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Tuesday, April 30, 2013

More "Remains"

A snippet of Remains. I can't wait to finish and share the whole thing. Happy Tuesday!

From Whatever Remains

            They were sitting at the little spectator bench tucked against the back of the barn, the one with the view of the arena beneath the flickering leaves of a paper birch. His girls. Clara was in the grass, playing with a toy horse, dark hair brushed and gleaming and tumbling over her tiny frail shoulders. Jade was on the bench, reclining back against the red barn wall, one leg drawn up, the other swinging below. She was in tan breeches, tall socks and short boots, a loose green tank top with a smudge of dirt on the swell of one breast. She’d been riding: her hair was French braided and she wore no earrings, only a faint touch of makeup, another dirt streak on the high regal line of her cheekbone. Whatever their differences – their bitter misunderstandings – his physical attraction to her had never been an issue. He’d wanted her always, and he didn’t suppose that was ever going to change.

Monday, April 29, 2013

By Any Other Name

There are topics that seem to have been blogged about by every writer at some point or other. Naming characters is a popular one. I thought I'd say my piece.

These are Ketchup and Mustard roses. Ketchup and Mustard. Really, plant naming community? That's the best you could come up with? Hamburger condiments?

That's bad. But, they look lovely sprinkled with rainwater in the front flower beds. They're beautiful, even if the name is less-than-inspired.

In a similar vein, all of my horses have come to me as adults, already named. My great black warmblood - striking fear in the hearts of neighbor children and veterinarians - doesn't have a mystical, violent name; he's just "Markus." Considering his sire's name was "Fruhling," I think "Markus" is pretty great. And not just that, but, once I got to know him, his name started to mean something. His name became synonymous with his personality; with his identity. And these days, I don't think anything about his name; it's his, and that's all there is to it.

The same goes for humans. When it's the people we love, the names become endearing little nuggets of sound; when it's the people we can't stand, the names become curses. It applies to fictional humans, too. Think about the last book you read. Did you love or hate a character because of his name? Or because of his actions? His personality? Like hair or eye color, a name is just another part of a character. The reason names inspire reactions from readers is because readers immediately think of the character attached to that name. The name "Bella" makes me nauseous. The name "Elizabeth" makes me smile.

The lesson here? Names are irrelevant. I wouldn't name a handsome prince "Shitface," but otherwise, you can name a character anything you like. And hey, who's to say "Shitface" wouldn't have some sort of significance to the story?

There's a lot of writers who will bust out charts and rules and say things like never give a protagonist a name that ends in a consonant - or some such - but all of this is just distracting jargon that gets other writers off topic and fretting about trivial things. And that bugs me. The name doesn't make the man; the man makes the name.

Saturday, April 27, 2013

There May or May Not be a Point to This

So I wanted yellow fingernail polish. Bright yellow. For nerdy fangirl reasons. But I held the bottle up to my skin in the store and there are not words for how sallow my paste-white hand looked beside the yellow. So I went with blue instead: Sally Hansen Blue Away. I like it; I'm determined to try every shade of blue there is. I painted them yesterday and then went to pick up a copy of Fix You...and realized my nails were the exact shade of blue on the cover.

It's a small coincidence; meaningless, really. You're sitting there wondering why it matters, and, truly, it doesn't. But small coincidences tend to snowball, so I pay attention to them. So I opened up the book and flipped through it, eyes catching at passages. This was the book I almost didn't write; by the time I got around to it, I was convinced adding another volume to an unknown series was supremely stupid. The words fought me at every turn. But going back through it, a month after I set it aside for the last time, I was overwhelmed with a peaceful sort of gladness that I'd written it. It was different. They weren't star-crossed and inseparable like Tam and Jo, but there was something about Jess and something about Chris that I wanted to explore, and I'm glad I took the time to, whatever the ultimate outcome for the novel.

Chris went on a lot of first dates. He went on a much smaller number of second dates, even fewer thirds, rarely ever a fourth, had been only serious about a girl once – and that had been before the Army – and had never been in too much danger of loving anyone. He supposed he and his brother were more alike that he wanted to think, in that respect. But the first dates he had down to a science; even if lunch with his employer wasn’t a date, per se, he’d never had so much trouble buying a woman a meal before. She’d fought him tooth and nail about paying for her salad and Coke until he’d bluntly reminded her how much change she’d dropped at Kitchen World just twenty minutes before.
            She was still sore about the comment, he figured, as they sat in their window booth in not so companionable silence.
            Summer sunlight came through the plate glass window and turned Jessica’s honeyed hair to molten gold, her eyes to bright emeralds. She picked at her salad with dainty bites and watched the cars inching through the drive-through line, not paying him a bit of attention.

Thursday, April 25, 2013

Sneak Peek - Chapter One

Today I'm sharing the first chapter of my current work-in-progress, Whatever Remains. Keep in mind this is very much a rough draft, but I wanted to offer a sneak peek of my foray into mystery. If all goes as planned, it should be ready for beta reading by late summer. Enjoy!


            A night: crickets, tree frogs, shifting lace shadows on the grass, tussle of branches, the damp growing cold and settling in. A nameless, ageless, onyx absence of the sun like all the others. It felt like the first cool fingers of October; tasted like the last strawberry bite of July; fell somewhere in the middle with a smell of burning leaves. It was just a night…

            Until it became one of those nights that stops time. Until it gained the power to alter lives and shred psyches. Death walked into that night, dragging through the wood, rending the quiet with its inhuman hot breath: panting and poised and terrible.

            Deer crashed through the underbrush; round yellow eyes watched. And Death left its offering on a bed of soft white sand, scalloped and pocked as beach dunes. Under the great black bowl of the sky, a face tipped to the stars, sightless and waiting, washed in light flickering with moth-dance, almost alive if you squinted, just sleeping.



Deep down, Ben had never expected to end up with a sister-in-law. His brother had been the sort of non-restless, wholly satisfied bachelor for so long…right up until it hadn’t been enough. It had been sudden. Chris had gone from indifferent to invested in just a few short months, acquiring a stepkid and impregnating his honey before the rest of the family had even been introduced to her.

            “Cheesecake, Ben?” Jess asked him from her kitchen counter. Her tone was a coolly polite, detached reminder that the two of them would never be friends; he couldn’t blame her, he guessed, after he’d all but called her a slut. She turned to regard him over her shoulder, expression removed; she was in little white slip-on sneakers and a pretty blue cotton dress. It hugged her hips in just the right way; provided a backdrop for the thick spill of honey blonde hair down her back. The line of tension down her bicep made him think she could have used the knife in her hand for something more sinister than slicing cake if he gave her a reason.

Wednesday, April 24, 2013

Thinking Outside the...Pond

When you live on a horse farm, why go about things in the normal way? Why have a goldfish pond when you could have, say...a goldfish trough?

My mom and I did a lot of talking about incorporating some sort of water feature into the side garden, and we were worried that a pond would attract the heron that flies over the pasture every few days. And then there was the whole issue of digging out a pond in this rocky, foothills-of-the-Appalachians soil. I'm not sure which one of us suggested it first, but eventually, it was decided to incorporate this antique water pump with a horse trough to create a hillbilly pond, of sorts.

There's still plenty of planting to do around the base, but so far, it's proved entertaining. Apparently, I have the mental acuity of a cat. And I don't mean that in a good way. Fish swim. Pretty.

More mystery stuff tomorrow.

Monday, April 22, 2013

Writing Mystery

“Now is the dramatic moment of fate, Watson, when you hear a step upon the stair which is walking into your life, and you know not whether for good or ill.”
Arthur Conan Doyle

That's the question, isn't it? If you knew, before they reached the top of the stairs, would you do things differently? Would you keep someone out? Pull someone in closer?
It's a question at the heart of every mystery novel. Characters - lives tilting sideways - shuffle back through their mental card catalogues, searching every face their eyes have ever swept across, replaying even the most benign of interactions, searching for the "why" of it all. It isn't the whodunit that keeps us readers up after midnight, but the empathy we feel for the characters. It's probably true that there are no new stories; after all, there are only so many candlesticks and butlers in the game of Clue. But the characters are unique; they have their own histories and weaknesses and their own creaky staircases  - the steps coming up them are theirs and theirs alone, and so the story will be theirs, and no one else's.

Saturday, April 20, 2013


Every day, we are reminded what fragile creatures we are. We are vulnerable. We are breakable. But we are resilient, too. And that is the most important thing to remember. It's a new day, and the sun is warm, and I am thankful for the blessings in my life.

Thursday, April 18, 2013

Truth in Fiction a.k.a My Next Novel

I've always had trouble blending any part of my real life with my fiction. I know I've had a post or two in the past about incorporating animals into my work, and you all see how well I stuck with the horse-centered story that I started last year (one of these days, I'll finish Lightning; I'm determined). I love realism, but putting the equine world on the page has always been a strange kind of struggle for me. I think I'm too close to it; I can't look at it artistically. Which is a shame, because when I tell family and friends that I'm writing, they always want to know if there are horses involved. I'm pretty sure saying "no" to this has turned some people away. So I've been wondering, short of writing some kind of nonfiction piece - and trust me, no one wants to read that - how I could incorporate some of my real life into my fiction. How do I blend equestrian themes into the kind of novel that appeals not just to horsewomen, but to fiction readers in general?

I left the question on the back burner; I wasn't going to force it. Sometimes, that's the best thing to do; things have a chance to simmer. The blending feels natural that way, more flavorful than if it was raw and rushed. And I finally arrived at my answer.

My newest project - tentatively titled Whatever Remains - is a very character-driven mystery. I'm about 20K words in and things are clicking and pinging and moving along at that new-story, fast-then-slow, hold-my-breath pace. I'm really enjoying it, and I'm hoping it will end up being my next release, maybe even late summer/early fall if I can get Made for Breaking finished.

In Remains, lead character Ben Haley has a complicated past with ex-girlfriend Jade. Ben was already a lock in my mind - he had a minor cameo in Fix You - but Jade was shadowy. I knew who she was, but not what she did. One day it hit me: she was a rider. A dressage rider. She and her BFF Jeremy were trainers who'd let their personal lives prevent them from running off to Florida and devoting all their energy toward the Olympics. And it just felt right: the horses and the farm and the whole equine landscape, unfurling slow and green as the backdrop for this murder mystery. There's something animal and visceral about a murder, and using a farm as a setting gives me that metaphor in a cool way. It's fun. And, bonus, I don't have to research anything equestrian; that lifetime of experience is going to come in handy.

So, here we go, readers, off on the next whirlwind. I really want to blog about Remains as I go along, so...I'm going to. I hope you'll join me.

Wednesday, April 17, 2013

Do Your Own Thing

I shall be telling this with a sigh
Somewhere ages and ages hence:
Two roads diverged in a wood, and I—
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference.
~Robert Frost
It might be the most overused poem, but that doesn't make it any less lovely. It's a guiding line for my writing: taking that road less traveled.

Tuesday, April 16, 2013

Jury Duty

**It seemed so petty posting something like this in the wake of what happened yesterday in Boston. It was already written. My thoughts and prayers go out to all of those impacted by the bombing.**

Do you want the dramatic version? Or the tame one?

I feel like being melodramatic; I'm a writer, after all.

Without doing a lot of research, I know that Walking Dead is filmed in Atlanta, and that the city (and surrounding suburbs) are getting more and more attention from film production companies. Georgia is warm, woodsy, muggy, atmospheric, and the people are friendly: for these and what I'm assuming are cost-related reasons, stuff is filming all over the state.

Apparently, the yokel courthouse where I have jury duty looked like the perfect spot to film a movie. It was chaos yesterday morning: semis parked all over; signs directing Extras, Actors, Lighting, Makeup, Breakfast with arrows beneath them were taped to the lamp posts; great sinister spools of cables unfurled over everything; sandwich boards blocking turn lanes; guys in caps and headsets rushing around, utility belts pulling their pants down. I had banked on whipping right into a parking place by the door, and instead, I was circling past vans and wondering what would happen to me if I couldn't find a space and was late. Would they send deputies out to my house? I finally flagged down someone with a courthouse name tag and asked her where to park; crisis averted.

Going into the building, the guy in front of me continued to set off both the walk-through metal detector and the wand the deputy waved over him. Oh my God; what are you doing? What is the deal? The was a penny stuck in the deep dark depths of his back pocket and this little dilemma took five minutes to sort out. I know five minutes isn't long, but how does a man, without a purse or jewelry, need five minutes to prep for metal detection?

During an instructional video from the eighties - complete with jewel-toned pantsuits and MacGyver hairdos - the prospect of actually being selected for a jury and sitting in on a trial started to sound interesting. I'm writing a mystery novel right now, and I do love details and intricacies. I decided this could be fun - and that the courthouse really needed to update its instructional video.

Then began the waiting. This would have been fine - I had one of my very favorite books to read and was absorbed - if the guy one row back hadn't been coughing like he had tuberculosis and moaning and sniffling dramatically about it. I pressed the sleeve of my sweater over my nose and mouth and thought about vitamin C; when he didn't get any attention from this, he draped his arms over the back of the chair next to me, looked at me, and coughed in my direction. Thank you, random jury guy. I've always wondered what it was like to have TB.

As it turned out, they released all of us early, Here's hoping I don't have a hideous respiratory infection brewing and that the rest of the week goes as quickly.

Saturday, April 13, 2013

Saturday Ramblings

Brace yourselves for disjointed thoughts; the pollen's wrecking my head.

Last night, I had the most vivid dream. I dream a lot - usually nightmares, usually pulse-pounding - but never in a productive way. I have a lot of semi-cartoonish, horror movie dreams where the landscape keeps sliding sideways and the rules keep changing and some obscure TV character or other is shouting at me to hurry up and save everyone already. They aren't fun. Last night's dream was no less unproductive, but this time, I dreamed about characters from my books.

I got to watch, uninvolved, as a rather benign sequence of events unfolded between Chris and Jess. I saw them in extreme detail: the bags under her eyes, the shaving cut on his cheek. They were tired, but happy, and the sun was dazzling overhead. It was quiet, sweet, and one of the best dreams I've had in a long time.

And then teen lit had to hijack my brain and Chris was suddenly a vampire; I woke up thinking Nooooo! I like my vampires of the Count Dracula variety, thank you very much: no glitter. It was further proof that dreams are like our subconscious on acid, and they aren't necessarily inspiring.

Speaking of Chris, I've had a lot of fun writing about his brother, Ben: a Homicide detective with a sticky personal life and a case that tangles it with his professional life. So far, it's a blast. I get to say things like:

Death wasn’t peaceful; it was wretched, and shocking, and too bold to mistake for anything else.

I dig it. I've been a mystery fan since forever, so I think it's only natural I move that a very character-driven way, of course.

Speaking of law enforcement, I have jury duty next week. And because I always loved Law & Order, and all its procedural jargon, I'm hoping that amid the hours of sitting and waiting and reading and being bored, doing my civic duty might be a little bit interesting. I'll keep you posted.

Thursday, April 11, 2013

Between Projects

A glimpse of the Appalachian mountains on my way to get hay, as seen through the bug spatter on my windshield. Pretty, don't ya think? It's a necessary trip, but I do so enjoy the scenery, especially now that green is coming back to the world. Spring is wonderful; everything is fresh and tender and vital. I know everyone loves this season change, but sometimes, selfishly, I wonder if farm people don't love it a little more.

Except for the pollen. And except for the fact that spring chores distract me from my writing.

Being between projects is unsettling for me. I'm playing around with Made for Breaking and I've just started something new; I'm two chapters into it and still finding my footing with it. This is the scary part of writing. This is when I wonder, what if I can't do this? I had this naive hope that finishing my Walker Series would make me more certain about these things, but every book is different, and nothing is ever guaranteed. I don't want to jinx myself by talking about it too much, but I'm hoping to be able to soon. Because even though launching into a new project - new characters, new home base, new conflicts - is scary, it's thrilling, too. Right now, I'm looking at the mountains rearing up in the distance and wondering how I'll get over them.

Tuesday, April 9, 2013

A Book Lover's Find

It's funny. All that required reading from middle school - those stuffy old cumbersome novels and high-minded poetry collections that we all called "stupid" rather than admit we didn't understand any of it - came back to haunt me in the best possible way. I now treasure the sorts of books that I once rejected; the lessons of the classics are invaluable to an author, and revered by readers. All my classics are shiny paperback versions from Barnes & Noble, printed sometime in the past ten years, so it's always a treat to find an old, well-loved edition.

Saturday at the book sale provided just that opportunity. Look what I found on the two dollar table! Two dollars!

Lassie Come Home.

A collection of Kipling stories that was someone's Christmas present, dedicated to Charles and dated 1919. That one gave me a bit of a thrill; I imagined Charles somewhere, almost a century ago, opening the cover between his palms.

This volume of Tennyson poetry is literally crumbling away.


Check out the full color illustration in Louisa May Alcott's Silver Pitchers.

I love the colors and textures, the details, of the covers; the old, dusty library smell of the pages. Each one is scarred and stained in unique patterns; I wonder about the shelves they sat on, the people who read them, the arms they were tucked under. They feel a little bit like artifacts, as nerdy as that sounds; windows to a different time that still manage to be relevant. Old books are a wonderful thing.


Monday, April 8, 2013

The Sale

So Saturday was the Cobb Library book sale and I'm happy to report there was nothing to be nervous about. But you probably already knew that - I just tend to get nervous for no reason.

This was my table:

This was me at the table:

This was the world's widest plastic chair (my hand as a reference):


Book sales are a lot like craft fairs - a room full of tables from behind which vendors sell their wares - only with books instead of bracelets and dream catchers. There were probably twenty local authors in attendance selling everything from quilting how-to guides to religious fiction. While it's true that no one achieves astronomical sales at events like this, it's a great chance for exposure: I handed out pamphlets and shook hands and got to meet some lovely local authors, and even sold some books. All in all, I'd call the day a success.

Friday, April 5, 2013

Cobb Library Sale Tomorrow

I'll have a full write-up Sunday. Have a happy Saturday, everyone!  

Thursday, April 4, 2013

Bonus Scene - Another Lunch

Sappy, fluffy, extra bit of a scene with ties to Keep You and the future. It's totally saccharine, but thought I'd post it.

Another Lunch

“People are afraid of you now, you know.” Jo heard the note of pride in her voice and couldn’t bring herself to feel regretful about that. People were afraid of him – she’d heard the not-so-covert whispers behind hands; had seen the wary glances directed her way – and maybe they should be. Maybe those mocking, teasing, cat-calling, bullshitting boys should have a little respect.

Tam’s brows gave a mild jump, unimpressed, as he dug his lighter out of his jacket pocket. He clamped his cigarette between his teeth and gave her a steady look from beneath the dark fringe of his hair. “And you’re not?” he asked, and lit up in complete defiance of the crowded campus green on the other side of the bell tower.

Tuesday, April 2, 2013

What to Wear

These are my favorite boots. I got them at a place called The Boot Barn in Jackson, Wyoming. True story: they were my carry-on during the flight back to Atlanta, all wrapped up in their shopping bag, and the stewardess made me stuff them under the seat. They're the most comfortable things ever. I have fancier, prettier, more feminine boots, but these are just so solid, and so grounded, and I feel in-charge when I wear them, which is every single day in the fall and winter months. I've been told that they're chunky and ugly and unflattering, and you know what? I just don't care. I paint my nails and I'm meticulous about my makeup, but there are certain elements of my childhood tomboy phase that will never be outgrown.

It gets tricky at more formal events. Dresses - or the always-dreaded slacks - are not my thing; on the fashion scale, I'm definitely a Jo and not a Delta. I had an "oh, crap" moment when I realized that at the sale this weekend, there might be cardigans and pressed gray pants involved. So I did some research, and read dozens of blog posts about author-appearance fashion dictates. Most seemed of the opinion that dress pants were preferred. But there is no official dress code, and some leaned more toward the casual. Then, of course, there's photographic evidence; with the exception of a lovely few - like J.K. Rowling - most authors have a sort of rumpled, dazed, worked-all-night-in-yesterday's-Target-work-clothes look going on, despite their financial success. I asked myself: Am I actually researching this? Ludicrous.

And then I read something that made a lot of sense to me: one blogger talked about dressing to match your novels. If your books have a theme, a style - if your characters have a certain aesthetic that makes them feel real - dress like that. Represent your work. If all your characters are classed-up and label-conscious, you should look the part. Lucky for me, most of my characters are all leather jackets and jeans, caught somewhere between teenage nostalgia and adult practicality.

This is the segment of the post where I should make some sort of statement about what authors should do...but I'm not going there. Frankly, I think authors telling other authors what they "ought to" is a bit silly. Instead, I'll promise to post a pic and show you how much of a sore thumb I was. Ha! Oh, the little things that stress me. (I won't wear these boots, by the by. I have at least that much sense.)

Monday, April 1, 2013

Easter 2013

Easter is one of those expectation-free holidays; it lacks the spectacular, stressful crush of Thanksgiving and Christmas. And the weather's better. Yesterday we had an early dinner - Honey Baked Ham, mac & cheese, green beans, more gluten-free appetizers than you can count - we visited, we had wine, we watched the baby, and someone - okay, it was me - brought up the revered childhood memory of my little brother standing with his back to the camera, trying to shield all eight of us cousins from the picture with his arms outstretched. It was lovely; it reaffirmed that Easter just might be the best holiday.

And if you're a nerd like me, yesterday was a holiday twofer: the return of Game of Thrones.

I used to watch the crap out of some TV. When I was a freshman in college, and I spent almost every evening copying notes out of textbooks, I distracted my studies with some primetime show or another. I had a whole card of them lined up, one for almost every weekday. They all inevitably jumped the shark and I found better uses of my time, and these days, I don't watch much TV. I have a few dramas - all of them 8 to 12 episode seasons that don't monopolize too much time, all of them offbeat. Right now, it's Being Human (until the season ends in two weeks) and, of course, Game of Thrones.

While I watched the premier, I reflected on the fact that, wow, it's been a year since last season aired. And then I thought: Man, I've really been out of the media loop this past year. Why? I've been writing non-stop for the past year. A year ago, I was blogging about sunsets - though, I still do that, so I can't say I've grown in that area - and was waiting on GoT to premier and wondering what the hell I was going to do about that writing career I wanted so badly. Today, I'm 80k words into my next novel and prepping for this coming weekend's book sale. I feel like I've learned a lot in that time, and can only hope this coming year will teach me even more. Maybe next Easter...well....I dunno what to hope for. Let's just hope for more inspiration.