Behind the Scenes: My Writing Life

millwdgraphicfindoutGoing From Word One to a Career as a Novelist

To help celebrate National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo), Webucator (a national training company) asked me to answer some questions on my writing life. If you’ve always wanted to write a novel, it isn’t too late to try it this year, sign up with NaNoWriMo and give it a whirl.
What were my goals when I started writing?
I started writing very young. I wrote plays for my sisters and I to perform, and I had a sixth grade teacher encourage me after I submitted an essay on a disastrous bread baking episode (the dough bubbled and leaked from under the bowl while it was supposed to be rising). Mostly, I just wanted to share my stories with others. Even when I wrote for my high school newspaper, and took creative writing in college, I didn’t think about actually being the kind of writer with books on the library shelf. It wasn’t until I was 20 that I decided I wanted to see a story of mine published, but I never even considered giving up for more than twenty minutes after a particularly stinging rejection. My very first published (not written) novel, The Fairy Tale Bride, is free on all platforms, to thank the universe for letting me share my work with readers.
What are my goals now?
Now that I am able to self publish my work, I have set a goal of writing a million words between September 1st, 2014, and December 31st, 2014. I have two new series I want to launch strongly in the 2015. I know it seems like an odd goal, considering the quality vs quantity debate we writers often hear about, but the truth is that I’ve neglected the writing for the business side of being an author for too long. I have dozens of stories that I’ve been carrying around with me, some for more than two decades. Getting them out of my head and drafted onto the computer is  a luxury I probably can’t afford for more than the rest of 2014. I’m really enjoying myself, but trying to set hard deadlines and word counts to keep myself on target has been extremely challenging.
What pays the bills now?
My bills are paid by my self-publishing income, and have been for several years now. I was fortunate to have the rights to seven books in my traditionally published Once Upon a Wedding series reverted to me back in 2010. Those books have paid my bills, and allowed me the luxury to try my Million Word Adventure. I also have a husband with a real job, so pesky things like insurance are not a consideration for me, at this time. I will admit that I am never motivated to write by money. In fact, the thought of being paid sometimes puts a throttle on my creativity (or, as I said, make me focus on the business end more than the creative side, which is one reason I came up with the Million Word Adventure).
What advice would you give young authors hoping to make a career out of writing?
I was a writing instructor for a dozen years, working with adults of all ages who were finally willing to take the plunge and become a writer. Most of them dreamed of supporting themselves with their writing.
My advice is the same, no matter the writer’s age: read, write, edit, revise, and — a hard but critical step — submit your work to others for feedback and judgment.
When I first began teaching, the traditional route (agent, publisher), was the only route possible for anyone without a strong sales and marketing background, so it was easy to focus on craft issues (strong storytelling, good grammar, knowing the likes and dislikes of prospective agents and editors). Now, self publishing has introduced the ability for an author to forge her own path directly to her readers.
That freedom comes with a responsibility that traditional authors did not have to bear alone — making sure the story being told is as strong and well-edited as possible, before releasing it. There are days (usually new release days) when I miss knowing that my publisher had taken care of the editing, cover design, formatting, etc. I have built a good team around me, but still, I am responsible for it all. Exciting times, but stressful too.
That’s why I always add a new bit to my advice nowadays:  to make a career out of writing, you must be willing to let your book out of your hands, and into the hands of readers. Whether you choose to use an agent or a publisher, or hire your own editing and production team, you need to get your work into the hands of readers. There is no other way…although I do love Science Fiction and technology and I can imagine a time when we can simply transmit our stories from one brain to another. Won’t that be cool?

New Cover for License to Shop is Ready!

Million Word Adventure Paying Off

The draft of License to Shop, the second Secret Shopper Mom Mystery is almost done. Pushing myself to write a millions words is paying off, even though I’ve had a lot of obstacles, and am behind in my overall goal.

My hope was that pushing myself would also push me to be more creative, take a few more chances, and avoid my tendency to be a safe and rule-oriented writer. I think it’s working. I absolutely love License to Shop. Who better understands identity theft than woman who is a mom, a wife, a mystery shopper, and an amateur sleuth? Figuring out who she is under all those labels is a full time job for Molly Harbison.

A special thanks goes to Margaret Rushton, who lent her pooch Jasmine to be the model for Molly’s new puppy. Having a real dog to use made it easy to turn the puppy into a member of the Harbison family.

I love the new cover that Hanna Sandvig made. What do you think?


The book will be up for pre-order next week, and on-sale December 1st.

Sign up to my newsletter for giveaways. I’ll be doing several over the next few months.


New Cover Reveal: Blood Angel

Finding the Perfect Cover is One Part Persistence and Two Parts Luck

I’ve been meaning to get a new cover for my YA dark fantasy Blood Angel for a few months, but there have been so many other things on the to-do list….

The last two weeks I’ve been in cover-creation mode (stay tuned for a sneak peek at the cover for License to Shop, the second Secret Shopper Mom Mystery, and the gorgeous cover for my soon-to-be released short story, “Maiden Ash”).

While looking at covers to get ideas, I stumbled across one that was perfect for Blood Angel (I think).


What do you think?

Just in case you didn’t know, Blood Angel is available for free in the Kindle Unlimited program, and is free for anyone on October 31st as a Halloween present. A chilling tale perfect for a dark autumn evening, if I do say so myself.

picture of various objects, million word adventure

Week 4 of the The Million Word Adventure


Week 4: Celebrating a Birthday and a Milestone

So this is week 4 of the The Million Word Adventure. Wow. I have learned a lot about how much I have let interfere with the writing the last few years.

Lessons (re)learned:

  • When you show up to the office, work gets done (duh, but I always need reminders of this one)
  • Sometimes when I make myself write a scene I’m not sure of, something wonderful happens and it turns out to be the key to the whole book (turns out the identity theft crime in License to Shop is absolutely perfect for a university town, in multiple ways).
  • When one story starts to stall, there’s always another one waiting in the wings to work on.
  • A little research goes a long way. I learned the color of silkworm eggs, how the FBI handles identity theft, and the nutshell history of human warfare, and used what I learned to deepen/improve three different stories.
  • I drink too much coffee.
  • It takes time to create a new habit, especially a “write 10,000 words a day” habit.
picture of various objects, million word adventure

Can I do it? Can I? Will you help?


Monday was my birthday, and the first day of tutoring for the semester, so I did a little less writing than a typical Monday.

Got nice flowers and a card from my husband, cards from friends, greetings from family and then later we went out for dinner to celebrate after the hectic day (first day back at tutoring after the summer break always makes me feel like a newbie again).

If you want to say Happy Birthday, you can do so by showing me a little support with a Tweet, Share, or newsletter subscription (see how on The Million Word Adventure page).

Next newsletter goes out Friday, and will have a surprise in it (hint: will finish draft of Maiden Ash tonight — at last! — Which means reward time for my newsletter subscribers).

kinked hose

Failure is Not an Option

Writer’s Block Is More Like A Kinked Hose Than a Brick

kinked hose

I knew setting myself a big goal like The Million Word Adventure (write a million words in 4 months) was going to stir up the Doubt Dragons big time. The DDs this week are about the size of wasps, but there are thousands of them, with the same clouding, stinging effect of a disturbed hornet’s nest.

I have done many unnecessary things, while listening to a running narrative of “I have to write 10,000 words today. I have to.”

In the first two weeks, I have not hit my daily word goal even once, and I missed my first weekly goal. Some people might see failure looming and give up, but I’m not one of them.

I was blessed with a gigantic helping of optimism in the face of reality, but also the ability to recognize reality (yes, leads for a very interesting internal debate whenever I try something new like this).

 Reality Bites

Going in, I knew the reality was that I have been actively avoiding the actual writing for several years. I’m telling the stories over and over in my mind — in the grocery line, driving, fixing dinner. If I lived in the future, where you only needed to think the story to get it on the page…no, I’m sure at that point the DDs would find a whole new way to trip me up.

 Bad storytelling vs Good storytelling

So far, I’ve been telling myself a lot of stories to justify why I’m not meeting my goals every day.

I’m warming up (true-ish; runners don’t run 20 miles the first day they begin to train for a marathon).
I’m organizing (ha!).
My uncle died (true, and I did spend three days traveling back and forth for the memorial — and telling family stories)
I’m not good at recognizing the impact of listening to the DDs until the end of the day (soooo true)
Bottom line: I still have a lot to learn about how to make myself stop listening to the DDs and sit down and write.

The Truth Shall Set You Free From Doubt Dragons

One way to slay my DDs (or at least slip them a Mickey) is to tell the truth instead of using the half-truth response. I used a lot of those when dealing with questions about my writing in the past. If I was behind in my word count, I would cheerfully deflect questions with, “I’m having such a blast with this new plot twist I added.” Or “I’m wrestling with a plot element that just isn’t working.”

These would be true statements, but would prevent me from sharing the bald truth that I was 10,000 words into a 100,000 word novel and the deadline was so close only a miracle would allow me to make the deadline (miracle=very long days of writing non-stop and one day shipping to get the book to the editor on the day it was due; many other writers can relate, judging by the stories we swap at conferences).

The motivation that helped me deliver my books on time was a deadline backed with teeth. If I didn’t make that deadline, someone would be inconvenienced, if not downright disappointed. And I’d have to pay back the advance if I didn’t finish the book.

But I don’t have a traditional publisher now, so the deadlines are of my own making, and have no teeth. My critique partners are other writers who are more relieved than disappointed when I don’t slap another book on the virtual table for them to interrupt their own lives to read). My editors have plenty of other clients to fit into any slot I don’t take.

I’m sure I’m not the only person who knows that deadlines make goal setting easier, but it is the sharpness of the accountability teeth (the scale when you’re trying to lose twenty pounds for that wedding, the running group when you’re training for a marathon, etc.) that prevents you from giving up when the DDs attack.

Bite Me

So I’m issuing a call to action to anyone who wants to hold me accountable and help me beat back the cloud of stinging DDs: subscribe to my one of my newsletters (the general one, or the 1MWordAdv specific one). Let me know there are people who will be disappointed if I let the DDs win.

I will be celebrating benchmarks and milestones by giving away prizes, as I’ve already said. BUT, when I don’t make a weekly goal — I’ll be giving away a $5 gift card (winner’s choice of iTunes, Amazon, or B&N) to someone on either my newsletter lists, on my Facebook Page, or a Twitter follower.

This week, I’ll be doing a giveaway on Friday, and all my newsletter subscribers, as of that date, will be eligible for the $5 gift certificate drawing.

I still have until Sunday at midnight (EST) to make the second week’s deadline.

I’m going to do it.

But if I don’t, my Facebook fans are going to get a chance at a $5 gift card next Friday.

Take that, Doubt Dragons.

Home is Where the Adventure Begins

doublerainbowHome At Last!

I am home, at last, after an entire summer away, having a big adventure. My husband and I drove across the country, from Maine to California, and back again.

We stopped to see sights both iconic (the Petrified Forest) and ironic (The Jolly Green Giant statue). I have pictures to prove it, and I will share them soon.

I even got to travel the Trans-Canada highway for the first time ever (highly recommended; there are many places where you can stop and just take a break by the water).

We managed to help one son transition from East Coast to West Coast into a long-coveted job, and spent quality time with our grandson.

We had a blast living in San Francisco in a furnished sublet, able to walk to the ocean/bay in any direction we wished.

Unfortunately, I did not get nearly enough work done, especially not writing work.

I have so many travel stories to share with you on the blog, in addition to continuing the Secret Shopper Mom Mystery series with License to Shop, the next Molly Harbison mystery shopper novel. Not to mention the new YA fantasy serialization I have been outlining and working on for a couple of years now. And the thousand fairytales I have planned to retell to go along with the world building in that fantasy series.

If I run out of steam on any of those projects, I have two non-fiction projects outlined, plus the first book in another YA series outlined. The only possible way to fail is to get stuck in a procrastination-doubt-indecision loop. The same loop that has been slowing my production for the last few years.

I’m determined not to let that happen.

So, with our summer adventure behind us, it is time for me to get serious about another adventure:

picture of various objects, million word adventure

Can I do it? Can I? Will you help?

The Million Word Adventure

On September 1, 2014, I embarked on plan to write a million (1,000,000) words by midnight, December 31st, 2014.

Yes, I did say a million words in 4 months.

No, I have not, in the past, written a million words in a year. Ever. My tops for a year was probably 600,000.

Yes, other writers have done this. A few (see Dean Wesley Smith)

No, it won’t be easy for me to break all my bad habits, slay all my doubt dragons, and get a million words (NEW words, not the ones already done on several of these projects) written.

I’m looking for support from anyone who wants to offer me an “Attagirl!” (read on to find out how)

Read more

Meet Illustrator Hanna Sandvig


The Ex-Files book cover

 Illustrator Hanna Sandvig Talks Drawing and Cover Design

I’m so excited to feature the talented Hanna Sandvig, of Book Cover Bakery, on the blog today. A few months ago, when I wanted to re-do the cover of The Ex Files to match my new Secret Shopper series, I had to find an illustrator. Luckily, I came across a reference to Hanna, who has now designed two covers and two trailers for me, with two more covers yet to do. I debuted the trailer for The Ex Files yesterday, and if you want to be the first to see the trailer for Shop and Let Die, sign up for my newsletter and you’ll get a sneak peek on Friday.

Read more

New The Ex-Files Has a Trailer

Every new cover needs a trailer

I’ve already revealed the new The Ex Files cover, but now it is time to reveal the trailer that talented artist Hanna Sandvig did for me.

Isn’t it cute?

I’ve never been able to draw anything other than princesses (circle faces, bell-shaped skirts), so I’m always envious when I see someone else’s artistic talent. But this time, I got to help create it.

Later this week, I’ll share an interview with Hanna, and maybe give you a sneak peek into our working process.


Mother Nature’s Storytelling Prompts

Devil’s Rock and the Giant Bear

devilstower picture

One of the most frequent questions that writers get is “Where do you get your ideas.” Most writers I know scoff at that question. I don’t. I am as interested in that question as any reader.

My ideas have come from overhearing a conversation, mishearing a phrase (The Salem Witch Tryouts, for example), watching a movie and wondering would what have happened if the a plot choice had gone a different way….in short, there are story prompts for writers everywhere I look. I have notebooks full of them, and I’d need to write for a thousand years to write them all.

I visited one of Mother Nature’s story prompts in Wyoming on my most recent trip out to visit The Best Grandbaby In the World™ in the Bay Area. Devil’s Tower has been inspiring stories for ages. The Arapaho have one, the Cheyenne have one, the Crow, the Kiowa, and the Lakota. They all feature a big bear, making scratches on the rock. And, like most storytellers, every tribe’s story is just a little different.

Me, I wondered why this particular natural wonder inspired so many stories. My trips out west have taught me that there are so many wondrous formations ready to inspire story in travelers. So, here’s my contribution – Devil’s Tower is formed in the same way as many other western natural wonders – carved by rainwater washing away softer rock to leave only the igneous. Most times, the striations this causes are horizontal. At Devil’s Tower, they are vertical. The perfect prompt for a storyteller’s imagining of a giant bear with giant claws trying to reach something at the top of Devil’s Tower (which many of the Native Americans called Bear’s Tipi, or Bear’s Lodge).
Can’t you just imagine the generations of Native Americans camping out under the stars at Devil’s Tower, weaving their stories about why this formation is different from the others?