Thoughts from my cave

Our Massachusetts governor has issued an advisory to stay home. Not exactly a shelter-in-place, but a warning nonetheless. I’ve been home for weeks, venturing out only for food, dog supplies and pharmacy needs. My routine hasn’t changed much, but the environment in my cave has. The dogs are here, their day care provider canceling their play dates, and my husband is working from home, which means there’s now two of us working in the same room. It’s actually going better than expected. (He’s been helping with the dogs.) I told the person who comes in once a week to clean my house to stay home. I haven’t used a vacuum in years and had to go looking around the house to see if I still owned one. Today, I’ll be scrubbing toilets, bathtubs and floors wondering if I’ll get that same clean smell as Lene does.

I read a twitter post by Stephen King this morning who posited that the current situation will probably find its way into stories currently being written. If anyone can do it justice, he can. I’m avoiding the crisis in my work. It’s enough to live it on a day-to-day basis, I don’t need to be dwelling on it when I don’t have to. Besides, my intention is to help people escape, uplift emotion and moods and I believe in happy endings.

I’m nearing the end of Tipping the Scales. I have a couple of chapters left and hope to be finished by the end of the week. My first book in my Everyday Goddesses series will be formatted at the beginning of April and the second book will be going to my editor by mid-month. My life seems to go on uninterrupted, but the worry and concern for others is with me in every moment. Listening to the governor’s news conferences has become a new norm. The frustration with the federal government and their lack of response grows every day.

All I can do personally is keep my distance, stay positive, remember that all things pass, and do what I do. The series I’m working on is more important than ever. The Divine Feminine must become part of our consciousness again. If we open that door, she’ll usher in kindness, rebirth, selflessness, compassion, and the true meaning of life. It’s not money, success, greed or power. It’s common sense, giving what you can to the common good, helping others, and the love we hold in our hearts that’s important.

She’s the one who will help us get that happy ending.


Tuesday Tellings

I’m home today, writing in my usual spot, wishing I could be sitting in KJ’s sipping my coffee, watching the people move in and out, most with smiles on their faces. Like many, I’m staying close to home these days. It helps that I work here, have all my tools, resources, and laptop. But I miss being out and about, miss the exchange of smiles and ideas, the joy of movement.

Maybe that’s what is impacting my flow of ideas. The book I’m working on has stalled and I can’t seem to generate my usual enthusiasm. My mantra has always been just keep writing, something of value will come, some aha moment will strike, that will move the story along.

One interesting thing that has happened over the last few weeks is that my love of Greece has been re-sparked. I visited there when I was in my late teens. I was on a European tour with my grandparents. I wasn’t blown away by France, or Italy, but as soon as I put a foot on to Greek soil, I felt like I’d come home. I’ve always been partial to Greek food, loved the restaurant in the city I grew up in, that served dolmades, and a dish they called lamb garnish. The meat fell away from the bone, the potatoes were perfectly cooked, the vegetables were flavorful and aromatic. Since I began Tipping the Scales, my chef, Simon Iraklidis, has tempted my taste buds with his menu. (I read somewhere that Iraklidis is associated with the Greek god, Heracles, and it was that precise moment the surname was chosen) I’ve experimented with a lot of recipes since then, making Greek baked ziti, lemon and oregano chicken. I’ve tasted new kinds of cheeses like Halloumi, and Kasseri, and Kefalotyri. The latter added a wonderful flavor to some potato gnocchi I made with browned butter and sage. I even went so far as to purchase a cookbook The Mediterranean Table which boasts the benefits of eating healthy.

It seems with every book written, I get into some part of the story with a vengeance. Through Simon I’ve reconnected with some of the foods I love, whereas Minerva has introduced me to the life of a judge. Ruth Bader Ginsburg has always been one of my heroes and I wanted to fashion Minerva after her but Minerva didn’t want to be pidgeon holed. She came from a different background, had a different mind set. She still had to learn what it meant to be a woman in a man’s world and how much of her real self to bring to the table. But her core values of integrity and fairness resembled RBG’s, as well as her strong ethical code which put her in good standing with her peers and the people who faced her on the bench. Minerva is the quality of air, balanced between light and dark,  able to see all facets of a situation, find the common ground with objectivity, and her essence is rooted in intellectual pursuit.

There are definitely parts of the story I can plot out, characters I can mold, but when I get to it, the characters, at times, have minds of their own. Writing is part strategy, technique, persistence, and expression. It’s also a flow of words that are strung together, emotions lived on the page, a story that wants to be told. It’s also a way to learn about life, love, friendships, food, and some of the wounds that affect all of us.

Minerva isn’t talking right now. She’s probably thinking, trying to align what she feels with what she thinks. I’ve got some prodding to do today, so I best get to it.

Breakdown of a Story Map

Last week I talked about characters and how I develop them. Over the next few weeks I’m going to break down the story into segments so you can get a feel for how an author creates a storyline.

I might as well start with the question where does the idea for the story come from?

For me, it includes something of interest. My first book Cold Sweat came out of a need to process narcissism. I knew what it was but I wanted to see it play out in on the page, articulating what it felt like to be in the wake of someone with the disorder. I worked through Letitia, who was raised by a woman high on the spectrum, but who was able to find wholeness through some therapy and a good man. It was cathartic.

I fell in love with Tish and Johnny and wasn’t ready to say goodbye when the end came. I thought it would be fun to keep going with the Scalera saga and the series was born. I already had the characters in Johnny’s siblings. I just had to come up with more of a backstory for each of them and create their “soul mate.” Because I knew there was more to Reject than met the eye, I wanted to explore his depths so it was an easy decision to pair him with Rissa.  I just had to add some conflict and a hook. Reject’s name was the impetus to introduce bullying and it became an underlying theme, bringing with it the usual insecurities which I was able to weave into the plot. Tony found his match in Tansy, who was homeless but who taught him the real meaning of courage. I wanted to redefine what the term meant and she helped me do that. She’d survived abandonment, worked hard, put herself through school but still couldn’t make ends meet. Her backstory included Appalachia, a region of the country I became curious about after reading Hillbilly Elogy. I learned a lot about coal country and what the industry did to the land and the people who lived there. The baby, Lana, was the one who was most affected by their father’s death. Sal was a policeman who was shot in the line of duty and Lana swore she’d never become involved with one. It could prove fatal. Of course, a policeman is exactly who she falls for, and Zach is more hero than your average cop. Dennis was a married man in Cold Sweat and for as much as I wanted to tell his story, I needed a fresh face to go with it. Not wanting to kill off his wife, I had them divorce. Conflict guaranteed. He was a music producer, so the new mate had to be a rock star he refused to work with. He finds Joy with a Marilyn Monroe kind of woman who knocks his socks off with her voice and her humility.

My mind is always working, sort of like an internet highway. I have a few dozen storylines going on at any one time, some worth pursuing, some not. If one morphs into a believable thread, and includes a character I want to get to know, I go with it, and expand from there. I ask a lot of what if’s, until I come up with a viable working theory.  Research usually becomes a necessary component in whatever choices I make. I’m a very curious person and I love the learning part of the process. I dive into each topic with total immersion. Homelessness. Bullying. Immigration. Appalachia. Stating a business. Genetics.

And my book cases prove it.




Character Traits

Believable characters are imperative in “story”. They must be complex, durable, and able to change. They need to come alive on the page, connect to the reader in ways that make the audience forget they are figments of someone’s imagination. I like nothing better  than reading a story I don’t want to end, when the last page causes sadness and regret.  And yet, it always lives on. I relish the last chapter over and over in my mind, continuing to savor the writing, the plot, and the characters.

I think it might be how a series come to be. My Fire and Ice books revolved around a law firm and six attorneys. I loved them and what they stood for, the men they chose as mates and wanted to hang out with them as long as I could. What started out as a four part series ended as six. Same for the Scalera series. While I was writing Cold Sweat, Johnny’s family become so real to me that I imagined  Rissa, Lana, Tony and Dennis with a story all their own. And then the nagging began. A stand alone book became a family saga.

Having just finished reading Robyn Carr’s Sullivan Crossing series, I wonder if the same thing happened to her. California Jones came from a dysfunctional family but seemed to have come out of it alive and well. Did his siblings fare as well? Then we meet Sierra and Dakota…

I use a variety of resources to create living and breathing characters. Astrology charts and birth order books, the guide to enneagram personality,  the positive and negative traits and emotional wound thesaurus, and a variety of articles from my subscription to Psychology Today. I assign an idiosyncratic habit like jingling loose change, a wave of the hand, chewing a nail, because we all have them.

The hardest part of developing characters is making them all different. When you’re on your fifteenth book, you want to make sure your next character is as fresh as your first one. I’ve read an author who had five books, five female leads and I enjoyed it so much I ordered her next series. There was a problem. Her characters were carbon copies of the ones that went before. I was disappointed.

As I embark on yet another series, I’m dealing with the same type of strong women that I always do. My goal is to make them all unique, each with their own voice and distinctive style. Magic Bean Café will be coming out this spring. Rhea is earthy, and very much her own person. She feeds the soul with a smile that lights up her face.

Gwen, who follows, is…well, she’s completely different…

It’s the difference between earth and fire.



Women’s Friendship

I got an email from my editor this morning, along with the edited version of my Magic Bean Café manuscript. She briefly touched on some feedback from an “expert” in her field about women’s friendships in romance fiction. She referred to them as non-conflict tea parties in Pleasantville.

I disagree. (It’s not surprising to those who know me that I rebel against expert opinion.)

Today, women are raising their voices. They are coming together in solidarity to expose sexual exploitation, unequal pay and are fighting for women’s rights. A lone voice is lost in a desert but a phalanx becomes a fighting force.  It took ninety women to take Harvey Weinstein down. Ninety. Women not only have to fight against the tide, they have to do it in numbers. Thankfully, the word defeat is losing its efficacy.

The women in my series, Everyday Goddesses, are not living in Pleasantville. Okay, they live in Eden, but if you remember there was a lot of conflict there including Adam, Eve, the apple, snake and tree.

My goddesses prove the conflict theory. They each face difficult choices, growth, setbacks, sadness, bliss, have their individual flaws and strengths. They don’t sit around sipping tea, even though the main watering hole is a coffee shop. They encourage and support each other, sometimes enable, at other times provide the impetus for change. As one of them says, “We fix one another’s crowns without letting the world know it’s crooked.” Hopefully, we all have at least one of these kinds of friends. To have a tribe is a blessing.

My first exposure to this kind of tribal relationship was Anita Diamont’s, “The Red Tent”. It made an indelible impression that lingers twenty years later. I loved “Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants”, a tale about friendships, with a little magic thrown in.

I’ve created mirrors, each character reflecting the many aspects of the Divine Feminine, which I’ve written about before. Bountiful, earthy, intellectual, airy, fiery, emotional, logical, and passionate. Maiden, mother, crone and queen. Definitely multi-layered, covering the wide spectrum of human emotion.

To call their rituals tea parties is offensive. To say they live in Pleasantville is inaccurate. They are kick ass warriors, working to make the world a better place, who need a little TLC to get through the fight. That they find that within their group is inspiring.

Men have referred to their bond as a band of brothers. Women can have the same kind of bond with each other. I call it the Sisterhood of Kindred Spirits.

I love writing their stories. In fact, I’ve created something similar with my Fire and Ice series. If you’re in the mood, please give them a try.