Observation #1:

Today Kelli Stanley posted on Facebook she'd reached "The End" of her second Miranda Corbie book, "City of Spiders." The next step, she said, was a week of revisions.

A week? I've been revising for over a year off and on (honestly, more on than off). Clearly I'm doing something wrong.

So the coming week will be me, my manuscript, and copious amounts of coffee (and probably a little wine) to see if I can get through this second revision by the end of the week.

Observation #2:

This one is related to the first. When I was a runner, I had a trick to help make distances seem shorter (or go faster). I'd pick a point in the distance and run as fast as I could until I got to it. Always, about half-way there, I'd ask myself "Can I quit yet?" Then I'd ask myself "Are you there yet?" The answer, of course, was always no, so I had to keep on running as fast as I could til I got to the designated spot.

It occurred to me today I can use this trick for completing my manuscript. I ask myself numerous times during the day "Can I quit yet?" and then I ask myself "Are you there yet?" You guessed it, the answer is no. I can't quit til this is done (or I collapse in an exhausted heap).

I'll report my progress at the end of the week.

Earlier in the week, literary agent Nathan Bransford wrote:

"It sure seems like the majority of people in the
world think they can write a book. And not only write a book, but write
it as well as a published author. And not only just as well as a
published author, but just as well as bestselling published authors who
are among the elite in terms of building an audience and having their
work catch on with readers. There are lots of people out there who
think it's easy, think they could do it, and all but a handful are

It was part of a longer post about writers having difficulty figuring out if their writing is good or not, which you can read here.

The truth is, I'm not sure if I can write a book worthy of publishing. If I do get published, I'm not sure if Diary of Bedlam will be the book that succeeds or whether it will it become one of those awful novels authors talk about that sit in their desk drawers as a reminder of their early failures. Of course I dream it will be a huge success–I fantasize about winning an Edgar and which actors will play my main characters. Then I set aside the fantasy and get down to work, because dreams will only get you so far.

I know the odds are tough and I know I have a lot to learn about the writing craft. But I admit to having blinders on, because if I stopped to worry too long about whether I can write a book that's good enough (and lucky enough) to get published, I'd give up. If I didn't think I could do it eventually, I wouldn't have even started. 

And frankly, I'm not fit to do anything else. It's either this or being a barista at Starbucks, or a greeter at Wal-mart (not that I'm dissing any form of gainful employment since I have not been employed, gainfully or not, in ten years).

If I sound desperate, I am. But it is what I'd call controlled desperation. I know I want to write a novel. I know I want to have it published. I am driven by these wants, but drive is not enough. For me, some amount of desperation is necessary to motivate me to move forward. Sure it would be nice to move before the desperation stage, but hell, the only thing that really matters to me is that I'm moving.

When Diary of Bedlam is polished and ready to submit, I'll go back to work on it's sequel, the first draft of which is about 1/3 finished, called Diary of Deceit. But maybe for good measure I should change to working title to Diary of Desperation.

I think a lot about success, and I also think about failure. But since thoughts of failure come more naturally to me than those of success, I'm careful to shut away those niggling "maybe I can't do it" feelings as soon as they rise up. If it turns out I'm wrong and I can't do it, I'll deal with that later. After all, there's a Starbuck's on every corner, and I hear they're hiring (although in this economy, maybe not).

In the meantime, I'll leave you with this video of Howard Jones performing "Things Will Only Get Better" with Ringo Starr and Sheila E.:

The lyrics in verse two seem applicable to writing: "A lonely path, an uphill climb, success or failure will not alter it."

The one thing I've been told over and over again since having my ACL surgery is "You can't fall." Doing so would mean the delightful new ACL they installed might fail, and as my surgeon told me, "I've never had a fail, and I don't want you to be the first." Thanks, dude. Way to put the pressure on.

I've pretty much lived my whole life trying to avoid falling, and have been largely successful (the ski accident that caused the ACL tear in the first place notwithstanding). But there's something about being told you absolutely cannot do something that makes the possibility that it will happen seem so much more likely.

So these days, most of my time is spent making sure I don't fall.

Of course, I only mention this because I wanted to post this video of Colin Farrell (my boyfriend) and Jeff Bridges (my sugar daddy) performing this great song from the movie CRAZY HEART:

But what about my writing, you ask? I've been a busy bee! Somewhere in the midst of my revision I realized I'd lost control of my plot so I took a few days to write up summaries of each chapter so I'd have a quick reference as I go forward. In retrospect I should have done that earlier in the revision process but luckily, falling down while writing a manuscript is a lot less risky than when you've just had surgery, as long as you pick yourself up and keep going.

The summaries are basic. At the top of each page I put the date, time, and location of the scene, then followed up with a brief description of what happens. I ended them by including who is introduced in each chapter and who is referenced (not actually in the scene, but mentioned by another character). I'm hoping this will make it easier to keep track of who is mentioned where since I kept finding myself putting notes in my documents that said "Check when this character is introduced" or some such thing.

So that's it. Time to get to work!

Back in the day (circa 2000), I knew I wanted to write a novel set in 17th century England and the court of King Charles II. I’d quit my day job in early 1999 with the intent to design websites, provide web content for my website on About.com, and finally, write a novel, the last of which had been my dream for as long as I could remember. I don’t recall how far I got on this first novel-writing project–actually, now that I think about it I did have a fairly complete outline but never went much farther than writing the first chapter. I guess I just wasn’t ready.

That novel was going to be a romance. I had not yet become obsessed with crime fiction, and it never occurred to me I could write a historical that wasn’t a romance (I know, for a writer, I certainly lack imagination). It wasn’t until I read David LissA CONSPIRACY OF PAPER that I realized hey, I can combine these two genres (this is what they call a “duh” moment). It took at least another couple of years for me to finally outline my current project, DIARY OF BEDLAM, but once I started down that path, I never stopped.

Even a good crime story needs some romance, however, and last week I found myself revising a love scene between my main character, Isabel Wilde, and the King. For some reason, I thought this would be easy, because unlike murder and mayhem, I’ve actually experienced some er, romance, in my real life. It turns out it’s difficult to write sex and romance without sounding generic, cheesy, and ridiculous.

When I first started writing so many years ago, my helpful husband bought me a book called the “Romance Writer’s Phrasebook.” At a loss for words, I opened it’s pages to the section on “Sex,” hoping for some inspiration. These are the types of phrases I found:

“His eyes raked boldly over her”
“She replied with complacent buoyancy” (huh? I don’t even know what that means)
“A delicious shudder heated her body”
“His nearness kindled feelings of fire”

Needless to say, I will not be using this particular book as a resource any longer.

Left with only my own imagination as a guide, I continued revising the scene by trying to tap into what I find sexy, which wasn’t so easy because it required me to become vulnerable, to open myself up. The scene is better because of it, but it might be the first time since starting this novel that I felt a little uncomfortable. Sure, I can write about corpses all day long, but when asked to write something real, that had a little bit of me in it, I squirmed.

The scene is finished for now, but it definitely needs another pass, during which I’ll have to go back to that vulnerable place and infuse it with more emotion, conflict, and drama. More importantly, however, I learned something about what’s been missing from my writing in general–myself. Sure, every character has their own filter through which the story is told, but ultimately, if I don’t inject something of what I personally know about human behavior and emotion, the writing will lack heart.

Part of my background is in goldsmithing, a craft which took me over 10 years to learn and I’m nowhere near perfection, and sometimes, not even competence. To me, writing is a craft as well, one that I will spend a lifetime learning and perfecting, like creating an exquisite ring. Writing this love scene was just another lesson learned, and one more step on my path.

After my "woe is me" post yesterday, many of you said "Well, at least you can still write!" Indeed, I can, and indeed I am. I've finally found an editing/revision method that's working for me and in the last couple of weeks I've made slow but steady progress.

But first, I forgot to post this yesterday:

Holly_knee copy

Just in case you've never seen the inside of my knee before.

Now back to progress. My daily routine is simple. Every day I print out the next chapter that needs work. First thing I do is read it all the way through, trying not to edit as I do this so I can get an idea of what the chapter is about and how it fits with previous chapters. Next, I read it with my red pen in hand and make all the changes I think it needs. I usually have my trusty yellow legal pad next to me so I can write detailed notes or even re-write passages if I need to. This, obviously, is the longest part of the process, and while I try to get at least one chapter done a day if there is serious re-writing that needs doing sometimes that doesn't happen. The final step is to go back to my manuscript and make the changes. There's usually some re-writing that goes on during this step as well but it's generally just tweaking.

I now have just over a third of a polished novel I wouldn't mind showing to someone besides Stella and Stuart. Although Stella does like sinking her teeth into a good historical once in awhile. And by "polished" I don't mean "finished." I simply mean it's gone through it's first pass and I'm ready to let people read it. And by "people" I mean Mick.

Folks, it's been almost a year since I finished my first draft, and believe me, I'm well-aware I am going slow. But I try to tell myself this is my first novel. I'm learning. At the same time I can't cut myself too much slack or else this will never get done. So I generally give myself foot rubs in between floggings.

I know this is my blog but let's turn the floor over to you. What are you working on? Summer is coming, do you have any projects in mind? C'mon, I really want to know.

I am on a never-ending quest for the perfect opening line.

As part of my search, today I went through a bunch of my books, looking at the opening lines while I hoped for inspiration to strike. It hasn't–yet–but I thought I'd post some of my favorites here.

Let's start with my favorite book of the year so far. City of Dragons, by Kelli Stanley:

"Miranda didn't hear the sound he made when his face hit the sidewalk."

What follow is even better, but this sentence alone gives one a sense of the type of book this is going to be. Love it.

Here's the rest of 'em:

"Whuppin' ass wasn't so hard, Stella Hardesty thought as she took aim with the little Raven .25 she took off a cheating son-of-a-bitch in Kansas city last month." – A Bad Day for Sorry by Sophie Littlefield

"Coming back from the dead isn't as easy as they make it seem in the movies." Money Shot by Christa Faust

"As Clifford Rose came to, the first thing he recognized was the stink, like a drainpipe running out of hell." The Loud Adios by Ken Kuhlken

"In the beginning, I believed in second chances." Change of Heart by Jodi Picoult

"It was hot as an Alabama outhouse when I got off the plane from Barcelona." The Jook by Gary Phillips

"Our hero was not one of those Dominican cats everybody's always going on about–he wasn't no home-run hitter or a fly bachatero, not a playboy with a million hots on his jock." The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao by Junot Diaz

"In my youth I suffered from too close a proximity to gaming tables of all descriptions, and I watched in horror as Lady Fortune delivered money, sometimes not precisely my own, into another's hands." The Devil's Company by David Liss

"The cops nabbed Santa Claus at the corner of Hollywood and Gower." Try Fear by James Scott Bell

Just for kicks, I'm going to add my own current opening line:

"My mother wept the first time she saw my fiery red curls, for ginger-colored hair marked a sorceress." Diary of Bedlam by Holly West

Does it hold up?

What are some of your favorite opening lines?

In the past month or so, I've had the pleasure of reading three great books: City of Dragons, by Kelli Stanley, A Trace of Smoke by Rebecca Cantrell, and A Bad Day for Sorry by Sophie Littlefield. I loved them all and recommend them all, so if you like a good crime story, pick 'em up (I've included the Amazon links here, but if you live in the Los Angeles area why don't you head on over to The Mystery Bookstore in Westwood and purchase them there)?

All three novels feature strong female protagonists with fierce independent streaks.  Reading them, I couldn't help but think of my own main character, Isabel Wilde, and how, like these women, she's "bucked the system." From the beginning I wanted to portray Isabel as a woman who, though she's been victimized, is no victim. She uses her experience to find a way to succeed, even if it means stepping on a few toes (and some very important toes, at that).

I think I've said this before–Isabel Wilde is, first and foremost, a
woman of her time. She is constrained by many of the attitudes and
superstitions of the age she lives in (17th century London) even as she
struggles to break free of them. It's as though she's chipping away at
the structure of her society, inch by inch, but is sometimes confused
by the messages she'd grown up with that tell her this is the way it is, the way it's always been, so live with it.
She moves forward, but that doesn't mean she doesn't slide backwards
from time to time, because she likes feeling safe and protected. She isn't 100%
comfortable with being an independent woman, even if she knows she has
no choice.

But what really stood out to me was that my plot shares key elements with all three of these books, and I got to thinking about this: is the female condition such that we're forced to consider only a few options for our protagonists and thus we've come up with the same ones? Is it possible I haven't worked hard enough to find plot elements for my main character that are true to the time she lives in and to her sex but also not so obvious? Mind you–this is in no way a criticism of the choices made by the three authors mentioned above–their plots work perfectly and I wouldn't change a word. 

In the end, I've decided not to make any big changes to my plot on the basis of these thoughts. The choices I've made work, and they're true to Isabel and the moment in time I am writing about. If she's lucky, Isabel will learn from the experiences I've portrayed in my novel and will build upon them in future stories. Here's hoping!

If there's one thing being with a group of published authors does for a writer aspiring to be published, it's inspire.

That's how I spent my weekend at Left Coast Crime. Being inspired. But also being reminded that time is a-wasting and I need to start expecting more of myself if I want to get this book done.

I came back from the conference with one thought in mind: I need to demand more of myself. I need to set a schedule and stick to it. I need to put more serious, concentrated time into my writing and I need to set goals and meet them.

I don't know when or how my writing career will unfold, but it's certain it won't happen at all if I don't stop cutting myself so much slack. This isn't about berating myself for not being good enough. It's about having the discipline to get something of value accomplished.

At dinner the other night I told some friends "If I had an employer, I would've been fired a long time ago." In evaluating my performance lately, I've come up short. It's not a big deal, nothing to panic over, but this is an opportunity to make some important changes.

What about you? Do you find yourself needing to make a few changes? It's time for Mid-March Resolutions!

In 1912, workmen discovered a box of jewelry hidden under the floorboards of a house in Cheapside. The jewelry has been dated to between 1600-1650, and it was the work of a jeweler who supplied jewelry to wealthy merchants and their wives. This discovery, which included about 230 pieces of jewelry, is known as the Cheapside Hoard. If you're interested in the history of the discovery, I recommend you visit the link.

Many of the pieces are displayed at the Museum of London, which Mick and I visited when we were there in July. Having read about the Cheapside Hoard, I was excited to see these pieces. What struck me more than anything else is that they are so similar to pieces we wear today. Goes to show there's no such thing as an "original" design.

My apologies for the quality of the photos. They were taken of the jewelry in cabinets, and in a dark room, so they hardly show the color and quality of the gems.


The earring above is comprised of iolites, and the dangling gem is an amethyst. Like most of the pieces in the collection, gold is the primary metal used in the designs.


This is an especially striking piece. I'm not 100% sure what the gemstones are, but they look like aquamarines and pearls. They make me want to run out to my jewelry studio and create my own version of these beautiful earrings.


Many of the pieces in the Cheapside Hoard feature enamel over gold. These cross earrings are one of the more exquisite examples.


These rings are made with emerald cabochons. Like the earrings above, they make me want to try to recreate them. I have talked about the fact that my main character wears a ring her brother made for her and have even created sketches for it. However, after seeing these rings, I wonder if Isabel Wilde didn't wear one.


This is a simple pin that looks to be turquoise, or perhaps enamel, set in gold.


This ring was one of my favorite pieces because of its simplicity. It's a beautiful sapphire set in gold. Definitely something I could make for myself and similar to pieces I've already made.

More than anything, this collection of jewelry captures my imagination. It is an example of all the types of things my characters may have worn. My dream is to own a piece of jewelry made during this time period, but that will require the selling of an awful lot of books. In the meantime, maybe I'll get in the studio and make my own.

389px-Charles_II_of_England Someone in my online class asked my why Charles II was my favorite English monarch and this is what I replied:

I suppose part of my liking for Charles II is based on childish romanticism. My first knowledge of him came from Forever Amber, which was a fictionalized and quite idealistic view of him. But even knowing what I know now about his backstairs dealings with France and his tendency toward absolutism, I think of him more as a pragmatist than a tyrant (not that the word tyrant applies in the least) and the English parliament had a much stronger role in his reign than in those of previous monarchs so he resorted to secret deals to get what he wanted on more than one occasion.

Charles was also deeply interested in science and learning and promoted it throughout his reign.

His religious tolerance is of interest but to be honest I think it goes back to his pragmatism, not his morality. His own religion, if he had it, ran mostly toward Catholicism but even in that, not too strongly. He converted to Catholicism on his deathbed but I think he would have done it a lot earlier if he truly believed religion to be an integral part of life. It may have ultimately been a means of salvation, but certainly not something to adhere to day-to-day so he waited until the last minute to convert. He kind of had a live and let live attitude, though critics would probably call him wishy-washy.

Finally, the restoration was a unique period in English history and I find the contrast between puritanism and the "merry" time that followed appealing. He was looked upon as a savior (from puritanism at least) of sorts by the English populace, and though he believed in the "Divine Right of Kings" and his rightful place on the throne, in the end, he was just a man who wanted to enjoy life and didn't mind so much if his subjects did too.