Posted by Cassondra Murray Sep 12 2013, 4:25 am in Cassondra Murray, Cassondra's blogs, Inspiration, Romance, trains
What is it about trains?
A train should be a machine that moves people and stuff from place to place. And it is that.
But from all I’ve been able to discern in my life so far, a train is far more than that.
I first realized this when I was a tiny little thing, listening to my family make music.
When I was a little girl, my two brothers and my sister all played guitar. They were 14, 16 and 18 when I was born. By the time I was four years old, they’d all left home, but during each visit, they’d sit around the gray Formica kitchen table, guitars propped on their knees, singing.
While other kids were learning Can you tell me how to get…how to get to Sesame Street?, I sat quiet and still as a mouse on the old piano stool in the corner of my mom’s small kitchen, watching as my older siblings played and sang It ain’t no use to sit and wonder why babe. It don’t matter anyhow….in three part harmony.
My earliest clear memories of this are from when I was five or six years old. I don’t remember the words to all the songs because I was a generation behind my brothers and sisters, and by the time I became “radio aware” these songs were out of fashion. But I did remember the words to one song in particular.
It was a song about a train.
All three of my siblings had “their” songs–the particular songs where they would sing lead and the others would find the harmony. The train song was my eldest brother’s. To this day I can close my eyes and hear him sing it. The fingerpicking rhythm of the strings ran beneath his deep voice singing the words.
Ridin’ on the City of New Orleans
Illinois Central, Monday mornin’ rail
Fifteen cars and fifteen restless riders
Three conductors, twenty five sacks of mail
All along the southbound odyssey the train pulls out at Kankakee and rolls along past houses, farms and fields
Passin’ trains that have no name and freight yards full of old black men
And graveyards of rusted automobiles
Good mornin’ America how are you
Doncha know me? I’m your native son
I’m the train they call the City of New Orleans
I’ll be gone five hundred miles ‘fore your day is done
And that’s when I began to understand that trains are magic.
Arlo Guthrie made that song famous, but when I hear the lyrics, I hear it in my brother’s much more appealing bass voice. (Sorry Arlo.)
I got one “big” gift for Christmas each year. The year I turned eight I asked for an electric train.
The year I turned eleven, I asked for a guitar. I worked hard to learn the first few chords, and I kept learning chords because I had a goal.
I wanted to play The City of New Orleans just like my brothers and sisters could.
If you’ve never heard the song, and you want to experience a bit of history, I found an awesome video of Arlo in his later years as a guest on the Boston Pops, singing this song.
When I first heard The City of New Orleans, even as a toddler, it’s a fair bet that I’d never seen a train since the nearest track was many miles from my home and seldom used. Maybe I’d seen one on tv, but not in real life. But that song was enough to make me feel the magic of trains.
And I’m not the only one who feels it.
My guest this past Monday was Joanne Rock, and she mentioned that when she was growing up on a farm on the Hudson River in New York, she used to sit and watch the trains go by. I read that, and something in my heart went *click* because I also had a fascination with trains. I still do.
If you live in a city, you probably ride trains all the time. Or maybe you live just outside a major city, and you ride a commuter rail. For you, perhaps trains don’t seem like magic at all. But even so, when I think of the movie While You Were Sleeping, I realize that the entire plot setting was centered largely around a metropolitan train system–the Chicago L– and for me there’s still a bit of mystery about the whole thing.
Trains–especially the heavy rail trains, seem to inspire people. Humans build trains, and so I find it odd that humans also make art about trains. They paint pictures of trains. Obviously, they write songs about trains. Other people sing those songs about trains.
I typed “songs about trains” into Google, and immediately got pages to choose from. The City of New Orleans has its own page on Wikipedia.
People devote lifetimes of free hours building model trains, painting them to the exact specifications of real trains. That photo on the left is a wall of nothing but engines. There are huge stores devoted to model trains, each tiny engine or car a replica of some real one that ran the rails either in history, or in current day.
What is it about trains that sparks the muse?
Kittens are ridiculously cute. Can we all agree on that?
A search on Amazon for “books about kittens” yielded 399 results. Not bad.
But a search on Amazon for “books about trains” yields 1763 results.
Seventeen. Hundred. And. Sixty. Three.
Therefore in this ridiculously unscientific study, I must conclude that since trains do not have a longer history than kittens, trains are in fact more popular than kittens.
I find this astonishing.
From what I know, trains are what allowed serious expansion into the American West. When I think of sexy tv heroes I think of James West and Artemus Gordon in the Wild Wild West. They spent a lot of time on trains.
A lot of gospel songs talk about trains to Glory (that’s pronounced Glow-ree. Take my word for it if you’re not from the South) But clearly, the very attractive Josh Turner believes that not all trains lead to good places.
Rod Stewart, on the other hand, was all about finding his love on a train. A downtown one, in particular.
When I met and fell in love with my husband, Steve, his apartment was the upstairs of his mom’s house. It was right across the street from the railroad track. The first three weeks I stayed at his house overnight, I got almost no sleep.
No, not for that reason.
Okay, fine. Maybe there was some of that. But mainly it was because of the trains. At least twice every night a train would roll by, with horn blowing, wheels clack clack clacking, and the inherent prolonged roar of a giant, unstoppable thing moving by.
The first time I ever rode a train, I was in England to study the gardens. I rode all over the UK on trains. I even rode an awesome narrow-gauge rail from the harbor in Porthmadog to Blaenau Ffestiniog in Wales. That’s a picture of it on the right, and if you’re ever in Wales, I recommend the ride.
But I realized at that point that in many parts of the world, everybody rides trains. They’re no mystery at all. They’re an everyday thing.
But for some reason they still hold a certain magic for me, and apparently they do for others as well.
Flash forward many years to now. I read a book recently and in it there was a train. There it was, rolling by on the fictional railroad track, boxcars and all. And the main character thought about trying to hop on the train to get away from the bad guy. But she didn’t. She just let the train roll right on by. And I admit that I thought, “you totally missed your opportunity.”
So here I sit, typing my blog at 2 in the morning. The railroad track is two or three miles due south of my house. But just now I heard the faint, high-pitched moan of the train whistle. Not enough to keep me awake, but just enough to make me notice.
I feel the faint melancholy of it. I wonder who is riding the train. Where is it headed? What is is carrying? How many engines are rolling down those rails? How many cars? Though I can’t really hear it, in my mind I see it passing the railroad crossing. I hear the clanging of the bells. I see the flashing lights. I hear the rumble and feel the vibration as it rolls by.
Just the sound of it sparks my muse. It takes me to places I’ve never been. I imagine people I’ve never met. I suppose it’s the writer in me that wonders these things, but what are their stories? Are they happy? Are they sad? Are they running from someone? Running TO someone?
Is it a mail order bride riding to meet her stranger husband-to-be in a mining town in the west? Will the train run through a portal in a tunnel somewhere and end up in another place or time? Is it a man huddled in an empty boxcar, hiding from the mob who would kill him for what he knows? Is it a hero coming home from war, about to set foot in his hometown for the first time? Whose face is he imagining? That of his high school sweetheart? Will she be there waiting on the platform when he arrives?
Yeah, I know all these people would probably be on a plane. It’s faster. It probably even costs less now. But when I picture a romance, I see a train.
What about you, Bandits and Buddies?
What do you think is the source of the mystery and magic that surrounds trains?
Have you ever ridden a train?
Do you regularly ride commuter trains or subways?
What about a long-distance passenger train? Ever been on one of those?
Given the choice, would you jet across the country just to hurry up and be there?
Or would you take it slow and see the countryside as you go?
Did you ever play with a toy train when you were a kid?
Can you hear a train from where you live?
Posted by Anna Campbell May 10 2012, 12:02 am in Anna Campbell, anya seton, Barbara Cartland, Dorothy Dunnett, Inspiration, Lorna Hill, Mary Stewart, reading, travel, Victoria Holt, writer's life
by Anna Campbell
I’ve always been a really enthusiastic reader, right from the first moment I worked out what those scratchy black marks on white paper meant. And I can’t tell you how many ways reading has influenced my life and the person I’ve become.
One of the big things reading has done is give me the desire to travel. All those tired, aching Visa bills from my wanderings can be blamed on the fact that I always have a book on the go – and usually more than one!
As I think I’ve mentioned before, I had a pretty idyllic childhood on an avocado farm on the Queensland coast. Now when I know how rotten a lot of kids have it, I’m enormously grateful. But at the time, it seemed that everything happened somewhere OTHER than Redland Bay. I wanted drama. I wanted glamour. I wanted adventure. Not much of any of those where I grew up.
So I fed my mania for romance and drama with my reading. And in the process, developed a list longer than the Great Wall of China (which is on the list) of places I’d love to see someday. Partly because foreign places have such alluring and interesting names. Who could resist wanting to visit places called Archangel or Umbria or Yokohama?
So far, I’ve knocked a serious number of those places off my list. Still lots to go if anyone wants to donate to my travel fund!
Today I thought I’d wander down Memory Lane (yet another place to visit!) and talk about some of the books that made me want to see the world.
The first book I’d like to talk about was a firm favorite when I was in late primary school. It’s called A DREAM OF SADLER’S WELLS and it’s about an aspiring ballerina called Veronica who has to leave London and her dance school to live with her cousins in the wilds of Northumberland. I was a ballet-mad kid so this was right up my alley. Not only that, it was funny and heartfelt and there was a lovely romance between Veronica and a boy called Sebastian. I still think Sebastian is one of the most romantic names out there!
It was the first of a series of ballet books from Lorna Hill and I read a lot of them but none really compared to ADOSW (Sadlers Wells was the headquarters of the Royal Ballet at the time, the 1940s and 1950s). I must have read that 100 times! Lorna Hill describes both glamorous London with its rich culture and history and the rugged beauty of the moors so beautifully, that both went to the top of my travel list. Not to mention the yen to see the Royal Ballet. I remember when I finally got to visit London in 1985, I went to see SWAN LAKE at the Royal Opera House in Covent Garden. Definitely experienced a flashback to Veronica and her highjinks when I settled back to watch the performance!
Another writer who got me interested in an enormous number of places is the much-maligned Barbara Cartland. I must have read hundreds of her romances in late primary school and early high school. I think they’re wonderful for that age – they’re not too explicit and the historical detail is fascinating. The very first Barbara Cartland I ever read was snaffled from my grandmother’s library pile – LOVE UNDER FIRE. It featured an intrepid young Spanish girl who disguises herself as a boy and joins Wellington’s Army so she can get to England and safety. Hmm, interesting that the Regency was such an early subject of my reading, isn’t it? Not to mention dark and dangerous aristocratic English heroes!
Then I discovered really meaty historical romance with Anya Seton, an American who wrote meticulously researched and emotive novels about women in history. I suspect she might be out of fashion now but I adored those books in high school. Favorites were GREEN DARKNESS, based on Ightham Mote in Kent which I was lucky enough to visit in 2004, and above all KATHERINE. KATHERINE is the epic love story of John of Gaunt and Katherine Swynford and it brings the rich tapestry of medieval France and England to vivid life. Not to mention packing in oceans of romance and emotion. Just my cup of tea! I remember in 2004, I saw the real Katherine’s grave in Lincoln Cathedral and immediately I was swept back to my 13-year-old self for whom that book was an obsession.
About the same stage as I was reading Anya Seton, I discovered the wonderful romantic suspense novels of Mary Stewart. Now that’s someone who REALLY inspired me to travel. Her descriptions of setting are unrivalled. I recently re-read MY BROTHER MICHAEL and WILDFIRE AT MIDNIGHT for a review that’s coming up on The Romance Dish on 24th May (check it out!). Mary S. can still take my breath away with her gorgeous writing about place. She engages every sense when she’s talking about Greece or Skye or the South of France. It’s really like being there in person.
Another author who made settings come alive in my starved imagination was Victoria Holt (who also wrote as Jean Plaidy and Philippa Carr). I think I can lay the start of the gothic tendency in my own writing very firmly at her feet. I devoured VH at about the same stage as I was reading Anya Seton and Mary Stewart. Interesting how these terrifically influential writers hit me all at the same time, isn’t it? The very first VH I read was a stormy romance called BRIDE OF PENDORRIC. After that, I devoured those books about innocent girls in the clutches of dangerous dark-hearted men – men who ended up saving them from even darker-hearted men who intended our heroines’ ruin and murder. Sigh. Great stuff!
The last of the books I want to talk about today when it comes to travel obsession was a slightly later crazeme. I must have been in my early 20s when I discovered the vivid historical world of Dorothy Dunnett. My obsession for the Lymond Chronicles (starting with THE GAME OF KINGS) set in 16th century Europe outshone all previous obsessions. My poor friends – they heard nothing except Francis Crawford for quite a while there!
Then when I traveled in Europe that first time in the mid-80s, I was seeing so much through the filter of Dorothy Dunnett’s wonderful tales. I’m yet to visit the Eastern Mediterranean or Russia but when I do, I’m positive that those Dorothy Dunnett books will still haunt everything I see. Now, that’s powerful writing!
So did any books influence your life? Have you read any of these authors? Any early reading that still resonates with your life today? Have you ever visited a place just because you read about it in a book? Let’s talk armchair travel today in the lair!
Posted by Anna Campbell Oct 10 2010, 4:02 am in Anna Campbell, Frank Sinatra, Inspiration, music, popular culture
by Anna Campbell
When I was recently in New York (now, how’s that for a way to start a blog?), I was lucky enough to get a ticket for the musical COME FLY AWAY. My first Broadway show (well, on Broadway!).
This combines Twyla Tharp’s classical given a modern twist choreography with the beloved songs of Frank Sinatra. Basically we’re talking a ballet. Frankly (yeah, I know, pardon the pun!), I was in heaven!
They had a big band on stage and a female singer who would occasionally duet with Frank but mostly it was just Frank. His voice floated above the beautiful, original arrangements in all its rich baritone richness. I’m not quite sure how they did it technically but it was very effective. The only thing better would to have been have Frank himself – but that would, sadly, have involved a seance. John Edward? Are you in the house? There’s an opportunity here for you!
The musical was about love in all its various permutations from hot and sweaty and passionate to sweet and innocent. Appropriate when some of the greatest love songs ever written formed the score. The dancers were mainly from classical companies and were spectacularly good.
But the best bit was still the music!
As you’ll probably have gathered by now, I love Frank’s voice. I love his way with a lyric. Just check out how beautifully he delivers the story behind “I Get a Kick out of You” in this video: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZmLXch5277I
There’s been a lot of imitators but I don’t think anyone comes close to the combination of worldly sophistication and weary romanticism he conveys.
One of the things I loved about COME FLY AWAY is that they concentrated on the later, swinging Sinatra (not often you can use ‘swinging’ without irony, is it?), the Chairman of the Board days. The 1940s Sinatra who the bobbysoxers lined up to see was just a bit too vulnerable for my tastes. While the voice was effortlessly brilliant and he delivered those lyrics like Shakespeare, the unrestrained emotion of his early performances doesn’t strike my heart the way his more restrained later work does.
By the late 50s and 60s, he’s a guy who’s been around the block a few times and he knows if he wears his heart on his sleeve, someone’s going to rip it to shreds, then throw the bloody remnants into the mud and stamp all over them.
But he’s still got a heart and much as he tries to pretend he can roll with the punches, love and life hit him hard. Sigh! Adore those songs.
One of the most romantic songs I know is “Fly Me to the Moon”. Listen how he delivers this beautiful lyric with a jauntiness that somehow underlines the deep emotion the man is expressing. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=j9h0MNMfKuQ
By the way, check out that groovy Orrefors-glass style backdrop on that video! Wow, baby!
Another breathtakingly romantic song is “Strangers in the Night”. Listen to the crackle of emotion in his voice as he sings this. He’s getting old in this recording – finding videos for this piece ended up being quite hard – but you get that emotional punch in spades, don’t you? http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tU8iJXPU9vA
Have you heard the joke?
SOCRATES: To be is to do.
ARISTOTLE: To do is to be.
SINATRA: Doo be doo be doo.
One of my favorite songs is one you don’t hear so often but it’s on a beautiful compilation CD I own called MY WAY: THE BEST OF FRANK SINATRA. It’s “A Very Good Year”. I couldn’t get a video of Frank singing this but here’s a compilation of evocative photos from his life that go beautifully with these lovely lyrics:
I think the first time I heard this I was a very little girl and it was in a tire ad (might even have been for Goodyear!). It’s always made me want to cry – that yearning reedy oboe in the introduction cuts right to the quick.
Sinatra always used amazing arrangers (Nelson Riddle is the one everybody mentions). The way the orchestra or the big band weaves around his voice or answers back or comments on the action creates sonic magic. This arrangement for “A Very Good Year” is one of my favorites – it’s quite subtle but so beautiful. For example, listen to the way the pizzicato strings echo champagne bubbles when he likens his memories to vintage wine. Or in that last verse again, how the grim march of time is subtly alluded to in the slow throb of the woodwinds. Magnificent!
“A Very Good Year” is very beautiful but rather melancholy. So I thought I’d finish this rave about Mr. Sinatra with the very upbeat “New York, New York”
This song has special significance for me because before I was published, I used to press repeat on my stereo and lie in the bath and sing it over and over. Always cheered me up! Not sure the neighbors felt the same! They probably wished me in New York, New York!
So to me, Frank is A number 1, top of the list, king of the hill!
Any other Sinatra fans out there? What are your favorite Sinatra songs? Do you prefer another singer of the golden age? I know Dean Martin and Tony Bennett and Perry Como and a host of others have their admirers. Let’s go old school for the day!
Posted by Christie Kelley May 17 2010, 4:56 am in Christie Kelley, Inspiration
by Christie Kelley
One question every writer gets asked is: Where do you get your inspiration for stories? I get ideas from everywhere…a story in the news, a movie that didn’t take a plot where I thought it should, or a walk in the park. It’s easy to find something that will inspire me to write a story but it takes more than just a quick thought to make it into a plot. That’s the hard part. So, I thought I’d share my favorite way to mull over a plot.
I spent yesterday painting the outdoor bar on our deck. Sorry I couldn’t post a picture but the camera battery needs to charge. I’m a little sore and still a little tired but I feel great. I got so much done! And I don’t mean just painting.
I know so many people who hate painting and part of me understands that. I truly hate the prep work involved in painting, the cleaning of the area, the taping, and putting down cloths. But once I finished the prep work, I spent four hours by myself, thinking about nothing. It’s amazing how productive my mind is when I’m doing something tedious.
After only a few minutes of painting, I had finally figured out the plot for the second book in a series I will be proposing to my editor soon. The whole book suddenly made sense. And the bar was getting painted too!
My husband’s theory on this is it’s the paint fumes. He might be right.
It’s interesting how the mind works (at least my mind). I can be sitting in front of my PC with a blank page in front of me and nothing comes to mind. But when I get my body working on something where I don’t have to think, suddenly the plots start come to me.
Of course, now I have a problem. My house is painted and I can’t think of a thing in it that needs paint. But I still have another book to plot!
Help me come up with mindless things that I can do to help me plot!
And for the writers, how do you plot for your synopses? For the readers, what do you do when you need inspiration for something?
Posted by Nancy Northcott Oct 6 2009, 6:23 am in Claudia Dane, Courtesan Chronicles, Inspiration, T-shirts
Today, we welcome Claudia Dain back to the lair. Using her wonderful Courtesan Chronicles as a framework, Claudia will chat with us about writer inspiration and advice. Welcome, Claudia!
So many people want to know where a writer gets her ideas and most writers I know have no idea how to answer that. Ideas just come. They come in a rush; they come in a trickle; they come in the dead of night; they come while stirring the cheese into the macaroni. They just come.
A better question is why tell that story? Why create that character? That’s a question I know how to answer.
As an author contemplating the idea for a new book, there is something that I want to say, some point I want to make in the strongest way I can. What I need is a character that can make that point for me, logically and organically within the framework of the story.
Thus was Sophia, the central character in The Courtesan Chronicles, born. I needed a character who was worldly-wise, who knew everyone worth knowing and knew where all the bodies were buried. A courtesan.
She had to be able to move in the right circles, to be both feared and admired. A courtesan who married an earl.
She had to be free of the rigid social standards of the Regency. She had to be able to think like a British aristocrat yet think beyond their views, their prejudices, their training. She had to be a rebel, but an acceptable rebel. A child of an Iroquois father who spent her first ten years in the forests of America.
Sophia’s backstory is complex, but creating complicated characters is my meat and drink. Her backstory is also shrouded in mystery. Bit by bit, book by book, Sophia is revealed. It’s like working a jigsaw puzzle. Piece by piece, the reader learns more about her. I’m having a lot of fun with that, teasing you with tidbits, luring you deeper into the fascinating woman Sophia is.
You have to be careful when reading about her. Sophia is not going to lay herself out for you to examine. She doesn’t actually lie, but if you have a misconception, she’s not going to jump in and correct it. She has conversations in the books where she allows someone to think the wrong thing. She’ll make a quick quip, a throwaway line, yet it’s a gigantic window into who she really is. You have to put it all together yourself. Discard some things as inaccurate and realize other things, things she’d rather you didn’t know, are true.
I know. It’s not usual romance novel fare since most of the time any secrets about a character or the plot are revealed within the pages of that book, and many times before the halfway mark. I can’t help it. Now that I’ve created her, she can only be who she is. Look at her backstory! Would an Iroquois/courtesan/countess let you dig through her life with a shovel? Of course not. She knows she’s a mystery to you, and she delights in that.
The one thing that is no secret is what she’s telling you about yourself. She was created to do this very thing. I created her to say these words, and she says them often in each and every book.
You have the right to ask for what you want. You have the right to get what you want. You deserve to be loved. You are incredibly valuable; never forget that.
That’s the idea behind The Courtesan Chronicles. That was the idea I had to voice. That is the purpose in each of the books in the series. Too many women, too often, behave as if asking for what you want is a cheat.
If I have to remind him it’s our anniversary then it won’t count when he remembers it.
If I have to tell him I want a gift for my birthday then it doesn’t count when I get it.
If I have to ask him to open the door for me or take out the trash or change the oil in my car then it doesn’t count. He doesn’t love me because he didn’t think of it all by himself.
Huh? When did asking for what you want, and then getting it, become a losing scenario? To take the passive role is to take the victim role. You wait silently, hoping, and you don’t get. Who’s to blame? You or him?
You have the right to ask for what you want. You have the right to get it. You deserve to be loved. ASK to be loved. Demand to be loved, cherished, valued. This is what Sophia does daily, even hourly, and she gets everything she wants, on her own terms. She does it with a smile, and leaves you smiling.
From The Courtesan’s Secret:
“…I should not enjoy causing Lord Dutton any…unpleasantness.”
Sophia’s left eyebrow rose fractionally. “Surely Lord Dutton can tolerate some unpleasantness in his life. He is a man, after all, and men are rather good at tolerating unpleasant things. The same should never be said of women. We may occasionally be required to endure unpleasantness, but we should, at all costs, avoid becoming adept at it”
Louisa could only gape. She had never in her life been exposed to such a philosophy.
As philosophies went, this was by a wide margin the most sensible and appealing one she had ever heard. She planned to adopt it immediately.
Sophia is speaking. Are you listening?
What is the best advice you ever received? Did you follow it?
Claudia’s giving a signed copy of The Courtesan’s Secret to one commenter today.
Posted by crocodesigns Mar 21 2008, 5:32 am in Aunty Cindy explains it all for you, Inspiration, writing life
posted by Aunty Cindy
Very often, readers and new writers ask those of us who have circled the block a few times and have the completed manuscripts to show for it: Where do you get your ideas?
My usual answer is EVERYWHERE! However, since that might not be terribly helpful to those who seriously do want to know, here’s an example of how story ideas can indeed be found EVERYWHERE.
A few days ago while I was out running errands, I stopped in at the lovely Golden Arches for a quick lunch. As I prepared to dunk my first McNugget into my chosen sauce, the lady at the table across from me came over and asked, “Are you going to be here long?”
“As long as it takes me to finish my lunch,” I replied. (Obviously I exceed the size limit for the plastic tubes and paraphernalia in the “play yard.”)
“Can you please keep an eye on my granddaughter while I use the restroom?” the lady asked, indicating a little girl of about four, who was busily munching a french fry.
I said I would and consumed my own fries and McNuggets while the child swung her legs and kept eating for the entire five minutes her grandmother was gone. However, once I finished and left the place, I was struck by how many possible story ideas presented themselves in my little scenario.
- The grandmother doesn’t return.
- The grandmother returns only to find me and her granddaughter are (as in the succinct title of the DVD I recently watched) Gone Baby Gone.
- The grandmother returns and accuses me of abusing the child.
- While the grandmother is gone, the child shows me her bruises and asks me to protect her from grandma.
I think you get my drift, and I didn’t even mention the hunky EMT drinking coffee at a nearby table, nor the homeless man hitting up people for change in the parking lot.
Now you know what I mean when I say ideas are EVERYWHERE, even at your local fast food joint! Who knows, maybe even Dennis Lehane (who wrote the original novel Gone Baby Gone) got ideas under the Golden Arches! Okay, maybe not.
Have you ever found inspiration in an unusual way or place? What about a fast food experience you’d like to share? And be sure to check in on Sunday when we have a Peep Hunt in the Lair (Easter eggs can be so icky if you don’t find them all!)
Posted by Suzanne Ferrell Feb 28 2008, 6:05 am in American History, American Red Cross, Clara Barton, Columbus, Inspiration, Richard Sharpe, Sean Bean, Suzanne Welsh
by Suzanne Welsh
One of the things people ask writers the most is, “where do you come up with these ideas?” I heard someone say once, “Oh, I just go to the Big Book Of Ideas and flip through the pages until I find one I like.” Smart alec answer, so of course I loved it! But the truth is inspiration can come in many forms and in many ways. Here are some of mine.
Richard Sharpe. I loved this mini series on BBC America two summers ago! OMG…Sean Bean in period clothing. I love his intensity, his honor that stands out among the hardships of being at war in a foreign country and oh heck, he’s just easy on the eyes.
At the time I was also submitting scenes to the Avon FanLit contest. The period was Regency, not my specialty, but I felt I had a handle on the Penninsular War hero after watching this series. So, of course, I started a Regency period book with a hero loosely based on Sean Bean as Richard Sharpe. Still working on it, and it seems to be a bit darker than the regular Regency books
Another source of inspiration is women in American History
. This is one of my favorite characters, Clara Barton. I first read Clara’s biography when I was in elementary school. My mom was studying to be a nurse, so I found duel interest in Miss Barton’s life story. She took supplies to the battlefield of Antietem and found the surgeons wrapping men’s wounds in corn husks. (ewww, the infection meter in my head just went off again!). Imagine their immense relief when this woman of courage showed up with bandages, medical supplies, blankets and lanterns! (Women are always thinking ahead.)
Clara inspired the budding nurse in me, but she wasn’t the only woman in American history who inspired me. Rebecca Boone followed her husband by foot through the Cumberland Gap in the Appalchia mountains into a place called Kan-tuck-ee–a land of wilderness and unknown enemies. She helped him carve out a home and lead more settlers west. She and other pioneer women of courage inspired me to learn more and write stories about their time periods.
And then there’s my hometown, Columbus, Ohio.
Beautiful isn’t it? I’ve set all my contemporary stories here or near here. I love the people here. Hard working people, who sometimes have extordinary things happen that change their lives. And the country side is so beautiful it makes me want to share it with people who’ve never been there. I also get to use the subtleness of an ordinary city as the background to some suspenseful elements, so the juxtaposition is great!
So what inspires you to write, create or to succeed in life?
Posted by Tawny Weber Jan 14 2008, 9:06 am in Inspiration, Tawny Weber
by Tawny Weber
I attended an RWA chapter meeting recently that featured three published authors, sharing their journey. Not so much their journey TO publication, although that was included, but their journey AFTER publication. The three are all awesome writers, I’ve been lucky enough to have books by them all. But they, their writing, and their journeys couldn’t be more different.
And yet… the core message each of them shared was the same. Its all about being true to ourselves and our writing. What a fabulous message (and yes, one we’ve all heard before, but it hit home so hard for me that I’m sharing anyway *g*). I’m using writing as the general comparison here, but I really believe this message can apply to anything you do.
I remember how important it was, when I was starting out, to learn to weed through the masses of information to find what worked for me. Oh sure, some stuff is general. Grammar isn’t fluid, and manuscript formatting is… well, formatting. But the important things like voice, style, the message I bring to my work… I had to find those and, once I did, make sure I was true to them.
Of course, as the ladies at the meeting pointed out, there are always people who want to refocus us. Before we’re published, it could be contest judges (nobody is buying THAT or I hate this kind of story, you’d do better if you learned to write XYZ, etc) or critique partners (similar feedback as contest judges, but we actually TRUST the CPs) or even editors and agents we’re submitting to. After we sell, it doesn’t change much. Except now we’ve got reviewers and readers with suggestions, and the stakes and fears get a little higher. There is, as one Christine blogged about the other day, the question of writing the same thing or changing it up. There is the pressure of writing to the market or writing, as Kirsten said in her comment to Christine, writing the story that’s inside you.
How do you sift through it all and come out feeling like you made the right choices? Thats what I learned in this talk -simply be true to yourself and your writing. Always (here’s where that general non-writing specific stuff comes in *g*) know, when you’re done with the book, job, task, that you did your best. That you’re proud of it and know, if a fifty foot flashing billboard proclaimed this was YOU and your work, you’d be proud. That way, no matter what happens as a result (for instance, it took me six manuscripts before I sold…but I’d gladly share any one of the earlier ones with pride) would you know you did your best.
And if you’re lucky, along the way you find people who get you. Who want to support you being yourself and keeping your writing true. Like, hmm, say the Romance Bandits? I’m sure none of us thought we had much in common when we all got those calls in March of 2006. And yet, here we are… Twenty diverse, empowered and strong writers, all heading in different directions, but going down the same path. Together.
So… nothing new here, I realize, but it was my first big OOOoooooohhhh moment of the year and I wanted to share it!
How about you? If someone took out that huge bilboard to highlight one of your recent accomplishments, which one would make you beam with pride?
Posted by Trish Milburn Nov 15 2007, 6:16 am in environment, Inspiration, writer's life
by Trish Milburn
As writers, we spend a lot of time indoors in front of our computers. Not only are we spending time writing and doing online research, but there are e-mails to answer, blogs to read, funny YouTube videos to watch. Even when we’re doing something we enjoy, sometimes it begins to build stress within us and we need an outlet, something that doesn’t require a computer or sitting on out butts. Something basic and simple.
For me, that wonderful release is spending time outdoors — and more than just doing yard work. I love to go to state or national parks, out away from the city, away from the noise, away from my ever-expanding to-do list. I like to just sit and breathe in the scent of the forest after a rain, listen to the water falling over rocks in a stream, watch the birds float up high on the thermals, drink in the beauty of a clear, blue sky on a crisp, sunny autumn day. Just thinking about it makes me smile.
I’ve been very busy lately, and that’s not likely to change anytime soon. But a couple of weeks ago before it began to get cold, I took most of the day off to spend with my husband. We drove about 90 miles from our house to one of my favorite state parks.
We walked hand-in-hand in the woods, sat and watched waterfalls, and strolled along a sandy beach. After we left the park, we drove through some rural areas dotted with big fields of cows and rolling, wooded hills filled with trees that are beginning to show some fall color. It was all relaxing and just what I needed before facing a lot of deadlines and responsibilities in the next couple of months.
I think we often forget to take time to do simple things like take walks in the woods. Whether we’re writers or attorneys or stay-at-home moms, we’ve nearly forgotten how to just be. Even while trying to enjoy a day of freedom, our brains are constantly trying to interrupt to tell us about all those things back home that we have to do. This mindset causes a lot of stress that’s unnecessary and unhealthy.
Does spending time outdoors help you relax? If so, where is your favorite place to commune with nature?
Hey, if you can’t commune with nature today, why not commune with your Internet connection and scoot on over to the Romantic Times site to vote for OUT OF SIGHT, my entry in the American Title contest? The second round of voting is under way, and I really want to “stay on the island.” Thanks!
Posted by Cassondra Murray Nov 9 2007, 5:01 am in Cassondra Murray, Cassondra's blogs, dianna love snell, guest blogger, Inspiration, interviews, Sherrilyn Kenyon
by Cassondra Murray
Get inspired by a fearless, fast-track writer, and enter to win one of three awesome prizes!
It was just about this time of year, two years ago, when Dianna Love Snell emailed me to ask if I’d sent in my Golden Heart entry.
“Well,” I typed, “I entered last year and finished in the bottom quarter. I wasn’t going to enter again.” I hit send. It took about two seconds for this email to pop into my inbox.
“You never stop putting your pages in front of them. Never.”
I griped my way to FedEx and sent my entry. I finaled. And the world shifted a little. I’ve believed in my writing a LOT more since then, and it’s because one lady took the time to push me when I needed it. It’s my honor and great pleasure to welcome that lady to the Bandit lair for the first time. Dianna, thanks for joining us.
Thanks for asking me to blog on this great site! I’m really a newbie at blogging – this is my first guest appearance, so thank YOU. I hear about the Romance Bandits all over the place. Yes, as Cassondra said, I get pushy when it comes to seeing any of you miss a chance to get your pages in front of an editor. Everything you do is a step forward no matter how large or small, so you have to keep taking those steps.
Dianna, you didn’t come into the world with pen (or keyboard) in hand. It was a paintbrush wasn’t it? You’ve built a phenomenal career creating specialty art projects. Will you tell us about your journey to writing award-winning Romantic Suspense?
I often joke that I fell out of the womb an artist. I won an art competition in third grade. I’ve had a love affair with pen and paper my whole life. I enjoyed writing in school, but it wasn’t my goal as a teen. My passion – to sketch and paint photo-realistic portraits – led to the businesses I built starting at age seventeen when I was faced with living alone and supporting myself. Small signs were okay, but I gravitated to painting walls 100’ long and murals.
People in outdoor advertising needed someone who could paint lifelike faces 15’ tall on billboards, and would climb two-hundred feet in the air to do it. Over the years, I created several companies and sold all of them except the one I now have, where I create large marketing projects that are three dimensional or Electronic.
After years of hanging hundreds of feet in the air alone, I started to amuse myself by creating stories. I’d gotten to the point I could paint and do something else mentally at the same time. Once I shifted gears in business to producing
projects that required neon bending, sign fabricating, steel workers, electricians, engineers and cranes, I had huge chunks of time when I wasn’t physically doing the work myself.
It’s not possible for a Type-A to be dormant. My husband says I’m like a shark, always moving.
I’d built and installed three 25’ tall fiberglass Coca-Cola bottles for Fenway Park (Congrats to the Red Sox winning the World Series this year!) in the late 90s. In 2001, during flights back and forth from Atlanta to Boston for another Fenway Park project, I started writing down ideas I planned to give to a “real” writer.
I caught the bug and couldn’t stop – the result of that beginning was WORTH EVERY RISK (Silhouette 2005). It didn’t take long before I had every bit as much passion for writing as I’d always had for art and could not get enough when it came to learning the craft.
Of course, that publishing success didn’t happen overnight. Dianna writes kick-butt heroines, but for me, she is the model of the tough yet tender lady we’d all like to emulate. Note the gorgeous Harley in the photo below.
Side note—she and her hottie husband, Karl, do bike trips across the US for fun. On separate motorcycles, thank you very much. That bike is her baby and you better not mess with it…… .uh….. .ahem…oh yes, I did have a point….
Dianna, I’ve noticed something consistent about the way you do almost everything. You decide what you want, and then you go and get it no matter the odds. Your drive is almost a tactile thing, like a ramrod that, once you’ve headed in a given direction, seems to clear the way for you. Were you born with that inner drive?
I’d have to say I was born with a drive I can’t tamp down. I do believe you can increase your drive or decrease it – based on your positive or negative mindset, the people you allow (and I do mean allow) in your inner circle and the value you place on your time. I place far more value on time than I do on anything else in this world with the exception of my husband and family. I follow my passion.
That hasn’t always come easy has it? I’ve learned bits and pieces of your story over the years. Will you share some of your background here?
I started my first job in the ‘70s in a steno pool at a large corporation and knew I’d never be happy working at a desk. People thought I had lost my mind when I handed in my notice because that was an era when you stayed at a job, especially at a big company.
People I had covered work for, celebrated their weddings and child births, had gotten to be “friends” with turned their backs on me and would not speak. It was amazingly hostile. They said I’d never amount to anything because I was leaving a job after a year.
I worked two restaurant jobs (one at night during the week and one all weekend) because they fed me a meal, the money was good and I liked the work. Customers came in and offered me office work. When I said no, they’d say, “Don’t you want a job with some prestige?” I told them I couldn’t eat or pay rent with prestige. The only place that would rent an apartment to a single woman (they thought you were a prostitute if you were living alone at my age) was over a bar. I had to nail the window shut at night because it opened to the walkway.
Looking back, I realize my “live on my terms” attitude threatened many of them who maybe wanted to leave, but were terrified of the possibility that they might never work for a company that big again, with all those benefits.
My mother died at 42, two weeks after I graduated from high school and on the first vacation we’d ever taken. The way I saw it, there were no guarantees about how long we get to do what we want here.
And that’s your point, isn’t it? You followed your heart against the odds, and your business and career grew from there? I’ve heard you speak of this before—that if you’re not passionate about it, you just don’t do it.
I will always go back to passion when searching for the drive to accomplish a task or reach a goal. Here’s the secret – “If you truly want to do something, you will find a way.” I have never known where life would lead me, but figured if I followed my passion I would at least be happy during the journey. It hasn’t always been an easy journey, but it has always been a satisfying one. I find it much easier to get up in the morning and face a long day working at something I love than something I tolerate.
You’ve hit upon one of the reasons I wanted you to be our guest. You once said to me, “Don’t play their games…you take what you can use and you walk away and let the rest slide off.” Whether that’s a judge’s irrational comments, an editor or agent’s rejection, the loss of a coveted contract, promotion, or anything else in life, can you tell us how you use that to keep your head and heart on your own true path?
I do believe we drive our lives either in a productive way, a destructive way, a boring way, a strong way…not just in a good or bad way.
I needed money to buy paper when I was in middle school because we had a large family and a notebook was for school work only. Things like a blank sheet of white paper were frivolous. I drew charcoal portraits for supply money to feed my art habit.
People stood over my shoulder when I drew, which will make or break you when it comes to putting your work out in the world for criticism. 99% of the walls and murals I painted were done in front of the client and the world. So by the time I started writing, I had been through much worse as a teen than being told someone didn’t like my character or there wasn’t enough conflict.
When I started my business in Tampa it was frowned upon for a female to work out in a “labor” type environment. Men did not want women in the sign business – it was the ‘70s after all. Once you’ve walked into twenty-five businesses a day for weeks on end to be told, “We don’t want a girl painting our sign,” you have to decide to fade away or buck up and prove them wrong. I decided that if I proved I could paint as good – or better – than their male painters, they could not afford to turn me away.
I focused on becoming the best in my field. I was the only female doing that work in the ‘80s, and eventually I was the lead contractor in some of largest outdoor companies in the country.
You think life got simpler then? Nope. Five different times other painters sabotaged my work so I’d have to repaint the art, and some stole my equipment.
Eventually, the small minded people always fall away because they focus on the wrong things.
So you see, my philosophy is still the same – follow my passion, work at my craft to be the best that I can, act professionally and be good to others. That’s why in writing I try to help anyone I can.
Creative endeavors are not just hard work, but to create is to make a withdrawal from your muse bank. It’s easy to overdraw and think you are going to be bankrupt once in a while. That’s when you may need a helping hand from a friend.
Your passion for writing is paying off. I was thrilled to be up front, in the audience as a GH finalist when, in 2006, you won a Rita for Best Long Contemporary for your first book, Worth Every Risk, a Silhouette Intimate Moments. Did that change you or your writing?
To win in my category – Long Contemporary – was really a shock.
I can not tell you how much the cheers that night meant to me. Even typing now it touches my heart to think about how many people wished me well.
I want that for every one of you.
As for what winning did for my writing – my agent started banking the award as soon as she got home—using it for leverage on submitted projects. We sold a novella not long after that. I don’t think an editor will buy a book because of an award, but I have had quite a few editors and agents come up to speak to me since winning, so the RITA – like the Golden Heart – definitely brings your name and face to the attention of the industry.
The first Worth Every Risk book out of my box of early copies and RITA, as Karl calls her, sit on our mantel and reminds me every day that anything is within my grasp if I’m willing to reach for it.
You have exciting things on the horizon—A novella, MIDNIGHT KISS GOODBYE, is scheduled for release in October 2008 as part of a St. Martin’s Press anthology DEAD AFTER DARK. This would suggest your writing has taken a paranormal turn, but you’ve included paranormal elements from early on, right?
I’m really flattered to be included in this anthology. Lead author is NYT best seller Sherrilyn Kenyon (who just hit #1 on the NYT list!) plus two more NYT best sellers – J. R. Ward and Susan Squires – then me.
I’ve had this strange paranormal series for a while, but didn’t let my agent take it out during the onslaught of Vampire and Werewolf submissions and releases because I don’t write those and no one wanted anything else. There are plenty of great authors already producing top Vamp and Were stories.
I’ve always had a keen interest in the paranormal, but the stories that came to me were a bit different. In fact, two editors have been interested in them, but when they pitched the stories at editorial meetings they were told marketing didn’t know how to market them. (Sidebar – Sherrilyn tells me she heard much the same thing about her now famous Dark-Hunter series, building an inch thick file of rejections on this series during the year before the first Dark-Hunter book sold.) The big thing about creating in a different subgenre is that I haven’t changed the core of my writing – I still write romantic suspense.
As authors, we will always be faced with morphing what we create to follow the change reflected in society and what readers want, but in my opinion this doesn’t mean to write whatever the latest hot streak is. I had one editor suggest if I changed my paranormal into a vampire story she’d take it. Hard offer to pass on, right? Not really. If it’s not what I write, then it will show in my story no matter how hard I try. Yes, I might get a “contract,” but if the story is not what I do best then will I build a reader base? Will I enjoy continuing the series?
A contract does not guarantee that you’ll continue with a house. Readers buying your book is the best guarantee. I’ve seen several new authors jump to change their stories to something they really don’t write only to have poor sell throughs, which ended in going out of contract. The next publishing house always wants to see your numbers. So there’s a lot more at stake than just getting a contract if you plan to build a career. Give serious thought to every opportunity.
I want readers to feel what I feel when I’m writing. If done appropriately and for the right reasons, passing on a project is not going to end your relationship with an editor. I’m still in dialogue with this editor on other things. The novella I sold is a taste of my paranormal series and I give kudos to Monique Patterson at St. Martin’s Press, for publishing something a bit strange. She’s an incredibly sharp editor. I’m excited about all four of the stories in the anthology and feel privileged to be included in such talented company.
Another release, waiting in the wings, is creating quite a buzz. You and Sherrilyn are co-writing the next B.A.D. Agency book for Pocket (June 2008). Will you tell us how you and Sherrilyn came to work together on this book?
Sherri asked me to tour with her the first time in 2006. I agreed because she had become a good friend who needed help so that she could give her best to her fans at each stop.
Touring 101 – with us - is hitting a city in mid afternoon, rushing to the hotel (“if” there is time to do that first) to change clothes, then racing to make the signing. Eating and sleeping are not optional and not generally part of the schedule most days. Somehow, we both manage to walk in on time. That’s when it’s all worthwhile.
Sherri draws over 150 fans at signings and many will have been sitting there for hours waiting. Some will have driven 6 hours or flown in. They bring friends and family. Sherri talks and does a Q&A until they are ready to sign then she takes her time with each one, chatting as she signs their stacks of books.
What amazes me is that Sherri knows so many by their names. We’ve turned these signings into fan events and the time spent from entering until we collapse in the car is exhilarating. I’ve learned a great deal by touring with someone like Sherri. I’ve also become better known by booksellers and readers due to Sherri’s generous nature – she always takes the time to introduce me as an author. Along the way, we became better friends ( touring like this will make or break a friendship, and don’t even think about doing it with a spouse).
It was on this last trip that we started discussing her next book for the B.A.D. Agency series. When she told me the blurb for the story, I naturally started suggesting things that could happen, then the two of us were brainstorming like mad.
Sherri’s reaction was “wow, that is so cool, why don’t we write this together?” What was my answer? Well, let’s just say my momma drowned all her stupid kids.
This collaboration is a contemporary romantic action/suspense. Can you give us a taste of Phantom In The Night?
On loan to the New Orleans police department, Terri Mitchell is working undercover for the Bureau of American Defense. The B.A.D. Agency suspects a drug kingpin of funding terrorism. When bizarre rumors begin to surface of a ghost interrogating members of that ring, she becomes suspicious. She doesn’t believe in the paranormal, but an eerie encounter with someone in a dark house leaves her shaken. Could he be a phantom?
Most of all, the encounter leaves her beguiled and intrigued. She has to get to the bottom of an investigation that takes a deadly turn at every corner. Is this phantom really a spirit conjured up from the depth of the bayou, or a man set on a course of vengeance? The search for that answer puts her life in jeopardy when faced with exposing the worlds and plans of powerful people behind an unconscionable attack against innocent citizens.
To succeed, Terri will have to also reveal her phantom’s secrets that will destroy him…and any future with a man who has captured her heart and soul with his dark passion.
The deadline looms for that June release, right along with holiday madness, and I know you’ve been holed up in the writing cave. I’m so pleased you were able to join us in spite of all that. Is there anything else you’d like to say to writers or readers about how you’ve tackled the ups and downs of the writing life so successfully?
Yes, speaking of deadlines…. All of you have a deadline of some sort right now. If it isn’t at home or in your day job, then it’s your own personal writing deadline.
Right now, many of you face finishing your Golden Heart submission in time to ship. I wish for all of you to have understanding and supportive families, but I bet there are some who catch grief while trying to finish their book so they can get into this prestigious contest. It’s hard to explain why you aren’t cooking a meal, visiting a friend, watching television with your significant other, making a ball game or why you are just plain grouchy from burnout when there isn’t a book deal on the line.
That’s why I am always confused by authors writing on contract who go on and on bemoaning a deadline.
Well, duh. Wasn’t that the point in going after a book contract? I’ve been around some very prolific authors who are on perpetual deadline and never utter a word about it. It’s their job, what they agreed to do.
Yes, I am in my writing cave this week typing furiously…and thrilled to have a deadline looming. Selling books and having a deadline is the good news that should be celebrated. It’s much more difficult for an unpublished author to forgo things they’d really like to do to finish a book and do revisions with no guarantee of a contract. I definitely know what that is like and empathize with those of you still waiting.
Get those manuscripts out there so that you can have a contract and deadline. When you do, remember to celebrate reaching your dream.
Everyone has a different journey on the way to reaching goals. Is there a time you’ve gone against the grain, stood up against the odds? Or would you LIKE to do that?
What home, family or writing deadline are you facing at the moment? And how do you handle the pressure when deadlines loom and stress levels mount?
And inquiring minds want to know….Is there chocolate involved?
All who comment will be entered to win one of the following three great giveaways:
1) An autographed copy of Worth Every Risk! (no longer available except through those in the know—ahem….that would be YOU, Bandita friends (grin) )
2) A five-page manuscript critique—in time for the Golden Heart if you’re entering!
3)A certificate for an autographed copy of Phantom In The Night—signed by Sherrilyn Kenyon and Dianna Love Snell, to be delivered as soon as the book is out!