It looks like I’ve come to the point in my writing career that I don’t even remember stuff I’ve written. I cleaned out a file cabinet that I have been putting off for – oh maybe years – and was amazed to find a stack of notebooks and envelopes. These were written under a different name and address – maiden name, parent’s house – so I imagine it’s during college.

This suspicion is confirmed by a notebook. It begins with a page of assignments, but then is followed by pages of goofy choose-your-own-adventure type stories I wrote about my friends and me, while feigning to take notes during college classes. There are a bunch of song lyrics replaced with further adventures of college girls – you know – boys, parties, fun.

Then I find envelopes labeled to publishers or magazines. I don’t even remember hearing many of these names before! Inside are cover letters and articles I printed up on my parent’s crappy old printer. Seeing that they were never mailed, I imagine I was too chicken-shit at the time to actually submit them. I read them and thank God they were never published, the way most writers cringe when they read their earlier work.

Then I ease up a little. Sure, they’re bad, but maybe they were essential for practice. I later published an article on living abroad for one of the publishers I targeted, Transitions Abroad, had two related stories published in the anthology, Europe from a Backpack, and include one of the themes in my book Journey of a Woman Marine. These pages are filled with details I’ve long since forgotten, written from the perspective of a 20-something itching for travel overseas. I scan over the words, “Oh, but I was smitten” and laugh. Was I talking about Paris or the French guy? Does it matter?

Finding all this old crap inspires me to keep working on my new novel, which by the way has a lot of crap so far. Didn’t Anne Lamott write about Shitty First Drafts? This draft is definitely shitty. The only problem is that I keep trying to make it unshitty, instead of keep moving forward to finish the first draft. (Note to self – continue with the crap for now. )

So  have any of you had a similar experience finding things you’ve written about and long since forgotten? How about shitty first drafts? Tell me about it.


{February 25, 2012}   A Writer’s Mood Swings

“I’m never going to finish this book! There are too many things I don’t know about and I can’t find the answers. My characters are one-dimensional. It was a stupid, stupid idea!”

The next day, read the novel: “This is pretty good. I like these characters. I can see what drives them and their conflict.  All I have to do is figure out a few things and write them into the story.”

The next several days: put off writing by doing all kinds of tasks to reorganize book. Do research on the Internet, rewrite half-assed outline, come up with yet another writing/revision schedule, import document into a software program so I can move scenes around, print out what I’ve written because I decide I want to read it on paper and jot notes. In other words, deluding myself to think I’m writing my book when there is actually no writing involved.

Several more days: procrastinate by working on unappealing tasks–even taxes–to avoid tackling problems in my book.

Get bummed out because I’ve been working on this book for what seems like forever and see no end in sight. Why did I become a writer anyway? Why do I seek out impersonal rejection on a regular basis by people (agents and editors) who I’ve never met?

Find a note from a reader who says they couldn’t put down one of my books and stayed up all night. Remember that I’ve loved writing since sixth grade and took on that role in every job I’ve had. Recall authors speaking at conferences who’ve felt the same way I do in this isolating field. Look at how much I’ve written so far instead of what’s left to go. Remember the way I’ve finished previous books is to get on a routine and have a clear deadline ahead.

Get over the self-doubting, suck it up, and bring my netbook to a cafe without Wifi. I have to resist the frequent temptation of looking something up on the Internet and straying off track. Write a few good pages and get excited about the book again.

Repeat all of the above multiple times.

Does any of this sound familiar to you?

{February 12, 2012}   Writing Conferences

I just came back from a day long event in Boston — The Mystery Writers of America held several courses at the Sheraton. If you’re interested in writing mysteries, I encourage you to attend events like this. MWA and Sisters in Crime have fantastic speakers come to speak on a variety of topics on writing. Their annual Crimebake conference in November is now a must-attend event for me. I also attend conferences held by the Romance Writers of America and the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators (SCBWI). Every time I attend a writers conference, I come back full of ideas and inspiration.

In a mystery I’ve been working on since Nanowrimo 2010, I’m stuck in the middle chapters. The beginning and ending are written; it’s the unfolding of events in the middle that’s giving me a hard time. So sometime this week, I decided the voice was wrong. I needed to change it from third person to first and started rewriting the 50,000 plus words I already have down. Yikes!

During one of the speakers presentations, she mentioned how you as a writer will come across obstacles like this and want to rewrite your book changing something major. I am so glad she made me stop and think about this. When I went back to my mystery this morning, I realized what an impact it would have on the book to change the POV. Yes, it would have the better identification through a first-person narrative, but it would lose much of the bigger picture. In essence, it would be a completely different story. So I’m stopping myself.

It’s very reassuring to know you’re not alone when you hit a roadblock in your novel. And I guess the main point is to keep moving forward. Good luck!

Are you one of the brave, perhaps crazy few signing up for National Novel Writing Month this November? Have you embarked upon the challenge of writing 50,000 words in one mere month and need quick nourishment to keep you going?

Or perhaps you’re just hungry and want an easy, yet delicious sandwich.

Either way, check out what I threw together so I could get back to writing. I write for work and I write for pleasure. So sandwich-making time must be quick and healthy.

1. Toast a whole wheat sandwich thin.
2. Add some spreads, such as hummous, guacomole, or Branston pickle. (I added all three without any regrets!)
3. Add a little cheese. I sprinkled some goat cheese.
4. Add some veggies, such as lettuce and tomato.
5. Fry an egg and add it to the sandwich thin.
6. Close up the sandwich and eat!

It was quick, easy, and delicious. In fact, I think it might belong in the running for BEST SANDWICH EVER!

As you can see, you can vary what you add depending on what you have on hand. I plan to experiment with different variations. Let me know if you come up with similar healthy concoctions.

{September 29, 2011}   Lights, Love, and Hostels

I’m thrilled to be a featured guest blogger on The Hostel Life about my time working in a youth hostel in Paris.

Check it out:


{August 28, 2011}   Anytime, Anyplace

This morning I ran through Wembdon, a little village near Bridgwater. It was sprinkling lightly—typical English weather, I suppose. I welcomed it since it kept me cool and kept the kids out of the playground so I could use the monkey bars for pull-ups, benches for push-ups, and so on. You know the typical things normal people do on vacation.

And I tried not to get lost.

You see, in almost every place I’ve visited in the world, I have this weird method of exploration—I run or walk until I get lost and then try to find my way back. Sometimes it’s not so bad. Other times, it is, and I end up near tears berating myself for being such a jackass.

Yesterday morning, I ran, trying not to go too far in any direction for fear of getting lost. I ran past all the “Bull in field” sign, the farm animals in people’s back yards, the rowhouses, and the shop/post office. Coming back, I found my aunt and uncle’s residential complex fine, but then spent fifteen minutes trying to find their house. I found their street and tried following it to their number, but when it twisted and curved, I went on what I thought was the logical way—the path that continued on straight ahead. Turns out, it was the wrong way as I ended up on another road with no recollection of the direction I had come in. So I had to bug two little old lady neighbors for the way, hoping they wouldn’t inquire as to what this strange, sweaty American girl was doing poking around their way.

Since I like to torture myself like this on a regular basis, I went for a random run again this morning. Again, I found the complex okay. Again, I had trouble finding their house. But I found it on my own, I tell you, and strutted into the house.

“I made it back!,” I announced.

So now what am I doing? I told my mom and aunts how I needed to continue Lisa time and was going out to find a café. I won’t even get into the numerous questions I fielded about why I would want to go to a café alone, what do I mean by a “café,” and so on. I like nothing better than to escape to a local café for a little alone time, to read, write, reflect, or maybe just stare out the window with my head tilted to one side to daydream. Trust me, there are worse ways to “escape.”

I tried following the maniacal route my aunt showed us yesterday to get into town. Whereas I was in New York last weekend and easily found my way around on straight, narrow streets, these directions were full of twisty turns around narrow alleys, back through public walkways in between rowhouses, crossing a narrow bridge over a quay, and enough obstacles to ensure I will never find my way back again.

But here I am, in the Nutmeg House. The waitress stymied me when she asked if I’d like a cup or mug of coffee. What’s the difference? The mug’s larger, in case you’re wondering. But, I was able to counter my total Yankee ignorance by knowing the English pronunciation of scone, courtesy of my English mother. A short o rather than a long one. Take that!

Regaling my tale of victory to my mom and aunts later that day, my aunt said, “You can pronounce it scone or scohn here, either one is fine.”


{August 21, 2011}   Snowballs in August

Since one of my last posts was on the foods I’d been exposed to in England, this will focus on the fun travel sport of drinking.

I write this after a Snowball, which is a mix of Avocaat and something. Avocaat is supposed to be something with eggs or cream or something like that, according to my family (we’re a very detail-oriented crew in case you didn’t notice). Whatever it is, I don’t see it back home in the States.

I first and last tried a snowball when I visited England at 17. My mom and aunts raved about them while I raved about how I could drink underage without anyone doing a double-take.

So when I saw the Avocaat in the fridge during this trip to England, I started thinking about snowballs, nothing to do with winter, however. My mom must have had the same thing in mind as all through our neighborhood walk, she talked about having a snowball when we got back. Her reward for finding her way home.

My uncle did some mysterious voodoo drink magic in the kitchen and my aunt came out with some tall glasses with colorful star swirling sticks in it. It was a shade between yellow and off-white with light fluffy peaks like you see on a cappuccino. It promised a rollicking good time.

I sipped the happiness and busted out my Kindle since I hadn’t yet read any of the English classics I’d loaded and planned to read on this trip. Did I have Dickens? Check. Shakespeare? Check. Sherlock Holmes? Check. Jane Austen? Check. Apparently, I had big plans for this trip. I found my spot in The Portrait of Dorian Gray and enjoyed Oscar Wilde’s wordplay as I tried to slowly savor the Snowball.

I know—pretty bad ass…

If you know where to find Avocaat in the Boston area, let me know immediately. Just think of all the classics I’d read!

When I travel, I hardly ever shop, preferring to either A. explore the area until I get lost and then cry trying to find my way home, or B. finding a little café to read and write the time away. On my trip to England, however, I went with my mom and aunts to walk around the shops in Bridgwater. My aunt works in a bakery there, so after she showed us the way, we were left to our own devices.

We wandered around the bookshops, gift shops, and second-hand stores. I found multiple little jewelry trinkets for my daughter, while it was much more difficult to find something for my son or husband. You can’t go wrong shopping for a 7-year-old girl.

My mom said, “Cards are much less expensive in England. Make sure you get a bunch. I always stock up.”

Cards? Who goes to England to shop for –cards?

Oh yes, I remembered trips to England when we were younger; she’d pick up a bunch of giant-sized cards, which were a novelty at the time as we hadn’t seen them elsewhere. I picked out some cards—I’d be a fool not to partake in the deal of the century!

We stopped by the supermarket to get some chips for our fish and chips. Branston Pickle was on sale for a pound. A mere pound, I say. In the States, I paid five bucks for the little jar and here it was only a pound for the Big One. My mom said Get one for me. It’s the small curd, even better for sandwiches!

We spent the next couple of hours buying random crap. On the walk back, we meandered all the weird twisty walkways and public paths, trying to retrace my aunt’s steps. My mom and aunt argued about which way to go when we ran into unfamiliar territory.

“Now you know where you get your bad sense of direction from.”

“Now I know where I get my bickering gene from, too.”

We’re going back to town to get some more, um—cards. Maybe we can sell them on the black market back home where hopefully, there’s a huge demand for cheap foreign cards.

Living on the edge, baby!

Or what they call me mum.

As I put on my sneakers (or trainers), she asked me, “Buggering off?”

My mom has never asked if I’m buggering off. She’s never told me to bugger off. I’m not 100% sure what buggering off means so I look at her strangely.

“If you mean am I going running now, I suppose.”

See, my mom hasn’t lived in England for 40 years, but the second she gets off the plane, she gets back into English mode. What I mean is she uses the English colloquialism that we don’t often hear in our daily interactions in the States. Sure there’s the occasional “blast” or “bloody hell.” A few years back she said the chair was “wonky,” which made us do a double-take. But generally we can understand what this lady with the English accent is trying to communicate to us kids.

We’ve been in England for three days now. Twice my mom tried to translate English to English for me, only her expressions are now stuck on this side of the pond. My aunts and mom were discussing going somewhere and my mom tried to translate: “It’s a car boot sale.”

“What the heck is a car boot sale?” I asked.

“Like a flea market. You know, but they sell stuff out of the boot.”

Blank expression.

“Their trunk!”


For the record, nobody sold anything out of a boot. It was what we call a flea market.

I wonder how she explained to my aunts what a flea market is.

{August 8, 2011}   Mind the Brambles

Our first night in England, I suggested a walk to see the area after we had our tea. We traversed narrow public walkways through an area of rowhouses and even a thatched cottage; we saw sheep, goats, cows, horses, and even a sign that read Bull in Field.

My aunt said it was probably a ruse to keep trespassers out since no bulls ever appeared.

“Watch the brambles,” my aunt said. “They hurt.”

As we continued our walk through wildflowers and distinct little houses, I excitedly pummeled my aunt with stupid questions.

“Is this a village? A town? The country?  Or a — what izzzz this place?”

“A town,”  she replied, leaving out the duh.

I lived in a town and never saw farm animals in back yards so I was impressed.

Falling in step with my mom later, she said, “Don’t touch the brambles.”

The next morning, I opened the door and smelled a distinct odor. Animals.

“It’s the country for you,” my aunt said.

So we were in the country. How exciting! On my last two trips to England, I stayed in London. I hadn’t been in the English countryside for over a decade.

On another walk, I read signs for the village of Wembdon. A village–even better!

Signs read Cottage this and Cottage that. How much more English could you get than cottages in villages in the countryside? I read signs for Cottage Lane, Cottage Inn, and Cottage Guns. What? Hold on. Cottage guns? Somehow that didn’t fit my vision of English cottages. Do they just slap the cottage title on anything or is there actual meaning behind it?

On a walk later that day, may other aunt said, “Mind the brambles. They will hurt you.”

Now I’m wondering what the bloody hell are brambles?

et cetera