What Would You Do?

Welcome to Author Next Door!

My husband knows to be very afraid when I borrow his 25′ Stanley tape and walk around measuring things, which is exactly what I’ve been doing the last few days. I’m contemplating changes in my office/writing space. You know how it is around New Year, ‘Out with the old, In with the new,’ and all that. So, that huge hutch holding old books and magazines? I need to toss or box up the reading material I don’t use, put the old Nancy Drew books on Ebay before anyone who might buy them goes into a retirement home, and find another home for the big piece of furniture my husband bought at a consignment store. Yes, it’s served its purpose for years. Now I’m thinking that it doesn’t.

You know how this works: removing the hutch leaves a 56 ½” wide, 28” deep vacuum and creates a domino effect. Rearrange? Add a recliner from another room? Try something totally different? Help! I’m lost, because the whole “design gene” skipped me.

I can think of things I’d like to put there: lateral file cabinets (they are pricey, so I can hear my husband saying, “What’s wrong with the four file drawers you have now?”); maybe built-in cabinets for storing office materials/relocating the two printers; or more bookshelves (again, my husband would say, “You’d have space if you’d get rid of books in your other bookshelf”). I choose not to listen to those voices.

It would be nice to get the clutter off my desk, off the shelves behind my desk, and out of the stacked crates in the corner. Did I mention I hate filing? Stacking works for me, especially in a fan shape around where I’m sitting. Ask me where something is and I can pull it out for you, most of the time. Unless it’s important and my husband needs it right now. Or the stack gets so high it falls over. Twice.

Maybe a sitting area away from the TV room might work there. While I’m dreaming, it would be nice to have all the dark granite cabinet tops in my house replaced, a frameless shower door installed in the master bath, and the Property Brothers spending two weeks renovating my house for free. “We’re going to start by taking out that wall….”

But I digress.

To put things in perspective, one whole wall in my study is covered by a floor-to-ceiling bookcase (not moving). One wall has a large window and short bookcase which sits beside my desk. The wall behind my desk has the “vacuum” space about the size of a closet with no door (my desk chair is too close to use the rest of the wall), and the last wall has several chest-high bookcases holding two printers and lots of stuff, with a shredder sitting next to them. So, here’s where I ask for help.

What would YOU recommend putting in that space? What configuration works well in your office, or what’s something you wish you had in your office? I’d really love to hear your suggestions–please!

And before I go back to pacing, may I wish for you a new year filled with happiness, health, and many pages of completed manuscripts.

Now, where did I put that measuring tape?

Karen Taylor Saunders

Good Fences Make Good Writers

Welcome to Author Next Door!

My husband and I bowled on a league team this morning. Since both of us retired early from our day jobs, we enjoy choosing activities we can do together. The problem is, today isn’t our normal bowling day—our team bowls tomorrow. And we’re subbing this morning for someone I just met last week! What’s wrong with this picture?

APRIL KIHLSTROM spoke yesterday to our writers’ group on her Book In A Week, or “how to make your writing life easier and more fun.” If you’ve never heard April speak or taken her BIAW course online, I highly recommend her. Of all April shared, the one thing which particularly resonated with me was her reminder to protect our writing time both by enlisting help from supporters and by not telling saboteurs.

Driving home last night after our meeting, I vowed to commence a wonderful week writing on my new WIP…until I remembered I had committed to bowling three hours today and three more tomorrow! No one had done this to me: I had done it to myself. Sometimes I’m my own worst enemy in that I have difficulty setting boundaries to protect my writing time.

Others I know have confessed that setting boundaries is an issue they’ve struggled with also. When asked, several writers in our RWA group graciously volunteered to share ways they’ve found to protect their unique writing time. (As a disclaimer, any errors in spelling or grammar made in transcribing their comments are mine alone.)

JAX GARREN writes paranormal romance. Her upcoming series Austin Immortals mixes snark, love, vampires, and an apocalypse. Book 1, Stripped with the Vampire will be out March 9, 2015 (and get a sneak peak of her holiday novella, The Elf and the Ice Princess, when it re-releases in early December). Jax says:

“A year ago, my husband and I fostered two girls, 4 and 7 years old, which was a WONDERFUL experience. But our children, like many children with abandonment issues, had a really hard time with us being out of their sight. In order to accommodate their fears but still give me writing time, I kept art supplies by my desk and a strict rule that they could be in the room as long as we all worked quietly together.  It took some time—and a few tearful episodes where they were sent from the room for not following the quiet rule—but after a while it got to the point where they were creating their own artwork (and occasionally books) in the same room with me with surprisingly few interruptions.”

ALEXA BOURNE writes romantic suspense, contemporary romance, and paranormal romance. Her latest book is Hidden Destiny Series Book 1: Wake Me (paranoramal romance), and her next book is Chasing Gold, an action/adventure romance, part of the Beyond Fairytales series (no release date yet). Alexa tells us:

“Last spring I was working on promoting 3 books and trying to write something new. But it always seemed I had more promo work than time to write. Add in my day job as a teacher and you’ll understand how busy I was. I started getting snippy with people, kept getting behind in my writing because there always seemed to be something else more important to do. I seriously considered stopping my professional writing life. Luckily, I had a friend who talked me off that ledge! She told me I had to choose my “writing time” and I had to promise myself I would not/could not change that no matter what. I couldn’t allow anyone or anything to interfere during my writing time. So, I decided I would try getting up an hour earlier to spend at least 1 hour each day, Monday through Friday, writing. If I spent no other time writing at least I knew I could still make progress with those hours. I wouldn’t get online or do any promo work. I would just write, revise or edit my manuscripts to get them ready to submit. At first, getting up at 4 was a huge struggle (and sometimes still is!), but I found I loved it. I could see my steady progress and plus, working that early puts me in a good mood for the day job! I’m still getting up early and I’m so glad I made the change!

ANN MAJOR writes short, sexy, contemporary romance. She is a bestselling romance author of over 70 books (65 with Harlequin) whose Christmas novella Love With an Imperfect Cowboy will be published in December. Ann says:

“So—how do I protect my writing time? Lately I’ve been getting up at 3:30 or 4 a.m. EVERY day and writing. And WRITING. When nobody’s up but me. I work ‘til about 6 and come home. I cook. I exercise. I crash. And I’m having the time of my life. I have an office a mile from the house. I go there around ten. I turn my cell phone on mute. And I write. There are afternoons I leave my phone on so I can talk to my kids. But at least 4 days a week, I hole up and have no phone access. The phone is my biggest saboteur, you see. Being a writer, I love interruptions. But I have learned that to focus, I simply have to TURN OFF THE CELL PHONE. A few years ago I was BLOCKED. I didn’t know why. I went to Lebh Shomea, a silent prayer retreat, and immediately got UN-BLOCKED. Because it was so quiet. Because there was such bad cell phone service. A spiritual answer bubbled up from my subconscious. The message was: TURN OFF YOUR CELL PHONE. This was THE ANSWER. Doing this, painful as it was, because I’m SO addicted to my cell phone, did more for my production than I can say. Writing is about focus; about totally going down inside yourself and digging deep. You can’t do that if you stay up on the surface gabbing with your buddies, planning lunch, shopping…hanging out with your phone, all the fun things.” Ann also suggests that if certain people in your life block you because they don’t respect your writing or your genre, don’t take their calls when you’re writing.

A big THANK YOU again to Jax Garren, Alexa Bourne, and Ann Major for sharing how they recognized personal pitfalls, planned proactively, and persisted in the face of family demands, busy professional schedules, and other outside interruptions!

Sometimes I do use a Bose noise-reduction headset when my husband has the TV on, since the TV set’s in the living room just outside my office. Other times he helps me out by wearing his wireless headset so the TV sound is muted for me.

Seeing how other writers deal with the challenges of protecting their writing time helps me reevaluate my own effectiveness.

Learning to say ‘NO’ instead of adding an activity to my calendar is step one; step two is making sure I get into the chair, because once I sit down I can write for hours. To feel that urgency to take my seat rather than putter around the house, I’ve started using a notebook to log hours written per day. And, since the computer screen word count is too abstract for me, I need to be accountable in a more tangible way for what I’ve accomplished on a daily or monthly basis. One manuscript I finished largely due to my participation in NANO: that year our local RWA chapter had us posting daily word counts on a spreadsheet in our group files. You only can post numbers if you’ve set aside the time to write. I think I see a daily spreadsheet in my future…

And one more way to put pressure on myself and reinforce my daily writing time? At monthly meetings our chapter draws one name from all those writers who have achieved their monthly goal (a goal written down and put in an envelope the previous month along with a dollar bill) and that person wins the “pot” of the goals dollars. Use the force, Luke! Harness that passion, protect what’s important.

Here I’m reminded of Robert Frost’s poem “Mending Wall,” with his last line paraphrased to read “Good fences make good writers.” Yet more so, I believe, is the converse true: “Good writers make good fences.” If we don’t, no one else is going to do it for us.

Let’s mend some walls, and may all of us have a very productive writing week!

Karen Taylor Saunders

Bumps In The Road

Welcome to Author Next Door!

A few weeks ago I took my car in for its yearly state inspection. While waiting, I had flashbacks from last year’s inspection, the one I joke cost me $2000.

About a month before the inspection last year I backed out of the garage and hit our large plastic garbage bin, breaking the rear light clear protective plastic. I don’t usually do things like that—other people do. My handyman husband did a great job gluing all the pieces back together BUT…the light didn’t pass inspection. It needed to be replaced.

Easy fix, right? Not! These days you can’t just buy the one small, clear replacement piece. You have to buy the whole dad-gum three-foot-long section unit that costs almost $350, plus pay around $75 labor costs to have it installed. After calling several dealerships to price the part I ended up driving to another town nearby to pick one up.

But my financial journey wasn’t over yet. When I got back into my car with the box holding the replacement light unit, the car wouldn’t start. My battery was dead! Since I had to pay the dealership’s service department to replace the battery I went ahead and paid them to install the part I’d just bought as well.

What else could go wrong?

I’ve got to stop asking that question. On the way home the AC went out. In Texas it’s still in the 90s even in September, so AC here is not optional. The only silver lining was that my hoses didn’t have the dreaded “black death.” All told, last year work done to inspect and fix my car came to around $2000.

This year, everything was normal. After a boring hour of sitting in the waiting room playing Sudoku on my phone, I paid the regular fee.

While normal is great for the pocketbook, it doesn’t make for a good story. I’m going to laminate this epiphany for my collection, because while personally I prefer to avoid conflict and hardship, as a writer I’ve learned to embrace them. In fact, I’ll admit that on occasion I’ve actually enjoyed the process of making life “sucky and suckier” (thank you, Debra Dixon) for the characters in my story.

May optimism and a sense of humor help us navigate bumps in the road of life, and may our creativity and imagination transform them into copy for our next book!


#RWA14 was Awesome!

Welcome to Author Next Door!

Got back late July from the Romance Writers of America annual conference in San Antonio, Texas, and after four days of sharing a shower I could not wait to soak in a long, hot bath! My very patient husband listened to me talk 95 miles per minute about all the wonderful, inspiring, funny, and wise things I’d heard over the five-day period, but bottom line: RWA14 was totally awesome!

I absolutely love attending RWA conferences. Workshops are incredible, networking potential is amazing, people are friendly, and roommates bond over things interesting and quirky. We listen to top keynote speakers, panels of editors and agents, and spotlights on publishing house trends; we attend book signings for literacy as well as free book give-aways; and we browse for Goody Room promo freebies. After the whirlwind, we all return home inspired, focused, and ready to write.

The ladies and I who car-pooled and roomed together this year at the conference hotel called ourselves the “Fab Four.” They were a hoot! I could not have shared my hotel room with three nicer ladies. Thank you Cheryl, Janece, and Jan. And although this was the third national RWA conference I’ve attended, it was the first conference where I pitched a completed manuscript both to a publisher and an agent in prearranged appointments. Instead of being a basket case, I was (mostly) calm and prepared, since the wonderful PANs in our local RWA chapter gave up one afternoon before the conference to listen to all 15 of us practice our pitches and to help critique us. Their input was invaluable. So thank you to our chapter PANs!

One unpredictable joy of a conference is, you never know who you’ll meet on an elevator or who you’ll see sitting at the next table in the bar. Apparently it’s become a rite of passage in our chapter to return with your own “Nora Roberts sighting” story. This year I didn’t come back with a story, but I think having my picture taken with the very classy Ms. Roberts is twice as nice!

The finale of every RWA conference is, of course, the RITA and Golden Heart Awards Ceremony. We laughed, we cheered, and we all hoped: next year may it be one of us walking to the front to accept our statuette. That’s one thing I don’t think I would mind dusting!

O Muse, Where Art Thou?

Welcome to Author Next Door!

Some days my muse is very generous. On those days odd, interesting, or humorous tidbits jump out at me while I’m reading a magazine or paper or minding my own business in public. I couldn’t possibly make up some of the zany reasons people give for what they do or say!

Those are the days I overhear random, off-the-wall comments volunteered by people who haven’t learned how to use their “inside voices”–like the man I overheard bragging “All my girlfriends are married!” My curiosity zipped from 0 to 60 wondering if he were a serial dater or if he just liked keeping current options in the plural. He’ll never be cast as a hero in my romance novels, but as a foil or sidekick he holds definite comic possibilities. So, into the lime-green plastic bin of ideas beside my desk his quote goes, right on top of ripped-out magazine pages and cut-out newspaper articles.

On other days, my muse is a moving target, a fickle friend who can’t be tied down and who leaves me 50 shades of despondent. She might tease me with an idea but then won’t sit still long enough to help develop it. (I do know it isn’t really her job to develop the ideas, that it’s my job to get the rear in gear in the chair over there. But I’m writing about muses today, not procrastination.)

Wondering how other writers’ muses manifest themselves, I asked several authors from my local RWA chapter how they get ideas for stories, characters, or series proposals. Four ladies were kind enough to contribute answers for today’s blog. (I did first promise that I wouldn’t ditch my muse and poach theirs!)

Describing her genre as “dark contemporary,” Jeanell Bolton says she gets her ideas for stories from news scandals, adding “then I write about how the survivors deal with these experiences.” Jeanell likes to think of her writing as “steaming inspirational.”

Cheryl Rae, who writes paranormal or Sci-Fi says, “I get so much inspiration from dreams. Characters, story lines, plotting, everything! I have these epic dreams where I know what color dress the heroine is wearing, what numbers are on the pages she is carrying, and what time of day it is–when she is doing something. I just try to wake up and write it all down and hopefully it makes sense. Hah!”

The Welcome Committee of Butternut Creek by Jane Myers Perrine was nominated for a 2012 RITA in the Strong Romantic Elements category. Summarizing her book as being about “an inexperienced minister called to a small town church because the church can’t afford anyone better,” Jane says her inspiration for the series came from asking “what if?” She explains that her husband “was a minister for fifty years, serving churches in several small towns. Because I’m also a minister and served churches as well, we shared a lot of stories. The inspiration was a what-if. What-if I’d been called to serve a church in a small town? What would that have been like?” Otherwise, Jane says her ideas come from “an overly active brain.” She sometimes will read a book or see a movie and think, “I wouldn’t have it end like that,” and from there she will build a completely different story.

Then there’s Traci Andrighetti, who writes humorous romantic mystery. Traci says, “I got the idea for the Franki Amato Mysteries by reading Gabriella Genisi’s Inspector Lolita Lobosco series, which is available only in Italian. But the idea for the character of Franki actually came from my parents’ Cairn terrier, Francesca. She was the most walk-obsessed dog I’ve ever met. She used to stare me down like a hypnotist, willing me to go and get her leash with her eyes. When we would go outside, she was a top-notch investigator. As I stood there waiting for her to sniff every blade of grass in the lawn, I used to wonder what she’d be like as a human. That’s how Private Investigator Francesca “Franki” Amato was born. Ultimately, though, I get my ideas from my travels, especially my trips to Italy, and from the things I like to eat and drink, like Nutella and Italian liqueurs.” Traci’s book Limoncello Yellow was released earlier this year, and Prosecco Pink is forthcoming.

Many thanks, lovely ladies, for sharing your muses with us! I’ve enjoyed learning something new about each of you, and I hope my readers have too. Just goes to show, writers who are serious about their craft dedicate quality time to reading, watching movies and TV, dreaming, reflecting on personal experience, asking questions, wondering, traveling, eating, drinking, and listening in on other people’s conversations.

Is writing a great job, or what?

Why I Write Romance

Welcome to Author Next Door!

Why do I write Romance (or anything at all)? I’ve always loved a good story, especially one with a heroine and hero who achieve a happy ending and a bad guy who gets what s/he deserves.

Before I could read for myself, my mother would read to my siblings and me at bedtime. With a father and grandfather holding PhDs in English, we listened to classics, often Mark Twain for humor. Couple that with a grandmother working as head librarian at a college, I had full access as I got older to the stacks in the summertime. Sitting on the floor surrounded by rows of books and reading Fairy tales and fantasy for hours at a time was heaven!

I discovered Nancy Drew books, Robert Heinlein’s juvenile fiction, and historical fiction through Anya Seton’s Katherine and Georgette Heyer’s regency world. At university I tackled James Michener. Though I’m a fast reader, it took me two weeks to get through Hawaii. I decided I needed to find shorter books I could read in one setting.

Enter Harlequin. Some of the earlier series books I read were great. Others were so bad I would throw them across the room and yell, “I can write better than this!” After I’d said that one too many times my husband finally responded, “So write one yourself.” The old put-up-or-shut-up ploy engaged my imagination—not that it needed a jump-start.

It wouldn’t have been the first time I’d written something. At ten years old I put myself to sleep at night by writing myself into my favorite TV shows. At thirteen I’d started my first novel (no matter I only completed the table of contents and page one of the first chapter). My freshman year in college I took a short story class during which we wrote two short stories of our own, and the teacher loved my voice.

So I entered grad school. Taking creative writing courses full time was like working in a chocolate factory, but I soon realized that I had a long journey ahead of me. In critique sessions other people seemed to love the stuff I put in as an afterthought, not the parts I’d consciously crafted. They didn’t like my hero, they loved the off-the-wall guy who happened to bump into my heroine at a busy lunch spot. I kept writing. And once again, life decided I needed more experience.

All-But-Thesis when my son was born, I had to go back to work when my husband lost his job. We moved to a different city. I got divorced. News flash: single moms don’t have much time or energy left at the end of the day! I still wrote short stories for a summer writing conference required by my school; by now I was teaching high school English.

It was during spring break I met my own hero on the dance floor (there’s a subject for at least a few blogs in the future!). He encouraged me to take a year off after we married, take a refresher writing course through the university, and start writing my book. I found RWA and joined a wonderful local chapter. I was lucky enough to find two great critique partners. Joining a writing challenge helped me finish the infamous “manuscript under my bed,” and I finally tackled—and finished!—the novel of my heart (a topic for another blog).

All this is to say, I write because I visualize romantic scenes. I hear voices of characters who spar with each other, who laugh and cry and fight and make up. For me, romance is finding the treasure of a fulfilling relationship, one that brings out the best in both people, helps each overcome past baggage, and multiplies joy rather than adding. In a romance story I can explore “what if,” I can change “why not?” and I can dream of happily-ever-after bliss. I also get to kill people without going to jail. But that, too, is another story.

So, dear reader, welcome to Author Next Door! Please read stuff. Enjoy yourself. Sign up for my newsletter (I promise not to bombard you with emails). Come back often, and let me hear from you!

Karen Taylor Saunders