Category Archives: Education

Vacation Inspiration

A common question asked of writers is where we get our ideas for our stories. Some will say it’s the ‘Muse”. Others might say ideas are born from snapshots of characters who speak to us or a seed of inspiration that drops in from the aethers. Both are probably true, but as for me, I believe ideas are born from life experiences.

PJ Sharon here, coming to you fresh (or a little less than fresh) off a twelve day road trip up the West Coast. Call it a much needed and long overdue vacation, a visit to celebrate with my eldest son who just turned 33 (Holy cow! How did that happen? I turned 33 only yesterday!), or call it what it was…research. Since my last big vacation–a Mediterranean cruise with my mother-in-law back in 2011 that led me to write PIECES of LOVE, hubby and I were happy to splurge on some time away from our daily rat race.

Despite suffering the usual vacation mishaps, such as a missed flight, the dreaded airplane flu three days in with a side trip to the ER in San Rafael, and a questionable hotel stay or two, we had loads of fun and saw some amazing sights! And yes, I took copious notes and tons of pictures. I’d like to share some of my experiences and how they might serve to inspire me and my books.

The trip started in San Francisco with a lovely four day visit with my son who lives in wine country out there–the perfect backdrop for a romance novel. We did the usual touristy things like wine tasting in Napa Valley and a ride out to Bodega Bay to cruise the coast. In the city, we took a  trolley up to the cable car museum, then ate at Neptune’s on Fisherman’s Wharf, and watched street performers on the Embarcadero. GhirardelliAnd I couldn’t visit San Francisco without stopping by Ghirardelli’s.doing time in alcatraz

When a tour of Alcatraz landed me behind bars, I imagined the desperate souls who were once imprisoned behind those walls, looking out at the world beyond, the distant voices from the city by the bay a  constant reminder of an untouchable freedom.

After a sad farewell to my boy, we headed up the coast, through the rolling green and gold hills of wine country, and beyond to the Redwood Forests. I hugged some magnificent trees, connecting to their ancient life energy. Trees that have stood since the time of Christ and seen generations pass their way. I imagined a native hugging this same tree some five hundred years ago and felt the spirits deep in my soul. Massive creatures 300 feet tall and 30 feet around, whose roots interconnect with one another in a web of underground life. It sounds crazy to people who aren’t sensitive to such things (or creative enough to imagine), but in my minds eye, I see limbs that come alive and faces in every knot and outgrowth. Elementals perhaps? I can totally see this being the setting for a paranormal series, fey romance or historical Native American romance…oooh…maybe a time travel story.Hugging the grandfather treecrater lake oregon

We said goodbye to the giant Redwoods and continued our journey. Next came a detour inland to Crater Lake, Oregon–a sight not to be missed! Formed from a volcanic eruption 7,700 years ago, the collapse created a crater almost 2,000 feet deep. Over time, the bed filled with crystal clear rain water and centuries of ice cold snow melt. Through checks and balances of seepage and evaporation, the lake has found its way. The story possibilities boggle the mind!

Winding our way back to the coast led us to the quaint town of Florence, up through the seal caves, and along the twists and turns of route 101 until we reached Cannon Beach in norther Oregon. This was on my darling husband’s bucket list, so we splurged on a beautiful hotel room right on the Pacific coastline with Haystack Rock outside our door. Every romance includes long walks on a beach and golden sunsets, a glass of good wine, and two people who would lay down their lives for one another. I’m not sure if I could write romance if i didn’t have that in my life.

Not to be underestimated, the power of alone time is also necessary. haystack rock cannon beach. oregonWaking to the mammoth rock, a cool, dry breeze, and the sound of the Puffins nesting high up on the “haystack” shaped stone, I enjoyed my morning meditation and a much needed yoga practice before we walked around the touristy little town, admiring the glass blown art and lovely beachfront properties.

Then it was up through the small fishing village of Astoria, site of fun and famous movies such as Kindergarten Cop and The Goonies. We ate yummy seafood and visited the Maritime Museum–another of hubby’s “must do’s”.

Our final stay was in my new favorite city, Seattle! An entertaining duck boat tour gave us great views of the sky line and a city tour that helped orient us for the short stay so we could decide what we wanted to see most.seattle skyline Pike Street Market Place and the famous Space Needle were highlights as was the people watching in Westlake Center.Pike street market

space needle 2

Mount St. Helens made for a fabulous day trip despite the deep bowl being shrouded in clouds the day we visited. We didn’t have to imagine what the 1981 eruption might have looked like since there were dozens of pictures taken that fateful day in May over thirty years ago. The twenty minute movie that takes you up close and personal with the destructive force of the event was surreal. Nearly every sign of life in over 200 square miles was destroyed that day, leaving a path of destruction and magma that turned the surface of the Earth to a moonlike desolation.mt. St. helens lava flow Acres of trees were flattened or swept away, the nearby Spirit Lake filling with lumber and wiping out much of the water life below. But as with all stories, there came a happy ending when life began to emerge from beneath the ground and under the snow covered mountainside. The current state of new life, growth, and natural beauty give hope for a bright future, made possible by the conservationists committed to preserving the land–a labor of true love if I’ve ever seen it.

Our final adventure occurred on our return trip home. It seemed silly to spend a three hour lay-over in the Las Vegas airport when we could take a shuttle over to the Vegas strip and have breakfast while checking out the scene.mgm 2 I’ve never been to Vegas before but did a ton of research for WESTERN DESERT, book two  in the Chronicles of Lily Carmichael trilogy. I wished I’d been able to take this trip BEFORE I wrote the second book. It was fun to see the MGM Grand,  but somehow, I imagined the whole strip to be bigger. All the same, Google didn’t do it justice.

Sometimes, the best way to get inspired is to take a road trip.

Have you ever written about a place you’ve traveled to? Where do you find your inspiration?

RWA 2013 Wrap Up

I’m back from my first RWA conference and I’m EXHAUSTED! But I’m feeling invigorated too. I’m excited to write again. I’ve been so busy with life that writing began to feel like a chore. But five days in a hotel with 2500 romance writers and I feel like I’m ready to charge ahead and push myself to write the best damn book possible.

Here’s a recap of my week. (WARNING: Some serious name dropping is about to happen.)

I arrive on Tuesday. Not much is going on. Most of the writers are just arriving. The place to hang out is the bar. Alcohol and romance writers. Yes, please. Of course I’m there with my lovely CTRWA chaptermates. Suddenly I look up and see Nora. NORA. Do I even have to give a last name? Nora Roberts. J.D Robb. Holy shit. I’m star struck. I stare at her. STARE. Because I can’t take my eyes off of her. Romance writers are my rock stars. And there Nora was sitting with a group of friends and her publicist that never leaves her side. She looks rich and fabulous and  famous. Like she’s the queen of romance. And to me that’s pretty damn cool.

Wednesday there are no workshops. Many of the writers and still filtering in through out the day. Registering. Getting the big bag of books and goodies that come with registration. There’s a mall connected to the hotel. Of course I go shopping with my chaptermates. We grab a cheap dinner in the food court. There is a Jill Shalvis sighting. I have to stop myself from yelling out to her. “Where’s Higgins?” Or “Do you have any extra cookies?” (You have to follow her on Facebook to understand what I’m talking about.) Later that night there was the HUGE literacy signing. Sixty thousand dollars was raised Wednesday. Our own Katy Lee was signing. I was so proud to see her. I then went to see Brenda Jackson. She just turned in her 100th book. 100 books! I look at her and I’m amazed. I totally embarrass myself. “I want to be you when I grow up,” I gush at her. “I think you are amazing!” Luckily she doesn’t call security on me and lets me take a picture with her. She’s so gracious and lovely. I wish I could be like her, but she has more poise in her little finger than I have in my whole body.

Me and Ms. Jackson

Katy Lee

Thursday was a big day for me. I went to some interesting workshops. My first was on avoiding cliche and then I went to Beverly Jenkins and Brenda Jackson’s workshop on writing family saga’s. Me and sister scribe Viv really enjoyed the talk. and Beverly Jenkins is probably one of the most funny writers I have ever seen. “Keep your shit together,” is what I took away from that workshop. I needed to hear that from Ms. Jenkins. As writers we all need to hear that. I met with my editor Holly for the first time. I started working with her over a year ago and we have worked on three books so far, so it was great to see her in person and just chat. Later that day was the Keynote luncheon where Cathy Maxwell gave one hell of a rousing speech. She simultaneously made two thousand of us want to pick up our pens and jump back into our writing. Later that day I’m in the elevator with a couple of ladies, one of them was wearing an orange first timer ribbon like I was. The other woman, a sweet looking petite redhead, asked us how we were enjoying our conference. We had a nice chat on the way down to the lobby. Even after the elevator stopped the redhead and I kept talking as we walked out. And then she introduced herself. “I’m Jayne Krentz,” she says. Jayne Krentz. Jayne Ann Krentz. Also known as Sabrina Quick, author of so many amazing novels. I have read a half dozen of her New York Times bestselling novels. I stupidly say, “You’re Jayne Ann Krentz?” She kind of makes a vague gesture towards herself, as if to say, “Yeah, dummy. I’m just a normal person.”  She is a normal person and a very nice person. Later I go to her signing and she signed at book to me, “Thanks for the elevator ride that I’ll never forget.” I LOVE her.

Jamie and Viv

Friday was an amazing day. Kristan Higgins gave the awards luncheon speech. I don’t know how to put into words how freaking fantastic she was. I laughed and cried and got goose bumps. If you ever get the chance to listen to it please do. She showed us a side of herself that we don’t normally see. She spoke about bullying and loss and poverty and grief. And how reading romance helped her through the tough times in life. As a member of her chapter I was so proud to see her up there. And for the rest of the conference I was proudly telling the world that I was in The Kristan Higgins chapter. I also met with my Harlequin editor, Tara, that day. What I write for Harlequin is vastly different from what I write for St. Martins Press and we talked a little about how I was going market and build a new brand. Later that night I met up with Amelia Grey and Mary Jo Putney to head to SMP cocktail party. Amelia is a historical romance writer who wrote one of my favs, A Duke to Die For. And Mary Jo Putney… When I met her she was just introduced to me as Mary Jo. I didn’t realize she was the Mary Jo Putney. She’s a legend and she was the recipient of the 2013 lifetime achievement award for RWA. She’s also super quirky and funny. If you don’t know her, read her books. We walked the six or so blocks to the party together. I was wearing stupid high, strappy shoes that were not made for walking. By the time I got to the party my feet were hurting so bad I could barely stand. So I left that party early, went back to my room, put on flat shoes and headed out to the Harlequin party. They throw an awesome event and I was honored to be apart of it. Romance writers and the best dancers. And those inspirational romance writers really know how to party. It was great seeing everybody have so much fun.

Best Speech Ever

Saturday the exhaustion starts to kick in. I’m too tired to make it downstairs for any workshops. But I do manage to get my act together enough to mail the dozen or so books home that WILL NOT fit in my suitcase. Later that day I have my first on camera interview with Fresh Fiction TV. I was nervous as hell, but the people at Fresh Fiction are so nice they put me at ease and when I spoke about my book, DANGEROUS CURVES AHEAD, I was actually coherent. After that I went to my very first book signing. St. Martins Press was kind enough to order fifty ARCs for me to sign. I didn’t think anybody was going to come to my line. I’m such a newbie and Cherry Adair was there! But all my books went and they went quickly and strangers were asking to take their picture with me. It was surreal and awesome and so much fun to meet and talk to all those people. I finally felt like an author. After countless rejections and years crippling doubt I finally felt like I had made it. It was a great feeling. And I want to thank all the CTRWAers who came out to the signing to encourage me! Your presence there really helped put a girl at ease.

author

Saturday night was the RITAs, the Oscars of the romance writing world. The event was fun we had great seats and I got to see some of my favorite authors take home that beautiful golden statue. It was a great way to end the conference. Being there that night gave me new goals. To win a RITA. I don’t care how long it takes. I’m going to keep writing the best damn possible books that I can until I get there. And my other goal is to publish 100 books whether it be through  the traditional model or self publishing. Buy the end of 2014 I’ll have 5 books and one novella in print. I’m on my way. And I’m going to keep writing until I can’t do it anymore.

You can probably tell by this long and rambling post that my brain is fried, but it’s a good kind of fried. How was your week? And what goals do you have for yourself.

Are you repeating yourself?

PJ here. I love the editing process. Well…love might be too strong a word. What I do love, though, is learning my strengths and weaknesses as a writer, and layering my story with the fine brush strokes that hopefully make the characters leap off the page and the plot keep readers riveted.

As I’m reading through a printed copy of WESTERN DESERT, my editor’s voice rings in my ear.

Coming June 24, 2013!
Coming June 24, 2013!
She has pointed out a specific weakness many times, but I couldn’t see it for myself until I read it on a printed page. There are just some things my eyes don’t pick up on the computer screen. In my case, it’s the glaringly repetitious -ing sentence structure that results in lots of “telling”. It seems I have a habit of structuring my sentences as follows:

We stopped only when necessary and took turns driving, making good time and closing in on our destination.

All in all, it’s not a horrible sentence, but repeating this pattern frequently can really bog down the writing. This is clearly a case of “telling”–beginning with a subject/verb construction, using –ing words, and making it a weak sentence that is unnecessarily long. Ooops! I did it again! Did you catch it? I’ve used two phrases connected by a comma, requiring me to use the gerund form of the verb in the second phrase. Darn it! I did it yet again! I can’t seem to help myself, LOL. Believe me, it was an eye opener when I finally saw it. Hopefully, I’ve taken care of the problem through most of the manuscript. If not, I’m certain my second round with an editor will catch it.

As for strengths, I’ve been told I have a knack for description. Here’s an example of using description to ground the reader in place and to paint a picture of the scene.

In the distance the Western mountain ranges turned a deep purple under clouds of smoke from wild-fires gone unmanaged. The coastal winds from the ocean beyond carried the wayward flames toward the desert, but with nothing but sand and cactus, they would die of starvation long before they reached us or the city of Las Vegas.

Although this could be considered telling, in just a few sentences you get a clear picture of the environment and lots of information about what’s happening. Like most writers, I struggle with brevity—the art of saying more with fewer words—but I’m definitely improving.

Do you know your strengths and weaknesses? Do you have any particularly stubborn habits that bog down your writing?

#Writerproblems

#writerproblems.

You know what writer problems are, right? They are problems we all face when we write that other non writers just don’t understand.

1. Been sitting in this chair so long I think my ass is now fused to the seat. #writerproblems

2. My characters are acting all kinds of crazy right now. Time to beat them into submission. #writerproblems

3. My book is 80,000 words. Only 40,000 of them are any good. #writerproblems

4. Everything I wrote today SUCKS. #writerproblems

5. I’m two rejections away from being able to wall paper my bedroom. #writerproblems.

6. Wrote myself into a corner. Don’t know how to end this scene. #writerproblems

7. How far should I go with this love scene? #writerproblems

8. Got a one star review of my book just because reviewer didn’t like my hero’s name #writerproblems.

Your turn! You got writer problems? Sugar wants to hear all about them. 

2013 Writers Conferences

I’ve only ever been to two writer’s conferences. They both were put on by my local RWA chapter (CTRWA). I usually like to be a worker bee on conference day, so I tend to miss all the great work shops and networking that a lot of other people might enjoy on conference day. This year I plan to change that. (I got a book coming out in August!) Of course I’m going to be working my own chapter’s conference but this year I plan to attend some others.

In the past one of the major reasons I didn’t attend other conferences was the cost. RWA’s National conference was way WAY out of my budget. The registration fee alone is more than my car payment and my electricity bill combined. Even local conferences can be expensive. Besides the registration fees, they require travel and sometimes a stay overnight in a hotel. For a lot of us that is just not feasible.

BUT I think it is important for writers to attend conferences. I know a few writers who have snagged agents and or book deals from the pitch sessions. It’s a chance to meet other writers, to make friendships,to get your name out there, to learn from other writers. And if you don’t have a fear of public speaking, to teach writers some of the things you know by giving a workshop.

This year I have set money aside just so I can go to a couple of conferences. (Goodbye very sexy expensive Isabella Cole lace up booties. I’ll be with you in my dreams.)Isabella Cole Boots, EEE Fit

I’m still an extreme newbie to this whole writing thing and I know I’ve got a lot to learn.  So I’ve been looking at some of the conferences.  The New England Chapter of the RWA is hosting their conference April 26-27 in Massachusetts. The price is $219 if you register before March 1st. They’ve got some pretty big names attending. If you want to check it out here’s the link.  http://necrwa.org/blog1/conference/  Plus my friends TL Costa and Peter Andrews will be there giving workshops.

Then there is the Backspace Writer’s conference  May 23-25, 2013 with agent extraordinaire Donald Mass giving a workshop. This conference seems less romance friendly than some others but still valuable to attend. The early bird price is $595. The regular is $720. Plus it’s in NYC which means expensive hotel rooms.  But if you got the cash to spare…   http://www.backspacewritersconference.com/

Then there is the mother of all Romance conferences. RWA’s annual conference, which I’m planning to attend, will be held July 12-20 in Atlanta. The cost? $450 if you register early. $500 if you don’t. I hear this conference is an absolute blast and besides all the networking opportunities you really learn about the romance industry. So I plan to go and will be convincing my friends to save their pennies so I won’t have to go alone. http://www.rwa.org/p/cm/ld/fid=559

(Goodbye pretty Michael Kors handbag. Maybe I’ll see you in another life.)

So today I need to know from you all, what conferences have you attended? Which are the most beneficial  Which are the most fun? Which are the most cost effective? And which ones are you planning to attend? Maybe I’ll see you there.

Forecast 2013…

How many of you take horoscopes seriously? I usually don’t. In fact I never read mine unless I have a newspaper in front of me which is never. But while cruising the internet this week I stumbled upon my 2013 forecast. I ignored the LOVE forecast and went right to the CAREER forecast. Like most writers I have a day job. Some days I love my job and my coworkers and everything is all sunshine and rainbows. And some days I rather shovel dog mess than go to it. But I go to it every day. Day in and day out. And sometimes the monotony, the red tape, the silly rules get to me. Sometimes the stress from my day job interferes with my night job, my writing which has morphed out of just a hobby into a full-blown passion/obsession.

So sometimes I day-dream about shouting, “TAKE THIS JOB AND SHOVE IT!” My dream is to be able to not only survive from my writing alone but to be able to live well. I would love to be able to travel and see new places and never be confined to the few weeks off I get during the year. Over the past couple of years I’ve been truly exploring starting over somewhere new. New job. New life. New opportunities. But starting over is extremely hard. New people. New problems. New worries. (I like to think of it as a quarter life crisis.)

Of course I wonder if it’s at all worth it. And then I came across my horoscope.Which came directly Yahoo! Shine via Astrology.com.

You have been promising yourself for years that you would break out of the comfort of the familiar to pursue something more satisfying on a soul level even if it meant sacrificing the security of a paycheck. Well now is the time, Taurus. Something infinitely more gratifying is waiting for you on the other side of your current status quo, it’s just up to you to make the leap.Don’t be afraid to invest in yourself and a brighter future instead of always anticipating the rainy day. Jupiter thinks big and is not afraid to take risks if it means greater gains. Where do you need to take a chance in order to tap into greater freedom, success and possibility than you have allowed yourself in your work and career? Is it because you are afraid you won’t make money? Put those fears to the test before June, and you just might be pleasantly surprised. Plus, you’re never one without a backup plan, or two. It’s not about doing something reckless but it is about doing something deliciously daring, Taurus.

I’ve never had a horoscope be so dead on to how I was feeling. It was kind of like I wrote it myself.

Now, I’m not making any major life changes for the time being but it definitely gave me to something to think about.

I want to know for you all…

What would your horoscope say if you wrote it? It could be love related, career related, or just about life in general. Maybe if we all wrote our own horoscopes we would accomplish exactly what we wanted.

Exercise…your right to vote

PJ Sharon here, with a slight departure from writing about…well…writing. I will return to regularly scheduled  “writerly” postings next week.

It’s election Tuesday, and I’m proud to say, I voted! Many heartfelt thanks to the fabulous ladies in this picture (courtesy of Wikepedia) who are celebrating their right to vote, a fight that was finally won in 1919 after a centuries old battle.

When I was growing up during the seventies and eighties, my mother was very active in town politics. Even with seven children, she committed herself to making a difference and believed strongly in the power of women to sway the tide. She worked tirelessly on behalf of candidates she believed in and was instrumental in getting more than one State Representative elected with her grass roots efforts. Mom had the tenacity of a bulldog and the enthusiasm of a cheerleader. A well-loved and friendly woman, she had no trouble spreading the word by making phone calls and knocking on doors with her persuasive and sometimes vehement arguments on behalf of a particular candidate. I may not have thought so at the time, but today, I see my mom as the trailblazer and heroine that she was.

For the last five years or so of her life—which was taken all too soon at the age of fifty after a long battle with cancer—she worked as a bulletin clerk at the capitol in Hartford just so she could be close to the action and keep tabs on Connecticut’s political up-and -comers. I remember sitting around our kitchen table with my brothers and sisters stuffing envelopes and making signs. Being included in such important matters at an early age gave me a great appreciation for the political process, and I, like my mother, believe that women have a collective voice that has the power to change the world.

 I consider it both a privilege and a responsibility to exercise the rights that so many before me fought to win. Women, especially, took up the cause for the right to have a voice in a world dominated by men who held the power to make decisions for them without any consideration for how women felt or what they wanted. In response, the Women’s suffrage movement spanned nearly a century, and spread across the globe in the 1800’s and into early nineteen hundreds with many ups and downs before “the vote” was finally won in the US in June of 1919. Through perseverance and suffering, enduring prison and torture, these early American heroines laid down their lives so that today, I could have a voice. With all of the crazy statements and misstatements that have been made in this campaign regarding women’s issues, I am saddened to think that as much as times have changed, some things remain the same. Once again, the rights of women hang in the balance. I hope you will all take some time to look beyond the rhetoric and examine the issues, make an informed decision, and get out and vote today.

What is your earliest memory of politics? Did you learn about it at home or in school?

 (NOTE: Specific political views or inflammatory comments are not appropriate in this venue and negative comments will be removed.  The above opinions are mine alone, and not necessarily those of the Secrets of Seven Scribes as a whole. Please be considerate.)