Living in the Pages.


“The ocean stirs the heart, inspires the imagination and brings eternal joy to the soul.”
~Wyland

When I first started the planning stage for SANDS OF TIME (Have I mentioned its title on here yet? That was actually the first piece of the puzzle this time!), I knew there needed to be four different settings, two of which were seaside. Because Charlotte’s story takes place in 1957, a time period I had to research extensively, I decided that I should keep it close to home. Of course the area was different in the 50s than it is today, but several of the hallmarks still remain the same, and it seemed like a good choice to bring that sense of familiarity into a storyline which featured so many other unknowns. Atlantic City became home for Charlotte and Nolan, and the writing process became even more exciting for me. I loved getting to build chapters around the Jersey shore. It has been somewhere very special to me for as long as I can remember, and weaving its charm into the book only increased that.

And so, when I spent seven lovely days in New Jersey this past week, I soaked up the significance even more than usual.

There’s Fralinger’s, where Charlotte works (granted, this is the Ocean City store instead of AC, but close enough):

Fralinger's

There’s the Ocean City Music Pier, where Nolan takes her for a surprise birthday celebration:

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Most special of all, there’s Ventnor. It is, truly, my favorite place in all the world. I spent time there every summer until I was fourteen and some of my most lovely memories have been woven there. It’s been over fifteen years now since my grandparents sold their condo, but we still try to go back for an evening or two each summer. Walking on that boardwalk again, seeing the fishing pier, breathing in the salty sea air that I swear is unique in that town, different from every other coastal community … it is home for me. It’s also directly next to Atlantic City, so when Charlotte and Nolan moved, it was the perfect spot for them to go. The entire last chapter of my book is set in Ventnor, and so being back there again last week was even more meaningful. This might sound ridiculous, but in a way, it felt like I was living in the pages of my manuscript.

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My favorite restaurant, and the place where Charlotte, Nolan, Remi, and Eli have dinner:

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Why yes, I am totally that person who writes her book’s acronym in the sand in the exact spot where a scene takes place:

SOT

I couldn’t stop picturing my characters: Charlotte and Nolan strolling the boardwalk, Remi and Eli taking in the sights of the Jersey shore for the first time, Charlotte and Remi sitting on the beach as they write a message of their own, write a story of their own. It took a place I already adore and made it even more magical. Something similar happens to Remi in the book – she moves to Nantucket after reading about it as a child and falling in love with its beauty – and it was such fun to write her experience of watching the words spin to life around her. That’s what this was like for me.

A few more non-book related pictures:

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Supermoon over the ocean = Super awesome.

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What’s your all-time favorite place? And fellow writers, have you ever set a book in that spot?

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The Best of Us.


“It is what you read when you don’t have to that determines what you will be when you can’t help it.”
~Oscar Wilde

Know what I love? Book signings.

Really, what can better than gathering with an enthusiastic group of readers and celebrating the authors and stories that have brought us together? Everyone clutches a book in their hands or on their lap, fingers wrapped around a treasure trove of words, of stories, of inspiration, and then we get to hear from the person who made that very book come alive. It is sunshine for the writer’s soul.

Last night, I had the chance to attend an event with Sarah Pekkanen (who, if you’ve read my posts, you’ll know is one of my favorite authors), Jennifer Weiner, and Elizabeth LaBan. It was held in a lovely school, came complete with the most delicious (and huge!) cannolis, and featured a fabulous Q&A session. We heard from all three talented women – about their books, about their writing processes, about their journeys to publication, about their advice and anecdotes – and above all else, what struck me was the sense of unadulterated love for the craft of writing. Sarah, Jen, and Elizabeth exuded that love and so did everyone in the audience. My favorite comment of the evening came courtesy of Sarah, who talked about learning more through the writing than through the planning. I just … adore that. Yes, we can plan a novel. We can brainstorm, we can outline, we can research, we can plot timelines and turning points and milestones for our characters. And we should. We should know our stories like we know ourselves. But the real learning? The real journey? The real sense of who our characters are? How can we truly know that until we’re writing their tale? They have to tell us who they are. They have to show us. Sometimes – or, perhaps, often – that comes when we’re in the middle of a scene. One of the things I think is most special about writing is how the characters can surprise us. I’ve had people look at me strangely when I say that – “how can a character surprise you if you’re the one writing about them?” – but I honestly believe it’s true. Our characters lead the way. We’re there to help them along the path.

I had the chance to chat with Sarah for awhile afterwards, both about her awesome books (seriously, you guys … run, do not walk, to the nearest bookstore and buy a copy of all four of her novels … you won’t be able to put them down, they are that fantastic!) and about my publishing quest, and I will always be so thankful for her kind words and sincerity. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: the writing community, from those who are already published to those who aspire to and work towards that goal every day, is like no other. It’s warm, it’s welcoming, it’s wonderful. Sarah didn’t have to spend so long talking to me, but she did. She didn’t have to ask me about my own books, but she did. She didn’t have to say such encouraging things, but she did. Words can’t express my gratitude. She is truly a class act, gracious and genuine all the way.

Sarah and me

I left the event feeling so inspired. I couldn’t wait to sit down at my desk again this morning and continue writing (more about that in another post … I can’t even believe that I’m nearly two-thirds through this first draft!). That, to me, is what a book signing is all about. It takes the love, the joy, the pride we feel in writing and wraps them up in a neat package. Or maybe not. Maybe what it actually does is take those things and set them free into the world. And, again, I say: what can be better than that? Sarah’s new book is titled THE BEST OF US, and I think that’s a perfect way to sum up a book signing: it brings out the best in all of us.

The Power of Storytelling.


“Great stories happen to those who can tell them.”
~Ira Glass

Clearly, I’ve made no secret of the fact that I’m a huge General Hospital fan. I’ve been watching the show for twelve years now, and have seen too many storylines to count. Some tugged at the heartstrings. Some motivated. Some made happy tears trickle down my face and some made sad tears blur my vision. Some brought laughter. Some were history-making. Some worked their way inside my mind and heart, and then did the very same thing for viewers everywhere. Some inspired. Some changed my life. Some made me feel. And now, as the show celebrates its golden anniversary with the first Nurses’ Ball – Port Charles’ biggest fundraiser that combines singing, dancing, love, drama, and charity – in over a decade, I find myself falling in love all over again. Today’s episode was so good that I immediately wanted to re-watch it. The performances were adorable, entertaining, and compelling (Favorite of the day = Kelly Monaco’s character Sam lighting up the dance floor with Maks from Dancing with the Stars – I still maintain that she was robbed during last year’s all-star season and should have gone home with the mirrorball trophy!). But beyond the talent sparkling on stage, there was also a fairy-tale unfolding behind-the-scenes. For months now, we’ve been seeing the love story between Patrick and Sabrina slowly come to fruition. Word by word, page by page, chapter by chapter, we’ve gotten a glimpse into Sabrina’s world as she fell head-over-heels for the handsome, kind-hearted doctor. When she confessed her feelings, only to learn that he’d never thought of her the same way? When her declaration made him realize that he’d missed what was right in front of him? And today, when they finally got their living-on-cloud-nine, give-you-butterflies moment? When Sabrina finally got her guy? I probably looked like the goofiest person ever, sitting there with my smile stretching from ear-to-ear. You’d think they’re my personal friends, I’m so happy for them. Obviously these characters aren’t real, and because this is a soap opera, it’s more likely than not that something (or someone) will rain on their parade, but for now, I don’t care. Sabrina is very much an “every girl.” We can relate to her. We know what it feels like to put our hearts on the line – sometimes internally, sometimes externally – and to see it pay off, to see her giddy sense of joy and elation, it made me giddy, too. Life is not a daytime drama. Life is not a fairy-tale. But stories like this give me hope.

Then there’s my WIP. I’m (approximately) forty-percent through the first draft right now, and the scene I wrote today is one I’ve been anticipating since the beginning. It was Charlotte’s big confession, her time to finally come clean about something major she’d been hiding. Excited as I was to write it, I was also nervous. That usually happens to me with these turning-point scenes. I just want them to carry the proper emotional weight, you know? To play out on the page like they do in my head. To do justice to the characters and their feelings. And so I sat for awhile before writing, just imagining what was to come. I felt the way Charlotte’s mouth would go sandpaper-dry, saw the way her fiance paced back and forth across their tiny apartment, heard her tearful explanations, smelled the wildflowers that tumbled from their pitcher as the door slammed and knocked it over. And then I wrote. And wrote. And wrote some more. Of course the scene will go through edits when I get to that part of the process, but I’m satisfied with it. More than that, better than that, I’m happy with it. From day one, this book has been a very different experience for me. It’s tough to put into words, really, other than to say it’s reminded me how joyful writing can be. Charlotte and Nolan may not be in as good of a place as Patrick and Sabrina right now – and as for my other main character, Remi, she’d currently laugh in the face of anyone who told her that fairy-tales can blossom in reality – but their story makes me just as giddy. Remi’s story makes me just as giddy. Charlotte and Remi’s story – because, although they’re separated by fifty-six years, this book is, at its heart, about the bonds they share – makes me giddy. It gives me hope.

I’m not really sure where I’m going with this post. I just felt compelled to share it after today’s storytelling experiences. One was as a writer, the other as a viewer, and both reminded me of the beauty in creativity. How wonderful it is to fall in love with fiction, to get lost in its embrace and inspired by its journey. How wonderful to find characters we can relate to and tales that inspire us. How wonderful it is, and how lucky we are, to experience this blessing every day, to live it with our full hearts and souls. And who knows? Maybe by finding joy in these fictional stories, we’ll be writing a part of our own, too.

Cherry Blossom Festival.


“Break open a cherry tree and there are no flowers, but the spring breeze brings forth myriad blossoms.”
~Ikkyu Sojun

My weekend in five words:

1. Exhilarating (Washington D.C. is such a playground of patriotism, a perfect juxtaposition of our country’s storied history versus its history-in-the-making.).

2. Frustrating (Thanks to the coldest March weather in years, the Peak Bloom Period was pushed back by over a week, meaning there were no actual blossoms on the thousands of trees surrounding the Tidal Basin.).

3. Exhausting (Walking for over ten miles + being on your feet for seven hours straight on Saturday and eight hours on Sunday = not wanting to do anything but sit on Monday.).

4. Inspiring (I have wanted to go to the Cherry Blossom Festival for years, but writing about it in MINE TO LOVE – and incorporating it into a very important, freeing, turning-point scene for Sofie, Brandon, and Ellie – magnified that tenfold. Lack of blossoms aside, it was so very awesome to see the place where my characters finally started to heal.).

5. Invigorating (What’s better than visiting a fabulous place with fabulous people to share in the experience? Not much.).

Over the course of twenty-eight hours, we visited the Washington Monument, Lincoln Memorial, MLK Memorial, FDR Memorial, Jefferson Memorial, Tidal Basin, Union Station, Capitol Building, Museum of Natural History, Museum of American History, and the White House (well, sort of for the last one – we got as close as possible and snapped a couple photos). It was a whirlwind weekend, a lovely one. There may not have been many umbrellas of velvety pink petals, but we still soaked up the springtime spirit and the sense of hope that’s almost palpable in our nation’s capital.

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Believe it or not, this is only a fraction of the pictures I took. Can’t wait to see how many memory cards I fill next year, because we are now determined to go back when the thousands of trees are actually in bloom. Looking forward to it already!

All in the Numbers.


“Originality exists in every individual because each of us differs from the others. We are all primary numbers divisible only by ourselves.”
~Jean Guitton

10,458: the number of words currently in my WIP, which becomes more of a joy to write with every single day. I’m already discovering so many twists and turns to my characters’ personalities, already following their lead as they dictate where the story will spin. It’s an inspiring road to travel and an exciting journey to take.

24: the number of days until I’m in Washington DC for this year’s Cherry Blossom Festival. I’ve wanted to go for so long and can’t wait to see those beautiful umbrellas of pink petals in person. Fingers crossed that the trees will all be in bloom.

3: the number of times I’ve now had the chance to talk with General Hospital and Dancing with the Stars superstar Kelly Monaco. Her fan event on Sunday was one of my favorites I’ve ever attended, and I was, once again, totally impressed by her genuinely kind and gracious nature. From telling me that my eyes are the bluest she’s ever seen, to reminiscing about the 2005 Philadelphia Thanksgiving Day parade and saying how sweet it was that I remembered our visit there, to sitting and chatting with me – and everyone else – as though we were friends, she was nothing but a complete class act.

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54: the number of choice on today’s weather forecast. Perhaps spring is around the corner?

570: the number of words I wrote in twenty minutes this morning. Wednesday are my query days, my days to focus solely on sending MINE TO LOVE out to agents, but I woke up with a scene in my head and simply had to get it down before doing anything else. There is something so special about that flurry of furious typing, that whirlwind where your fingers can’t type quickly enough to keep up with your thoughts, and it completely made my day, all before 8:00AM. Writer’s high? For real, it’s the best ever.

What numbers are defining your day?

A Tale of Two Pictures.


“When writing a novel, a writer should create living people; people, not characters. A character is a caricature.”
~Ernest Hemingway

Journal

Guess who officially chose a writing journal and started working on her new novel last Thursday? Guess who is very, very excited about that? The idea for this one has been percolating for over a year now, and it’s been such fun to take it from something abstract to concrete. There’s still a lot of research and planning to be done before I begin writing, but I’m having so much fun with it that I don’t even mind. Don’t get me wrong, I’m just itching to write again after spending all those months editing, but I’ve always been a fan of this part of the process, too. There’s something invigorating about the plotting stage – the pages are still blank, literally and figuratively, just waiting for a world to be born, for characters to be born, for a story to be born. I’ve spent a lot of time these past several days fleshing out my two main characters and am almost giddy about their journeys. This book is going to be quite different from anything I’ve ever worked on, both format-wise and story-wise, and even though it feels strange to be visiting with other characters instead of Sofie and Company, it’s also exciting. I kind of feel like Pandora, but in a good way, about to open a new box and watch infinite possibilities spring up from inside. To Charlotte and Remi: I cannot wait to tell your stories. You are already like living, breathing people to me, and I’m looking forward to seeing where those possibilities take us.

PortChick

I’ve mentioned my love of General Hospital many times, so it should come as no surprise that yesterday’s event with Laura Wright, Lisa LoCicero, Julie Berman, and Kelly Sullivan was a blast. Pretty sure they had the entire place laughing out loud for two hours straight. It was lovely to talk with Laura again, and I’m especially glad for the opportunity to meet Lisa, whose sunny spirit is truly contagious. As always, the awesomeness of the cast made me even prouder to be a GH fan.

Hmm, maybe one of my new characters will love the show, too. They do always say to “write what you know,” right? Off to brainstorm some more now …

Rhythm of the Heart.


“The straight paved road won’t always get you farther than the winding dirt road.”
~Kelly Monaco

If you’ve been anywhere near my Facebook and Twitter feeds over the past three months, then you know how fervently I was rooting for Kelly Monaco to win this all-star season of Dancing with the Stars. It was a blast to watch her routines every week and also to see so many of her GH co-stars support her in the audience. I have been a fan of Kelly’s since her General Hospital debut back in 2003, and not only because she does such a lovely job of telling Sam’s story. Beyond that, she is genuinely gracious – I’ll never forget how she took the time to talk with me after co-hosting Philadelphia’s Thanksgiving parade back in 2005 – and diligently devoted. She is the kind of person who creates luck instead of waiting to find it, the kind of person who chases her dreams and works hard to turn them into reality. If you watched Dancing with the Stars, you know that. Kelly twirled her way into the hearts of people everywhere, and despite scores from the judges that were often lower than they gave other contestants, she and dance partner Val made it into this week’s finals. And while they finished in third place on the show, they were – and are – number one in every way that matters. They reminded us to never give up on our hopes, to never stop reaching for the stars even if they seem out of reach. They reminded us that people come into our lives for a reason and that lifelong friendships can blossom when you least expect it. They reminded us to always work endlessly for what we believe in. They reminded us to dance to our own song and listen to our own music. They reminded us not to internalize it when others doubt our goals. They reminded us that, even though the straight and paved road may be more direct, it isn’t nearly as meaningful as the winding, dirt one. Simply put, they reminded us to spin the rhythm of our hearts and to soar on its wings.

Seventy-percent of the way through my last major round of revisions for Mine to Love, I admit that I’m ready to cross the finish line and start the next segment of the race. I am so excited about this book and can’t wait to begin the querying process for it. Do I know how my quest to send it out into the world will play out? No. Do I know how the paths will curve? No. But, like Kelly said, I have faith in the journey. Whatever roads this book takes are the ones it is meant to travel. So, Kelly, I owe you a triple thank you – for your sincerity at the Thanksgiving parade, for your kindness in signing my parade production pass when I saw you at a GH meet&greet, and for your inspiration now. LeAnn Womack sings, “when you get the choice to sit it out or dance, I hope you dance.” Thank you for doing that and for motivating us all to do the same.

Your turn: who is your all-time favorite Dancing with the Stars contestant?

21.


“You’re not in a competition with every person you meet. Most of them are on your team. Lift up the people around you, and you all win.”
~Arza Patel, via Charity Shumway in Ten Girls to Watch

Between weathering Hurricane Sandy, celebrating my cousin’s beautiful Bat Mitzvah, gluing myself to ABC’s election coverage, and, of course, editing until my eyes get bleary each day, I haven’t had much time lately to read. Even so, I’ve been squeezing in pages of the fabulous book quoted above whenever I get a spare moment. With only fifty left to go, I’m still falling more in love with the story after every chapter. It is inspiring. It is motivating. It is thought-provoking. It is the kind of book that makes you reflect, makes you ponder, makes you act.

Without giving too much away, main character Dawn’s task is to contact all previous winners of Charm Magazine’s Ten Girls to Watch contest – fifty years of finalists, fifty years of daydreams, fifty years of aspiration and inspiration. As she tracks down these women, Dawn does more than just learn about their lives. She also learns about her own. She learns about herself. Their words of wisdom add embers to the spark already within her. Their ambitions give strength to her own. Dawn interviews doctors, lawyers, professors, opera singers, authors, teachers, and more. And while she spends her days profiling these successful women, she spends her evenings navigating the roadway of her own dreams. To be a published writer, to find love, to find her place in the world … as we see Dawn’s hopes, we also see our own.

Never before have I actually taken to post-it-noting (wow, how’s that for a made-up word?) a book, but I did this time. Yellow tabs peek out from so many pages, marking passages that speak to me. One question that Dawn often asks her interviewees is: what advice do you wish someone had given you when you were 21? Some of my favorites answers and reflections from the characters:

-“You need to find your passion before you can follow your passion. Try a lot of things, and don’t be embarrassed to call it quits if something isn’t right for you.” (Betty Robinson, 1964)

-“We get so used to thinking success means one thing. Like you can take a snapshot and see if you have it. It’s not like that. It’s your whole life, and you have years and years to work with. I always want to tell young people, don’t be so hard on yourself. Life is long. Be patient.” (Stephanie Linwood, 1969)

-“I think dwelling in the past can be … I don’t know, very good, I guess. I just know that if you look back at it, the days add up to something.” (Elizabeth Irwin, 1982)

-“You never know what you’ll grow to love.” (Jean Danton, 1960)

All these pearls of wisdom got me thinking: what advice do I wish someone had given me at 21? What advice would I give to a 21-year-old? There are so many things, but if I had to narrow it down to one, it’d be this: When you find your heart’s passion, don’t let anything discourage you from turning that dream into a dream-come-true. Obstacles will pop up, frustrations will rear their ugly heads, and tears will fall even when you swipe them away. You’ll wonder why things seem unfair, you’ll wonder when it’s going to be your turn, you’ll wonder if the emotional roller-coaster is worth it. IT IS. Because something worth loving is worth fighting for with every fiber of your being. Don’t turn your back on your dreams or you’ll be turning your back on yourself. Reach for the stars. Reach for your star. Reach beyond it.

How about you? What advice do you wish you had been given at 21? What advice would you give?

Looking Up.


“The sea, once it casts its spell, holds one in its net of wonder forever.”
~Jacques Cousteau

Greetings from the sand, surf, and sunshine of Avalon, New Jersey! Okay, that last part technically isn’t true at the moment – the shore has been shrouded in clouds for most of the day and rain appears to be on the way for this evening – but still, I always say it’s better to be here in the wet weather than home in the dry variety. My cold has insisted on hanging around for awhile and limiting my ability to swallow/sleep/breathe, but even so, it’s been a wonderful vacation so far. I’m squeezing in editing time out on the balcony every morning and have been really excited the last couple days to see how far the manuscript’s come as it tightens up. So … when Tuere tagged me in this fun game, I was instantly excited about participating.

Rules: search your work-in-progress for the first usage of the word “look,” paste the surrounding paragraph into your blog, and tag your fellow writer friends. Here’s an excerpt from the novel I’m currently editing, Mine to Love.

Ellie’s voice is soft, filled with the kind of enthusiasm only a three-year-old can possess this early in the day, and her feet whisper across the carpet as she hurries into the room. Even with my eyes closed, I can see her standing next to me. Rosy cheeks, button nose, dark brown curls tousled from sleep … yes, even without looking, my heart paints a picture-perfect image of my daughter.

I’ll tag anyone and everyone who wants to take part. Write a post of your own and leave a link in the comments, please! Or, if you’d rather, share a random excerpt from your WIP (or multiple excerpts, if you’re like me, who started out posting a sentence per day on Facebook and now can’t get away with doing anything less than a paragraph). And while you’re doing so, please enjoy the crazy beautiful sunrise that I saw over the ocean yesterday morning. Apparently being too stuffed up/sneezy/cold-like to sleep was a good thing, because it treated me to these exquisitely breathtaking views.

Yep … pretty sure that beats my normal view while editing. Also, check out this plaque I bought in a local bookshop today. Could it be any more perfect?

Love, love, love: the plaque, the ocean, the shore, all of it. Can I just stay here forever? :)