My Interview with NYT Bestselling Authors Karen White, Beatriz Williams & Lauren Willig

Authors and friends Karen White, Beatriz Williams and Lauren Willig have written a beautiful historical novel – together! Read more about The Forgotten Room, and the authors’ collaborative process by clicking here. Enjoy!

9780451474629 (1)

The Pulpwood Queens’ Texas Book Club Extravaganza!

PQ Stamp of Approval (1)I’m honored to announce that The Vintner’s Daughter has been selected by Kathy Murphy as a Pulpwood Queens bonus book selection for February! As many of you know, from my recent social media posts, I had the pleasure of spending the Jan 15-18 weekend with tiara-wearing Pulpwood Queen Book Club members and over thirty accomplished authors at the 15th Annual Pulpwood Queens Girlfriend Weekend in Nacogdoches, TX. Kathy Murphy started the Pulpwood Queens Book Club out of her beauty salon in East Texas fifteen years ago, and it has blossomed into the largest meeting and discussing book club ever, with over 650 chapters worldwide!

Girlfriend Weekend is a celebration of good books and friendship–with flashes of cheetah-print and pink feather boas–and a wonderful silent auction to support the Dolly Parton Imagination Library. Our hosts, Pulpwood Queen Kathy Murphy and NYT Bestselling Author Jamie Ford, guided us through an exciting weekend of Texas barbecque, author talks and signings, The Great Big Ball of Hair Ball (amazing costumes), and the announcement that Dreamworks is making Kathy’s autobiography, The Pulpwood Queen’s Tiara-Wearing, Book-Sharing Guide to Life, into a big-screen movie!

Thank you, Pulpwood Queens and my fellow authors, for a fabulous time! To join a Pulpwood Queens Book Club near you, to start your own, or to sign up for Girlfriend Weekend 2016, click here!

15th Annual Pulpwood Queens Girlfriend Weekend

15th Annual Pulpwood Queens Girlfriend Weekend
Picture 1 of 14

Introducing Urban Fantasy/Paranormal Romance Author L.G. O’Connor

Trinity-Stones_webI had the pleasure of meeting L.G. (Liz) O’Connor this past August at the Writer’s Digest Conference in New York City. She attended my presentation on hybrid publishing and graciously accompanied me to my first signing afterward, where she hovered near the grand ballroom doors, peddling my book to the conference attendees as they exited (I think you sold at least four, Liz!)! She is a fun, sharp, and dedicated writer. In 2013, she published Trinity Stones, the first novel of the Angelorum Twelve Chronicles. Publisher’s Weekly says, “O’Connor tackles important worldbuilding, while also kicking off the story with a bang.” Her second novel in the series, The Wanderer’s Children, will be published in in December. She’s accomplished all this — while working a full-time job! Thank you, Liz, for taking the time to answer a few questions!

What are you working on?

childrensmallWow. A better question might be what am I not working on *laughs* given my list. Right now, I’m buried under an avalanche of projects that are coalescing all at once. I’m in the throes of finishing production—literally this week—on the second book in the The Angelorum Twelve ChroniclesThe Wanderer’s Children—which will be available for presale during the first week of October through all major print and digital retail outlets with my new publisher, Collins-Young Publishing. On top of that, the audiobook production of Trinity Stones is in the final stages for an end of October launch on Audible and iTunes. But three’s a charm, right? I have a new project—a contemporary romantic women’s fiction novel—that I’m partnering with an agent on to potentially go wide on rather than small press. But I can’t really say any more about that for the moment *smiles*. All of this while continuing on with the Trinity Stones publicity tour and working a full-time job. Next stop: New Jersey Romance Writers Conference October 17 – 19.

How does your work differ from others of its genre?

I love this question because I made a conscious choice to deviate somewhat from the formula of pure urban fantasy or pure paranormal romance for the The Angelorum Twelve Chronicles. As an avid reader of both genres, I found that I preferred a blend of both rather than either genre straight up. I’m very character driven when I read. I want to fall in love the cast and feel like I’m part of their team, but I also want a rich and complex story that keeps me thinking. As result, The Angelorum Twelve Chronicles are not predictable reads or books that you can skim through without paying attention. That said I kept my world recognizable by using contemporary settings in New York City and San Francisco in an attempt to simplify. The series has some elements of Science Fiction and Fantasy, but I tried to ground the story in reality and biblical history as we know it. From there I applied literary license.

When I first started the series in 2009, there weren’t many “angel and demon” stories on the market in the adult category and now there are too many *chuckles*. But I feel my take still provides a fresh perspective. My objective was for the story to have a broader mainstream appeal than just the two genres it’s associated with. Truly, my goal was to appeal to literary readers who wanted a change of pace; mothers who had been reading their teenagers Young-Adult series and needed something with a bit more spice; and New Adult readers looking for strong mid-20s characters whose college bonds are still very much alive and well. Based on my reader feedback so far, I’m definitely appealing to readers of all ages new to the genre and looking for a change of pace.

 Why do you write what you do?

I write what I love to read. I take the best of it and blend it together into my books. At the end of the day, writing is hard work. If I didn’t love my characters and their stories, I couldn’t be this passionate and devote as much time to writing on top of a full-time job. Writing is like a marriage of sorts. For me, I have to love my worlds and the people in them. I could never write a depressing book with unredeemable characters—nor could I read one—which leaves out roughly half the bestseller list for me *laughs*. As an example, Gone Girl was a did not finish (DNF) for me after chapter 3.

How does my writing process work?

Except for times like now when I’m on a short writing hiatus having just finished the proofread phase on two books simultaneously – I’m usually super disciplined. Working a full-time job leaves me with only 45-minutes every morning, about 1.5 – 2 hours most nights, and then 8-hour blocks on the weekends. I write on average 20 – 30 hours per week depending on what phase I’m in. Just to give you an idea how this translates: I’ve written three full length novels in three years and partials on several others.

My actual process varies depending on the book. I started as a “pantser” and have developed into a “plotser.” That said, my contemporary came to me in outline form over three days, and the first draft was fully written in six weeks as part of National Novel Writing Month last year. As a result, I try to outline a little more but only use it as a guideline. I’ll participate in NaNoWriMo again this year using the third book in The Angelorum Twelve Chronicles. I’m hoping to launch it this time next year.

On a day-to-day basis, I write in scenes and never in order unless I’m finishing the connective chapters at the end. I draft, read & revise three – four times before moving on to the next scene. All scenes are read morning and night to give my brain a chance to see it clearly. Most scenes start in medias res, must have a goal, and leave us in a place where the page must be turned. Honestly, I think I’ve done this better on my last two novels than on the first.

My biggest piece of advice for new writers is “writing is revising.” Embracing both the drafting and revising will make you a stronger writer. I happen to love both.

Headshot - BioL.G. O’Connor is a member of the Romance Writers of America. A corporate strategy and marketing executive for a Fortune 250 company, she writes adult urban fantasy, paranormal romance, and contemporary romance. She is currently working on the third book in the Angelorum Twelve Chronicles, Book of Four Rings, for publication in 2015. In addition, she is writing an adult contemporary romance series. An avid antiques collector, L.G. lives a life of adventure, navigating her way through dog toys and soccer balls and loaning herself out for the occasional decorating project. When she’s feeling particularly brave, she enters the kitchen . . .

Find & Follow L.G. O’Connor Online:

Website | Twitter | Facebook | Goodreads | Amazon

MAA Girlfriend Weekend and Book Club!

I thoroughly enjoyed spending the weekend with my mother and her high school friends in, who are celebrating the 50th anniversary of their graduation from Maria Assumpta Academy in Petersham, MA! What an inspiration these strong, funny, independent women are – and I’m so appreciative that I was able to join them in Punta Gorda, FL this weekend! Here are some pics of our MAA Alumni Book Club (discussing The Vintner’s Daughter of course!).

 

Announcing…My New Partnership with She Writes Press!

SheWritesPressLogo

Photo by Alix Martinez

Photo by Alix Martinez

I’m thrilled to announce that I’ve just signed a deal to publish The Vintner’s Daughter with She Writes Press this summer!  This publication of the novel in the States will coincide with its publication by Harper Collins Canada, so the timing couldn’t be more perfect. Thank you to Brooke Warner, my new publisher at She Writes Press, and to my amazing agent, April Eberhardt, for your unfailing enthusiasm and persistence!

Stay tuned everyone…you’ll soon be able to pre-order the e-book and trade paperback from my site! If you live in Canada, you already can…just click on the sidebar buttons to order!

Fairfield County Celebrates Legacy of Newtown’s Jesse Lewis

Jesse Lewis

Remembering Jesse Lewis
Jesse Lewis was a fun-loving, bright, strong little boy when his life was cut short by a gunman at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown on December 14, 2012.  Since then, his family has struggled with their all-consuming grief, and worked tirelessly to make sure his legacy is not forgotten.

Jesse’s mother, Scarlett Lewis, who grew up in Darien, remembers her youngest son.  “He is sweet, loving and kind.  I don’t use the past tense when I talk about Jesse.  He is larger than life and I feel his presence with me.”

“My mother recently used a quote from Walt Whitman to describe him: ‘Some people are so much sunshine to the square inch.’  That is Jesse.”

Scarlett recalls the happy times with Jesse on their family’s farm.  “He is just a little boy who used to charge home from school, kick off his tennis shoes, pull on his knee-high rubber boots, grab his bucket of army soldiers and rubber ducks and run out to play in what we call ‘the world’s biggest sandbox,’ the arena where we ride our horses.”

Jesse is also a hero.  His clear thinking and brave action helped save many of his classmates on that fateful December day.

The Jesse Lewis Choose Love Foundation
Inspired by Jesse’s bravery and exuberance of spirit, Scarlett Lewis established the Jesse Lewis Choose Love Foundation to change our current culture of violence into one of safety, peace and love.

Scarlett explains, “The Choose Love Foundation is working with professional educators to develop programs to bring compassion and love into the classrooms of our schools.  These programs will teach children, teachers and parents that they have a choice, to choose positive thoughts over negative ones, to choose forgiveness and compassion over hatred.”

The Foundation is hosting its first fundraiser in Fairfield County Saturday, April 27, at South Norwalk’s O’Neill’s Pub & Restaurant.  A $25 donation is suggested.  All are invited to “dance, smile and support” The Jesse Lewis Choose Love Foundation and its important work.

Another Way People Can Help
“People ask me, ‘What can we do now?’  Start with yourself,” Scarlett urges.  “We need every individual to choose to be a positive influence in the world—that will create a ripple effect and will overpower the negative.”  As I exchange goodbyes with Scarlett over the phone, her voice is tinged with heartache—and a mother’s determination that her son’s legacy of love will live on.

For more information, visit the Jesse Lewis Choose Love Foundation’s website or click here to view the Foundation Fundraiser Flyer.  Please come out and show your support!

Kitchen Table Chat: An Interview with Pat Donelan

(from left to right) Maryellen (my mom and Pat's sister-in-law), Pat, with my daughters Ellen and Julia

When I reflect on the old African proverb, “It takes a village to raise a child,” I am reminded of the many people who shaped me into the woman I am today.  Besides my parents, one of the most significant people in my life over the past 42 years has been my Aunt Pat.  Mary Patricia Kulasa was a Polish girl from Akron, Ohio, who married my mother’s brother in 1961, nine years before I was born.  Since then, she’s been a bright light at the center of our family. 

Pat is classy, graceful, strong and quick to share a story.  Over her 75 years, she has survived the sudden death of her husband, single motherhood, two hip replacements, and brain surgery.   In her usual self-deprecating way, she only agreed to this interview if I promised “not to make her sound like Mother Teresa because [she] still use a few swear words now and then.”

I hope you enjoy the story of this week’s inspiring mom, Pat Donelan.

The Little Girl from Akron  MaryPat” was raised in Akron, thirty-five miles south of Cleveland, Ohio during the 1940s and ‘50s.  She’s the daughter of a Polish electrician who emigrated from Warsaw to America at age four and a fourth-generation American stay-at-home mom who was raised on a small farm in western Ohio.  “I was the only child, but mom always had homemade cookies and my dad was available for a game of catch or to help me ride a bike,” Pat remembers.

Finding kids to play with was easy.  “The neighborhood I grew up in was something that you read about today:  playing outside until the porch lights went on, the neighborhood parents knowing everything you did.  I remember when I got my first bicycle and was under strict orders not to ride on a busy street in the neighborhood, which I proceeded to do as soon as I was out of sight.  In less than 15 minutes, a neighbor saw me, called my mom to comment on my new bike and mentioned seeing me riding on the forbidden street.  Guess who was grounded for a couple of weeks!”

Pat Donelan

Growing up near the city, Pat enjoyed going to the theatre and spending time with her three unmarried aunts.  “I had the best of both worlds,” Pat recalls.  Her life in the city consisted of “fashion show lunches at the local department store tearoom and Cleveland Indian baseball games where we sat in the press box and I became an autograph hound.”  As soon as school ended, “my mom and I would get on the train and spend summer with her parents on the farm where I fed the animals, gathered eggs, ‘helped’ with the canning, learned to make soap and embroider.”

With her dad’s family’s Polish gatherings, there was always a lot of good food and plenty of older cousins to spoil and tease her.  As Pat remembers, “Soup was not a meal—just a beginning for the feast to follow!”  For those of us who know her, and have eaten at her well-laden table numerous times, that makes perfect sense.  With regards to food and entertaining, before there was Martha Stewart, there was Aunt Pat.

Pat’s father died suddenly when she was thirteen years old.  She was one of twelve graduating that year from the town’s parochial school.  Pat remembers how difficult it was losing her father and what a “culture shock” it was entering public high school.  “My mom encouraged me to bring friends home, no need to ask twice for many of them who still remember, and I managed to survive four years.  By the time I was a senior, I made Student Council, National Honor Society and class secretary—things that are important to a teenager.”

Pat as a flight attendant

Come Fly with Me  In the 1950s, career choices for women were limited to teacher, nurse, or secretary, which Pat tried for a while.  “I really wanted to be a pilot from the time I was in 3rd grade.  We were studying aviation, and my uncle, who was a pilot in the Air Force, came in his uniform to talk to the class.  He made flying seem so exciting; we were all in awe.  Becoming a flight attendant was the next best alternative.”

Pat worked as a flight attendant for a little less than a year.  She rented an apartment with two friends in Boston, explored new cities, and experienced being broke before payday with no hope of borrowing money from anyone.  However, Pat muses, “it began to lose its glamour one morning at the hotel in Chicago when the phone rang:  ‘Good morning, this is your wake up call.  It’s 4:30 and 14 degrees below zero.  Enjoy your day.’  Right!  And I was on my way to Buffalo where it was snowing.  The day ended at 2:00 the next morning when we were the last flight into snowy Boston, and the only food that day was hot chocolate and whatever we could scoff from the trays that the passengers didn’t want.  No meals were provided for the flight attendants.”

Pat and John Donelan's Wedding Day

She met her husband, John Donelan, shortly after she moved to Boston.  His roommate was dating her roommate.  “John was teaching at Newman [Preparatory School] and was correcting papers when we came in, no more interested in ‘another flight attendant’ than I was in him, but he did invite me out that evening.  I was in the throes of a miserable cold and had planned the next the next chapter in my life:  to transfer to an international airline after a year so I could live in Europe.  He had just returned from the seminary in Europe and was focusing on his teaching job.  In other words, the best laid plans.  That was 1960 and we were married the next year.”

Like a Bad Dream  Pat and John eventually moved to Cape Cod, spent the next sixteen years together, working, running a bed-and-breakfast on Main Street in Centerville, and raising their son, John Paul.  In 1978, at the age of 42, Pat’s husband John passed away, leaving her a single mom to her seven-year old son.  “When John died, it first seemed like a bad dream, and everything would be fine and normal when I woke up.  When that didn’t happen, I just became angry—with him and with God because there was no one else to blame.  Then the normal grief process took over when there was time.  The house was under agreement, so I had six weeks to find my current house and move, my mom was staying with me because she had fallen and broken both her legs, and we had the blizzard of ’78.  So, for a while, it was a matter of which crisis came first.”

A few months later, Pat’s friend gave birth to a daughter with Down’s Syndrome and at Christmas, another friend, who’d had a mastectomy, wrote that her husband left her and their five children to marry his secretary.  “It dawned on me that I wouldn’t trade places with either of them, and I guess I just learned to live with the hand I’d been dealt.  My mom, unknowingly, was a role model from the time my dad died.”

Laughter is the Best Medicine  When you ask Pat how she healed from such a painful time and moved forward with her own life, she insists that she was buoyed by friends wouldn’t take “no” for an answer and family who would just show up at her doorstep.  “I still laugh about the time when I came back from Logan airport (having a pity party for myself on the way home) to find cousins Carol and Peter drinking beer in lawn chairs in my front yard with bikes parked nearby—or Clare Cuddy in clown costume playing the fiddle under the kitchen window on St. Patrick’s Day, with croissants from a Quincy Market bakery.  It didn’t take long for the neighbors not to feel sorry for the young widow who’d moved in!”

Pat's husband John, with John Paul

Muddling  What advice does Pat have for single parents who find themselves in similar circumstances?   “Muddle.  Seriously, the best advice I received was from our pediatrician who told me that kids take cues from the adults in their lives.  He told me to keep things as normal as I could including meals, and to do something nice for myself every day—whether it was taking a bubble bath, going for a walk or even making snow angels and looking at the clouds.”  She also points out that going back to work opened a new world for her.  “I started as a part-time receptionist for a local bank and eventually became a mortgage originator; I took courses, always at night, (which meant waking a sleeping boy to take the babysitter home), and made new friends.”

With regards to parenting, she missed having John to serve as a sounding board for her decisions.  However, Pat is quick to point out: “when things turn out right, you get twice the reward.”  Her friends Ag and Fred, parents whom she greatly admired, told her to say “yes” as often as she could, so when she said “no” it carried more weight.  “I said ‘no’ to hockey, a 20 mile drive to an early morning practice, and ‘no’ to football, but a reluctant ‘yes’ to a paper route.  I drove on collection evenings when it got dark early and on Sundays when the papers were huge.  On the plus side, it was uninterrupted chat time and a good excuse to buy donuts.”

I hope John [her son] knows I was always available, but had my own friends so I wasn’t smothering him.”  Like her own mother, Pat invited John’s friends over to her house, so she knew who they were.  She never did enjoy much sleep on Friday nights.

John, Pat’s son, most admires his mother’s resilience.  “She’s one of my very few heroes. ‘He who has a why to live can bear almost any how,‘ said Nietzsche.  And that’s how mom has been since I was old enough to pay attention: able to zero in on the why with an effortlessness that continually amazes people.  She has a back yard full of English ivy that has become one of many running family jokes over the years, but she reminds me of it: no matter what you throw at it, the ivy keeps thriving.”

Remember Me, God?  I asked Pat what role faith has played in helping her survive two hip replacement surgeries and brain surgery for a benign tumor discovered during a retinal scan.  “Faith isn’t something that’s easy to define.  I’m a firm believer that if God gets you to it, He’ll get you through it, but I don’t believe He wears a wristwatch, so it’s not always the way or at the time we plan it.  I do keep in touch with Him daily; so when a crisis arises and I need help, I don’t have to say, ‘Remember me?’

“After my second hip replacement (a week after my first), I kept thinking of the young girl I’d seen—she was on crutches with severely deformed legs and no hope of ever walking normally; and the woman who shared my hospital room after my brain surgery who’d had an aneurysm—she could ever return to teaching.  In other words, someone always has more problems than you do, so count your blessings.”

Cioppino over Sterno, anyone?  One of my favorite memories of Aunt Pat was in 1991 during Hurricane Bob.  Winds were howling, trees were down, power was out, and Pat digs through the back of her bottomless freezer and comes out with mussels, clams, scallops…everything you need for Cioppino over Sterno!  I was incredulous…it was delicious.  That’s one of Pat’s great talents: making even the most absurd circumstances fun.

Pat and her son John, with my son Ryan

My cousin John recalls, “When Hurricane Bob roared over the Cape and I was stranded at her house with my best friend and two cousins (including this blog’s author); we had no power for almost over a week, no hot water, trees across the streets, and nature bombing us back to Colonial times. Most households in the area were stuck eating instant soup or mac and cheese but mom followed her usual storm-preparedness drill: after a rummage around her basement, kitchen and garage to assess supplies she quickly had drinks made, Jimmy Buffet playing and five-star cuisine that just seemed to keep manufacturing itself from the kitchen. We ate like libertines while Bob eventually howled himself out–largely ignored.  Twenty-two years later, just last month, I was stuck at my best friend’s house during the blizzard and we were laughing with his own kids about ‘Grandma Pat’s hurricane feast.'”

Stories of Pat’s entertaining escapades are legendary.  The very first Thanksgiving she cooked for her new husband’s family was disastrous.  “The oven door on which the turkey was resting broke under the weight, the turkey went sliding across the kitchen floor, I screamed “s*$#!”—no juices for gravy and I ruined a new pair of suede heels.  The dog lapped it up, the baby was screaming, and Uncle Frank was strumming his guitar and singing, ‘Gobble, gobble, gobble, it’s Thanksgiving Day!’”

Pat’s always been a fantastic improviser.  “A guest chastised me once for not serving red wine with roast beef, so I did what any gracious hostess would do: went to the kitchen and poured some white wine into a carafe and added enough red food coloring until it was just the right shade.  Julia Child, I think, said it right: ‘whatever happens in the kitchen, stays in the kitchen’”.  At my request, Pat has shared some of our favorite family recipes below, including the Cioppino!

Cioppino
Baked Brie
Marinated Shrimp (or mussels)
Aran Blathai (Irish Soda Bread)
Lemon Tea Bread
Steamed Pudding
Macaroni and Cheese
Sweet and Sour Pot Roast
Potato Casserole

“I Did It My Way”  When asked what her theme song would be, Pat didn’t hesitate: Frank Sinatra’s “I Did It My Way.”  One of the things I most admire about Pat is that she doesn’t wallow in life’s disappointments—she finds the fun in life.  She’s also built a vibrant social life for herself. The “Stitch ‘n’ Bitch” group she joined eventually evolved into the “Macaroni and Cheese” friends who seek out and sample different recipes for mac ‘n’ cheese.  She volunteers at the Centerville Historical Museum, as a wedding coordinator at church, and an usher at the Cape Cod Symphony (“it’s a free ticket to great concerts”).

Since retiring from her job as a mortgage originator, Pat’s been working part-time for a local car dealership.  “In between I try to be a good person for Pepin, my 13 year-old puppy, and keep in touch with the friends I’ve collected from school and parts of my life along the way.”

I will always be grateful to Pat for teaching me about faith and grace under pressure.  Does her story remind you of someone you know?  Sometimes, we needn’t look far for our role models—they are often seated right around the kitchen table.

 

Meet Award-Winning Author, Editor and Writing Coach Holly Payne

Holly Payne

In 1994, Holly Payne was struck by a drunk driver and left unable to walk for nearly a year.  She received a letter from the driver asking for forgiveness, but rather than write him a letter, she wrote him her latest novel, Kingdom of Simplicity.  Kingdom of Simplicity won the 2010 Benjamin Franklin Award from the Independent Book Publisher’s Association, the 2011 Grand Prize for the Writer’s Digest Self-Published Book Awards, and has been nominated for a National Book Award in Belgium.

I met Holly at the 2012 Writer’s Digest Conference in Manhattan and I’m pleased to share with you a glimpse into her life and writing experiences.

Finding her Calling
Growing up in Lancaster County, Pennsylvania, Holly remembers when she first experienced the joy of writing in fifth grade.  “I had written a series of fables one night in my bedroom: How the Raccoon Got Rings Around Its Eyes, How the Alligator Got to Be Preppy—I’m dating myself here, clearly…and How the Sunset Turned Red.  I remember the flood of those words and how I couldn’t keep writing fast enough to keep up with the images I was seeing. I ran downstairs and read the fables to my mom. She just smiled and said, ‘You have a way with words.’  It made me feel so seen!  I was so excited. I submitted my fables to a school writing contest and won honorable mention. I had no idea how much that little award would encourage me to keep writing.”

‘Terror and Grace’
Holly was forever changed by the 1994 accident.  “It was an experience of terror and grace. Terror for the obvious reasons.  I actually thought that the bicyclists who had been on the road that night had also been killed, and then I thought I was dead, too.  The grace was that I discovered something about myself, and this life, that has been with me ever since: a deep and profound belief in something bigger than me that’s guiding my spirit.  I vowed the night of the accident that if I survived, I would dedicate my life to serving others with my writing and teaching. It’s why I take it so seriously; I have often felt like I am on borrowed time.”

Holly’s Writing Process
Holly’s inspiration usually comes in the form of images.  “A story will come to me, I get a flash and I know instantly it is the seed of a novel. There’s a resonance and I almost always get the chills instantaneously.

“Then it all fades and the roadblocks arise (I’m laughing as I answer this because isn’t this the case with all creativity?).  Nothing like obstacles and tension to bring something into physical form.  Once the flash is there, usually a character appears and, when I know their problem, I start to ask a lot of hypothetical questions.  Why are you there?  Why are you doing what you’re doing? What did you do before this moment?  Where do you want to go from here? etc.

“That forms a loose basis for the preliminary plot outline which ends up a lovely mess of dialogue, scene snippets that seep through the story development, and character back story, which I learn as I go.  At least I’m learning to let go of needing to know everything and really trust my intuition as I write.  But even this loose outline eventually gets tighter and more refined as I work my way through the book.”

Motherhood, to Holly’s surprise, hasn’t slowed her down at all.  “Not only has motherhood given me the greatest gift of my life in my daughter, but I’ve found that I’m even more productive and efficient with my time. Actually, I don’t have a choice. I have to find windows and if I blow it, I lose that chance to write. I ended up writing more in the first year of my daughter’s life than I did in all the years on my own, even when I could work 10-12 hour days. Now, I get about 4 hours each day to focus so I try to shut off the internet, my emails and my phone so I can just do the work. There’s no magic formula. You have to sit down and write in whatever time you get between all the roles we play as parents.”

Holly has also developed a tried-and-true formula for removing her writing blocks.  “Whenever I get stuck, I go hiking and watch a ton of movies. That seems to unblock me. I’ve come to accept and realize that the block is simply a fear.  When I’m afraid to make a choice in the narrative, it usually means I’m not committed in present time to what the story is telling me. Sometimes I just need to take a few days off and let something simmer—let my subconscious work out the kinks.  If I think too hard or force myself to write, it’s disastrous.  Always.  It’s always best to write without thinking about it too much. Turn the mind off. I’m really beginning to believe that when I’m in the flow, I’m actually in another part of my brain—far away from the bullies of my analytical mind. Those guys are lethal to the muses but nobody ever teaches most writers how to stay in that other part of the brain—and I’m still figuring it out.”

Lessons Learned from Self-Publishing
One of the most difficult and daring decisions Holly made was to leave her agent to self-publish her third novel, Kingdom of Simplicity.  In 2008, Holly launched Skywriter Books to help herself and other writers form a healthy and empowering digital publishing partnership.  Holly and her team also have an imprint, Third Eye (iii), which is a digital publishing entity for undiscovered writers and authors who would like to re-release their work as an ebook or print on demand.  Kingdom of Simplicity has been translated into Dutch and Chinese and published in the Netherlands, Taiwan, and soon China with Turkish rights pending.

“Self-publishing is anything but ‘self,’” Holly insists.  “Self-publishing was about the most collaborative professional experience I’ve ever had aside from working in film. I love filmmaking because of this aspect and truly enjoyed the process of putting together a crew for my book: various editors for each stage of revisions, cover designer, interior designer, marketing stages, even working with the photographer for the front cover image, web designer, sales reps at the printing and fulfillment company and now a foreign rights agent.

“I also learned so much from reading Peter Bowerman’s The Well-Fed Self-Publisher. Most importantly, I realized that successful self-publishing requires an entrepreneurial disposition. You need to be your own project manager, highly organized, and raise the standards so that what you offer to the world meets or exceeds the industry standard. It’s the only chance we all have to chip away at the stigma that’s kept so many of us from committing to, supporting and celebrating this alternative route. I like to be reminded that Mark Twain also self-published, which always helps frame the possibilities for everyone, especially now in this beautiful golden age for writers.”

Writing as Healing
In addition to writing, Holly has taught screenwriting and story development classes for 12 years, at the Academy of Art University in San Francisco, for the MFA writing program at California College of the Arts, and online for Stanford’s On-Line Writes Studio.  Currently, she coaches writers one-on-one to reach their full potential, and then helps to edit their work and map out publishing strategies for them.

“There’s nothing more inspiring than watching a new writer align with their creativity and seeing how that inner health radiates into all aspects of their life. In many ways, I honestly believe that writing is another modality of healing.  I believe that all of us have a story to share, and while I recognize the fear that holds most of us back from pursuing our creativity, not owning our voice can do serious injury to our spirits.

“For those who have the courage to pursue this path, I’m very protective of their hearts.  I want to make sure they really believe in themselves so that no matter how long or short the coaching relationship lasts, I know they will keep at it and never give up no matter how frustrating and daunting it can get along the way.  I love the passion of a fledgling writer and I do everything I can to make sure that writer is seen, supported and celebrated.”

[scrollGallery id=16]
Skywriter Ranch Writing Retreat
Another way Holly encourages writers is through her an annual Skywriter Ranch Writing Retreat in Crested Butte, Colorado.  “This is one of those weeks where you get to be a kid again—and focus completely on yourself,” Holly explains.  “Crested Butte has always been a special place for me and is the birthplace of Skywriter Books.  I’ve honestly never seen a more beautiful place. This is the town that changed my life—where I learned how to be a survivor and where I returned year after year to recharge my spirit.

“Each year, the curriculum changes based on who attends and what their needs are.  It’s 100% tailored to the group. I come with no agenda until I receive a thorough questionnaire that helps me design the week based on individual needs. The group hasn’t fully formed yet for this year, so I’m excited for the mystery that awaits in August.”

Holly describes an idyllic venue that promotes relaxation and creativity.  Guests stay at guest cabins, “lovingly run” by a local family, and enjoy “creekside hammocks and swarms of hummingbirds… majestic mountains and almost technicolor wildflowers, alpine lakes and gourmet picnic lunches.”  Holly says “our outdoor classroom really made for a new heaven—and a very long goodbye.  None of us wanted to leave!”

A Few of Holly’s Favorite Things
Holly’s writing space hosts her laptop, books and her notorious piles.   An old-fashioned feather pen, a carpe diem slate for her tea cup, a black and white photo of her swaddled baby daughter, a Sufi—a small glass whirling dervish from Turkey, and an old, black Remington typewriter that still works are just a few of the treasures she keeps to inspire her.
 
Her favorite author?  Right now, Louise Erdrich. “I am having a love affair with her work and couldn’t put down The Round House. She is so accomplished with the craft, so genuine in interviews, so generous of spirit—it clearly shows in her depth and understanding of the human condition. She’s a star!”

Lastly, Holly shares her favorite books with us:

The Alchemist
The Book Thief
Bird by Bird
All the Pretty Horses
anything written by Shel Silverstein

So what is the next step for this accomplished writer, coach, editor and speaker?  In addition to studying for a Master of Intuition Medicine certification, which she intends to weave into her writing coaching practice, she is currently starting a new novel, publishing Ushi Patel’s debut collection of poetry, Brave the Unknown, through Skywriter Books in May, and co-producing Words on the Waves, a reading series on the Sausalito houseboats for the Litquake festival this October.

To learn more, visit Holly Payne at her website, hollylynnpayne.com.

Darien Family Hopes for Dravet Syndrome Cure

Miles and Jeremy Clark

Every day I drop off my daughter, Julia, at her preschool and enjoy the smiling faces of the toddlers who greet me.  Until last week, I had no idea that one of her classmates, Miles Clark, and his identical twin brother, Jeremy, suffer from a rare form of epilepsy called Dravet Syndrome, which can be life-threatening.  I’d like to share with you how the Clark boys and their parents cope with Dravet Syndrome, and how we in the Darien community can help these precious boys in the fight of their lives.

Miles and Jeremy Clark are typical-looking 4 year-olds with spiky blond hair and quick smiles.  The boys’ mother, Lindsey Clark, describes her sons: “They’re really normal little boys, highly active and so very happy!  Jeremy loves trains, music and all outdoor activities. He runs all over the place!  Miles loves music and all types of vehicles. His absolute favorite song is Wheels on the Bus.”

Miles Clark with his father, Cyrus

However, at age 2, after suffering numerous seizures, followed by extensive genetic testing, Miles and Jeremy were diagnosed with Dravet Syndrome.

As in the case of the Clark boys, approximately 90% of Dravet gene mutations are ‘de novo’, meaning that they are not inherited from a parent, but rather are new mutations in the child.[1]

According to the Dravet Syndrome Foundation, Dravet Syndrome “is a rare and catastrophic form of intractable epilepsy that begins in infancy.”  It occurs in approximately 1 out of every 40,000 births.  Children with Dravet Syndrome do not outgrow the condition and it affects all aspects of their lives.  “The constant care and supervision of an individual with such highly specialized needs is emotionally and financially draining on the family members who care for these individuals,” the Foundation reports on its website.

According to Lindsey, she and her husband Cyrus are constantly on the lookout for potential seizures, which can occur if Miles and Jeremy become overheated.  “We never leave home without their nasal spray (medication to stop the seizures should they occur).

Jeremy Clark playing the keyboard

“Most precautions depend on the season….in winter it’s all about fever and illness.  I’m constantly monitoring their temperature and on high alert if there is illness at home or in school.   Also, I need to be sure not to overdress the boys or they’ll overheat.   In the summer months we have their cooling vests ready to go and we water their heads down whenever we’re outside in the heat.  We never let them out of our sight for a long period of time in case one has a seizure.  If we go anywhere, like the playground, we need to be watching them both closely, and of course there is the fear that a seizure will occur and cause injury to one or both of the boys.”

There are many fears that come with parenting a child with Dravet Syndrome.  Lindsey explains that she and Cyrus “worry that we might lose them, or that they will regress and lose any abilities they currently have [such as language] due to seizures or medications.”  As a result of its child study in partnership with the NYU Epilepsy Center, Dravet.org estimates that “a much higher percentage (16%) of children with Dravet syndrome die early (before 18) than in the general epilepsy population.”

Despite these fears, hope abounds that Miles and Jeremy will grow into mature young men, and that the medicines will improve and have fewer side effects.  Lastly, Lindsey and Cyrus hope for a cure, which is what the February 27th fundraiser is all about!

Join us February 27th from 6-10pm at the Backstreet Restaurant in Darien for beer, wine, appetizers and acoustic music to raise funds for a cure for Dravet Syndrome.  Proceeds from the fundraiser will go to purchase new cooling vests for Miles and Jeremy, which cool the blood near their hearts to prevent seizures, toward iPads for children with Dravet, and to the Dravet Syndrome Foundation.

$50 cash at the door, or $20 cash and a check for $30 to the Dravet Syndrome Foundation.  Click here for a detailed flyer you can pass along to your friends!  

[1] http://www.dravetfoundation.org/dravet-syndrome/medical-information/genetic-mechanisms

Isabel Allende: Tales of Passion

I’ve always been a fan of TED Talks and what better way to start off the new year than with some inspiration from Isabel Allende?  One of my favorite novelists, Isabel Allende, is the author of The House of The Spirits, and numerous other passionate tales.  Although this TED Talk is from 2008, it’s still relevant, particularly with regards to writing characters with heart and pursuing one’s bliss in life.  Enjoy!

(by the way, because of a few saucy comments, this is probably a TV-14 rated talk…!)