Romance and the winter bouquet

Lately, I’ve had a hell of a time focusing.

Between a major project at work and selling my home, my writing seems to be getting the short end of the stick.  My current WIP? Pfft.  Seems like I’ve been on the same scene for the last 20 years and my characters have all aged (gracefully, I might add!).  Nothing about the scene flowed. I can’t tell you how many times I wanted to delete it and forget about it. But with each revision, each click of my keyboard, I knew that it was a valid, if not pivotal, scene to keep.

A bestseller author, one who I consider a mentor, told me whenever she was stuck she’d cook spaghetti. She said you have to get up and walk away from your work.  I’ve also heard about people doing laundry to get through a rough patch. Taking your mind off the scene or chapter that is giving you trouble and focusing on something else, helps breakthrough any issues you’re having.

So, I got up, grabbed my new toy  and walked away.IMG_4804

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

This festive winter bouquet started it all.

I believe inspiration comes at the most unexpected times, the most unexpected places. And it was definitely this bouquet IMG_4833that jump started my breakthrough. I loved the way the colors popped and the red of course, screamed romance.

Who would have thunk it? 🙂

Soon my thoughts were running rampant and I started to pick apart was wasn’t working, feeling confident about the direction of my scene.

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Sometimes it takes the smallest thing to get us back on track. My muses, Poe and Fitz tell me that all the time. I should listen to them more!

Poe (l) and Fitz (r)

 

 

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Inspiration at its best …

Woohoo! I’m ecstatic. I purchased a new camera–a Canon Rebel with a retractable lens.  I had a digital Canon point and shoot, which is great but left little in the way of creativity. Since,  I’m a die hard fan of Canon, I stuck with what I like.  It’s never failed me with great pictures and video.

My old manual 35 mm, which requires film, (film what’s that?!) still takes the most beautiful pictures. But I’m buried deep in the digital age, so I love the quickness and spontaneity that comes with being able to create in seconds.

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A clear blue sky, with little in the way of clouds, serves as a perfect backdrop and inspiration.

With my new toy, I headed to the beautiful Watchung Reservation, one of 36 parks and the largest in the county where I live. Known for its hiking trails and scenic routes, this is a popular place among Jerseyans, particularly in the central part of the state. I’m shooting with a 18-55 mm lens. I can’t wait to get my new 75-300 mm zoom (It’s arriving any day now!).  There are far more powerful telephoto zoom lenses out there. But for my shooting purposes, it suits me.

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Sun bouncing off a brook nestled in the Watchung Reservation

This place always inspires me. Along with my storyboards, I keep my pictures handy for reference. In one of my WIPs, my heroine, after being kidnapped, has to survive in the woods with her son.  Visiting the reservation and then posting the pictures helps put me in my heroine’s shoes.

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The beginning of some of the coolest trails for hiking and horseback riding. People were out walking their dogs, jogging and just enjoying the view from a nearby bench.

 

 

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Testing out my f stops. One last pop of color before everything turns bare and winter arrives.

If you’re ever in New Jersey, The Watchung Reservation view is one of the best in the state, especially in the summer.

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The fall colors are waning, but still look great.

Nurture the seeds of your story

Ideas for stories come to me at the oddest times and from the oddest places, which is why I carry a digital tape recorder.  I hate the sound of my voice, but using the recorder helps me remember a line of dialogue, plot out a key point or work through a scene that makes me want to pull out my hair.

In the middle of the night, I often awake to the sounds of my character’s voices reminding me to take notice of them and their wants, needs or dire circumstances. Such rudeness require that I leave a notebook on my night stand to jot down their issues–even at 3 a.m!

IMG_4364One of the techniques I find helpful is story-boarding my books. (A nice tip I picked up at one of my NJRW conferences.) My office is filled with post it notes. Starting from the first chapter and each scene, I outline the events as they take place in chronological order. I’m a plotter, so this extra step in outlining helps a great deal.

I also love a change in scenery.  Leaving the confines of my office and going to Starbucks or Barnes and Noble gets the creative juices flowing.  But for heavy duty getaway writing, I’m headed for a place filled with nature, water and quiet.

Lake George

A few years ago, I took a 7-hour drive (which is a big deal because I hate driving!)  to the Adirondacks, near Lake George, NY. I rented a cabin for the weekend, complete with a fireplace and kitchenette. With all the essentials a writer needs (or I need): wine, chocolate and gummy bears, I dove into my WIP.

During the early morning, I took walks along the grounds, taking pictures of the sunrise and breathing in the December atmosphere that had—the night before—delivered a dusting of snow.

I felt alive and creative.

If you ever feel the need to break free of your day-to-day writing confines, plan a trip. A short getaway will often do the trick. Not only are you getting away, but you’re setting your muse free to explore things that might otherwise stay silent in your everyday writing space.

Embracing the positive: The best outer body experience ever

It’s a general rule of thumb that artists, writers and anyone with a dream should surround themselves with positive energy. That’s a relatively easy thing to do. However, once you do that, sharing your work and talking about your dreams can be another thing entirely.

There was a time when I had such a hard time sharing my work or inner most thoughts—even with friends. It wasn’t that I didn’t want them to know. I was afraid they’d think I was crazy or worse. 😉

I quickly discovered, however, that if you don’t put yourself out there for the world to see, no one will know what you do. I also learned that support shows itself in the least expected ways.

In addition to writing, I dabble in photography. Mind you, my work isn’t as brilliant as Leanne Cole’s , whose site you have to visit, but I occasionally get a nice shot off every now and then!

I’ve taken a few photography courses, learned about f-stops and apertures, and studied the work of master photographers. My favorite photographer was Gordon Parks—the ultimate Renaissance man.

In addition to being one of America’s most renowned photographers, Parks was a film director, of the “Learning Tree” and (a little movie called “Shaft”, which is now a classic) writer, and musician.

Anyway, let me get back to sharing our work. We’ll talk about Gordon Parks in a bit.

A dear friend of mine, who I’ve know for well over 15 years now, knew all about my writing and photography. We talked about it occasionally, only because I never wanted to take over the conversation with writing talk.

First, let me tell you about my friend. She’s a former model. She, Beverly Johnson, and the late Naomi Sims, used to work the catwalk in Milan, and Paris. She left the business and went on to pursue a career in the corporate sector, where I had the pleasure of meeting her. We became fast friends.

One day we were discussing photography, and I casually mentioned (again opening up) my artistic obsession with Mr. Parks. She glanced at me over her red-frame glasses and smiled.

“I know Gordon,” she said. “I met him when I was modeling.”

“Really?” I tried to sound nonchalant, but it wasn’t working.

She smiled again, knowing good and well I was about to burst with excitement. “Yes, he lives in New York still. We used to hang out all the time.”

If that wasn’t enough to make me pass out, what she did next blew me away. She picked up the phone and began to dial. I felt my lungs tightening—no air entered or escaped.

When she handed the phone to me, and said, “Gordon wants to say hello,” I almost fainted. The conversation was brief, and polite. I remembered telling him how he inspired me and how much I loved his work. Then, I handed the phone back to my friend, and sat down. Stunned.

I hadn’t seen it coming, the unselfish gesture of a friend who supported my work and my dreams. I will never forget that moment. I’m indebted to her for making something that marvelous happen.

That was in 1999, and when Mr. Parks passed away in 2006, I was heartbroken. However, I was also honored to have spoken to him, if only for a few moments.

I visited his exhibit, “Half Past Autumn,” at the New York Museum of Art, just before his death, and was blown away once again by his work. If you’re a lover of photography or beautiful things, I’d recommend adding this book to your collection.

Lesson learned? Don’t be afraid to share what you love doing. Surround yourself with positive energy and embrace the support received because you never know what might happen.

For me, I was able to speak to one of my greatest sources of inspiration and he spoke back.

Cherish your psychic friends …

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It’s true. At times, our friends know what is better for us than we do. There are times when you think you don’t want something, and the next thing you know you’re smack dab in the middle of wanting.

My moment of realizing what I wanted happened at the 2008 Romance Slam Jam (RSJ) in Chicago. The event literally changed my life. But let me tell you, my journey wasn’t all sugar and spice. I had to be dragged to the writer’s conference. Really.

My desire to attend RSJ was strictly from an avid reader’s perspective. I love reading romance. If you mix it with suspense or history—I’m a diehard fan.

My plan was simple: meet, greet and read. RSJ was a way for me to meet some of my favorite authors, snap a few pictures, meet other readers and talk about our favorite characters as if they were next-door neighbors.

However, my friend, who is also my critiquing partner, had other plans. “Come and go,” she said. “It will be fun,” she promised. “You write for a living, maybe you’ll get inspired to write a book,” she persisted.

Yawn.

I didn’t want to write a book. I wrote enough on my regular job, and didn’t have the inclination to sit in front of a computer at home too. I wasn’t interested in the dynamite workshops RSJ had to offer, or the talented authors sharing everything from their books, to the craft of writing. Didn’t interest me.

Until I got there. Whoa. As I said before, my life (no bull) changed.

At RSJ, I met some of the most down -to-earth people imaginable. All that talent in one room astounded me. And four things happened to me:
• I was inspired by their willingness to teach others how to excel.
• I was encouraged to do what I thought I didn’t want to do because I didn’t have time, or I was too tired from writing all day.
• I was pushed to unlock stories I had tucked away on my hard drive.
• I was persuaded to give the craft of romance writing a chance.

Two very dear authors, who will remain nameless (out of respect) at this time, wouldn’t let me give up. Remember my blog about when we help others we help ourselves? Well, they were and still are relentless. 🙂

They challenged me, threatened me if I thought about quitting, and cheered me on with each success. They helped me through meltdowns and stalled scenes.

I put in a full eight hours of writing at work, and then wrote every day until one or two o’clock in the morning. On weekends, I rarely left my house—or my room. My daughters checked on me, knocked on the door to see if I answered, and fed me occasionally.

Four months after Slam Jam, I completed my manuscript. Twelve months later, my baby is a finalist in Passionate Ink’s Stroke of Midnight contest.

Whoa.

As a writer, you have to attend at least one writer’s conference. If you’re writing, want to write, like to write or want to learn to write—attend a writer’s conference. If you need a dose of adrenaline, or aren’t quite sure what your next move will be—attend a writer’s conference.

More important, if you write or read African-American or multicultural romance, you owe it to yourself to attend RSJ. The next conference will be a cruise sailing to Grand Cayman—talk about inspiration!

Dreams, even those you think you don’t want, can be achieved with determination, support and very persistent friends, who know what you want before you do. Cherish them.

Summer begins, queries continue

86736312Nine days. I set sail in nine days. This is the official beginning of my summer, but also my continued efforts toward publication.

I plan to take it easy and enjoy my cruise. Kind of. I’m taking my netbook, so that I can continue working on my manuscript. My synopsis is in my head, but it won’t do me a bit of good until it’s on paper. Besides, the change in scenery will be wonderful for my muse.

This week is my last week on my day job before vacation, and believe me it is all hectic on the home front!

Isn’t that always the case when you’re preparing for vacation?

I have two articles to write, two communication plans that require client sign off, and I’m on a mission to find something red to wear for a shindig on my upcoming cruise. Work and vacation, can drive a person crazy.

It’s a good kind of crazy, though.

Before I head off for the wide blue ocean, I plan to query a few agents. Maybe I’ll get an “I-don’t-care-about-the-recession-because-romance-is-selling-and-I-love-your-plot-characters-and-the-love-scenes-are-off-the-hook” response.

I’ll see what’s in my inbox when I get back. I’m keeping my fingers, toes, eyes and any other body part—crossed.

Oh. Wait. They have internet connection on the ship. Do I dare check email while vacationing? I’ll decide in nine days.

Help others, help yourself

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I have a friend who loves to write poetry. She started out with poetry and decided, like many of us, to write a book. Her first attempt was ambitious and perhaps overwhelming. She put the book on the back burner.

It’s natural to become discouraged. However, giving up should never be an option. She didn’t give up. I wouldn’t let her.

In her moment of darkness, I shared with her, what has been drilled into me since I began writing my first manuscript a year ago—keep writing.

And, I did.

I’m working on my second manuscript as I type, and managed to write a short story or two in between my novels. My writing on my day job has also become more creative. My creative thoughts have helped my friend, and wow, there’s still a bit of brain power left for me.

To date, my friend has completed two short stories and they’re wonderful. I can see how she’s grown with each story. She’s also taken her book off the back burner, and things are starting to heat up again.

When we help or encourage someone who as a similar endeavor, such as writing, I believe we become better writers.

Keep writing. Two very important words for people who love to write, and have a goal.

What I’ve learned along the way, I’ve shared with my friends. What I have yet to learn, I will share as well.

Keep writing. Help others. Keep writing.