Thursday, June 24, 2010


My novel THE SHADOW SCRIBE began as a short story in a "Writing Science Fiction and Fantasy" course I completed in my senior year of college (and to be honest, I'm surprised I earned an A in that course because my short story was neither science fiction nor fantasy). It was the story of a woman who started telling a story in her sleep. Because it had a strong historical element, I set the story in Boston, which was the most historical city I knew at the time.

Shortly after I graduated, I packed up my wordprocessor (one of those crossover Smith Corona typewriters that had a 3 1/4" floppy drive) and went to Scotland on a 6-month student visa, intending to really live. And then write all about it. In six months, I never wrote a word. But what I did do was meet the man who would someday become my husband. I knew right away he was "the one" and he must have had similar feelings (even if he wouldn't admit it) because he brought me home to meet his parents. He grew up in a small village outside Edinburgh. We took the train to the town and walked to his house.

And we came to this:

Which opened to this:

Which finally led to this:

That's right. That's the house my new boyfriend brought me to. An absolutely gorgeous Georgian house in the Scottish countryside. Actually, I'm in that house at the moment, eighteen years later. I'm in the room on the second floor on the right end.

Walking into the house for the first time, I was not only completely intimidated, but I was totally in love. With the house. OK, the guy too. But as an American, I'd never encountered a place like it. And it was someone's house. Home, actually. Two parents, five kids, pets, antiques, piles of laundry, squabbles, and stuffed to the brim with knick knacks and more love than I'd encountered anywhere. Christmas at the house was amazing, as was our wedding reception.

I started having fantasies -- and serious discussions -- with my husband about maybe buying the house someday when his parents retired. Talk about an amazing place for kids to grow up (acres of gardens, woods, and a canal at the bottom of the property) and none of the siblings could stand the thought of it not staying in the family. But given the UK housing market, it is unlikely we could ever afford it. Still, it was fun to dream about.

But I also started thinking about how strange it would be to move in and change a place that everyone had known for 25 years. How could we redo the kitchen? Or dare to move the couch there?

As I had these thoughts, the writer's side of my brain suddenly came alive.


That short story that I wrote so long ago sprung back to life. Boston? Hah! I had a historical location to rival no other. And the subplots of a woman moving into her husband's childhood home -- fertile ground for a writer! 

So what's my point, other than showing off the pictures of my lovely little vacation spot? (Just to rub it in, here's the view from my bedroom:

and a view of the town, including the ruined palace and the 750-year-old church:

My point is that you never know what will inspire, and ultimately, result in a finished project. Writers talk a lot about writing what you know. But I think it is infinitely more important to write what ignites you. THE SHADOW SCRIBE took on a whole new life when I was inspired by this house. Maybe four pages remain of my original short story, but there are literally hundreds of pages that are intimately tied to this house and how I feel about it.

Now if you'll excuse me, I need to get back to dreaming of where I might move the couch if the house is ever mine.

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Is this seat taken?

I am about to embark on a 16-hour overnight journey with my husband and two children. And, of course, I am all stressed out. I've spent hours on the Continental website trying to sort out the seating, hoping that we might have a little extra room for my kids to stretch out and get some sleep (I have already accepted that I will get no sleep at all). At the moment, my kids and I are in one row -- 14 A, B and C. And my husband is in14 F, same row but by the window, separated from us by two strangers. I've already explained to him that we will be playing Rock-Paper-Scissors to see who gets to ride in the quiet seat.

It is no surprise that last night I dreamt about flying. And agents (because I have those kinds of dreams all the time). I dreamt that I won with Rock and was sitting quietly by the window while my husband dealt with Goldfish crackers and coloring books. And who sat down next to me? Janet Reid. And I was too terrified to say a word. I spent the entire trip debating whether I should volunteer that I wrote a book, because I didn't want to be one of those people. She was so cool that I didn't want to come across as uncool.

But Janet was REALLY nice. And very funny, just as you would expect. She drank a lot of gin. And shared my kids' goldfish crackers.

I woke up before I decided whether to mention my book or not. And now, in the waking world, I am kicking myself for missing an opportunity.

This just proves how blurred the line between imagination and reality can get for writers.

And what about you? Do you dream about your book? About agents?

Friday, June 11, 2010

Breaking the Habit

They say it takes fifteen days to make or break a habit. That is what I've been doing -- breaking the blogging habit. I haven't posted to this blog in 15 days. And I've done very little in the way of commenting on others, although I do go through my Google Reader every day. Why?

I have a love/hate relationship with blogging. I love the sense of community it provides, since writing can be a lonely business. I love reading what other writers have to say. I love hearing that I am not alone in the query wars. But I hate what blogging has done to my productivity and my state of mind.

Last spring, I was finishing the first draft of my WIP. It wasn't uncommon for me to write 3000 words a day.  I was dedicated to writing. I had a schedule and I kept it. I felt like a writer.

This spring, while I've been in the throes of querying, I've also been writing short stories for a magazine. Someone was actually paying me to write. And yet my productivity sucked. Seriously sucked. I had an editor waiting for material and yet it seemed like half my day was eaten up by reading and commenting on blogs, writing my own posts, and (this is the pathetic part) watching my stats and waiting for comments and then getting depressed by when I didn't get them.

Now I know that blogging is not supposed to be validation, just like I know I shouldn't take rejections personally. But I don't care who you are... everyone wants to feel liked and important. We want to feel like we are good at what we do. But when you're getting a lot of "Thanks for the query...but no." in your inbox, and when you are making the blogging effort and not getting results, it is hard not to let it get to you.

I get over-focused on things. And in this case, it was blogging. There are so many posts on how you should blog, how to build your following, how to be a good follower, how to be a good blog host, what to say, what not to say. I was trying to do it all. But some days, it just frustrated me to the point of paralysis.

So I made the decision to take a big step back. And it worked. On Monday, I finished my serial ("La Luna" will begin in Woman's Weekly on August 10) and sent in a nice invoice for it. Today, I got approval for another serial. I'm feeling like a writer again.

I'm not giving up completely on blogging. I will post occassionally, I will try to comment to any comments I receive, I will read all the blogs I follow, I will comment when I feel moved to do so (although this won't be as often because I mainly use the Google Reader which makes commenting harder). When I start my next book in September, I will start to look for a critique group. But for me, I have to remember that I am a writer first and everything else must bow to that.

What about you? Do you ever feel this way? Can we be forgiven for forsaking blogging?