Posts Tagged With: #nanowrimo

Rabbits and Writing

“Ideas are like rabbits. You get a couple and learn how to handle them,

and pretty soon you have a dozen.”

 John Steinbeck

As a writer and a storyteller, friends ask me questions about my writing process. With my London Fog Latte in hand, I’m going to answer some of those questions.

Where do you come up with your ideas?

Like Mr. Steinbeck’s rabbits, I find ideas can come from anywhere: a photo, an overheard conversation, or a museum display. My favorite source of ideas is woolgathering. As Joyce Carol Oates said, at the 2017 LA Times Festival of Books, “Only for the writer is wool-gathering work.” Just letting my mind wander in the forest of my imagination, I find wonderful people and events. And when I find one, I add it to my list.

In the case of The Princess of Sweetwater, I was muddling about looking for an idea for my 2011 National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo) project. Earlier that year, I had gone the Antelope Valley Alfalfa Festival and Fair and visited the Antelope Valley Rural Museum on the grounds. I learned about ranching and farms during the area in the late 1800s from the displays. A few weeks later, I was watching my favorite movie for the hundredth time, Roman Holiday. Now the wool-gathering begins. What if a princess ran away in 1886 and came to the Antelope Valley? What if she fell in love? What if she was forced back home against her will?

The Western Hotel Museum

The Western Hotel Museum, Lancaster CA – The inspiration for one of the story’s locations.

Are you a plotter or a pantser?

I’m not a plotter/planner in the strict sense of the word. I research the historical period, I study maps, and I visit the locations.  I do write an outline, but it is a simple one with just the main plot points noted. Some plotters, when done with their outline, have a ten-page plot synopsis with every detail listed. I do plan, but I also discover my story as I write. The outline is just a roadmap, and if I find an interesting detour, I’ll follow it and see where it leads. In this, I share traits with the discovery/intuitive or pantser writer. I am a hybrid. When I reach the end of my first draft, the story may be very different than I first envisioned it during the outlining stage.

When do you edit/revise?

Until I finish the first draft, I do very few revisions, if any. I just put the story down with its awful and awkward scenes, misspelled words, and grammatical errors. But that’s okay; it’s the first draft. I just want to get the idea down on paper and resist the urge to go back to revise and edit.  James Scott Bell wrote in his book Revision & Self-Editing, “Give yourself permission to be bad. Write first, polish later.”

If I find I’ve drifted off the main road and it will require a change in a previous scene, I make a note in a different color to remind me to fix the continuity. If I find a scene no longer will fit, I don’t delete it. I line through it, so I can still see it, because during revisions I may find it works better elsewhere.  I do set a daily goal. If during NaNoWriMo, it’s 1750 words a day to make the 50,000 words by the end of November. Over the rest of the year, my daily goal is three pages or about 900 words. If I stopped to revise, I’d never make the deadline. When I finished the first draft of The Princess of Sweetwater, I had 50,613 words of which a third would find themselves chopped when I began to edit. The first draft was just a skeleton, with only Princess Victoria’s story told, no backstory, a flat male protagonist, and no subplots.

I’ll admit edits and revisions are hard work and painful. I start by reading the manuscript and find I have plot holes big enough to drive a stagecoach through. Despite the pain, I chop and rewrite.  As Stephen King wrote, “Kill your darlings, kill your darlings, even when it breaks your egocentric little scribbler’s heart, kill your darlings.” Sometimes it’s the best thing you can do. I cut out several lovely scenes in The Princess of Sweetwater, beautifully written, but they did nothing to move the plot forward and as a result had to go.

 Do you let others read your stories in progress?

I do have readers for my work-in-progress (WIP). I have Alpha Readers. These are fellow writers who help me shape the work as I am writing the first draft and before any serious revisions start. Often, they give me a hand with finding kinks in the plot, to avoid dead ends, and discovering something that was missing.

My Beta Readers review the manuscript when it is finished. These are readers who love the type of stories I write and will be honest with me if something doesn’t work, or if I’m just wrong about a historical fact. I choose some Betas because of their expertise in the era or industry used in the story. Their comments help me tighten the story before I sent it to a professional editor.

 Of course, at some point in the process, my husband reads it and gives me his thoughts and corrections.

How long does it take to write a novel?

The process of writing is different for every writer. In the case of The Princess of Sweetwater, it has been a long journey from its beginning in 2011 to now.  (I don’t say the end because the end is publishing and marketing.) Part of that is due to me setting the book aside to give me a break from it. Sometimes I need to step away from a project to see it with fresh eyes. After each revision, I tucked Princess Victoria and her friends away until I could return to them later.

Are you going to self-publish?

At this point, no. I am in the process of submitting The Princess of Sweetwater to agents.

How do you handle writer’s block?

I don’t. Writer’s block happens when you sit around and wait for inspiration to arrive. But as Jack London said, “Don’t loaf and invite inspiration; light out after it with a club, and if you don’t get it you will nonetheless get something that looks remarkably like it.” So even if I don’t feel like it, I make myself write every day. It may end up being poor writing but as Jodi Picoult said, “You can always edit a bad page. You can’t edit a blank page.”

For inspiration, I have a sign on my desk that reads, “You fail only if you stop writing. – Ray Bradbury.”

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What is a London Fog Latte?

A London Fog Latte is a latte made with Earl Grey Tea and steamed milk.


  1. 1 cup (8 oz) strongly-brewed Earl Grey Tea (I add a pinch of dried lavender, optional)
  2.  1/2 cup (4 oz) steamed or scaled milk (any kind)
  3. 1 Tbsp. simple syrup,  granulated sugar, or sweetener of your choice (adjust to taste, I often leave it out entirely.)
  4. 1/4 tsp. vanilla extract

After steeping the tea and lavender, pour into a cup and add the other ingredients. Stir gently. Enjoy.


Until next time . . .

The door is always open, and the kettle is always on.

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I’m at a crossroads, staring at the intersection in front of me wondering which way to I go. I can even imagine the scarecrow from The Wizard of Oz telling me, “That way is very nice. It’s pleasant down that way too. Of course, people do go both ways.”

I’ve just finished my most recent draft of The Princess of Sweetwater. It’s been through my critique group, beta readers, and historical fact checkers. I have been working on this story off and on now for six years. It’s ready for me to send to the editor for final revisions before submitting it for publication.

It begs the question, what do I do while I wait for the editor to complete her part segment this journey?

I can stay where I am. Sitting on the fence, waiting, and stewing about what the editor is doing, while I work on query letters and pitches.


I can march on straight ahead into the high plains of New Mexico to start researching and outlining my next novel.  I do have a research trip already scheduled for October on my calendar. I also have a stack of books to read on ranches, trains, and the state of medicine at that time.


I can turn right and cross the bridge to focus on writing short stories. I have two stories that need revisions, they have been rejected by one publisher but with a little tweaking could be sent to another. It would be a challenge and a little scary. I’m not used to writing short.


I can turn left, go down into the valley, and pull out an unfinished, abandoned project.  Maybe it could be revitalized and finished. I have at least three of those in the files. Okay, it’s more like six or eight, but who’s counting?


These are all constructive. They are moving me toward my goal. Each has a purpose.

There is no shortage of writing I could be doing, the problem is getting passed the paralysis of analysis. That’s what comes a map full of options. Working on the new versus revising the abandoned is the main conflict here. The new is exciting, but eventually, I must run back to adjust the manuscript from the editor, putting the project on hold. The old may have possibilities, they could be rescued, but they were left behind for a reason – they were either bad or boring – could they be fixed?

It is a conundrum. Pick one thing to do or juggle multiple projects?

I know I’m babbling here, partially because my teacup had been substituted with a wine glass – Vino Blanco from Joseph Filippi Winery – partially because I want to do everything. I know if I take on too much the writing will suffer. Perhaps I should focus on those pesky query letters and as well as read my research for the next novel, Sally of Terra Linda. But, April is Camp NaNoWriMo! Dang it, there’s another direction I could go.

So while I bang my head against the wall trying to figure it out, here’s a scene from The Princess of Sweetwater:

oakland station

 At the Oakland train station, Fernando led them to the train platform.

“Our car is the last one,” he said. “Yes, there it is. They are getting our trunks loaded. Let’s get on board.”

He helped the ladies climb the steps.

Once on board their private Pullman car, Princess Victoria removed her cloak and laid it on the settee. “Excuse me, I think I’ll freshen up.”

“Please, Your Highness,” Countess Josephine whispered. “May I go first?”

“Of course.”  The princess smiled.

“The train should depart shortly.” Fernando checked his watch. “We just need our staff to arrive.”

Princess Victoria paced the parlor and rung her hands. She hoped the train wouldn’t depart before she had a chance to try for the service door at the opposite end of the car.

When Countess Josephine returned, Princess Victoria moved toward the lavatory.

“Anna, accompany Her Highness.” Fernando propped the parlor door open giving him a clear view of the corridor.

“Pardon me, sir?” Two uniformed railway staff boarded the car, blocking Anna’s path. “I’m Jordan, your steward, and Philips will be your chef.”

Princess Victoria continued toward the lavatory at the end of the car, silently thanking the railroad staff for the distraction. She stopped, her hand on the lip of the open service door, her heart pounding like a sledgehammer on steel. The train whistle blew, she held her breath for a moment. With a final look over her shoulder, she slipped from the train and pushed the door closed.

A station attendant stopped her. “Miss, you need to re-board. The train is departing.”

“It is the wrong train,” she said, ducking into the depot as the train began to move.

The train would be several miles down the track before they realized she hadn’t returned.

Until next time . . .

The door is always open, and the kettle is always on.

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Train Tracks and Tea Cups


Sitting in my room with my cup of jasmine green tea with peppermint, I can hear the train whistle as it passes through Victorville. If it weren’t for the trains, Victorville and Barstow wouldn’t exist. They were “train towns.” And the sound of them passing through makes me nostalgic.

I love trains. I think it’s in my DNA. One great-grandfather was a chaplain serving workers building and repairing the lines in the Ohio Valley. Another was a coalman for a freight line.


I will ride a train – any train – when I get the chance. Yes, even the replica trains of Disneyland and Knott’s Berry Farm, or the little kiddie trains at the park.

One well-remembered train ride from my childhood was on a Santa Fe Railroad passenger train. We boarded the train at the old Santa Fe Depot (now Amtrak) with a group of friends. The wooden benches faced the windows and were painted yellow and red. They air smelled of diesel fuel and salt water. We disembarked at the small station at Del Mar and hiked down to the beach. Just before sunset, we boarded the train back to San Diego. The next day, there were no more Santa Fe passenger trains.

The summer before I was married I went to Europe and road the rails. From Amsterdam to Vienna, to Istanbul, and Paris. I shared meals and stories with fellow passengers. On the ride to Istanbul, aboard the “Orient Express,” to meet my former exchange student “sister,” as we passed into Hungary. The border official walked off the train with my passport. To say I was panicking would be an understatement.   The father of the family I shared the compartment with ran after him. He returned a few minutes later and reassured me it was “Okay, it okay.” (The only English he knew.) The official was only going to get the three-month stamp for my passport. He had apparently thought I would get off the train in Budapest rather than continue to Istanbul.

The last time I was on a train ride was the year I went to San Francisco for National Novel Writing Month’s Night of Writing Dangerously. An all-night writing marathon. There was a large group of us participating the Great Train Escape. As Amtrak’s Coast Starlight Express left Los Angeles and made stops along the way, more writers joined the car reserved for us. I think about thirty of us were on the train. We talked, we wrote, and we didn’t sleep. I was kept my mind humming with copious amounts of Earl Grey tea and the lovely views from the window. Who knew cows like to wade in the ocean? Or that pelicans would race the train? For the trip home I took the inland route, closer to the route that would have been taken by my heroine, Princess Victoria, as she headed south to find a new life, determined to chart her own course.


When given my choice, I will take the train. Trains were once the preferred way to travel before personal vehicles and airplanes.  To me there is something special about sitting in the observation car with a cup of tea, of course, watching the scenery go by. And if you’re lucky, there will be an interpreter to tell you about the sights and culture you are passing through.

The dining car is a special experience. Maybe not as fancy as it once was, but still you need a reservation for your seating time. Somehow the food tastes better served on China plates than from a paper bag from the café car. Before the addition of dining cars trains stopped at the famed Harvey House to eat and rest.

Yes, I feel romantic about trains, especially the old steam engines. Maybe that’s why they appear so often in my stories. Trains made it possible to get people and goods to the western United States. In the days of the wagons trains, if it didn’t fit in the wagon it was left behind.

I have one train ride I am planning to do in the next year – the Grand Canyon Train. You board the train in Williams, Arizona and then board the train at their 1909 era train depot. The train takes you to the south rim of the canyon. Spend a day or two at the lodge there and then return to Williams.

Riding along the train tracks with a cup a tea will always bring me joy.

Until next time . . .

The door is always open and the kettle is always on.


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Writing In Public


Writing doesn’t have to be a solitary thing.

Most people think of writing as a solitary occupation, with romantic visions of a starving writer holed up in an ivory tower away from the world creating reams of prose and poetry. There are times when we writers do need to be alone with the written word. But that is not always the case.  Sometimes writing and be a very social event.

I write in public. Writing in public is not something non-writers would consider helpful to the writing process. To be honest, I’m not as fast putting word-to-paper in public as I am in my little room at home, but it does garner some interesting conversations.

Why do I write in public? The reasons are many but here’s a few:

It’s a NaNoWriMo thing.

November is National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo), and participants will gather at coffee shops, libraries, and schools to write together for a “Write-In.” The goal is to complete a 50,000 word first draft of a novel in 30 days. Can it be done? Yes, it can. I’ve done it now nine times. Now some of those first drafts may never see the light of day, but I did write them. At a write-in, everyone is working on their own masterpiece in a public space. The gathering may vary from two to twenty people, each typing or hand writing their stories. Not talking to each other, just writing. Then every once in a while there will be a question; for example, in one story I had a character named with the very British name of St. John (pronounced Sinjin) and the question was how do I tell my readers how to correctly pronounce this name? One gentleman in the group suggested that I have someone mispronounce it so the character could then correct him. Problem solved. Back to work! Then there will be the challenges – someone, usually the Municipal Liaison (ML), will yell Word War! And everyone will write frantically for the next ten, fifteen, thirty minutes. The person with the most words during that time wins.


I am the ML for my region, so it’s my job to schedule these write-ins. Plan the challenges – sometimes it’s use this weird obscure word in the next scene or your main character’s house just burned down, now what?  I also provide the prizes, usually small trinkets. I show up early and save the table. No one has any problem finding me, I’m the person in the Viking helmet. When someone comments on my headgear and asks why am I wearing it while I’m typing, it gives me a chance to explain NaNoWriMo and invite them to join in the fun.

As I write this blog, I’m at a write-in, but we’re calling it a “campfire” because July is Camp NaNoWriMo. Earlier while setting up and chatting with the barista, Cory joined in the conversation. He’s a NaNo from Northern California, who just moved into the area. So we pulled up a chair for him, and he joined in the writing, working on his own story.


It’s a change of scenery thing.

Sometimes I get bored looking at the same four walls in my writing room. So I pick up my tablet and move outdoors. This being in a new location can be a distraction, and I may get less writing done, but I find inspiration in watching people and listening to the birds.

Some of my outside writing is being in the location of the scene I’m currently writing. For example, for a short story I’m currently working on, it takes place in small mountain town not far from where I live. I spent some time visiting that town. I sat at the local coffee shop, sipped coffee, and wrote the scene that takes place booth next to where I was sitting.

Sometimes I see things that give me ideas for stories. Sometimes I talk to those around me, mostly they’re curious to see someone typing in the park or on the beach. Now I’ve learned what the speech pattern of someone living in that community sounds like and can try to imitate it in print.

It’s things at home are too crazy thing.

Let’s face it working at home isn’t always easy. And even though I have a writing space, things still intrude. The dogs need attention. My husband is watching his beloved Giants trounce the Dodgers and being loud enough the team can hear his support all the way to San Francisco. The phone won’t stop ringing with unimportant calls.

Sometimes my writing room isn’t the fortress of solitude I need it to be. So off to the coffee house or the library I go. I find an unoccupied corner, settle in, and write.

Yes, sometimes I’m interrupted, but I don’t mind. It gives me a chance to talk about writing. To explain why I have pictures of cowboys and Victorian princesses on my notebook – my current novel in progress. To talk about NaNoWriMo and invite them to sign up. To encourage them to check out my friend’s newly published book.

Yes, I write in public. It inspires me. It lets me be social. I can share writing with others.

Until next time, remember the door is always open, and the kettle is always on.

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