Back after a blogging break

Long time, no blog. I apologize for the blogging hiatus. The month of January and the beginning of February were, well, crazy.

To summarize: First, the semester started, and I poured myself into class prep. I’m still putting a lot of energy into teaching this class, and I don’t see that changing this semester. So I expect slow progress on the writing front, and don’t be surprised if my blog posts are much more sporadic.

And then my elderly beagle got sick. Like, really sick. The end kind of sick. We took her to the vet for what they thought was a kidney infection, for which she needed in-patient care. But tests revealed that she had cancer throughout her body: tumors in both adrenal glands, one in her spleen, two more in her liver. The prognosis wasn’t good. We took her home, wanting her to spend as much of her last days with her family. She barely moved, wouldn’t eat, could barely walk. So we knew it was time to say goodbye. It was a sad time, but at the end, I knew she’d found peace, had the overwhelming sensation that wherever she was, she was happy. And so though it breaks my heart not to have her with us, I can rest easy knowing that we gave her a good life, that she was with her family during her last moments, and that she’s found peace and rest in the Summerland.

Angel Jan 2016

RIP, Angel. 1999-2016.

Moving away from sad things, I attended my first writing retreat last week, where I made a ton of progress. I finished a third draft of A Prince in Patience Point, which has officially reached novel-length. Really short novel length, but technically, it’s a novel now, which is what I wanted for that story. I also did a read-through and some line edits on Good Old-Fashioned Magic, which is now in the hands of my critique partners. And I started (again) the fourth draft of my novel Made of Shadows. That one needs a lot of work. I’m hoping to have a completed fourth draft by the end of April.

On the reading front, I read The Midnight Queen by Sylvia Izzo Hunter. It’s a great historical fantasy novel, and I’d recommend it. I also read a gothic romance by Lauren Smith: The Shadows of Stormclyffe Hall. I’d recommend that one for fans of steamy romance with some ghosts and a dash of mystery thrown in. I’m currently reading A Certain Kind of Magic by Jessica Starre. And I’m really enjoying that one, too.

Long story short, I apologize for abandoning the blog and hope to check in at least once a week throughout the semester. Hopefully now that things are settling down, I actually have time to write and blog.

Click here to check in with other A Round of Words in 80 Days participants.

What about you? What have I missed during my blogging silence? What’s your news?

Sunday Summary

I’ll keep this ROW80 check-in brief. Classes start this week, so I spent some of the last week doing some prep work, and I know my word counts will probably decrease in the coming weeks as the semester begins.

My plan for the next few months is lots of revision. I have a short novel, a novella, and a short story to revise. Hopefully by the middle of the year I can start querying.

This week’s ROW80 check-in:

Writing: Wrote 4,616 words in A Prince in Patience Point. That story has officially become a novel. It will end up being a short novel after I finish this draft, but at least it’s now in novel-length territory. (I originally wrote it as a novelette, and then expanded it to novella length before realizing it needed to be even longer.)

Reading: Finished Thoroughly Kissed by Kristine Grayson. I have to admit the middle was really slow and there were times when it seemed to drag, but it picked up toward the end. I’m about halfway through The Fairy’s Wish by Maggie Shayne, a really sweet retelling of The Little Mermaid—only instead of a mermaid, the main character is a fairy. Started reading Story Engineering by Larry Brooks.

A Round of Words in 80 Days is the writing challenge that knows you have a life. Click here to cheer on fellow participants.

Winter Seeds

This might be my least favorite time of year. The holidays, with their glittering lights and brightly colored packages, have passed. Here in Southwest Virginia, the sky is often gray, the air icy cold. We haven’t really had much snow so far to brighten things up, so we’re left with cold rains and fog.

I find myself longing for summer, dreaming of days where I sit on my patio, sipping my coffee in the morning sunshine and writing in my journal.

But I have to remind myself that these cold, wintry days are valuable too. The earth is sleeping, resting, and that is okay. That is part of the cycle of seasons. Yes, I might wish that I lived in southern California, where I could wear a tank top and sandals in January, but I can learn to appreciate the icy air and cold rains so prominent here this time of year.

Winter is the season of the wise crone, a season of rest, when dreams like seeds are sleeping in the frozen soil, waiting for spring to blossom.

There is something to appreciate in every season. Winter might be my least favorite, but it, too, has its lessons to share.

And in a few weeks will come Imbolc, a celebration of the promise of spring’s return, of days growing longer and the first signs of the earth awakening. It’s also the time of year when we honor the goddess Brighid, the face of the goddess to which I feel most connected.

So even in the gloom of winter, the promise of spring remains. We just need to remember, long after the evergreen boughs have been removed from the hearth, that even in winter, a season of rest and wisdom, the promise of spring remains.

ROW80 check-in:

Writing: Edited two chapters (no word count tracked) and wrote 4,868 words in A Prince in Patience Point. The manuscript started out at approximately 30K and is currently just under 37K. So, I’m close to novel length on this one.

Reading: Reading Thoroughly Kissed, a retelling of Sleeping Beauty by Kristine Grayson. Also started reading The Garden Witch’s Herbal by Ellen Dugan. Haven’t read any writing books yet.

Social media: Started the week off strong but haven’t been doing this as regularly as I should.

Exercise: Did yoga one out of three times this week. So, kind of a fail, but that happens.

A Round of Words in 80 Days is the writing challenge that knows you have a life. Click here to cheer on fellow participants.

What about you? What does winter symbolize to you?

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Slowing the Story Down

Many of my writerly friends face the problem of writing too long. They pen a 120,000-word fantasy novel and then try to trim it down. Maybe it’s my journalistic background or those years penning magazine articles, but I have the opposite problem. My first drafts are often short, and in following drafts I have to slow the story down, let it breathe, dig deeper into my characters’ hearts and minds and psyches and add layers.

That’s precisely what I’m doing with my current WIP. It started out as a 15K novelette that I wrote for a call for submissions for short Valentine’s stories. I soon learned, though, that the story needed to be much longer, and abandoned my quest to submit it to that particular call for submissions (which only wanted stories under 20K). I penned a second draft that doubled the story’s length to about 30K. And now, here I am in 2016, working on a third draft that should be around 40-45K.

My main concern is giving the romance time to develop. There was a scene in the second draft that could’ve been powerful and full of tension, but it happened so suddenly that there wasn’t time for that tension to build. In the third draft I hope to change that, adding a slow build of romantic tension so that scene really packs a punch.

I’m learning this is my process. Get the story out there, however long it is, and find ways to deepen it in subsequent drafts.

Last, a brief midweek ROW80 check-in:

  • Edited two chapters and wrote 1,968 words in the third draft of A Prince in Patience Point.
  • Did yoga Tuesday night—stress relief yoga for beginners (one of three for the week).
  • Checked in on Twitter, Pinterest, and Facebook on both Monday and Tuesday.
  • No progress yet on reading any books on the craft/business of writing.

A Round of Words in 80 Days is the writing challenge that knows you have a life. Click here to cheer on fellow participants.

What about you? Are you the type of writer who takes things out or puts them in? What’s your process like?

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Welcome, 2016: ROW80 Round 1 goals

Today we had our first snowfall of the winter, a light dusting of snow that coated the ground in powdery white. I’m holed up inside, my beagle by my side as I type away at the keys.

I have big plans for 2016. I started a number of WIPs last year, and this year I plan to get at least two stories query-ready and start sending them out. Exciting—and nerve-wracking—stuff. I’d like to have three query-ready stories by year’s end, so that’s my big goal for the year. What’s yours?

My short-term goal is to get back into my writing routine. Last month was crazy, between caring for a very ill 16-year-old beagle (she has, thankfully, mostly recovered. I asked for prayers and healing energy on Facebook and clearly my Facebook friends came through, because we rang in the New Year with our dog still by our side) and prepping for the holidays. So this month is all about getting back on track with my writing goals.

So, here are my goals for the first round of A Round of Words in 80 Days, the writing challenge that knows you have a life. Click here to cheer on fellow participants!

ROW80 2016 Round 1 goals:

  • Revise and expand A Prince in Patience Point from a 30K-word novella to novel-length—at least 40K. Finish this by Feb. 16. This includes expanding the story as well as doing a revision of what’s already on the page.
  • Do a read-through of Good Old-Fashioned Magic and enter edits. Write a synopsis and revise query letter for Good Old-Fashioned Magic. Decide whether to send this manuscript to an editor or to start querying.
  • Work on a first draft of The Broken Mirror, a retelling of Snow White.
  • Read two or three books on the craft/business of writing.
  • Blog twice a week.
  • Check in on social media—Twitter, Facebook, and Pinterest—once a day.
  • Do yoga/tai chi/meditate three or four times a week.

What about you? What are your goals for the new year? Any New Year’s resolutions you’d like to share?

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A Year of New Beginnings: 2015 Year-End Wrap-Up

2015 flew by, a blur of words and new stories. More new stories revealed themselves to me this year than in any other year of my life. There was a series of six novellas about sister-witches, three of which have been drafted. There was a retelling of Snow White and a story about a hedge witch with hints of Little Red Riding Hood thrown in. And there were more.

If 2015 was a year of story beginnings, hopefully 2016 will be the year those seeds take root and come to fruition. Not all of them, no, but at least a few. I have started a lot of first drafts that need to be finished, and I have a couple stories that I hope to start querying in 2016.

So here’s what I accomplished this year:

  • First and second drafts of a novella, A Prince in Patience Point
  • A third draft of Good Old-Fashioned Magic
  • Second drafts of Stolen by Magic and Called by Magic, the first two novellas in the Cabot Sisters series
  • A first draft of a short story, “Into the Faerie Forest”
  • Started drafts of three novels, The Phoenix Feather, The Hedge Witch and the Wolf, and The Broken Mirror, along with drafts of a couple shorter works.

I’ve also read 64 books to date and am hoping to finish a few more before the year ends. I also was a first-place winner in the Pages from the Heart writing contest—my first professional win in a writing contest (not counting those from my undergraduate days).

So there you have it. A year of new beginnings. I don’t know why these stories chose me, and I don’t know that all of them will make it to the finished draft stage. I’ve learned that sometimes an idea fizzles, and we can’t always reignite the spark. That’s just part of the creative process. But I do hope to get a couple drafts of novels done soon, in addition to my novella-length works.

Here’s wishing everyone a very happy end to 2015—and best wishes for 2016. Thanks to everyone who has commented on the blog over the past year. Having the support of a writing community can make all the difference.

A Round of Words in 80 Days is the writing challenge that knows you have a life. Click here to cheer on fellow participants.

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Living with Seasonal Affective Disorder

The timing is never good. Right around the holidays, as trees are being decorated and presents being wrapped, my energy level plummets. Just as we rush toward the end of the semester and final projects pile up to be graded, I grow tired—deeply, down to my bones exhausted.

Depression comes along with it, and the guilt. The guilt that I don’t have the energy to write as much, to keep my house as tidy, to prepare as complex of meals or run as many errands. It’s seasonal affective disorder (SAD). According to WebMD

“While we don’t know the exact causes of SAD, some scientists think that certain hormones made deep in the brain trigger attitude-related changes at certain times of year. Experts believe that SAD may be related to these hormonal changes. One theory is that less sunlight during fall and winter leads to the brain making less serotonin, a chemical linked to brain pathways that regulate mood. When nerve cell pathways in the brain that regulate mood don’t function normally, the result can be feelings of depression, along with symptoms of fatigue and weight gain.”

It’s the lack of energy that gets me. As you may have noticed, I haven’t been blogging as much. Don’t worry. It’s not the depression that’s getting me. It’s the exhaustion. And the longer I’m exhausted, the harder it is to think of things to say.

So how do I deal with it? Here are a few ways:

1.) Fix simpler, less complex meals and freeze the leftovers. I’ve only done freezer meals a few times, but I plan on doing more in the years to come so that when winter rolls around I have to cook less—meaning more energy for other things.

2.) Push myself to do yoga or pilates. It uses energy, sure, but exercise is a proven way to combat depression and anxiety. The trick is actually getting off the sofa and onto the yoga mat.

3.) Practice self-kindness. This is by far one of the hardest things for me, year-round. I hold myself to impossible standards and will beat myself up for even the smallest of things. I’m trying to learn to be more forgiving to myself when I don’t meet my goals.

4.) Set more realistic goals. A few weeks ago I was writing 8,000 words a week. That probably won’t happen through most of the winter. So my goals need to be lower and more achievable given that my energy is lower.

So that’s the plan. What about you? Do you suffer from SAD or know anyone who does? How do you or they deal with the symptoms?

Lastly, a ROW80 check-in:

Writing: Not a super-productive writing week, but I did finish a read-through of A Prince in Patience Point. It’s currently a novella of about 30K, but I’m toying with the idea of expanding it. We’ll see what happens as I revise.

Reading: Read The New Policeman by Kate Thompson. Really well done and a great twist on Irish mythology. Would recommend.

A Round of Words in 80 Days is the writing challenge that knows you have a life. It’s also a blog hop.

Do you get the winter blues? If so, how do you beat them?

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Am I writing in a “dead” genre?

Recently I got some exciting news: one of my novellas took first place in a contest. I was excited, but the final round judge’s comments weren’t especially heartening: a cute story, she said, but a tough sell in today’s market.

So I started doing some research. Apparently there is a huge glut of paranormal romance stories out there. Apparently as early as 2013, editors and agents were calling this a “dead” genre. In other words, paranormal romance is on a down cycle. There’s too much supply and not enough demand.

As I read more and more articles proclaiming the genre I write in to be “dead,” my heart sank. Two years ago to the day, I quit my magazine job to write fiction full time. What if I’d made a mistake, dedicated my waking hours to stories no one wanted?

So where does that leave me? I plan to start querying next year; what if no editor is interested in my paranormal romance stories?

I only know this: There are no guarantees. All I can do is write the best stories possible, regardless of genre, and hope that they find readers who love those kinds of stories. I do know that romance readers are voracious, that paranormal romance fans are passionate about the stories they read.

I know that each and every day, I am writing the stories of my heart. I love romance; I love magic; and I love fantasy. So I keep writing. And I hope that readers love my characters and their fantastical tales even half as much as I do.

Lastly, this week’s ROW80 check-in:

Writing: Wrote 3,606 words in The Broken Mirror, a YA retelling of Snow White.

Reading: Read Your Money or Your Life by Vicki Robin, et al. Reading this book was literally transformative. I plan on following the nine steps and seeing where I end up. I also started reading The Huntress of Thornbeck Forest by Melanie Dickerson.

A Round of Words in 80 Days is the writing challenge that knows you have a life. Click here to cheer on fellow participants.

So what do you think? Am I writing in a “dead” genre? Do you write or read paranormal romance? What do you think of the idea that the genre is dead? Is there hope for those of us who feel called to write it?

Striving for Balance: A Brief Midweek Check-In

photo from stock.xchng

photo from stock.xchng

Sometimes it feels like life is about finding balance. Balancing work and play, planning for the future versus living in the present, balancing what we need to do with what we want to do.

I think for writers this balancing act is especially relevant. Many of us are balancing a writing career with working day jobs or raising a family. On a daily basis, I attempt to balance caring for my elderly animals with teaching at a university, writing fantasy/paranormal stories, and spending time with my husband—not to mention the day-to-day items such as paying bills, cooking meals, and hometending.

I’m thinking about this because my husband and I are trying to find that balance. How do we ensure we have adequate savings for the future—for emergencies or for our golden years—with living in the present? We want to travel, to see Hawaii, California, Paris, England. But we also don’t want to be broke during our retirement. And we do want to retire someday.

Ultimately it’s about balancing what we want to do with what we need to do. We need to cook healthy meals, walk the dog, pay the electric bill, and save for retirement. We want to take ballroom dance lessons, visit the Grand Canyon, or remodel the kitchen.

As for me, writing is something I need to do to be happy and fulfilled in my life. It doesn’t pay the bills (not yet, anyway), but it’s an essential part of my life.

I think about the kind of life I want. A life spent writing stories, doing yoga or tai chi, meditating, honoring my faith and walking a nature-based, goddess-centered pagan path. I want to drink tea, read books, care for my animals, and spend time with my husband. And then I have bigger dreams—like walking the streets of Paris or becoming a best-selling author.

Dreams take time. Balance takes work. And, more importantly, it takes sacrifice. We can’t have everything we want—not all at once, anyway.

All we can do is take small steps every day toward our goals, big and small.

At the end of the day, I can’t say I have the answers. And if you have any advice on the subject, please feel free to share in the comments section!

ROW80 check-in:

Writing: So far this week I’ve written 2,362 words in The Broken Mirror, a retelling of Snow White.

Reading: Continued reading Once Upon a Time: Red’s Untold Tale by Wendy Toliver.

A Round of Words in 80 Days is the writing challenge that knows you have a life. Click here to cheer on fellow participants.

What about you? What are you trying to balance in your life? How do you find balance–or does it remain elusive?

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Dusting Off Old Tales: Sunday Summary

I’m writing a fairy tale retelling, and it’s got me thinking a lot about fairy tales. The archetypes. Their sheer endurance and popularity. We love these tales. We come back to them time and time again.

When I was a little girl, Little Red Riding Hood was my favorite fairy tale. I used to act out theatrical versions in front of the family room fireplace. And now, as an adult, I’m seeking out new ways to tell the stories I love.

How do we make an old story new? How do we add an unexpected twist? How can we create a suspenseful, surprising story out of something so comfortable and familiar as a fairy tale?

Once Upon a Time has certainly done it. Give Snow White’s evil stepmother some nuance, turn Red into a wolf, give Snow White herself some agency, make Rumpelstiltskin the ultimate bad guy and have him constantly reminding us that magic always comes with a price.

There’s something special about these stories. They’re magical, sure, but they also tell tales of good triumphing over evil. They are, in their own way, precious.

I’m keeping all of this in mind as I write. What can I add to the tale that’s new? How can I dust off a beloved old story and make it fresh? How can I surprise readers?

So far, I am happy to report, my retelling is surprising me. It’s gone in a direction I didn’t expect, following Snow White’s granddaughter as she unravels the truth of her family’s past and digs into the tale—what’s real, what’s not, what isn’t what it seems.

ROW80 check-in:

Writing: Wrote 8,361 words this week in The Broken Mirror, a retelling of Snow White. That’s way more than my usual word count—I average about 4-5K a week. Needless to say, I’m happy with this progress. I know it will slow down later in the month when I have more papers to grade, but I’m trying to get as many words as possible in. Not sure I’ll be able to finish this one by the end of the year, but hopefully by the end of January.

Reading: Finished Clutter’s Last Stand by Don Aslett. Started reading Once Upon a Time: Red’s Untold Tale by Wendy Toliver. It’s a sweet, simple story that I’m enjoying so far. To date I’ve read 60 books this year—my goal is 70.

A Round of Words in 80 Days is the writing challenge that knows you have a life. Click here to cheer on fellow participants.

Have you ever attempted or thought about attempting a fairy tale retelling? What tale did you—or would you—choose? If you’re attempting NaNo, how is your progress? How are your goals, writing or otherwise, coming along?

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