One Step at a Time

I returned home after Thanksgiving with family in Kentucky to a house that was a mess.  It wasn’t a surprise – we’d left a day earlier than planned and I had intended to use that extra day to clean.  For a couple of days, I just sat there, overwhelmed by the mess and hoping that some industrious cleaning elves might arrive.  Needless to say, they didn’t.  So the other day, I took two hours to clean the kitchen.  And yesterday, two more hours for the bathroom.  Going one room at a time, I’m able to tackle this job that seemed so massive initially.

I think the same lesson can be applied to writing a novel.  I know many people who are interested in writing, but they’ve never made it past chapter one, or perhaps the first 20,000 words.  For many (even me!) part of the stumbling block is the magnitude of it all.  Few of us have written anything novel-length.  So here’s 2-part my advice: 1) take it one step at a time and 2) stick to a schedule.

Take your novel one step at a time: decide to write a scene or certain amount of words per day.  Then stick to that schedule, because momentum helps!  And just like I want my house to be completely clean one day in the not-too-distant future, you want your novel to be complete in the not-too-distant future.  Because you’ll get better ideas, and you’ll write a better novel the second time and (I hate to be the bearer of bad news) because the hard part begins when the first draft is finished!

Good luck and happy writing!


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Being the “Cool Girl”

This weekend, I finished reading Gillian Flynn’s Gone Girl.  I found parts of it absolutely fascinating, and during the second of the three parts of the book, I could barely put it down.  I did the reading and walking thing, which I’ve been doing for years but never perfected.  I’m pretty sure I ran into at least three people (sorry!) and just narrowly avoided a small child.

There was one piece in particular that stood out to me.  I couldn’t stop thinking about it, about how I had succumbed to it, and how women I knew had, too.  It’s written in the voice of Amy Elliott Dunne, the woman whose disappearance drives the whole book:

Men always say that as the defining compliment, don’t they?  She’s a cool girl.  Being the Cool Girl means I am a hot, brilliant, funny woman who adores football, poker, dirty jokes, and burping, who plays video games, drinks cheap beer, loves threesomes and anal sex, and jams her hot dogs and hamburgers into her mouth like she’s hosting the world’s biggest culinary gang bang while somehow maintaining a size 2, because Cool Girls are above all hot.  Hot and understanding.  Cool Girls never get angry; they only smile in a chagrined, loving manner and let their men do whatever they want.  Go ahead, shit on me, I don’t mind, I’m the Cool Girl.

Men actually think this girl exists.  Maybe they’re fooled because so many women are willing to pretend to be this girl….It may be a slightly different version…. There are variations to the window dressing, but believe me, he wants Cool Girl, who is basically the girl who likes every fucking thing he likes and doesn’t ever complain.

Now, I don’t necessarily agree with Amy in her blanket generalization of men.  But I do agree that sometimes people sublimate who they are in an effort to be “cool,” whether that’s for a significant other, a crowd at school, friends, or even members of your own family.  Sometimes it feels easier to be “cool” than say what you really want and risk upsetting someone or risk rejection.

I’ve certainly chosen to be the Cool Girl before, and not just in my teens, but into my twenties and now my thirties.  I have to stand up to that urge.  Thankfully, my husband never asks me to be her.

So thanks Gillian Flynn and Amy, for giving a name to it.  I love it when fiction reflects back certain truths, even if they’re from the uglier side of human nature.

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#SMSG12: Get into the Holiday Spirit!

Today, I wanted to get into the giving spirit of the upcoming holiday.  My fellow publishing buddies, The Global Game Changers, is a children’s brand that teaches kids about philanthropy in a fun way (through a superhero alliance – cool!).  And I figured it was time for me to get in on the action.  And thankfully, an opportunity arose for me to aid the romance community along with it!  Must be fate.

I am often impressed by my fellow romance writers and the romance community in general.  Today, once again, I was impressed.  I learned about Lime Cello’s Social Media for Social Good drive.  It’s a simple way to harness the power of Twitter and the internet to raise money for an organization doing charity work.  A romance blogger, she has done it for the past three years, and this year’s organization is charity:water.

You can donate money, or you can donate comments – how simple!  And you can enter to win some pretty awesome prizes from some wonderful romance writers, including Sarah Mayberry, Shiloh Walker, Cecilia Grant, Erica Ridley, and more!

Check out her site here for more information or here.

Donate here.

What an easy way to give going into the Season of Giving!


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Honoring Our Veterans

Today, I am taking the opportunity to pay my respects to the veterans out there.  Despite the fact that Veterans’ Day was actually yesterday, here in Washington, DC, we’re still celebrating.

Before I started writing romance novels, I took a year and a half to write the story of an amazing group of men who found song and dance in the middle of France in the summer of 1944.  Still a work in progress, this interesting story motivated me to get up every morning to learn more about a time when the world and humanity were threatened in a very serious way.  And when boys and men much younger than even I am now went off to fight and die for their country.

If you’re interested in doing some more reading or learning about World War II, I suggest you check out Ken Burns’ documentary: The War.  His classic storytelling brings to life characters who lived across the country and fought and died across the world.  You can also read the columns of Ernie Pyle, embedded reporter who lost his life in the line of battle.  He captured the thoughts and feelings of the boys and men fighting:

Once, during a lull long after midnight, half a dozen of the boys in our gun pit started singing softly.  Their voices were excellent.  Very low and sweetly they sang in perfect harmony such songs as “I’ve Been Workin’ on the Railroad” and “Tipperary.”  There wasn’t anything forced or dramatic about it.  It was just some young fellows singing because they liked to sing – and the fact that they were in a gun pit in France shooting at people, trying to kill them, was just a circumstance.

From Brave Men

Or you can read fictional accounts written much later, by brilliant authors whose words tug at your heart and show the picture of life at home.  Two I read included The Hotel at the Corner of Bitter and Sweet by Jamie Ford about young love between a Japanese-American girl and Chinese-American boy in Seattle, Washington, and The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society, by Mary Ann Shaffer and Annie Barrows about a group of people living on Guernsey during the German occupation.

And while World War II will always hold a special place in my heart, and has always fascinated my brain, we should not forget the veterans of the more recent wars who live among us.  The friends, family members, and people who continue to stand on the line and defend our country.  For their sacrifice, they deserve our gratitude.

So a deeply heartfelt thank you to all veterans today and always.

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Homage to Election Day

Today, more than any day of the year (and probably more than any day in four years), the United States of America will divide itself into camps.  Red state versus blue state.  Donkey versus Elephant.  Democrat versus Republican.  And don’t forget the Independents, the Libertarians, the Greens, and the Rainbows.  Who knows, there might still be a Bull Moose devotee out there, somewhere?

Today (or if you’re me, last week) people are going to vote.  We’ll debate who we think should win this election and why.  These moments have the potential to be some of my favorite all year: I love when people share what they believe, defend it, and listen to the other side.  Hopefully, in a debate, I’ll get into where this country is going, and where it should be headed.

But there are certain truths (we hold self-evident) which we forget that there was a time when they ever seemed uncertain.  First, we assume that whoever loses (no matter how long it takes to decide which candidate that will be) will say “I did my best, but it didn’t work this time,” and he will walk away.  He will not incite a rebellion or attempt to persuade the Army to see the election differently.

At America’s birth (and in parts of the word even now), that was not the case.  George Washington may have had the opportunity to have presidency that lasted until his death, but he didn’t.  He stepped down.  Impressive, honorable, and a gift to his country.

And there is a second truth: all adults can vote. No one can be prevented from voting based on the color of their skin or their gender.  Yet, in fact, women only received the vote less than one hundred years ago.  My great grandmother did not get to vote when she was eighteen because she was a woman.

These are sobering thoughts, and one more reason that I am thankful for where I live.  That my country has become what it has become, even if the work continues.  And, whatever party triumphs, that’s what I’m going to remember about election day.

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Rainy Day Reads

The rain is pouring down here in Washington DC and even though my building is a fortress and odds are we won’t lose power, nothing in the city is open today.  This means a rainy day spent at home and a great time to catch up on your reading!  So here are a few of my rainy-day picks.

A Beautiful Blue Death by Charles Finch

This mystery takes place in jolly old England and features amateur sleuth Charles Lenox.  He tramps around London, constantly getting his feet wet despite his galoshes and requiring constant applications of tea, trying to solve the murder of a friend’s former servant.  Even if the bad weather didn’t figure into this book, while I read it I felt as thought it was grey and dreary out and that all I needed was a good book and a roaring fire.
The Best Laid Plans by Sarah Mayberry

In this book, two coworkers choose to have a baby together, the not-old-fashioned way.  Both lawyers, Alex fears that she will not find a mate in time for biological clock and Ethan wants children without the commitment of marriage.   Perfect solution, right?  Well, not exactly.  But one of the pivotal scenes in this book takes place during a rainstorm, underneath an umbrella.  So reading it during Frankenstorm should give the unattached hopes of new romantic opportunities (hopefully without as much drama as Alex and Ethan have to endure)!

Love Walked In by Marisa de los Santos

Coffee shop owner Cornelia fantasizes about Cary Grant and movie magic moments.  Who can blame her?  But she is so busy looking for cinematic-style glory that one could argue she ignores the everyday.  Until Cary Grant’s doppelgänger walks into her shop.   But this book is as much or more about her love for another person who enters her shop the same day: 11-year-old Clare.  Clare has been forced to be the grown-up in her relationship with her mother and desperately searches for a father she’s never met.  This book made me feel all warm and cozy inside, which is just what you want on a cold and rainy day.



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Browsing through the Past

Earlier this week, I visited my grandmother.  She is moving, and finally kicking all of my stuff out of her basement.  I sorted through dolls I used to collect, wondering, “If I have a daughter, will she want my American Girl Molly doll?”  Sometimes, the answer was no, but I tossed the doll or figurine or whatever into my “keep” pile anyways.  Some things are just too precious to give away.

But by far the most valuable things that I brought home with me are not dolls that I had as a child, and are not really things that I owned at all.  Instead, they are the pictures that detail my life as a baby.  They are the pieces that my parents left behind, which strengthen the link between them and me.  They are ancient family photos that confirm, with evidence, that my grandmother was once a young woman, that my mother and father were vibrant teenagers in love.  My head knew this, and the photos serve as reminders to my heart.

Recently, I have been so busy living in the present and the future (working on my next book, anticipating the birth of a friend’s baby), that I have spent little time looking back.  And sometimes it is painful to remember a time when things were so different, when I didn’t know what cancer was.  But this trip filled a void for me that I didn’t know I had inside.  It reconnected me with a past that was, overall, a wonderful thing and a gift from the people who loved me then and continue to love me now.

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