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.

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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?

Sept 11: What it taught me

For many of us, September 11, 2001 was a turning point in history and our lives. And it seems with each passing year, we can still recall where we were on that fateful day, what we did and how we coped.

Moreover, we can reflect on how our lives may have been, and how different they might be now.

I was never one to live in fear. However, 9-11-01 changed the person I thought I was—temporarily anyway.

I remember looking out of the tenth floor window of my office building in downtown Newark, New Jersey, and like many others, noting the beauty of the blue sky. Seconds after placing my pocketbook in my desk drawer, I glanced up again, finding it weird that the sky near the World Trade Center had suddenly darkened.

The first plane struck. It had to be a mistake, I thought.

I literally saw the second plane hit, and became angry. I wondered who hell was flying the blasted thing, and why couldn’t they see those huge towers in front of them?

Then it sank in as I watched the news unfolding on the television monitor to my left and the flames growing outside the window to my right—just across the Hudson River.

It was deliberate.

From that day forward, I kept the blinds at the office open at all times, glancing at every plane that flew to and from Newark Airport. I became obsessed with anything flying near my office building and watched every aircraft, be it a helicopter or plane—until it flew from sight.

I lived in fear for a long time. I didn’t like it.

It’s the eleventh anniversary of 9-11, and while I still think of the events of that day, I haven’t kept my eyes glued to the skies as much. Instead, I’ve learned to be better prepared, always have a plan and take nothing for granted. I’m on guard, but not afraid.

I’ve since lowered the blinds in my office, which is a big deal for me. However, on occasion, I will glance out the window at a passing aircraft, pause for a moment in remembrance, and then get back to living.

Take a moment to remember those who are no longer here, kiss and hug those who are, and live each day with strength, passion and love.

Moving the rubber tree plant: a lone ant’s struggle …

“Just what makes that little old ant
Think he’ll move that rubber tree plant
Anyone knows an ant, can’t
Move a rubber tree plant

But he’s got high hopes, he’s got high hopes
He’s got high apple pie, in the sky hopes

“High Hopes” 1959 – sung by Frank Sinatra

Yesterday, Poe and I went for our early morning walk, and we encountered two, slimy, dead worms on the sidewalk. Gross. Poe’s first inclination was to sniff, because that’s what dogs do. Instead, we both walked around until I noticed the hundreds—no probably thousands—of ants underneath both worms, moving them toward the grass.

I stopped to watch the collaborative effort for a minute, and it reminded me of the song, “High Hopes,” and the single ant’s plight to move a rubber tree plant. Actually, the ant needed more than high hopes to move that plant. He needed other ants that would offer teamwork, determination, and strength. He was probably exhausted!

I thought about the ant’s struggle and began to wonder has humanity yet learned to move a rubber tree plant? In some cases, yes.

Through the efforts of so many great organizations, when there’s a call to help others who have suffered from catastrophic events such as Hurricane Katrina in 2005 and the earthquake and tsunami in Japan in 2011, the world typically bans together to clean up and help.

Even current events such as the 2012 Olympics in London show the definite signs of teamwork—starting with the USA Women’s gymnastics team. (You GO girls!)

It’s commendable, but we don’t always have to think on a grand scheme to work together. We can do something in our own worlds.

Here’s an example. There were two rubber tree plants …er um two, rabid raccoon running rampant in our neighborhood. I live in the city, not the country, so raccoons, raiding garbage and recyclables are quite uncommon.

All the dog owners began warning others about the raccoon. But as far as I know, only two people, (my neighbor and I) called the town and asked that they come out and catch them. This went on for a month or so. Everyday, someone new complained. But they had yet to call. It was becoming a pain.

Something must have happened because for the past two months, there have been no raccoon sightings. And I thought if all the dog owners, not just one or two, bombarded city hall with complaints, the problem might have been solved earlier. The rubber tree plant may have stood sooner.

Perhaps it’s a simplistic example, but I believe there’s a larger implication. Is humanity doing all it can collectively and with a team spirit to make the world better?

That’s truly a topic up for discussion. IMHO, we’re getting there, but there’s a lot of room for improvement. Our rubber tree plant is leaning.

This morning, Poe and I walked the same path and spotted the ants once again. This time, where was only one worm on the sidewalk. They’d done it! They moved the worm to the grass, and I was in awe. But there was still one more to go, and I knew they would do it because in addition to high hopes, they had determination and teamwork.

Poe looked up at me, and I glanced at him. We were in agreement. There’s no way that we were going to upset their balance, their world or THEIR rubber tree plant. We walked around.

Go Ants!

Sax appeal …Happy Birthday David Sanborn

Growing up, Sunday mornings at my house began with the sounds of my dad’s collection of jazz greats, which included Miles Davis, Taj Mahal and Quincy Jones.

My nose would wrinkle when he invited me to listen to the melodious sounds of the horns, bass, drums and saxophones. I literally wanted to gag. My idea of music back then was the Jackson Five.

As an adult, I remember driving in my car with my dad, listening to CD 101.9. Back then, it was our local jazz station. I remarked that I loved the artist that was currently playing and my dad, straight, yet with a hint of teasing said, “It’s about time you acquired some taste.”

All I could do was laugh. But he was right. Since then, I’ve become a big time jazz lover and I have my dad to thank for that.

My favorite instrument is the saxophone and my favorite artist, the one and only, David Sanborn.

IMHO, David Sanborn is one of the greatest jazz musicians around. Although, he’s played many genres, his music typically blends jazz with instrumental pop and R&B.

OMG! I love his style, and I often write to his music. It could be a love scene, or perhaps a character whose personality requires a little swag! David’s music helps me write for that character.

Most importantly, whenever I’m in a funk and nothing seems right, I pop in a David Sanborn CD, start humming to his sax appeal, and all is right in my world.

I’ve seen him in concert quite a few times, but my fondest recollection was seeing him play at the Blue Note in New York City. The Blue Note is a small, intimate venue where you can really see the musicians up close.

“Up Close” took on a whole different meaning for me, when my daughter and I saw David live. Just before he was about to go on stage, a man at our table (of six) called him over. Apparently, he, too, was a musician and he reminded David that they’d met before.

Good thing I was seated, because it would have been highly embarrassing to faint at that moment.

David Sanborn was literally two feet away from me and with my mouth gaping, eyes glazed over and stunned, all I could do was stare. My daughter still teases me about that night. She said that was the first time, she’d ever seen me speechless.

Anyway …it was truly a night to remember.

To get a taste of David Sanborn’s music I suggest starting off with two of his hits, “The Dream” or “Maputo.” These songs, are quite popular in jazz circles, and “The Dream” is played quite often at sweet sixteen parties, graduation parties, and the like, because of its moving, soulful sound. It’s a great song. Take a listen. 🙂

The second is Maputo, which he made famous with legendary jazz pianist Bob James (on piano). Marcus Miller, (a jazz and R&B legend in his own right) who isn’t playing here, composed this song and many, many, many others!. He’s a favorite of mine also.

This is David’s birthday, so he gets two videos! 🙂 He is touring this year, and since he goes worldwide, you may be able to experience his sound wherever you are. I plan to be front and center! (A hundred “thank yous” to my dad for influencing me to appreciate something new.)

And to Mr. Sanborn, Happy Birthday!

This day in history: July 26** …Got plans?

I love research. And as with anything, even fictional writing, you should know your facts. If you’re writing historical or regency romance you definitely have to get the facts straight, or else you will be getting letters and emails from your readers.

Even in contemporary romance, which is what I write, you have to get the facts straight. If your character was a teenager in 1980s, you certainly better know that Culture Club and Boy George, or Earth Wind and Fire, might have been one of the groups they were listening to, and not Maroon 5, since they weren’t even a band, yet.

I digress. Again.

As I said, I love research and history. So, I did a little digging and found a few historical events (and birthdays) that took place on July 26, in various years. I also tried to associate a weekend activity with these events.

•1963 – Syncom 2, the world’s first geosynchronous satellite, is launched from Cape Canaveral on a Delta B booster. So, I thought a trip to the museum or planetarium always works.

1951 – Walt Disney’s 13th animated film, Alice in Wonderland, premieres in London, England, United Kingdom. Rent it or buy it and watch it with the little ones in your life, or by yourself!

Here are a few July 26 birthdays.

1909 – Vivian Vance, American actress (d. 1979) Enjoy “Ethel” and Lucy on “I Love Lucy” reruns or on DVD.
1922 – Blake Edwards, American film directorPink Panther, or Breakfast at Tiffany’s, anyone?
1928 – Stanley Kubrick, American director (d. 1999) Feel like a scary movie, or something historical, watch his classic movies, “The Shining” or the original “Spartacus” with Kirk Douglas.
1973 – Kate Beckinsale, English actress – Do you hear “Underworld,” “Van Helsing” or “Serendipity”calling?

As for me, I will probably relax with a movie, starting with “Van Helsing,” (hey, I need a dose of Hugh Jackman) and then head to Barnes and Noble, grab a chai-tea latte, and see what’s new on the shelves and on NOOK. I’ll also take my dog, Poe, for a walk in the park, and then head home for a LONG nap! If my Sunday morning is as peaceful as Maroon 5’s, I won’t complain! 🙂

Whatever you do this weekend, enjoy yourself and the journey.

See you Monday!

** Today is actually the 27th, but I reference the 26th. This is what happens when you write a blog the day before. In any case, the dates and facts are correct. I guess I thought I’d 1) get a jump on the weekend, yesterday or 2) make sure I had your attention!;-)

Either way, enjoy your weekend!

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.