVE YOU READ IT? The poor cover designer* has probably decided that selling insurance would be more fulfilling than ever working with the nit-picking me again. And then there were the frantic emails in the middle of the night begging the formatter* to revise the files because I’d found yet another typo. Think breach birth on that one. I kept wondering if these files would ever turn around and come out the right way.

4) Delivery: I delivered triplets; three books published on the same day. By this point, I was goofy with getting them written, formatted, covered and published, so I did what any reasonable person would do: I went on vacation and left them with grandma.

Now readers are visiting my offspring. I hope they love the covers and adore Bailey Devlin and her crew. I hope they laugh and cry because the stories are sweet in a sexy world. They are inspired by people I know and love. Bailey Devlin is me and I think she is every woman. Like an anxious mom, I’m waiting for someone to chuck me under the chin, and tell me I did good, and that they really like my babies.

Happy Birthday Bailey Devlin. It was worth every minute.

Thanks to my birthing team:

*Jenny Jensen -editorial

*Paul Ziomek – covers

*Steff McDaid – formatting

*Robin Blakely – PR/marketing

*Tod Damotte – Bailey mini-movie

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WHO WILL READ MY WRITING

I have never had a guest post on this site, but this rumination by my friend, judge and fellow writer Anthony J. Mohr made me laugh. Talk about hitting the nail on the head.  I first saw this post on Charlotte Rains Dixon’s site and knew immediately that I wanted to share this wonderful piece with my writing colleagues. I know you’ll enjoy it as much as I did.

Sometimes (okay–all the time) when I’m writing, I wonder who will read my work. Not just whether the audience will consist of millennials or astronauts, but whether an old friend or a long lost crush will happen to see it thanks to a Google search or, better yet, because someone will tell her, “Hey, you used to know that guy Mohr? You’ve got to read what he just published in the Left Toe Review.”

That hasn’t occurred yet. Everything I’ve published seems to have vanished, passing by the earth’s seven billion souls without touching anyone. I understand. After all, how many people subscribe to the Left Toe Review? But I did make it, once, into the Christian Science Monitor and, twice, into Chicken Soup for the Soul. And still nothing from the long losts.

Twenty-five years ago, I walked by a news truck that was parked along a West Los Angeles street. When I stopped to see what they were doing, the reporter asked for my view on some issue of the day. Of course I agreed to say something on camera. I was a lawyer, then, and thought the exposure would land me a client. I answered the question; they broadcast five seconds of my brilliance; and that night, my phone began ringing. At least ten friends saw me. So did a potential client, who never paid his bill. Continue Reading →

STUMPED (For readers)

FullSizeRenderRecently, workers found a huge stump buried in my backyard (see STUMPED, the blog).

This was a particularly wonderful thing for them to find because it has captured everyone’s imagination. The workers, my family and even the 30 people we had to Easter dinner have speculated about where it came from, how old it is, whether or not it is now petrified, who cut it down and what I should do with this giant stump.

I have a funny feeling that you’re looking at this picture and five ideas have popped into your head about what you would do with it. That’s what readers and writers and creative people do when they see something out of the ordinary. Welcome to the club and don’t be surprised if that stump shows up in one of my books someday.

 

STUMPED (for writers)

There is a large stump in FullSizeRendermy backyard (see Stumped, the blog). This thing is an inspirational: big and hard and almost impossible to move. I am going to keep it in my backyard, right outside my office to remind me that a writer is never truly stumped.

-If we write ourselves into a corner, we can do one of two things. First, we can get really creative and write our way out of it. Working hard to figure it out will make a better book. Or, we can go back and change what we’ve written. The second option would involved lots of changes and possibly use of the delete key. Either option is labor intensive. One involves moving forward and the other backward. I like the forward option. Either way, the author is no longer stumped.

-The stump in my backyard is big and solid. At one time it was the foundation of a huge tree. It reminds me to make sure the premise I am building my story on is wide enough and deep enough and dense enough to build my novel on.

-Finally, if you’re really stumped, move on and leave it in your writing ‘garden’ as a reminder that not every tree survives or thrives.

 

 

6 Things You Should Know About Being STUMPED

FullSizeRenderThe other day I came home to find the men we hired to build my patio sitting in my backyard looking at a stump. This was not a normal stump. This was a giant, Paul Bunyan, Big John stump. I sat down with them and I, too, considered the stump.

“George had to get his chain saw for that sucker,” one of them finally said.

“Took two hours to get it out,” another offered.

“I think it broke George’s saw,” the first chimed in.

“Why didn’t you leave it in the ground,” I asked. “You know, pour the cement over it?”

“We thought about it,” the third admitted, ” but it wouldn’t have been right.” Continue Reading →

THE RIGHT WAY IS YOUR WAY

UnknownI once dated a man who took me skiing. I had never been before, but as soon as my skis were on I  headed toward the bunny hill. My boyfriend caught up with me (easily, I might add) and asked:

“Why do you think you can do everything right away?”

I was taken aback by the question because that wasn’t what I was thinking at all.  I was headed off to see how things were done. I wanted to observe and practice away from the crowds. I wanted to fall down without calling too much attention to myself – especially the attention of the man I was dating. He perceived that I arrogantly thought I could just go out and ski. There might have been some truth in that since my intent was to unveil my skills as soon as I had conquered the basics which included standing up on my skis and going at least as far as the little kids scooting down the bunny hill. In short, I wanted to learn alone and then have fun. His idea of fun was trying to teach me how to ski by coaching me. The problem was, we didn’t learn the same way. He learned by having someone tell him what to do; I learned by watching other people do and then attempting to do it myself.

I thought of this ski date because someone asked me, “how do you write a book?”

When I was dared to write a book, I retreated to the quiet of my home and learned by trial and error. I took a book and a bottle of wine and sat in my living room. I was armed with a yellow marker. I sipped a glass of wine as I read the book. I highlighted the important parts: where and how characters appeared, how chapters ended, exciting dialogue passages, expository (though I didn’t know that word then). The wine was soon forgotten (mainly because I am not a big drinker), but the book and it’s lesson lasted long into the evening and beyond.

When I was finished reading and highlighting the text of my ‘learning’ book, I started typing. I mimicked the structure of the novel I had just read. Surprisingly, I must have done it well because that first book sold. Now, after thirty books, I look back and realize that in those early years I was learning how to stand on my ‘literary’ skis. In those early days I was scooting downhill cautiously toward the bottom of the publishing mountain. Every time I took the lift up and started another book, I went down that mountain a little smoother, with a little more confidence and a bit more daring.

It wasn’t until ten years later with ten books under my belt, that I actually found my unique writing voice, my genre, and a definite point of view. That was when I became an author and not just a writer. I also became a teacher. I have taught at UCLA’s Writers Program, conferences and small groups. My teaching always revolves around ‘showing’ how something is done. Sometimes my students get it and run with it and other times I have to refine my lessons to match the way a student learns.

What I have come to realize is that everyone who strikes out on a new venture share certain things: curiosity, desire to learn, and energy. Yet when it comes to learning a new skill, we are all different.  Some of us learn by doing and others through instruction. Some can only tackle a project when there are many voices in a room offering advice and their own ideas while many must have complete silence and spend time in the company of their own imagination.

There is no one correct way to write or tell a story.  There is only one commandment that must be honored and that is to begin. No matter how you put those words on paper, how you are inspired, or how you learn the craft it is the right way for you. Remember, readers will never ask you how you wrote a book they love they will only ask you to write another.