Fact, Fiction or Both?

As a reader, I enjoy historical fiction that stimulates my interest to learn more about a person or a time from the past. Good historical fiction, in my humble opinion, needs to be balanced- a blend of historical facts and accuracy with a riveting storyline and well-developed characters who lived, or at least could have lived, during that time. I don’t believe there is any required ratio between the  levels of fact and fiction (maybe 60/40 in favor of facts if I had  to wager  a  guess?) but clearly a well-researched story is ultimately going to garner more attention and a larger number of satisfied readers than one that relies on interesting characters to make up for a historical backdrop that is too thin or inaccurate. But the real question is not how much ‘history’ do you need in your historical  fiction,  but rather how do you obtain that information?

When it comes to research, at some point you have to tell yourself that it’s time to stop, that enough is enough. Although it is tempting to continue down yet another rabbit hole of information (and there are so many different avenues to explore) a good writer knows when it’s time. Time to put down all those references and sources and actually start writing.

Researching a historical novel is a challenging and at least for me, an ultimately rewarding experience. I have previously written four contemporary novels and Landscape of a Marriage,  my first historical novel, was an eye-opener. I blame my public school education or more appropriately, my earlier lack of interest in most things historical for my struggles. Other than the dates I learned of all the major battles in a variety of wars that the U.S. participated in, I don’t recall  learning anything of interest to me in all of those history classes I sat through. I was a good student, but never developed a love of history until I started reading on my own. My early favorites are still classics in my mind- Gone with the Wind (Mitchell), The Thornbirds (McCullough) and Trinity (Uris).  Great characters and interesting storylines set in different times in the past. What a joy!

I was drawn to the story of renowned landscape architect Frederick Law Olmsted and his late brother’s widow Mary for a number of reasons. The primary one is that Olmsted is a distant relative of my husband’s. Way back when, there were two brothers- Aaron and Benjamin- one is Fred’s grandfather and the other, my husband’s great, great, great grandfather. 

But what really drew me into the story was the marriage of Fred and Mary, his former sister-in-law. Although ‘levirate’ marriages were fairly common in the 19th century in order to protect the  children and the family name, I felt there was an interesting story lurking right below the surface and I set out to write it. My first step was to  find out everything I could about the lives of Fred and Mary. I reviewed many different resources while researching Landscape of a Marriage. There are a number of beautifully written books on Frederick Law  Olmsted and that was where I began,  including A Clearing in the Distance (Rybczynski) and Genius  of Place (Martin). I highly recommend them both.

These books helped me to understand quite a bit about the times and Olmsted’s professional accomplishments. I made careful notes and drafted an outline, filling in the  most significant events happening during the tumultuous years of  the second half of the 19th century in America- the Civil  War, Lincoln’s assassination, the  women’s suffrage movement, the Gold Rush and the Second Industrial Revolution.

This  provided the backdrop or the overall foundation for Landscape. Then I moved on to the Olmsteds themselves. I began with their marriage, the births of their children and significant personal and professional milestones along the  way, including Fred’s work on such notable projects as Central Park  in NYC, Mount Royal in Montreal, the  Chicago World’s Fair and the reopening of Niagara Falls. The Olmsteds moved from New York, to Washington, DC, to  California and back  to New York before dividing their time between Brookline, a Boston suburb and Deer Isle, Maine. Each location would have an impact on their lives together and needed to be researched carefully to identify exactly how.

From there, I continued my research and Google provided me with access to numerous articles, posts and images that added to my base of knowledge. Who knew how interesting it could be to learn about the culture, the lifestyles, the clothing and the hobbies enjoyed during the second half of the 19th century? I remembered very little about the Civil War (except for those all important dates!) but never took the time to imagine what it was like for the soldiers, their mothers, their families. Before committing  to  landscape architecture as a career, Fred worked for the  United States Sanitary Commission (the precursor to the American Red Cross) and his efforts revealed a caring, empathetic man who loved his country and fought to improve living conditions for the soldiers. This was a far cry from the critical and driven workaholic persona that frequently is assigned to Olmsted and it helped me to portray him as a loving and  passionate man dedicated to both his profession and his wife and  children. I hope readers who enjoy Landscape will be inspired to visit  Olmsted’s parks and learn more about this creative visionary who transformed  the  American landscape forever.

Do you have a story to tell about a real or fictional person or an important time in history? The more research you do, the more likely it is that you will craft a story that you will enjoy writing and your readers will enjoy reading.

Footprints & Friendships

“Many people will walk in and out of your life, but only true friends will leave footprints in your heart.” 

Eleanor Roosevelt’s words perfectly articulate how I feel about the importance of friendship. I value my friends and try to be worthy of them. I am fortunate to have a select group of loyal friends, ‘my people’, the family that I have chosen to be an integral part of my life. Their footprints, much like fingerprints and snowflakes, are unique- no two are alike! Some of these friends I see regularly, or will as our lives return to ‘normal’, whatever that entails. Others live a distance away and we will need to put our heads together in order to plan for time to enjoy each other’s company. Either way, I am grateful for the joy these amazing women and men bring to my life. There is no need to name names- they know who they are! 

My dear friend of more than 50 years died tragically last year and I am certain of only one thing- I will carry her memory in my heart forever. Laurie’s footprint is permanent and I will never forget her bright smile, irreverent wit, unwavering devotion and love. She knew me long before I grew up, when I was young and cute and had my whole life in front of me. She helped me to shape that life, to navigate my turbulent teen years, and to thrive as I matured. An important part of my past, she will always have a special place in my heart. Rest easy, my friend.

I am a writer working on my 6th novel. My main characters are women of different ages and backgrounds and, on the surface, might appear to have nothing in common. But there is something that unites them- they are all privileged to enjoy the benefits of close friends. In my first novel Jeep Tour, Susan was my principal character Jackie’s best friend and in Guessing at Normal, Beth was there to provide unconditional love and support to Jill. It was important to me that my characters had friends, in part because I love them and felt they deserved to enjoy true and long-lasting friendships. And from a literary perspective, dialogue between fictional friends can reveal hidden secrets, fears, hopes and dreams. A well-developed friendship provides me, as a writer, with a way to show how compassionate or thoughtful or clueless my characters are. Perfectly imperfect, quirky women are transformed, or at least made more relatable, when a best friend is part of the story.

I published my historical novel Landscape of a Marriage on July 29th. The narrator is Mary Perkins Olmsted, wife of renowned landscape architect Frederick Law Olmsted. I wrote the character of Anne to play the important role of Mary’s fictional best friend. Anne provides a shoulder for Mary to cry on, a heart for Mary to take comfort in, and an ear to make certain that Mary is heard. Their friendship, with all of its ups and downs, challenges and triumphs, is celebrated over more than 40 years.

If the Covid-19 pandemic has taught me anything, it is just how much I value my friends. Now that I am double vaccinated, I look forward to spending more time with them. Actual face time, not Facetime! Catch-ups over coffee and lunches enjoyed sitting on a deck or in our kitchens, casual dinners with our spouses and partners, long walks, shopping and hugs. Lots of hugs!

As you continue to make plans for a happier and healthier 2021, be sure to reach out to those you love and remind them of how important they are to you. Pay special attention to the friends who really ‘get’ you, who complete you and who make you feel loved in return. Your heart will thank you for it!

What Comes First: Love or Marriage?

I believe that the majority of us would respond that love comes first, of course! After all, what is a marriage without love? In my historical novel Landscape of a Marriage, Mary, a widow with three small children, agrees to marry her brother-in-law, landscape architect Frederick Law Olmsted, in order to provide a secure future for her and her children. In 1858, there were not many good options for women. Their ‘marriage of convenience’ doesn’t suit her however, and she decides that she will win her new husband’s love. Seeking a more passionate union, Mary is soon blessed with a relationship that meets her emotional and physical needs. Her second marriage provides a second chance at a happy ever after. Together, Mary and Fred set to transform the American landscape forever, beginning with NY’s iconic Central Park. Their shared goal is to create a ‘beating green heart’ in every city.

Mary was successful in finding true love after her wedding vows. But what if that had not been the result? Would Fred and Mary Olmsted’s marriage have lasted 44 years were it not for a committed and satisfying partnership? Maybe…

English history is full of references to so-called ‘levarite’ marriages, that were carried out in order to preserve alliances and to protect the social status of family members. Shakespeare’s Hamlet tells of Claudius, the brother of the late Hamlet marrying his widow Gertrude in order to defend her and the realm. In Zimbabwe, the younger brother was said to ‘inherit’ the widow of a deceased older brother. 

Although marrying the widow of a deceased brother is fairly rare today, many cultures believe in the suitability of arranged marriages. This is a type of marital union where the bride and groom are primarily selected by individuals other than the couple themselves, particularly by family members such as the parents. In some cultures, a professional matchmaker may be used to find a spouse for a young person. Arranged marriages should not be confused with ‘forced’ marriages whereby one or both participants enter the marriage without giving their consent. 

Many of us would cringe at the thought of an arranged marriage and much prefer a romantic, swept-off-our-feet kind of relationship. But proponents suggest reasons that an arranged marriage is superior to a ‘love’ marriage include issues like mutual respect, similarities regarding values and beliefs, and family support.

But do arranged marriages actually work?

In the U.S., while the divorce rate hovers around 40 or 50 percent, the divorce rate for arranged marriages is 4 percent. In India, where some estimate that 90 percent of marriages are arranged, the divorce rate is only 1 percent. According to a study by Statistic Brain, the global divorce rate for arranged marriages is 6 percent — a significantly low number. 

Don’t get me wrong- I am a big fan of romance… in my life and in my writing. But there is certainly something to be said for long-lasting relationships and fewer divorces. For now, I’ll stick with my first choice, a marriage vow I made nearly forty years ago to a partner I am still passionately in love with. Works for me! 

How about you- what do you think?  Is romantic love essential to a happy marriage?

What’s the Rush? The Perks of Being a Late-Bloomer

Throughout history, there are countless artists, leaders, writers and other very influential people who didn’t hit their stride until they were well into middle age and beyond. Many did not enter the field in which they garnered the most success and fulfillment until they had already tried out a number of different careers. This makes sense, if you think about it. Doesn’t it defy all logic to assume that at the tender age of 18, we have the capacity to identify a career path that will motivate and inspire us for the next 40 or 50 years? Is the job you aspire to in your 20’s the same one that will fulfill you in your 50’s or beyond? I say ‘unlikely’.

The benefits of experience that come with maturity can be a true competitive advantage and lead to greater success at a later age. As we mature, we can take full advantage of the life lessons we  have learned  and the experiences we have had. There is plenty of evidence to support the claim that delayed blooming makes sense.

Here are some late-bloomers to consider:

Artists

  • The painter Anna Mary Robertson Moses, aka Grandma Moses, cut short her career in embroidery due to arthritis and didn’t begin painting until she was 75.  Her career as an American folk artist lasted until she was 101 and one of her paintings sold for $1.2 million in 2006.
  • Dutch post-impressionist painter Vincent van Gogh created roughly 2100 works during his  career, including over 800 oil paintings, most of which were completed in the last two  years of his life. 
  • Acclaimed French artist Paul Cezanne did not get his first solo show until he was 56.

Authors

  • Little House author Laura Ingalls Wilder did not publish her first book until she was in her 60’s. 
  • Nobel and Pulitzer Prize winner Toni Morrison published her first novel at the age of 40.
  • Bram Stoker’s most popular novel Dracula was published when he  was 50.
  • Miguel de Cervantes wrote his best known novel Don Quixote when he was 58.
  • After a career in Britain’s Naval Intelligence Division, Ian Fleming introduced Bond, James Bond to the world when he was 44. 

Are you seeing a pattern here or do you need more proof that being a late-bloomer is a roundabout pathway to success?

Company Founders

  • Kentucky Fried Chicken, aka KFC: Colonel Harlan Sanders was 65 when he first started offering up his finger-lickin’ fare.
  • McDonald’s: Salesman Ray Kroc bought the hamburger company at the age of 52 and turned it into the world’s largest fast food chain.
  • Ford Motor Company: Henry Ford built the iconic Model T when he was 45.
  • Campbell Soup Company: Joseph Campbell created a canned goods company when he was 52, but didn’t start selling soup until he was 78.
  • Costco: Co-founder Jeffrey Brotman started the wholesale chain when he was 40.

Designers

  • Vera Wang was a competitive figure skater, journalist and fashion editor, but she did not become a fashion designer until she turned 40.
  • At the age of 41, Christian Dior founded the House of Dior. 
  • Italian fashion designer Giorgio Armani was 41 when he started his empire which includes fashion, music and luxe lodging. 

Politicians

  • Former U.S. President Ronald Reagan started his political career at 53, after a successful stint as an actor.
  • Nancy Pelosi was first elected into Congress when she was 47 and became Speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives at  67. 
  • Nelson Mandela became the first President of post-apartheid South Africa when he was 76.

And last, but not least: 

  • Julia Child did not learn to cook until she was 40. Her iconic cookbook Mastering the Art of French Cooking was published after she turned 50.

Who says the only way to connect two points is a straight line? That may be the quickest path, but is it the best? Couldn’t all those detours and stops along the way lead to a more rewarding life? What if the secret to life is all about the winding path of the  journey, rather than a laser focus on the destination?

I am proud to admit that I’m a late-bloomer too. Writing fiction is technically my third career- I spent 16 years in a variety of marketing positions in the telecommunications industry. In order to better accommodate my growing family, I entered the world of academia and I loved all of my years spent teaching, but after more than 20 years, I gave it up to write on a fulltime basis.

My latest historical novel Landscape of a Marriage is the story of Frederick Law Olmsted, the renowned landscape architect whose first finished project was the iconic Central Park in NYC. FLO is a perfect example of my theory that late-bloomers rule. Before finally committing himself to the designing of public parks, academic campuses and private estates, Olmsted tried on a number of different careers: merchant seaman, gentleman farmer, newspaper reporter, author, magazine publisher and he even managed a gold mine. He was well into his 40’s before he decided to focus his time and talents on a career in landscape architecture and millions of locals and tourists enjoy the fruits of his hard work and vision every day. 

It is our life experiences that shape us and prepare us for the future; failures, successes, stops and starts. Some of us thrive in a second or third career after working at a completely different job. Others achieve success only after decades of working in a particular field. Struggle is good! Early achievers (those who peak as a young adult  or happen upon a life-long career on the first try) fail to gain the hard-won experience that those of us who have floundered a bit wear proudly. We are resilient and flexible and grateful when we ultimately cross the finish line. 

It is widely accepted that younger workers today plan to change jobs and careers more frequently than their parents or grandparents did. The average millennial has already had as many jobs as workers in their fifties have had in their entire lifetime. A cynic might scoff at the idea of a young person worrying about which major to choose or where to secure an internship. If at first you don’t succeed, try, try again! 

To paraphrase Irish playwright George Bernard Shaw, “youth is wasted on the young!” A late-bloomer himself (his first public success came at age 38) Shaw must have recognized that the benefits of both public success and personal  fulfillment achieved at middle age and beyond are even sweeter. 

In closing: Patience is a virtue. Good things come to those who wait. Enjoy the journey, learn from your mistakes, try not to repeat  your failures. Hang in there. Keep going, don’t give up. I could go on forever… but I’ll end with:

Here’s to ‘better late than never’!

GWO

What is your ‘later success’ story? Who are your favorite late-bloomers? Please share them here!

Circle of Friends

Oxford Languages defines a friend as “a person whom one knows and with whom one has a bond of mutual affection.” Whether they are portrayed as the long-suffering sidekick, the compassionate care-giver or even the rival for a new job or love interest, friendships are frequently on display in television and film. Where would Lucy be without Ethel? Thelma without Louise?  Mary without Rhoda? 

In literature, the bonds of friendship are often the primary or underlying theme of the story. Well-known friendships between women  include Lila and Elena in My Brilliant Friend, sisters Celie and Nettie in The Color Purple, Elizabeth Bennet and Charlotte Lucas in Pride and Prejudice and of course, Lena, Tibby, Carmen and Bridget in The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants. 

Dialogue between fictional friends can reveal hidden secrets, fears, hopes and dreams, without the need for a load of inner dialog, which let’s face it, can get pretty boring. A well-written friendship also gives the writer a chance to show how compassionate or kind or, at times, delusional the main character is. Crotchety or quirky characters are somewhat transformed, or at least made more likable, when a best friend is part of the story.

I am a writer working on my 6th novel. My main characters are all women of different ages and backgrounds, some educated, some not. Some are mothers, others are not. Married, single, divorced and widowed- on the surface, my characters appear to have nothing in common. But there is at least one thing that unites them- they are all privileged to enjoy the benefits of close friends. 

My historical novel Landscape of a Marriage will be published on July 29th. My main character is Mary Perkins Olmsted, wife of renowned landscape architect Frederick Law Olmsted.  Although Mary was very much in love with her husband during the 44 years of their marriage, I invented a fictional best friend for her. Anne is the wife of Fred’s business partner and frequently provides a shoulder for Mary to cry on, a heart for Mary to take comfort in and an ear to make certain that Mary is heard.

Anne serves as both the devil’s advocate when Mary is venturing down the wrong path and the cheerleader when she needs to believe more in herself. At one point in the story, Mary implores her husband to repair a riff with Anne’s husband. “Not for the  sake of the business”, she begs him.  “But for the sake of my friendship with Anne.”

If the Covid-19 pandemic has taught me anything, it is just how much I value my friends. Gone (for now) are the coffees in the cafes, the bi-weekly lunches and the weekends highlighted by a dinner party or potluck supper. In their place are phone calls, FaceTime sessions and Zoom get-togethers. Early on last spring, my friend Sandi suggested a weekly phone call every Thursday at 1pm and despite our schedules, which can still get crazy at times, more often than not we honor that appointment. We talk about our jobs, our families, friends in common, books we have read and  shows we have binged on. I usually end each call by thanking Sandi for prioritizing our friendship. We schedule other things that are important, so why not a phone call with a dear friend? My friend Lisa and I talk the last Monday of every month at 7pm. I block off my evening, knowing that we will spend 2-3 hours discussing our lives and, at least in our minds, solving all of the problems in the world. We make time to chat and text in between these marathon talk-fests, but those nights are sacred. 

If you’re a fiction writer, be sure to give your characters the gift of friendship. If you are a reader, look for cues into the protagonist’s character by seeing how they treat their friends. And most of all, reach out by phone, text, email or snail mail and tell your friends far and wide just how much you love them. It will make all of the difference in the world.

19th century novelist Charles Dicken probably said it best. “Friendship? Yes, please.”

Then & Now

Then & Now

By way of introduction, I am a writer of contemporary fiction with a new book in the historical genre. In thinking about how I made the ‘switch’, I would like to share a few thoughts with you. 

First and foremost- in my experience, writing a novel set 150 years ago is not all that different from writing one based in modern times.  In my first four contemporary novels, my main characters were women on a journey in search of more meaning in their lives, a happy ever after if you will. My latest- Landscape of a Marriage is the story of Mary’s journey- from lonely widow with three small children to wife and partner of renowned landscape architect Frederick Law Olmsted as he strives to transform the American landscape forever. Despite the vastly different time period, the challenges Mary faced are remarkably similar to what she might have dealt with today- how to balance her needs with those of her family? How to pursue what she values in order to be fulfilled- as a mother, a wife and a woman? The importance she places on friendships to keep her grounded and feeling treasured? In my mind, these themes are universal, timeless.

Next, all good stories require good characters- well developed, flawed, lovable and fully formed. Before I even begin to write, I dig deep in order to understand who my main characters are- their physical appearance, their manner of speech, of dress. Their fears, hopes, dreams, goals, likes and dislikes. I often found myself thinking- ‘no, Mary would never do that’… or ‘how is Mary feeling right now’  or ‘how would Mary respond to whatever was going on?’ Getting into your character’s head is key, whether they write with a quill pen or send text messages, the work has to be done in order to get a true sense of your characters.

Finally, a plot that keeps readers interested; one that tells an interesting story, reveals the goals and motivations of the characters and presents a realistic backdrop from which to tell the tale is critical. Landscape is set in the second half of the 19th century in the United States. The country was at war, the nation was divided and women were fighting for their rights. Was what they faced really all that different from what we are experiencing today?

I will say that writing a novel set in an earlier time period did require much more research than one of my contemporary works. Although it is fiction, authenticity is critical in order to tell a story properly. Everything from what Mary would wear- a taffeta gown with a fitted bodice and a floor-skimming skirt worn over a chemise, drawers, and a corset; what she would serve for dinner- a joint of beef, a platter of roasted vegetables and a berry trifle; and what book she might be reading- Little Women or Around the World in Eighty Days when reading to her children had to be carefully researched. I admit that prior to working on Landscape, I was never much of a history buff. All I recall of classes that I was required to take while growing up was the need to memorize dates and the names of key battles in the Civil War. I literally don’t remember a thing from all that cramming and memorization. I grew to enjoy history more recently as I researched the lifestyles of my characters and how the events of the day impacted their thoughts, choices and lives. You could say that history came more alive for me and I hope for my readers as well. 

Overall, creating characters who are interesting and memorable should be the focus when writing in any genre. One phrase I do recall from my high school French classes seems appropriate here. 

Plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose, or

The more things change, the more they stay the same.

What’s Age Got To Do With It?

“It’s just a number” “Age doesn’t matter” “You’re only as young as you feel”

You hear comments like this all the time.

But when it comes to two people in a romantic relationship, apparently age does matter. Specifically the difference in ages between the two people in the relationship. According to a recent study by Emory University in Atlanta, the wider the age gap in partners, the lower their chances are of relationship success. They polled 3000 married and recently divorced couples and found that a one year discrepancy in a couple’s ages makes them 3% more likely to divorce when compared to their same-aged counterparts. A five-year age gap makes them 18% more likely to split up. A ten-year difference makes them 39% more likely and when the gap is over ten years, the odds of divorce are huge! Uh-oh…In my latest contemporary romance Second Guessing, songwriter Jill is fourteen years older than boyband singer turned solo artist Ben. Despite the sizzling hot chemistry between them, did I set their romance up for failure? In my ‘happy ever after’ view, I pictured them together forever.

What about in real life? My oldest friend was married to a man thirteen years younger than her. Note that the marriage is in the past tense. According to her, age was not a factor in their breakup, but when you really start to think about it, issues like whether or not to have children, how to balance and manage careers and figuring out finances would seem to be even more challenging when there is a wide gap in age. A 30 year old might not be in a hurry to start a family or a retirement fund, but what about their 45 year old partner? Our needs and priorities change over time. Is it reasonable to assume that we’ll be in sync with our partner if we are in truly different stages in our lives?

Emory University didn’t indicate if same sex couples were included in the study or if the majority of the couples with the wide gap tended to be of the older man/younger woman variety. Society appears to continue to have a double standard when it comes to a difference in age between romantic partners. It seems perfectly acceptable for an older man to date and marry younger women, but the reverse? Not so much. Otherwise the term ‘cougar’ wouldn’t exist. I mean what do you call a man who dates younger women, besides ‘lucky’ that is?

In my wild twenties, I dated a few men significantly older than me but married a man born just 3 ½ years before me. It’s been 35 years, so I’m thinking that we’ve beaten the odds. How about you? Do you think a gap is an issue or not? Would love to hear your comments. The best responses will win a free kindle copy of Second Guessing.

What Would I Do if I Wasn’t a Writer?

I became a writer relatively late in life. Although I always knew that I had at least one book in me that would need to be written at some point, it wasn’t until five or six years ago that I got serious about writing. It was a story that I had been thinking about for years. A family trip to Sedona, AZ led me to ponder what a perfect place it would be for anyone looking for a do-over, a second chance at a happy ever after. I finally decided that I would sit down and put it on paper. Once I got into it, JEEP TOUR just about wrote itself. Since then, I have written three more books: Guessing at Normal exposed my life-long fascination with rock stars, Driving on the Left, a sequel of sorts to JEEP TOUR, allowed me to explore the all important mother-daughter dynamic while vacationing in Ireland, and most recently, Second Guessing. This time I was able to combine my two favorite topics: rock stars and mother-daughter relationships into a ‘second chance’ contemporary romance. Next up is a possible foray into historical fiction. I am clearly hooked. This ‘writing thing’ isn’t going away anytime soon.

Since I began my writing career, I have spent countless hours writing, editing, publishing and marketing my works. As a college professor, I have summers off and depending on my course load each semester, frequently have a few extra hours each day to devote to my literary career. It’s become a huge part of who I am.

I recently got to thinking…how would I spend my time if it weren’t for writing? What would I do? I decided to ask my friends and family and here are some of their suggestions.

1) Get in Shape

Ouch, this one hurt, but it was the number one suggestion overall. I actually think I’m in pretty good shape, but if I’m being honest, I have to admit that if I dedicated even a portion of the time I spend on my writing to physical fitness, I would probably live longer and feel better. Hours spent slumped over my MacBook while slugging coffee isn’t the healthiest of pursuits, I will grant you that. I will have to look into getting one of those standing desks or a treadmill with a large work surface. Or I can walk to the post office to mail books to contest winners and then jog back home. Okay, that’s a definite maybe.

2) Travel

Hmmm… this suggestion has some merit. I do enjoy traveling but since writing is very portable (all I need is my MacBook, a notebook and a pen) I can’t honestly say that I turn down opportunities to travel very often, at least not because of writing. So, no to travel in lieu of writing. I can do both.

3) Learn to Cook

Again, ouch! I can cook and I’m pretty good at it, but unless I’m preparing a holiday meal or throwing a dinner party, most of the food I make is pretty uninspired. But if I cooked more, wouldn’t I eat more and therefore defeat my efforts for getting into shape? No, I predict more bowls of cereal in my future.

4) Volunteer

Do more for others? Give of my time, talents and treasure? Well, I teach at a community college and advise and mentor countless students each year. It’s my job, but shouldn’t that count for something? I also donate to various charities, participate in book drives and am putting together a free event this spring for aspiring writers… Okay, I get it. Seek out more volunteer opportunities.

5) Relax

This was actually a combination of suggestions that I spend more time with my friends and family, hang out, sleep in, shop, read, watch movies, go for coffee, etc. But seriously? I already do all of those things quite a bit, except maybe sleep in. I’m way too wired for that, perhaps because I spend so much time going out for coffee. But I’ll commit to more quality time with my loved ones. Be careful of what you wish for!!

So in conclusion, I appreciate the feedback and I plan to take some of these suggestions to heart. Next time you see me, I’ll no doubt be walking briskly to the post office and picking up trash along the way, while monitoring my heart rate and chatting on my phone, catching up with loved ones. But seriously? I really enjoy the time I spend writing. I have made new friends and connected with old ones and I have learned so much about my craft and myself. I wake up raring to go and eager to see what each new day brings.

And isn’t that what it’s all about anyway?

#writerlife  #roanepublishing

I’m ‘In’ to my Writing, But Should I Re-Think Being ‘Out’?

 

I recently saw a Facebook posting in one of my writing groups. The question posed to romance and chicklit authors was: are you ‘out’ to friends, family and co-workers? The overall responses from the group were mixed, with many of the authors admitting that only a few close family members knew of their literary pursuits.

My first reaction was, “Well of course!” My friends, family and co-workers are my biggest fans, my early readers. I’m proud to be an author and I love the feedback and support I get from people I know. But the more that I’m thinking about it, I have to admit that I’ve had some fairly awkward reactions to my writing over the last few years. For example…

Shortly before the end of the semester a couple of years ago, a student of mine asked if I taught summer classes. I replied that I didn’t teach in the summer, but that I was writing a book. “Oh, like a textbook?” was his response as he followed me down the hall. “No,” I told him. It’s a novel. Actually, it’s a romance novel.” I watched him struggle to hide his surprise. “Seriously? Romance?” The unspoken message was clear. Ewwww. Gross. You’re so old and you’re a teacher. Oh well, he wasn’t my target demographic anyway.

I sent a close family member a copy of JEEP TOUR when it was first published back in 2014. She acknowledged receiving it and said that she was looking forward to reading it, but then I never heard any more from her on the topic. When Guessing at Normal was published the following year, I sent her a copy. Again, silence. Living thousands of miles apart, we rarely get to spend much time together, but we did meet up later that year at a family function. I was nervously waiting for her to mention either of the books, but it wasn’t until we were saying goodbye before she brought it up. “Oh, I read Guessing at Normal,” she told me. “What did you think?” I asked all casual-like. “I loved it,” she gushed. “It was soooo much better than that first book.” How do you respond to that? I’m still trying to figure it out.

Another family member offered to post a rating on Goodreads for one of my books, but admitted that she didn’t know how. Assuming that it would be a positive review, I filled her in on the process and waited anxiously for it to post. Early in the week, I saw the rating. 1 star, yeah, a lousy single star! Trying to give her the benefit of the doubt, my husband remarked that maybe she thought that the ratings were reversed, that ‘1 star’ was excellent. Fuming, I sent her a text. I didn’t even try to be subtle. “What’s up with the crappy rating?” I asked. It didn’t take long to get her response. “I hated it. Really, hated it.” The sad-faced emoji that accompanied the text did nothing to soften the blow. Family dinners remain awkward to this day.

A co-worker once asked if I was regretting not going with a pen name to hide my real identity. Another asked me if I was going to ‘keep writing those books of yours’. A friend remarked that she was disappointed my books weren’t racier (her term). She said, “Knowing you, I thought they’d be all-Fifty Shades”. Seriously? A neighbor told me that she would buy one of my books, but probably not read it. “It would be awkward if I hated it,” she admitted. My writing has been referred to as ‘cute’ and a ‘fun hobby’. If I had a dollar for every person who has told me that they would ‘just love to write a book too’, I could buy enough of my own books to seriously improve my rankings.

And I get so many questions!

“How long does it take you to write one of these?” A lot longer than you would think

“How much money have you made?” Not nearly enough

“How many books have you sold?” None of your freakingNot nearly enough

“Do you pay your publisher to print your books?” Um, no. They pay me. But not nearly enough

“If you’re so successful, why don’t you quit your day job?” Uh, I love my day job and when did you ever hear me brag about being so successful?

Hmmm… on second thought, is it too late to come up with a pen name?

 

Kinsey, Stephanie & Harry

I read with great sadness of the author Sue Grafton’s recent passing. Thirty-five years ago, Grafton created the iconic character Kinsey Millhone, a quirky private investigator with a penchant for both junk food and jogging and a deep-rooted desire to remain unattached. Kinsey is the main character in the alphabet mystery series of twenty-five books (A-Y) and while I have to admit pausing at around “S” or “T”, Grafton managed to keep Kinsey’s character memorable until the end. The anticipated “Z” book is sadly not going to be written, according to Grafton’s daughter. I will, of course, add the books in the series that I have missed to my TBR pile immediately. I just assumed that Kinsey would be there for me when I needed her and now, I do.

I am generally not a big fan of literary series, but two other fictional characters that I have enjoyed over the years are Janet Evanovich’s wacky bounty hunter Stephanie Plum (twenty-eight books) and Michael Connelly’s crusty LAPD detective Harry Bosch (twenty books). I’m not sure exactly certain what it is about Kinsey, Stephanie and Harry that I love so much, but I have attempted to analyze what makes them stand out from countless other ‘me-too’ characters.

  • They are each, in their own way, completely authentic. Their private lives, careers, interests and relationships are totally in keeping with who they are. Love ‘em or not, you can’t read a chapter of any of these books without recognizing, “that’s just so Harry” or reflecting, “Damn, Kinsey. Stop being so you!!” Not that they haven’t evolved over the years, because they certainly have, but they remain true to their core and we understand them, flaws and all.
  • They are totally obsessed with their jobs. It is no wonder that they are usually single, despite a couple of marriages or significant relationships for each of them. Most of us wouldn’t want to be too closely involved, romantically or not, with Kinsey, Stephanie or Harry. They would stand you up, keep you waiting, let you down and shut down emotionally, but you would have no choice but to love them and put up with all the turmoil, even when they forget your birthday or how you take your coffee.
  • They are each employed in the field of law enforcement. I don’t believe that this is a coincidence. Kinsey, Stephanie and Harry have lives that are exciting to read about, but are often filled with dangerous situations that cause them to go days without sleep, get shot at, kidnapped or have their cars blown up. “Seriously, Stephanie. You actually thought you could drive the same car two days in a row?”
  • They each have a slew of ex-spouses and lovers (see #2 above) due to death, divorce or disillusionment but each has at least one relationship that is long-lasting and keeps them grounded. Kinsey has Harry, her octogenarian landlord, Stephanie has Grandma Mazur and Lulu, her ‘ho-turned assistant’ and Harry has his daughter Maddie. These relationships let us know that despite quirky, wacky or crusty exteriors, Kinsey, Stephanie and Harry are each, in their own way, good people who are lovable and deserving of happiness.

I am an author of four contemporary romances. The 1st and 3rd books feature Jackie Sullivan, a wise and witty woman searching for and holding on to her ‘happy ever after’ life. In my 2nd and 4th books, Jill Griffin navigates her way through marriage to a hard partying rock star before she meets the true love of her life. I adore both Jackie and Jill, but there is not the slightest chance in the world that I will ever write another novel featuring either of them. They are very much alive, at least in my mind, but I believe that I have written all there is to write about them. It is a testament to the superior skills of Grafton, Evanovich and Connelly that they have been able to create and maintain characters who have stood the test of time and kept us so well entertained. RIP Sue Grafton. You and Kinsey will be missed.

Who is your favorite character in a long-running series? Leave your comments below.