Wednesday, August 29, 2007


Every morning this week I’ve sat drinking my coffee and looking out at my garden and counted my blessings.

I have a tendency to worry. I have a tendency to see potential drawbacks to opportunities. Hey, I’m a writer—I have a good imagination! But this tendency used to limit me a great deal. Until I realized that if I stopped and reminded myself of all the things good in my life and all the successes I’ve had and all the times things have gone right then I was far more likely to find solutions to problems that did arise and to embrace new opportunities. Plus it just plain felt better.

The good thing about counting my blessings is that it reminds me how some of the scariest changes in my life have turned out for the best. I’m able to be happy for the successes and good fortunes of others and to let go of anger I’d be likely to hold onto if I could only see the challenges in my own life.

I hope that you are able to see the blessings in your life, especially when the challenges seem preeminent. My friend who had the breast cancer was back in surgery yet again yesterday. It’s been a frustrating and scary time for her. She’s holding onto the knowledge of all the people who care about her and all the times she’s beaten health challenges in the past. I’m holding onto that, too.

Wishing all of you lots of blessings and time to stop and count them.

Friday, August 24, 2007

My Daughter is Here

My daughter is here in Austin to start graduate school at the University of Texas. She chose UT over schools like MIT and Berkeley and Princeton and Stanford. Yes, I’m bragging and she won’t be happy about me doing it. The thing is, what I’m most proud of is how she made her choice. She took into account who she is and what she wants to do and how best to do that—regardless of what the rest of the world might think. She has a self-awareness that I wish I had had at her age.

So she’s here and it’s wonderful but it has put me a bit behind on a few things.

How does all of this tie to writing? First, that life happens to all writers and it can put us behind schedule. The more we allow for that as we plan ahead, the better. Second, my daughter has achieved so much success because she didn’t listen to conventional wisdom. Starting in high school, she has followed her heart and made choices based on what she passionately cares about AND used every bit of knowledge and research available to make sure that her choices fit with her long term goals. That’s a good strategy for all of us—including writers.

What we do has a better chance of standing out if we care deeply about what we’re writing. We have the best chance of successful careers as writers if we take into account our long term goals and our personalities as well as the specific nature of a given project when we choose which agents and editors to target with our work. And we’re likely to be happier as well.

When we care passionately about and believe in what we are doing, we will do the work necessary to make it succeed. We will persevere even when we run into roadblocks. We will be able to “sell” our work to others because our faith in it will be unmistakable to them. And we are far more likely to see possibilities that others might not.

So...I’m thrilled my daughter is in Austin. I hope to soon have her boxes out of my “classroom” room in my house and into her apartment. I look forward to spending time with her. And I know she will be a visible reminder to me of the power in going after our dreams.

Friday, August 17, 2007

Writing With Passion

Whenever I teach a workshop I talk about my belief that we need to write with passion. By that I mean we need to care, really care about what we have to say—whether it’s a book, a story, a newspaper article, an essay or anything else. Our best chance to connect with the reader is if we care. And let’s face it, writing can be a difficult career. If we don’t care about what we’re writing it’s a career that could drive us crazy. Somewhere, somehow in the core of everything we write, we need to find something we care passionately about. We need to share the emotions it evokes for us—and for readers, too, when we put into words what they’ve maybe felt but couldn’t articulate.

Last night, at the Writers League of Texas in Austin, Joe O’Connell spoke about his book Evacuation Plan: A Novel from the Hospice. When he accepted a grant to be writer in residence at the hospice, he was looking for research for a mystery he was writing, he told us. Instead he found the stories that make up Evacuation Plan. His emotion, his passion for this material came through in every word he said and afterwards there was a long line of us buying his book.

Now I have to say, I went knowing what he would talk about and not being able to imagine wanting to buy the book. Until he spoke and his passion grabbed me. I knew I would love the writing because of it. It was clear that he cared so much that he saw beyond the obvious and transformed the nuances of what was happening into what he wrote. It became fiction that captured the truth as opposed to the mere reality of his experience.

And that’s what we all can do, if we’re writers—find the passion within us for something in our work that will let us transcend the material to connect directly with our readers and help them feel the experiences about which we are writing. If we can do that, it will be a long time before our readers forget us—if they ever do.


Monday, August 13, 2007

It's Hot Here!

Well, yes, it’s August and I am in Texas so OF COURSE IT’S HOT HERE NOW!

Ahem, sorry about that. And don’t misunderstand: I’d much rather deal with this heat now than snow and ice in the middle of winter. I’m quite comfortable inside with air conditioning in a way that I’m not with heat when it’s cold outside. But....

It does mean I curtail activities outside and running errands, etc. On the other hand, it means I pretty much have to stay focused on the things I need to do inside. Like write. Make my coaching calls. Evaluate manuscripts. Plan for what I want to do next as I wait to hear on a manuscript I have out to an editor who asked to see it.

That’s the difficult part—to decide exactly what I want to do next and I suspect it’s something many writers face. How do you decide what’s right for you to do next?

Of course, in some cases, it’s a no brainer. There’s a book you really, really want to write or you’re at a level in your career where you pretty much can’t not keep doing what you’ve been doing.

But sometimes we’re in a position where we can make choices—about our writing and about our lives. If we write romance novels, that’s a fundamental tenet of our stories—that one can overcome challenges, make changes, grow as a person, be true to ourselves—and yes, find love and someone who will support our dreams.

Many of you know that a few years ago I set off across country not knowing where I would end up and finding a place with a pink refrigerator. If so, you also know that when the time came, I had no hesitation picking up and moving again, this time to Texas where I expect to be for a very long time.

I believe in stopping and asking ourselves, from time to time, if what we’re doing makes us happy and if there are changes we want to make in what we are doing, maybe finding an approach that works better for us, for our lives and for our writing. I believe that asking these questions makes us better writers. Even if we keep writing what we’ve written in the past, it’s good to look for new dimensions to what we’re writing or maybe target new, additional markets or find new ways to promote our work or....whatever it may be.

So as it gets hotter and hotter here, I’m staying inside in the air conditioning and planning out what I do next.

Friday, August 10, 2007

What We Can Learn From Eileen Dreyer's Books

I just finished reading Head Games by Eileen Dreyer. I’ve loved her work ever since I read A Rose For Maggie (written as Kathleen Korbel). A Rose for Maggie is one of the best (if not the best) book I’ve ever read about what it’s like to have a child with Down Syndrome.

What both books have in common are heroines who are very human. Heck, all the characters are human. They have flaws. They struggle with issues in their lives—as we all do. What makes them heroines is that they rise above those flaws. They do not see themselves as rising above their flaws and challenges, but they do. We, as readers, can identify with their fears, their hopes, their EMOTIONS.

Head Games is a tightly plotted book. Even if she had cardboard characters the story would be compelling. The action is nonstop and the stakes incredibly high. What makes it extraordinary, however, is that the characters feel so genuine that one forgets one is reading a story and begins to feel as if it’s all really happening. We want to know Molly Burke and Frank and Winnie and Sasha. Every character is absolutely true to who he or she is.

I believe that as writers we can learn a great deal by reading the best that’s out there. Eileen Dreyer is one of the best writers when it comes to characters. Whether you just want a great read or whether you want to learn how to write better, you can’t go wrong by picking up one of her books.


Monday, August 06, 2007

Fear and Safety

What lets your characters feel safe? What scares them?

These two questions can be the springboard for a credible plot for your book—no matter what you are writing because fear and the desire for safety are two of the most powerful driving forces for most people.

Think about recent political disputes, for example, and the degree of emotion they arouse. Essentially, the deep divide is about fear and the desire to be safe and the disagreement about what choices are most likely to keep us safe.

Safety and fear might revolve primarily around financial safety or physical safety or emotional safety—or al three. What keeps one person safe might cause another to feel distinctly unsafe. And then you have conflict. The deeper the fears, the greater the conflict—whether between individuals, nations, or any opposing groups.

If one understands this, then it becomes possible to create plots with believable conflict and readers will be able to empathize with the characters—even if the character’s fears are not precisely the same as the reader’s fears. In real life, understanding this concept means that one may have a chance of resolving conflicts and doing so in a way that is win-win for both parties.

Hopes and dreams matter, too, of course, but that’s a subject for another posting on another day.


Friday, August 03, 2007

Tips from RWA Dallas on Self-Promotion

I thought I would share with you some of the advice I heard in Dallas at the RWA conference about self-promotion for writers.

1) Whatever you do, do it well or don’t waste your money. Several people commented that book trailers on You Tube are effective—but only if they are well done, preferably with real people.

2) Build personal connections with booksellers and readers.

3) See yourself as part of a team with your publisher and work with them whenever possible.

4) Group blogs can be a way to ensure that there is something new up every day but it isn’t too draining for an individual author.

5) Brand yourself and use it in all promo material you create. Use consistent graphics, fonts, themes, etc.

These are, in a sense, self-evident. I’d go even farther. My own suggestions are:

1) Figure out what works for YOU. What can you imagine having fun doing to promote your work that would energize and not drain you? What are you good at that you enjoy? How much money are you comfortable investing in promotion?

2) No one can or should try to do everything—at least not alone. If you have a team doing much of the work for you, that’s different, but most writers are on a budget and both time and money are limited. Better to do one or two things that really stand out and are unique than to try to mimic everyone else.

3) Think clearly about who your target audience is. What works for booksellers might not be the same as what you want to do for readers. One author’s readers might love what another author’s readers might hate.

4) In the end, we each make choices. We each have our own goals, needs, and talents. I believe that in this as with everything we do, the more fun we’re having, the better we will do whatever it is we are trying to do—including promoting our work. If we absolutely hate it, then what’s the point? There is always another choice we could make that might work just as well that we would enjoy.