Deadlines

Deadlines - do you like them, hate them, find them useful?

I have a love/hate relationship with deadlines. Knowing something is due definitely ups my productivity. And that's a good thing. But then there's the stress. It seems like no matter how generous the deadline, I'm always feeling pressure as it nears. Of course I intend to get things done ahead of time. But then life happens.

Most of the time I make my deadlines. I've got one coming up June 15th when I've promised to submit my Lisbon novella to Dreamspinner then. It'll definitely be a stretch. And that's probably a good thing. I think.

How about you? Do deadlines motivate or overwhelm? Or both.

Me, I gotta get back to that novella now. Yikes!

Visiting Old Friends

Photo by J E Therlot, courtesy of Flickr Creative Commons

Photo by J E Therlot, courtesy of Flickr Creative Commons

I have a number of re-releases coming out this year. Having a story come home is an opportunity to view earlier work with a, hopefully, more mature eye. So far I've dared to look inside the first two, Nobody's Home and Painting in the Rain, and in both cases there's room for improvement How much to do and when is a balancing act. I don't want polishing old work to get in the way of writing something new. On the other hand, I like my work to be the best it can be - a standard that changes over time.

I'll re-release Nobody's Home in early summer. This version is the same story with a few character and plot tweaks that should make it a more enjoyable read. I read a bunch of reader reviews and got some expert feedback and I think the book will be much stronger for the rewrite.  The multi-talented Jordan Castillo Price will design the new cover and I can't wait to see what she creates. 

In the meantime, I'm plugging away at some new work.  Which in a few years will turn into old work. My hope is that I'm learning as I go. Only time will tell.

I write just like I garden. Or is it the other way around?

This morning the Significant Other and I were having a discussion about our different work habits. I pointed out that sloppy could be efficient and that if you wait long enough, many problems do just disappear on their own. Yeah, he didn't buy that either.

But the whole "discussion" got me thinking about how I work and all the ways those habits are universal for me. And because it's spring, there are only two things on my mind - my WIP and gardening. I've made a list of ways they're similar:

1. Dev plans, God laughs. I plan, I really do. I write synopses and plot outlines for books and spend long winter hours mapping out my garden. Then, when it's time for the actual implementation of said plans, they go astray very quickly. Something unexpected happens in the story and everything changes. In the garden, my garden partner has taken to calling it surprise gardening because we only know what we planted where when/if it comes up.

2. Sloppy is efficient. I suspect this isn't actually true and that if I could only manage to do things right the first time it would save me a lot. Doesn't happen. I suspect it never will. So I'm sticking to my story that sloppy is best.

3. If you plant it, it will grow. Okay, that's not always true. One year I couldn't get carrots to sprout no matter what I did. But I do know that the converse is true - if you don't plant, it won't grow. Planting stories means always being on the lookout for an interesting starting point, or plot device or character. I tuck them away in my sloppy brain and eventually something sprouts.

4. Gardening and writing are both a fuck of a lot of work. And if I wait for the muse to magically appear, everything withers and dies.

5. They're worth it. Every September I'm exhausted. Every time I hit send on those final page proofs, I'm tired of the damned story. And yet, I'm proud of the work that went in and of knowing I did the best job I could. And by the time I start a new story or Spring comes back around, I'm ready and excited. Watching things grow and mature by the work of my own hands and head? That's addicting.

Periodically I hear about someone else's writing process and I think, hmmm, maybe I should try that. But in the end, I am who I am. And the work gets done. Eventually. And that's good enough. For now.

 

 

Travel writing

I love writing when I travel. I'm not talking about restaurant or hotel reviews. What I love is setting stories in interesting places. For example, I wrote a big chunk of Sacred Hearts while I was visiting friends in Mexico. So when this spring I got a chance to visit Spain and Portugal, I decided to set a novella there. I'm home now and still in the midst of the first draft, but I'm savoring the memory of sitting in the sun in a courtyard in Lisbon dreaming about my characters roaming the city and falling in love.

Place plays a big role in my stories, maybe because I've lived lots of places or because now I'm up here in Northern Wisconsin, which is beautiful but can feel isolating. The astrologer I lived near as a kid would tell you it's because I have a Taurus moon. A shrink might say I never put down proper roots. I think an unusual setting simply makes for an interesting story. 

The new book doesn't have a name yet, or an ending, but it's got some fabulous places. Here's Amsterdam, where the story begins. I'll post more photos as this story moves along the journey from pen to published. It's always an adventure.

Happy Passover

Here's what I'm doing today - getting ready for Passover. The table is set and waiting for the last minute additions of water/parsley/eggs, the soup is made, we've got homemade gefilte fish, my sweetie will be cooking Cornish game hens and I'm waiting on a last minute shipment of gluten free matzah meal so I can finally make some matzah balls that I can actually eat. Friends are bringing the rest. It should be a festive, if predictably long, evening. Hoping I have time this afternoon for a nap.

If you're in a Pesach mood, I think I have the only gay Passover holiday romance (if you know of another I'd LOVE to hear about it). Learning from Isaac is a few years old now and I definitely think of Nate and Isaac every Passover. It's not exactly a romantic holiday, but it is all about family and connection. And spring and rebirth and liberation. So happy Passover to everyone! Here's to new beginnings.

Gorgeous cover by Jordan Castillo Price

Community and the creative spirit

I've just been in Lisbon where new art covers lots of the old walls. It got me thinking about how communities support (or don't support) art. This photo is from a courtyard that the residents painted white and then invited five local artists to decorate. The result is charming. Enlivening. And that's what art, music, literature does - it brings imagination, even whimsy, into real life. Communities that support art simply become more and more interesting over time. Those that don't support the arts end up with whatever's cheap, easy and profitable for whoever's funding the space. That goes for music and books as well. I guess it's all a matter of taste. Me, I'm with the woman in the window on the right, smiling away at all the bright colors and fascinating shapes.

Peeping into spring

The ice on the lake is melting. Yesterday I saw a couple of herons, back from wintering someplace warm. And a flock of juncos mobbed my bird feeder this morning. It's time to put away dark winter thoughts and get ready for new growth. 

This passing around of the cycle of life, death, rebirth is as true in real life as it is in metaphor or fiction. I know that all my significant intellectual, spiritual and emotional growth has come out of dark times. On the other hand, relentless darkness is never life affirming, it's trauma. We need the darkness to lift, the sun to warm out bones and the ice to thaw if we're going to apply winter lessons to the rest of our lives.

So here's to spring, both real and metaphoric.  And while I'm at it, here's to young love and middle love and old love and new love at any age. And joy and laughter and tulips and hideous blue candy creatures. Happy spring.

My love/hate relationship with procrastination

Here's the thing, for me, about the writing life. On good days I jump out of bed ready to spill a couple of thousand words onto the page before breakfast and by the time I call it quits for the day I've gone beyond the scene I first envisioned and have knocked out an entire chapter or two, in other words, I'm on fire.

I vaguely remember having one of those good days a few years back.....

Most of the time I do absolutely everything on my to-do list before I even start writing. And then check Facebook just once more. And my email. And do a little online shopping. Maybe call a friend. In fact, I doubt I'd get more than a hundred words written a week if I didn't set regular "office hours" when I've pledged to keep my bum in the chair and work.

The problem is, there's not a lot of external accountability in this job. Sometimes I have a deadline a few months off, but I'm not sure the sky would fall in if I didn't make one of those. Nothing like the consequences I'd encounter if I blew it in the not-really-so-very-evil day job. Instead, getting the words down and growing my stories requires an internal commitment, a responsibility to the story itself and to the people who might want to read it.

People talk about writing as a passion. It's certainly that. And for me it's a necessity, even an addiction. I go a little crazy when I'm not working. But sometimes I just don't want to. The trick to consistent production is to have that little tantrum, then sit back down and get to work. Still learning that. But at least I'm trying.

What keeps you going when things aren't smooth?

Survive Anything Brownies

I'm grumpy and sleep short this morning. Nothing big, just too much to do and not enough time to do it. I could use some cheering up, so with her permission, I'd like to share a friend's brownie recipe. Butter, sugar and chocolate makes even bad days a little better.

Survive Anything Double-Chocolate Brownies. 

Ingredients:

9 oz bittersweet chocolate

7 Tablespoons butter

3 eggs

2 teaspoons vanilla extract

2 Tablespoons coffee

2 Tablespoons sugar (optional - I like them without the extra sugar)

1/2 cup milk

1 cup sour cream

1 1/2 cups flour

1/2 teaspoon baking soda and 1/2 teaspoon salt

1-2 bags of semi-sweet chocolate chips

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Melt the bittersweet chocolate and butter.

Beat three eggs in a large bowl at medium-high speed until thick and pale, it takes a few minutes. Add vanilla extract, coffee, milk, sour cream and extra sugar if you're using that. Beat until fully mixed (just a few seconds). Reduce speed to low and add the chocolate mixture. 

Whisk the flour, baking soda and salt together in a medium bowl.  I make this recipe gluten free by substituting the flour etc for a GF pancake or biscuit mixture and that works great. 

Fold the flour mixture into the liquid batter. Add as many semisweet chocolate chips as you need to survive anything.

Grease a large cake pan and line the bottom with parchment paper. Cover with batter and smooth it out. Bake 30 minutes or until the brownies are cooked through. Allow brownies to cool before cutting.

Enjoy. Everything looks better if you have enough of these.

Community

Image by rebecca slegel on flickr creative

Image by rebecca slegel on flickr creative

I've been thinking about community and connection lately. Research shows that our social lives have a direct impact on not only our mental but our physical health as well. Loneliness is evidently profoundly unhealthy. We're wired for connection and to crave a sense of belonging.

Romance writers feel this in our bones in a different way from those who write in other genres. Other writers might describe loneliness as part of the human condition, those of us interested in happy ever afters make it our business to evoke in readers the bliss of connection, over and over again. We strive to stamp out alienation and loneliness, if only for an afternoon.

And yet, writing is necessarily a solitary activity. It's very pleasant here in my sunlit office with my dog curled in the chair beside me. And I'm enough of an introvert that the idea of constant companionship with another human being makes me squeamish. But I also know that I need periodic injections of social connection to keep me sane.

My communities are a series of intersecting circles with me at the center. I think that's true for many people. We socialize in small groups of family, friends, work, clubs, religious organizations, and more, and those sets are as unique as a fingerprint. For me, there's my writer friends, my science friends, the community garden and my family to name just a few. 
Some groups I connect with no more than a couple of times a year, others every day, and while there are plenty of people I carry with me from one group to another, no one has exactly the same configuration of interests and friendships as I do. Because we're social animals, the links between us might be our most defining characteristic, encompassing everything else.

Love and connection are important enough to who we are that we really can die of loneliness. Maybe reading (and writing) romance isn't a trivial activity after all. 

I'd love to hear your thoughts. 

 

Legacy

I just inherited my grandfather's coin collection - well, not quite inherited, I got tasked with seeing if the stuff was worth anything and if it was, selling the it and splitting the loot with my brother. As I investigate, I am coming to the realization that my grandfather's careful placing of pennies into slots in dented blue cardboard books was more an act of love than a way to fund his grandchildren's retirement. Rather than selling, I'll probably end up dolling out the worn, incompletely filled "Lincoln Collector Folders" to his great grandchildren, along with stories and memories of sitting at the kitchen table sorting coins with him,  with our fingers covered in grime and the metallic penny smell in our noses.

Photo courtesy of Reza on Flickr

Photo courtesy of Reza on Flickr

Right now I'm working on a mystery set in Tanzania. I've been trying to learn what I can about the Tanzanian criminal justice system. A writer named Muhammed Said Abdulla, who died in 1991,  wrote a number of mysteries that I'd love to read. But they aren't in print in English and I don't read Swahili. I'm not even sure they're in print in Swahili since so far none of his novels appear to be for sale anywhere I can find online. The most recent one came out in 1984. He might have missed the digital age entirely.

What does this have to do with my grandfather's penny collection? I guess not much other than they've got me got me thinking about the value and impermanence of what we leave behind. My grandfather's penny collection doesn't appear to be worth much to anyone outside the family and Mr. Abdulla's work may not have survived, despite the awards he received during his lifetime (although he does have a nice Wikepedia page). 

Maybe the question shouldn't be about our legacies. Perhaps the most important thing is the joy we bring in the moment. Sharing a good story or hanging out with the grand kids, these things are enough in and of themselves.

So here's to enjoying life while we are still here (and in print). L'chaim.

 

Winter in the Northwoods

It's beautiful here. And cold. And isolated.

Every winter I am reminded of what  a great place this is to be a writer. Sometimes I chafe at the isolation. Whole days go by when I don't leave the house. When it's too cold to ski or snowshoe, I hole up inside, wrapped in my warmest sweater and fingerless gloves. But that's often when I can get good work done. Summer is frantic and short, a time to cram in as much socializing as possible. Winters are long and quiet. Good for writing. 

I spent much of last winter criss-crossing the country trying to live my own life while helping care for my dying father. Didn't get much writing done. Poor Whistle Blower got drafted in the fall of 2014 and had to wait until last month for release. Right now I'm working on a new book but these things take time. I suspect that my only other 2016 releases will be rereleases as a number of my earlier stories come home, get new covers and a little polish and go right back out.

Patience is a winter skill. 

Enough about me, let's eat

It's release day for Whistle Blower. Release days are very exciting since they are the first time I get a sense of how people feel about a book (so far people seem to be enjoying Whistle Blower), but they also entail a lot of me, me, me-ing (as in, hey check out my book, I'm over here and here and here). It's wonderful and affirming, but right now I'd rather talk about dinner. Okay, I'd always like to talk about dinner.

In Whistle Blower (you knew I couldn't go long without mentioning it again, didn't you?), there's a scene where Ben serves brisket, made from Manny's mother's recipe. In the old days, slow cooking brisket was a way to make cheap meat delicious. Lately brisket has become more popular and the price has gone up, but it's still yummy, yummy. A brisket is a big cut of meat, so we only serve it for special occasions when we've got a crowd coming. My sweetheart makes it and he gets asked for the recipe again and again. So here it is as my release day gift to you.

Photo by Maggie at Flickr Creative Commons

Photo by Maggie at Flickr Creative Commons


Salt the brisket on both sides and place it in pan or roaster with the fat side up. Martha Stewart would tell you to brown the meat, but it really isn't necessary. 

Add a few cups of water until the liquid comes half to a third of the way up the sides of the meat. Add some tomatoes, onions, and garlic before putting it in the oven, but don't let the level of the liquid come above half the thickness of the meat. 

Bake at 225 F for at least six hours until it is fork tender. The meat temperature will be at least 180 F and could be up to 190 F.  If you would like the bottom to be crisp you can turn the meat over in the last hour.

Let the meat cool, then slice it and put the slices back into the pan to warm before serving. At this point you can refrigerate until ready serve. And you can remove the fat that condenses when you refrigerate it. But the fat contains favor that you might not want to lose. We don't remove it. 

That's all. It takes a long time, but very little effort and it couldn't be better.

Enjoy!

Oh, and you might enjoy Whistle Blower, too. It's available at Dreamspinner Press, Amazon, Barnes and Noble, All Romance and Kobo.



Coming soon!

Whistle Blower comes out from Dreamspinner 2/5/2016 (you can preorder here at: Dreamspinner, Amazon, Barnes and Noble, All Romance and Kobo)

I'll be around and about on the web with excepts and discussion about the book. Come find me at:

Thianna Durston (1/24 and 1/30/2016) Exclusive excerpts

Clare London (1/29/2016) Secondary characters

Between the Covers (2/2/2016) Interview

Gay Book Reviews (2/5/2016) Exclusive excerpt

Joyfully Jay (2/5/2016) Exclusive excerpt

Blogger Girls (2/5/2016) Love and Food

Sinfully Gay Romance (2/5/2016) Using the Bits

My Fiction Nook (2/6/2016) Exclusive excerpt

Love Bytes Reviews (2/6/2016) Older men

Scattered Thoughts and Rogue Words (2/9/2016) Rowing

The Novel Approach (2/10/2016) A Sense of Place

Whistle Blower

Soon I'll be talking about Whistle Blower all over the web. It will be out from Dreamspinner on 2/5/2016 (check here to preorder Whistle Blower). The cover reveal is coming right up (Wednesday 1/20/2016). 

In the meantime, here's what the book is about:

Money can’t buy happiness. Jacob Nussbaum knows this better than anyone. He's a corporate lawyer deep inside a huge New York firm, where he works overtime, sacrifices any chance at a personal life, and has been selling his soul for years. With a secretary as his only friend, he trudges on, until his whole world is blown apart by a manila envelope of photos—evidence that one of the firm’s partners is the dirtiest lawyer in one hell of a filthy business.

In search of the truth, Jacob travels to a small northern Wisconsin fishing resort. There he meets Ben Anderson, a brutally lonely man, who knocks him off his feet. Ben prompts Jacob to reevaluate his life. He’s a dozen years older than Jacob, still recovering from the death of his long time love, and doesn’t want to leave anyone a widower. But a jaded New Yorker on a soul-searching mission might be just the man to convince the grieving Ben that it's never too late to begin again.

A picture's worth... a lot

I love taking pictures, although I'm no great shakes as a photographer. That's not false modesty. I've seen what other people can do with a camera. So have you. Aren't those year end collections of the best photographs of the year wonderful? Here's one from 2015 that I love. Or how about this?

Even though I'll never rise to that level, it gives me a little thrill every time a cover artist uses one of my photos in the background. You'll need to wait until the 20th to see the new glorious cover that Catt Ford made for Whistle Blower (coming 2.5), but here's the photo of mine that she used. It's particularly appropriate for this book to have one of my pics on the cover since it's set not very far from where I live and this is of my favorite walking trail. I'll let you know more about the book next week. 


Small achievable goals

This morning I heard a phrase about New Years resolutions that really resonated with me. It was the suggestion that rather than setting ourselves up for failure by vowing to make huge changes, instead we could try for small achievable goals, things we might actually be able to do. 

I'm a huge fan of goal setting. There are few things more comforting than spending some quality time with a calendar plotting out how the year should go. Calms me right down. But sometimes looking back through the calendar for the year before to see how many of those goals I met, that's not so fun. I always overestimate what I can get done and underestimate the time it's going to take.

Last year I had lots and lots of plans but life got in the way. My dad died. My mom moved. It was one of those years. I'm hoping things go a little more smoothly in 2016. And so far the year is starting out with a bang. I've got a new novel coming out from Dreamspinner on February 5th. It's something of a city mouse, country mouse story and much of it is set up here in the northwoods of Wisconsin. I'll post the blurb soon. Look for the cover reveal later this month.

I also have a draft of my first ever mystery. I'm pretty excited about that and I hope to be able to share it with all of you later in the year. Might even turn into a mystery series with an international flare. Who knows.

And of course, in addition to all the books I'm going to write in the new year, I'll run a marathon, lose twenty pounds, become a stupendous friend/spouse/parent and perhaps achieve world peace. Or else I'll spend a few more minutes writing every day, exercise a little more, eat a few more vegetables and spend more time laughing - not as sexy as world peace but a tad more likely to happen.

In the meantime, here's to a wonderful 2016. May all your dreams, both small and large, come true.