Friday, December 30, 2005


In case you actually read the comments on this blog and don't understand half of them, you have to go to Mike Snyder's blog to get the other part of the story. No guarantee that you'll actually understand then, either, but at least you'll get a bigger picture.

And on to the big news, crit partner and good friend Jenny Cary has finished the rewrite of The Patriarch, the first book in a series on the Crockett family. Great job, Jenny! I'm proud of you!

Tuesday, December 27, 2005

A Writer's Imagination

As writers we want to cultivate our imaginations. There are lots of ways to do this. Nearly every book on writing and creativity can tell you how. I usually don’t have a problem in this area. My imagination can run wild at the drop of a hat. Sometimes this isn’t a good thing.

Like when Peter was having surgery on his foot. What if he has some heart defect we don’t know about? What if he throws a blood clot? What if the anesthesiologist didn’t get a good night sleep and gives Peter the wrong dose? Notice all of these scenarios pretty much end in Peter’s death? Not a good thing. I seriously had to rein my brain in while I was in the waiting room.

On the other hand, some situations just lend themselves to good musings, especially for a suspense writer. Like what happened to me about six weeks ago. I was taking my daughter to a specialist (she’s been having some hearing problems) in the middle of the valley, nearly an hour away.

I get on the freeway and they’re doing construction, the concrete K-rails blocking the right shoulder. The person in front of me abruptly changes lanes. I see why.

Someone’s tire, rim and all, is sitting in my lane. I can’t get over either direction. I hit it. Immediately a grinding noise comes from the back and the steering gets squirrelly. Luckily, the car doesn’t slew too far out of control. The K-rails end so I can pull to the shoulder.

After telling my daughter to stay belted in, I get out to see the damage. I expect to see the backend of the minivan disintegrated. Nope, just the back tire, a gash through the sidewall and split wheel cover. No way it can be repaired.

I get back in and call AAA but it’ll be 90 minutes. Her appointment is in 30. She can’t miss it. I look in the back. There’s the spare and the jack. Okay, looks like I’m changing the tire.

Of course I’m wearing nice clothes.

I get the tire and jack out, looking pointedly at the cars passing me on the freeway. Hello, helpless female here. Is chivalry dead? Okay, I’m not really helpless; I can change a tire. But I don’t want to. I really don’t want to mess up my clothes.

I sigh and resign myself to changing the tire. And while I’m doing this, I’m thinking, “Hmm, I’m very vulnerable here.” And I start wondering how I could use this. The villain could do something to cause the heroine’s tire to go flat, either through sabotage or by putting something in the road.

I get a couple lug nuts off as I mull this over. Then I look at the tire iron. It would be a great weapon. It’s got this little hinge on the end. It’s mostly straight, but the socket that fits on the lug nuts connects to the bar with a hinge. This is so you can get the lug nuts at any angle, but can only turn the bar 180 degrees without having to pull it back in the other direction.

So I’m thinking, okay. A villain does something so my heroine has a flat tire in a very inopportune place. Maybe she’s in a bad cell area. Then, when she’s bent over, changing the tire, with no method of escape other than on foot, he comes after her.

Aha, but she’s got the tire iron. She can swing it and that little hinge piece will work like the end of a whip, cracking him across the temple. Even if he brings his arm up to block her blow, she’ll still break his wrist. Either way, it works.

I’m contemplating this as the last lug nut pops free. Then, someone drives up. I’m wary. But I’ve got my tire iron. It’s a minivan, though, the same make as mine. Not sure too many criminal masterminds drive minivans.

The guy gets out.

I say, “Hey, I needed you here five minutes ago. Before I got the lug nuts off.”

He doesn’t laugh. He doesn’t think I’m funny.

Well, bummer. Anyhow, he gets the spare tire on, one of those mini tires that you’re not supposed to drive very fast or very far on. He’s also got a better tire iron in his car, the kind you can spin. So he gets the lug nuts back on faster. Five minutes and he’s done.

I thank him and we leave. I wipe my hands on the ubiquitous fast food napkins in my car. Aside from some grit in my sandals, I didn’t get dirty. My daughter makes her appointment, only five minutes late. And I have a nugget that might actually make its way into a book.

Friday, December 23, 2005

Christmas, Arizona

Yes, there is a town called Christmas, Arizona. Or was. It’s a ghost town now. But when I ran across an article this week in the East Valley Tribune about this town, well, given that I’m a writer in Arizona with a degree in history, and it’s Christmas this week (okay, technically next week) I just couldn’t pass up the opportunity to write about it. Dang, that’s a long sentence.

So, what does the Tiszai family do for fun? We drive 80 miles to find this.

What made it more interesting is that DPS pulled up as I was taking the picture. DPS is the Department of Public Safety, the Arizona equivalent of highway patrol or state troopers. Just as I was getting ready to explain what the heck I was doing—and trying to figure out how to make it sound, well, not crazy—he pulled away. I guess he just figured we were weird city folk. He’s right about the weird part anyway.

Okay, so now that I’ve piqued your interest, don’t you want to know why we drove out there? Do we need a reason?

Christmas is at the southern tip of the Dripping Springs Mountains. It was a mining town, founded in 1902 when a prospector named George Chittenden petitioned President Theodore Roosevelt to redraw the boundaries of the Apache reservation so this mine would be outside of reservation property. On Christmas Eve, Chittenden got the news that the president had issued an executive order doing just that. Chittenden staked his claim Christmas Day and named the town after it.

Christmas had its heyday in the 20s and 30s when nearly a thousand people called Christmas home, mostly making their living from the rich veins of copper running under the town. Copper was king, bringing in as much as $41.80 a pound (it’s around $2 now). The town even had real electricity, at least for an hour, every other day. The Christmas mine was making it all happen, producing 500 million pounds of ore during its lifetime.

Of course the post office was always a popular place this time of year when people from all over the United States would send their Christmas cards to get postmarked from Christmas, Arizona. The post office closed in 1935. But even until the 1950s, mail would still come looking for that holiday postmark. Of course it just got hauled to the un-festive town of Winkleman. Which we drove through, and frankly, it looks like it’s just one step away from being a ghost town itself.

Boring bibliographical stuff (if you’re interested):
“Yes, Arizona there was a Christmas: Mining town yields only memories these days,” by Barbara Yost, The Arizona Republic, Dec. 6, 2005

So have a very Merry Christmas, even if it’s not from Christmas, Arizona.

Wednesday, December 21, 2005


Okay, I’m taking this opportunity to brag a little on a couple of people, my two “mentees.”

Malia Spencer wrote a really neat paper comparing Randy Ingermanson’s Snowflake method with traditional rhetorical stages. It was a college-level final project for a rhetoric class at the University of Hawaii, and along with the illustrious Randy Ingermanson, she quoted me! She got a B and the professor had glowing things to say about it. Mostly due, I’m sure, to Malia’s writing and not so much to her quoting me. Though, I think it’s one of the few times I’ve seen myself quoted. Have to admit, it’s pretty cool. You can check it out here. Click on the links on the left to navigate the site. I’m specifically mentioned in the freshman and senior sections (yep, that was a blatant plug for me. Gotta take what I can get at this point.). Pretty nice to have someone say nice things about you publicly. Made me cry. Yeah, yeah, it doesn’t take much. Okay, enough blubbering. You can check out Malia’s blog here where this week she’s talking about some of the stuff she learned in her writing classes.

And, my other “mentee” Sabrina Butcher, just finished the first draft of her first book. I’m so proud! It’s a great thing to finish a book yourself. It’s still really cool to help someone else through the process. Both she and Malia have learned and grown so much, just since April. Unbelievable. I just kind of stand around and watch.

When I agreed to be a mentor, it wasn’t because I thought I had much to offer. I’m not published yet, I could be completely off-base with anything I say. I just remembered what it was like to decide to become a serious writer and have absolutely no clue how to go about it and to not know anyone who did. So, I figured I could share what I know, give my opinions (which are numerous) and be a listening ear. Didn’t expect to make two close friends.

And on the subject of bragging, I can proudly say that this year’s bragging rights for hiding/finding Christmas gifts goes to me. Usually Peter wins. I’ll do something stupid like leave a receipt out, or he’ll stumble over his gifts somewhere in the closet. And I never find what he gets for me, used to be because it was locked in the trunk of his car. Well, now he has a work truck and can’t do that, so I found my present today while I was looking for a video on top of a bookshelf. It was wrapped, but I have an idea what it was. If you’ve read the end of Witness, it’s from the same store Kyle buys Heather’s gift. Who knew my husband paid so much attention to my writing? And I managed to hide the receipts and wrap his presents without his finding them. So I swept the contest this year. Probably will be the only time that will happen.

And lucky you. You’ll get three posts from me this week. I’m hoping to post Friday or Saturday on the results of our road trip to Christmas, Arizona. Should be fun. Might even have pictures.

Sunday, December 18, 2005

I'm Not Mrs. Incredible

I loved the fact that in the movie The Incredibles the superpower they gave to the mom was super elasticity. It seemed like such a mom thing, like juggling five things at once. I’ve been thinking a lot about stretching myself lately, doing it kicking and screaming. It’s easy to get to a point where you get comfortable, get in a groove, and then getting out of it is like breaking away from quick-setting cement. (And I know what I’m talking about. My last household project involved quick-setting cement that ended up setting too quickly. Yeah, we won’t talk about that.) Now, granted, Peter and I have spent the last three years living out of our comfort zone, so when things kind of mellowed out a bit the last six months, I was all for it. Yeah, guess God had other ideas.

I had planned to take December off from writing, thinking I needed a break. But after a couple of weeks, I find myself missing the creative stimulation. And, boy, you don’t want to be around my house when I’m in need of creative stimulation. I create, uh, let’s call them projects. And since my husband is still recovering from foot surgery and unable to bail me out of my creative endeavors, I had to find something less dangerous, or less messy, to do.

So a friend (yeah, you know who you are—you can out yourself in the comments if you want) suggested I write a short story. Now, I have completely dismissed the idea that I can write short stories. I don’t do anything short (remember that list of things I can’t do from the seven sevens?). The ones I wrote in college were terrible.

But the more I thought about the idea, the more I figured I should try it. Like in other areas of my life, my writing had found its groove. I’d found what I liked to write and stuck to it. Nothing wrong with that. However, one thing I liked about my writing classes in college was that they made me write what I didn’t want to, what I wasn’t comfortable doing. Since college—a distant memory—I haven’t forced myself to stretch, to write something I know will suck. To quite frankly, fail. Did I mention I hate to fail? So what the heck was I thinking in becoming a writer? Or a mom, for that matter?

The idea of writing just for fun, just playing around with characters and words without worrying about how it fits into the plot really appealed to me. I could plop my characters into a situation and see what happens. I could borrow characters (and animals) from my friends’ WIPs. Maybe I’d end up with nothing. But maybe, I’d get something I could use. Maybe my characters would do one of those weird and quirky things characters do that surprise you. Guess what? I found out Sarah wears contacts. Didn’t know that before today.

So I’ve written five pages. It’s not a short story. It’s not even a scene. But it’s a start. I’ve stretched just a little bit.

And it’s okay if it sucks.

Sunday, December 11, 2005

It's Beginning to Look a Lot Like Christmas

Before we get to our regularly scheduled program, I have a brief announcement to make. Infuze Magazine is running a contest on their site for the best short stories of 2005. Not sure how much longer the poll is going to be up, but go on over and vote if you haven’t already. There are a lot of good short stories there. I think I’ve read nearly all of them. Of course I voted for Michael Snyder’s “My Name is Russell Fink.” Not just because he’s an awesome crit partner, but because it truly was the best story. So, spend an afternoon reading some really great short fiction, or, if you don’t have time, just take my word for which one’s the best ;)

Okay, the title of this post could be a slight exaggeration. Arizona doesn’t look a whole lot different around Christmas than it does in say, July. Just more lights on people’s houses. But because Dineen requested it, and I aim to please, here are some pictures of Arizona. And really, since this blog is called Sonoran Saga, y’all might want more of the Sonoran than the saga anyway.

This is Sedona, about two hours north of us. It's known for its red rocks and vortexes. Not sure what vortexes are, but New Agers seem to love them. If you can get past all the weird New Age stuff up there, it's a beautiful place and there are a lot of great hiking trails. These pictures were taken last January. Some friends of ours couldn't use their timeshare up there and kindly donated a night to us.

There had just been a huge rainstorm with a lot of flooding, so was darker, damper and colder than usual. Still, a lot of fun. And I discovered hiking is a great way to wear out my son. Sorry the pictures aren't better quality but I didn't want them to take forever to load.

This one I took about half an hour from our house. It's the backside of the Superstition Mountains, which I can see from my backyard. The Apache Trail is a really cool drive that goes behind the Superstition Mountains, meets up with the Salt River, and eventually ends up at the Roosevelt Dam. Parts of the scenery on the drive look like a miniature Grand Canyon.

Our house is looking more Christmas-y. We put up our tree this week. It’s fake but it’s the only kind we can have with our allergies and asthma. It’s a pre-lit one, and I have to say I really like not messing with the lights every year.

This is the first year my son is actually delighted with all the tiny ornaments instead of constantly undecorating them. Of course he also finds it’s a perfect cover for covert operations. I caught him low-crawling under it. “I gotta shoot the bad guys,” he says, firing away with the camel from the nativity scene as the gun.

“There’s no bad guys in the Christmas tree,” I tell him. “They’re not allowed. It’s against the rules.”

He seems to buy this, and he and his deadly camel head upstairs to the playroom. A few minutes later, he’s back downstairs and two of the wise men are engaged in mortal combat.

I’m glad this is the PlayMobile version of the nativity instead of the porcelain one on the mantel. And somehow, I’m thinking the Advent readings we’ve been doing aren’t quite hitting home with my four year old.

Did I mention I’m DONE with all my Christmas shopping? I still need to wrap presents, and I’m waiting for a shipment from Amazon, and have a few finishing touches on a couple of things, but all the crowd fighting is done. I can now relax and enjoy Christmas.

AND, I can tackle my to-be-read stack that’s threatening to topple over.

Sunday, December 04, 2005

Tag, I'm It

Okay, thanks to Mike Synder , I've been tagged to play seven sevens. So here's my list. You know, doesn't thinking qualify as labor on the Sabbath? Okay, okay, we won't be legalistic here. Still, friends don't make friends think when they're tired. :) Consider that fair warning for whatever nonsense might follow.

Seven Things to Do Before I Die

1. Write a book I'm actually happy with (I'd love to say get published, but that's not something I can do)
2. Go to Europe
3. Go to the Holy Land
4. See my kids get married and have their own kids (now that would be justice)
5. Find time to finish all the projects I start
6. Learn to play another instrument
7. Tour the United States in an RV and see all the places I've only read about

Seven Things I Cannot Do

I cannot...
1. Give a short answer to a question (anyone who I e-mail can testify to this)
2. Stand still with my eyes closed without toppling over
3. Resist at least thinking a sarcastic remark when someone says something completely inane. And sometimes I utter it.
4. Go anywhere without a book
5. Sit still for any length of time
6. Jump out of a perfectly good airplane
7. Manage to NOT sing in the car. And sometimes the grocery store.

Seven Things that Attract Me to My Husband

1. His gorgeous eyes
2. His cute smile
3. He thinks I'm funny (both ha ha and the weird kind) and loves me anyway
4. He listens to me talk. For a really long time :)
5. He's a great father.
6. He reads my writing and actually has constructive things to say
7. He unconditionally supports my writing and does amazing things to make it happen

Seven Things I Say Most Often

1. Really
2. That's going to leave a bruise (on me, not my kids)
3. Get down from there.
4. Get out of the (cupboards, refrigerator, pantry, dog's bowl, cat box, toilet)
5. Leave your sister alone (can you tell I have a very active boy?)
6. This sucks
7. Good job.
8. Where's my Diet Coke? I need more Diet Coke. Are we out? Again?

Seven Books I Love

Okay this really isn't a fair question. It totally depends on what mood I'm in. Do I want something fun? Light? Serious? Scary? Something so well-written I'll give up ever being that good of a writer? Did I also mention I have a sieve for a brain? I can't remember what I read last week. Okay, how about I just make this a random list of books I like that I can remember off the top of my head? Did you see my answer about my inability to give a short answer?
1. The Anne of Green Gables series
2. Little Women
3. Anything Shakespeare (plays and sonnets)
4. Dee Henderson's O'Malley and Uncommon Heroes series
5. Terri Blackstock's Cape Refuge series
6. Peace Like a River
7. Okay, seems logical to put the Bible here, but to me that's kind of like saying I love oxygen and water. Pretty much a necessity. And probably a bunch of other books that if I'd just get up out of this chair and walk over to the bookshelves ... oh forget it.
* Ooh, almost forgot. It's not in print yet, but some of the best stuff I've read in a while. My Name is Russell Fink. Now what was the author's name? Hmm. Mike somebody? :)

Seven Movies I Would Watch Over and Over Again
By necessity, if I want to see a complete movie, I generally have to watch it over and over again because of the interruptions. I'm glad this question didn't say Seven Movies I HAVE Watched Over and Over Again, because they'd be mostly kids' movies. The background video to my life :)
1. Help! I can't even think of seven movies I like. And I don't generally like watching movies over again, though I do read books over again. Partly that brain-is-a-sieve thing. Partly cuz I don't get out much. Lots of sympathy here, please.
2. Okay, Ocean's Eleven was good. Didn't see the twist coming which is always a good thing.
3. Bourne Identity (nice plot)
4. Bourne Supremacy (Matt Damon's cute)
5. Merchant and Ivory films, mostly because I can't remember what happened in any of them outside of the fact that Helena Bonham Carter is in them and the costuming is good.
6. BBC version of Pride and Prejudice. Do like that one a lot
7. Remains of the Day. Liked that a lot.

Seven People I Want to Join in Too

1. Jenny Cary
2. Diana Brandmeyer
3. Julie Lessman
4. Paula Moldenhauer
5. Peg Rose
6. Malia Spencer
7. Sabrina Butcher

Monday, November 28, 2005

Thanksgiving Leftovers

Okay, I don’t have any real leftovers because I didn’t cook this year, but here’s a hodgepodge of thinly related stuff from the past week.

And before we begin, can I just say, it's FREEZING in Arizona? It was 29 degrees when I came downstairs this morning. I stopped running because my nose was burning so bad I thought it was going to bleed. No moisture in the air. All right, I know, I'm a wimp. It'll get up to close to 60 today, which is still really, really cold to me. And all of you who don't live in California or Arizona have no sympathy for me, I know. But I'll take 115 degrees in July over winter cold anyday.

This is the family picture we took Thanksgiving day at my in-laws. Everyone is actually looking at the camera, a first for us.

A note of bragging. I bet not too many of you went swimming on Thanksgiving. I didn’t either, but my daughter did. Eighty-five degrees in Palm Springs at my in-laws house. They heat their pool so the girls all went swimming. So the bitter cold today is just doubly insulting after such gorgeous weather.

And on a sad note: What is the world coming to? This next generation may already be lost. Thanksgiving Day at my in-laws, we were watching the Charlie Brown Thanksgiving special (forget the official title, I know that’s just terrible) when my niece asked her dad the names of all the characters. She only knew Charlie Brown and Snoopy. Now that’s just sad. I’m going to have to talk to Paul about how he’s raising his children. Surely he’s depriving him of great American culture if they don’t know the whole cast of Peanuts. Sheesh. It’s pretty bad when the adults are into the cartoon more than the kids.

Finally, one definition of insanity: taking your kids to the day-after-Thanksgiving sales. We stood in line for 45 minutes at one store. They were actually pretty good. And I got some cool new running shoes (which is what I went for) and finished a good portion of my Christmas shopping (an added benefit).

And next week, I might actually have something interesting to say.

Monday, November 21, 2005

Can I Get Some Directions?

Hey, if this fiction writing thing doesn’t work out, I could get a job writing instructions. Somebody needs to. I’ve been underwhelmed by the instructions I’ve read lately. I’m a reader. I figure I can learn just about anything I need to know by reading about it. But that presupposes someone can write clearly and intelligently about the subject. That might be asking a lot.

I was replacing the windshield wipers on my minivan, hoping for some great insight on how to perform this task without slicing my fingers to shreds like last time. The illustration is vague. The instructions say: Remove old wiper blade. Install new wiper blade. Brilliant. I had already deduced that, but thanks anyway.

So I keep reading. Ah, there’s hope. It says: turn over for more instructions. So I turn over. It’s the exact same instructions!

Someone needs a definition of the word “more.” It is not synonymous with “same.”

I figured it out anyway. Without blood loss.

Wish I could say the same about my adventure replacing our leaky kitchen faucet last weekend. I managed to bloody my lip on the garbage disposal. After banging my head on it. You’d think I would have remembered it was there. Big black thing hanging under the sink. Hard to miss.

All because I was trying to follow the first instruction: remove old faucet. That’s it. No clue on how to do that. So, using maneuvers that would have done a contortionist proud, I tried to use a flashlight and crescent wrench at the same time. You know, I’m just not that coordinated.

But despite my lack of plumbing skills, I managed to get the old faucet out and the new one in. The installation instructions were actually not too bad, until I got to this oxymoronic phrase “tighten loosely.”

Hmm. Okay. Being the girly girl that I am, I probably am only capable of tightening loosely. At least the diagrams were significantly better than the windshield wiper ones. And I managed to accomplish the job without flooding the kitchen. And now I have a faucet that doesn’t spray in three directions at once.

Think I’ll stick to writing. Seems safer. Less blood loss, at least for me. Can’t say the same for my characters.

Monday, November 14, 2005

Motherhood, Writing and Cupcakes

One of my biggest challenges is balancing being a mom and being a writer. Some days I do it better than others. So I was quite touched when I ran across this quote by GK Chesterton. Just ignore the references to British government.

To be Queen Elizabeth within a definite area, deciding sales, banquets, labors, and holidays; to be Whitely within a certain area, providing toys, boots, cakes, and books; to be Aristotle within a certain area, teaching morals, manners, theology, and hygiene; I can understand how this might exhaust the mind, but I cannot imagine how it could narrow it. How can it be a large career to tell other people’s children about the Rule of Three, and a small career to tell one’s own children about the universe? How can it be broad to be the same thing to everyone and narrow to be everything to someone? No, a woman’s function is laborious, but because it is gigantic, not because it is minute.
(What’s Wrong with the World, quoted in Captivating by John and Stasi Eldredge, Nelson Books)

The last two lines are my favorite because, especially when my children are small, I am everything to them. I am their world, and the import of that can be staggering.

One of the main reasons we moved to Arizona was to be able to live in a place where our kids could have a yard to play in, sidewalks to rollerblade on, and streets for bike riding. Because we had decided that I would stay home with the kids, I knew I wouldn’t be able to do that and remain sane if there wasn’t enough space to expand the massive amounts of energy my kids seem to generate. Wish they’d transfer some of that energy to me.

And over the past three years as various people have asked us if moving to Arizona was worth what it’s cost us, I’ve been able to say yes, if only for the sake of my kids … and my sanity.

My writing hasn’t been hurt, either. In California I had written zero books. In Arizona, I’ve just finished my third.

But for now, I’m going to go make cupcakes with my boy. Gotta celebrate finishing book three.

Tuesday, November 08, 2005

The California Adventure

We visited the motherland the other week. California, there we went. We took the kids to Disneyland and its related theme park, California Adventure, as an early Christmas present.

And it reminded me of all things I don’t miss about California:
• The traffic.
• The marine layer, that thick layer of clouds and fog that might burn off for an hour if you’re lucky. This time of year, Arizona weather beats California hands down. Now, ask me that again next July, and I'll have a different opinion.
• Snotty rich people who hate anyone with an out-of-state license plate. I really wanted to tell this one woman I had probably lived in California longer than she had, Arizona plates not withstanding. But I restrained myself.
• The traffic.
• Lack of Christian radio stations. In Orange County you have the Fish. That’s it. Here in Arizona I have KLOVE, AirOne and the Source. Don’t have to listen much to commercials. Yes, my minivan doesn’t have a CD player. I am deprived.
• Not being able to see the stars because of the marine layer and light pollution. The sky actually stayed the color of mercury vapor streetlights.
• Did I mention the traffic?

Things I miss about California:
Disneyland. When we lived in California, we had annual passes so we could go for a couple of hours, watch a parade, go on some rides, eat dessert and take sleepy kids home. Now, to get our money’s worth, we have to do the endurance version, 12-13 hours. Not so much fun. Still, the kids had a blast.

And, I never thought I’d say this, California Adventure. This is Disney’s attempt to encapsulate all that is great about California. It didn’t open to rave reviews, and in the beginning there wasn’t much for little kids to do. But this time around, I liked it better than the real thing. The Redwood Creek Trail replicates the redwood forests of northern California where I went camping with my family as a kid. And nostalgia, real or imaginary, is what Disney does best.

They also have this ride, Soarin’ Over California which is a hang-glider ride combined with an IMAX-type movie over the best parts of California. Reminded me of what I loved and missed about the state.

As long as I forgot about the traffic.

Still, I wrote 1,000 words between Redlands and the OC. Guess traffic’s good for something.

And last, but never least, I miss my old in-person critique group. One of my closest writing friends, Peg, met us at Disneyland, and she and I talked about writing for three hours while saving places to watch an amazing 50th anniversary fireworks show. Way cool. Almost as much fun as talking about writing.

Tuesday, October 11, 2005

The Changing Face of Arizona

I saw this from the second story looking out the back of my house the other morning. I thought it captured the changes this part of Arizona is going through. Our house was built on farmland, much like what you see in the picture trapped between our subdivision and the new shopping center in the background. Can't complain, though. We were part of the madding horde that left California for the better life of Arizona. Cheaper housing, anyway.

Friday, September 23, 2005

ACFW Conference--Goals are Good

I think this will be my last post on the ACFW Conference. While I haven’t run out of things to say, I think I’m running out of things anyone would want to read. Might be I’ve already passed that point.

But the blog will pick back up on the next stage of my journey to publication. When that happens, I’ll happily let you all know.

This summer I spent some time re-evaluating my writing goals, something I do from time to time. Which got me thinking about what my goals were for the upcoming ACFW conference. I finally settled on go, be professional, and have fun.

Okay, “go” sounds like an unusual goal, but in the weeks and days and hours leading up to the conference so many barriers popped up between the conference and me that just getting there was going to be an achievement. On several levels it would have made more sense for me to just stay home. But Peter and I were convinced that God wanted me to go. So I did. And left the details to Him to work out.

So one goal down, two to go.

Be professional. This really wasn’t a hard goal for me as it tends to be my default mode when I’m nervous. But as I thought about what I wanted “being professional” to encompass, I would have to stretch a bit as well. One of the big advantages of a conference is getting to meet and interact with other writers. I wanted to make sure I made the most of this, which would mean stepping out of my comfort zone and making the first attempt to start a conversation, to participate in workshops and meal time talk.

Actually, this wasn’t as hard to do as I thought it would be. Partly because I have a deficiency in adult talking time since I primarily spend time with my kids. Partly because talking about writing is just so darn much fun. And partly since my crit partner Jenny can talk to anyone about anything. Plus, having been in ACFW for two years and participating fairly frequently in the forums, a lot of names were more familiar. It didn’t feel like I was talking to strangers.

The final goal was a shoe-in.

I had a blast. I felt relaxed and in the company of good friends. The worshipful spirit permeated the conference. And I got to talk about writing. How much better could it get?

I’ll let you know when I get to the next leg of the journey. Until then, God’s blessings on you.

Thursday, September 22, 2005

ACFW Conference--My Place in this World

One of the things I’ll take away educationally from the conference has to do with what genre I write. As many of you know, my first novel was a historical romance. Then, when a publisher requested the completed, the editor asked for some changes, particularly to pick up the suspense level. Which I did and found I loved writing that way. When they finally declined on the book, I had already mapped out a contemporary romantic suspense series and began writing it. Even my crit partners agreed that I seemed to have found my niche and my writing reflected it.

But what to do about my historical and it’s half-finished sequel? I love those characters and stories and hate to see them languish on my hard drive, never to see the light of day. So all through the spring and summer I’ve been thinking about it on and off. What do I really want to write? Do I really want to commit to writing historicals?

One of the concepts that’s gaining momentum in this writing business is the idea of branding. Yes, your writing style can be “branded” in the same way a soda can be a “Coke” or “Pepsi.” Your brand helps readers know what they’re getting when they pick up your book. Are they getting a woman’s fiction from Deb Raney or a stay-up-with-a-nightlight Brandilyn Collins’s suspense?

Another idea that meshes with this one is the question of where CBA fiction is going. There will always be the “core” CBA, the traditional, conservative sweet stories that make up the bread and butter of the CBA. Historicals tend to fall into that category. But suspense stories tend to be more new territory for CBA. The CBA isn’t what it used to be and most publishers at the conference seemed to be open to expanding the idea of what makes up CBA fiction without crossing boundaries of language and explict sex.

So essentially I was straddling both parts of the CBA. My historicals, though with some suspense, were core CBA. But my new romantic suspense are more “new” CBA. And trying to write both would make it difficult for me to develop a brand.

One option would be to write both, but under different names and different brands. But that created two problems for me. One, I still have little kids at home and thus my writing time is limited. I couldn’t produce enough books for both brands to keep the publishers and readers happy. Two, beyond my two historicals, I only have a couple of vague ideas for historical stories, while I have a ton of suspense ideas. Three, nobody’s going to want to publish only two books for me.

So, finally everything clicked together and I felt myself sliding into a slot I had been moving toward for sometime. I’m a romantic suspense writer. Period.

Don’t know what will happen to my historicals. I’d still love for them to see the light of day and I have a few ideas along those lines. But even if they never do, they served a purpose in helping me find myself as a writer and develop my skills.

A noble purpose indeed.

Wednesday, September 21, 2005

ACFW Conference-company on the journey

It's overcast today in the Sonoran Desert. A rare occurance and one which reminds me of the few things I disliked about southern California. In Arizona, it's usually puffy white clouds, big thunderheads, or lotsa sunshine. Not much of this depressing overcast stuff that inhabits SoCal from May to July. Thought I had escaped...

On to the real stuff.

Writers are a fun bunch of people to hang out with.

I never realized how much until this past week at the ACFW conference. I’ve hung out with my groups of writer friends before. My old group from California (old, as in, I’m not there anymore) has always had good times. (Waving to Jeanne, Pat, Caroline, and Peg!). And I’m incredibly fortunate to have one of my ACFW Crit 19 members live only 45 minutes from me. (Waving to Jenny!).

I had gone to ACFW’s conference in Houston two years ago. And I’ve been to Mt. Hermon. But this year, coming to a conference where I had established relationships prior to the conference and then getting to hang with those people for five days was just on another level. To me, it was a taste of what heaven will be like.

Writing is a solitary business. It’s not something that can be done well in a group. For an example of that, check out suspense writer Brandilyn Collins’s blog. Scroll down to September 16, A Negligee Nightmare. A group of conferees sat with her one night to write a story. What a stitch!

But generally, we sit in front of our computer and write alone. And our own reaction to our work can range from: “This is perfect; I wouldn’t change a word” to “I should stop wasting my time writing this drivel” to anything in between. It’s hard to be objective about your own work. Add into that mix the fact that you already know your story front and back, and it’s hard to see what’s missing, what needs to be added, what needs to be taken away.

Thus, the great benefits of critique groups. I’ve been in both kinds: the meet-in-person type and the on-line type. Each is a different beast with pros and cons. And it can take awhile for you to find the right group or for the group to find itself. It’s an amazingly difficult thing to put your words, your baby, in front of others for the sole purpose of their telling you what’s wrong with it. But I don’t see that it differs much from getting your book published and releasing it to the public so people can write nasty reviews about it on Amazon. At least in your crit group, most of the time people have your best interests at heart and want to see you improve your writing.

But that kind of self-exposure creates the opportunity to bond. If writing is opening a vein and bleeding on the page, then your crit partners are the ones who appreciate and understand the bloodletting because they’ve been there themselves. There’s something about experiencing trauma together that bonds people.

So the Nashville conference gave me the opportunity to hang out with three members of Crit 19: Julie, Jenny and Greg. It was a blast. And it made me sad that we can only do that once a year, because hanging out with people who know you and love you, who understand the weird mind of a writer is like a refreshing oasis in the desert journey of solitary writing.

I also stumbled across another unexpected benefit. I took one of Gayle Roper’s fiction clinics. This is an intensive class where 6 or 7 people submit their work to each other before the conference to be edited by everyone. Then you sit in the class and listen to what they have to say about your work. A pretty scary proposition when these people are complete strangers.

But it wasn’t that way at all. For whatever reason, even though our group had a variety of writing styles, we meshed really well. We seemed to understand each other’s work and I got some of the most valuable feedback ever. It was a great experience. And even in a two-afternoon class we bonded.

So while I had known for a while how important it is to have other authors accompany you on this writing journey, this past week brought it home to me in living color.

Between now and next September in Dallas, may the threads of e-mail keep us joined until we can meet again in person.

Tuesday, September 20, 2005

ACFW Conference: It's all good

Please bear with me as I'm new to this blogging thing. But with the number of people I wanted to share my conference experiences with, it seemed as good a way as any. So join me on this blogging adventure. :)

It’s all good ☺
Couldn’t resist. That was one of the mantras of the ACFW conference in Nashville this past week. Depending on the intonation, you can put a plethora of meanings into that sentence. Kinda like “bless your heart,” the other mantra of the conference. Oh writers are a fun bunch to hang out with.

And God is good.

Back in the spring, I knew God wanted me to go to the conference. Generally, when my husband and I have the same idea, it’s God talking to us, that’s how different we are. So when Peter wanted me to go, I knew that was God. But we had no clue how I’d get there. Well, I received one of the conference scholarships, so that confirmed it. Peter has worked really hard since the spring, holding two jobs so I could have the money to go.

So, the Saturday before the conference when we were having my son’s fourth birthday party, I thought I was all set for the conference.

Until my crit partner called.

Her daughter works for the airline and she couldn’t find me in the system. I wasn’t worried. I had an e-mail with my confirmation, so I sent it to crit partner Jenny.

She called back. I was scheduled to fly out Wednesday.

I thought it was Thursday.


I don’t do change well. I can come around eventually, but it takes me some time to adjust. So at 12:30 AM I was calling the Sheraton Music City in Nashville to see if I could get my room a day early at the conference rate. I could.

Deep breath. Okay. It would put a serious crimp in the budget, but it couldn’t be helped. It was more expensive to change the flight. So I had to spend the money at some point.

Okay, we’ll be getting back to that, but fast-forward a bit to the conference. I’m a person who needs about 9 hours of sleep a night, more if I’m in a stressful situation like say, a conference. If I don’t, I get grouchy, cranky, achy, and generally am not fun to be around. I stare blankly at walls and can’t even remember my name, let alone what I’m writing. Such a wonderful state to be in when you want to impress editors and agents with how professional you are. I hadn’t gotten a lot of sleep leading up to the conference because I now had one less day to prepare than I thought. Then the first night I was there we had a fire alarm at 2:30 AM. Not to easy to go back to sleep after that.

It was only a precursor.

I had a five day slumber party.

God was good. I averaged five hours of sleep a night during the conference but amazingly felt—and looked, praise God!—well rested. As I had my quiet times each morning I told God how much I felt His presence literally holding me up and giving me energy. It was amazing.

I had so much talking to do with people I rarely get to see in real life that I hated to waste that time sleeping. It was great.

So, back to the paying for the extra night thing.

I didn’t.

The hotel, for whatever reason (I’m assuming the fire alarm), covered that night. My mentee bought my breakfast the next day, so the extra day in Nashville cost me nothing financially.

God is good.

More on the conference tomorrow.