Monday, December 26, 2011


Here is a passage from my new novel, Souljourner.

Jacob was eight years old. Eight. Too young to die, but old enough to know what death was, to possibly fear death. Even though her heart broke for the babies, they didn't know. Jacob was old enough to know.

Kate was unnerved by the sound of her own voice in the silent graveyard, even though she whispered as if in a library or church. She told Jacob everything was okay, that he wasn't alone anymore. She reached her hand toward the headstone and imagined a hand reaching back. Reaching out to her. Grasping. Holding on tight. Finding comfort in the feel of her hand around his. She could sense it, sense the warmth of his small fingers in hers. She tried to convey security, compassion, and love in her grip. She tried to convey the idea that everything would be alright. But they wouldn't be. They couldn't be alright. He was dead. She felt his hand pull on hers. Pull her to him, toward the grave. The pull was more than she could resist.

Now available for your Kindle, Nook, or other eReader and also in paperback!!!!

"All these forgotten souls. No one to tell their stories. No one to remember them. No one to care for their final resting place, as if their lives didn't matter at all."

But every life matters...

Katherine Cooper is a young independent art student with a long history of unusual dreams and nightmares. After visiting an old cemetery she begins having nightmares about the people buried there. But what if they aren't just dreams? When Kate starts questioning their true meaning she gets a mixed reaction from her friends and family. The one person who believes her is the strange woman who lives downstairs. Just who is this woman and how is she connected to Kate's dreams? And what does all of this mean for her future?

You can find it on Amazon (ebook and paperback) and Barnes and Noble (ebook)!

Check out the trailer video!

I hope you all had a fantastic holiday filled with the warmth of friends and family!

Monday, October 24, 2011

Breaking the Rules

I'm currently in the phase of writing my book, that I now understand, I hate the most. Revisions. How tough can that be? It's not difficult, because my editor doesn't get my characters and has demanded I practically rewrite the entire manuscript. It's difficult because the English language is a mess, and most English speaking human beings, don't follow the rules.

I didn't have the money to hire a professional editor, but I'm no good at proof-reading and editing my own work. I was an “A” English student in high school, so I do know, or thought I did, most of the rules. When I'm writing, however (and this includes this blog), I'm too busy trying to get all the words and ideas down fast, to stop and think about those rules. When I try to self-edit, I may start off okay, but before I know it, I slide back into writer-mode and start tweaking the story, forgetting all about punctuation, fragments and dangling participles. Guess what? The human brain does not think in complete, grammatically correct, sentences. Really.

So my solution was to ask some very good friends to help me out. Not just random friends, I had two in mind. One had edited a book in the past, and the other had recently retired from professional editing. On top of that, I took portions of my novel to my writing class, where my instructor, as well as up to 15 other students, gave them the once over.

I've heard, many times, how self-published books are often considered poorer in quality, because they are riddled with grammatical errors. Yet, I have seen professionally edited, and published books with glaring errors as well. I really have my heart set on making sure my novel is perfect. Well, I know it won't be perfect, but as error-free as possible.

In my mind, I thought more was better. With three plus editors, I figured it was the best I could do. What one person missed, hopefully the other would catch, and that's exactly what happened. Now I have the edited copies in hand, and need to make the revisions. In some cases, an edit was incorrect because of intent of the character. The placement of a comma can change the whole meaning and tone of a sentence.

Here's an example:

My version was an argument between two friends. One has had a nightmare, but doesn't believe it was just a nightmare, and she's trying to convince her friend.

“It wasn't a nightmare.”
“What do you mean it wasn't a nightmare?” demanded Janice.
“It was real.”
“What do you mean it was real?”

My characters are practically shouting at each other at this point, and Janice is not really asking if the nightmare was real, she's being sarcastic, so I left out commas.

One editor put the comma in here: “What do you mean, it was real?”
The other put it here: “What, do you mean it was real?”

In both cases, the comma totally changed the tone of the sentence and conversation. When we're arguing with each other, we rarely use pauses that would be indicated by commas. So sometimes I know I'm breaking rules, on purpose. Many times, each editor corrected the same sentence differently, which left me confused and looking up the rules myself, which often are confusing themselves.

There are rules we break all the time. As a writer, do I follow the rule? Or do I follow what most people would find more natural. Nothing challenges grammar rules more than the old lay/lie conundrum. The definition of lay, is to place. The definition of lie, is to rest or recline.

In everyday language we butcher this one regularly. A subject (John) lies down. You lay down an object (the book). You cannot lay down on the beach.  If you make yourself prone on a beach, you lie on the beach. I saw one quote that made me laugh. “You can't lay on the beach, unless you're a chicken.” When we ask our dog to lay down, we are also incorrect. The dog will lie down, not lay down, unless of course he is unconscious, and I lay him on his side.

You cannot take a book and lie it on the counter, but you can lay it on the counter. My biggest question is once you lay and item down, does it now lie there, or does it lay there? What about a body? On headstones we see “Here lies Sally.” Chances are, Sally didn't walk over to that coffin and lie down. She was placed there by someone else, therefore she lays in the coffin, right? To make it more confusing, the past tense of lie, is lay. So if Joe talks about when he took a nap yesterday, then he lay down on the bed yesterday. So even if Sally did lie down in the coffin, wouldn't she lay in the coffin now? Are you still following me?

This has been quite the issue for me as there are a plethora of dead bodies in my story, and suddenly I'm not sure if they lay beneath the earth, or lie beneath the earth. Maybe the confusion is simply because people fear death. We like to think of our loved ones as resting in their graves, rather than the reality that they were put there, so maybe we feel more comfortable with saying they lie in the grave. Or maybe the problem is whether the reference is to the object rather than the subject, and I'm still just confused.

I could go on and on about confusing rules, just look up punctuation within quotes, when quotes are within actions, and so forth. Or how about effect vs. affect. And then there's the apostrophe; it can mean letters of a word are missing, or when followed by an “s” it means the word is possessive, except for “it's” which is never possessive. What about hyphens, I never know when to use them and when not. I sometimes have to wonder how I even passed English, much less got top grades. Maybe it's like “new math”, they changed the rules just to confuse the adults.

And guess what? Just to make it all the more confusing, the grammar/spell-check on my computer is often incorrect. The rule says to write 4:30 a.m., but my computer tells me to get rid of the periods. Well all I have to say is I'm very sleep deprived. It is really 4:30 a.m., and I have been revising and editing (and looking up rules) for the past two days from the wee-hours of the morning until late at night. So if there (notice I didn't accidentally type their or they're) are any glaring grammatical errors or typos, cut me a break okay?

Most non-writers think that the hardest part is in coming up with, and crafting the story. Ha! That part I've got. I'm starting to think life must have been so much easier when, to get our point across, we would just point and grunt. My daughter's solution to my frustration? Learn a different language and write all my books in that language. It just might be easier than learning English, even though I already speak English! 

Who came up with all these rules anyway?

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Fiction of Fright...or not...fiction that is.

I'm thrilled to have my story "Spirits of the Corn" featured in the October Issue of eFiction Magazine. If you like a good fright, I highly recommend you read this issue, It's chock-full of Halloween horror. I enjoy scary stories, and LOVE Halloween. I admit, I have a bit of a dark side.

As much as a fictional tale of terror can inspire nightmares, I have a ghost story to share that is absolutely non-fiction.

When my husband and I bought our first home, there was no history of horrible crime, death, or unexplained noises. Other than us being the tenth occupants in its forty years, there was nothing special about the house.

At the time Duffy, our border collie mix, was in his later years and quite sedate. Sometimes, our neighbors had to step over his sleeping body on the porch to get to the door; not much of a watch dog. So I was quite surprised one afternoon, when he refused to come in the house. Not as in, I'm-napping-in-the-warm-sun-bug-off, don't want to come in; but tail-tucked-hackles-raised-feet-firmly-planted-not-a-chance-in-heck-I'm-coming-in-there, don't want to come in.

When I finally dragged the struggling animal in the door, he took one look down the basement stairs, snarled, then turned tail and ran. I finally found the terrified pooch hiding under a table, and when I bent down to talk to him, my normally lethargic dog snapped at me. This was the worst episode, but there were others when our dog seemed nervous, and had a problem with the basement in particular.

(A side note, purely for effect, but absolutely factual: our house was a Dutch colonial – the Amityville Horror house, was a Dutch colonial. And in our basement there was a funky little storage room tucked under the concrete front porch. To enter it, you had to climb through a small opening in the basement wall. The opening was covered with a thick wooden door complete with wrought iron latch. The room's craggy walls and ceiling were covered in cobwebs, and floor was nothing more than dirt. Other than peeking in when we bought the house, we never went in there or used it for anything. It was just too creepy. Only in the movies would someone ACTUALLY go in there, despite the audience screaming not to.)

There was also the sound of running footsteps, always late in the evening. It's a two-story house and the footsteps were always heard from the living room on the first floor, so we knew it wasn't just a squirrel on the roof. Our son was a year and a half old, so when we heard the foot steps racing above our heads, we naturally assumed that he had climbed out of his crib and was sprinting around his room. Every time we'd hear the thump, thump, thump, of running feet, we'd race upstairs to find our son sound asleep. We found this occurrence curious and intriguing, but not frightening.

The event that hammered home that something other-worldly might be going on happened many months later. I'd laid down next to our son, who was now in a big bed and had trouble settling for the night. My back was starting to ache from lying so still. He had been quiet for a while, but I wasn't brave enough to move yet.

I was longing to go back down to the living room, so I turned my gaze from the darkened room out into the brightly lit hallway. There, in the doorway, stood the silhouette of a man. I assumed my husband had come up to check on us. I held a finger to my lips to warn him not to say anything, lest our son wake up. I turned my head, for just a moment, to check if our son was truly asleep. When I turned back, the man was gone.

Although my original assumption had been that the figure had been that of my husband, the way he seemed to appear and disappear without so much as a creak of the stairs bothered me. The whole episode was so brief, I questioned whether or not it had been real. Had I imagined it? Maybe, I had unknowingly dozed off and dreamt it. But it felt real.

When I was sure it was safe for me to leave, I went downstairs to find my husband sitting on the sofa reading the newspaper. I sat down next to him. “Did you come up to check on us?”

My husband lowered the paper, his eyebrows drawn together. “Why do you ask?”

“I thought I saw you outside the door,” I answered.

Dropping the paper into his lap, my husband shook his head. “Wow, that's weird.”

“What's weird?” I questioned.

He paused. “Have you ever had one of those times, when you see something moving out of the corner of your eye, but when you look, there's nothing there, so you just write it off as your imagination?”

I nodded.

“Well,” he said, “I was sitting down here reading the paper while you were upstairs and I could have sworn someone went up the stairs.”

My flesh tightened into goosebumps so hard it was almost painful.

Now I can hear some of you screaming in your head, “Run away! Get out of the house!” It's never that easy. Maybe we really just had a senile dog, funky thumping floorboards, and overactive imaginations. We also considered the fact that if there really was a ghost involved, he certainly didn't seem mean-spirited, rather he seemed friendly, checking in on us, keeping an eye on our child.

Was it a ghost, or did my husband and I have some kind of simultaneous imaginary event, each of us on a different floor of the house? I leave that up to you. But I have to admit, I really like the ghost theory better.

Did I mention how much I love Halloween?

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

The End, a beginning...

Last week I took a vacation from my day job, and locked myself in a room in an effort to finish my first full-length novel “Souljourner”. On the afternoon of July 31st it happened; I finally got to the end.  By the way, despite my husband's protests, I did not write “The End” at the end.

I am, what other writers call a “pantser”, in other words, I fly by the seat of my pants. Instead of starting with a detailed outline, I just write. When I start writing the story, I might have a general idea of the general premise, but for the most part I let the story tell itself. That can be frightening, especially to those who are “planners”, but it's the way that works best for me.

In the beginning, even I don't know the end, so it's extremely exciting when I get there, because I'm getting the same thrill of discovering what happens as, hopefully, my readers will.

But this ending is also, what I hope will be, a beginning. I can't convey how much pleasure writing is for me. How miraculous it is to have all the pieces fall into place, in almost a magical way, to make a complete story. I will be blissfully happy if I get to do this for the rest of my days.

So here's to reaching the end of one story, and hopefully the beginning of my new life.

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

A Moment for Magic

Despite the excitement of my first review for my novelette, Finding Hope, and my self-imposed pressure to get my novel done.  I'm going to take a moment for magic.

I'm talking about pausing for Potter.  Harry Potter. I'm one of those crazy Harry Potter fans. I can't complain, it's paid off in ways I could never have imagined.

J.K. Rowling's books were one of the things that inspired me to write. Her books pulled me in to a world I couldn't have imagined. Her speech to Harvard graduates convinced me that everything is worth trying. That you can only fail by failing to try at all.

All that aside, she has also turned me into a Potter geek, and I'm a proud one at that. So for the next nine days I will be consumed by every Harry Potter interview, trailer, magazine article, and promotional picture.  I will rewatch the previous seven movies and I will be one of the many lined up at midnight on opening night. I've never been to a midnight showing, I figure this is my last chance. I may even dress in costume, when in Rome...or in this case when at Hogwarts...

Eighteen hours later I will be in line again with my friends. I will make sure I have plenty of tissues. Yes, I will cry.  It's inevitable. I cried while reading the last book and have no doubt I will at the last movie. I'm sure I have family and friends that question my sanity, but then again aren't all good writer's just a little bit off?

After my period of mourning, I will return to my novel in full force.  I've taken the last week of July off in hopes of putting all the final pieces together.  But for now I'm perfectly okay with taking a hiatus for Harry.

Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Where art

Last night at the Chapter One writers group, I read an essay I wrote a couple of years ago about my search for a creative outlet. It chronicled my failed attempts at dance, music, and art. I found myself to be hopelessly clumsy, possibly tone deaf, an only mediocre at drawing. I've had an ad for ballroom dance lessons on my dream board forever.  It was a dream I considered unobtainable. I'd thought I was doomed to be left-brained; one whose analytic skills outweigh their artistic/creative skills.

That was until I discovered writing.  It turns out to be the one artistic venture that I seem to have some natural ability at. Up until now, I saw that as a victory.  Not just the victory of writing a story people might actually like to read.  But a victory over the left side of my brain in a "move over left brain, the right brain is taking over" kind of way.  That somehow, I had conquered my predetermined biological make-up.

Ha!  I was wrong. I did some more research. It turns out right-brained people are better at art because they think visually, and left-brained people think verbally.  Which means, left-brained people are better at putting thoughts into words instead of pictures, and therefore make better writers.

I found this to be frustrating. I'm not sure why it bothers me. Obviously it seems to be working to my benefit. But for some reason, I feel like I'm less in control.  That any talent I  have boils down to the way my cells divided when I was nothing more than a tadpole, rather than my determination, my heart and soul.

So I started taking every right-brain vs. left brain test I could find, hoping to find some evidence that my mind was more than a collection of gray matter that I had no control over.  I was intrigued by the fact that I seemed to have attributes of each side. Then I read that some people can actually consciously switch sides.

So I tried an experiment.  I stared at one of those tests that show a dancer turning in circles.  If you see her as turning clock-wise, you are using your right brain, if you see her turning counter clock-wise, you are using your left brain.  I stared, and I stared.  I concentrated hard.  Imagine my surprise when right before my eyes, she switched directions!  I did it.  I conquered my own brain!  Although she seems to switch back to counter-clockwise easier and quicker than clock-wise, I can now control which side of my brain I'm using.

I plan to keep working on switching her direction until it becomes easier.  Think of it as gray matter calisthenics.  Maybe someday my mental work-out will pay off. And maybe I just might take those ballroom dance lessons after all.

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Life imitates art, art imitates life, life after death...

I have to start this out with the statement that, although I write a lot of fiction, this story is completely, absolutely, without embellishment, pure non-fiction. This is exactly how it happened, or should I say is currently happening to me as I sit and type this. Cross my heart and hope to die. 

Given what I'm about to tell you, maybe I shouldn't say that.

This week started out with my attempt to write something for this blog. My head was not in the best of places, feeling frustrated with my lack of time to do any quality writing. What I wrote, I decided, was poor at best so I didn't post it. That made me feel even more frustrated as I am feeling pressure to blog more often. Today, Wednesday, is my one day off of work, devoted to writing. I spent all day at my favorite coffee shop. Although I did some great re-working and editing on my novel, I wasn't feeling very inspired.

As some of you may know, the novel I'm currently working on is about a young woman, Katherine.  While walking through an old cemetery, contemplating the lives of the people buried there, she inadvertently ends up traveling back in time directly into the life of the person's headstone that she touches, just before their time of their death. This idea was born as my husband and I drove past a small local cemetery (pictured above). Although we'd driven by it many times, on this particular occasion I tried to read as many headstones as I could. I, like my main character, started to wonder about those names. Who were those people? What were their lives like? Did they still have family members that remember them, visit their graves? Or were they lost in time, just names and dates etched in stone? I went back to take some pictures of the cemetery. It seemed small, quaint, with a chapel at the back. There were a mix of newer stones right alongside very old, almost, illegible ones. Perfect for my novel.

In my story, which is a fair way toward finished, I needed the cemetery to be bigger, yet I didn't want to lose that small old cemetery feel. So I had my character discover a path behind the chapel that leads to a hidden section she'd never known was there. This was already down on paper, or virtual paper I should say, as everything is written on my laptop.

In fact it had been a part of the story for at least nine months when a good friend, Sue, asked me if I'd ever really walked around that cemetery. I said I'd been there once, but didn't go too far. She said she'd just recently gone on a geocache (a treasure hunt led by hand-held GPS). My first thought was, really? In a cemetery? But that thought was quickly halted when she said “Did you realize there are two more cemeteries hidden in the woods behind the church?” Well, as you can imagine, I was shocked. So today, after my less than inspired day of working on my book, I stopped there.

By my friends recommendation, I parked on the street and walked, rather than drove into the cemetery. I walked up the hill towards the church and around the back. There, winding through the woods, up a steep hill, was a paved road. At this point I heard a loud caw and look up to see a solitary crow in a dead tree, juxtaposed against the scene of the butterfly fluttering around the flowers at the base of the trunk. I made a mental note to make sure to add that to my story.

I followed the road around and up and sure enough, it opened up onto another cemetery. This graveyard also had a mix of older and newer stones and was even smaller than the main one that I had just come from. By this time my heart was beating a bit faster. I'm not sure if it was finding the hidden cemetery of my imagination, or the hike up the hill in the heat and humidity. I didn't walk around this middle cemetery, instead I searched for the way up to the third cemetery my friend had mentioned.

There in the corner, barely visible, was a narrow path in the woods. This one was not paved, it was merely mowed through the woods. The path wound around a bit, the overgrown trees and shrubs brushing against my shoulders. I made another mental note to include this imagery into my story as it was doing a good job of creeping me out in real life. My only thought was that it was too sunny, the beams of light dancing through the leaves too pretty. In my story I needed to make it cloudy, maybe even an approaching storm. Again I must emphasize, this is REALLY true. Only moments after this random thought, a rumble of thunder echoed in the distance. REALLY!

So, this path did indeed open up into a third cemetery. This one much larger than even the first and looked to be more modern. I wandered a bit but decided I would wait and come back another day, since that rumble of thunder had been the precursor to some approaching clouds that were definitely calling for rain. As I walked back toward the path, I thought to myself that it was that middle cemetery, carved into the woods, that had the ambiance I'd imagined. I started to mentally go through the gravestones and lives my character visits to figure out exactly which one(s) she would find in this back cemetery. Although I already had a description of the cemetery written along with it's hidden back cemetery, I still hadn't decided which grave she'd find there. There were certain ones that needed to be clumped together, and in the more visible portion of the cemetery, for reasons I can't tell you here (sorry, you'll just have to buy the book when it's finished). It came to me that the best one for her to find in this hidden cemetery would be the one of an eight year old boy. I would make that hidden cemetery a children's cemetery. As soon as that idea occurred to me, I knew it was the perfect choice. Just the idea gave me goosebumps.

As I came out of the wooded path back to the middle graveyard, I decided to take the time to look around a bit. I walked up to the first headstone and was shocked by the dates. It was a child. I walked to the next one. No dates, just the word infant under the name. The third stone, another child. I swear to you this is just how it happened. I thought “it should be a children's cemetery” and it was, or at least the section I was standing in was.

I started to walk briskly back to my car. I had to write this all down. As I passed a bush on the way out, a bird suddenly flew out of it. I think I jumped a foot! I'm pretty sure that will make it into the book as well.

So I sit in my car, laptop balanced against the steering wheel, still parked by the cemetery. Despite the sweltering 90 degree weather and the barely cracked windows because that rain finally came, I'm trembling and have goosebumps. I couldn't wait, I needed to write this all down as soon as I could. I've gotten inspiration, not only for this blog, but also for my novel. 

And it seems to have come from the grave.

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Early Morning Revelations

I present to you, the third place winning essay of the 2011 Bo Carter Memorial Writing Contest.

Early Morning Revelations
by D.L. Marriott

I dip my foot into the water. I expect it to be chilly this early in the morning. I'm surprised by its warmth. I turn the canoe over, put a book encased in a plastic zip-top bag, a travel mug full of coffee, and a life-preserver in the bottom. I paddle my way through the channel and onto the lake. The sun has just begun its rise over the horizon. The sky is painted with hues of pink and orange. There is no one else out here. I expected to run into a fisherman or two, it seems impossible that this morning they are absent.

Once I'm in a place where I have the most room to drift, I slide down into the bottom of the canoe, and take out my book. There is nothing to interrupt me from my story. There is a highway not too far away, but at five A.M. on a Sunday morning there is little traffic. The muffled sound of the occasional car only barely gets my notice.

But then I hear a rumble that gets louder and louder, disturbing my peace. It's a train on a not too distant set of tracks. On such a quiet morning, its clattering is intrusive, disturbing. I stop reading and cringe at how it dispels my ideal of relaxing, drifting aimlessly on the water. Before long the rumbling fades away; my solitude returns.

Now that my attention has been torn away from the book in my hand, I take notice of what's around me. The lake is still, not a ripple on it other than those created by a family of ducks swimming by. My ears pick up the serenade of frogs, early morning birds, and the occasional splash of a jumping fish. There is a heron standing on the shore. His profile is majestic. At first he is so still that I'm not sure if he is real or a garden ornament. Just when I have convinced myself he cannot be real, he moves his head, turning it towards me.

I start thinking about how I would have missed him had the train not caused me to look up from my book. How sometimes we don't realize what's around us because we're too busy doing something else. How much sitting in this boat, floating along, is so much like life.

It starts out with the trip up the channel. Paddling is work. It's not horrible work. In a way, I enjoyed the challenge of working to get where I wanted to go. It's very much like when we were young, working hard to raise a family. It was work, sometimes hard work. But we were heading in the direction we wanted to go. It didn't all go smoothly. We occasionally had to shake the weeds from our paddles.

But then as our children grew up, we got to a place where we thought we could relax and enjoy life. Drift along, instead of working so hard. We thought we were coming to our perfect destination. We knew and accepted the mild disturbance of the car whizzing by, but it was so fleeting it barely registered. It isn't until something really shatters our silence that we take notice. Something big and intrusive like a freight train comes barreling into our world. Momentarily we wonder why. Why, when we finally have what we were dreaming of, does something big and ugly have to ruin it?

Like the train that disrupts my peaceful morning in my canoe, the things that disrupt our lives eventually pass. They rumble off into the distance. In their wake, we realize that there was beauty and peace all around us. It had been there all along, but we had been too preoccupied to appreciate it. Now in the deafening silence of the train's absence, it is wondrous. It's a lesson in appreciating all we have and realizing that bad things will come along, but they will pass, and we will still be here drifting on an unseen current. If by chance we are not happy with where the current is taking us, all we have to do is work up some muscle and paddle in another direction, and remember to take stock in the beauty around us. 

We can't banish the weeds, the cars and the freight trains of life. We can just close our eyes and wait for them to pass, then keep on paddling to our destination, never forgetting that there are always ducks and frogs, sunrises and herons, if we just take the time to recognize them.

Sunday, May 22, 2011

The End

No, I haven't finished the novel yet, although I can see the light at the end of the tunnel, and it's getting bigger and brighter by the day. But today, I woke up with words flowing through my head. That happens to me a lot, I wake up with a story running along all by itself. It makes me wonder if I'm actually the writer, or if there's some other entity doing all the work who, once in a while, interrupts my sleep and forces me to put it to paper.

For some, starting a story is the difficult part. Putting those first words down on the page. For some, it's all the middle stuff. Making sure point A connects to point B. For me, the hardest part is always the end. Generally when I start a story, I have no clue what the ending will be. It's somewhat unnerving to start writing not knowing where it's going when the story starts telling itself. I've made the joke several times that I just take transcription for the voices in my head, but often that's exactly what it feels like.

Even when I finally get an idea of what the ending should be, writing it is the most difficult part of the process for me. Once I've built up all the drama, bringing it to a conclusion that brings the reader back down without leaving them feel disappointed is an incredibly difficult thing. I've known the ending of my novel for a while now, but had no idea how to tell it with just the right amount of tension, emotion, and completion to leave the reader feeling satisfied.

As a reader, the ending can make or break a story for me. I can be totally entranced by a book, but if the ending doesn't deliver, it frustrates me. The ending is the last thing the reader is left with. To me, it's critical to make it memorable. Unfortunately, the ending is also generally the most controversial. Some love “happily ever after” endings, some hate them, some like the story to hang, without a clear ending, others not. No matter what ending you come up with, there will be people who will sing its praises and some who will criticize every word.

I've talked about J.K. Rowling and Harry Potter before. The epilogue is probably the most controversial part of the seven books. Harry Potter fans are divided, some loved it, some hated it. I myself liked it. I didn't love it. Not because I didn't like the way the story ended, just the way it was written. I like it enough, and it's grown on me some since I first read it, but I felt it could have been stronger. I give Jo kudos though. I can't imagine how difficult it was to wrap up seven books of storyline.

One of my other favorite children's/young adult authors, D.J. MacHale, had to wrap up ten books and years of the main character's life in his Pendragon series. I actually sent him a message to tell him I thought it was the best ending I've ever read. I have read other reviews from readers who hated it. To me it was perfect.

So I guess in the end, the end has to be what the writer feels is necessary. We just have to hope that not too many people are disappointed. I'm hoping there's some fate that's telling me that the ending I wrote is the right one. An hour after I woke up with my ending in my head, my husband awoke to tell me he'd just had the weirdest dream. He dreamed that I finally came to the end of my book. If that's not a sign, I don't know what is.

The End.

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

A friend of a friend?

You know the saying, a friend of a friend of a friend... Or how about the adage that there is only six degrees of separation?  If you really think about it, it just might be true. I've certainly had this phenomenon present itself before. Somehow it's just a bit exciting to think you know someone, who knows someone, who knows someone famous.

This week I met the sister of a friend. (That would be only one degree of separation. Or would that be two?)  My friend mentioned that her sister came from Maine, Stephen King land as she put it.

"Really?" I replied.  "I'm a huge fan!" Nothing new or earth shattering in that exchange. I followed that up with "Actually he's influenced my writing quite a bit."

I've been reading Stephen King's books since my teens. I love the way his stories keep me at the edge of my seat, not knowing what's going to happen next. His descriptive style pulls me right into his stories.

In addition, although I've read several good books on the craft of writing, I count his book "On Writing" as the one that taught me the most. One of the greatest compliments I can get is when someone tells me one of my stories is Stephen Kingish.

So I really did mean it when I told this sister of a friend that Stephen King has influenced me.

Her response was not what I was expecting.  She told me he was one of her neighbors and sometimes saw him out and about.  My response? "Wow, cool."  For a writer, sometimes words can escape me. (By the way we would be up to TWO degrees of separation, or maybe that's three, still respectable either way.)

My friend turned to her sister and said, "Dody here is an author also."

Okay, so we were talking Stephen King.  I don't think I could ever comprehend the idea of mentioning my name as an author in conjunction with Stephen King. I laughed and pulled out a bookmark that has all the information for Finding Hope, my website and this blog.

My friend told her I was good. I blushed and told her she could check my book out if she wanted. Then, in what had to be a moment of incredible bravery, or insanity, I handed her a second bookmark and said, "Here, if you bump into your buddy Steve, you can tell him to check me out."

I know, I can hear you laughing. Me too. But you never know. Just maybe this friend's sister will actually take that bookmark back to Maine with her, and maybe instead of it getting lost in her suitcase or on her counter she'll actually have it on her, and just maybe she'll bump into Mr. King himself.

Maybe, just maybe, she'll remember the bookmark and give it to him.  And if all the stars align and the world stops rotating on it's axis, he won't toss it in the nearest trashcan, or crumple it up and stuff it in his pocket to get destroyed in his washing machine.  And just maybe he'll decide to check me out and not laugh his butt off at this little author actually doing something so bold as handing one of his neighbors my info.

IF, by chance he gets that far, and actually reads my story, and finds that I may have some future in writing, and takes the time to drop me a note and tell me so, It will all be for naught because I'd probably die on the spot!

But you just never know. Maybe that sister of a friend, who lives in the same neighborhood as Stephen King just might change my life. Or maybe I'll win the lottery.  I'm somehow thinking the lottery is more likely, but a girl can dream can't she?

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Finding Hope

This is a big moment for me.  One that seems surreal.  I have released my first book on for download.  Don't worry, if you don't have a Kindle, iPad, iPhone, iPod touch, Blackberry or Android base device.  You can also download a free app for your PC or Mac right on Amazon.

It's a novelette about finding oneself, finding love and finding hope. 
If Steve knew anything, he knew that he was fine the way he was. He was a hard-as-steel tough guy. He was a detective that lived alone and was, if not exactly happy, satisfied with the way things were. One night changed all that. When asked to investigate the kidnapping of his ex-partners daughter, Steve finds more than the evidence of the brutal crimes committed in the old dilapidated house of a serial killer. He finds that he is not the person he thought he was. That night begins a chain of events that makes him question everything he ever thought he knew about himself. 
What is a novelette, you may ask?  It's longer than a short story, but shorter than a novella.  It's just over 10,000 words or 12 pages.

I've posted links on Facebook, Twitter, my website @, and I put together a book trailer on YouTube which you can see here.

My hope (Ha! That was totally unintentional) is that this will give potential readers a taste of my writing style at the low risk cost of only 99 cents.  If they like it they might be more apt to read my novel once it's released.

Whether or not it works, it still gives me a thrill to type my name into a Amazon search and see myself listed as an author!

Watch the trailer, read the reviews, and if you feel so inclined, check it out for yourself.  I truly hope you enjoy it.  Either way, let me know what you think.  All feedback, positive and negative help me to become a better writer!

Buy "Finding Hope" here.

Friday, March 18, 2011

To tell the truth, the whole truth...or not

I recently spoke to a group of seventh graders and their families at St. Raphael's Catholic School in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. They're working together on a Build-a-Book project and I was asked to talk to them about writing and being a writer. One of the things I told them, and one of the things I've always firmly believed, is that no matter how fictionalized your story is, it has to be realistic. It needs to have truth. Even in fantasy, things need to ring true to the reader or they won't feel a connection, and subsequently will have a hard time following your story.

There are examples of this out there now. Take the Star Trek series. There's a reason we now have real life items that look and perform similar to the futuristic counterparts from the stories. They were based on real science.

When Harry Potter waves his magic wand, the spells are based on mostly Latin terminology. Since many of our words today come from Latin, the spells have a familiarity to them. We can pretty much figure out that “Wingardium Leviosa” will make something float. Many of the creatures are based on mythology that we're already familiar with. The setting is an accurate portrayal of life growing up in a boarding school albeit with some magic thrown in. These pieces of truth ground the reader in that fantasy world.

More so, if your space alien lands on the streets of New York, you need to have the details of the city accurate. If your ghost haunts a location people might be familiar with, you will lose them if describe that location incorrectly.

This has been a constant for me as I work on my upcoming novel. My main character does some time traveling. Not only does she go to many different eras, but she ends up involved with several historic events. This meant a lot of research on my part. For those of you who might not realize it, research is a big part of writing, no matter how long or short your piece is. Take for instance one of the chapters I did in “Where Do I Begin – One Woman's Story.”

My outline was simply to describe how the two main characters spent time together on a cruise ship. First I had to take her date of birth and the age she was supposed to be and figure out what year it was when she was on this cruise. Turned out to be in the 1970's. Then I needed to find out what activities were available on cruise ships during that time. If I had ignored that step and had them climbing a rock wall, or surfing the wave pool, it would have been inaccurate. Although cruise ships of today have those things, cruise ships back then didn't. I have no doubt that some of my readers have been on those cruise ships and would have been frustrated with my inaccuracy.

So as you can imagine, when writing a historic fiction/time travel novel, the accuracy is imperative. It's been a daunting task to get the myriad of details correct. Unfortunately it turns out the truth sometimes really is stranger than fiction. In one scene I have one character who's deathly ill. I actually had to make sure that during that time in history the process to lower a fever was to cool the person down. You might laugh, but you can't assume anything. While doing my research I found out that the common treatment for a burn was to hold the burned area over a flame! They believed it was better to get the burn to blister and for the blister to burst. Ouch! So I learned not to assume anything.

I recently read a part of my novel to my classmates in my writing class. Two questions came up after I read the dialog between two women in 1903, in which one of them, at age 35 is considering trying to conceive another child after losing her two daughters. The first question raised was her age, wasn't she a bit too old to be having babies, weren't women back then getting married young and having families young? My answer was no. My research showed that because of poor nutrition at that time, women didn't even start their menstrual cycles until they were in their twenties. They may have married younger, but children came much later. The second question raised was whether or not birth control, or the idea of “trying” for a child was even a concept back then. Imagine my surprise when I researched the history of birth control. Not only was it a concept, it was widely accepted and used. The condom had been around since the 1600's, the contraceptive sponge since the 1840's, not to mention lectures and pamphlets circulated about the rhythm method as well as other methods to avoid pregnancy. It turns out that the idea of birth control and family planning was so prevalent that the Comstock Act of 1873 made any kind of family planning illegal. The law was quite routinely ignored. Believe it or not you could buy contraceptive devices from the Sears Roebuck Catalog in 1930!

So now I find myself faced with a conundrum, do I tell the truth and keep the facts accurate? Or do I lean toward the commonly held misconceptions? Will I do what I was trying to avoid in the first place and possibly have readers doubt the realism I'm trying to instill in my story by telling it accurately?

It was something to think about. In the end I've decided I have to tell the truth. It feels wrong not to. Not only do I feel strongly about being accurate in my details, but I also feel strongly in never underestimating the intelligence of my readers. I have to trust that if my readers get stuck on some detail, they will take the time to look it up.

So I have to stand with what I told those seventh grade students. Keep it real. Tell the truth. As a reader I'd rather learn something new, even if it means doing some research myself, than to know that facts the author presented are incorrect. Even in fiction, I want non-fiction.

The reader needs the truth, the whole truth, no matter how unbelievable.

Sunday, February 27, 2011


As promised here's the story that was published one year ago. It may have been my first, but I'm hoping and planning on many others.

There are friends and then there are real friends. The kind of friends you can depend on to be there through all the highs and lows of your life. My husband and I are lucky enough to have friends such as these. To be honest they started out as my husband's friends first, I was adopted later.

Jim's been best buddies with John since they were both five years old. As children they shared in all those adventures that young boys have; building forts, walking the train tracks, riding their bikes. As they got older they got their first jobs together, worked on cars together, and got into trouble together. Over the years their friendship had it's ups and downs. Their high school graduation night ended in fists, but in the end, they always came back to each other. When they got to adulthood they started dating and eventually found their future wives. In some relationships, that may have added a strain to the friendship, but in this case it didn't. First John married Sue, and later Jim married me. Sue and I have been mistaken as sisters, which says something about how close our husbands are. There must be something special in a friendship that has lasted almost their entire lives. Instead of two best friends and their wives, we quickly became four best friends.

As close as we are, we're always borrowing something from one another. There never seems to be a time in which one of us doesn't have something that belongs to the other. If it's not some borrowed item, it's borrowed money. We often go out to dinner or shopping together and to make things easier, we trade off who pays for it. One time we will cover the bill, the next time they will. We've been doing this so long, we no longer keep track of what we owe each other, we just figure it all evens out in the end. Sometimes we get to the point of getting the check at a restaurant and say, “It's our turn, we owe you for something."

None of us will remember what we owe, or even what it was we owe for, just that it's our turn. Over the years, we took notice of this habit of one always borrowing from the other. We asked ourselves why that was. In the end we decided it was our way of insuring we would get together again.

We've been there for each other as we got married, Jim was John's Best Man, and John was Jim's. John and Sue moved away for a time, but the long distance phone call was one of the first as each of our children were born. Once back in the same state, we were there to share the trials of moving and house building and the joys of our children growing, graduating, and getting married. We travel together, and jump in to help with any project. We were there to support them through the loss of a parent, grandparent, brother-in-law, and friend. They were there for us through the loss of a parent.

They played a most important role in our lives. They were always there for us when our disabled and medically fragile son was ill. They didn't think twice about coming to wait with us in the middle of the night as he underwent emergency surgery. They forced us to go out for a bite to eat after we spent days in his hospital room. They kept us sane during the 16 years of medical crises. They were there to give us support in his final days, and helped to plan his memorial service. I can't imagine a more heartbreaking time in our lives, and they were there for us. I know it was difficult for them. How hard must it be to sit with your friends as they wait for their son to take his last breath? It didn't matter how hard it was, we weren't just friends, we were family, we are family. I truly believe there is nothing we wouldn't do for each other, barring the impossible. At a moment's notice, we we'll drop everything for each other. Our families have become each others families.

Recently my husband and I were affected by the poor economy. We were forced to sell our dream home. This house was one that my husband, an architect, designed just for us. We built this house ourselves. We didn't just watch the contractors work, we put our sweat and backs into it as well. It took a year to build. John and Sue were there every step of the way, painting walls, laying tile, hauling rocks, whatever it took.

The process of selling this house has been an emotional one. The equity in that house was to be our nest egg. We were starting over. It's hard enough to lose your home, another when that home is also one's livelihood. It's my husband's business to design and build houses, now we would be living in someone else's. First John and Sue were there as moral support. Then they were there to help us pack and move in a hurry as we scrambled to find a place to live. We even traded vehicles for weeks as theirs had a hitch to pull a trailer. They were with us when we looked at houses, and they gave up their weekends to help us transfer our belongings.

On the last day of moving we returned each others cars. But in typical fashion we found John's sunglasses on our counter. Sometimes the “borrowing” was unintentional. It didn't matter, as long as one of us had some belonging to the other.

The next morning my husband woke up to realize we had forgotten some large items that were stored outside our former home. Since we had already given John and Sue their van back, we were forced to call first thing in the morning to ask if they had the time to come back and help move the forgotten items. Sue answered the phone. John was in the garage, he had the tire off of the needed van, and was about to start a brake job on it. She stuck her head out the door and yelled “STOP!” No questions asked, John popped the tire back on and came right over.

When it was done and John was about to leave, he grabbed his sunglasses. As he took them Jim said, “I think we all have everything that belongs to each of us." John said, “Oh no, does that mean we won't get together anymore?”

We laughed, albeit a bit nervously. As if it really takes borrowing things from each other to make sure we would see each other again. As much as we have been through, it's silly to think that it's a simple borrowed item that keeps us together. Yet why did we feel uncomfortable?

After John left, I suddenly remembered something. I looked at Jim and said, “Don't worry, we still have that DVD I borrowed from Sue.” With an unfounded sense of relief we knew all is as it should be. Our friendship is guaranteed to live another day.

Sunday, February 20, 2011

Marking Time

This month marks one year since a story I wrote was published, a first for me as an author. It's a true story about friendship that appeared in the Reader's Write section of the February 2010 edition of the Sun Magazine.

How long have I been a writer? I get asked this question from time to time. The answer isn't a simple one. First of all I believe a writer, is a writer their entire lives. Even if they never put together a story book when they were young, or kept a journal as a teen. One who becomes a writer as an adult, has always been a writer on the inside.

I've read interviews with several well known authors who talk about how they wrote stories from the time they could hold a pencil. At first this gave me pause. I didn't write stories when I was that young, maybe I won't measure up to these people who knew they wanted to be writers since infancy. I didn't know I wanted to be a writer until much later, and in fact scoffed when others told me I could be. Now I know that was just my introverted personality talking.

Anyone who knows me now is no doubt laughing at the thought of me being shy, but it's true. I was an extremely nervous child, to the point of making myself ill at times. Even as an adult, I was terrified of new people, and new situations. I didn't go anywhere by myself, I always convinced my husband, or friends, to go along. I was afraid of getting lost, or looking stupid, or saying the wrong thing.

Several things changed that. First and foremost was the birth, life and passing of my son. There is nothing, and I mean nothing, that can give you better perspective on what's truly important in life than losing a child. And there is no example greater of bravery than the daily struggle my son went through for 16 years. As the mother of a child who couldn't speak, I had to step up and be his voice. I often had to fight to get him what he needed. I couldn't afford to be shy anymore.

Still, that was different. I'd developed a fierce attitude when it came to my children, but still deferred to others when it came to myself. I was a born follower which meant even if I felt strongly about something, if the rest of the group felt differently I would go along with it, doubting myself along the way. Knowing just how much my actions were influenced by my desire to be accepted, I am incredibly lucky and amazed that I came out of my teen years in one piece.

Once my job as parent became less of a focus, I found myself adrift. I'd developed the ability to assert myself even if it was only in my children's interest. I couldn't just shut that off and be the meek person I'd been before. I needed to find something I could be passionate about. I'd always loved planning theme parties, and looked into becoming an event planner. I had experience as a secretary and looked for jobs that might be related. I loved to cook and considered catering. I'd always loved reading, and dabbled a bit in writing for my own personal enjoyment and it had been suggested more than once that I try writing. I started a bit of research.

I found a class titled "Writing for Publication" at our local technical college. I remember the sense of excitement at the thought of taking the class. I also remember the fear when I actually did sign up. Seems silly that anyone should be fearful about taking a non-credit class, but that's how I'm wired. The difference is now I understand my fear and fight to not let it take over. I couldn't be happier that I didn't give in to my nagging self-doubt. I set goals for myself. I would go to class, and I would always bring some writing to share despite the fact that it wasn't required. It's very similar to setting a goal to exercise and lose weight and to stick with it despite feeling tired or sore or hungry. I have to push myself to do things I'd normally avoid regardless of how much they set my stomach in knots. I set the goal that I'd actually send my writing out and try to get published. After six months I got that first acceptance letter, and after only one year as an aspiring author, I became a published one.

In hindsight, I've enjoyed the written word since very young. I was a voracious reader. I didn't write stories, but I certainly made them up in my head. I was always thinking and as that shy child was often alone, with only my imagination to entertain me. I'd always had pen pals and enjoyed writing long letters. It was required that I join clubs in school -  and the clubs I chose? The school newspaper and the yearbook committee. As an adult, I wrote Christmas letters every year,  and I wrote letters to out of state family and friends. I was always more comfortable writing than speaking. I'm still terrible at keeping a journal but I still have my wild imagination, and now I have determination. Determination to be myself, and to overcome my fears. Fears that I understand will never truly go away, but can certainly be managed.

So how long have I been a writer?  I'm in my seventh semester of writing classes. I've been actively pursuing a writing career for two years. I've been a published author for one year (not counting the articles I wrote for the school newspaper).  But I have undoubtedly been a writer my whole life, I just didn't know it. Now I can't imagine doing anything else. Just like exercise, once I pushed past the pain, I got a rush like no other. I have never been happier in my own skin as I am now.

Later this week I will post the story that was accepted and published by the Sun Magazine. I will post the full version for you; their editors were ruthless. Despite the pain of the amputation of a good portion of my story, I was and still am incredibly proud of making this milestone. And despite any fears (and yes they're still there), I am determined to make many more. 

I've been a writer forever and intend to be a writer until my time is done.

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Baby Steps And Light Bulbs

I have to admit, since the holidays it's seemed like everything was conspiring against me when it came to writing. There were those left over January Christmas parties, birthdays, beginning of the year chores such as organizing paperwork and bills, projects at work that left me tired at the end of the day, and the Packers. I live in Wisconsin, need I say more? As thrilled as I am with our Super Bowl champs, it meant every weekend for the past several weeks were occupied with football parties. I'd used up all my vacation days at work, so my available writing time was greatly reduced.

I was feeling stressed by the lack of any down time and wasn't sleeping well. It wasn't unusual for me to be unable to get more than four hours of sleep. The result, I started catching every bug out there, more stress. Snow storms that prevented travel to writing group meetings, even more stress.

I was increasingly frustrated, guilty, sad, angry, and disappointed that I wasn't doing ANY writing. That New Year's goal was haunting my nightmares. I have to say, I'm glad I've made my goals public. It makes it hard, if not impossible, to give up on them knowing everyone you know is waiting and watching to see if you can do it. Not that I could EVER give up on writing. For me it's a necessity of life, analogous to breathing, but it might have been easy to put the novel on the back burner for a while. When I'd finally have an hour to spare, I'd sit in front of my blank computer screen and doze off. The longer this went on, the harder it was to get back into gear. I was losing site of my characters and storyline. It was disheartening to say the least. I missed them terribly.

I couldn't be happier to tell you I'm finally back, really back. It started with a short story. It's totally unrelated to the novel, but sometimes you need to just shift gears for a bit. It was one of those light bulb stories. I was sitting in the break room at work eating my lunch when a co-worker's cell phone rang. (I do owe her one!) The music it played reminded me of a carousel, a light bulb went off, and bang in 24 hours I had a completed short story. A horror story no less!

Then, because I actually had something to share, I went to meet with a group of fellow writers and friends. It felt good to be back in the circle. The next thing that happened was amazing. I was at work when a client came in holding a copy of "Where Do I Begin - One Woman's Story" with the request that I sign it for her. A little ego boost does wonders when one is doubting their abilities. 

Then I started with little things; making a Twitter post, e-mailing an agent, looking up information on building a website, going back to my writer's groups, starting my writing class again, even writing an update for this blog. Things that I count as working towards my goal of having a career as an author. Finally I had a whole weekend to myself and before I knew it, I had two chapters written and the ideas are flowing again. The night I wrote, I actually slept eight full hours. Now that I've started, I'm back to jotting notes all over the place, and I wake up in the morning thinking about where I'm taking my story, or what I want one of my characters to accomplish. It's good to have my old friends back.

I'm not foolish enough to think this won't happen again. That I might not get stuck, or that life won't interrupt me before this is done. But now I know all it will take is some baby steps and maybe a light bulb or two to get back to the place I'm happiest to be.

Monday, January 10, 2011

Delafield Library Event

For anyone who's interested, come on down to the Delafield Public Library located at 500 Genesee St. Delafield, Wisconsin.  Several of the authors (including myself), along with the wonderful people who helped put the build-a-book project together will be there!  Click on the link below for information.

Community Discussion Panel