Writers’ Retreat!

(This post is dedicated to my dear friend, Wellins. He’s not a writer and he’s not retreating, but everyone should have a Wellins in their lives!)

W is for…wow. Almost there! Like scheduling a spa day after a grueling workout, I’ve got something to look forward to after a long month of blogging (and other) deadlines: a writers’ retreat. My first!

This weekend, eight members of the Western New York Romance Writers will converge to brainstorm, to laugh, to eat and drink but mostly, to write. We come from all backgrounds – working women, stay-at-home-moms, even Grandmoms – and we all write different genres: from chic lit to erotica to category to women’s fiction. But one thing I think we all have in common: we are very dedicated to our writing, and we never have enough time in our “regular” lives to pursue it.

I relish the prospect of writing on my own schedule for two straight days; it’s a rare luxury. No playdates to supervise, no carpooling to undertake, no laundry. No alarms in the morning, no…wi-fi!

This last thing will be a good thing. I have my Smartphone for email, and for “quick” reference checks if I must. Rest assured my blog posts will be finished and scheduled! Other than that, and my writing medium of choice (laptop, Word doc), I am officially taking a “digital sabbatical”. I first heard the term a few days ago, when blogger Katie Testa of Watch This Space used it in her U is for Unplug post. Imagine – time away from almost everything electronic to study and rest. I don’t know about your world, but my world has been taken over by what I call digitalia. Digital everything! Its fed by everything, and it feeds upon everything. Daily. Hourly. By the minute.

Time to take back my world.

So I have high hopes for these two days at the writers’ retreat, with my fellow authors. I hope we all meet whatever writing goals we set, as well as reap the benefits of sharing space and breaking bread together. Quality time with good people, and limited time sucked away by faceless technology. I am ready. Write on!

S is for…Sun Kink

SUN KINK: a buckling due to high temperature, causing the track to shift laterally and form a curve in what is otherwise a straight pair of rails. Such conditions can cause a train derailment.

sun kink

This is a sun kink.

Probably a term you don’t hear every day.

It’s currently the name of my first novel.

Sun Kink

This is also a Sun Kink.

I look at those 300 sheets and am amazed – that all fell out of my brain!

Sun Kink chapters

Aftermath of one of the first phone calls with my agent, discussing the book chapter by chapter.

Has your life ever been derailed by something, or someone?

Ever been chugging away on a straight and rigid path, only to be thrown right off track…and surprisingly, you find you’re exactly where you want and need to be?


What Writers KNOW

Kitty writer

In writing, there is that oft-uttered phrase “Write what you know”.  Many fiction writers start out in the cozy comfort zone of doing just that; looking within themselves and their body of experience to create compelling, realistic material.

I think back to my teen years, banging out stories on my parents’ old Underwood typewriter. I can still feel the eager breath on my neck from friends, dying to read the next chapter in whatever saga I was concocting (and killing trees for) that week. “Write me,” they’d say. “Can I be dating so-and-so?” And “Put me in Jordache jeans and give me really good hair!” Or “I hate that teacher. Can we have him kidnapped?” And tap-tap-tap, magically I would fulfill their wishes, only too happy to craft their desires into something tangible on the page. It was the world we knew, only we made it better. Our rules.

Fast forward to finishing my first novel and readying it for reading consumption. “Is this character based on you?” people asked, when they heard the protagonist shared the same profession as me (Librarian). Other than embodying some basic stereotypical traits that many librarians have – a love for order, for example – not even close. Katrina Lewis is much cooler and wittier than me. She’s been through an ordeal that reshapes her world, and is much more afraid of the known than the unknown. Me, I’m a wimp!

“Is this us?” My husband inquired, as he began to read the courtship between two characters set in a part of Manhattan familiar to him.

“Do you want to die by chapter three?” I asked him. He didn’t. “Then no, it’s not about you, me, or the concept of us.”

As the writer grows, the “known” can become a noose around the neck. Unless you are living like Hemingway, writing what you know begins to feel restrictive. And so we naturally progress into “writing what we research really well”. It is not uncommon for writers to immerse themselves completely into unfamiliar territory in the name of “research”. Recently, an author friend was crafting a major portion of her novel, set at a winery. She contacted a local vineyard with questions about wine-making, and found herself helping harvest grapes for that season’s vintage! Using the knowledge she learned as a base, she was able to craft a well-rounded, succinct and rich tale. Accurate, yet containing her unique stamp as a storyteller. Because as writers, we learn to “launch off” from what we know, learn and do.

At the heart of what we “know, learn and do” is emotion. Authors of historical fiction may never have lived through a specific battle, but if they have felt fear, rage, etc. in their lifetime, they will know how to craft fear, rage, etc. in relation to what they have researched and learned about that particular time period.

Thankfully, I haven’t experienced the loss of a loved one like my heroine tragically did. But loss on any level, I believe, can translate. I had been working on a different scene in the book when a loved and respected member of our community was lost. While I did not know her well, I knew she was an amazing person who had touched the lives of many. Trying to make sense of such a loss was surreal, sad and scary. It made an impression on me and the emotions shadowed me as I worked. Around that same time, I realized the Dewey Decimal System placed ‘Marriage and Family’ at 306.8 and ‘Death and Dying’ at 306.9 – grief and love, hand-in-hand. And I started to think about how a Librarian – someone who loves order – would try to make sense out of such a thing. And thus a major premise of my book developed.

Fellow writers – what say you? Have readers ever pegged your work for “disguised autobiography”? Do you tend to stay within your comfort zone, no matter how hard you’ve tried to break out? Or maybe you’ve found your niche and voice there, and it’s spelled success for you?

How have you taken what you “know, learn and do” to the next level? I’d love to hear your thoughts on writing what you KNOW!

All Aboard the A!

Illuminated A

I love a good illuminated letter.

The Blogging from A to Z Challenge begins today! I’ve contemplated themes, toyed with the idea of guest bloggers…and have decided to let this endeavor happen organically. As a former librarian, I’m no stranger to the alphabetical and chronological. Hell, I can even sing the entire alphabet backwards, thanks to Ralph Covert! I’m absolutely amused by alliteration, and I love to play with words. So I thought I’d start out my ABC Adventure by writing about writing. A is for AUTHOR.

And they don’t call it “authorship” for nothing.

Writing is a craft, and it is a writers’ job to steer that craft. This concept is not new; in fact, the amazing Ursula K. Le Guin wrote a very helpful book on the subject: Steering the Craft: Exercises and Discussions on Story Writing for the Lone Navigator or the Mutinous Crew.

I think every fiction author has had someone ask them “Where do you get your ideas from?” or “Did you write that because it happened to you?” Sure, truth is often stranger than fiction, and it’s often said you ‘write what you know’. But most writers will be happy to tell you: the ideas just come. The characters just speak. And no, that character is not based on me, because I’ve never gone to wizarding school/dated a vampire/owned a car with an evil mind of its own named Christine, etc.

Lately I’ve been thinking a lot about the South Ferry Terminal in Manhattan. Visions of it often pop into my head at odd times while I’m writing or just thinking about writing. Not sure why; perhaps it’s due to all the years I spent commuting between boroughs in my young adulthood. I have been crafting a particularly tough scene that takes place on the Staten Island ferry, but I don’t think that is the only reason my brain keeps drifting back to it. It may be a stretch to try and offer it as an allusion or allegory for anything remotely literary, but here goes:

Picture yourself if you can, walking into the ferry terminal. Don’t worry if you’ve never been to this particular terminal. Its a bright expanse of glass and chrome; clean and modern. This is a beautiful panorama of an author’s brain. The sky’s the limit if you’re looking up. But if you’re looking down, you might notice a bit of grime on the floor. Some stubborn dirt, or the sticky remnants of someone’s sick regret the janitor missed while mopping up. Oh, and pigeon poop. It’s all there. The good and the bad.

New Whitehall terminal

New ferry terminal, Manhattan

The ferry boats docking and departing are the ideas – plots, scenes, arcs – coming and going. Some are small and only come at night (like the Alice Austin, the smallest ferry of the fleet and the only one named after a woman). Others are grandiose, majestic…the Guy V. Molinari, three thousand-ton kind of ideas.

Staten Island Ferry

Guy V Molinari ferry

So we’ve got the terminal and we’ve got the boats. How about all the commuters? A regular person looks and sees a crowd. A writer looks and sees a crowd…and wonders what everyone had for breakfast.

Striding quickly through or plunking themselves heavily down in your brain, in your plots and scenes, are characters. Why have they come? What are they thinking? Where are they going? These are all questions a writer will ask repeatedly. A writer will scour the terminal, sail back and forth on the boats until seasick and shaky, and search the face of each and every commuter discretely. Some are laughing, some are sleeping, some are yelling at their children in a foreign language. Eating, kissing, reading, staring into space. Some show up like clockwork every day. Others show up unexpectedly. Many disappear into the landscape. The best kind catch your eye. Smile. Open up to you.


The crowd - a cast of characters

If my title led you to believe we were taking a train today…APRIL FOOL! We took a ride on the SS Authorship. Hope you enjoyed the ride! Tomorrow’s journey: B…

April is the Coolest Month

Friends and followers be forewarned – there’s gonna be a whole lotta blogging going on in April. That’s right – I slayed NaNoWriMo, and now I am going to try my hand at the Blogging from A to Z Challenge!

So beginning April 1st, I will wax poetic on A. And each day following (‘cept Sundays) I will pay homage to each letter consecutively until I reach Z. Could be a disaster, could be fascinating. Dunno. Looking forward to meeting fellow bloggers up for the challenge, during the big ol’ blog hop.

Everyone Should Meet their Heroes

I don’t think there’s an exact quote out there, but you may have heard the old “Never meet your heroes, they’ll only disappoint you” motto before. No one you worship can possibly live up to such high expectations, right? It would be like going to heaven and catching God up there smoking pot.

Well, maybe not. But I really think it has to do with the height of the pedestal and the width of their swollen ego.

I’ve got several heroes (Hi Mom! Hi Dad! Hi Dalai Lama!) but today I’m talking about about the big kahuna, my majordomo of heroes. The chance of ever really meeting him (outside of a hi or a handshake) made him the Holy Grail of heroes in my mind for many years.

My hero is a graduate in History of Queen Mary College, London (and holds an honorary Doctorate from the same institution). He’s written two novels and a movie that premiered at Cannes Film Festival. He is a championship fencer, once ranked #7 in the UK men’s foil disciple. Oh, and he flies planes, too. And not in the “I’m rich and I pilot my private jet” way. More like licensed Boeing 757 pilot. In fact, the airline he works for recently promoted him to Director of Marketing. He was also chosen to narrate an entire Discovery Channel documentary series on flying planes. And somewhere in there, he also had time to moonlight as a DJ on BBC 6.

He geeks out on anything William Blake and Dr. Who, and (bless his heart) hates reality television.

And he also looks great in spandex pants.

I admire a man who defies stereotypes...and who can fly me places.

My hero, ladies and gents – who is all that and a bag of chips – is Bruce Dickinson, the singer of Iron Maiden.

He’s gone by the moniker Bruce Bruce in past. He’s been called “Conan the Librarian” because he is a smart powerhouse of a guy. But his most famous nickname is “Air Raid Siren”, as it’s said he shattered a glass globe once with a well-placed scream.

You’re free to pooh-pooh and tsk-tsk, or write him and his band off as devil worshippers in a music genre so old it fell off a dinosaur’s paw. But you would really be doing yourself a disservice.

And besides, this is about me meeting my hero. Not a pissing contest of “my hero could beat up your hero”, etc. So back to the story.

Yes, that’s him on the stage between the Xs! And that’s me up in the seats, admiring him from afar.

I’ve wanted to meet Bruce since I was twelve years old. I wrote the letters that never left my keepsake box. I plastered my room with posters. I sang along with every lyric and brushed my teeth with a toothbrush embossed with his name on it. And when the concert rolled into town, I practically broke my fingers dialing the rotary phone trying to win backstage passes through the local radio station.

And I cried when I didn’t.

Then my father said something to me that I carry with me to this day. “Don’t spend your life waiting to meet Bruce Dickinson. Do something with your life so Bruce Dickinson will want to meet you.” Go dad! Awesome words. So profound, I actually found myself telling Bruce those exact words when I met him in 2005.

Bruce and Jess

He was charming and gracious and witty, a perfect gentleman. He joked with me and my friends, asked us questions and listened intently. Hard to believe not two hours before this picture was taken, he was bringing down a packed house of 12,000 screaming fans. I don’t expect him to ever remember me, or to remember that night like I obviously do. But I do hope to one day do something great in my life that would make him want to meet me, for a switch. Or at the very least, let me make him a sandwich.



noun (plural heroes)

  • 1 a person, typically a man, who is admired for their courage, outstanding achievements, or noble qualities
  • (in mythology and folklore) a person of superhuman qualities and often semi-divine origin, in particular one whose exploits were the subject of ancient Greek myths.
  • 2 (also hero sandwich)North American  another term for hoagie

From Oxford English Dictionary