Thursday, February 26, 2009

The End

Until the first of many....

...let there be celebration.

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Oh the Places You'll Go...Part 2

In this post, I promised secrets contained in the pages of my latest complete novel, The Night Caller. Mind you, none of these are Earth-shattering or subject to a confessional, but they do reflect just how much of ourselves writers put in their stories.

Burger Boy
Though I changed the official name from Big Boy to Burger Boy in my story, the shellacked behemoth statue rising up out of the suburban landscape plays an important role in my main character's backstory. Of all the restaurants I went to as a child, this one left the grandest impression. Maybe it was the juxtaposition between the tropical, plant-filled, sky-lighted, decidedly non-diner interior and the fashion-challenged creepy boy out front that seemed to laugh at passersby and say, "I dare you to eat one of these and not get my gut!" Poor Burger Boy is destroyed in my story, along with Thousand Island dressing perfection.

The Talbot Building
Not satisfied to merely know it was possible for someone to graduate from Boston University's School of Medicine in 1881, I set out to find the exact street its building was located on and the names of a few graduates from that class who went on to become Boston doctors. Here is a sketch as it existed then. The classrooms would have been in the left building, the hospital on the corner. Satisfied? I wasn't either. How can I recreate a scene there with only a sketch? A little further digging produced this photograph. The Talbot building still stands today and houses the School of Public Health. Now that I can sink my imagination into.

The Sacred Scene
The Night Caller contains a scene toward the end that makes me cry, without fail, every time I revisit it. It happened when I wrote it and three of the five times I've come upon it for revisions. I was superstitious to change anything for fear the magic spell would be broken, so I passed over it completely the last two times I edited. I hope readers feel the same.

Love Scene Hypnosis
Some of you might remember my post on self-hypnosis. The setting of The Night Caller's final love scene was taken directly from those research tapes I listened to in high school and never forgot (the setting-not the luuuuve--geez, people). Evidence of the powerful and enduring effect of hypnosis on the mind.

I could write a hundred instances in this book alone: foil-wrapped chocolate bars I sold to neighbors, the Georgetown train depot I stood in when I was eight, the hard rock Evan listens to, the names Henry and Hank, the gas station on a Sunday morning. How can the person I've been not be everywhere, in all those places that pour out onto the page? I suspect even science fiction writers who weave their own worlds still manage to inject the places within into their stories. It is at once frightening and exhilarating to know we've exposed so much and offered up almost everything to reach that moment of connection to a reader.

Tomorrow: I believe in celebrations. Why wait until a book is sold when we have almost no control over the alignment of the planets? BYO favorite drink (or drink recipe) and we'll usher in the weekend with a cybertoast.

Monday, February 23, 2009

Oh the Places You'll Go...Part 1

This week, I'm prepping my latest novel The Night Caller to enter the world. This means pouring over a canary-yellow pad scratched with those vile echo words, seeking them out using Word's Find feature(LOVE it); and yes, utilizing an actual Thesaurus to select alternates. So far, the word brittle is a three-time offender. Now I must decide if brittle best describes the black and gray waist-length hair of an elderly neighbor, pages of an antique journal or one of those nebulous character moods I forever run out of fresh ways to capture.

To kick off this ultra satisfying week for me, I thought we'd resurrect my original opening line from the FastDraft days. You might need to rub Ben-Gay in the nostrils like those crime-scene detectives. This one is foul:

Even his own breath reeked of psychosis. Stale from exhaustion and hours-old Jamaican Blue Mountain coating his teeth, Evan Braun’s urgent, but intimate encounter with the oak door spiked an inferno against the sweat sheen above his lips.

First, and most obvious perhaps, is the unintended proximity of my lead character's name to Adolf Hitler's mistress. I'm sure my subconscious filed Eva Braun's name during some AP History class in high school or while watching The History Channel. My intent was to imbibe my hero with a characternym: Braun=tough, strong. FAIL.

Second, and likely equally disturbing, was the suggestion that my character was not merely staring through a peephole, but humping the door. I guess intimate encounter resides firmly in the mind's gutter, at least in the minds of my beta readers. FAIL.

Third, and lesser known, I'd assumed everyone roaming the world knew Jamaican Blue Mountain was coffee. It could be alcohol or lizard piss used for medicinal properties. Specific is good but dangerous what-the-hell? territory. FAIL.

So there you have it. The not-so-glistening, dependent-clause happy, constipated hook at the story's inception.

Wednesday: Part 2: Secrets in the pages...

Friday, February 20, 2009

Symptoms of Discontent

Some days a cohesive thought just doesn't come. Some days I sit down to blog and find my words take me down winding, not entirely unexpected, gravel roads. Today is one of those days.

News is grim. Worry is prevalent. I wonder how self-absorbed I am when I'm preoccupied with word count and the family down the street is struggling to pay their next grocery bill. I justify the dalliance of fiction as a necessary commodity in hard times. An escape. To an extent, it is. I remember feeling the same way after September 11th. The fiction I write, not the slash-your-wrists-Oprah-pics, are stories about overcoming adversity. Hope and love. Who can't use more of that? But is it enough?

I lived in rural America for a time in the 90s. My generation's curse, the hunger for more and faster, was a rampant symptom of my discontent. I was a city girl on a crusade to inspire my students to so much more beyond owning the local Dairy King and driving combine harvesters someday. But after fifteen years of falling victim to theft twice, countless incidents of vandalism, city corruption and breathing in everyone else's pursuit of the fast lane, I think those students taught me more in return. How awful would it really be in the hard times forecasted ahead to live where I have the space to start a garden and have the option to walk to a store? Where fresh corn comes from a neighbor's acreage, not from a farmer's market I had to spend $2 in gas to get to. Where I might actually share a glass of lemonade with my neighbors instead of worrying about registered sex offender rumors. Is the reshaping of my values a product of media-fueled fear or a romanticized notion of how life should be? John Titor may have been a nutjob hoax, but is there not a grain of truth in everything? Maybe he represented more wish than inevitability.

Last weekend I went to see Gran Torino. I'd always respected Clint Eastwood, but he'd flown under my girly-not-of that-generation radar until his memorable performance in The Bridges of Madison County. After Gran Torino, he's pushed aside some of my previous top ten favorite actors and stepped firmly to the forefront. In a quiet, almost-vacant theater on the cusp of what probably amounts to the movie's final week at the box office, a powerful cinematic experience unfolded. Rarely do films leave me with a gift. This one left me with a golden ticket of perspective. The intolerance I had toward small town life manifests itself now into the frustration I have toward relatives who live by the same creed as Walt Kowalski, Eastwood's character. I've heard more racial slurs dropped at family gatherings than potato salad on the carpet. I'd dismissed them as the grizzled after-burn of a life lived without happiness. But in the two hours that unfolded during that film, I saw my own intolerance and was saddened. This movie resonates with so many because Kowalkski gives voice to everything we are afraid to say and think and do. He is a modern day hero of our discontent and an increasingly collective longing to return to the basics: family, honor, love.

I don't profess to know what's around the corner and there are still days when my Pollyanna-self struggles to see the glass half full. But if I didn't have an unyielding faith in the human spirit, I wouldn't strive to explore it through writing. Fiction reflects life. The most fertile inspiration is yet to come.

Next Week: The final countdown to THE 90,000 word, fifth draft END. Like a shower to present this babe to the world, I'll bring those horribly ugly first snapshots for everyone to lavish with disingenuous oohs and ahhs.

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Curiouser and Curiouser

This image caught my eye because of the reference to time, but the more I become absorbed in the background, the lighting and shadows, the more it speaks to me. I've tried to locate the artist to no avail. For me, it brings a relevance and sense of the present to what I had always dismissed as a Lewis Carrol's drug-induced euphoria.

Still in the rabbit hole of edits...

Monday, February 16, 2009

Glistening Awards and Yellow Snow

I received two much-appreciated awards last week from Vesper-she of the beautiful prose and poetry that should already be published. I found Vesper's blog nearly six months ago, and there isn't a week that goes by that I don't treat myself to the haunting beauty of her work: quiet and unassuming, still waters really do run deep. The caliber of her writing makes these awards even more special. Thanks, Vesper.

Though I am challenged with anything beyond German, I'm told this award means Light in the Soul. Must be all the romantic notions bleeding through the sarcasm.

I wish to pass this award on to The Walking Man. He is the kind of prolific I wish someone would develop a pill for. The candor and rawness in his writing never fails to strike a resonating note. Always there is an echo of all that is good.

And, apparently now that The Vortex is considered fabulous by at least one person, I can now remove the word fabulous from my list of never-use pretentious terms.

I pass this award along to Pam because her blog convinces me that when we meet up this Summer in D.C., we'll discover that we've actually been friends on a parallel plane all along.

This is me on my edits. Friday, when company came, my lightning-fast downhill rush to the end took a tumble. Today: taxes. Might as well be yellow snow, right? Tonight: back to edits.

Hope everyone has a great start to the week!

Friday, February 13, 2009

Everything I Need to Know About a Woman's Heart I Learned From a Romance Novel

Our week-long celebration of love and romance concludes today with the wealth of information found between the pages of a romance novel. Men are forever trying to figure out a way to pluck the right emotional string to reach that mystical realm of a woman's heart. It's hardly mystical, often uncomplicated and intuitive. Men need only to look to the heroes who populate romance novels for a compass. Who else but women who write for women are experts at the vast terrain of a feminine heart?

Romance Heroes understand there are regions of a woman's heart he may never see. A woman's collective experiences form a deep labyrinth of emotions: worry, hurt, triumph, truth, and thoughts she shares with no one. Heroes know that with respect and patience, a map to navigate the maze becomes apparent.

Romance Heroes are gentlemen. Chivalry may be a dead art in modern society, but the romance hero knows simple gestures place them at a serious advantage over other red-blooded males. This can be difficult terrain, especially for women who embrace feminism with an iron grip, but even a woman with a strong sense of her modern role in society can grow weary at times.

Romance Heroes recognize strength is not measured in pounds or arm-wrestling trophies. While heroes may be good at setting course for a specific goal and reaching it, women burden themselves with details and sacrifices and the whole of life such that they become the very fabric that allows others to reach their goals. Heroes never doubt there is a strong woman behind every great man.

Romance Heroes do not have body functions. Only the dicey romance writer will expound on his need to take a piss (ahem...guilty. The Lost Highway), but on the whole he is far too preoccupied with saving the heroine, child, world to engage in pull-my-finger antics. This is why he gets the girl and the only ones who appreciate your armpit noises are your drinking buddies.

Romance Heroes are out saving the world. They live by the others before self creed. They rescue dogs from hot cars, women who drop their purses, elderly who need a seat and step up without being asked.

Romance Heroes never smother. They're diffusing a bomb that could annihilate the entire northern hemisphere. They don't have time to call a woman's cell phone seventeen times a day.

Romance Heroes embrace defining moments. When called upon during emotional peaks that life dishes out to us all, they react with character and integrity. They know their legacy carries on after three hundred pages.

Romance Heroes are scarred. Some of the best heroes in romantic literature are less-than-perfect men who sport limps or disfigurements. It is the same reason the Beauty and the Beast legend has been reinvented in alternate forms for centuries. Yes, some women like the idea of taming that which cannot be tamed; but mostly, we understand a hero is not always found beneath a Hollywood face.

However you decide to celebrate Valentine's Day (or not) this week, I wish you all one glaring moment of peace where you feel the love around you and give it back in return.

Kim Lenox's second book in her Shadow Guard series, So Still the Night will be a May 2009 release. Kim's books are perfect specimens to study the ideal dark alpha hero. Love her writing. LOVE it.

Monday: Double blog-award day!! Thanks, Vesper.

Thursday, February 12, 2009

The Perfect Celebration of Love

Three legends exist about the origin of St. Valentine's Day:

The first involves a man named Valentine who secretly married young couples during the Roman Empire. At the time, the Empire forbade the rite of marriage to lure all young men into the army and away from sentiments of the heart. When Valentine's crimes were discovered, the Emperor banished him to prison.

The second involved a man imprisoned for his underground work with Christians. While in confinement, he fell in love with the Emperor's blind daughter and healed her sight. Legend has it, he wrote a letter to the young woman prior to his execution signed, "From your Valentine."

The third legend tells of a man named Valentine who was known to lavish children with flowers and sweets. Upon imprisonment with other Christians of the time, the children he'd impacted with his kindness tossed notes through the prison bars to him.

Hard to compare to a saint, isn't it? These romantic ideals are of another time and place, but certainly we can become a Valentine for the one who has captured our heart. Here are some discovery questions designed to help you leave behind someone else's idea of Valentine's Day and create your own:

Q: What is something your Valentine sacrifices to be with you? Can you, if only for a day, give it back to them?

Q: What is the one thing your Valentine has always wanted to do/learn/be? Do it. Give your Valentine the tools to learn it. Help your Valentine become it.

Q: Without obligations, where would your Valentine's interests lie? Take away those obligations for a time. Pursue that interest with your Valentine.

Q: Quiet your routines, your surrounding responsibilities, the noise of life. What is the true essence of peace for your Valentine? It's there, in the stillness. Sometimes we can't see it for all of life's clutter. Give your Valentine that peace.

Q: What is one thing you'd never do for your Valentine? Do it.

Tomorrow: Everything I Need to Know About a Woman's Heart I Learned from a Romance Novel
Art: A Painter's Honeymoon by Lord Frederic Leighton, 1864

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Time Spent on Love

"Any time not spent on love is wasted"
~ Torquato Tasso

Ah, if only the world would equate love with time and attention, not gifts, how much different we would all be. Commercialism choking the life from holidays would cease to exist, and we would be able to experience depth and meaning in our celebrations.

Time is the greatest gift one can give to another. To spend something so precious we never get back on another is the supreme expression of love and compassion. The gift of time transcends romantic love, St. Valentine's Day, even familial love. Find time today to love a stranger. An hour dedicated to shoveling an elderly neighbor's sidewalk. Ten minutes to offer a weary traveler a seat on the subway. A moment to compliment a stranger's eyes. Any time not spent on love is wasted.

This week, seek out expressions of time to celebrate love. Here are some ideas:

Ransom Notes
Select one item with special significance to your Valentine. Hold the item for ransom at a romantic location and send one or a series of ransom notes that lead your Valentine to a special place where you'll be waiting. Piece together your own notes from cut magazines/newspapers or visit this site (being near-Rickrolled is an added bonus here!)

Around the World
Is there a place your Valentine has always wanted to go? Recreate that destination for them using one room in your home. Ask them to bring their passport and stamp it upon entering. Provide a feast native to that place and enjoy it together.

Love in a Bottle
This idea takes drawing a rose-petal bath for your Valentine to a new level. Take time to pour your heart out in a love letter, place it inside a corked bottle and float it on the surface as an added surprise.

Recreate a First
Think back to the firsts-the first moment you saw your Valentine, the first hour you spent together, the first time you realized you were in love. Go back in time and recreate a precious first.

Progressive Love Dinner
Make a multi-course dinner for your Valentine. Serve each course in a different room, even if the special spot consists of a blanket and candles. Finish with dessert in the bedroom.

Dancing In
Slow-dancing provides a touch point to love. Going out is great, but taking the time to plan a perfect evening in is even better. Dress to the hilt, share your finest meal and dance.

Romantic tip Hmmm of the week: place rose petals on the ceiling fan blades above the bed. Turn on the switch to shower your Valentine with petals.

Are we in Texas? Because down here those blades are set to gale force. Decidedly unromantic and potentially funny. Your dust bunnies may like it, though.

Tomorrow: Questions to Generate Ideas for the Right Valentine's Celebration For You and Your love.

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Love Packaged

Poet Rupert Brook had a philosophy about love. He believed that before great love can enter a man or woman's life, there must be a sensitivity to simple things. One must appreciate the beauty of the practical and plain, for in those lies true beauty.

It is in the simple we break free of lofty expectations and disappointments that mask true emotion. In the understated, we find love's true resonating message. To that end, a few gift suggestions for your Valentine Rupert Brook would be proud of:

Jar of Love
Find a jar around the house, large or small. Fill it with slips of paper containing poetry, lyrics, special memories, notes of adoration. Instruct your Valentine to reach into the jar when he/she has had a difficult day or just wants to feel closer to you.

Memory Box
Shadow boxes provide the perfect framework for a memory box and can be found at most craft stores. Raid your drawers for trinkets, concert stubs, photo booth strips-anything that evokes a shared memory.

Love Puzzle
For next to no cost, you can take a favorite photograph of you and your Valentine to a photo mat and they'll convert it to a jigsaw puzzle. Piece together the puzzle in advance and write your love message on the back.

Find Your Symbol
I once read a story about a man who wrapped a pin designed with multiple-butterflies in a box with a note to his love that read, "These are the butterflies you gave me when we first met. I thought you might want them back." From that moment on, butterflies became their resonating symbol. Revisit special memories and seek out objects or icons with special significance.

Engraving From the Heart
Instead of purchasing new jewelry this Valentine's day, have an existing piece engraved with a special sentiment, a secret name, even an inside joke.

Twelve, One at a Time
For those who love to give roses, why not give them one at a time throughout your Valentine's day? Leave them in surprising places, alone or with a note of endearment.

Tomorrow: Time-Love expressed in thoughtful moments

Monday, February 9, 2009

Love Celebrated in Quiet Moments

"I love thee to the level of everyday's

Most quiet need, by sun and candlelight."

~Elizabeth Barrett Browning

Life is noisy and messy and chaotic. Love shouldn't be. It is in the stillness we find the rhythm of true love. In the quiet, a cadence shared. A hushed concert known only to two.

If you're looking for that perfect quiet to share with someone you love this week, try these ideas:

A Walk in the Snow
If you live in a cold climate this time of year, snow captures a poignant stillness in ways few things in nature can. Select a destination spot with plenty of snow. Ahead of time, make the trek and write your Valentine a message in the snow. Red spray paint works well, but an environmentally-friendly alternative could be strong Kool-aid or food coloring in a squeeze bottle. Be sure to bring a blanket and thermos of your Valentine's favorite hot drink on your journey together.

Look to History and Nature
Every place on Earth has romantic settings: lighthouses, beaches, secluded riverbanks, turn-of-the-century churches, abandoned barns, docks, rowboats, small town train depots. Anywhere love was found and lost in history already carries an imprint that has survived through time. Anywhere nature breathes couples can reclaim our own breath, together. Pack a secret stash of quiet items to enhance the setting: a candle, a blanket, a meal shared, a love letter.

Love in a Fog
Write a love message to your Valentine on the glass shower door using Rain-X Anti-Fog. Let them discover it in a quiet moment of solitude.

Love Letters
If you do anything romantic this Valentine's Day, let it be to skip the commercialized Valentine aisles and cards that belt out songs. Love letters are quiet, crafted in moments of great attention to your Valentine. For the $4 you'd spend on a glittery For-My-Spouse-Hallmark, you can sneak into the craft store and buy a single sheet of extravagant paper and enough inspiration materials to give the letter a tiny, but memorable personalization.

Straight from the heart ensures a perfect message, but it's okay to lean on the great writers of the past. Instead of hitting the hundred and one quotation sites on the internet, find inspiration in the love letters written by famous writers to their lovers. Focus on the things about your Valentine that do not change over time. Likely, they're aware their eyes and lips may not have the same allure they once had. How much more powerful it is to hear someone loves you for the things they remember when they close their eyes.

Voyeuristic as it seems, here's some inspiration to start St. Valentine's week: a letter from author Jack London to the love of his life, Charmian Kittredge.

Thursday, September 24, 1903

Nay, nay, dear Love, not in my eyes is this love of ours a small and impotent thing. It is the greatest and most powerful thing in the world. The relativity of things makes it so. That I should be glad to live for you or to die for you is proof in itself that it means more to me than life or death, is greater, far greater, than life or death.

That you should be the one woman to me of all women; that my hunger for you should be greater than any hunger for food I have ever felt; that my desire for you should bite harder than any other desire I have ever felt for fame and fortune and such things;-all, all goes to show how big is this, our love.

As I tell you repeatedly, you cannot possibly know what you mean to me. The days I do not see you are merely so many obstacles to be got over somehow before I see you. Each night as I go to bed I sigh with relief because I am one day nearer to you. So it has been this week, and it is only Monday that I was with you. Today I am jubilant, my work goes well. And I am saying to myself all the time, "Tonight I shall see her! Tonight I shall see her!"

My thoughts are upon you always, lingering over you always, caressing you always in a myriad of ways. I wonder if you feel those caresses sometimes!

Ah Love, it looms large. It wills my whole horizon. Wherever I look I feel you, see you, touch you, and know my need for you...I love you, you only and wholly...I clutch for you like a miser for his gold, because you are everything and the only thing.

I know I am 27, at the high-tide of my life and vigor. [I write these words] to show how large to me, in the scheme of life, bulks this love of ours.

And from Mark Twain to his future wife, Olivia Langdon:

May 12, 1869

Out of the depths of my happy heart wells a great tide of love and prayer for this priceless treasure that is confided to my life-long keeping.

You cannot see its intangible waves as they flow toward you, darling, but in these lines you will hear, as if it were, the distant beating of its surf.

Forever yours,


Even an old curmudgeon like Mark Twain appears to be from his writings is capable of aching tenderness.

Tomorrow: But I Need to Wrap Something

Friday, February 6, 2009

Exercise Your Right to Vote...and Love

If you're a cynic this time of year the Vortex won't be for you next week. For some, Valentine's Day is the equivalent to corporate greed driving the engine of guilt. Why do we need one day to tell those around us we love them when we tell them every day?

You may think taking the trash out for your honey while wearing boxers and black dress socks screams, "LOVE!" (and it does) but we all need to step out of our comfortable rituals sometimes. Me, included. I confess that for a Valentine I once replaced every Hershey Kiss flag in a hundred-count bag with tiny, typed flags lauding every reason I adored him. The same Valentine now witnesses me most days in my holey-pajama-bottom-writing-pants and penguin slippers stumbling to the keyboard to weave vast hours of a fictitious life. That Valentine deserves a day free of my rituals.

If your Valentine is of the materialistic variety, I can't help you. I am a product of my dad's practicality. I don't want a dozen roses when one speaks the same sentiment. Forget jewelry. It wouldn't go with my pajama bottoms. When this romance writer thinks of expressions of love, it is in the creative, uniquely-catered-to-that-person overture where true romance lives.

To that end, each day next week you'll find creative tidbits and ideas to get you thinking about ways to make this Valentine's day truly memorable. Some are intended for romantic love, while others can be used to express love to family and friends-even strangers. We could all use a little more of that random kindness.

For a little added fun, I've included a vote where Vortex readers decide the order of the posts. Here they are:

Time (of course, right?)
Ideas that cost little more than thoughtful moments

The Quiet
Ideas found in stillness

But I Need to Wrap Something
Ideas that beat Prada and Hi-Def TVs

Questions to Help You Discover The Perfect Celebration
Ways to kick-start your own unique ideas

Everything I Need to Know About a Woman's Heart I Learned From a Romance Novel
Demystifying what is really no mystery at all

Be sure to vote for your favorite(s) on the right sidebar. The most popular picks will appear first.

Have a super weekend, everyone!

Thursday, February 5, 2009

Not So Much Into Words

I couldn't bring myself to the keyboard yesterday for my usual Wednesday post. Late Tuesday, one of our Christmas kittens, Angus, died of a dislodged blood clot relating to heart disease. It's amazing how much he had become part of our lives in six short weeks. For those who remember his photo, I hope you'll forgive me for indulging again. Sadly, because of camera issues, it is one of the only pictures we have to remember him. He was the green-eyed cutie on the left.

Monday, February 2, 2009


I am a snowball rolling downhill on my edits now, so I thought I'd offer up my favorite entry in the British Academy of Film and Telvision Arts Award: 60 Seconds of Fame. I love watching film's equivalent to the six word story, and this one by Kevin Curtis called Fragments hits every note I love in a tale. Enjoy!

To view other entries, visit BAFTA's website.