Friday, September 27, 2013

Squash the Censors and Naysayers

When I left Northern Virginia and my job as a bilingual (Spanish) family support worker with a great non-profit, I had a plan and a dream--buy a small house and write full-time. I moved west where I could afford a home and finished my novel. I accomplished both in a very short period of time because I was motivated and probably a little bit nutty.

It has been three years since that moving truck pulled up to my new life. Was it easy? Yes, it was once I decided that was what I wanted to do. I was committed to my plan and the pieces fell into place very easily and very quickly. I decided and the Universe conspired with me to make my dreams a reality, but there were pros and cons

As I was renting, buying was a smart move although I live on much less than when I was working full-time. I've adjusted and it has been a steep learning curve as I'd never bought and financially managed a house on my own. I moved two hours from my adult children which was very painful, but I only saw my children twice a month and they lived ten minutes from my home. I loved working with my clients, but I was tired of running around with 27 client families and the paperwork...was just awful. I felt like a hamster in a wheel most days and creatively, I was stifled. There was little time to write and paint which I've done since I was in my early teens. I needed a creative life. Moving was the best decision ever and I've never looked back. There were sacrifices to make, however.

Is it still easy? No, it's not. I live retirement pay check to retirement pay check and tax season is always stressful, but with God's help and being creative and frugal, I manage. I still see my children once or twice a month which is great and I have met new friends in my new town. I try to take a road trip per month to visit friends and family which I love and my social life can be active if I choose. I love my home and I'm still working on this old house and garden which give me a lot of joy, satisfaction and peace.

The difficult parts of sticking to my plan are: sticking to my plan when money is tight and keeping the faith and my dream of seeing my historical novel, A Decent Woman, alive. I've looked into part-time jobs in my town, but they are either not available or the money is too low for the amount of time required. I want to write, period. To go backward and work full-time isn't an option for me. I've already lived my dream for three years, there is no going back in my hard-headed brain. I will make ends meet because I want this life and I must persevere. Worrying won't help. I must remain steadfast and confident about my novel and my historical novel-in-progress, Finding Gracia.

The most difficult part I've experienced is actually staying the course when rejection letters arrive and when I meet people whose faces seem to say, "Get a real job" when I say that my book hasn't been published yet. When I tell them that I'm working hard on getting an agent and a publisher the traditional route, I imagine that they're thinking how irresponsible I am. I 'hear' their thoughts out loud, "Time to give up on that dream, Ellie. Self publish your book." It's like a brief instant of pity crosses their faces and they're thinking how delusional I must be to continue to go after this dream of seeing my book in print, the traditional way. Of course, I have no clue what they're thinking, but it's like I hear those words. My censors are alive and well some days. 

There's nothing like meeting new people to shake your firm foundation a bit and it's even harder with friends and family who know you well. Of course, this doesn't happen often, but when it does, it seems that all the good wishes and support instantly fade away. That's when I begin playing mind games with myself. I remind myself WHY I moved and WHY I must write. I believe in my novel and I love my story and characters. I have to silence the censors and naysayers in my head! When this happens, I take a walk or a short drive to clear my head. I remind myself of the difficult roads for all authors, including best selling authors. I visualize myself signing a stack of my books on a book tour and signing the contract for my second book. These tricks usually work and before I know it, I'm writing again.

I remind myself about how fortunate and blessed I am to do what I'm passionate about. I'm grateful for the opportunity and gift of writing full-time and very blessed to have a roof over my head. My children are happy, healthy and successful and I live alone with little or no distractions.

NOW, if I could just win the lottery...


Wednesday, September 18, 2013


I don't have time to blog today, but I do want to share some of my favorite quotes about writing with you. They keep me going!

Happy Wednesday to you!

Tuesday, September 17, 2013

What Publishing and Sharks Have in Common

This morning I'm thinking of the 12 people who went to work at Building 197 in Washington, DC's Navy yard yesterday morning who will never return to their families and loved ones. Events and tragedies such as this one boggle the mind. We just never know when it's our turn. Even with a strong faith, we have a hard time understanding it all, especially when children are involved. I have a hard time with that.

We're left with many questions. Was this merely their time? Did any of those who perished have a feeling that they should have called in sick that morning? Is there a rhyme or reason to life? Why do good people die and why do others escape within an inch of their life? How does it feel to be next to someone who loses his or her life and you escape? I don't know the answers.

While taking a break from swimming in the waters of Cape Hatteras two weeks ago, I watched a black Lab try very hard not to follow his master into the surf. He or she had a hard time remaining in a sitting position, but ultimately obeyed his master who repeatedly told him to sit and stay. The Lab continued to wiggle his bottom and wag his tail in anticipation for the call from his master that never came, so he remained on the shore. When I caught this shot, the Lab raised a paw as if he were begging to join his master. I could feel his nervousness and see his jittery actions from where I was sitting in my comfy beach chair with a cold Dos XX beer.

Minutes later, a few yards away, a surf fisherman caught a Black Tip shark in three feet of water. I knew he was reeling in something large and 15 minutes later, I saw the shark's fin. Holy shnikies. I shuddered to think what could happened to the dog's master or the dog had he gone into the water. My friends, their children and I swam in that very spot earlier in that morning. Wow. I didn't want to think about that, either. Needless to say, everyone on the beach remained close to shore or swam in the tide pool that afternoon with no life guard present.

Life. We just never know what's coming down the road for us, sometimes at warp speed. Did the dog know the shark was out there? Did he want to protect and warn his master? Who knows.

Ever since the release of the movie, Jaws and watching Shark Week religiously for years, I've remained in waist high water and very vigilant in the ocean. Murky waters and I don't go in. But, I remember that it bugged me that I couldn't force myself to go in deeper that morning. The waters were crystalline blue and I was excited to ride the high waves with my friend's children on their boogie boards. And then, voila. There was my worst fear realized--a damn shark.

I felt conflicted as the shark was reeled in and flopped around on the shore. My emotions went in so many directions. I love nature, animals and here was this majestic shark with a huge hook in its mouth. I fidgeted on the beach and called out to hurry up and remove the hook. I wanted the fisherman to lead the shark back into the water as soon as humanly possible which he did. I didn't want the shark to die and yet, I wanted that shark out of the water because I wanted to swim and ride the waves and for people to be safe!

I ended up going back into the ocean the next day with a fishing rod and blood worms as bait (should have used squid or shrimp). I surf fished for the first time in waist-high water. I loved it. I was taking a risk, but that's what I had to do. I had to get back into the water, but I wanted to be distracted by fishing which I love. I don't get it either, so don't worry if you're not following my thought processes. We're all more complicated that we realize! It was the only way I could return to the ocean.

Since this is a blog about the writing life and I'm a writer, of course, my thoughts go to my novel, A Decent Woman. I dove into clear waters by writing my book in 2006 and wasn't worried about the future. I had no clue about the writing business or how difficult it would be to see my novel in print. I had to leave my manuscript a year later when my marriage fell apart and I left Europe where I'd lived for 13 years. The waters quickly became murky and I didn't touch my novel for four years while I worked full time, saw my kids through university, and went back to school. I jumped back into the writing waters in 2010 and with editing and querying agents, have swum against heavy currents since then with the publishing business as it is today. Some days, the waters are crystal clear for me and others are murky as hell when I want to chuck it all and self-publish.

Would I have started writing my novel if I'd known how frustrating and 'dangerous' to my emotions and mindset writing and the publishing world can be when you're trying to sell your book? Yes. I love the ocean and writing and yes, I have a fear of sharks and never seeing my book in print. What can you do, but protect yourself as much as possible and continue living and writing which I intend to do.

I've just had to develop thicker skin and remain committed to my novel-length manuscript and second novel which I'm presently writing. Don't wait to write if you feel that urge. Just do it. Jump in and swim.


Saturday, September 14, 2013

Preparing to Go Inward and Getting More Writing Done

This morning in West Virginia was glorious. I watered the gardens and potted plants in a cotton sweater against the crisp air and I was in heaven. As I mowed my lawn, I wondered when the last time for mowing would be this year and realized that I needed to think of another way to burn calories. Writing means I'm sitting down for hours upon hours...must walk more.

My Pug enjoyed the cooler temps, as well. He wasn't his usual panting self, but he ate fallen grapes from the Concord grape arbor which apparently are toxic for dogs. Well, I sweep them away every morning, but Ozzy didn't get the memo. He hasn't gotten sick in three years of eating grapes and I don't know how to stop him. What can you do? It's the time of the year when they fall onto my patio and he loves being outdoors.

On September 22, 2013 at 4:44 pm, we'll be in the autumnal equinox, my favorite season of the year. Fall in West Virginia brings crisp, chilly days, apple butter, local harvest festivals, hearty soups and stews. I love Fall and am completely ready for the change in season in my neck of the woods. Fall and winter are my favorite writing months and I love to write.

Autumn is the time of year when we straddle the inside and outside world and begin looking inward with the shorter days. Like a pregnant woman near her delivery date, I begin to nest the week before the equinox. I wash out the red crock pot, air out my cotton sweaters and search for heavier blankets for my bed and naps on the couch. I'm preparing my garden by putting down heavy mulch and bringing in more delicate potted plants. It's a cozy season, perfect for writing. My garden doesn't need me as much in the fall and I will enjoy the changing leaves from my dining room window where I love to write.

I have two short trips planned in October: my first writer's conference and a visit with my father and his wife. After that, I plan on turning into a semi-hermit at home with an occasional weekend at the river before the river season ends. We don't have a generator at the river, so I'll be closing up the first weekend in November. It's beautiful there in the fall, but chattering teeth isn't conducive to good writing. I'll enjoy my city home and am looking for a fire pit for my patio for cold nights when I want to be outside with friends.

I always plan on less distractions and more writing time during the fall and winter months. I don't add anything to my calender except for Thanksgiving and Christmas with my family unless I am invited to the islands in which case, I go! I've got a novel to finish and autumn is the perfect time to settle down and get stuck into my second novel, Finding Gracia. My first novel, A Decent Woman is finished and hopefully, will be picked up soon by an agent or a publisher. Please, God.

I've enjoyed a superb summer this year with many road trips with family and friends. I visited new places and met new people and soon, it will be time to go inward with my thoughts and my characters. I will enter another world and will be in my head a lot more than normal. Whatever normal is :)

Happy weekend to you.


Friday, September 13, 2013

Kind Of a Review of The Paris Wife

After buying Paula McLain's historical novel, The Paris Wife, it took me months to begin reading. The book was garnering good reviews, I love Paris and especially love novels about Paris in the 1920's. I'm a fan of Ernest Hemingway's novels and yet...I hesitated in opening the book. 

Interestingly enough, McLain's book sat next to Hemingway's book, A Moveable Feast, a set of memoirs he wrote during the Paris years which I'd bought during a visit to Key West, Florida a few years back. And, never read.

Elizabeth Hadley Richardson was Hemingway's first wife and the wife he took to Paris. The wife he cheated on and ultimately left for another woman. Why was I having a hard time opening the book? Because of a Hemingway quote I'd heard about his first wife, Hadley which I didn't know was from A Moveable Feast when I first heard the quote.

"I wished I had died before I ever loved anyone but her." Hmmm.

I hadn't read McLain's previous books and didn't know a thing about Hadley Richardson, but I could already relate to Richardson's story as a woman and as a woman whose husband of 25 years had cheated on and ultimately left. I knew it would be an emotional read for me and so, the book sat on my bedside table for months until curiosity prevailed. I picked up the book several times and put it down. I hesitated, but finally got to the point where I couldn't put the book down. I realized it had nothing to do with McLain's book. It was about me.

I loved the book, but to protect my heart, I decided to read the novel as a writer. I wasn't going to fall in love with Hadley. I didn't want my heart to be broken along with her's, so I began reading the novel as a text book. I began highlighting passages that appealed to me as a writer and studied McLain's writing style which I enjoyed. She made 1920 Paris come alive for me.

Then, a funny thing happened. I read the first few chapters and realized that the descriptions of Hadley weren't enough for me. I was beginning to know her heart and quietly walked by her side as she first met Hemingway and they fell in love. My heart ached even while reading the happy, early days because I knew that her heart would eventually break into a million pieces at the end. Did I really want to know the ending? It was too late. I already knew that he'd cheated on her. I was a now voyeur with no voice.

I searched for photographs of Hadley. I wanted to see the face of the woman whose heart would be broken. She was beautiful. That's when everything changed and I began reading The Paris Wife as a woman, not as a writer.

I wondered about my own historical novel-length manuscript, A Decent Woman. How would make my readers connect with Ana Belen, my protagonist since there are no known photographs of her? Ana has no biography other than blogs I've written about her and her connection with my family. Could my readers connect with an Afro-Cuban midwife who lived in the early 1900's in Ponce, Puerto Rico?

It is up to me to paint a portrait of my character Ana with words and it is ultimately up to me to make my readers care about Ana and what happens to her. I realized this week that the haunting photographs of Hadley are just that, photographs. The photographs didn't help me get a better feel for Hadley and Ernest, McLain's story did that for me. Reading Hadley's biography didn't paint a picture of her for me and the photographs of her didn't give me any more insight into her, her marriage to Hemingway nor their life in Paris. 

McLain's novel brought Hadley and Paris in the 1920's to life for me. I loved it and as I suspected, I cried along with Hadley. I was happy to read that she went on to marry again and was married a long time to her second husband.

Bravo, Paula McLain. Now, I must read A Moveable Feast to get Hemingway's "side of the story" of their years in Paris.

Happy Friday, everyone.


Wednesday, September 11, 2013

A Much-Needed Creativity Boost!

I'm back from an awesome two-week vacation which took me to Chincoteague and Assateague Islands in Virginia and Salvo, South Carolina with my kids and friends. It was my second visit to Chincoteague Island and my first to the Outer Banks (OBX) which I thoroughly enjoyed. 

My children joined me on Chincoteague Island for Labor Day weekend which was an amazing drive. I needed that time with my kids. I've missed them so much and when they left the cottage on Tuesday, I missed them even more! How is that possible?! I was a motherly mess :)

I was thankful to have a second week of vacation in the Outer Banks. I drove new roads, saw new vistas and I love a road trip! To say that I've returned home relaxed and creatively energized would be an accurate statement. I walked the long stretches of beach in the morning and prayed as I sat watching the high waves roll in and out. I sat on oceanfront porches, balconies, benches, and beach chairs on this trip, and took hundreds of photographs of amazing sunrises and sunsets. I played in the surf, found gorgeous shells, and learned to fish in the surf which was a first for me.

The most beautiful thing that happened to me was meeting new friends through a mutual friend who invited me to OBX. Every member of this wonderful family made me feel welcome and were gracious to share their amazing beach house and family vacation with me. God knows what we need and this family included beautiful children who ranged in age from three to sixteen. I needed children around me after my children returned to the DC area! I was so happy to have spent time with this family and even happier to learn that they live near me. We will definitely see each other again.

I didn't read one book nor did I journal or blog on my two mini vacations--a first for me! I left my novel-length manuscript, A Decent Woman at home and although I brought a book to read, had my Kindle with me with plenty of ebooks, and packed an empty notebook, creative wells were empty.  I purposely didn't bring my laptop and didn't read the newspaper nor watch the news. I wanted to fully experience every single day--to be present.

It was clear to me as I drove to Chincoteague Island early in the morning on my first day of vacation--I needed beautiful vistas, new experiences and food for my soul. I got that in spades on this trip. What a blessing!

So, now I'm back to blogging, querying agents and publishers, editing my novel (can never edit enough!), and writing my new book, Finding Gracia on El Camino. In October, I'm attending the Second Annual Latina and Latino Writers Conference in Brooklyn, NY. It's my first writers conference and I'm excited and have plenty to do to prepare.

As I sit at my writing desk, listening to thunder and watching much-needed rain fall on the late summer flowers in my side garden, I have renewed hope, vision, and creative energy for my 'baby', A Decent Woman. My creative well is full.

Peace and love,