Finding the Beacon

photoSome of my writer friends say they do not believe in writer’s block. I’d like to think I’m a faucet of creative genius that I can just turn on when it’s time to start working, then turn off when it’s time to do something else (like go to my job), and then magically turn it right back on when I get home and have more time.

I wish it was like that. The truth is much more frustrating. I get stalled. I might have a half a dozen ideas for novels rolling around in my head, but I often just don’t know where to start. Should I start that YA book I’ve been thinking of? Finish the one that’s more literary so I can send it to some agents? Or get back to that series that needs its next installment?

Sometimes I’m thinking about so many different possibilities (even within the scope of one book), that it’s crippling. I start second-guessing every move I make in the story, and I end up deleting more words than I leave on the page. Or worse, just stare at the computer screen for hours.

I’ve tasked myself this year with finding ways to get out of this monstrous cycle, and so far I’ve learned this: a scary deadline is sometimes the beacon. A deadline forces me to keep moving, stop second-guessing, and just bang out the words. I’m a firm believer in the “zero draft.” I think you have to write a ton of words before you have something to really shape into a great story. HOWEVER the more efficient side of me (which has been winning these last several months) wants to by-pass that slog of words destined to be cut, and get right down to the heart of things.

Back in the winter, I was agonizing over which book to start next. I had a draft close to being finished that needed to have something a bit bigger at stake; I had an idea for a whole new book that I felt compelled to write; I felt obligated to write another book in the Bayou series to keep myself on track, but had no idea what it would be about. As I pored over which was the smarter move, my fella said, “Just write the one you’re most excited about.” That was somehow easier said than done.

I made notes, drew out potential story maps, thought about my characters until my brain hurt. But I was still nowhere closer to figuring out which was the smarter route to take. Each idea pulled me towards it for a different reason, and there was no way I could work on more than one at a time.

So I did something completely different. I saw a call online, asking for authors to be part of a collection of novellas. The deadline was six weeks away. I wrote the author in charge and was invited to submit a novella. By the time I factored in time for my beta reader to read it and for me to make edits, I figured I had 4 weeks to write it. Ready, set, go.

Having that deadline forced me to commit to decisions as I crafted the story, and just crank out scenes with discoveries and repercussions. I banged out a draft in less than three weeks, and then took a week to revise before sending to my beta reader. Knowing that I had to deliver kept me moving forward and stopped me from waffling on plot lines and story arcs. It kept me on a steady course.

When I was nearly finished with that novella, I saw a contest for short stories—1500 words or less. The deadline was ten days away. I hadn’t written a short story in years, but had the urge to enter this contest—even though I had exactly ZERO ideas for short story. But as I was driving home a day or two later, I spotted a jon boat hanging from a crane at a construction zone by a bridge. I spent the next few miles wondering what in the world it was doing there, and decided to write that 1500-word story about it. With the clock ticking, I wrote the story over three days.

It seems sometimes you just have to create your own beacon, and then let your creative self follow it.


Want to check out that novella? Part of the Bayou series, it’s called Just the Trouble I Needed. It appears in the collection Dog-Eared Love, which releases on June 6. You can pre-order here for just 99 cents. 


I Learned it from My Mother




I’m re-posting this list today, because it’s my Mom’s birthday. And we’re never too old to learn from our mothers. 


I think my mom sometimes wonders if she “got it right,” like all good mothers do. She’ll periodically ask me, “What do you remember about your childhood?” and I feel a little bad because I think my memory has been eroded by too many study sessions, and too much solvent, and heaven knows what else. Some people seem to remember their entire lives right down to the day, but I’m not one of those people. Sometimes I think my mother might interpret this as me not thinking my childhood was that memorable, but that is not the case. My memory seems to function like one of those tanks where you bob for apples. I have to reach in and fish around for a while, and when I pull one out, I have a clear flash of memory–sometimes it’s a brief moment, like a still shot in a movie, and sometimes if plays out like a whole scene.

But as I think about the part my mother has played in my life, here are some things I do remember:

Vacations where she went horseback riding and we went hiking to find a green sand beach. Recitals, and plays, art shows, and book signings where I never felt like I was in a room full of strangers because her face was in the crowd. Learning to bake cookies and cakes because she made it look so magical. Being the only kid in school with a corduroy alligator costume for Halloween, specially made by her mother. Having her to always make chicken soup for me when I was sick. Her letting me go away to horseback riding camp, even though I came home smelling like a barn. Convincing me that life really would get better after high school, and that bullies are stupid and not worth your time. Her car turning the corner as she picked me up from school every day, while my friends all took the bus. Driving 800 miles to help me move into a dorm, and coming back to take me home in the summer, our car so full of my stuff that she could barely see out the back. Having birthday parties for me at the bowling alley with a magician. Taking brownies and cakes to all of my teachers at the end of the school year, and telling them how much she appreciated them.


She’s taught me more than I can say, but here are just a few:


1. You really can do anything you set your mind to. And you’re capable of more than you think you are.

2. The difference between a size 12 and a size 14 is a seam of 3/8″. Going up a size to wear that pencil skirt really shouldn’t ruin your day. If you look good, you look good. Size means nothing.

3. If you put a cake in the oven and then slam the kitchen door, that cake will fall. But everyone will still eat it, because it will taste just as delicious, no matter the state it’s in.

4. You have to stand up for yourself in this world because if you don’t, no one else will either. You really do teach people how to treat you.

5. The best things really are worth waiting for.

6. The secret to the world’s best cornbread is sour cream.

7. Real friendships span decades and thousands of miles. But you have to be willing to pick up the phone.

8. The fastest way to meet your neighbors is to set your chimney on fire. The easiest way to accomplish this is to toss all of your dried Christmas greenery into the fireplace at once.

9. You are your own worst enemy, and you should really give yourself a break. That way you can get on with accomplishing all those incredible things you’re capable of.

10. Don’t buy shoes a half size too small, no matter how cute they are. You’ll only wear them once, and they’ll make the nail on your pinky toes fall off.

11. It’s better to regret something that you did than something you were afraid to do.

12. Happiness shared is doubled. Sadness shared is halved.

13. Do nice things for people–no matter how small you think those things might be. They matter more than you think.

14. It’s never too late to improve your quality of life.

15. Try something new once in a while. See # 11.

16. Those things that seem so hopeless late at night…they won’t seem as bad in the morning.

17. Don’t go to bed angry at someone you love.

18. A little Motown heals a lot. Chicken soup heals the rest.

19. Don’t let anybody tease your hair. Even for a wedding.

20. Be grateful. And every so often, make lists of the things you’re thankful for. It makes a difference.




All Aboard the Chick Lit Love-Hop



This week I’m delighted to be part of the #ChickLitLove Hop on Facebook


What’s the Love Hop, you ask? Join 48 chick lit and romantic comedy authors in celebrating friendship and romance as we celebrate Galentine’s Day on February 13 and Valentine’s Day on February 14 with giveaways, freebies, and entries for the chance to win the grand prize of a SpaFinder gift certificate.

Feb 13 is Galentine’s Day, in which our heroines send and receive valentines from their best girl friends. On Feb 14, you’ll see valentines that our favorite heroines send to or receive from their loves. Check out the #ChickLitLove Hop’s Event Page to see each day’s featured authors and giveaways!


Enter to win both books in the Bayou series


My giveaway begins Feb 13, my day to be featured on the hop. I’ll choose five winners on Feb 15 that will each receive BOTH novels in my Bayou series in eBook format. To enter, simply visit my Facebook author page and enter the Rafflecopter giveaway.


Bonus! If you sign up for my author newsletter on the right side of your screen here, you can get my free award-winning short story called “Beneath Our Skin.” (It’s perfect to read during your commute or on your lunch break). Good luck and happy reading!



I am the Rooster




January is one of those times when I can’t help but re-evaluate how I’m navigating through this life. I know I’m not the only person who feels that way, but after a few months of topsy-turviness that made me feel like I was getting an ulcer, I really had to sit down and think hard about how I can make room for more creativity and more quiet in my life. I’ve always been striving for balance, but the last year was an epic fail in that regard. I had high hopes of balancing tedious jobs with fiction writing, a good diet, better exercise, and more relaxing activities—and more things that brought me joy.


I’m practically middle-aged, so now I have to consider things like fiber, and varicose veins, and blood pressure. Blargh.


I also have to consider making more time for the things that are most rewarding in this life. Like the people I love. And art. And books. Sometimes things like jobs get in the way of all that—if we let them.


So here’s how I started:

1. I made myself make art. I was invited to be in a group gallery show called “Lost and Found.” (Appropos, yes?) To be honest, the deadline slipped my mind, and I realized in late December that I needed to prepare at least 6 sculptural books to ship. I had three finished. This meant I had to make three more on the fly, and not get too wrapped up in the planning as I normally do. The result was a week of designing and binding books that didn’t involve serious subject matter, but were just fun to make. (I made a book with a pterodactyl, for heaven’s sake. How’s that for fun?)


2. My fella and I decided to have a low-key Christmas—so low-key that is was postponed until two days ago when he was back from visiting his people in the Midwest. When I asked him what he wanted for Christmas, he said, “Want to pretend we’re in Iceland? Let’s buy each other books, and then spend the day reading them. And drink coffee, or tea, or bourbon.” He was referring to that lovely Icelandic tradition that someone on Facebook reminds us of every year. So we did it: we set a budget of $25 and ended up giving each other five books each. My haul: The Earthsea trilogy by Ursula K. LeGuin, The Merman (Carl-Johan Vallgren), and The Palace of Curiosities (Rosie Garland).


3. Even though my days are pretty full lately, I’ve made time to read every day. It relaxes me, and makes the creative part of my brain work harder. I’m reading four different books right now, because I tend to skip around the way I do while watching a handful of TV shows. Thanks to my bookish appetite, I’ve finally gotten around to reading Joe Hill and Alice Hoffman, and wondering why it took me so long to find them.


4. I’m carving out more writing time. I have three competing novels in my head right now, and all of them are screaming to be written. I’ve tried to be methodical and make myself finish the one that’s closest to being done. I was mentally outlining the second novel, tossing around ideas of where to start. But then one day in December I woke from a dream that gave me an idea for a whole new book. I was completely psyched about the idea, and hurriedly wrote an outline so I’d at least remember the basics. I’ve fleshed it out a little more, still stumped about where to start, but itching to get that story out. Romance, comedy, birds. I find myself thinking about that one as I work on other things, to which the fella said, “I think you need to write the one you’re most excited about.”


5. I made myself move. I started eating more salads. I walked through the neighborhood a few times last week. I’ve been lifting weights while watching episodes of Banshee. (See, that’s sort of working out.) It’s an attempt at the diet and exercise portion of my balance challenge. I’m getting there. Small steps.


Here’s hoping this Year of the Rooster brings you much balance and creativity, too. We could all stand to seek the joy these days, and remember to take time for the things that are really important, and the things that bring us delight.


Want to see more of my tips for writing and indie publishing? Check out my monthly column “The Indie Road” on