Going Visiting

“To think with an enlarged mentality means that one trains one’s imagination to go visiting.”   Although philosopher Hannah Arendt wasn’t speaking of novelists in particular, her words seem quite apt, because writers’ imaginations go visiting every time we pull up a chair in front of our computer.

Like the other visits in life, sometimes we wish we could put it off for another day, and sometimes we anticipate it eagerly.  In the yearlong visit that constitutes the writing of my fourth novel, I know something about both attitudes.  For the last week or so, I’ve been putting off paying a call on my main character, who has just arrived in Granada and is going to have to create a new life for herself there.  However, this morning I woke up, ready to knock on her door.

A burst of energy and ideas drove me through the five pages I needed to set the scene and introduce the new characters she will have to contend with. Nevertheless, I’m still a long way from blazing through the next chapter.  It takes a while for scenes and people to come to life for me, but I am starting to get to the point–and this is a very good sign–where I so completely can’t wait to see what happens next that I have to force myself to stay in bed until the clock says 6AM. Not until then, not even 5:59, can I get up and rush to the computer and see what pours out onto the screen.

Having reach page 400 with this latest push this morning, I’m facing what is both a predicament and a blessing.  On the one hand, I don’t think it’s possible to get everything that needs to happen into the next 100 pages, at which point I will reach my arbitrarily imposed maximum length of 500 pages.  I’m worried that a manuscript longer than that may be more difficult for my agent to market, although I know both from personal experience as a reader and from what others have told me, that lovers of historical fiction are more likely to think greater length is a good thing than are fans of many other genres.

On the other hand, much as I love to write, it’s wonderful to have 400 polished pages behind me, and to know that the end is, if not exactly in sight, close enough to catch the scent when the wind is right.  It is interesting how this particular point in a novel has always brought a bit of a stall to my momentum, as if something about being able to acknowledge the end will come makes it harder to cope with how far away it is.  Years ago, I used to run 10Ks, and this is like being around the 7K mark. I think I can make it, but it’s awfully hard right now, which is the only time that counts, and I don’t want to think of how much lies ahead.  But just like with a footrace, it can only be done one step at a time, or in this case, one sentence at a time.

Gotta go now–visiting hours will be over soon and I have a young woman in Granada who’s expecting me.

Filming at the Alhambra in Granada, Spain for a future video on my website
Filming at the Alhambra in Granada, Spain for a future video on my website

My Website has a New Look!

Check it out–start to finish!  I’ve been working for the last month with Patricia Maas and Gabriel Porras of Blue Jay Technologies to revamp this website to make it more interactive, informative, useful, and fun.  Many pages are new, and most of those I’ve retained have changed a little or a lot. Hope you enjoy the visit, and let me know what you think at lacauthor@gmail.com.


Taking a Breather

I’m procrastinating.  I’ve come to a big turning point in my novel in progress and I’m doing everything else I can think of today except write–which accounts for the sudden urge to post something in this diary.

Everything about writing a novel is demanding, but some things are harder than others.  Hands down, the most difficult part for me is the opening chapter, because I don’t know the characters all that well, and I don’t yet feel as if I live in their house, in their town, in their era.

As a novel progresses there are other places that present a similar challenge. I’ve written and revised into marketable quality more than 350 pages of the book, but I have now reached the point where my main character has just arrived in a new city with an entirely new set of characters, and furthermore, by the end of this chapter, I’ll be jumping forward in time 5 years and she’ll go to another new town with another new set of characters.  It’s almost like starting from scratch except that I know my protagonist now, and all I have to do is supply the people and the situation, and she’ll take over and tell my fingers what to type.

All I have to do?  Sounds like a lot to me. Even minor characters need names, personalities and motivations, and places need to be thoroughly imagined–although fortunately, I learned recently, readers don’t necessarily want detailed physical descriptions of every last person and place because they prefer to imagine for themselves.

Luckily for me, before I left off writing, I made notes for this new section, including the main elements of the plot and the characters I would need to carry the plan out.  I took a look at these notes–less than a page total–and started thinking, “this is going to be good!”  Still, I’ve got the blank page heebie jeebies today, and I’m just going to let them stick around for a while until they get bored and check out of my brain.

it won’t take long for that. It’s an exciting world I’m writing about, with a main character I care deeply for.  I can’t wait to see what’s really going to happen.  It’s usually far different and better than the notes, and the only way to find out is to start writing.

Thanks to LonePony@blogspot.com for the cartoon
Thanks to LonePony@blogspot.com for the cartoon


“Healthy Author” Is Not an Oxymoron

Some famous writers cultivate an image of reckless disregard for their bodies.  Some are just plain weird, maladjusted, or out of touch with life in the real world.  And some, of course, are best described by all of the above.

I know a lot of writers, and I can attest to how basically normal most of us are. We have to be.  We function in an environment that has myriad ways to sap our energy and undermine our egos, and we have to be able to float on top of it all, at least most of the time.

I have been writing for publication for 11 years now (17 YA and 4 adult trade titles).  I pulled out a calculator to figure out how many pages of conventionally published writing they all add up to, and I’m astonished that it comes out to somewhere around 4000-4300 pages in books alone, not to mention book reviews, this diary, and other things I’ve written.  Interestingly, that comes out, using the low figure, to roughly 365 pages a year, or 1 published page a day for 11 years.

I’m not crowing here. I have been more fortunate in getting published than many of the

Getting Wiggy
Getting Wiggy

talented and committed writers I know.  I’m just thinking that this puts me in a pretty good position to comment on how to stay in writing for the long haul, without sacrificing health or sanity (at least I hope most people would agree I haven’t lost the latter).

I’m 300 pages into my novel in progress, and I am trying to learn from how wiggy I’ve gotten in the past, so I can avoid it this time. I’m a professor with summers off, a mixed blessing because the structure of going to work and interacting with a variety of people is good for me. People with different commitments and obligations might have to adjust the details, but I think the principle I’m sharing here is sound for everyone.

In brief, the problem with many writers, especially those who do it for a living, is that we think everything else we do is taking us away from our writing.  We don’t like that, so we devalue other things and try to do as little of them as possible when we’re hot in the middle of a project.  This is a mistake.

This summer I am telling myself that writing is only one of several good uses of my time, and it is inappropriate to be writing when I should be doing something else. I have a sign near my computer that has a list of 5 things:


Book Promotion


Life Maintenance


Every one of those things is a valid and necessary part of my day.  I plan every day around ensuring that I put in at least an hour on each. Then I fill up the rest of my time with a mix of all of them, in whatever way works that day.

I’m not talking about the 8-hour standard workday, but the whole 12 hours from the time I get up (around 6AM) to the time I call a halt to everything but an evening with my sweetheart (around 6PM). On most days the majority of my time overall is taken up with writing, but as I get more invested in the other things on the list,  I often spend more than the minimum on them, and I still have a lot of time to write.

I ask myself a couple of times each day whether I’m doing a good mix of the 5 types of things, and if I’m not, I tell myself “it’s not writing time now.”

Haven’t exercised?  Do it!  Haven’t taken a shower or gone to the store? Do it. Haven’t stopped just to do something fun? Do it!

I’m having a great summer, and interestingly, I don’t think my writing productivity has dropped overall.  I’m still on track to finish novel #4 this fall, and I think I could have finished it only a few weeks earlier at most if I had done nothing else. And I feel great–not at all like that stringy-haired, unwashed, antisocial creature with a backache I vaguely remember from summers past.


I Love My Book!

Writing a novel is such a huge undertaking that writers run the gamut of emotions many times over during the process.  I’m sure as the remaining months go by in which I finish up my work in progress, THE SHAPE OF THE WORLD, I will have times when I have doubts not just about what I have written but about whether I am capable of making the book as good as I want it to be.  I’ll be amazed by surprises the characters have in store, and saddened and angered by some of the things that must happen to them. (I’d like to keep them all safe and happy, but that’s not the nature of either real or fictional lives.)

I’ve talked in the past in this diary about how writing can be so intimidating that I get scared to open the manuscript file on my computer.  It’s hard to “go there” sometimes because the work is so intense and it takes so much out of me. Once I am into it again, I become so compulsive that my life patterns get more out of whack than I want them to.  I can’t seem to stop writing, and when I make myself leave the computer, I can’t stop thinking about my book.

I took three weeks off in June to go to Spain and Portugal to research my novel in

Researching Isabella of Castile in Arevalo, Spain
Researching Isabella of Castile in Arevalo, Spain

progress, and when I returned, family obligations kept me away from my desk for another week.  But now I’ve been back on the job for a few days, and to my surprise, I wasn’t hesitant to dive back in.  In fact, I couldn’t wait.  I already have the first seventy-five pages revised to include material from my travels and other improvements that come from knowing the characters better and seeing more clearly where the story is going.

I already sense the first signals I’m getting weird and compulsive about my novel in progress, but I don’t care.  Writing is what I most love to do.  And as I said, writers run the gamut of emotions.  Right now, I am relishing the fact that I LOVE THIS BOOK!  I love the characters, I love the setting, I love the history, I love the message, I love the story.

Hang in there, I tell myself. Charge forward!  This can be the best work you’ve ever done.  Everything is there.  All it takes is me.  The computer is glowing.  I have a book to write.