Do we write what we know or play favorites?

Sound of MusicRaindrops on roses and whiskers on kittens
Bright copper kettles and warm woolen mittens
Brown paper packages tied up with strings
These are a few of my favorite things!

From “My Favorite Things,” The Sound of Music–

Everyone knows you’re supposed to write what you know. But I often wonder how much of what we know, involves what we like. How much of our favorite things go into our writing?

A great deal I would imagine.

Out of curiosity, I scanned through some of my story lines/themes and was amazed to find how many of my favorite things appear in my work or become my character’s favorite things.

For example, I love traveling to Puerto Rico. One of my short stories takes place, where? You guessed it. Puerto Rico. I vividly remember the rich, lush scenery of the island, and it helps when seeing through the eyes of my heroine.

In another one of my stories, the main character is a lawyer. Once upon a time long ago, I wanted to be a lawyer. I was always fascinated with the legal system and the idea of “arguing” for a living appealed to me! The lawyer’s love interest just happens to be a police officer/detective.  There’s only one explanation for that: men in uniform. Hot damn! 🙂

I collect pieces of art and sculpture. And to my surprise (or not) one of my heroines is an artist/sculptor. Her love interest is a journalist. (Go figure!) At one point, I majored in journalism, but then quickly changed to English Literature. I figured my imagination could run rampant with the latter.

Hmmm ….This self-analysis stuff can be scary.

Okay, so it seems quite a bit of my favorite things or “likes” wind up in my stories! And because they do, at times, I make a conscious effort to write the opposite.

For example, Octavia Middleton, my heroine in the “Heat Between Us,” is a shoe fiend. She  goes absolutely bonkers over them. She will spend her last dime on a pair of Louboutins. I’m the same way …but only about purses and handbags.

Writing the opposite “like” works well. After all, the book isn’t autobiographical and I don’t want the character to sound like me. One neurotic writer in the house in enough!

On the flip side, when we include some of our favorite things, as we are bound to do, the reader actually gets a glimpse into our personality through our work. Or they’ll at least wonder about certain aspects of the book.

Romance author Rochelle Alers is a favorite of mine and at the top of her game. I’ve read just about every book she’s written. In one of her books, her character is relaxing to the jazz sounds of my favorite saxophone player, David Sanborn.

OMG! Talk about being thrilled to read that! I was happy because 1) His name was in the book and 2) someone else was a big fan (or so I immediately wondered).

I’ve met Ms. Alers and on one occasion I told her how thrilled I was to see that she’d written about him in her book. We chatted about it for a bit and then went on to talk about writing.

Hmm …now that I think about it, I never did ask her if she liked David Sanborn. I guess if an author counsels you on pitching your story to her editor, you shut up, and do what she’s advising, right? David who?

What about you? Have some of your favorite things made their way into your characters’ thoughts, ideas and motivation?


Writing through family, chaos and Nor’easters …

What do you need after surviving a hurricane or super storm?  Certainly not a Nor’easter that drops a foot of snow!

Yet, as I mentioned my previous post about Hurricane Sandy, New Jersey has had a lot of practice in dealing with all kinds of weather.  And with that practice, bouncing back becomes the name of the game.

I knew I had to find a way to work around the chaos of yesterday’s Nor’easter and concentrate on what needed to be done to finish my books. My search started and ended with a speech I heard in 2009 at the National Romance Writers of America Conference in Washington, DC. 

New York Times best-selling  author, Linda Howard (and one of my favorites) was the keynote speaker at the event’s luncheon, and one of the things she shared with us was how to write through chaos.

She had the audience in stitches as she shared zany goings on about her family, everyday family things to which you could nod your head  and agree that everyone has an eccentric or colorful relative.   And at the end of her tale, her message was clear, “if I can write through my family, you can too.”

A couple of days ago, her message rang loud and clear.  And as I powered up my computer, I realized that I can write during this Nor’easter.  So I did.

For the past few days, I’ve been writing, and focusing on two projects:

One project is the sequel to my first book, “The Heat Between Us.” The second book entitled, “Beneath a Waterfall” focuses on the relationship between a nurse—a single mother trying to raise her son— a gorgeous CFO who has loved her since high school, and her abusive, ex-lover who sets out to claim his son, and the trust fund attached to him.

The second is an expansion of my short story, “Treasure in San Juan,” to a novella. “Treasure” is about a successful business woman who flies to Puerto Rico to marry a man who she believes is her perfect match in every way—especially financially. However, her plan for a perfect merger crumbles when she falls in love with a local cab driver, who she believes can offer her nothing but love.

For now, the bad weather is behind us (fingers crossed!)  and warmer winds will prevail over the weekend.  I have my work cut out for me, and I plan on following through.  To coin a phrase from the phenomenal Nora Roberts—I will have my “Ass in Chair,” and I will write up a storm.

Puerto Rico: My epiphany

I believe traveling isn’t all about visiting new sites and cultures. It’s about clearing your head. When I plan a trip, I get extra excited. In the past, I’ve discovered there’s an underlying meaning to my travel. It’s usually to find something lacking in myself or my life.

I can relate to Elizabeth Gilbert’s, the author of “Eat, Love, Pray” journey to find everything. At some point in our lives, I think most of us make the decision to do just that–or at least discover what’s wrong in our lives and try to rectify it.

On a trip to Puerto Rico ten years ago, I did just that. Granted, my journey didn’t me to Italy (not that time, anyway), India, and Indonesia, like Ms. Gilbert. However, it took me to an island breeze, lush beaches and blue-green waters, where I vacationed by myself– to find myself.

It was a much needed vacation. It was also a chance to clear my head, to put things into prospective, and to weed out the negativity that had been a part of my life for several months: the wrong people, bad decisions, and not enough of the right decisions.

Sound familiar?

I’d stop doing the things I loved. Writing. Reading. Spending time with family and friends. And for what? Someone else’s existence? Not a wise move. I had to squash that.

Puerto Rico will always have a special place in my heart because it’s where I realized that my life had taken a turn off course and if I wanted to survive, I had to regain control. Needless to say, the island helped me see things clearly. And as I lay on the beach in Condado early one morning, the sun and horizon came up to greet me, as did tears of clarity. I’d had an epiphany.

The next day, I took the bus through Old San Juan to do some shopping and sightseeing. My destination was Castillo San Felipe del Morro, a fortress built in 16th-century to guard the San Juan Bay and protect Puerto Rico from seaborne enemies.

The fortress still stands in perfect condition and a tour around the citadel takes you on a journey back in time. The displayed cannon balls used to fight off ensuing enemies, gives you a true glimpse into the past.

My walk to the fortress from town was a few miles. When I reached the entryway of Castillo San Felipe del Morro, I was once again in awe of the island’s beauty. At that moment, I became acutely aware that this pathway was more than the road that led me to the citadel’s discovery. It was the road that would lead me to discover myself.

I took this picture just before I headed up the hill, and although the road was long, I knew it would lead me to my destination. As it turns out, this was defining moment in my life, and a life’s lesson.

I learned that all my goals, destinations and yes, even fears, require that I walk toward them, not away from them.

I keep this picture in my office to remind me of that lesson, and as a reminder of my personal journey to find myself. If you happen to be at a crossroads in your life, I’d like to offer a bit of advice, if I may. Plain and simple, DO YOU.

No matter what responsibilities you may have or how many people depend on you, it’s important that you’re content with who you are as an individual. Take care of yourself, and take time to clear your head and regroup.

It’s your life. It’s your journey.