Link-o-rama In an effort to keep a more organized blog schedule, I've decided to give each day of the week a different subject. Friday is, you guessed it: Link Day!

To start us off, I'd like to revisit a post about Twitter I wrote awhile back:

Why I Tweet (and You Should Too) - I've been active on Twitter for about 8 months now and I've found it a valuable information resource and networking tool. Say what you'd like, I wouldn't have any of the writing contacts I have now without it. Choose who you follow carefully and you will find a great group of people who share your interests.

If You Give a Girl a Pen - This group of female writers are at different points in their writing careers and all give great insight, tips, links, etc.

Make the Most Out of a Writer's Conference - The name of this link speaks for itself, and as someone who will be going to a few writer's conferences this year, I found the information helpful. (via @WritersDigest

Grammar Girl: How Many Spaces After a Period? - This has been hotly debated by me and a couple of my friends. I learned to type on a manual typewriter many moons ago and of course back then the rule was to use 2 spaces.  Has that changed?

Eye on Books with Bill Thompson
Interview with Joseph Finder, author of Vanished, the book I'm currently reading (and loving)

Since I returned from London, I've suffered a productivity crisis the likes of which I haven't seen since the days when I dreamed of writing a novel but never did anything about it. Kind of ironic since that trip was meant to be inspirational, don't you think? It was frustrating being in a place where I desperately wanted to write (or edit in this case) but did everything I could possibly think of to distract myself from actually doing it.

I've talked about using a timer as a productivity tool but I'd gotten out of the habit of using one to keep me working. When I simply could not stand my inability to write even one sentence in a given day (or even open up Word to look at my manuscript) any longer, I went back to my trusty timer and set it for 30 minutes. Yup. For 30 minutes I could do nothing but work on my manuscript, but at the end of that time I could do whatever I wanted–make the bed, surf the net, eat a sandwich, whatever. After sufficient time wasting, I set the timer for 30 more minutes and the cycle begins again, then again, and so forth.

It might sound silly, but I get solid work done this way. I'm hoping that eventually I'll be able to stop playing games with myself in order to be productive, but until then it's ready, set, write.


Richard Cory
By Edwin Arlington Robinson

Whenever Richard Cory went down town,
We people on the pavement looked at him:
He was a gentleman from sole to crown,
Clean-favoured and imperially slim.

And he was always quietly arrayed,
And he was always human when he talked;
But still he fluttered pulses when he said,
"Good Morning!" and he glittered when he walked.

And he was rich, yes, richer than a king,
And admirably schooled in every grace:
In fine — we thought that he was everything
To make us wish that we were in his place.

So on we worked and waited for the light,
And went without the meat and cursed the bread,
And Richard Cory, one calm summer night,
Went home and put a bullet in his head.

I was a senior in high school when I first read this poem in AP English. It resonated with me then and it's one of the poems I've never forgotten over the years. Seems I had a darkish center even back then. Hell, especially back then.

I suppose as a teenager the ending was shocking enough to appeal to my macabre side, but as an adult I recognize it's really about the illusion of perfection and the fragility of the human mind. If only I was thinner, richer, lovelier, smarter, more successful–then I'd be happy. But for beautiful, rich, well-regarded Richard Cory, none of it was enough and I suspect it wouldn't be enough for me either.

Sometimes I wonder how many people I know are truly happy. Some people's unhappiness sticks out on them like a neon-pink sign over their heads, but for most, I think it's more subtle, especially since humans are very good at creating images and keeping up appearances.

Being the depressed sort, happiness does not come naturally to me. I have to work at it. But instead of thinking "this is the cross I have to bear, woe is me," I've begun to believe that perhaps happiness is something most people have to work on to varying degrees. In this way it's no different than watching one's weight. Sure, there are those lucky bastards who never have to worry about what they eat, but in reality, most people do, at least to some extent.

In conclusion, I'll take this topic back to writing. For the longest time I was a writer that didn't write. There was a part of me that believed that if it didn't come naturally (i.e. didn't require practice, discipline, and persistence) then I wasn't a writer. I understand now that's complete bullshit. Just like working to be happy and working to be healthy, I also have to work to be a writer. Wow. Who knew?


Mick and I are taking a trip to England next week and whilst it is an opportunity to see his family, for me it is also going to be a research trip.

I have been to London many times, and this made choosing the city for my setting much less intimidating. Now that the novel is written, I have a pretty good idea of most of the locations in the book. The purpose of my research in London will be mostly to take photos, soak up some atmosphere (and hopefully some inspiration), and make sure that my chosen locations make sense. 

Somerset House, the Strand, London
This was the queen's residence during the time I'm writing about.

Today is the first day I started planning, and I began by writing up a rough list of locations I need to visit:

Royal Exchange
Primrose Hill
Somerset House
Tower of London
Westminster Abby
Banqueting House
St Martins-in-the-Fields

There will, of course, be many more. I've already been to many of these locations, but this time I will return with my novel in mind. For example, the Tower of London houses the crown jewels, and I want to look at the items made for Charles II's coronation in 1661 because one of my characters was apprentice to the goldsmith who made them.

About a month ago, I finished the first draft of my novel, Diary of Bedlam. It was definitely a milestone–I have about 65k words, a beginning, a middle, and an end, and most importantly, I know "whodunnit."

But although I refer to this draft as a "book," does it really qualify? No. There's too many disconnects, too many errors, and too much bad writing for me to justify calling it a book.

For me the answer to the question "when does a book become a book?" will probably be around the time I'm ready to start querying agents, or slightly before. It will then be a complete story with most of the kinks worked out, and it will be ready for the "general public" to read, at least in my estimation.

When do you think a book becomes a book?

Last week I put out a request to friends and family to read the first two chapters of my novel and supply feedback. The response was great, but the feedback they sent me back was even better.

By better, I'm not saying all their comments were positive. What was great, and oh so appreciated, was the fact they took time to read the chapters and give their honest opinions.

I asked two questions when I sent out the chapters:

1) Does the beginning hook you?
2) Is there anything unclear or confusing?

The overwhelming response was that yes, readers were hooked and wanted to read more (yay!). The second most common response was that there was some confusion in chapter two with all of the information I tried to impart.

Other comments included problems with pacing and needing more character development earlier. There were also some inconsistencies in the text that I didn't catch. All easily fixable.

I don't know why I'm surprised at how valuable this feedback is in going forward. It's given me confidence, but it was also a much needed reality check. Thanks to all who have read the manuscript so far and sent me your thoughts!

Next month, I'll be doing something I haven't done in a very long time: travel to a business conference. Specifically, the California Crime Writers Conference in Pasadena, June 13-14.


I'll be honest. It feels weird to call this a business trip. Writing is a hobby, not a business, right?

Nope. Writing is my business and almost since the beginning I've tried to treat it that way. Rather than take the "art" out of writing, this mentality keeps me on track and reminds me to take it seriously. Frankly, it's been an integral part of getting me this far.

How far is "this far?" Over the weekend I finished the first draft of the novel. Now I'm doing my first pass, which basically means I'm re-reading it and polishing it up so I can send it off to readers for a critique. That should give you an idea of how rough the first draft is–I won't let it out of my sight until I get it shaped up, at least a little.

With two weeks to go, I'm in the process of defining my goals for the conference. The main goal is to listen and learn. With this schedule of topics, there will be plenty to choose from. I'll probably be concentrating the most on the "Learning the Craft" and "Getting Published" tracks, but I might sneak into the NRA gun demonstration or "Confessions of a Mafia Insider."

My second goal is to meet people and make contacts. This will be a challenge for me since I am very shy with strangers. But challenges are good, aren't they? (Whimper whimper–not looking forward to the "I'm all by myself in the big city" aspect of this conference).

I also need to come up with a rock solid elevator pitch. My bio has an unofficial version of the pitch, but I need something snappier. Here's what I have now:

"Diary of Bedlam is a mystery based on the real-life unsolved murder of Sir Edmund Berry Godfrey.  Set in 1678 London, it faithfully describes one of the darkest periods of political turmoil to occur during the reign of Charles II:  the popish plot."

Any ideas? One thing that's missing is a reference to my heroine, Isabel Wilde.

My final goal is to polish enough of my first draft to take advantage of a paid 5-page manuscript critique. Although now I see it's limited to the first 30 registrants, so I might not be able to do that. Oh well, I still need to be polishing!

So that's the state of writing affairs. Finished first draft? I almost can't believe it myself.

I often find it impossible to pick my favorites "of all time" in any category. And with books? Forget about it. There's too many to choose from that should be on the list.

And yet, when Donald Maass, author of Writing the Breakout Novel, asked me (in the book) to pick my top three novels, I took some time to think about it.

These are the three books I came up with:

Marjorie Morningstar by Herman Wouk

Forever Amber by Kathleen Winsor

Three Without Fear by Robert C. Du Soe

I've read all three of these books so many times I've lost count. Indeed, I have whole passages practically memorized. And Marjorie Morningstar sits at the top of the list because no matter how many times I read it, I always cry at the end.

Having picked the top three, the next question Maass asks is "What do they have in common?"

I'll start with what all three have in common: A fantastic sense of location. In Marjorie Morningstar, Wouk creates a Manhattan so compelling that as a teenager (when I first read it) I couldn't wait to visit the city. Winsor does the same for 17th century London in Forever Amber. And finally, Du Soe creates not a city, but a region–Baja California, and the adventures that lay in wait for three children travelling to San Diego on their own. Each of these books evokes a time and place that are magical, and utterly takes readers out of their own worlds and thrusts them into new and exciting places.

Marjorie Morningstar and Forever Amber are very similar in their themes, if not in their times and locations. Both novels feature beautiful young females with strong senses of themselves and no real concept of defeat or failure. It's not that they don't experience setbacks, it's that they confront every situation with a degree of confidence that makes their failures bittersweet and their triumphs all the more satisfying. I first read both of these novels when I was around 13 or 14, a time in my life when self confidence was a commodity I had little of. I wanted to be these women, it didn't matter if they made mistakes–I wanted to take life by the horns and experience it. Hard to do in the little California town I grew up in.

The final question Maass asks is (I'm paraphrasing) "What do you bring into your own novel from your top three favorites?"

One of the things I'm bringing to my own novel is obvious–it's set in 17th century London, just like my beloved Forever Amber. Mine is set about 15 years later though, which does make a major difference in some ways (think about a more modern story set in 1980 versus 2005).

The second thing I'm taking is a female lead with a strong sense of self. My heroine is the 17th century version of an amateur sleuth and she's about 12 years older, but she shares some of the same characteristics of Amber St. Clare (Forever Amber) and Marjorie Morgenstern (Marjorie Morningstar) that I found so compelling.

So I leave you with this question:
What are your top three novels of all time?

This is my first attempt at doing a “how to write” video:

I know. The first step is fairly obvious. But it’s the only way you’ll ever become a writer.

Also, please forgive the lapses in grammar and the awkward cuts. I am so busy writing these days, I didn’t have time for much in the way of fancy transitions.

Lastly, please remember that the camera adds 75 pounds.

Today's best links:

S.E. Hinton, a.k.a. Your Majesty from the L.A. Times

“When I was young, all the books were about a Mary Jane and the football player and the prom and ending up with the quiet guy and making your mom happy,” she said.  “Well, I’d been to a few proms, and it was about who got killed in the parking lot and who's got the booze inside.”

Comparing Fingerprints: What's the Point? from Lee Lofland's "The Graveyard Shift"

"It is the duty of fingerprint examiners to compare certain characteristics of a suspect’s fingerprint, known as points of identity, or minutiae, to points on fingerprints found at the scene of a crime. This comparison can prove that the suspect had, at some point in time, been at that particular scene. A fingerprint match alone does not, however, prove the suspect committed the crime."

Those Ignorant Atheists from

"Atheists of the Ditchkins [referring to Christopher Hitchens and Richard Dawkins] persuasion have raised valid points about the sordid social and political history of religion, with which Eagleton largely agrees. Yet their arguments are fatally undermined by their own unacknowledged dogmas and doctrines, he goes on to say, and they completely fail to understand Christian faith (or any other kind) except in its stupidest and most literal-minded form."

Getting the Call from Rachel Gardner, Literary Agent

"It's the moment every writer dreams of: the day an agent emails or calls to say, 'I'd like to discuss representation.'"