How to Know When a Writer Should be Writing

If you’ve been following along, you know that I had grand plans to write a new, dark, witchy, Ireland inspired book. And you also know that a natural disaster kind of derailed those plans for a while. Well, we’re finally, finally getting back to normal around here. Schedules are familiar, husband’s clients are getting back on track, things still feel a little like Bambi learning to walk, but we’re getting there.


And I’ve had enough time away from writing to feel refreshed and like I should be ready to get back at it. My editor has Blackbird, which I’ll have back soon, but going over edits and writing something new can be done; I’ve done it. It’s nice to have two totally different projects like that to work on so you can take a break from one to the other and not overload yourself.

So naturally I got to work. Cleaning. First I dug out every towel and sheet and blanket that we had in our linen closet, refolded (because they definitely went into that closet folded but then obviously gremlins came along and had a party in there) and organized each category into new stacks and put it together like a perfect puzzle.

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Oh how I wish I’d taken a before picture so you could know what an amazing accomplishment this truly is.

We live in a little 1920’s cottage, so the storage options here are almost null. See this? This is a high cabinet that counts as a linen closet, but you can see it only has two shelves. But somehow being three feet deep makes up for the lack of shelves? I dunno. But look! I can see and reach everything!

Okay. So that was pretty therapeutic, but now it was time to get back to that new idea.

So I closed the cabinet door and and turned away from it and the former mess (after taking a photo to brag for posterity), and walked the three feet to the other cabinet.

One thing you don’t know about me, unless you follow along on the Twitter, is that I have this strange, almost hoarder obsession with boxes and bags. Oh, how I love a good box or gift bag. If something is delivered in a small to medium box, I will save said box. If someone gives me something in a gift bag, I keep that bag. And the smaller, more varying size of box, the better. Because in my mind, I might need it. Certainly come the holidays I will. And why throw it away if I might need it? Because then I’ll just have to buy a box or bag to wrap it in and that’s just wasteful. Maybe it’s the poor kid in me. I dunno.

But because of this, our other cabinet, which we use for miscellany storage, had become my gift box and bag storage, along with the other random things you need to keep but have  no where to keep them. This cabinet had become insane. You couldn’t find anything in there. You couldn’t even use the gift bags because they were becoming bent and creased.

Obviously, this couldn’t wait. How could I focus on writing with this behemoth sitting so close to me, weighing on me, looming over me?

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I couldn’t. So I attacked it too. I pulled every box and bag out and realized I’d kept boxes of things in case I needed to put them back in their original packaging for… I don’t know. To return them five years later? In case we moved and these things needed their own special boxes? I’d also discovered this had become the place for bad gifts, like, we couldn’t throw them out, but where else to put them? BAH!

Everything came out. My hallway was full. And by the time I separated the good, the keeps, from the bad our recycling trash can (which is bigger than our regular trash can) was full and it was empty when I started. I’d gone full scorched earth in my determination to throw it all out and only keep a very select few boxes and only the gift bags that weren’t creased. Now, I can see and reach everything in here. Again, you don’t get what a difference this is from where it started. That Jenga game? Totally forgot we had that because you couldn’t find it in there before.

Phew. Okay. Now I could write, surely.

Of course, how anyone could be expected to write when their office is a shambles, I have no idea! I mean, what even happened here?

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Of course I know what happened. Christmas decorations haven’t made it out to the shed yet. Taxes had to be prepped. This is where the bills are paid. This is where accounting is done. This is where every damn piece of paper and receipt gets brought no matter what!

Eep. Sorry about that. Anyway. Obviously, I had to fix this before I could start working.

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Ahhhhh… that’s better. I can breathe now. Can’t you? Doesn’t that feel amazing and freeing? Thank goodness.


But first I do have to go the tax lady. So I need to get dressed and head out. But where the hell are the boots I wanted to wear? Why can’t I find anything in this house! Bah! I need to organize my closet!

Sounds like a trip to the Container Store is in order! And of course we have to get rid of the clutter that we don’t want or need anymore, which means a trip to good will.

Okay, great. Now that’s done and I don’t have to kill myself digging around anymore and I don’t have to worry about this anymore. I can focus on other things.

And, now that taxes are done, I don’t have to think about those anymore either, right? Fantastic!

Okay, so it’s time to write. Time to sit down with this new world and figure out the point of the story and plot it out so I’ll have a map to follow and finally get this thing going because I am ready and there’s nothing stopping me now.

No excuses. No distractions.


Hey, look! An Elfquest avatar maker!

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Kinda looks like me right?!

Right. Sounds like write.

Right. I’m supposed to be writing.



Where is the line, exactly?

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So there’s a storm brewing in the world of [redacted] romance. One of the biggest authors in the genre {name withheld because drama} has been accused of catfishing – of creating an on-line persona that is substantially different than who they really are. While the last thing I need to do is throw myself into the middle of that pigpile, I think there are higher-level issues that are worth considering.

Issues around trust, and faith, and how much authors owe their readers.

I write under a pen name, because in real life, I’m a nurse practitioner (just like it says in my bio) and I don’t want anyone googling Amy D-C NNP to have to wade through a bunch of hits about vampire romance. I have two kids, a husband, and three ferrets, just like it says in my bio. (Well, the ferrets are technically my daughter’s, but…)

All that aside, I’m conscious of where I’m posting what. There are private Facebook pages where I’m comfortable identifying my kids by name, and others where I’m not. If we’re friends on Facebook, you’ve likely seen me tag my kids or husband in posts, or share stuff that names them, but I try to limit that kind of thing. I feel like people who are Facebook friends with Liv Rancourt get the real me, but that’s by my choice, and it’s within my comfort zone.

But what if, say, I was writing in a subgenre where it could make a financial difference if readers thought I was a man? Or anything besides a cis-het, married, middle-aged, woman?

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And what if there were other authors supporting me, vouching for me on social media, and telling readers I really was a [insert imaginary persona here]?

That would totally suck, and if I was found out, it could quite possibly ruin my writing career. (And I’d probably deserve for it to be ruined.)

Needless to say, the ongoing potential-catfishing situation has generated a whole lot of conversation. In the midst of a fairly heated enthusiastic thread, my friend Sadie framed the issue this way…

I find it interesting how much of this thread is actually about the generalities of trusting people to be who they say they are and internet negotiations of identity, not just about whether ________ is _______ or not. I think that’s part of why this situation seems to be such an inferno. Partly because there is someone willing to dig and put ‘facts’ out there for others to consider, partly because a lot of people seem willing to put a lot of emotion into it. But also partly because it hits at an insecurity in a lot of us. We all know we take chances when we trust someone to be who they say they are and scenarios like this one force us to consider where we’d fall if we found we were being duped.

Back in the day – like five years ago – most authors didn’t spend a lot of time on-line. (Okay, maybe ten years ago. Or fifteen. Something.) Regardless of the time-frame, there didn’t use to be the same demand to have a social media presence. If an author met readers at cons or book signings, it was a bonus. They exchanged names, and shook hands, and the author signed their book and everyone went home happy.

If an author was really a middle-aged, cis-het, married, woman she could tell everyone she was a twenty-something, single, ex-Marine and no one would be wiser. She might be found out – if, say, she got big enough that her agent demanded she make public appearances – but the unveiling of her real identity wouldn’t be as personally devastating to her readers.

Unless, you know, she let those readers raise money for her to treat her imaginary war injuries that she never sustained while fighting a fictitious war.

Or she played the James Frey card and faked her memoir and got called out by Oprah on national television.

There’s a line somewhere between the names on an author’s credit cards or birth certificates and the person they present in their pen names and on Facebook fan pages and Livejournals and Twitter and whatever other social media platform you’re into. Sometimes fans lose sight of that line, but sometimes authors do, too. Like Sadie said above, it’s an issue of trust.

Good writers open themselves wide, recording frank emotion on the page, but their honesty doesn’t give their readers to right to know how they think and feel 24/7. On the other hand, creating a safety net for their “real life” doesn’t give authors the right to fake the whole caboodle. I have no idea how this current kerfufle is going to shake out, but I recognize that the conversation is a necessary part of defining where that line is.

Regarding what’s expected of authors, the rules may have changed, but you know, the rules we learned in kindergarten will likely still apply.

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Edits in 3…2…1…

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The other day I had a guest post over at the Rainbow Romance Writers blog. As often is the case, whatever I’m struggling with in my writing ends up in a blog post. It’s like my mind needs to process through my fingers before I can move forward .

The guest post was about editing, and described some of the strategies I use when I’m moving from rough draft to polished product. I have a novel I wrote for NaNoWriMo that I’d like to send to my agent, but it needs revision first. I sat down, made my plan, and sent off the post.

But I’ve spent this whole week spinning my wheels, which tells me that no matter how good my intentions, I was heading in the wrong direction.

I’m working with a rough (rough!) draft that has some good moments and characters I like, along with comments from my writing partner and alpha reader, Irene Preston. Irene and I have written two novels and two novellas together, and there’s no one on the planet who knows my writing better.

And let’s just say I’ve come up with stuff she’s liked better.

My grand plan involved writing a synopsis to help sort out the plot threads, then revising scene-by-scene based on a complicated set of steps that I won’t bore you with here. After that, I’d planned to send it out to beta readers, and with their feedback in hand, start grinding down on the words themselves, looking for repeats and crutch words and passive voice.

Yeah, you know, I’ll still probably do most of that, but the synopsis thing was tripping me up. I got talking with my friend Kelly Jensen (who’s also the blog mama for the Rainbow Romance Writers) and she suggested I use a spreadsheet, with lines for each scene and columns for plot points and other assorted details.

And you know what? That’s what I needed to unstick myself. Here’s a quick screenshot of what I have so far…

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It’s not much, yet, but it’s a step in the right direction and such (SUCH!) a relief. If you’re interested, hop on over to the RRW blog for a more detailed look at my editing process. Otherwise, I’ll send you a virtual high five, and TGIF!!

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Oh, and before I go, Irene and I have a new novella that’ll be available as a giveaway this Valentine’s Day! Haunted is set in our Hours of the Night world but features different characters, and a lighter paranormal tone. I’ll put the blurb & Goodreads link below, and if you’re interested, come hang out with us on our Facebook page – After Hours with Liv & Irene – because for sure you’ll get the link for the free download!


Haunted on Goodreads

Noel Chandler had a good reason for leaving the L.A.P.D. for New Orleans, but when he walks into a burned out Garden District mansion, he discovers there are some things he can’t outrun. The spooks can find him anywhere.

As the resident historian for the cable show Haunts and Hoaxes, Professor Adam Morales keeps an open mind about the supernatural. Or that’s what he tells himself, until he meets a man who puts that principle to the test. Noel’s smart, sexy, and has killer cop instincts. One glance from his bedroom eyes has Adam ready to believe anything.

But is Noel haunted, crazy, or just another hoax?

Spiderweb Thoughts–the first stages of a new book

Last we met I talked about how I wanted to start working on the outline of a new book. Well, I’m not quite to the outline part yet, but I am figuring out the book. I’m world building and character building. I’m figuring out where this book wants to go. It’s both fun and incredibly frustrating.

Every book I’ve written has been set in modern times and in Southern California–for the most part. But this book is going to be set in some make-believe world, which means I have to make this world and name it’s places and things. Holy crap that is hard. I’ve never appreciated how difficult it is to figure out names. No wonder people named places after kings and queens and no wonder there are so many First Streets and Main Streets and the like.

I’m cheating a little bit because I happen to have a very large, paper map of Ireland and I am using it to help me visualize this world. After all, I did go on a exploratory trip there last year to get into the pagan, witchy vibe of the story.


I’m also figuring out my main character. I can see her in my head and she’s awesome. She’s a witch and she reads tarot. So I’ve dusted off my tarot cards to re-familiarize myself with that only to realize I’ve forgotten how much I enjoy doing it. So much so, I might start doing it a lot, for real people. Kind of a scary idea, but exciting too.


I already had two decks, which I laid out a couple of spreads with, but they really weren’t doing it for me. So, I got a new deck and I am in love. It’s amazing how writing can bring new and old things into your life. I’ve missed reading tarot. It’s something the women in my family have done for years, my mother was quite adapt at it, but I sort of fell out of doing it before I gave myself the chance to see how good I could be at it.

But this new deck has inspired me and I’m giving myself permission to go at it my own way and it’s really working out for me.


I’m excited to see where else this book will take me. But I also just want to start writing. I’m impatient to put words on the paper and see my word count start ticking away. But I want this to be good. I want it to stand up with the other fantasy books I love to read. I have to give it room to grow.

One thing I’m struggling with is deciding if it’s YA or Adult. I think it’s Adult, but my main character might be on the young side of adult, which might be what’s tripping me up. Though, I may be too hung up on that and just need to plot the book and figure that part out later.

I’m trying very hard to think this one through. I am a plotter-pantser, which means I take the time to loosely outline a book so I know the plot points and the beats I want to hit, but often when I’m writing and I get into a groove, things will morph and improvise and then I have to adjust the outline to work with the changes. I like this way of writing because I don’t limit myself, but with this new book, I want to make sure I have a really strong outline, a clear map, that helps me get through to the end. When  a book is a bigger, more epic fantasy you want to make sure you know where you’re going so you don’t get lost.

And, normally, by this point I know the ending of the book. But this time? I’m not sure yet. Usually I can see a still of the last, big scene in a book. It’s a perfect freeze frame and I know exactly what is happening in that moment so I just have to figure out how to get there from the start, but I don’t have that picture in my head yet. I think this book might be an ass-kicker.

I had no idea where this post was going when I sat down to write it, so I just started typing. I guess this is kind of a window in to the mind of a writer when we’re first figuring out a new project. It’s a little crazy, a little messy, but things connect. Like a spiderweb.

Books, man, they are strange, living things that really take over your world if you let them.

The Perks of Being a Writer

Ah yes, the glamorous life of an author. Isolation. Too much coffee. Waking up in the middle of the night with incoherent plot ideas and then not being able to fall asleep again. Google searches not fit to be seen by anyone, ever, including (or maybe especially?) the FBI. Pajamas all day, and not in a cute way. So why, you might ask, do any of us do it?

Excellent question, my friend. Since you didn’t ask, here are some (only mildly sarcastic) reasons why you too might consider joining the venerable ranks of writers everywhere.

It’s child’s play

200…In the most literal sense you can think of. Did you ever make up elaborate dramatic scenarios for your model horses? Play Barbies, except Barbie was an exiled warrior princess and Ken was her evil uncle? Act out ElfQuest scenes in the trees behind your house using butter-knives as swords?

If so, you’re in luck! Your inner child might be able to channel all that imagination into an adult occupation crafting something other people will want to read.

We’re all mad here

Worried your parents/significant other/coworkers will be a little concerned that you stayed up all night inventing place names for a world that doesn’t exist? Never fear, the writing community is here!

Whether it’s to whinge, swagger, brainstorm, or just commiserate about life, writing communities are ace. I’ve met so many amazing humans, both online and in person, who understand from experience what it is to have villains monologuing over coffee and imaginary romances interrupting dinner. Who dream in technicolor and then turn those dreams into something real.

You’ll get lost

2001We live in an era of GPS, of Siri and background location monitoring and having the news pushed directly to your phone. Our lives are on display on Facebook and Instagram and Twitter. We always know where we are. Where the closest sushi restaurant is. Hell, we even know where our friends are in relation to where we are!

Don’t you ever want to get lost? Here’s a thought–open a book. Better yet, open your mind. Let go of the real world and get lost in a world you create. There is fragility here, but there is also infinite possibility. And the best part? You can always find your way home.

You’ll live forever

Mortality is relentless, unyielding, inexorable. Part of being alive is the unforgiving fact that we all must someday die. But writing–writing! Think of all the cramped, dusty bookstores you’ve wandered. Did you ever pick out an ancient paperback, flipping through the pages and finding some word or phrase that called to you? Did you buy that book, read it, without recognizing the author’s name or knowing anything about their life?

With your words, you rage against the dying of the light. With your words, you outlive yourself. With your words, you have the chance to live forever.

Just kidding, I was actually referring to Edward Cullen.

You’ll be rich!

2002Oh, did you think I meant real money? LOL I say. LOL all day.

But you will be wealthy. Reach out and touch the gold of sunlight along a river you just invented. The bright silver of treachery–an unexpected knife in the dim. Jewels of worlds wink at you from the void–they belong only to you unless you choose to share them. This is real currency: getting  so deep inside yourself you find something you did not know was there.

What are your reasons to write? Share your thoughts in the comments below!


Resolution: The Act of Resolving

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Happy New Year!

That gif is a pretty accurate expression of my feelings for 2017. Get thee gone, year from hell! Although to be honest, mostly I sat inside my comfortable home, in my comfortable blue state, and watched my friends and fellow-citizens dodge the fall-out of this current administration.

I don’t personally have much to complain about, but because of that, I feel it’s even more important to keep my senators on speed dial.

But it’s January 1st, 2018! That annual clean slate where we all vow to be our better selves, at least for today. Do you make resolutions? I usually try to, and I figure if I write them down in a blog post, I’ll be more likely to keep them.

You’ll hold me accountable, amirite?

I looked it up, and the root of “resolution” is the Latin is “resolutio”, from “resolvere”. And according to the Latin Dictionary, resolvere is a verb that means to loosen| release| disperse| melt; relax; pay; enervate| pay back; break up; fin. I find the contrast interesting; the word’s root has to do with letting go, but we now apply it to a set of goals we clutch with grim determination.

But maybe there’s a seed of wisdom there. Maybe instead of adding to the list of things I want to accomplish, I should think in terms of what I no longer need.

For example, last year one of my resolutions had to do with diet. Starting January 2nd, I adopted the 5/2 eating plan. (That’s 2000 calories a day for 5 days a week, then 500 calories a day for the other two.) I’ve managed to stick with it, and in addition to losing 45 pounds, I’ve dispersed a whole lot of baggage around my body and my weight.

My commitment may have added to my to-do list, but as a result, I’ve let go of a serious source of stress.

Another of last year’s resolutions had to do with the current political climate. When 45 took office, I promised myself I’d do something every day to #resist. From the Women’s March, to calling my electeds, to putting my money where my values are, I’ve done my best to live up to that vow.

My most recent activity has been writing postcards to support Democratic candidates in contested states. I joined, and now whenever I see a headline that makes me angry, I request another batch of addresses. It’s a small task, but it’s a way of paying back, of dispensing with helplessness and replacing it with hope.

Last year’s resolutions have become a way of life, but other than recommitting to them, I haven’t come up with anything new for this year. Well, other than that my basement could appear on an episode of Horders, and I pretty regularly beat myself up about that…


I hereby resolve to reduce or eliminate the self-flagellation that comes from having a basement I’m ashamed for strangers to see.

Now it’s your turn….

If you’ve got a resolution, either a commitment or a letting go, leave it in the comments! Either way, I hope 2018 brings you hope and peace and joy.



Best Laid Plans

I’m supposed to be starting a new book. Well, the outline at the very least. I told myself that when I finished NaNo, and ultimately the first draft I was working on, I would give myself two weeks off to decompress and then start working on the outline of a brand new book in a brand new world with brand new characters.

I wanted to write something witchy and dark and fun and maybe a little bit epic? I haven’t written anything nearing the 100k mark in years. Partly from honing my pacing, and partly from the genres I’ve been working on. But I love a good, meaty book with lots of world building and a strong magic system.

But, you know, best laid plans of mice and men.

NaNo wrapped on November 30th and I “won” by the skin of my teeth, and then I hit the end of the first draft on December 2nd with a cool 78k words. It was a difficult book to write because it was a spin-off to my Ash and Ruin Trilogy, but set earlier, where the world is just starting to fall apart. Honestly, when I wrote A&R it was haaard. But still exciting and a little bit escapism like The Walking Dead or The Road is to watch. But that was before. This year? It’s not fun. It’s not escapism. It’s hard. So that 78k words took waaaay loner than they should have. And I’m not too excited to get into the revision process. I want something new.

Then December 4th hit and my world caught fire. Literally. I don’t know if my little beach town has ever made the national news, but thanks to the Thomas Fire, we did that week. And that fire, while no longer burning Ventura, is still raging around us at only 60% contained. We wake up to ash drifting in the sunbeams and the smell of wet campfire every morning.

But that night was terrifying. I’ve never actually been afraid of a natural disaster before. I was afraid then. I watched the mountains in the not so far away catch fire and I watched the flames spill down toward the houses. It felt very, very close. It played tricks with our minds. The power went out when the power company shut the whole county off to protect the transformers. We packed our bags. We gathered our important papers. I disconnected my computer. We got the dogs sorted. We had our vehicle packed so if the firemen said go, we were ready to just put the dogs in the vehicle so we could go. We cat-napped on the couch, fully clothed, just in case. Only when the power came on and the winds calmed down enough for the helicopters to safely fly again, sometime around 3am, did I finally get any sleep.

The rest of the week was a total bust. My husband couldn’t work. The city was shrouded in ash and smoke so thick it was more dangerous than Stage 3 Smog alerts from the 70s. We had to tape plastic over all the windows and fireplace. The smoke stacks were making their own weather they were so huge. The daily highs were in the 80s. It was bizarre and nothing like the holidays. People were out with N95 masks over their faces instead of scarves and beanies.

The next week–last week–was better. The air would clear and the skies would be bright blue occasionally. The smell of smoke dissipated. But getting back to normal wasn’t exactly easy.

So my two weeks off have been mostly stress related as we scramble to get things back to normal with work, which means I haven’t been in the right head space to think about a new project.

Online, things always seem great. We see everyone’s highlight reel. The great dinner they had at that fancy restaurant. How adorable and well-behaved their furbabies are. The cute shoes they bought. The four thousand word-count day they had. The best-seller rank they hit. The world is shiny and perfect online! Right?

But it’s not. And that’s okay. I mean, it’s not okay, but it’s normal and we’re all dealing with it even if we’re not showing everyone on Facebook or Instagram.

I should be working on something shiny and new right now, but I’m not. I’m not winging through a revision that’s going amazingly well. I’m not churning out 3-5k words a day. I’m just trying to get back to normal. I’m trying to give my mind and my muse a break. And that’s okay.

So my new book will start in the new year. It feels weird giving myself permission to wait, but I want to enjoy working on this new book. I want it to make me excited about writing. I want it to break my heart and pick me up and be the story I want to write. And I have to let that happen the way it’s going to happen.

Let’s just hope, if there are any other delays, it’s not because the world is on fire.