Walking Through Fire

My debut novel is coming out next fall. That seems a realllllly long time away, but there are a lot of behind the scenes tasks that have to be marked off before a book is released. For example, I had to fill out this author questionaire while I was working on revisions. One of the questions was, “Who is going to read your novel?”

It sent me into a complete panic attack. Because…who IS going to read my novel? No one. And if anyone does, they will hate it for ALL the reasons or WORSE, it will be tepid and forgettable and even my friends won’t be able to make it past the first chapter and then they’ll avoid me because they don’t want me to ask how they liked the book. These brain weasels had me sitting on the kitchen floor crying. I put off tackling revisions because if I didn’t work on the story then it wasn’t my fault if someone didn’t like it, right?

I managed to bash the brain weasels and acknowledge that it’s true: NOT EVERYONE IS GOING TO LOVE MY BOOK. AND THAT’S OKAY. It’s honestly okay. There will be one-star reviews (oh please, don’t let there be one-star reviews). We all have different tastes in reading and tv shows and music. My agent believed in me. My editor believed in the story. My family kept telling me they were proud of me.

So, why DID I enjoy writing the book in the first place? Here’s my Top 10 REASONS THAT I LOVE MY BOOK (remember David Letterman’s Top 10 lists?). No spoilers.

10) The park ranger is subversive. He subverts the old order in favor of survival and then he subverts the new government. He recognizes the intent behind a certain territory’s fear rhetoric from the beginning. For such an affable guy, he really does have his own set of rules.

9) My protagonist is a mom. Her son is both her weakness and her strength. She would do anything to keep her son safe…including changing the world.

8) Greek mythology is popular. Most people are familiar enough with Roman, Norse, and Egyptian myth to advance in Trivia Crack. But, I wanted to dive into the cosmology of the ancient Sumerians and the stories that came from the Tigris-Euphrates river valley.

7) The world I’ve created has zombie horseshoe crabs.

6) It also has a Jewish motorcycle gang.

5) Cancer affected our family. It was real and scary and isolating and humbling. I understand why some readers would want to escape into fantasy and keep this disease locked out, but I admire cancer warriors and I understand their families and maybe seeing Adam with his bald head and his neutrophil counts and his resilient spirit will resonate with someone who needs to be seen.

4) There’s a dragon. A real-live dragon. She’s fierce and beautiful and selfish and cruel. You’re going to love her.  Just…be careful.

3) When I taught Intro. to World Mythology at University of Maryland, one of the essay topics was to compare/contrast Inanna (Sumerian) with the later Ishtar (Babylonian). I had a blast imagining how the Mesopotamian pantheon would manifest post-Digital age.

2) Adam is eleven years old. He’s a cool kid and I got to work with my own son through different drafts as we discussed what Adam might or might not do. Ultimately I had to save some of my son’s suggestions for the sequel because, without meaning to, Adam was taking away from Rachel’s story and trying to go off in his own direction. A reflection of my son entering the teen years?

1) The number one reason that I love this novel is because it is imaginative and wild and a little unruly. Like a first born child, it is surrounded with the energy and excitement and expectations that come before a parent has really experienced that insane sleeplessness of having an infant or handling a toddler tantrum in the grocery store. I have a lot to look forward to: the cover real, the book launch, the first book signing. My goal is to keep the brain weasels muzzled and enjoy the moments.

Bonus: I think it’s funny that I can’t call Walking Through Fire by its initials.

I hope you enjoy Walking Through Fire, but you won’t have to avoid me or make excuses if you don’t. I promise not to ask for proof that you’ve pre-ordered (unless it is part of a promotion), or ask if you’ve read it,  or what you think. (But, I’ll appreciate it if you leave an Amazon or Goodreads review.)




Turning into a Farm or Research?

It’s the middle of summer and I have seven children in the house, the dog in a bedroom upstairs because he keeps barking at one of the children, and two rabbits in the laundry room because it is 97 degrees outside and bunnies, as you know, don’t like temps over 85 degrees. Also, one of the bunnies might be pregnant, but that’s not why she’s mean. She was mean before. That’s why she lived in a chicken coop. But now she lives at my house.

I’ve been working on a contemporary novel about a woman who runs an animal rescue and somehow real life and writer life are overlapping. How else to explain this?

And these?

Some pigs strolled through my backyard. Seriously.

And, finally, why would I have a rooster show up in my garage?

These pictures all have stories and they may or not make it into my novel, but there are other parts of animal rescue. I had to research pit bull fighting. Here’s the book that was most affecting.

The Lost Dogs: Michael Vick’s Dogs and their Tale of Rescue and Redemption

What I read made me angry and horrified and sad and proud. Yes, PROUD. The animal control officers who were told not to accuse a sports celebrity, but did because it was the right thing to do. The men and women at rescues all over the United States who worked tirelessly to save the dogs: rehabilitating and teaching these abused animals how to be dogs again. Loving on them, training them, believing in them. Acting on Gandhi’s famous quote, “The greatness of a nation and its moral progress can be judged by the way its animals are treated.”

I salute those who, like my character, give their life to make this world a better place for animals. I had the opportunity to attend a fundraiser for Luna’s House, a rescue in Maryland, and get a glimpse into the amount of work that goes into running a rescue.

I need to hurry up and finish this draft because there’s a chapter where a zebra appears and I….I don’t think I have any more room in my house!

Hope you are enjoying your summer.



Fear of the Week

Hey Friends,

Just wanted to give a quick update on my own private NaNoWriMo. I made the last goal so I’m at 20,000 words. The way I’ve been doing it is a hybrid method. That is, I’m not writing every day because that doesn’t work with my schedule. Instead, I’ve set aside a week where the writing is the number one priority and gotten 10K words. Then I had to stop and make up all the things I didn’t get done. Then I did another week of 10K words. I’m about to start on my third week.

One of the things that some of you might say is, “Lame. The whole point is to write every day until you get 50K. Taking breaks isn’t NaNoWriMo. You’re a cheater and I don’t care about you.”

Okay. That’s a little harsh, but fine and fair. And, this is my version. Whether or not I’m doing it wrong, I have learned that there is a specific fear associated with each week of writing.

Also, to come back to that whole “lame bit” here are some of the things I’ve done the past two weeks to make up, catch up, and try to triage to prepare for next week long sprint:

One Times: I finished my Christmas Letters. (Now are you getting how overwhelmed I am?)  My daughter Evelyn participated as a cancer survivor in the “Pantene Beautiful Lengths” experience by cutting the ponytails of students donating their hair to be made into free wigs for cancer patients. Dog had to go to vet to get nails clipped, and fresh orders of heartworm preventative and flea/tick meds. Lime disease is terrible in Maryland. Son had to go to orthodontist. He needs braces.  I went to Baltimore for critique group at the Baltimore Science Fiction Society. Had several stories come in from The Potomac Review that I need to read and get responses back to editor. I called my senators about the cuts to the EPA.

Regular: Post office, bank, drycleaner, grocery store, laundry for six people, I wrote my bills, went through mail I hadn’t looked at in over a week, and then the sports. This is the overlapping of winter and spring sports. My son is regular basketball, all-star basketball, lacrosse. My oldest daughter finished her volunteer hours at the horse stable and then started Track and Field (which is EVERY DAY that I have to pick her up from school). My little ones finished science club but still have gymnastics. They also have birthday parties to attend on the weekends. I wasn’t teaching as many classes this week, but I had to finish the session with all the attending paperwork to be filed and moved around.

Now that I’ve been nice and defensive, let me throw away all the little sticky notes that I write my daily to-do lists on and tell you about FEAR.

The first week fear is: DO I HAVE A NOVEL IN ME? That is, you’ve thought of a premise, you’ve got a hook and a setting and some characters, but do you have enough for 85K words? You kinda know what’s going to happen, but what if it all happens too quickly and this is only a short story?

The only way to get through this fear is to try it. Take a deep breath and keep asking “what if.” What if my character wants A, but then B happens? What if my character chooses to do something stupid when someone else has A and doesn’t appreciate it? What if my character gets A, but realizes she wanted B?

The second week fear: THIS ISN’T INTERESTING. I’ve got too many characters, too many pets, the conflict isn’t threatening enough. All my sentences are subject-verb-direct object with no variety so that EVEN MY SENTENCES ARE BORING.

That’s okay. I’ve read NaNoWriMo pep talks. The authors all say the same thing. You can’t edit something that you haven’t gotten out of your head. You must get something onto the paper and then you can change it around. Also, this writing is so fresh that you are not a reliable indicator of whether there is an engrossing story. You’ll need beta readers and TIME.

As I’m getting ready for my third week (tomorrow is an elementary half-day so kids are getting home as I’m getting home from teaching yoga and my son has three basketball games Saturday because they are in a tournament and I teach Sunday School on Sunday morning, but after that. Monday, March 6th)…

I have another fear: THIS ISN’T WORTH IT  All those things I listed above that I had to get done so that I could write something that no one is ever going to want to read. My premise is stupid, my characters forgettable. I’m stressed and irritable because I have no time and it’s all going to be forgotten, recycled, a waste of paper.

Maybe I’ll have some insight after I make it through this writing week. But, this one seems to be the hardest to fight because I KNOW I’m out of balance. My day, each day, is scheduled down to ten minute intervals and that is not how I want to live. I’m nervous when practice schedules don’t come in ahead of time because I am constantly doing logistics. I’m short with the kids when they want to play instead of sticking to the schedule. I live in the minivan and dread dinner because I didn’t have time to make anything that they’ll all eat. The situation makes me very unhappy.

My guess is this is where the author says he or she had to dig deep and have confidence that the novel will help other people, that the story will connect and resonate with others.

I don’t know. We should have an answer by March 13th.




NaNoWriMo Retry


It’s been busy and there have been a lot of distractions in our private lives as well as the political sphere. Life was so chaotic that I didn’t even send out Christmas cards this year and that makes me feel like a really bad friend/family member. But, my daughter Evie did have her fourth year anniversary of stopping chemo, my husband and I did get away to NYC to see Hamiliton to celebrate our anniversary, and we did go to France to see our friends get married. All the bad stuff I’ll leave in 2016.

In November I started the National Novel Writing Month challenge. If you haven’t tried this, it’s really well-run with social networking, graphs of progress, and emailed pep talks. Still, I failed with spectacular success. School was cancelled what seemed like every other day and then we traveled for Thanksgiving. So, I’m starting again tomorrow, February 1st. My plan is to write 1,500 words each day for a total of 42,000 new words. To help myself, I’m making a Top 10 list of PITFALLS TO AVOID if you want to win a NaNoWriMo.

  1. Don’t have four children. Well, too late for that. Solution: Honestly acknowledging that I can’t write from 3pm -10pm because I will be making snacks, checking homework, hounding about cleaning up messes, and driving to various activities. And, seriously, after 10 pm I’m too tired anyway.
  2. Don’t check Facebook or Twitter. I admit to being swirled around by the election results and the past eleven days of nominees and executive orders. I do believe in action — phone calls about issues and donating to charities that I feel are especially vulnerable — but I’ve wasted hours reading articles and cross-checking info and reading status updates and generally getting caught up in an extended panic mode. All I’ve ended up with are anxiety headaches. This doesn’t help anyone. (I will, however, continue to remain informed because I believe in the great American experiment in democracy).
  3. Don’t ignore the small successes. Writing is a hard business. I sold two stories this month: “Breakage” to Abyss & Apex and “Saving Money” to Flash Fiction Magazine’s anthology. That feeling is going to have to carry me through the rejections (six in January).
  4. Don’t have a nice lunch. I get tired of making breakfast, packing lunches, making afternoon snacks, making dinner. ALL THE TIME FOR SO MANY PEOPLE. So lunch by myself is sometimes the only time where I can eat what I want to. It’s my treat. Unfortunately, that takes time. So on school days, for February, I’m giving up my nice lunches. Instead, I’ll have a vegetable soup that I can make on Sundays to last the week. (Will this be the first “pit” I fall into? It might be).
  5.  Don’t let trainwrecks at the day job eat into your time or consume your thoughts. In November I was training a new teacher and creating the schedule for the next session and doing time sheets and a million other things. This February, fingers crossed, nothing unexpected should be occurring. I can go in each morning, teach class, and be out.
  6.   Don’t let blog posts, short stories, or other projects take priority. Ummm, guilty. Posts are good — they connect a writer to other writers, to readers, and make the author produce content. Short stories are good. They are a chance to improve craft, get feedback more quickly, and finish a project. I also have a “secret” creative project I’m working on that takes a couple hours a week. Good is good, but it’s not the best. This month I need to PRIORITIZE my novel writing. I want to be a novelist. That has to come first, even when I’m tempted to revise a short story (because revising is EASIER) rather than creating that first draft.
  7. Don’t hate yourself, yell at yourself, or try to go back and read parts of the first draft. Yes, it’s going to be crap. Yes, there are a ton of parts that need to be fleshed out and plot threads that went nowhere. That’s okay.
  8. Don’t be a martyr. Your kids won’t care. Seriously. You drive them to basketball, gymnastics, indoor soccer, after school activities. YOU EVEN DRIVE THE OLDER TWO KIDS TO THEIR VOLUNTEER ACTIVITIES. You can go to the writing conference weekend in February. You can go to a critique group meeting in February. These are ways to recharge and become inspired by other writers.
  9. Don’t do any major household renovations. Obviously some things are out of our control (lightning strike anyone?), but I can’t concentrate when I have strangers walking into and out of my house. We’ve recovered from the strike, the upstairs carpet has been replaced. NO MORE PROJECTS.
  10. Don’t stop exercising. I’m lucky that I teach exercise classes — strength training and yoga. I also walk my dog. But when the plot won’t hold together, when you don’t know what happens next, I suggest taking a walk or getting on the elliptical, whatever you need and get your brain in a calm, relaxed state so that solutions can flow.


That’s all I got. It’s 3:02 and my daughter is rolling her eyes because I asked her to walk the dog and my son is complaining about the cereal selection for his snack.

Do you have any advice to get meet your writing goals?



Happy Birthday

Happy Birthday to me! To celebrate, I offer you flash fiction. This piece was accepted by a publication, but then the publication ran out of funds. So, rather than submit elsewhere, I’ll share with you.

The prompt from my AFCG buddies was “blockage.” Enjoy!

The Great Blockage

Helen later recalled it was her neighbor Tim who had the idea. Trash collection was only once a week and that wasn’t enough. The community’s cans overflowed. Wind swept through the street and the cans fell over like toy soldiers, plastic bags sprawling out of the openings like drunkards passed out in a doorway. Large birds would swoop down and tear at the bags with determination. Stray papers and egg shells, broken cups and worn out toys would scatter every which way. No one wanted to pick up the debris, the nasty little crumbs of each other’s lives.

Then, during a community picnic over the summer, Tim suggested they make their own trash pit. A grass-covered slope near the cul-de-sac would be the perfect spot. A common area intended as an emergency water overflow hold, the slope was already bowl-shaped. Delighted, the community citizens couldn’t wait. They grabbed the nearest trash of chicken bones, paper plates, red cups, and popped balloons from a children’s relay and lined up in a parade to march to the common area. One little girl, not to be left out, ripped off her Barbie’s head and then joined the parade, waving the body and head in separate hands.

Without being told the community members knew what to do. They stood along the rim of the bowl and, one by one, threw their trash into their new pit. It worked. Nothing blew out or scattered in the street.

“What about the birds,” asked Helen.

“I’ll get a net from the store. Spread it across,” said Tony, a man who lived across the street and two houses down.

Tim’s wife seemed uncertain. “But I don’t want anyone to see our pit.”

Several of the community members nodded.
“Trees,” suggested Helen. “We can plant trees along the rim.”

And so it was decided. Helen priced trees at the store and brought back numbers to the group. After much debate, hands reached into pockets and purses and an amount was collected to purchase a net and one tree. Helen was disappointed. She’d imagined an impressive ring of oaks or birches with their silvery bark. With the community’s money, she’d only be able to buy a regular old redbud.

Although disappointed, Helen took her task seriously and purchased the tree, marked down because it was fall. One of the neighbors dug a hole on the rim and then, with Helen’s help, broke up the root ball and settled the tree into place. Helen watered the redbud to get it established. They’d need the tree’s branches to provide privacy because the pile of trash had continued to grow.

All through the winter the people of the community brought their soup cans and take out containers, drink bottles and worn out shoes. In the spring the tree extended its branches. Leaves unfurled. Buds appeared. Helen had done a good job of watering it. And then, when it was time, the flowers budded. Whispers spread through the community and everyone came to see. The flowers were doll’s heads, a wadded up test with a red “F”, and little Jimmy’s half-eaten hot dog from a month before.

Nervous laughter moved through the crowd.

“Its roots grew down into the pit,” said Tim. “The tree is sucking up our trash.”

No one had a solution, but the problem went away. Or, it became less important. The “flowers” eventually withered and fell back down into the pit. And, if there were uncomfortable moments such as when the tree bloomed the credit report of the Smiths, most of the trash was indistinguishable, one family from another.

And then the flowers stopped. The last tennis shoe on the end of the highest branch fell off and into the pit. The tree’s trunk began to grow, to bulge. The children claimed they could hear gurgling sounds such as one would hear in a father’s belly after a big meal.

The community called in a tree doctor. He came with a stethoscope and listened with a grave expression. He shook his head and said there was nothing he could do.

A month passed and a smell emanated from the deformed tree, a rotting, putrid smell. And then the bark split open and a thick black goo oozed down the trunk.

“It’s got a blockage,” said Helen. “It tried to suck up something too big.”

The tree began to shake.

The people gathered around to watch the shaking tree, the oozing tree, the tree that smelled like gangrene. And then a rumbling began in the ground, working its grinding way up the trunk, forcing its way until a black volcano erupted, blowing off the top branches.

“A tire,” said Tim. He seemed rooted to the spot. His hands were clenched in fists. “It tried to suck up a tire.”

“Run,” yelled Helen.

Black droplets of partially digested rubber rained down. The community members ducked and ran, trying to get away from the exploding tree, but with the blockage gone, more kept coming: dirty diapers, mail order catalogues, raked leaves, and sour milk cartons.

Most people had taken shelter in Tim’s house because it was nearest to the common area. They stared at the community in amazement. All the trash, everything so carefully held down by the net had been sucked up by the tree’s roots and made its way out of the redbud’s ruined top. Trash, thick and wet, littered the yards, the pools, the streets. The tree, finished, lay split in half on the rim of the pit.

“I bought it half-price,” said Helen in amazement.

“This is your fault,” said Tim. “Can’t buy a half-price tree and expect it to do the job of a full-priced one.”

Tony, from two houses down, finished the bag of chips he’d been eating while watching the show. Crumbling the bag into a ball, he tossed it into the trash.

Running Out of Gas

When I was 16 years old I had to share a “lemon” with my older sister. My kids didn’t know what a “lemon” was when I mentioned this the other day and I tried to explain how horrible an olive green station wagon with faux wood panels was…especially to a new driver in the throes of teenagedom where one doesn’t want to stand out. My parents thought it quite a joke. They bought a key ring with a picture of a lemon. In case we didn’t get it, my sister and I, the word “Lemon” was written underneath the picture. Thanks.

(BTW, my middle-aged sister worked her butt off at McDonald’s and bought herself this teeny-tiny adorable car that she jetted around in, driving with concentration, her visor at the correct angle to account for her curled and hairsprayed bangs)

I digress. The point is, I hated this car. And, I didn’t have a lot of money. So, I’d put whatever money I had into the gas tank, drive it around, and then turn it over to my older sister. She did the same to me until one day I was driving and pushing the gas pedal and yet, somehow, slowing down. The cars passed by on my left. I assume the drivers gave me a quizzical look as I grabbed the wheel more tightly and began rocking my body, trying to get that car to move forward.

It went slower. I pulled over to the side. The gas needle was very clearly on E. I got out, left the keys in the car (who would steal it?), and walked to my friend’s house. From there I walked home. My older sister wanted the car, demanded to know where it was. I told her. “Over on Route 22. You can’t miss it.”

What I remember is that sensation of pushing the pedal, but slowing down. The actual action of running out of gas. My character Rachel experiences this. She’s given everything she has in trying to save her son. She’s asked to give more and she does until she physically collapses, the voices around her sound muffled, her vision is blurry, and she collapses.

Has this ever happened to you in real life? It’s happened to me twice in the past month. Yes, I know, that doesn’t speak well to my learning my lesson. I was always stubborn. But, I also struggle with being a people-pleaser. I WANT people to like me even though I rationally know that my desire is INSANE. I say “yes” to too many things.

Teaching an adult Sunday School from Lent to Easter.

Parent helper for the Elementary Science Club for five weeks.

Teaching seven fitness classes a week.

Running a household with six people: laundry, lunch packing, dinner making, homework checking, projects, grocery shopping, shoe shopping, gathering too small clothes for AmVets, buying little gifts from the “Valentine Dove” (yeah…that’s a different story).

Classroom mom.

Supporting my son’s basketball obsession — playing both rec and travel and against the walls of my house — and driving my twins to gymnastics, and keeping track of my daughter’s horseback riding lessons.

Walking the puppy in the freezing cold and rain because he is potty trained and we AREN’T going to regress.

AND I WAS REVISING MY NOVEL WITH A DEADLINE. You know, my personal dream that I’ve been chasing for years.

I was running out of gas, pushing as hard as I could, cutting out anything that wasn’t directly related to work. There was no time for friends (oh, and I gave up Facebook for lent so I didn’t even have that pleasure), no time for reading, no time to enjoy my kids, no time for myself. No time!

And then I was done. I smacked into depression and I no longer had a choice. I had to cut back. That is, I could only do the bare minimum to function. My husband noticed. “You’re such a drag,” he said. My son noticed, “Where’s your sense of humor?” My twins noticed, “Mommy needs a massage!”

But no one stopped me from running out of gas. I was mad — everyone was willing to take from me, but no one was ready to take care of me. I was mad at other parents. Why doesn’t someone else step up and do something about starting middle and high schools later? Why aren’t there more volunteers at church so I don’t always feel like I have to “step up”? Why can’t the kids make themselves an after school snack without completely destroying the kitchen?

Here’s the thing. We’re all responsible for ourselves. Yes, it’s nice when we have a partner or parent or friend who is tuned in enough to advise “slow down” or who will make a nice dinner or give a gift to “fill the tank.” But, we have to take responsibility and not get so low in the first place.

I started doing little things. My husband watched the other kids so I could take my oldest daughter to the nail salon. She got a mani, I got a pedi. It sounds silly and frivolous, but it made a difference. I was doing something because it was fun.

Here’s a list I’m making for the next time I get out of balance, start giving faster than I’m filling. I will take care of myself with:

  1. Real food. When I’m stressed and running from task to task, my eating habits drop. Solution: Turn to veggies and hummus, crock pot recipes, and fresh fruit.
  2. Exercise. My job is to exercise right now. But, in hindsight I should have called in a sub for help and let myself rest.
  3. Sleep. I don’t think I’m the only one to try to get more done in a day by staying awake for longer, but it will catch up to you. Lack of sleep makes you feel hungrier, less able to focus, and more emotional.
  4. Less caffeine. Again, I don’t think I’m alone in drinking coffee to make myself move faster. Same thing. I need rest, not more fake energy that leaves me feeling unable to focus, dissatisfied and impatient.
  5. Physical. I just rescheduled my dentist appointment from December.
  6. Mental. It sounds crazy, but even when you are revising, read a book. I fell in love with books and piling up “to be read” when I finished my “work” was actually harming me. I wasn’t getting the stimulation to my brain and imagination.
  7. Social. Yeah. I had coffee with my across-the-street neighbor this week. First time we’ve done more than wave since December. Yes, she’s a busy mom and artist (photographer) and I’m a busy mom and artist (writer), but we have to make time. Relationships are important.
  8. Family. Spending time with your family that isn’t the “business” of life. My niece came by. She’s on her spring break. It made me so happy to talk to her and then watch her with my kids. Cousins rock.
  9. Look at pictures of adorable animals.  St. Pattys Happy St. Patrick’s Day!
  10. Fun. This is probably the hardest for me. My husband too. We both work hard and push aside activities that are “only” fun.

Do you have any ideas for ways to fill your tank so that you don’t “run out of gas?” Would love to read about them in the comments below.


Still Revising — a conversation

Hello, Friends.

I’m still revising. The good news is that I’m in the final act. Here’s my favorite sentence:

If Scott was right that energy paths ran across the lithosphere of the earth connecting land forms and significant natural monuments, and Emesh was right that the earth was overflowing with antediluvian energy activated by Shamash’s dying body, and The Weatherman was right that energy was the key to understanding the post-firestorm changes, then…Rachel’s mind stopped here. She didn’t know exactly what it meant, except that this LaPorte place was something like a nuclear reactor.

It gets readers all on track for Act 3 when everything both falls apart and pulls together, based on the clues and action in the preceding acts. No pressure.

Here’s my bad news. IT’S HARD. You want everything to SHINE and MAKE SENSE and just because a scene is fun or develops character, it doesn’t get to stay. It has to WORK. And sometimes that’s hard to decide.

I agonized over a chapter (chapter 30) this weekend, used my agent’s feedback, talked to everyone I encountered about it. Then, I send my revision off to my critique group. We meet this Friday to discuss and exchange notes.

This morning I realized that I can cut the scene. Just cut it out. Skip the agony. Boil the scene down to the three things I need to keep and move that to a different chapter. But, I’m scared. I’m over-thinking. WHAT IF THAT WAS THE CHAPTER WITH ALL THE BRILLIANT WRITING THAT READERS WERE GOING TO UNDERLINE ON THEIR KINDLES?

(It isn’t)


(If they haven’t by chapter 30 then you have a problem that revising chapter 30 isn’t going to fix)


(There are many languages used in this world. Many languages that have been used. Many that will be. Are you going to have each one represented in this particular novel? You might want to check both the word count and your readers’ patience if this is your project. Instead, maybe concentrate on the story?)


(Yeah, that’s called revising.)

Next month when I post, I hope to tell you that I’m finished revisions and have sent to my agent….then I get to attack my next novel that is almost there. It just needs some….wait for it…revisions.



Character Development and Revision

Hi Friends,

Happy Holidays. Be safe. It seems like December, for a month devoted to peace on earth, is awfully stressful and full of angry people. Maybe that was just the lady in the car next to me last night while we were stuck in a traffic jam. Please don’t be that lady.

I’ve advanced through the QUERY TRENCHES into the COURTYARD OF REVISIONS. I’ve pulled up a little bench and waved at my new comrades. Some of them I recognize from the DESERT OF DESPAIR. Too much Pilgrim’s Progress, literary style?

Anyway, I’ve been working through my agent’s revisions. First, I really appreciate her thoughtful and insightful questions and comments. The concrete suggestions were, in many ways, easier than the overall questions: How can you weave Adam and Rachel into the bigger story of what’s happening? Why are they important?  And, of course, the character arcs.

So, here’s my confession. I made a mistake at the beginning. The conceit of the novel was: What happens when an ordinary mom and boy who already have medical problems find themselves in the middle of an apocalypse. The story grew from there. I answered questions about what caused the firestorm, what the world looked like after, started stringing images together. What I didn’t do was make my ordinary mom a real person.  That was a mistake. Yes, she is not a superhero in a world taken over by ancient gods, yes, we see her acting and reacting in the new setting, but my wonderful critique partners pointed out this week that they don’t KNOW Rachel any better than they would know someone they work with or someone in their class or a neighbor that you wave to. That is, they’ve seen the outside of Rachel, heard some interior monologue, felt the love she has for her son, Adam, but aren’t FRIENDS with her.

Huh, I said.

All the mannerisms. All the stomach holding (stress has her on the verge of ulcers), all the headaches (verge of dehydration due to lack of self-care and lack of clean water), all the jaw clenching when she’s scared. They don’t have meaning. They are actions that don’t reveal character. ANYONE could do those things.

“So what does she DO?” I asked.

Like sages on the mountaintop (I have a very wise literary critique group), they told me only I could answer that. I frowned at them. Because I wanted a quick answer. I’m on track to get these revisions done by the end of January. I’m ready to move on to my other novel. I’m ready to work on short stories for awhile. I don’t want to go back and do character exercises.

Then they frowned at me.

“Fine,” I said. Which leads to 35 Questions to ask your character. We did something similar in Jeff and Ann VanderMeer’s writing class, but my friend Sarah is not here to interview me pretending to be Rachel. Guess I’ll be talking to myself. Which I do anyway, so now I have an excuse.

Here’s an example:

  1. What trait do you (Rachel) most deplore in others?   Being devious and complicated, keeping secrets
  2. What is your idea of perfect happiness? Culture. I love food, music, art, concerts, perfume, fancy clothes, and snuggling in front of the fireplace with a movie at home.
  3. What is your greatest fear?  Failing. I’d rather quit rather than fail. I feel the pressure to succeed and it creates such anxiety that I give up. Like art school. I quit and changed my major to art history. I never opened the gallery in New York like I planned. I never even tried. I blamed the death of my parents, but I know I wimped out.
  4. What do you like about yourself? I like my curly, auburn hair. It secretly reminds me of John William Waterhouse’s painting “The Lady of Shalott.” Did I mention that I’m a hopeless romantic?
  5. What is the trait you most deplore in yourself? I second guess everything, trying to figure out what to do. I know it makes me look indecisive. I hate it, but I’m afraid of messing up. I need time to figure it all out.
  6. Extrovert or introvert? Definitely introvert. I’m reserved with strangers, modest, and need alone time to work on my drawings. It’s how I figure out what I think — by letting my work come through my subconscious.
  7. What do you most value in your friends? I value loyalty and honesty. With my friends, I can make fun of myself, relax, and drink some wine. After Adam was diagnosed, Nurse Naomi became my best friend because I could always count on her to tell me the truth and because we were on the same journey: save Adam’s life.
  8. What is the quality you most like in a man? A man who can appeal to my senses. I want candlelight, romance, and a phone call or letter after the first date. I want to be swept away with emotion, but it will take time and effort from him! I don’t like drama, but if he can convince me to choose him…I won’t change my mind.


The list, of course, has a great many other questions, but you get the point. Fell0w writers — would love to have you answer some of the questions from your character’s POV in the comments.






Self Care and Reading List

It’s about halfway through summer and, if you are at all like me, you were so excited for the school year to end — no bus to catch and no homework –and now you’re getting a little snippy, a little rundown. YOU need a timeout. One minute per age. In a corner with no distractions and no one yelling for you.

You’ve been taking care of your kids — balancing your work with childcare, packing for the pool, trying to take a beach vacation that doesn’t include sharks or man’o’wars, eating ice cream, picking blueberries, movie nights, ice skating to escape the heat (rain if you are in Maryland), more ice cream. And the errands. What used to take you forty minutes now takes you hours and much coaxing (come on, Johnny, one more store. Do it for Mama).

Take a moment and check in with yourself!


1) Did you drink water today?

2) Have you eaten today?  Was it more than the remains of your child’s breakfast?

3) Did you get enough sleep? (I hear all my friends with young children laughing wildly. I have four kids. I get it. But grab a nap when you can. Even put your feet up and park it for ten minutes.)

4) Spend time with nature.

5) Physical touch. Get a massage. Exchange foot rubs with your honey.

6) Write in a journal. Whatever is happening will not last. Release your angry feelings or capture an endearing conversation.

7) Practice yoga or take an exercise class to combine work out and socializing.

8)Put away your phone. Trivia Crack will be fine. The game gives you two days to answer. (clears throat) Or so I’ve heard.

9) Do something that makes you feel pretty. For me it’s a pedicure. Don’t judge. I can handle a lot of things if my toenails are painted.

10) Have you read a new book? Have you given a book to a loved one?

I can help with this last one. Some recommendations by age:

Ages 7-12.

My story “Mama Salamander” was published in the July issue of Spaceports & Spidersilk This story came to me quickly, based on an incident in my youngest’s school cafeteria. I read the entire issue with my 7-year-old twins and they enjoyed all the stories and poems, especially the one about Zaxx the “human.”

Zita the Spacegirl graphic novel

Secret Science Alliance graphic novel

Diary of a Wimpy Kid Series

Odd and the Frost Giants by Neil Gaiman (We’re reading a chapter each night. What isn’t to like about a boy on his way to Asgard to help the Norse gods against frost giants?)

Young Adult

My son loves Brandon Sanderson and we’ve both read The Reckoners series (Steelheart and Firefight). I’ve heard there’s a reveal for Calamity coming out soon…and the book will be released in early 2016.

Juggler’s Blade by Rob Ross (Sequel is coming out in the fall)

Fablehaven Series  (Our copies are beyond dog eared)

The Paladin Prophecy Series by Mark Frost (I haven’t read these, but my son keeps checking them out of the library).

Bone Gap by Laura Ruby (magical realism mystery. I’m looking forward to reading)

Becoming Jinn by Lori Goldstein (my daughter has read this, but I haven’t yet. A story with a modern spin on wish granting genies.)

Cruel Beauty by Rosamund Hodge  I enjoyed this twist on Beauty and the Beast. Nyx Triskelion has known for most of her life that she must marry Ignifex, the “Gentle Lord” who terrorizes her world, due to a bargain her father made before her birth.


Adult Nonfiction-y

Wild by Cheryl Strayed  The true story of a woman who hiked the Pacific Coast Trail by herself to escape her inner demons, but ended up facing them.

Searching for Sunday  by Rachel Held Evans (I bought this on recommendation from Glennon over at Momastery. I look forward to reading it)

Adult Fiction

JEFF VANDERMEER  That is all.  No, I’m just kidding (no, I’m not). His Southern Reach trilogy is a treat in surrealist mystery. Annihilation, Authority, and Acceptance.

Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell by Susanna Clarke (I’m about to start, but a little intimidated by all the footnotes).

Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel. National Book Award Finalist. I’m excited to read it. Devastating flu pandemic, a small troupe of actors and musicians, and a violent prophet…in a story that moves back and forth in time.

The Girl on the Train by Paula Hawkins. Everyone is talking about it — comparisons of unreliable narrator to the feeling of Gone Girl.

The Fifth Mountain by Paulo Coelho. Religious fiction of the biblical prophet Elijah.

The Mirror Empire by Kameron Hurley. Cover says, “A smart, brutal, and ambitious epic fantasy.” An orphan evades death to uncover her bloody past against the backdrop of civil war. Brilliant reviews on Amazon.

The Water Knife by Paolo Bacigalupi. I heard Paolo read an excerpt at Capclave last fall and have been waiting for the book release.The American southwest has been decimated by drought in this near-future thriller. Here’s the Amazon last line: But when water is more valuable than gold, alliances shift like sand, and the only truth in the desert is that someone will have to bleed if anyone hopes to drink.

Okay. You should all be able to find something on this list. Practice self-care and I wish you relaxation and enjoyment for the second half of summer. Let me know in the comments if you’ve read any of these or plan to….or give me some suggestions to add to the list.






I had to be convinced to drive down to D.C. for Capclave 2014, by both a member of BSFS and by my husband.  It’s that blend of mothering and writing that burns beneath this entire blog.

And yet, I am so glad I went. After I arrived, the guilt dropped away and I could enjoy the workshops, interviews, and readings. Also, Capclave  –the Washington, DC literary science fiction convention — was my first conference dedicated only to speculative fiction. It was a productive, inviting day of professional development with outstanding guests of honor:  Paolo Bacigalupi , Holly Black , and Genevieve Valentine.  It was also the first time I saw a public hospitality suite.  Very nicely hosted, Washington Science Fiction Association.

I was part of Saturday’s evening reception.  Yes, my name is misspelled.  No, I don’t care. The spelling on the check is right  🙂


BSFS Contest Winners


Tom Doyle (wsfa) and Karlo Yeager (bsfs) prepare to give awards.

Tom Doyle (wsfa) and Karlo Yeager (bsfs) prepare to give awards.

Me accepting the award -- I think I'm doing okay at this point.

Me accepting the award — I think I’m doing okay at this point.

An audience member asked the name of my winning story.  I blanked.

An audience member asked the name of my winning story. I blanked.

I remembered.  "Very Happy and Very Productive."  I am adjusting my shirt -- apparently to show that I'm back in control?

I remembered. “Very Happy and Very Productive.” I am adjusting my shirt — apparently to show that I’m back in control?

It was an altogether lovely experience and gave me a renewed appreciation for the need for writers to gather together to improve craft and be inspired and for those mothers who must travel while their children are young or who work outside the home and are crippled by guilt.  Moms!  You are providing for your children.  Either as a breadwinner or as a model of a happy, passionate human being. Feel free to say this back to me!

To be gone for Saturday, October 13th, I had to miss:

1) my son’s soccer tournament , 2) my three daughters’ soccer games (and reserve babysitter, luckily they were all local) 3) my niece’s senior homecoming, and 4) a restaurant dinner with our niece from Germany who was going home after visiting us for two months.

This answers, I believe, my statement in the previous post that I would sacrifice a chicken to get into a prestigious literary journal.  It’s not chicken blood that’s required.  It’s time.  Blocks of time to work, a sense that writing is a mission not a hobby, even, sometimes, important family time, and the faith that the story, novel, essay needs to be told.  The blending of mother and artist…

Much love,