Monday, April 30, 2012


“Nothing diminishes anxiety faster than action.” --Walter Inglis Anderson
I read this quote the other day and the same evening my husband commented that one of his clients was suffering paralysis through analysis.  It got me thinking about the balance between weighing ones options and acting on a decision.  The pondering of every possible alternative to find the perfect solution—which almost never exists-- can lead to nothing happening at all.  On the other hand, snap decisions made with too little deliberation may miss details that affect the success of the final outcome.  You can see the dilemma. 
A personality profile test my company use to give was designed to tell us which prospective employee would commit sins of omission and which sins of commission. In other words, it identified who would screw up through what they didn’t do and who would screw up through what they did.  To no one’s surprise, I fell into the latter category. Hey, it’s easier to apologize than get permission, right? 
I thought about how the two personality traits relate to writing. Some people dive in and start writing with little more than a protagonist and a vague premise—Lee Child and Nora Roberts have been very successful and prolific with this approach. Other authors begin with detailed character descriptions and plots that act as a chapter by chapter guide to what needs to go on the page. Both methods have merits and disadvantages recognized by pantsers and plotters alike. 
Unfortunately, there usually comes a point in a story (or several points) where a writer gets stuck. In my case, I know where I’ve been and where I’m going but flounder on the page in front of me. Some people call this writer’s block, others writer’s hell. Analysis only makes the anxiety worse. Staring at the scene brings no solution. Going for a walk or having lunch, reading a book or watching a movie may distract but the hurdle still looms in the back of my mind, nagging and insisting I suck. Yep, welcome to my Sunday afternoon. 
Over time most writers develop their own methods to break through the block—the last resort, the desperate effort to climb out of the morass. Mine is WRITE OR DIE. In Kamikaze mode. With dire consequences. I take a deep breath, get into the zone (setting and POV character’s head), click start and type like the devil himself is after me. My typing skills are horrible but in Write or Die only forward momentum counts. No time for analysis or picking the perfect word. No time to worry about varying sentence structure or not re-using favorite words again and again. The only thing that matters is the characters’ journey, the story unfolding and not having the screen turn red or my laptop scream at me.  The action of writing, getting imperfect words and sentences down on the page, relieves the anxiety and frees my mind to be creative. As for the typos, and crappy writing…oddly, it isn’t usually all that bad. It turns out my subconscious is  a much better writer than I give it credit for. My typing, however, still stinks! 
So tell us, are you an omissions or commissions sinner? How do you break through blocks and make decisions? 

Friday, April 27, 2012

Tickets for Four

Over the last two weeks, Hubs and I spent more hours in the company of our adult children than at any other point in the past ten years. This togetherness warmed my cold, black heart and churned out happy memories faster than the doors close in the Paris Metro.

It also sent each of us, Hubs excepted, into at least one mini-meltdown.

Napoleon said armies travel on their stomachs. So, apparently, do Rosens. We turn cranky when hungry or thirsty but don't all require or want sustenance at the same hour. One man's sandwich is another's waste of time. Not everyone needs three cups of coffee to start the day. Some people don't consider dessert a necessity of life.

We've taken trains, planes, and a Ferris wheel, climbed a mountain of stairs, and one of us, for a whole minute, wished she'd never left home.

But I'm glad I did.

Next week, you'll hear more than you ever wanted to know about how we decoded maps, deciphered menus, managed another language--and relearned what it's like to live together

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

You’ve Got to Read This Book: THE PROPHET by Amanda Stevens

I’m a huge fan of Amanda Stevens and her Graveyard Queen series so the release of the third book, THE PROPHET, this week is an exciting event. 
In the first book of the series—THE RESTORER--she introduces Amelia Grey, a graveyard restorer who sees ghosts. When a murdered woman is found in the graveyard where she’s working, Amelia is called on to help in the investigation and gets involved with John Devlin, a police detective haunted by his dead wife and daughter. I reviewed it here.
In the second book, THE KINGDOM, Amelia flees Charleston and Devlin to take a project in the dying town of Asher Falls where she comes face to face with her own mysterious history as well as some truly evil entities. (Reviewed here)
 As THE PROPHET begins, Amelia has returned to Charleston and is immediately drawn back to Devlin and entangled with his ghosts. Add the high-functioning ghost of a murdered cop looking for answers, a beautiful fortune-teller with a past and present with Devlin, and a sorcerer practicing deadly African rituals, and you have a story you won’t be able to put down. If you haven't read this series--start it now!!! Right now! 
 Check out the Graveyard Queen trailer. It’s deliciously creepy like the books!

Monday, April 23, 2012

Picture This

I've been museum-hopping and now carry images that thrilled, surprised, or made me scratch my head. The real head-scratcher, though, wasn't the works of art but the behavior of some camera-toting sportsmen intent on capturing digital trophies.

Think I'm overdoing it with the big game-hunter imagery? Picture someone with a digital camera planted squarely in front of a painting. He fiddles with settings, adjusts this and that, and, finally takes the shot. Now and only now can someone else can get close enough to see the painting.

Then, there are the digital-phone-wielding spectators who point, click, but spend zero time appreciating the works of art they snapped. Am I being unfair? Did they snap those pictures so they can appreciate the art works at home, at their leisure? I doubt it. Most are collecting digital souvenirs--proof I was there.

Some museums forbid photo-taking. That doesn't stop the point-and-clickers who pretend they don't understand what's meant by the image of a camera and a red diagonal slash.

On the other hand, I get a kick out of museum-goers driven to mimic works of art. They prop their chins on their knuckles like Rodin's The Thinker and couples act out The Kiss.

Museums are almost as good for people-watching as they are for art appreciation. Now, if only that guy with the iPhone would get out of my way.

Friday, April 20, 2012


I’ll confess, I have nine pair of jeans ranging from designer blue denims I found on sale (no way I’d pay $250 for them!) to black biker jeans that have seen better days. Jeans go everywhere in Texas, but according to a piece from the BBC, all the world wears jeans.
Jeans were banned as unsuitable school attire when I was in high school. When I look back, they weren’t even popular outside of school. Then I went to college. There jeans--Levis and Wranglers mostly--became a uniform of sorts for a certain cross-section of the collegiate population. “Designer jeans” was still an oxymoron, not the zillion dollar commodity of today, and the concept of broken-in, pre-distressed clothing conjured images of Goodwill or Salvation Army stores. 
As I’ve traveled over the past few decades, I’ve noticed a radical change in attitude toward jeans in Europe. There was a time when I wouldn’t have dreamed of wearing them on the streets of Paris or London because the locals would have instantly pegged me as an American tourist. Now? I rarely pack anything else and fit right in regardless of the locale. Attire that once denoted a laborer or cowboy has seeped into every culture and every social strata, uniting us under a denim flag. The BBC piece backs up my observations: 
[Jeans] is a subject that is relatively unstudied, says anthropologist Danny Miller, whose book Blue Jeans will be published next month.
In every country he has visited - from the Philippines to Turkey, India and Brazil - Miller has stopped and counted the first 100 people to walk by, and in each he found that almost half the population wore jeans on any given day. Jeans are everywhere, he says, with the exception of rural tracts of China and South Asia.
Okay, maybe Bhutan and Burma still have a way to go, but the rest of the world seems to be onboard. Really, how cool is that? 
When I was 20, a prediction that my mother and father would one day wear jeans would have made me collapse in hysterical laughter or shudder in horror. And yet, the old folks don the denim these days along with the rest of us. That may not be progress—honestly, are jeans still jeans when they have elastic waistbands—but it is change. And let’s be grateful to the fashion gods that lycra stretch pants never caught on the way jeans did! 
Fess up. How do you feel about jeans—love ‘em, hate ‘em, haven’t worn a pair since 1995? 

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Both Sides Now

My earworm* of the moment is a circa 1967 Joni Mitchell song, Both Sides Now. The title speaks to a coming event. Initially, I'd have sworn the lyrics had nothing to do with me, but, as with so many things, I was wrong.

I've looked at life from both sides now
From up and down, and still somehow
It's life's illusions I recall
I really don't know life at all

Both Sides Now is playing in my head because I'm getting a second cochlear implant next month. (Wikipedia: A cochlear implant (CI) is a surgically implanted electronic device that provides a sense of sound to a person who is profoundly deaf or severely hard of hearing.) Soon, I'll hear in stereo-- from both sides now. 

With two implants, people's voices may sound artificially high and environmental noises—rain hitting the roof, bird calls, the ac switching on—artificially loud, but I'll adjust because I WANT TO HEAR EVERYTHING.

The first implant, which I got last July, showed me what I'd been missing—and it was a lot. It's a never-ending thrill to hear the voices of my husband and daughters when they're in the next room. I hear cats meow and the microwave ding.

Yesterday, at the dentist, the hygienist talked to me through her mask, and I was able to follow her rambling, funny anecdote. Contrast that with the panic that clawed a few years ago when a new student appeared in my class wearing a burqa that covered her face. I was taught by nuns and am not fazed by long, enveloping garments but couldn't read my student's lips, hence the panic. #teacherfail

There will be challenges ahead, and I don't expect miracles. Full hearing may be an illusion, but it's one that propels me forward. If I get less than I hope for, it will be more than I have now.   

Moons and Junes and Ferris wheels
The dizzy dancing way you feel
As ev'ry fairy tale comes real
I've looked at love that way

What are you greedy for?

*The novelty may never wear off!

Monday, April 16, 2012


It's one of those days. I wish I could spend today writing, but, alas, I have a demanding day job that needs my focus. So let's have a little Karen Carpenter for this rainy Monday.

What are you doing today?

Friday, April 13, 2012

Title Help and More Write Stuff

Hey, writers, this post's for you, and you'll be pleased to know it links to other, better posts.

First up, get tongue-in-cheek help naming your novel from National Public Radio via Redlines and Deadlines, the blog of those witty editors at Ellora's Cave.

Uh oh, CARPOOLING FANNY appears to be the title of my WIP.

In a week when the Department of Justice filed suit against Apple and five publishers (three of which have agreed to a settlement), we need a feel-good story. Larry Brooks, author of psychological thrillers and the "story fixer," gave an advanced workshop to about 100 romance writers in Portland Oregon—his first time giving a workshop to a group of romance writers—and came away from it with respect for the genre. That's right; you won't hear him make a snide comment or a passive-aggressive aside. Indeed, he describes the Portland writers as "killer smart."

Sci-fi writer Lynette Burrows is back with another installment in her "Re-visioning Your Story" series. Here, she reminds us great beginnings hook the reader but emotionally satisfying endings compel them to buy an author's next book.

Still trying to define "voice" as it pertains to writers? Social-media expert Kristen Lamb's recent post (the third in a series) demystifies the term by using actors as examples. "Let’s say I have a role to cast. I want a male actor to play a cowboy. I have three different actors. I have Clint Eastwood, Jack Black, and Robert Deniro. Same story, different actors. Can you see how the choice of actor–the choice of the voice–becomes essential to how the story will play out? If I cast the wrong actor for the story I as a director want to tell, I can have a disaster, even though ALL THREE ACTORS are highly skilled and talented."

Hope these links are useful. Now it's back to CARPOOLING FANNY for me.

Wednesday, April 11, 2012


Most writers I know need to do research about places, people, historical events, legal issues and about a zillion other subjects that come up as we make our way through a story. One of the easiest ways to find answers is the internet—yep, Google is my friend—although not everything posted online is reliable. When delving deeper into a subject, books are a great resource and libraries a treasure trove of valuable information. There are times, however, when we need more specific insight into a hypothetical situation that only an expert can provide. And that’s where personal interaction is critical.

My critique partner, Sarah Andre, recently had some legal questions pertaining to her romantic suspense, LOCKED, LOADED AND LYING. The letter of the law, she learned, totally screwed up the basic premise of her plot. When it looked like a major re-write might be necessary, an attorney she spoke to told her there were times when reality did, indeed, allow for the events in her story to happen. This man’s input gave her expert insight she would never have gotten from the internet or a book and made her premise believable.

I love asking people questions about subjects dear to their hearts. Often the answers are not what I expected and even send my story in an unexpected direction. My work in progress, SHADES OF THE DEEP, takes place in the Caribbean—primarily the British Virgin Islands—but it’s been years since I lived in St. Croix or sailed the BVI. Between the internet resources and Google Earth, I’ve been able to refresh my memory and see how some of my favorite places have changed.

But I was stuck. I needed to know how long it would take my hero to sail from Fat Dog Island--a made-up place near St. Vincent—to Road Town, Tortola. I contacted an old friend who has bareboated in the Caribbean for years and asked him. The reply I got was 46-48 hrs. His elaboration, however, brought the trip alive:

Could be faster if wind is up; slower if it is down.
Could be slower if there are nuisances getting out of Kingstown or into Roadtown; probably not a big factor since both are clean shots.

Distance = 370 – 390 nm, depending on route, rhumbline vs. island hop.
Sail set = close reach (winter) – beam reach – broad reach (summer), depending on time of year
            All good sail sets for comfortable voyaging
Good sailor, 60 ft sloop or cutter or ketch, solo, should make 8kn comfortably.
200 nm in a day is a really good day for a 45 ft boat, but your boat is bigger and the course is a fast sail set.

I would recommend modified island hop.

Basically, from St. Vincent , get offshore quickly, setting course for near St. Kitts (west side).  Then straight shot from St. Kitts to Roadtown, missing all the Anegada reefs encountered if you went via St. Maarten.  Plus, St. Maarten à Roadtown is downwind and slower. 
Sail on west side of all the islands, 10-20 nm offshore.  That will minimize turbulence and disorganized seas from being too close to land and minimize wind shadow from tall islands.  At the same time, islands in the distance to the east (visible at range of 10-20 nm, will give visible markers of progress and a safe haven to run for if needed.

Let me know if you need more detail or sanity checking.

I’m a good sailor and knew these places, yet I’d forgotten so much of what it takes to make the sail. What he wrote brought back so many vivid memories I can now draw from. His insights have given me inspiration, a voyage to plan and some serious daydreaming to do. And now I know Bodie can make it from Fat Dog to Road Town in 48 hours or less. Thanks, JB!! 

Monday, April 9, 2012

Good News/Bad News about Reading

According to research released last week, thirty-six percent of Americans read for pleasure every day or almost every day.

The news gets better. The Pew Research Center's Internet & American Life Project studied e-reading in the U.S. Among its findings:

*A fifth of American adults have read an e-book in the past year.

*The average reader of e-books has read 24 books (the mean number) in the past 12 months, compared with an average of 15 books by a non-e-book consumer.

*30% of those who read e-content say they now spend more time reading, and owners of tablets and e-book readers particularly stand out as reading more now.

*80% of Americans age 16 and older say they read at least occasionally for pleasure.

Does all this good news have you wondering when the other bookend will drop?

In a section of the report called "The General Reading Habits of Americans,"
Pew reveals that 19 percent of respondents aged sixteen and over said they hadn't read a single book in any format over the previous twelve months. As the report puts it, "If this figure is accurate, that means more than 50 million Americans don't read books at all."


"While it’s encouraging that some people are reading more, the nation cannot afford to continue losing readers," said American Library Association president Molly Raphael.

Writers can't afford to lose potential readers, either.

How do we account for the non-readers? Certainly, long work hours, short attention spans, family demands, dyslexia, and vision problems get some of the blame. In addition, the National Center for Education Statistics estimates that 14.5 percent of Americans are illiterate. (The most recent results date from 2003.)

How's that for good news/bad news? Thirty-six percent of American's read for pleasure every day or almost every day, yet another 14.5 percent can't read at the level considered necessary for everyday activities and employment.

If you have the time and temperament to serve as a literacy volunteer, contact ProLiteracy to find a program near you.

Do you know a reluctant reader? Please watch this video featuring best-selling authors James Patterson and Rick Riordan. Note that non-fiction is a gateway to reading for many kids, particularly for boys.

Patterson founded, a website of book recommendations to tempt reluctant readers.

How have you encouraged the reluctant readers in your life. What tips/strategies worked for you?

Friday, April 6, 2012


I have a three day weekend this week. Easter weekend. Religious and patriotic considerations aside, this is a much better holiday than Memorial Day, Fourth of July or Labor Day here in Houston. At Easter the weather is lovely--perfect for a picnic or driving a sports car with the top down or walking on the beach. By the end of May, temperatures will rise to the nineties--low if we're lucky and high if we're not. July 4th will be very hot and humid--it always is. By Labor Day the long hot summer will have beat the city into exhaustion and still won't be over. But March and April in this part of Texas are usually glorious.

This is the weekend of the Round Top Antiques Fair, which started many years ago in a tent in the tiny town of Round Top between Houston and Austin and has expanded to towns throughout the local countryside. For years I helped my friend, Maria, haul her rugs there to sell in one of the tents or even in a booth at a prime roadside location. Each year the fair grew. What began as an antiques fair attracted vendors selling collectibles, crafts and what the French poetically call brocante--aka flee-market junk.

It's been several years since my husband and I took the drive up and many more since Maria stopped selling her wares, but every year we consider going just one more time to wander around in the sunshine and enjoy the people watching. Thanks to the recent rains, the wild flowers are in full blown along the way--bluebonnets have turned entire fields a stunning blue with Indian paintbrush, Mexican poppies and daisies adding a bit of variety. There's even a website called Wild About Texas Wildflowers with maps of the best routes for viewing nature's extravaganza.

Braving the crowds at the fair isn't on our agenda this year, but there are closer places we can venture to enjoy the outdoors--Memorial Park, Herman Park, Clearlake--each with its own special charm. Wildflowers have popped up on medians, railroad right-of-ways and in dedicated areas of local parks throughout the city. They won't be hard to find.

So if you happen to be in Texas this weekend, be sure to look for the wildflowers wherever you are and enjoy the lovely spring weather. Even a walk in an April shower can be a wonderful way to spend your afternoon. Happy Easter!

What are you doing for the weekend? Any big plans?

Wednesday, April 4, 2012

Defend the Process

Last month, fiction writer Jhumpa Lahiri wrote an essay in the New York Times about her fascination with sentences and described her writing process in this way: "I hear sentences as I’m staring out the window, or chopping vegetables, or waiting on a subway platform alone…. Over time, virtually each sentence I receive and record in this haphazard manner will be sorted, picked over, organized, changed. Most will be dispensed with. All the revision I do — and this process begins immediately, accompanying the gestation — occurs on a sentence level. It is by fussing with sentences that a character becomes clear to me, that a plot unfolds."

Lahiri's love of words, sentences and writing shimmered on the page. Her process isn't mine, (And only in my dreams do I compare my writing to hers.) but there are commonalities, and they lend a sense of kinship—writers are in this together. Most of my friends and acquaintances write, and I can't think of one who doesn't shut up and listen when awriter talks about his or her process.

Evidently my friends and acquaintances are a cut above.

A few days after publication of Lahiri's essay, a dissenting letter to the editor
was published. In it, a disgruntled writer suggested Lahiri's point of view misrepresents the craft of fiction writing: "…she perpetuates the notion that if you learn to write grand sentences, and string enough of them together, somehow — by magic — you’ll have written a story. It couldn’t be further from the truth. Language is the handmaiden of story, not the other way around. Master story. Everything else is gravy."

Thus speaks a plotter—in more ways than one. Admittedly, plot's critical, especially for commercial fiction, but isn't what comes first: plot/characters/sentences part of a process that's both the same and different for each writer?

The same day the dissenting letter was published in the Times, a senior editor at Mother Jones wrote an essay critical of some of the sentences in Lahiri's essay. "In an essay exploring her love of sentences in last Sunday's New York Times, the great writer Jhumpa Lahiri put together some awful sentences. I say 'put together' intentionally: The sentences themselves were mostly fine, at turns even terrific, but in several places they were assembled quite awfully. This surprised me in light of Lahiri's literary talent and the reputable publication to which she was contributing. Where the heck was her editor?"

Apparently a writer bold enough to admit an absorption with sentences makes her sentences vulnerable to attack.

The publishing industry is in flux, but Lahiri didn't address agency pricing, the growing influence of Amazon, the adversarial stance taken by some self-published authors toward those traditionally published--and vice versa. She dared to write about sentences.

Let's agree to disagree on agency pricing. Let's stick up for or rail against Amazon. I beg you, fellow writers, to join me in defending each writer's process as his or her own.

Monday, April 2, 2012


Will one of these guys accept the role of Christian Grey? 

At a dinner party a couple of weeks ago, the subject of FIFTY SHADES OF GREY came up. The hostess had heard buzz at her gym that the bestselling e-book so popular with women at the moment is blatant pornography. Mommy porn, I think was one of the labels used. Some hearsay was thrown around over dinner, opinion, speculation, information gleamed from the internet and TV. Not one to be left out of a controversial conversation, I joined in. In fact, I had a bit of an advantage—I’d actually read about three quarters of Fifty Shades.

I’d heard about the e-book before it got all the TV and internet publicity—and was only $2.99 on Kindle—and downloaded it to see if it was really as outrageous as its initial hype. I’m not going to review it here which would require breaking my rule of only reviewing books I like. I will make a couple of observations, though. At the end of the first quarter or so, I couldn’t help comparing it to TWILIGHT because it was heavy on longing and nothing much had had happened—definitely no porn. Googling it revealed it started as TWILIGHT fan fiction which lit a bulb in my head and elicited a groan. I suspected I knew where Fifty Shades was headed.

But this was a huge bestseller, I told myself. As a writer who’d love to sell a zillion copies of my WIP, I was sure there must be a reason for its popularity. I forced myself to read on. I wanted to be surprised, impressed, enthralled, even shocked would do. At page 296 of 372 I succumbed to boredom and gave up. Porn? Unless the last 75 pages got really hot, I can’t understand what all the whoop-la’s about. And last week People posted a Facebook survey of who should play Christian Grey in the movie. Ugh. A movie?!! (Don’t even consider it, Henry Cavill!!)

I’m frequently puzzled that people are satisfied with secondhand opinions, especially when it comes to books. Before I got my Kindle, I carried a book with me everywhere and often they were romances with, well, romance covers. I’d like a dollar for every time someone sneered at my reading material and asked, “How can you read those books?” They quickly informed me they would never stoop so low, at which point I’d explain I not only read romances but also wrote them. Reactions varied—few were complimentary. How many times have we heard romances called pornography? How many articles claim romances set up unrealistic relationship expectations in women, frequently inferring the women who read those books are pathetic losers who fantasize about love they can never have? And how many deriders of the genre have actually read the books they scorn? Answer: Not many.

Romance is an extremely broad genre that ranges from sweet inspirational stories to some very steamy stuff, and the women who read and write those books include all demographics. Romances deal with love, life, relationships, personal growth and hope. And, yes, often sex happens at some point in the story—kind of like life. We’re entitled to our tastes and opinions because we read it.

I can’t figure out why Fifty Shades and its sequels are so popular when there are tons of better written, more emotionally compelling and more erotic books out there which haven’t found their readers. That’s too bad. But good for you, E.L. James. You’ve tapped a market and gotten media attention most of us can merely dream of.  Just a bit of advice--don’t mention that your Mommy Porn is basically romance.

Have you read any terrific books lately—fiction, nonfiction, graphic novels, whatever…..? What needs to go on my TBR pile? If you liked Fifty Shades, please tell us why!