#ROW80 check-ins, the seasons

Inspired by the Storm

After The Storm 120296 by Sandy Matzen Dreamstime
After the Storm, by Sandy Matzen, Dreamstime.

I’ve been obsessed with storms lately. I blame my current WIP, White Wolf, Red Cloak, a contemporary fairy tale retelling that takes place in the Great Smoky Mountains in the middle of what the media has dubbed the Storm of the Century, a wicked blizzard that leaves the characters snowbound in a log cabin.

As I pen this blog post, the sky has darkened, and thunder rumbles in the distance, a little louder each time. Storms make me want to brew up a pot of tea and read Agatha Christie novels as the rain or snow falls and the wind howls.

I don’t know what it is about storms—something primal, a kind of peace amidst the chaos of rapidly falling snow or the drumming of rain on the roof.

Lastly, a midweek ROW80 check-in…

Writing: Wrote 2,112 words in White Wolf, Red Cloak (formerly Red in the Woods), a retelling of Little Red Riding Hood. My goal is to have this story finished by the end of the week so I can send it to my critique partners.

Reading: Continued reading The Mammoth Book of Paranormal Romance 2, edited by Trisha Telep. I’m also doing a manuscript critique for someone; I hope to finish that by the beginning of next week and get it to back to the author.

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? Do you find storms inspiring? What inspires you?

denise signature

#ROW80 check-ins, dose of inspiration, feed your muse

5 inspirational writing quotes

I thought I’d kick off a new week—or end an old one—with a list of some of my favorite writing quotes. Feel free to add your favorites in the comments section. (Quote images made at Quozio.)

The-artist-deals-with Ursula Le Guin quote

Its-like-driving-a-car E.L. Doctorow


Love-Fall-in-love-and Ray Bradbury

Dont-tell-me-the-moon-is Anton Chekhov



Writing-practice-brings Natalie Goldberg

Sunday ROW80 check-in:


  • Finish a second draft of my novella “Good Old-Fashioned Magic.” Finished!
  • Write a first draft of another novella Currently titled “Called by Magic.” Finished! Did a read-through this week and made some minor changes—tying up loose ends/answering unanswered questions, fixing typos, smoothing out awkward phrasing, etc.
  • Start a third project. Started a second novelette. Wrote 3,318 words. Created a plot outline and did index cards, so this story is mostly mapped out.
  • Read a minimum of four books on the business or craft of writing. On book five, “Manuscript Makeover” by Elizabeth Lyon.

Social media:

  • Check in on Twitter or Facebook daily. Met for Monday, Tuesday, and Thursday, not for Wednesday or Friday.
  • Blog two times per week. Blogged Sunday, not Wednesday.
  • Comment on three to five blogs per day, Monday-Thursday. Met for three of four days. Skipped Wednesday.

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 are some of your favorite writing quotes?

#ROW80 check-ins, creativity, dose of inspiration

A letter to myself as a fledgling writer

photo by Sarah Brabazon, WANA Commons
photo by Sarah Brabazon, WANA Commons

Dear fledgling writer-self,

What words of “wisdom” can I impart to you, now that I’m a bit further down the writer’s road?

Perhaps, these…

Read voraciously. Read like you did when you were a kid, devouring every book in sight like a ravenous werewolf.

Have adventures—both on and off the page—because without adventure there’s no fuel for the creative spirit. Seriously, adventure is as good for your creative spirit as calcium is for your bones. Also: Drink more milk.

Don’t worry too much about “finding yourself.” The self is like a kaleidoscope; one slight twist and the shapes and colors rearrange themselves. In time you will find that the self isn’t discovered, but created through meaningful action.

Don’t worry too much, either, about how many words you’re writing, how that stacks up against how many words other writers are writing or even how many words you wrote last week, last month, or last year. Everyone is different, and you will change and shift and grow beyond old methods. Let that change happen. Just like adventure, it’s necessary and good for you.

Learn patience, and accept that publication is only one part of the journey—it’s not the destination, just one milestone on the writer’s road. Be kind to yourself, and be patient as your process develops. Remember this quote: “It doesn’t matter how slowly you go, so long as you do not stop.”

Write. Words will fall like raindrops from your pen. Some days a fine mist of words, other days a steady beat like summer rain on a tin roof. Still other days will bring a downpour of words crashing down by the bucketful, so quickly you’ll wonder how you’ll ever keep up.

Other times, it will be a slow process, tediously slow, and you’ll wonder if it’s ever going to rain again. During these times, be kind to yourself. Have an adventure. Pick up a paintbrush. Go bird-watching. Dance to “Walking on Sunshine.” Read a picture book. Gaze at the stars; write the moon a love letter. The words will return, but they need a little space sometimes—and so do you.

Disregard those myths you hear about writers. We are all at our most productive when we are happy, healthy, and well-nourished—body, mind, and soul. Everyone has something to contribute to the myth of the artist—that they’re drunks, addicts, insane, unhappy, broke, struggling, flaky, etc. Ignore it. Put as much emphasis as you can on your own well-being and your art will flourish. Remember that where the artist flourishes, so, too, does the art.

Most of all, remember that it takes time to discover your voice and to master the craft of storytelling. Don’t feel rushed by people who expect your first manuscript to be published a year after it’s written. The reality is that establishing your path will take years, but you have to believe that it’s worth it. Your art and the drive to create it are more than a mere dream; the writer’s road is a calling, a blessing, a gift.

Oh, and did I mention the importance of learning patience?


Slightly older, slightly more patient writer-self


ROW80 midweek check-in

ROW80Logocopy1.) Writing:

  • Finish the second draft of the novella I finished in Round 1, Good Old-Fashioned Magic. Working my way through a “quick read,” reading the manuscript on my Kindle and taking notes.

2.) Read 4 books on the craft/business of writing. Finished Cathy Yardley’s “Rock Your Revisions.” Going to continue reading Stephen King’s “On Writing.”

3.) Social media:

  • Check in on Twitter daily. On target.
  • Comment on 3-5 blogs per day, Monday-Thursday. On target.
  • Blog 2 times a week. On target.

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

What would you tell yourself if you came face-to-face with yourself as a new writer? What has most surprised you on the writer’s road? What would your letter say? How are your goals for this week coming along?

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#ROW80 check-ins, dose of inspiration, the writer's journey

Approaching the finish line!

I’m closing in on the home stretch of my WIP, “Good, Old-Fashioned Magic.” In fact, I’m hoping to finish it this afternoon! It looks like the story will weigh in at around 33-34K—a little longer than my original estimate of 30K, but not by much.

Since I’m up to my eyeballs in story work, I’ll leave you with these words of inspiration. Earlier this week, I was really struggling with my WIP. Now that I’m writing full time, there’s a pressure, an urgency to get my work out into the world that wasn’t there when I had a steady paycheck.

I realized I needed to step back, and that’s why I wrote myself this reminder of why I write. I’m sharing it now in hopes that it will be useful to someone out there:

Remember that you’re writing not to serve your own ego, but to serve a higher purpose. Your books are not for you; they’re not even from you. They flow through you. Your stories are a gift, not for you but for the world, and it’s up to you to use this gift in a way that’s of service to others.

Approach the page daily with a spirit of humility, gratitude, and service.

ROW80 check-in

ROW80Logocopy1.) Finish a draft of “Good, Old-Fashioned Magic.” Wrote 2,558 words. Almost there. Hooray!

2.) Read to hone my craft. Finished reading Julia Cameron’s “Walking in this World.” I recommend it, though I would also recommend reading her book “The Artist’s Way” first. I also read a chapter in “The Fire in Fiction.”

3.) Blog at least two times a week, on Wednesdays and Sundays. So far, so good.

4.) Check in on Twitter daily and on WANA Tribe at least once/week. On track.

5.) Comment on 5-6 blogs per day, Monday-Thursday. On track to meet this goal.

6.) Super-secret project: Write two articles/posts each week for that project. Nada, but I should have time later in the week once the novella is done.

This is a blog hop!

One week to go! How are your goals coming along?

#ROW80 check-ins, dose of inspiration, feed your muse

Fun for Writers: 3 Awesome Videos for Inspiration & Sunday #ROW80 Check-In

I’m going to do a brief ROW80 check-in today, but first I wanted to share a dose of inspiration. I’ve found lately that I need a dose of fun and play in my life. (Blame it on the slow return of spring, or perhaps just blame it on the moon.)

Here are a few videos that encourage our playful side:

1.) Poet Billy Collins’ TED Talk: Collins weaves art and humor into a truly enjoyable TED Talk. (Spoiler alert: Includes amusing phrases like “Bugs Bunny is my muse” and “You don’t have time to deploy your anti-poetry deflector shields.”)


2.) Felicia Day’s Steampunk Photo Shoot: I will freely admit to having a bit of a girl-crush on actress Felicia Day. In this video from Geek & Sundry, Felicia goes off on yet another adventure—this time for a very entertaining outing to a steampunk shop (shoppe?).


3.) Chase That Happy: Ze Frank teaches us to live with joy and always chase happiness, wherever it leads. I especially like the “bored aristocrat” game. 🙂


Are you entertained and jazzed up for an adventure? Good!

Now, here’s my ROW80 summary for the week:

1.)    WIP progress: Wrote 4,438 words in my WIP, “Good, Old-Fashioned Magic.” I also wrote a brief synopsis for a short story, a sort-of sequel to my current WIP, so if there’s time left at the end of Round 1, I might try to write a quick draft of that story as well.

2.)    Read to hone my craft: A little. Not as much as I would’ve liked.

3.)    Blog Wednesday and Sunday: Target met!

4.)    Checked in on Twitter daily; didn’t manage to check in on WANA Tribe.

5.)    No progress to report on the super-secret project.

Well, it’s March! How are your goals coming along?

creativity, dose of inspiration, feed your muse, the writer's journey

Take a hike. Get a life: Goal overload, chatter, and the creative self

The world is a noisy place, full of car horns, ambulance sirens, voicemails, and endless chatter. Some people thrive on the chatter; for me, too much information makes my brain hurt. I cultivate places of stillness in my life where walls of silence keep the chatter at bay. Without those walls, the creative parts of me suffer.

I freely admit to being a creative soul who gets lost in this world of noise. Some of that noise is useful. It teaches me to manage my finances, cook healthier meals, or improve my marriage. It teaches me to be a better writer, a better thinker, a better person. And some of that noise is just blah blah blah—a stream of negativity or useless gibber-gabber meant to make us buy something, vote for someone, or so on. Sometimes even those feminist listserv emails full of dire warnings about the relentless war on women’s rights exhaust me. Not that I don’t want to stand up for people’s rights. But that I need to get away long enough to have some fight in me.

In other words, I’m learning to take a hike and get a life. Over the last few years, I’ve become increasingly goal driven. Grade these papers. Write this article. Edit this copy. Meet today’s word-count goal. I didn’t just have information overload. I had goal overload. Too many goals; not enough time. My brain hurt. In order to nurture my creative self, I stepped back. My body hurt. I took time to listen to it and take care of my physical health—the antidote to my previous “sleep when you’re dead” mentality.

The creative self isn’t the list-maker, the left-brained editor. She doesn’t care what’s been done before, what’s forbidden, what’s in the rulebook, what’s not. She explores uncharted territory. She has the key to the forbidden room. She unlocks the door. She, as one poet wrote, plants “posies on the hob stones of hell.” The creative self is interested in potential, the unexplained, the ineffable. So for her sake, I took a hike.

Literally. In pursuit of a stunning waterfall, a trek five-six miles roundtrip. Not exactly a walk around the block, but nothing that involved scrambling over boulders or climbing up the sides of mountains.

At first, left brain reminded me of all the rules: You’ve been sick. Take it easy. Don’t push yourself too hard. Are you sure you should be doing this? I’m not sure you can do this. Maybe you should go home and take a nap. Yes, a nap.

But cool water charged down the mountain in the creek that runs parallel to the trail. The weather wasn’t too hot or too cold, but just right. My husband, who’s been dabbling for years in 3-D graphics and game design, studied the trees with the methodical eye of an artist. As he told me how he would create a forest in the 3-D world of game design, he made me think about my own stories, how I’d sort of left them hanging, how I wasn’t sure where to go next. Secretly, I’d been afraid that the muses weren’t ever going to return my calls. I’d reached a crossroads and then fog made the paths unclear.

We hiked past the main waterfall, where people slip and slide across the rocks, tiptoe on fallen logs lying across the creek, and swim in deep pools of icy water. Further along the trail, we looked down on another falls and across the water into the forest beyond. It reminded me of faerie country, the sort of place where faeries emerge to beguile or make deals with wandering mortals. It was the sort of place where stories are born, and I could feel the creative self buzzing with possibilities.

So I took a hike and learned to cultivate quiet in my life. I’m learning that I need to step out to that place every day, to the edge of the forest, past the place crowded with hikers to where the stories dwell.

Because that’s where the magic happens. That’s where the stories sleep, curled up like a dozing faerie child against the roots of a giant tree.

What about you? How do you cultivate places for creativity in this busy world?

the writer's journey

Making Dreams Come True: Are dreams just for fairy tales?

As I venture down the path of my life, I have to wonder if we really can make our dreams come true. How much of life is luck, fate, and serendipity?

Perhaps some of life is luck: being in the right place in the right time, writing the right book at the right time, meeting the man or woman of your dreams when you’re both in the right place in life. Well, when it comes to writing books, I think if the book is good enough, it’s always the right time. Fads—vampires, zombies, tropical settings, or yoga—will come and go, but if a book has heart, it will find its place in the world. Because love, death, grief, sadness, redemption, passion, healing—those things never go out of style; life is always full of them. When our books have heart, they will find their place. I believe that.

So how much of life is luck and how much is hard work? There are musicians with extraordinary talent who haven’t won Grammies or signed deals with major record labels. In my hometown, I met a musician named Rachel whose voice could haunt you or move you to tears, it was so beautiful. And she didn’t just have talent, she also had an incredible heart. Rachel was one of those people with a contagious vibrancy. You couldn’t help but be happy around her. Rachel happily taught drum circles at the local heritage center and performed in small coffee houses. She’d found her calling, her heart, her dream. She ran a small nonprofit for disabled children. I didn’t know her very well, but she seemed to be as much of a fulfilled, self-actualized human being as one can be. I was young when I met her, a college student, and she inspired me. Growing up, I didn’t know any artists, but I knew I wanted to be one. Meeting her helped me become a better writer and a better person.

One thing we rarely say in our driven, ambitious, workaholic society is that it’s okay to not want to be the next biggest thing. In the last few months, I’ve started to step back and realize that I don’t want to work three jobs and eighty hours a week. Even if I love everything I do, doing all of it is killing my health. It’s okay to not be Wonder Woman. That’s a lesson I’m still learning. Saying no and toning down my nonstop activity don’t come easily to me, but I’ll keep trying. I am soooo far from perfect. And I kinda like the freedom to make mistakes, even if I don’t like actually making mistakes.

I do believe that dreams come true, as long as they’re realistic ones. At five-foot, I’ll never be a basketball player. Even if I were taller, I have no athletic talent to speak of (a video of me playing tennis could easily become a YouTube sensation). We all have limitations. There are some dreams we can make come true (penning a memoir) and some that are beyond our ability to accomplish (marrying a prince). Some things, like winning the lotto, are just luck. Many are not.

I believe if we want to be published authors or make a living selling our paintings or direct a documentary or design websites or whatever our hearts desire, we can get there. Maybe not right away. It might take five or 10 or 20 years. We might have to take detours. Life gets in the way.

Dreams, if they’re achievable, can be achieved, but we have to set goals and work toward them. We’ll never get a job in marketing if we don’t apply. And we might apply for a hundred jobs before we get one answering the phones for a marketing director. Our first novel, our opus, might be rejected 40 times. It might never sell. It might sell 200 copies. But there are other stories to tell. It’s a long road. At the end, it won’t look like what we thought it would. Real dreams change along the way.

I’ve wanted to be a published author for as long as I can remember. Ten years ago, it was a distant dream. Today, it’s closer. I work toward it every day. I’m determined to make it happen. I believe in making our dreams come true.

What are your dreams? What goals are helping you to make your dreams come true? What dreams have you made come true, and how did you make those dreams a reality?

the writer's journey

What I’ve learned from love: How to build a writing life—and a life, period.

In 2009, I lost my grandfather to pancreatic cancer. It was a short battle. He was diagnosed a few weeks before my wedding; he died two months later.

In the way he lived his life, he taught me how to love, how to be a good person, how to lead a good life. He wasn’t wealthy or famous. He’d worked in a coal mine, fought and was wounded in WWII, and worked in maintenance at my future alma mater.

But the day of his memorial service, the funeral home was packed with people. Some hadn’t seen him in thirty years, but they remembered when he’d helped them rebuild their house after the flood; they remembered the kind of man he was. He wasn’t perfect, but he was generous, and he had a strength of spirit, a contagious warmth and happiness, and a sense of pride that came from everyday, simple things. No one was ever prouder of their family than he was; no one ever loved deeper than he did.

In life, it’s easy to get caught up in the game. We want to be published writers, achieve some measure of financial success, or save up for a rainy day or our golden years. And those are all important things. But they can’t be end goals.

A year ago, I first started seriously researching my path as a writer. I found out about the indie writer scene via writers like Kait Nolan. I joined Virginia Romance Writers, where I met writers like Shara Lanel and Nara Malone, who taught me about small epubs and the world of digital publishing. I learned about POD, which allows smaller publishers to offer print versions of books without having to do large press runs. I bought a Kindle and got hooked on the digital book scene. I learned more about how the publishing industry works and what I should expect.

What I’ve learned from my family is that work is important, but it’s only one part of our lives. We have to choose the writing path that works for us as individuals, one that allows us to meet our personal and professional goals. I’ve put in some long, hard hours of introspection. I’m still finding my path, and I know that my journey will be full of changes and surprises I didn’t anticipate.

Whether my book sells a hundred copies or a million, my grandfather would’ve been equally proud. I know my husband will rejoice for me the day I sell my first book, but my worth in his eyes and in that of my friends’ and family’s is not based on my rank in sales.

Author Michelle Davidson Argyle wrote in a blog post entitled “Publishing is Like a Hot Love Affair”:

In the end it all depends on what you want as an author. Don’t kid yourself thinking there’s only one way to publish or that any path is easier than another. And don’t jump into that hot love affair with your eyes closed. It’s a wild ride and one that could end really ugly if you don’t research, gain a great amount of patience, and work hard every single day. Luck only happens to those who put themselves in its path.

Art matters. Writing matters. Craft matters. But we write about life. That’s why having options as writers is so important. Whether you go Big Six, small press, indie, or a combination thereof, your path will be the one that you feel is right for you.

It’s not about doing what’s the easiest or hardest, what’s most ambitious or most comfortable. Your writing goals have to align with your personal goals. If the rebel in you screams indie and you believe you can pull it off, go for it. If you say it’s Big Six or bust, pursue it. We have to be true to ourselves and our values. We have to know what’s truly important to us or else risk getting caught up in the rat race and losing ourselves.

Accessed at stock xchng.Springsteen was born to run; I was born to write. But I live for late-night laugh fests with my best friends, for Saturday morning family breakfasts, for kisses and stargazing, and for the tiny moments that bring me happiness or deeper awareness. My stories and publishing journey will always incorporate those things.

And what about you? What’s your path? How does it align with your personal goals? What guides your footsteps on your writing journey? And how have the ones you love inspired you?

dose of inspiration

Going confidently in the direction of your dreams (even if you must occasionally proceed in the dark)

“Go confidently in the direction of your dreams. Live the life you’ve imagined.” –Henry David Thoreau

Thoreau ranks high on my list of inspirational people. His writings on anything from civil disobedience to simplicity to living close to nature always stir something in me.

I am and always have been a nature freak. I believe that trees have beautiful, old souls, and that when we work close to the earth, we can hear the magic that hums in its veins—that hums, too, in our veins. When I was a kid, I used to dream of having a small cabin in the woods, of waking to watch deer just footsteps from my door, of always living immersed in nature. While most kids were playing video games, I was identifying flora and fauna. (To be fair, I grew up on a farm with two brothers who hogged the Nintendo controllers and with no cable television.)

In my early 20s, I lived on a farm in the middle of nowhere for a year. I wrote most of my master’s thesis there, with the company of my cats, my beagle, and a nosy horse in need of a personality transplant. I now enjoy my life in town, which, fortunately, features plenty of green space and trees, lots of squirrels, and the occasional deer. (Oh, and lattes.) But Thoreau’s quotes continue to resonate in me, and they resonate in my work.

I was trying to explain paranormal romance to someone who’d never read the genre. On the fly, the best I could come up with was, “Think Charmed and Buffy the Vampire Slayer.” He smiled in amusement and said, “I can’t picture you writing anything like Buffy.” He didn’t mean it as a diss. Buffy and Angel aren’t exactly what you’d expect from a soft-spoken, skinny five-foot-tall woman.

I don’t think my explanation helped the other person understand what I write and why I write. Thoreau also said, “The mass of men lead lives of quiet desperation.” And there’s plenty of desperation in the world. Maybe by writing I’m trying to stave off a type of quiet desperation, unleashing my inner artist, feeding my soul. And I want to give the world some faith, something to believe in. Artists seek out the beauty in the world. Maybe we draw it out; maybe we cling to it. Or maybe we just find ways to let it shine through. I do know that writing makes me a better person, a deeper person, a more spiritual person.

My husband and I just did one of our periodic “this life in review” sessions. One thing we both want immensely is to buy a house. I want a garden that’s not a couple of terracotta pots on our cramped balcony, and we both want a place we can make our own. Having our own washer and dryer that don’t require quarters and not having to listen to the neighbors playing indoor hockey (that’s what I assume they were doing) would be added perks. And as thoughts of houses and mortgage payments took root, a voice inside me questioned if I shouldn’t be dedicating more of my pursuits to a more solid career, something more secure.

But I don’t believe to do that would be to go confidently in the direction of my dreams. We will own that house we dream of, a place for our family to grow, for our animals to play and for us to tend a garden, to paint the walls any damn color we please (okay, I do that anyway, but I have to paint it all back to plain old white when I move). And we’ve found plenty of happiness, good memories, and magic here in this apartment. A house can certainly be a symbol, a milestone, but it’s one part of the journey.

Even if I consult my tarot deck from time to time, I can’t see into the future, determine what choices I’ll make, where my path will lead. Faith in ourselves, in our dreams, in our goals, in whatever higher powers we believe in, those things must carry us forward. We can’t ask for certainty.

We can build, step by step, choice by choice, and word by word, a life that we’ve imagined.


the writer's journey, writing

Sneaky motifs: What’s your secret little write-obsession?

While mulling over a new novella I’m working on, it dawned on me that there is a motif that flows through nearly every story that I write. It’s not something as abstract, as love (which is a given, considering my genre) or redemption or healing (though those are common ones) or any sort of existential commentary on the human condition.

No, my novels have plenty of subtle and not-so-subtle themes that run through them. But this one was so unexpected it caught me off guard.

Tea. Yes, that’s right, tea. The beverage, preferably served hot, often with honey. In an early MG fantasy novel I was working on in grad school, a professor noted with good humor the importance to which my characters had elevated tea. One of them says, “Something big is going down. End-of-the-world big.” And the other character says, “I’ll put on the tea.”

Now, tea is my comfort food (if you could call it a food), even more than a bar of dark (very dark) chocolate. But despite my love of chocolate or ice cream or artisan cheeses, none of these things has become an unconscious motif if my stories.

Each time tea surfaces in a story, its presence feels completely natural. When someone is sick or worried, what better way to console him or her than to offer up a cup of tea? So when Cassandra (heroine in newly begun novella) arrives shivering and soaking wet on Nick’s doorstep, what is a guy to do but make her a cuppa?

I blame my best friends, those ladies who have been my confidants through the numerous ups and downs of my twenties. When some people would whip up a pitcher of margaritas (we have done that, on occasion), we usually put some hot water on and brew a pot of tea. We’ve stayed up until 5 a.m. contemplating our lives and the mysteries of the universe, anything from relationship woes to work struggles to spiritual awakenings, while imbibing endless amounts of tea. Those are good memories. And after a long day at work, there’s nothing better than coming home and sipping a cup of Lady Grey tea while allowing my body to sink into the sofa cushions.

I don’t know why tea became part of my writing universe. Maybe I associate it with the magic that runs through my life. It’s natural, earthy, relaxing—a sort of meditation and medicine. It’s a balm for the soul. And, maybe, drinking tea is even an art form.

What about you? What subtle motif has popped into your work unintentionally? And where do you think it came from?