Manuscript Progress!

Book cover mock-up

I’m thrilled to say that the manuscript for the novel I’m currently working on was a finalist in a contest hosted by the Writers’ League of Texas, in the general fiction category.

I’m now going through a third full draft of The Knowledge of Sorrow and then I will start submitting it to agents. And Just for grins and because I heard an agent tell a group of writers that they should absolutely know what they want their book to look like, I mocked up the cover, above. What do you think? Here’s a synopsis of the novel for you to enjoy!

Elise Halloran is a woman who has suffered blows in her life, the most recent the simultaneous losses of her father and her husband. Her fiancé to lies and betrayal, her father to cancer. Not the beautiful, enjoy-every-minute-right-up-until-they-go-softly into-the-good-night kind you see in books and movies. But the protracted, ugly, kind that makes you wish you had the strength to ease the misery of the dying. Her father was her only living relative or so she thinks until a letter arrives from Ireland.

The condolence letter from Ireland arrives after Elise finds out that her husband of 11 years has impregnated a long colleague. The same husband who didn’t want to have children. Elise put aside her dreams of a family to make her marriage the best it could be for both of them. The next blow comes when the gynecologist tells her that she cannot have a baby on her own, as she planned. She’s waited too long and given up too much. The letter from a woman who knew her father was a vital distraction.

Determined to find out who this woman is and escape her life in Chicago, Elise travels to County Galway, Ireland to meet the mysterious Meara Scott. Once there, she is surprised that the person who meets her at the airport is not Ms. Scott, but a man named Wallace who seems to be the caretaker of the rundown manor house which Meara owns. Wallace dumps Elise off at the manor house with little information.

Alone for the first time since her husband’s bombshell, Elise lets the waves of grief pull at her. Her mother died decades ago and she missed both of her parents. One day, in the lane near the manor, she mets a small girl. Before she can find out anything about her, the little girl runs off.

Elise makes a friend in the town librarian, Ava, who encourages her to get out and meet some people. At a town gathering, she finds out that Wallace is the guardian of the little girl named Eveleen. The child has suffered even more losses than Elise and they are drawn together in their grief.

Wallace is another story and Elise finds him obnoxious and lax in his care of the child. Meara is still out of the country, so Elise tries to find answers in the old house. Unbeknownst to Elise, the house has its own secrets and the two-hundred-year-old portraits in the foyer just might be the key to discovering what they are. She searches the library and closets, finding books and journals that tell of the sad past of the manor house.

Meara finally arrives and she and Elsie meet for the first time. Meara expresses how much she admired Elise’s father, but it is obvious that the woman has a secret.

Will the secrets that Elise discovers damage the memories she has of her father? Will the relationship she develops with the child make her childlessness even more painful? Will she return to husband? Will she and Wallace call a truce? Stay tuned for more!

Crowdfunding 2.0

Photo by Carlotta Stankiewicz

Last week, I was honored to be on a panel at the Writers’ League of Texas Agents & Editors Conference just down the road in Austin. Because of the success of my Kickstarter that funded a three-week trip to Ireland for research on my novel, The Knowledge of Sorrow, the kind folks at the WLT asked me to share what I learned during that process with the conference attendees.

Also on the panel with me was the phenomenal Jodi Egerton, poet, wordslinger and founder of Typewriter Rodeo. Christopher Locke was also a guest on the panel and Carlotta Stankiewicz moderated.

Christopher had crowdfunded several campaigns related to drawing, art journaling and his project Heartless Machine. He’s a high school art teacher and is very funny. Jodi and her husband, writer Owen Egerton, raised funds for their book on writing, titled This Word Now. And the lovely Carlotta, had a successful crowdfunding project for her clever book, Haiku Austin.

We had a dedicated group of audience members for our session and I hope we left them inspired, informed and empowered to move their dream projects forward. It was a lot of fun—just look at how rapt Jodi and I are in the above picture!

The recording of the panel will be available soon from the Writers’ League and I will let you know how and when you can access it, just in case you want to know how to launch your own dream. Until then, here are a few highlights.

1. Do your homework. Research all the crowdfunding sites to determine which one is right for your project.
2. Outline your project and what your goals are for it.
3. Create a detailed budget for your project.
4. Know that there are people out there who want to support your dream. Many of them you don’t even know.

The Emerald Isle

The Mountains of County Clare

I am long overdue for a thank you post to all of you who supported my Kickstarter campaign and my research trip to Ireland. I spend three wonderful weeks there in March. Thank you, thank you from the bottom of my heart. I achieved all of my research goals and then some while I was there. A few plot knots even got worked out, serendipitously.

Dublin streetlamp

Anyone who has traveled to Ireland will tell you how gorgeous the countryside is and that is certainly true. But I will tell you that I fell in love with the people even more so. You will not find a more generous, gregarious, humor-filled group of people anywhere. I wish there was some way for you to experience the warmth of the Irish from this blog, but I believe you’ll just have to go there yourself. Until then, enjoy a little Irish vacation at your desk.

Daffodils at Glenlo Abbey Hotel

 

Frolicking lambs in Headford.

 

See Jane Kickstart

A few months ago an artist friend talked about how it is such an exciting time for artists because we get to take our work into our own hands, and through indie publishing, crowdfunding and other user-friendly methods, we can bring our work to fruition. Artists, writers, inventors and creatives of all types have more control than ever.

Art patronage has gone viral due to crowdsourcing. As many of you know, I have written a novel that I am shopping around to agents. So far, all reports are positive, but I’ve not found the right match yet. My friends who have published tell me that since I am receiving positive, personal feedback from agents, then I am on the right track! This is great, but what is a writer to do during the hurry-up-and-wait process of querying?

Well, this writer wrote anther novel. I’ve completed the draft for a book about a woman who is dealing with some very serious life blows when she is invited to travel to Ireland. She leaves her life behind in Chicago, including her soon-to-be ex-husand and his mistress, and runs away to the Emerald Isle.

The book has a parallel story set 200 years in the past and has some magical realism thrown in to help the characters along their way, because, why wouldn’t you include some magic in Ireland? And if the Celtic people didn’t invent magical realism, then they are certainly some of the most dedicated champions of the literary device.

After completing the draft, titled The Knowledge of Sorrow, I was thrilled with the material. Except for one thing. The setting and language seemed two dimensional. So, I watched a bunch of Irish films, read some books and reworked some of the draft. Nope. Still flat.

I realized I needed to do some deep research in order to do the book, the people of Ireland, and myself justice. I knew this book could be better and no matter how many drafts I wrote, there was only so far my imagination could take it. I knew I needed to experience Ireland, study the people, interview historians and study customs particular to Galway where the story is set. To know the rhythm of a place, the sights and smells, is invaluable to making a book come alive.

Then I met a lovely, talented, energetic writer who told me, “You should totally do a Kickstarter!” She and her writing-parter husband had recently concluded a very successful crowdfunding campaign to indie publish their book on the writing process. She graciously agreed to go to lunch with me and tell me everything she learned about crowdfunding because she’s that wonderful. And because the writing community in Austin is that generous and supportive.

So, a couple of months later, I had followed all of my friend’s advice, researched the crowdfunding industry and was ready to launch my project. A good friend helped me with the filming. I set some enticing rewards for backers and I am now one week into the three week campaign. I decided to use Kickstarter because they have superior analytics to help creators know what is working about the campaign.

I am happy to report that I am halfway to my goal of $5500. The funds will cover travel, lodging and research costs during my three-week stay in Ireland. I’ll be visiting with university professors, historians, writers and shop owners to get the details correct in The Knowledge of Sorrow. I am very excited about improving this book.

The caveat is that some crowdfunding sites, like Kickstarter, only fund if the campaign goal is reached. If I don’t raise the full amount then I receive nothing and the donors are not charged. So, I’m working diligently to make sure the project moves forward.

Please take a look at the video below for more details. If you help spread the word and/or make a donation, I would be ever so grateful to you.

 

Welcome and Some Writing Tips

Welcome to my blog. As some of you know, I’ve just completed my first novel and have moved into the “Writer Seeking Agent” phase of the process. After four years of squeezing in writing time, it feels really great to be on this leg of the journey. And I’m ready to start my next book—just as soon as I decide which of two story ideas I want to explore next.

My plans for this blog do not include:

  • Reporting to you what I’ve eaten for breakfast.
  • Posting videos of cats performing acrobatic feats.
  • Wailing about what’s wrong with the publishing industry. 

What you might find here:

  • Writing tips. I’m not an expert, but I’ve learned a lot in this process and I’d like to share it. 
  • Book suggestions and mini reviews.
  • Links to articles and information you might find interesting.
  • Ways to connect with me/writers/bloggers in order to get to know each other better. 
  • Humorous brain lint-type things. Feel free to skip over if you’re allergic to lint. 
  • Okay and maybe that fantastic recipe I have for granola. But I don’t always have that for breakfast.

Many people have asked me recently how I was able to write a book, so I wrote down a few things to share. That list turned into what could become an outline for a book! I’m mulling it over right now, but in the mean time here are a few tips to get you started.

Get Started on that Writing Project!

  1. What are you interested in—what do you want to read that you haven’t found yet? That. Write that.
  2. Start a notebook or a file of ideas. I prefer a notebook because I get more creative ideas when I write longhand. I used a computer for writing the manuscript, but I used a notebook for writing lists and ideas. Don’t censor yourself at this point. If you think it, write it in the notebook.
  3. 3. Set aside time every day (5 days a week, at least) and write. Elizabeth Gilbert recently had a great post on just this thing. She suggests using a kitchen timer, set for 30 minutes. I didn’t utilze a timer, but I did something every day. Every time I’d think about how daunting the task was, I’d just focus on what I could do that day. There’s that great quote from Aristotle, “We are what we repeatedly do.”

So, what are you? Now go do it.

24 Things To Do While Waiting…

For anyone who has had to wait for a prolonged period of time for anything, here are the things I’m doing to prevent percsription-worthy anxiety.

  1. Practice yoga.
  2. Tell myself not to check email. 
  3. Meditate. Let any thoughts float by like fish in the sea. Try not to imagine fish taking bites out of me.
  4. Work on marketing/business plan for book. 
  5. Exercise. Boost up the speed/incline on treadmill until I can’t hear myself think. 
  6. Research topics for next book.
  7. “Write like a motherfucker,”in the words of the gorgeously talented Cheryl Strayed.
  8. Expand writer platform by following everything Christina Katz instructs.
  9. Read and reread books by favorite authors and try to figure out how they made it look so easy. A good list to start: Anna Quindlen, Elizabeth Berg, Maria Semple, Sarah Bird, and Anne Lamott. 
  10. Stalk favorite writers on social media.
  11. Write something. Even if it is 15 minutes of typing, “I don’t know what to write. I don’t know what to write.”
  12. Post something witty, inspirational or slightly snarky on Facebook. Avoid whiny.
  13. Update bookshelf on Goodreads. Try to figure out how to give a four-and-a-half star rating. 
  14. Look for other paying work to augment writing work. Something part time that gives me time to write, yet pays $500 an hour to support book/writing habit.
  15. Enter writing competitions and calls for entries for anthologies.
  16. Write, write, write.
  17. Eat something crunchy.
  18. Eat something chewy.
  19. Eat something sweet.
  20. Get distracted by kids and dogs. 
  21. Write.
  22. Sleep.  
  23. Wake up. 
  24. Check email.

Book Review: Happiness for Beginners by Katherine Center

While there are many book genres: literary fiction, popular fiction, women’s fiction, mysteries, thrillers, cozies, romance, and more, I’ve found the categories somewhat limiting. These terms tell us where to find a book when we go to the bookstore, but they don’t point to what to read when we’re in the mood for something smart, funny, moving and romantic.

What if you’re in the mood for a rom-com, sweet with a little sass and a whole lot of life lessons for you to ruminate upon? A story that’s shiny and fun with enough meat on it to sink your teeth into and get a good bite? A story you can see so vividly in your head that it seems like a really good movie. The best kind. The Nora Ephron kind.

If Nora Ephron had accompanied Cheryl Strayed on the Pacific Coast Trail, she would have made a funny, warm, tender movie about it—the lighter flipside to Wild. This is exactly what someone should do with the book Happiness for Beginners by Katherine Center. Fleet and funny with characters you’ll remember—Center’s fifth book is a delight.

Helen Carpenter has a bit of a bad attitude, but she’s earned the right after more than her share of losses. At thirty-two she is divorced and the kind of lonely that cannot be assuaged by a new dog or her annoyingly effervescent younger brother. Especially when the rescued dog turns out to be vicious or at least perpetually in a bad mood and her brother is almost criminally undependable.

Knowing she needs to reboot her life, Helen sets her sights on a life-changing trip to the Absoraka Mountains with a survival group. She is sure that the trip to Wyoming will change everything and by everything she means herself. She plans to return to her home in Boston a different person—a person who has it together, a confidant woman, a woman who earns certificates for winning at survival camping. She’ll no longer be a woman who’s been kicked around by life, but rather, a woman who kicked butt in the mountains.

Her plans go awry, of course, when her brother’s best friend, Jake, joins her on the trip. Jake is ten years her junior and has had an oh-so-obvious crush on Helen for years. Jake is all but invisible to her, but when he hops in her Subaru for a cross-country trip, she begins to suspect there is more to him than unruly hair and well-defined abs. Will the dangers of the mountains change Helen’s life? Will she find happiness?

Like all of Katherine Center’s books, Happiness for Beginners has a heart of gold. Wise, charming and laugh-out-loud funny, readers will love this book.

The Value of Community Work

I spent the better part of the last seven years on the board of a local nonprofit whose mission was, and is, to support the visual arts in my city. This was a start-up board and I was fortunate to be a member of the founding board and to serve as president twice. The goal was to open a center for the arts that made viewing, appreciating, purchasing and making art accessible to all. Lofty, right?

At times the goal seemed insurmountable, with numerous setbacks and several hard lessons along the way. But through the commitment of many talented people, the vision was acheived. The Georgetown Art Center opened in 2013 in the historic Fire Station 1 in our town. With gallery space, a large studio and a gift shop, the art center is another jewel in a town that has many wonderful assets.

This project took thousands of volunteer hours over the years, from myself and from many others. It was like starting a corporations from scratch with no capital and no employees. But the value to the community is immeasurable. Compelling, intelligent visual art is housed in our community and with free entry, anyone can have access six days a week. The center, with many free events for children and adults, is a hive of activity in the name of art. In the first year, many people have traveled to see The Georgetown Art Center from all aroudn the state and beyond. Vibrancy, cultural literacy and community have been expanded in the town in ways that are yet to be defined.

Volunteerism is vital to the growth of communities, but it is also an element of personal growth for the individuals who donate their time. Because of those years I spent working toward a goal that would serve my city, I learned many things. I learned how a municipality functions, how to present a project to city officials and see it through the process. I learned how much I had to learn about managing a large project and then I got to work on educating myself. I learned that many people will help you if you ask, if you make it as much fun as possible and if you make every effort to show your appreciation.

During those years, I made many friends and grew exponentially as a human on the planet. I learned to make a graceful exit—when I’d accomplished what I’d promised and when the entity had a life of its own. Most importantly, I learned that the value of community work is in bringing people and ideas together to improve the quality of life for all. And that is priceless.

What Do You Want To Be When You Grow Up?

When I was 10 years old, my teacher assigned an essay to the class. We were to write about what we wanted to be when we grew up. Immediately, like a cartoon thought bubble, “WRITER” popped into my head. This was confusing. While I was most definitely a straight A student, I didn’t consider myself a writer. After all, I had that pretty diary with the miniature padlock on it at the top of my closet for a few years by then and it only had one entry. A boring entry. Something forgettable.

Writer? Where did that come from? I didn’t know any writers. No one in my family kept a diary, that I knew of anyway. We had a lot of readers in the family and that is where I aligned myself. A reader. Someone who read the ideas and stories of other people, not someone who wrote her own stories.

In fact, I didn’t think I had anythign to say. I wrote only when assigned something like the weighty “What I Want to Be When I Grow Up” essay. Really, isn’t that a lot to put on a kid? It sure felt like it to me at 10.

Some people say that we are born fully formed and then we spend the rest of our lives remembering who we are. And maybe that is true. Were you very sure at a young age that you were going to be a doctor or a farmer or a fashion designer? Did you become that? Or did life, new interests and school loans veer you onto a different path? I think that happens to many of us, we ignore that little voice inside or stray away from something that seems impossible.

And becoming a writer seemed impossible to me. Even though, I KNEW that voice inside was shouting as loudly as she could—I just couldn’t see how to make it happen. By that time in my life I had read a good many of the books in our elementary school library and there wasn’t one book on how to become a writer. There weren’t many how-to books at all. My reading preference then was historical biographies and Encyclodpedia Brown mysteries. I don’t remember books about writers or writing in our small library at all.

Just before the assignment, I had read a book about a ballerina. In my 10-year-old mind, becoming a ballerina seemed infinitely more doable than becoming a writer. So, that’s what I wrote about, not knowing that by aged 10 I was too old to begin a career as a ballet dancer. The book I’d read left out some parts, obviously.

Fast-forward thirty plus years and that thought bubble returned. In neon lights, “WRITER! WRITER!” At this point, having learned the hard way to never ignore my inner voice, I started writing a book. I wrote because I had a question that I couldn’t answer any other way except by exploring it through fiction. And now, I’ve completed it and have begun a second. I have another question I want to delve into through writing.

It wasn’t easy. Anyone who says something worthwhile comes easily is shining you on, but you know that, don’t you? No, writing a book wasn’t even in the same ballpark as easy, but it was, and is, something much better. It is what Iam passionate about, what I’m meant to do.

It has taken a long time to return to that child-like belief that I can be anything I want when I grow up. It’s as easy, and as difficult, as listening to that little voice inside.