In a nutshell—
My husband died unexpectedly that morning. My husband’s death left me responsible for managing all elements of our severely disabled adult son who lived with us and required 24-7 care. While my husband and I performed well as a team, his tasks were ones I never wanted to handle. He spent hours doing gobbledygook paperwork, which I absolutely detested.
“Too bad, MJ. Suck it up and start learning,” my husband whispered in my ear from his eternal rest, like he often did when I questioned my talents and stubbornness to succeed. So, I dug in and assumed his chores. A bit of grumbling, working in tandem with my stubbornness, pushed me forward.
Three months later, I had an accident and re-injured my knee which I’d been babying in an effort to put off a knee replacement. That option no longer appeared possible. In the process of getting all the pre-op work done for my knee surgery, my doctors discovered three, far more serious health issues. I was devastated.
I never thought I would have to deal with chronic, potentially life-threatening, health issues. This meant major adjustments. I had to find methods to curtail the stress and drama in my daily life—no easy task as a caregiver for my son. Plus, find time for new medical regimens: doctor visits, regularly scheduled lab work, and more daily medications than I’d ever taken. I was exhausted all the time. And angry—for not charging ahead full steam and subduing this new lifestyle.
Not happy, lonely, I often felt I was living the life of a fictional character in a future book—a book I’d probably never write, or if it did get written, it would be boring. I had barely enough energy to do the minimum for my son and myself. Amid this maelstrom of emotions and daily routines, my writing life plummeted from my priority list. Six to eight hours a day writing in my office fell into the black hole of…What once was.
That broke my already fractured heart. I was a total mess and not liking what I saw or felt. Somehow, I garnered enough energy to fight off despair and serious depression. I focused each day on what had to be done—then added one more task, phone call, or completed report. After three years of exhaustion and medical issues, I finally had several months when my body started to respond to all those medications and new routines. I even began to think about what it might be like to slowly step back into my writing life.
Talk About Baby Steps…
So much had changed within the writing world. I needed a new computer. The operating system had morphed into a devilish monster that sometimes brought me to swear at the machine which ignored my emotion. The software I’d been so comfortable using in the past now had a steep and frustrating learning curve. By the time I finished figuring out how to do what I wanted to do—my writing time was exhausted for the day. I fought feelings of hopeless stupidity regarding new technology.
Doggedly, I slowly inched my way back with writing projects…
Fast Forward to 2019
My new lifestyle is routine. I’ve learned to cope and manage all the new responsibilities I inherited and settled into a relatively stable health pattern.
What does that mean? I see myself as a writer once again!
I’ve put myself back into my writing space. I still have to finish those last four chapters of the book I had been working on when my husband died. I’ve thought a lot about the themes in that book. I realize I’ve gained greater knowledge regarding life changes. I will use this to enhance those themes as I revise the book.
Just a few weeks ago, I was able to get away for a few days. I flew to California to celebrate my brother and his wife’s 50th wedding anniversary. My brother and I drove down to Big Sur and walked a few paths I’ve been to in the past:
So, this Reminds Us—Writers Write…
We are Compelled to Do So
We find inspiration, plot ideas, characters, scenes, within the scope of our daily lives, our dreams, our dramas, our sorrows, watching the world around ourselves, observing the lives of others.
Writers don’t just write. We watch. We think about what we’ve seen, experienced, read about, listened to a story that jumpstarts a story of our own. Writers are thinkers and need time to think, to create a new world, a new character. I’ve been doing this in the past several months. It’s made me feel whole again. Like my writerly self is re-emerging.
We writers must keep our minds open to all that happens in the world around us. If we do, we will always grow as writers. What we write will be fresh. Don’t we all strive toward those objectives?
“That’s a resounding YES.”
by: Mary Jo Schiebl
A short summary of Mary Jo’s, a.k.a Casey Clifford, life might be as follows: She’s been there, done that, and is still trying…”
She’s not perfect and wouldn’t want to be. She was determined to finish college and graduate school to teach college level classes. She accomplished this while working and single-parenting 3 sons. She taught for 27 years and retired to pursue what she dreamed of doing since she was a child—write the stories that had been tumbling about in her head.
Today she writes women’s fiction and romantic suspense as Casey Clifford. Her first novel received the Holt Medallion for Literary Achievement for Best First Book of 2009. She also won the Write Touch Readers’ Award for the same book in the romantic suspense category. She blogs every Sunday and dabbles in photography. Her other published books have also finaled/won additional awards.
She strives daily to be a wise woman and believes all her heroines have already gotten there. Her Dessert Dames and Soul String series reflect that as do her romantic suspense and single titles.
Everywhere I looked, a potential story scene loomed. Who was she meeting in that corner room? Why is she rocking out in front of everyone with her happy dance? That’s what attending the Write Touch Conference did to me. It inspired me to be creative and share my tales through the power of the written word. To paraphrase conference speaker and author Lisa Cron, we are wired to share stories.
I attended the Write Touch Conference to become a better writer. Like a sponge, I soaked in as much information as I could. I learned about story beats and crafting a scene. Marketing tips flowed freely from the speakers. Personal stories from beginning and accomplished authors on their path to publication uplifted me.
Being a novice, I’m still learning the basic elements of writing a novel. So, I’m plunging headfirst into romance novel plot points, using the #writetouchconference as my guide. With the plot structure adapted from Priscilla Oliveras‘s Gale Online Course, I’ve developed a story outline that incorporates some of the conference highlights.
Conrad Hastings. He graduated from college a few decades ago, never took a creative writing course, and fell asleep numerous times reading Wuthering Heights. An unlikely romance novel writer.
Ms. Write Touch Conference. Teacher extraordinaire, romance professor, and connoisseur of fine wines. Heroine of all heroines. Motto: Dare to be Decadent.
Tara Fischer. Nicer than the girl next door, she wouldn’t hurt anyone’s feelings. The logical love interest for Conrad, she won’t get in the way between a writer and his muse.
Reaching his mid-life crisis at full throttle, Conrad must write an entertaining novel to impress Tara or risk losing her to the sexy Scottish Highlander literary heroes (once she’s gone kilt, she’ll never come back).
Romance Plot Outline
“It’s not you, it’s me.”
Conrad has heard that phrase before, but it especially stung when it came from his friend Tara. A voracious reader, she could not look into his eyes. He’s asked her for an honest review of his novel, but he sensed her hesitation to tell the plain truth. He knew. He’s known all along. His writing sucked and he needed help.
Tara slid her smart phone across the restaurant table, opened to the WisRWA conference web page. No words were needed. He realized he has to attend.
Conrad cautiously stepped through the Hyatt vestibule, his senses overwhelmed with the busy lobby. But there she was – she could not be missed. Plastered on placards and a large wall, Ms. Write Touch Conference welcomed all writers.
Conrad nearly jumped out of his shoes from the slight tap on his shoulder. He turned around to gawk at the most beautiful woman he has ever seen.
“Welcome,” Ms. Write declared with a large grin, “I’m so happy you could attend.”
More enduring than advertised, she promised to guide him throughout the day. She suggested attending both writing and publishing/marketing events. Conrad was already smitten before the conference sessions even began.
Development (Intimacy Grows)
Day One lived up to the hype. Literary agents Courtney Miller-Callihan, Kimberly Brower, and Laura Zats talked about the current state of publishing and offered insights into new trends and possibilities. Editors Jennie Conway and Madeleine Colavita and Author Becca Puglisi offered constructive criticism to authors wanting a fresh and resplendent start to their novels. Authors Angela Ackerman, Mel Jolly, and Angie Stanton provided ideas to find his audience and connect with them. The indelible and genuine Lisa Cron taught an all-day, intensive writing course on crafting the irresistible novel. Conrad felt his confidence grow, knowing even published writers had obstacles to conquer on their journey to success.
Yet, he did not have Ms. Write’s full attention. She guided other aspiring and veteran writers through the smorgasbord of conference offerings. Night One’s special: An Evening with Daring and Decadent Girls. He wished he could be there to share in the fun, but family commitments came first. Will missing the evening adventure derail his novel?
Day Two was just as dazzling as the first day. Authors Angela Ackerman, Becca Puglisi, Valerie Biel, Mel Jolly, Amy Reichert, Lisa Cron, Angie Stanton, and Bobbi Dumas discussed novel writing, editing, publishing, and marketing. Keynote Speaker Maya Rodale spoke about writing the right story. He was given the tools to be successful. It was up to him to apply them, but fortunately inspiration was as close as the titillating glass elevator. He now had the perfect setting for writing a sex scene.
Guilt washed over Conrad’s face, stuck on the outside, looking in. There Ms. Write was again, center stage in the best restaurant with the best view, basking in glory as the sun set upon downtown Milwaukee. He had to go home early, while she regaled the writers with Daring Dialogue and Decadent Prose. Does she even miss him?
Misery or Big Black Moment
Why did he even want to write a novel? A great friend, Tara will always like him, even if his head-hopping scenes and verb conjugation made her dizzy. Ms. Write was there to provide the tools for a successful career and to provide guidance, support, and encouragement for his writing journey. He’s got the support, but he searched for motivation.
It’s simple – he wanted to share his stories and donate any proceeds to his favorite charities.
At breakfast, in-between sharing bites of bacon with his dog, he realized he does not have to be jealous of Ms. Write. She favored no one, but supported everyone. She wanted all authors to succeed.
He made a promise. In two years’ time, he will reconnect with Ms. Write Touch Conference. She will be impressed. So will Tara.
By T. Ganfield
Tom Ganfield is working on his first novel, Chasing Chestnut, with younger versions of Conrad and Tara. As a dog lover, he is trying to position Chestnut (the dog) to steal scenes and the hearts of his characters (and maybe the readers?).
Like most writers I know, I collect inspiring/encouraging quotes and keep them where I can see them in my office. Somehow, these quotes and thoughts are shortcut reminders of various attitudes and qualities we need as writers: determination, persistence, fired up creativity, the courage to dream big, making course corrections, and so on. You probably have a list of your own that matches what you need to make a life in the creative life possible.
Right now, I’m starting something new, a type of writing I haven’t done before. It’s all fresh ground to cover and explore. Because other books were ahead in line, I’ve let this old idea-project slide down on my list of priorities for years. No more! It’s time to put it in the top ten—maybe the top three. If I don’t get on with this book, which I believe in for all kinds of reasons, I am 100% sure I’ll regret it.
So, now is the time for Mark Twain to pay me a visit and give me a boost with a gentle reminder:
Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things you didn’t do than by the ones you did do. So throw off the bowlines. Sail away from the safe harbor. Catch the trade winds in your sails. Explore…Dream…Discover.
Since I spent a lot of time sailing at one time in my life—decades ago now—the idea of “throwing off the bowlines” arouses something in me. A sense of adventure, a curiosity about what’s around the next corner, a feeling that something special is waiting for me to claim it. You know what I mean. But our friend Mark Twain was also right about regretting what we don’t do.
As for me, I wish I’d started writing fiction sooner. I was steeped in nonfiction, the source of my income, so it wasn’t like I was slacking off. But the longing was always there. Story ideas written in journals and spiral notebooks twenty-five years ago made it onto my to-do list and many are still waiting patiently today. Some one or two line notes eventually became Greta’s Grace or Girl in the Spotlight or any of my other books. One idea also became this new book I’m inching my way into.
I don’t want my new idea to be one of those “wish I’d done” projects. Pushing ideas under the rug, ignoring snippets and flashes, and delaying the start of a project costs too much. Mentally, I mean. When I used to ghostwrite books, the clients knew (or thought they knew) the price of procrastination. They measured it in lost income and delayed professional prestige.
We novelists usually can’t calculate a financial cost. Maybe we’d be better off financially if we took up some other line of work. Wait, I was only kidding. I hear you hollering at me at the very suggestion. Not every project is weighed the same, of course. I’ve let a few ideas shrivel up and die and that’s okay. They hadn’t merited enough passion to keep them alive.
My new project is different. If I don’t write this book, I’ll regret it and the characters will hunt me down and haunt me forever. That’s the only guarantee I have. So, I’ve sailed away from the dock.
What about you? Do you have one or two or ten of those book ideas that call your name—even in your sleep? So do you hear Mark Twain urging you on?
I’m grateful for my WisRWA friends for many reasons. They understand the way ideas grab me and why I can’t or don’t start them immediately. But they gladly turn into cheerleaders when I say I’m finally plunging in. And I’m here doing the same for them. The gifts we give each other are truly priceless. Let’s all sail away into great new writing adventures and see how far we can go!
A member of WisRWA since 2001, the same year she moved to Green Bay, Wisconsin, Virginia McCullough writes women’s fiction and romances for Harlequin’s Heartwarming line. A FAMILY FOR JASON, book one of her new series, Back to Bluestone River, is scheduled for an August 2019 release. Her award winning novels tell the stories of everyday people struggling with everyday life issues in settings that often include oceans, lakes, rivers—and boats. A past-president of WisRWA, Virginia has also enjoyed a long career as a ghostwriter and editor of nonfiction books and novels.
“The internet is forever.”
Wrong. We’ve all heard this warning. I say it to my teenage daughter all the time. But this so-called helpful advice is not only not helpful to you, if you’re like most people, it’s probably detrimental to your success on social media.
Unless you’re talking about nudie pictures, (public service announcement: don’t post nudie pictures on the Internet) letting your social media strategy be guided by the fear that any of your posts will ever be fascinating to the whole world for all time is kind of like planning your three-year-old’s career as an NBA superstar. Sure, it happens to some people, but the odds of it happening to you are just so (to be polite) ridiculously small. And, in fact, your biggest problem is much more likely the opposite: getting anyone, anyone at all, to read and care about what you’ve posted.
My day job is social media marketing, and I spend a lot of time doing it. So, from my experience, let me suggest some better, more helpful advice.
by: Kristin Bayer
By night, Kristin is a playwright, and an aspiring romance author. By day she’s a digital marketing consultant and a mom. Find her at her website or on the bleachers at her kid’s game.
Congratulations to the following WisRWA members on their new releases this month.
A War Within by Katherine Hastings
On Par with a Fairy by Lyla Bardan
Laossin: Prince of Rampulla by Jevenna Willow
Ever have a deadline and have no clue how you’re going to meet it? That painful moment that seems to last ten years where your brain refuses to engage in thought and you’re left idea-less. I was there just minutes ago when I realized it was my turn to post and I had no topic and no clue what I’d write, so…
I decided to look for help. I googled ways to inspire creativity. Here are 13 ideas to jump start creative thoughts.
by: Mia Jo Celeste
Mia Jo Celeste comes from a family of writers and English teachers, so it was no surprise when she chose to pursue both careers. You can find out more about her on her website or on Twitter.
Congratulations to the following WisRWA members on their new releases this month.
Forgetting the Scot by Jennifer Trethewey
Salt & Venom by Amy McNulty
The Dance Hall Wife by CiCi Cordelia
Meant for Me by Lyn Cote
Had to Be You by Lyn Cote
Forever Knight by Barbara Raffin
No, I’m talking about a real burnout where everything seems to have run into a solid brick wall. You see, I’ve been writing constantly from the mid-nineties, and crafted some interesting stories, if I do say so myself. This time, even the characters were complaining. Nothing was working in the plot, and it didn’t make sense. I was trying to force it to get another book finished.
I took a deep breath, and decided to give writing a rest for a while. Taking the summer off seems to have rejuvenated me a bit. I was getting ideas on how I could rework the manuscript.
I hope this isn’t a permanent thing, but just a glitch of some sort. After all, I’m a few months away from seventy. Nothing on my body is working the way it’s supposed to.
If this happens to you, I would go with the flow. Maybe it’s your brain saying, “I need a vacation.” Ship your thoughts off to someplace else, like a good book, and kick back and relax.
by: Ilona Fridl
Ilona Fridl has eight books out with The Wild Rose Press. She is a member of RWA since 2002, and is active in the local chapter. Also a former student of All Writers in Waukesha, Wisconsin. She lives in Southeastern Wisconsin with her husband, Mark.
Registration for WisRWA’s Write Touch Conference opened on the 1st of October. Our biennial event promises to offer something for every genre fiction writer. No matter if you’re starting your 1st book or finishing your 25th book, we’ve planned a conference to meet all your wordsmithing needs.
From April 4th to Sunday April 7th 2019, we may have to brave the finicky spring weather in Milwaukee, but we’ll be able to enjoy the camaraderie of fellow writers from around the state and hobnob with literary agents and editors from around the country.
For me, enjoying Milwaukee comes naturally since I was born and raised in the city. I’m comfortable around lots of concrete buildings and bridges that wind over the Milwaukee River. I also happen to love the challenge of one-way streets when driving. Once upon a time, it was almost safe to walk barefoot down Brady Street.
In my humble opinion, Milwaukee is a beautiful city. It’s not too big. It’s not too small. It’s walkable. There’s a lot of good food, many fun happy hours and a rich history with its diverse community.
The Coincidence of Coconut Cake, by Amy E. Reichert is a terrific book that takes place in, you guessed it, Milwaukee. Ms. Reichert gives her characters the chance to explore the best of the best in Milwaukee, and readers can go along and enjoy the ride. It’s a sweet and delicious read that will introduce you to Milwaukee.
So let’s talk about Milwaukee…
I have a copy of The Coincidence of Coconut Cake that I’d love to give to someone. Just be the first one to comment about Milwaukee below to kick start the conversation and my copy will become yours to keep.
Bonus: The winner can get it autographed, since Amy will be at #WisRWA19!
Don’t forget to sign up for the conference. You can do so by clicking here. See you April!
Tricia Quinnies* writes contemporary romantic adventures. She sets her stories around Wisconsin to spin in her home state’s rich and quirky history. Her characters are known to walk the shores of Lake Michigan or the beaches of Lake Geneva. They dine in supper clubs, bowl in Door County and sip on a brandy old-fashioned, or two. Of course, the characters in Ms. Quinnies’ stories are Bucks, Brewers and Packers fans.
Just Desserts, Ms. Quinnies’ first book was published in 2014. It’s the first in a series and set her on a new adventure in self-publishing. She is a freelance writer. Her features about local families are published monthly in the Bayside Scene, a news magazine published by Best Version Media. She is a member of WisRWA (Wisconsin Romance Writers of America) and Red Oak Writers.
Melonie Johnson‘s exclusive cover reveals for Smitten by the Brit and Dared by the Bad Boy, books 2 and 3 in her Sometimes in Love series will take place on October 24th on the USA Today’s Happily Ever After page.
Barbara Raffin will be presenting a program at the Kress Family Library in DePere, WI on October 20, from 10:30 a.m. to noon. The presentation will be a hands-on workshop on utilizing the lesser-used senses in your writing. Book signing to follow.