The Quirk List

During the blog tour for Kicking Sideways, It’s Raining Books asked me to share five fun, interesting, edifying or embarrassing things about me. Fun? Interesting? I don’t know. Definitely embarrassing. Here goes:

  • I fall in love with the morphing of certain fictional characters and actors. Bone-crushingly, obsessively, in love. For a few days, I’m absolutely demented. My husband fortunately thinks it’s hilarious. The latest is Ewan McGregor as Obi-Wan Kenobi. Writing or reading romance fan-fiction about said character doesn’t help. And those people that role-play? I don’t get it. Fantasizing does no good because you can never escape that you are pretending at something that’s not real. Even if Ewan McGregor showed up at my door dressed as Obi-Wan, I’d know it wasn’t real. That said, Ewan, you are welcome on my doorstep anytime. The kids, er, yes, the kids would love it!

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    No, I was not lucky enough to take this photo.

  • Speaking of Star Wars, my doppelganger is C3PO. I’m uptight, awkward in social settings, anxious, think in a British accent, have a shiny forehead, and am great with theory but particularly bad at applying it to situations.
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Nor this one.

  • I have a seizure disorder which leads to some mortifying experiences. Once I was at a conference in Sausalito and had to go to Kinkos for my manager’s presentation. While there, I felt a seizure coming and rushed to the front desk. “Help,” I said. Next thing I remember is waking up with a bunch of paramedics and my manager hovering over me. This horrible personal moment showed me how beautiful people can be. The staff at the Casa Madrona, where I was staying, took good care of me that night. The hotel, incidentally, appears in Kicking Sideways. That night, the staff rang a call to my room. The clerk at Kinkos phoned to make sure I was okay. I’ve never forgotten her kindness.

    Cree and Mike stayed in the bridal suite in the mansion. I was lucky enough to stay there, too.

    Cree and Mike stayed in the bridal suite in the mansion. I was lucky enough to stay there, too.

  • My day role is working as an office manager for one of the best men on the planet. When he retires, my dream job is to be part Eddie Vedder’s executive team. He and his wife do so much good in the world and it would be great to be a part of that. Plus, that voice is motivation enough to get up every day. As this scenario unlikely to happen, hopefully this writing gig will work out.

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    Good deeds. Check this site out.

  • My parents subjected me to too many musicals. Now, my kids and I often sing our dialogue instead of talking. Think opera: “Son, what would you like for lunch today, la, la, la?” “Salami and cheese, if you please, Mama!” Then daughter will chime in: “And a cookie!” Singing the day is very entertaining. Try it. But beware the addiction. Sometimes, we forget and Von Trapp in public.

I told you mine. Now you tell me yours.

Thinking of England

BooksChatter interviewed me during Kicking Sideways‘s virtual book tour. I am upset that it’s a virtual interview as BooksChatter is based in England. I so want to be in England.

Not only are they a fun group of gals, they compiled a YouTube playlist of most of the songs that inspired Kicking Sideways. This made my list-making music geek heart swell. Here’s the interview (also here at BooksChatter’s very swanky posting site):

What was the inspiration for your latest book (i.e. the one you are currently promoting)?

This is best answered in list form, mainly because I like making lists:

  1. an unrequited high school crush
  2. A Room With a View by E.M. Forster
  3. a song called “Blue Lightning”
  4. too many visits to Santa Cruz
  5. a kind man who died tragically
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from Santa Cruz Facebook site

How much of yourself is reflected in this book, and how?

Quite a bit of me is in all my books. I’ve been keeping a quote book since high school. One of my favorite quotes in that collection is “The trouble with our sister is that she doesn’t know what to do with what she knows.” This quote is from a book by Ethan Canin. That quote describes me. I am filled with utterly useless passions and obsessions and I have found that the best way to satisfy those longings is to write books around them. That’s why you’ll get a book comprised of my obsession with King Arthur, a lost chocolate cake recipe, and an abandoned factory (Cake, A Fairy Tale). My love for lore, lonely buildings, music, books, and all sorts of little tidbits that fascinate me make it into my stories.

The first thing that draws me to a book is its cover. Can you tell us about your cover – why you chose that concept and who the artist is?

The remarkable Ravven does my covers. She is a delight to work with and a wonderful writer. My other two books were easier to capture but Kicking Sideways was a challenge because I wasn’t quite sure what I wanted.

Cree is a woman at risk. She’s a teacher, a mother-figure, a business woman, a surfer, a promoter of literacy. She wants to change the world. And she is very, very alone. Stuck in self-imposed darkness, she can’t let go of her past to really embrace the present.

Ravven, the patient Ravven, offered many options – a couple in an embrace, women with faces half-turned to the reader, women with Beyonce locks, women in flowing white dresses. The one I chose has her back to the reader and is bundled up for a cool California day, protected in her shell. And of course, there is Crumble, her mule, a metaphor for her life.

The cover depicts Cree at the start of the novel. Whether or not she emerges from her own prison is her decision.

Why should we read this book (or series) and what sets you apart from the rest? You know, the older I get, I find no story that is unique. Books are about a journey to the self, the becoming of true self, and real connection with others. Every author tells this story in his or her own unique way and that’s a beautiful thing. The only thing that sets me apart from the rest is me. I like my tales to include nuggets of history and magic and music. Some readers will love my quirks and others won’t.

Can you tell us something quirky about this book , its story and characters?

There is a bit of a role reversal in this romance. The hero is the stable, self-connected partner and the heroine is the dark, brooding Byron type. That surprised me when I wrote it.

Logan

Logan

The dog, Lump, is the nickname for my now-deceased dog Logan, who was named after Wolverine. Cree’s full name is Lucretia, after a Sisters of Mercy song. Ellen is based on my grandmother’s good friend. I still hear her voice in my head even though she has been dead for thirty years. Finally, the scene with the eye and the box is stolen from my best friend’s life. She was as stubborn as Cree. Also, like Mike, I was disappointed to find that there were no vampires in Santa Cruz.

 

And as a final quirky thing, to get to know you a little bit better… do you have a pet or something that is special to you (this could be absolutely anything!)? Could you please provide us with a picture of you with them / it?

Every year for Mother’s Day, my husband takes us to Salem or Rockport to get a family “portrait” done. This is an oldie but one of my favorites because it was the first.

family portrait

 

 

Sacred Spaces

This post appeared on January 21 at Musings and Ramblings. Judy asked me to describe my writing space. Here it is:

writing nook

I can write anywhere once I tap into that writing vein. Sometimes I need absolute silence, sometimes music is a necessity, and often I need the mindless din of a café to get that writing blood flowing.

But a writing gypsy still needs a sacred spot to charge the blood and here is where I go when I need to be still. It’s not much – a chair in the corner of my bedroom surrounded by all my talismans that mean absolutely nothing yet give me a sense of home: a ragged copy of Stormy, Misty’s Foal, a rowan twig, a moonstone and bloodstone, delicious smelling candles, the Tasha Tudor illustrated Little Women that makes an appearance in Kicking Sideways, photos of my kids and husband, and a teddy bear that belonged to a beloved aunt.

What is your favorite spot to recharge?

Love Connection

This post appeared at Unabridged Andra‘s blog on January 7 as part of the Goddess Fish Kicking Sideways book tour.

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If you ask me what Kicking Sideways is about, I could tell you it’s a boy-meet-girl-courtship tale, I could refer you to the book’s blurb, or I could explain the story behind the story. All of these perspectives are relevant, but never really capture the heart of the book, the story of Mike and Cree.

Cree Cabot’s purpose is to be useful to others, to be kind, to help, but her altruism is not authentic. She is reacting to her own broken past, her lack of childhood, and she refuses to let love, romantic or otherwise, into her life. She insists on depending only on herself. This is impossible, of course, and her effort to fight against natural connection only wears her down.

Mike, on the other hand, accepts life as it comes. He abides life’s ups and downs because he is secure in his self-worth. Unlike most romance heroes, he has very little inner conflict. Losing Cree would devastate him but he knows he will survive and thrive. He is connected to himself and others in a way that will always ensure his happiness.

“We can find the internal resources to move towards a life that is meaningful and happy. The basis of that is this sense of genuine belonging, but unless we can get on that vibration of connection, of love, we’ll never ever achieve real happiness.”

Richard Gere said that. Yes, the Richard Gere, whose character in “Pretty Woman” struggled to discover this truth for himself.

This quote sums up the heart of Kicking Sideways and is, I think, the theme of most books, no matter the genre, because it’s the theme of humanity. Connection and love. I hope we all find that path. Luckily, we have books to light our journey.

Facing the Sunshine

NBTM_KickingSideways_Banner  This post originally appeared at Booklover Sue‘s blog on January 7 as part of Kicking Sideways Goddess Fish Blog Tour.

I’ve just packed away the last Christmas dish, swept the pine needles from the floor, and coiled the lights to box for another year. This time of year saddens me, packing away all the hope and light that the Yule season symbolizes. It’s too easy to slip into the fears of the dark without the easy reminder of glowing lights.

One of my favorite books and inspiration for Kicking Sideways is E. M. Forster’s A Room With a View. His heroine, Lucy, refuses to understand herself because that “might lead to self-knowledge and to that king of terrors—Light.”

Lucy doesn’t realize that the “king of terrors” is exactly what she needs to reveal true happiness. She risks joining “the vast army of the benighted who follow neither heart nor the brain.” Her life will be unfulfilled and empty if she does not find the courage to know herself and act accordingly.

We all want that Light – to be our best selves, to thrive, to be joyful. Too often we let fear kill that inner light. And so we settle.

Kicking Sideways is dedicated to all of us who have stifled that light within.

My wish for you this year is to explore those ghosts that haunt your heart, shed bright light in those dark corners and as E.M. Forster would say, “face the sunshine.” Happy New Year!

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Fun Facts Behind Kicking Sideways

Fun Facts Behind Kicking Sideways originally posted at Romance Novel Giveaways on December 31, 2015 as part of the Goddess Fish blog tour. 

  • The hero, Mike Sullivan, is a minor character from my first book.
    tnCharlesgate
  • The book is set in Santa Cruz because of my favorite teen movie. When my best friend took me to its Boardwalk, I had the same reaction as Mike Sullivan: “Yeah, well, ever since I saw The Lost Boys way back in high school, I’ve wanted to come out here… you know, in case the whole vampire thing and bat caves really existed. I admit I’m a little disappointed to find they don’t. Just a bunch of tourists.”11168030_ori

 

  • Same best friend was the model for Cree during the blindness scenes. Best friend was just as stubborn. This is why I love her.

 

  • A major theme of the book is rescue. The dog in the book is my rescue, Logan.SANYO DIGITAL CAMERA
  • Speaking of rescue, Madame Pauline (yes, that sort of Madame) is a real historical figure. Here’s a quote from her 1898 eulogy in the Santa Cruz Sentinel: “In a quiet way she did many charitable acts. No poor person ever came away from her empty handed. More then one poor family she has assisted, and the world was none the wiser.”
  • The song “What’ll I Do?” meanders through the story. My mother used to sing that song to me. A haunting tune, Helen Gross’s 1920s version adds “spirit” to the book.
  • Ellen is the reincarnation of my grandmother’s friend, who lived far back in the woods and taught us ceramics followed by a bit of “civilizin’ tea.”
  • Cree has a Tasha Tudor version of Little Women that was a gift from her father. When I was a girl, my father’s friend, Mr. Gilmore, gave me this book for Christmas. I remember that he was kind and intelligent. Over time, our family lost touch with him and we later discovered he’d been found dead on a park bench. He was homeless. This book was born partly because of him. You matter, Mr. Gilmore.

As do all of you. Best to you in the new year!

little women

Finding Character Motivation

This post first appeared on December 17 at Archeolibrarian’s site as part of a Goddess Fish book tour.

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“All poets are liars.” The first time I heard this phrase was from my mentor while I was student teaching. I struggled with teaching poetry because for me, poetry was personal.

Sometimes a poem resonates so deeply that it becomes yours. Who cares what the poet’s message is? Once a poem is out there, it has the potential to transform a reader’s world. The message can offer insight to a reader that may have nothing to do with the poet’s intent. I have journals of quotes, snippets of poems, song lyrics that speak to me.

“I sit like a night alive with witches.” This is a line from a book by Ben Hecht. I have no idea what it means. Nor do I care. But I know that mood, that feeling. I have sat like a night alive with witches. Mr. Hecht describes the mood better than I can.

“Comfortably Numb” was ruined for me when my husband told me it was about heroin addiction. I know nothing about Pink Floyd and thought the lyrics were about loss of childhood magic, the belief in something whole and real and otherworldly that somehow gets buried with time.

So when I had to teach Emily Dickenson and Robert Frost to twenty high school freshmen, I balked. Em and Rob did nothing for me and I was clueless. “Just remember, “ said Mentor Teacher, “all poets are liars and go with that.” So I did. Easy!

I made the lesson more fun for me by comparing the poems of Emily and Robert to those of Henry Rollins and Patti Smith and encouraged students to do the same with the lyrics of their musical heroes. In connecting the past with the present, using our handy little catch phrase “all poets are liars,” all poetry became more meaningful and universal, a common language that we all could share.

“All poets are liars” proved to be useful when I started writing fiction. I changed the phrase to “all characters are liars.”

In Kicking Sideways, Cree wants to be independent. She wants to be in control. She wants to serve humanity. But as her creator, I know what Cree needs. She needs to be a part of humanity. She needs to open her heart. She needs to love and be loved. Deep down inside, she knows this, but she lies to herself because she is scared.

Cree started like any other character. A character will start whispering in my head. A ghost, it haunts me until I start writing. Sooner or later, the unnamed character tells me what it wants. It always lies. Of course, she doesn’t know she’s lying. Like a toddler, she’s full of wants: “I want to rule the world. I want to be left alone. I want revenge. I want a cup of tea and a cake. I want…I want.” It is your job, as a writer, friend, therapist, parent, creator, to pay attention and instead give her what she needs.

As you get to know your scheming little liar, what she needs will become apparent to you, and what he needs is usually in direct opposition to what he wants.

If she wants tea and cake, don’t give it to her. Instead, give her what she really needs. This could be a diet, but indirectly, make it a bigger goal: true love, redemption, or a major life change.

In between desire and need, make her work. Perhaps on the way to the local tea shop, an escaped prisoner from Azkaban kidnaps her for a noble cause. (You may have guessed that I have a crush on Sirius Black.) He takes her to a remote mountain cabin where there is no tea and definitely no cake. Still, she keeps telling herself she wants cake.

While you write, keep repeating to yourself, “She is a liar. She is a liar.” You’ll want to punish her because she lies so darn much. Great fun for you.

Eventually, she gets what she needs and will no longer be living a lie. Maybe, if she’s lucky, she’ll get that cake, too. And Sirius Black.

 

 

Why Romance?

This post originally appeared via Goddess Fish on December 10 at The Reading Addict where I was asked to answer the question: What do you think is the strongest attraction about the genre(s) you like to write in? I also gave this post as a speech at an author event at the Maynard Public Library in November.

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Like all of us here, I love books, books in all genres. But when I really want to relax and lose myself in another world, I choose romance. I love the romance genre so much that I wrote my Master’s thesis proposal on why educated women read romance. Thirty pages later, the answer was revealed.

Reading romance makes them happy.

I love the ups and downs of courtship, the will-they-or-won’t-they-get-together flip-flopping even though I know they will, without a doubt, ride off into a pink sunset. It’s all about the journey.

But if you want deeper meaning in your romance reading, you’ll find it.

Jerry Maguire got it wrong with the “you complete me” line. That’s not romance. That’s dysfunction.

We are all born complete. We are all whole from the start. But somewhere along the way we forget this truth and look for love and validation outside our selves.

In a romance, the heroine cannot truly love another until she reconciles this truth within her self. A romance novel maps the journey back to the self while coinciding with the rollercoaster ride of courtship. So at the end of the book when the couple rides off into that pink sunset, you know it’s not because they need each other to be whole but because they are two wholes that choose each other to complete the journey of life.

I think the theme of being a whole person is the crux of most books, fiction and non-fiction. I just prefer romance to be the vehicle that drives that message home to me.

 

 

 

 

On Muses and Writing

This interview originally posted on December 3 at the lovely Christine Young’s site for my Goddess Fish book blog tour.

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What or who inspired you to start writing? I think it’s a combo of nature and nurture. My parents love books and I don’t recall a time when books were not part of my life. As far as writing goes, my mother recalls that I’d be outside playing with the neighborhood kids when I’d suddenly run inside to grab a paper and pen. “What are you doing?” she’d ask. “Shh, Mama, I have to write,” I’d reply. I have no recollection of this, but I do remember needing to write, to create, from a young age. In high school, some of my favorite Saturday nights were not spent with friends, but with some good goth music, low light, and a pen and paper or sketchpad and charcoal.

How did you come up with ideas for your books? An obsession with something – a song, a place, a dream, a face – something will drive me to drill that obsession down as far as I can go. The absolute lust for a decrepit Back Bay mansion drove me to research and finally write a novel about the old Charlesgate Hotel. The search for an elusive chocolate cake recipe and a dream about King Arthur led me to write Cake, A Fairy Tale and a minor character from Charlesgate, the love of Santa Cruz, and a bluegrass song inspired Kicking Sideways.

If you could be one of the characters from any of your books, who would it be and why? Mike Sullivan from Kicking Sideways. He is steady and sure and takes life as it comes. At the same time, he is passionate. He enjoys the small moments. He has inner peace. When I first wrote Kicking Sideways, I identified with Mike, and I assumed he was most like me.

Cree was a harder study. She just poured out of me but she was difficult in that I did not always like her and she would not do what I wanted her to do. She is stubborn. Frustrating. And very dark. Some readers will not have patience for her.

During the edits for this re-issue, I realize that Cree is a lot like me and Mike is the person I hope to be. The realization was a little startling, really. Cree is tortured. She can’t get out of her own way. Mike is not.

If you were the casting director for the film version of your novel, who would play your leading roles? The characters in Kicking Sideways are especially tricky for me to cast. Mike is a creature of my mind. I know what he looks like but he is an idealized version of my first high school crush both physically and emotionally. A lot of actresses could play Cree, although I am hard pressed to think of one!

If I had to cast Mike, though, it’d be a “My Blueberry Nights” era Jude Law. For Cree, there is a photo of Patricia Arquette that reminds me of Cree but Patricia Arquette would not be the right actress in general. She has to be a queenly, cool blonde with gray, troubled eyes. Both photos are on my Pinterest page for Kicking Sideways. Always happy to hear reader suggestions!

Do you outline your books or just start writing? Both. The characters and structure percolate in my head until one day I just start typing. I get to know my characters and figure out what they think the want versus what they really want/need. I make a visual chart for each character. When I get stuck, I refer to that chart. I write, outline a bit, then write some more. I know what the end will be, but I don’t know how I’ll get there. Mostly, I try to relax and enjoy the process. If I let the characters speak, they do.

I love putting together puzzles. Those Buried Treasure puzzles are a favorite. Has anyone out there done those? Dracula ‘s Castle is my favorite. Writing a novel is a bit like putting together a puzzle. You have to relax into the process and the pieces naturally gravitate to each other. Sometimes you refer to the picture on the puzzle box to remind yourself of the destination or for technical guidance, but there is no defined path to that expected outcome. Writing is the same.

Do you have any hobbies and does the knowledge you’ve gained from these carry over into your characters or the plot of your books? Absolutely. My interest in books, music, ghosts, mythology, history, genealogy carry over into my novels. I have all these useless passions and facts in my head and writing a book is a good way to appease my obsessive nature and tie everything into one neat little package. A completed puzzle! I know it’s time to start a new novel when my brain starts to overflow with seemingly disconnected obsessions. My brain works and works at those passions until a novel is formed. I’ve come to believe that writing is some sort of compulsion, a cleaning frenzy. Kicking Sideways combines my obsessions with “The Lost Boys” and Santa Cruz, Halloween, a high school crush, the power of Little Women, transcendental philosophy, and the deconstruction of a song.

Do you have an all time favorite book? Every one I read! Even the worst book I’ve read has wisdom to share. Books save lives. I firmly believe that. But if you ask which books I return to again and again: A Room With a View, Wuthering Heights, The Witching Hour, Paradise, Here on Earth, North and South (by Elizabeth Gaskell, although I love the John Jakes TV miniseries), and Middlemarch.

Who is your favorite actor and actress? Viggo Mortensen. I fell in love with him after seeing “The Passion of Darkly Noon” and “Indian Runner.” He just melds into whatever character he is playing. Aragorn? Drool. Gary Oldman. Same morphing ability. He nailed Sid Vicious. Mark Ruffalo, Gene Tierney, Vivien Leigh, Toni Collette and Nicole Kidman.

What is your favorite reality show? Walking Dead and Outlander (*winks).

Can you tell us a little bit about what it was like to write a series? I don’t write series, but I do connect all my books. I love reading standalone books that subtly reference other places or characters from that same author’s other books and so I strive to do that with my own books. Mike Sullivan, the hero in Kicking Sideways, originates as a minor character from the world of Charlesgate and Zylla and Jabe from that book make an appearance in Kicking Sideways. There is a subtle reference to Charlesgate in Cake, as well. All these interconnections make me forget the characters don’t really exist. Or maybe they do. Who knows? You did see “Lost in Austen,” right? It could happen.

 

 

Crushing on Mike

This post originally appeared at Long and Short Reviews on November 19 as part of a Goddess Fish sponsored blog tour.

NBTM_KickingSideways_BannerLike a whole bunch of you, I fall in love with fictional heroes. Literary crushes come and go. For example, Kisten from Dead Witch Walking. Hareton Earnshaw from Wuthering Heights and my constant lover, Sirius Black. And although I know them as roommates at this point, I crush on my own creations. Rune from Cake, A Fairy Tale still makes me swoon and I blush when I think about Jabe from Charlesgate. If you write romance, you do fall a little in love with your characters. Yet my crush on Michael Sullivan, a minor character from Charlesgate, took me by surprise.

Mike is quiet. He waits, arms crossed, leaning against a wall, hidden in shadows, those blue eyes taking everything in. At the end of Charlegate, Mike didn’t know what he wanted but he was quite sure that I was not going on to the next book without him. He did not want to be forgotten.

And who could forget him, really? Quiet, certainly, but not shy, Mike is gorgeous, intelligent, has a great sense of humor, and is ready for anything. So he packs his Harley and heads off to Santa Cruz, mainly because his vessel to the great white page – ahem, me – could not get enough of that old Boardwalk. So we have a character and a setting but no story.

About the same time that Mike became a tenant in my mind, a catchy bluegrass song kept two-stepping through my noggin. Over and over and over again.

“Blue Lightning” is a great song. My husband and I used it for our wedding dance and it’s all the more special to me because our friend Bow Thayer wrote it. As our marriage neared, I was listening to the song so much that “Blue Lightning” became a muse for Kicking Sideways.

The song, my interpretation of it anyway, is a condensed romance novel about a man who travels all around the country only to wind up right back from where he started–right back into his girl’s arms. There’s a great metaphor of a mule running up and down, kicking sideways at nothing. Or at fate. Or maybe even at a ghost. Who knows? The point is the mule gets nowhere, but the man luckily finds happiness by the end of the song.

In Kicking Sideways, Bow’s mule turned into a human character, the heroine, Lucretia Cabot. Cree is a stubborn, capable, brave woman who tries to fix the world so she doesn’t have to face her own depression. She has a mule, too. His name is Crumble. And although Mike will try to help her, like the hero in the song, Lucretia will have to figure out how to save herself, even while she falls in love with Mike.