Tell Me About Your Day

My favorite time of day for taking walks is in the early evening.  Walking through the neighborhood, I love the glimpses I  get of other people’s lives as lights come on in their homes.  I can see how a living room has been decorated or that one family eats together in the dining room while another eats supper in front of the television.  I usually don’t know who I am looking at and I’m not spying or peeking in windows, I’m just walking past.

My voyeurism hasn’t been limited to the visual.  I often listen in on other peoples’ conversations when out in public.  I will (almost) never inject myself into their conversations, but I listen when others speak.

I also love it when bloggers write about their daily lives.  I often see advice from the pundits who say that bloggers shouldn’t do this, it is too boring, or that writers should minimize the details of the day to day when writing about their characters.  But I love reading these accounts.  I like to get a glimpse into how other people live, the kinds of routines they build their lives around, the rituals they have in place to hold things together.

I hadn’t thought too much about why this fascinates me until, recently.  I realized that what I was doing as the observer was collecting information for my writing.  It is a natural part of who I am and it isn’t a conscious effort on my part, but everything I see and hear and read gets absorbed into my subconscious and becomes fodder for my stories.  I think all writers must do this.  We watch and listen and learn about how people live and react to each other.  We are the observers, and our writing makes us witnesses to what we have seen and learned about the human condition.

Ebook short novel Available on Amazon; Smashwords; Barnes and Noble

Ebook short novel Available on Amazon; Smashwords; Barnes and Noble; as well as iBooks and Kobo


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Making New Habits

I recently attended a Lighthouse writers workshop in Denver called “Finding Time to Write”, taught by Erika Krouse.  Finding the time hasn’t exactly been my problem this year, but the workshop was designed to help writers find the rituals and habit making patterns they need to get them writing every day.

When I was working a regular 8-to-5 job, I had time constraints that somehow made it easier to focus on the writing when I only had 30 minutes or so to work on it.  Many days I was too exhausted to even write for this short amount of time, but I could tell myself that some day I would be able to leave this job and I would have all the time I needed.

Well, that day came last December and I am blessed with the time to write but it has taken me some months to figure out what kind of writer I am.  Do I need a regular routine?  Do I need more time to day dream and write when inspiration strikes?  Do I need to reward myself for sitting in my desk chair?  Do I need rituals to put myself into the right mindset to write?  How do I hammer down the fear I feel every time I tell myself it is time to write?

Some of my problem was also the fact that some of the work I do to pay the grocery bills involves web content writing, which is a completely different mind set from fiction writing, but it feels the same to my body as I’m sitting at the desk in front of the blank computer screen trying to think up words.

There is no formula for how to make oneself get to the desk every day and work while waiting for the muse.  The answer is different for everyone and we all approach this problem uniquely.  However, I will share with you what I have learned about myself.

I have two times of day when I am best able to write.  First thing in the morning and later in the evening after dinner.  In the mornings, if I treat the fiction writing like a job, get showered and dressed and start writing without first checking my email (which is just a huge time suck), then I am most productive and efficient.  I feel professional, and this is an especially excellent time to do some editing.

In the evenings, I feel most creative and unlimited.  For some reason my internal editor turns itself off when the sun goes down and I feel like I can be myself without recriminations and be brilliant at it.  (I’m writing this post in the evening and I feel brilliant – I’ll see what my editor-self says in the morning).

My money making work I try keep to mid-day and I absolutely need a break between the fiction work and the web content work.  I have found that it helps to write these articles while standing up at my kitchen counter and not sitting at my desk where I do my fiction.

So, I’m juggling my daily schedule and my writing needs around this new knowledge of myself and I hope it leads to a lot of production.  I have big goals to meet over the next few years and the only thing stopping me is myself.  I’m still working at hammering down the fear, but bit by bit, it is getting smaller and smaller.


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The Confidence Game

This writing game is all about confidence.  You have to believe that what you are doing is worth doing.  That people will want to read what you have to say, and maybe even pay for it.  If you don’t believe this, then why put pen to paper at all (or fingers to keyboard)?

There are those who use writing as a form of therapy and fill pages with their thoughts, dreams and worries.  But if you’re a story teller then there has to be someone to hear the story.  Whenever I write, I think about who my readers might be and what they will think and feel when they read my words.

Some people may call it false bravado, but last December I quit my library job after 20 years in order to follow my dream, to be a writer.  I know there’s many people out there who are writers while also working and raising families, and I’m proud of them, but I had trouble myself with getting the writing done after working all day and commuting two hours a day.

I’m sure I have a lot to learn, and for a few years I’ll be rather poor, but I needed to follow my dream and make the career change to story teller.  I hope you’ll follow along with me.

I’m getting some short stories published and will be posting links to them under the page tag “short stories”.  When the novels are finished, their links will also be posted under their own page tag.  My regular fiction and mysteries will be published under my own name, but the fantasy fiction will be published under the nom de plume, Erica Carnea.  (If you know latin and your plants, you’ll get the joke). Links to these stories and novels will be linked together under their own page tag.

Since today is St. Patrick’s Day, I have to let you all know that I am half Irish, I have been to Ireland and I have kissed the Blarney Stone.  Hopefully the Irish love of gab and their long literary tradition will serve me well.


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Happy Halloween

For your reading pleasure I have put up a short ghost story on the page “A Halloween Treat”.

Click the page to read the tale.

Enjoy!  I’ll be handing out candy to young costumed children the rest of the night.

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Back in the Saddle

These last two months have not been productive ones.  For too many weeks I was dealing with a cold virus from hell and it was all I could do to show up at my day job.  There was not energy left for much else.

But now Spring is here, the sun is shining longer and the trees are becoming green.  Last week I spent several days getting re-acquainted with the novel and it felt really good to get to work on it again.  So now I’m back and I’m going to kick butt on this thing and get it to my beta readers.

Tonight, though, I’m going to be at the Tattered Cover book store downtown (1628 16th Street, Denver) for the book signing of Mark Barnhouse’s new book on historic NorthWest Denver.  Mark knows so much about this fascinating City and he finds the most amazing photographs for his books.  I encourage you to come if you’re at all interested in the Highland neighborhood and surrounding areas.

Now, in celebration of April being Poetry Month, here’s a poem I found by Pablo Neruda about writing.


And it was at that age…Poetry arrived
in search of me. I don’t know, I don’t know where
it came from, from winter or a river.
I don’t know how or when,
no, they were not voices, they were not
words, nor silence,
but from a street I was summoned,
from the branches of night,
abruptly from the others,
among violent fires
or returning alone,
there I was without a face
and it touched me.

I did not know what to say, my mouth
had no way
with names
my eyes were blind,
and something started in my soul,
fever or forgotten wings,
and I made my own way,
that fire
and I wrote the first faint line,
faint, without substance, pure
pure wisdom
of someone who knows nothing,
and suddenly I saw
the heavens
and open,
palpitating plantations,
shadow perforated,
with arrows, fire and flowers,
the winding night, the universe.

And I, infinitesimal being,
drunk with the great starry
likeness, image of
I felt myself a pure part
of the abyss,
I wheeled with the stars,
my heart broke loose on the wind.

Pablo Neruda

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Controversial Subjects in Novels

Homelessness is a subject rife with strong feelings.  At the library where I work, we often get visitors who theoretically understand the concept of having a place like libraries that are open and available to all people.  But in actuality they do not want to walk past the groups whose large knapsacks, dirty clothes and smells identify them as street people.  Fear and disgust seem to be the first feelings that come to the surface.  On the other hand, there are people who just as strongly feel compassion and are moved to generosity.

The novel I’m writing right now is a murder mystery that takes place in and around the homeless community.  My protagonist’s own father died an alcoholic and he had lived for a time on the streets.  Having felt abandoned by him in her youth, she has complex feelings about street people, but she mostly dislikes and distrusts them.  Her brother, however, had had the same experiences she did but he developed another way.  As a priest, he spends most of his time working with the indigent and powerless.  He ended up with enough compassion for both of them, he often jokes.

I won’t get into too many details of the plot here, but many different sides of the homeless issue are represented.  The trick as the writer is to not make it seem that I’m writing some kind of dissertation on the issue of homelessness, and also that I’m not preaching to the reader when one or more of my characters feel strongly about the subject.  There’s also the risk of offending someone.  The controversies around homelessness are often centered around a person’s belief systems about why these people are living on the streets.  “It’s their fault for the choices they’ve made,” or “society has left these people behind when they most needed a support system,” or “it’s a result of mental illness,” or “these people want to live this way.”  (Incidentally, the street people I am working with in the novel are mostly men who have been living on the street for some time.  They are not families forced newly into the situation due to job loss.)

Stephen King wrote in his book, On Writing, that if a person is going to be a writer, he or she has to forget about offending people – because if we’re writing the truth, someone is bound to be offended.  I agree that we need to write the truth as we see it.  Yes, novelists are story tellers and essentially liars – making up tales to entertain people.  But behind the story, when there is truth about what it means to be human in this world, then the storytelling becomes Art.

Speaking of storytellers…if you happen to be in Denver this evening, Kim Harrison – one of my favorite fantasy writers – will be at the Tattered Cover on Colfax signing her new book A Perfect Blood.  I’ll definitely be there!

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What’s in a name?

Choosing the right name for a character can be difficult for me and is something I think seriously about before continuing with a story.  I thought I had a name for one of my major characters in my current novel, and now that I’m almost finished with the book, I’ve decided I can’t stand his name.  And if I can’t stand writing his name over and over, then how will others tolerate reading it?

Most of the time when I’m reading a book, I don’t usually pay too much attention to the names of the characters unless the name is completely strange or hard to pronounce.  And then, the attention is usually negative.  For American readers who were discovering the Harry Potter books, the name Hermione was a stumbler.  Until the movies came out many people didn’t know how to say the name.  And when that happens, you can end up tripping over it every time it comes up.  (And yes, this is true too for those people not reading it aloud.  When there’s an unrecognizable or unpronouncable word, it breaks the flow of the story in your mind).

When a name fits perfectly you’ll know it because it is easy to remember and you can’t imagine the character being named anything else.  For you Tolkien fans think “Bilbo Baggins”, “Frodo”, and “Gollum”.  Of course, it helped that Tolkien was philologist and really understood languages. 

Names too can have symbolic meaning.  And this is OK as long as it isn’t too over-the-top and moving into the realm of allegory.  In his book “On Writing”, Stephen King talks about how he named his beleagured character John Coffey so that he would have the same initials as Jesus Christ.

More importantly, the name of a character has to fit in with their personality, the time, place and history of the setting, and with family background.  It would be difficult to get away with naming a character Keneisha when she is Irish and  living in 1800’s Ireland, and every other woman is named Mary.  This is one of the reasons I own three baby name books even though I don’t have any children.  When a name doesn’t fling itself out at me when I’m thinking up a character, then I’ll research one until I find something that fits.  It doesn’t always work, though, as demonstrated by my recent decision to change a character’s name.  I still don’t know what it will be and it is going to be a huge pain to fix it in the next edit.  Blech.


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