Genealogy, Character, and Worldbuilding

It’s no secret that I love genealogy. I often say if I wasn’t a writer, I would have been a professional genealogist. The excitement of the chase and the thrill of finally finding that piece of evidence that proves a relationship would enthrall any mystery lover.

And it’s not just my family I enjoy researching. I will jump in and help anyone trying to solve a brick wall. Most genealogy buffs seem to share this insatiable urge to research, as evidenced by how willing people are to help others in many online groups.

Tonight I get to share some of the passion I have for genealogy with the South Jersey Writers Group. I’ll be talking about how my family history habit has crept into my writing, in the areas of character development and worldbuilding.

I’m a bit nervous about presenting,  but I am eager to share with this group. I’ve met some of these writers in other venues, and they are always warm and fun. I’m looking forward to a good discussion with them.

Do you have a hobby that invades your writing?

Power Outage 2018

So I didn’t get a chance to put up a blog post yesterday because we lost our power in the nor’easter. It didn’t start out too badly, and I hoped we would escape the worst of it.

It started coming down heavy after noon.

My husband came home from work around 3:30. He started cooking a pizza a little after 4. Power went out 3 minutes after he put it in the oven. (He left it in the hot oven for a couple of hours and eventually deemed it cooked enough and ate it!)

The heavy snow took its toll on the trees, including ours. We are lucky the branch landed behind my husband’s car, leaving only one small scratch on a brake light.

We played some games by lantern light, read a little while, then crawled into bed a bit early. After my daughter fell asleep (after insisting she could NEVER fall asleep without her fan running for white noise), I poured hot water in the fish tank to bring the water temp back up to normal. Then I went to bed.

Around 2:30 AM something started beeping, and I was the only one who woke up, so I traipsed around the cold house with a flashlight until I found the culprit–the CO/natural gas alarm in the washroom, whose battery was running out. Replaced the battery and climbed back into bed.

3 AM the power came back on! Got up again, went downstairs to turn off the lights that were on and plug in my phone to charge. Went to my daughter’s room to turn on her salt lamp and her fan. Happy to see the heater in the fish tank was running. Dug my daughter’s head out from under the blankets so she could breathe. Went back to bed.

It was a long, chilly night. I am grateful to the power crews that got things back online so quickly. The kids will go back to school tomorrow, and things can get back to normal.

And that’s why I don’t have some pithy writing-related post ready for today!

Anxiety spiral: Idling in “A” gear

I have had quite the unproductive week or so. I just haven’t seemed to be able to get anything done. Sometimes this happens when I get spring fever. Sometimes when I’m burnt out. This time, it was an anxiety spiral.

Anxiety spiral isn’t quite the right phrase, because it’s more like a loop or the infinity symbol—an endless cycle of scary thoughts that repeat in your head, stopping you from thinking of anything else. And that’s where I’ve been all week—paralyzed by my own brain. Oh, sure, I got up every morning, got my daughter to school, remembered to get her from school, got her to all her extracurricular activities, did an author panel, and attended a workshop and Writer’s Coffeehouse meeting, but the creative side of me had nothing. And I slept a lot while my daughter was at school. When I tried to write, no words came, no motivation, and I would end up scrolling aimlessly through Facebook, not even really reading anything.

The lack of productive creativity makes me crazy because then I get mad at myself for not using my time wisely. I always complain I don’t have enough time, yet there I was, day after day, literally wasting time. I got angry with myself, beat myself up. But I couldn’t shake it. My brain was numb.

Oddly enough, it took me some time to figure out that anxiety was behind my spectacular crash into creative oblivion. I guess that’s not really surprising, given my numb brain. But once I figured it out, I knew I had to do something to kick it to the curb. I had to basically WILL myself out of it, because it’s all about self-talk. I had been allowing the recurrent nightmares (and daymares) in my head free reign. Many times, if I allow my brain to reach the end of the nightmare journey, that frees it and that anxiety episode ends. This time, however, that trick had not worked, and had instead dragged me deeper and deeper into the malaise.

So, I had to consciously shut my brain up, change the channel. I do that by literally telling myself to stop when I notice the thoughts running down a familiar path. I also did it by stepping back from social media for a few days. Not only did that give me more time for other things, but it kept me from soaking up more disturbing thoughts and news and emotions. I didn’t do a complete break from social media, but I cut it back severely. I am going to try to keep it to a minimum for a while.

Did it work? Well, I think it’s working. I have been more productive, better able to focus. Not at full capacity, but I actually checked some things off my To-Do list, which makes me happy. So I think I am finally seeing the end of this particular anxiety spiral. Or loop. Or whatever.

If you have a similar demon that likes to hijack your brain, how do you shake it off?

Raritan Valley Community College author panel–and the anthology arrives!

Last night I spent a fun evening at Raritan Valley Community College library. A panel of 4 authors–Keith Fritz, Anthony Giordano, Mercedes Rochelle, and me–met with a group at the college library. We had at least 30 people in the audience to watch the author panel, maybe more!

The author panel had a good mix of genre and form–adult horror/dark fantasy, middle grade and YA sci-fi/fantasy, adult historical fiction, and a playwright. Discussion was lively, covering everything from our process, to our greatest challenges. The audience asked about self-publishing, writer’s block, and memoir writing. The group was engaged and attentive, and it was a pleasure to talk with them. Many came up afterward and chatted with us one-on-one.

Thank you so much to Carina Gonzalez, the Raritan outreach librarian who set up this author panel, and to all the people who came to see it. It’s always gratifying to share what I’ve learned with others just starting out. I remember how overwhelming it all seemed when I first began my journey, and I am happy if I could help give someone the advice they needed to better understand something they’re struggling with.

In other news, my copies of the Silver Pen Magazines 2017 Anthology arrived today! They landed on my doorstep after I had left for my author panel, so I couldn’t take them with me, but I am so happy they are here!

Veritas Synopsis

I have finished sending out my 50 queries for The Curse of the Pharaoh’s Stone. Now, I am starting on the list for Veritas. First, however, I need to assemble the materials usually required for submission. I have a query letter and a polished manuscript, but I need the final piece–the synopsis.

The synopsis can be a chore. Squeezing 80,000 words down to one page is never easy. Doing it without losing the voice, emotion, and energy of the novel often seems impossible. For many authors, writing the synopsis is a hair-pulling endeavor.

The book I am writing a synopsis forI liked the synopsis I did for Pharaoh’s Stone, so I decided to use the same process to create the Veritas synopsis. Since this novel has three POV characters, there is pretty much no chance of fitting the entire story on one page unless I pick a single character’s story to tell. Luckily, even though all the characters arc, Jinx’s story is the central line. So hers is the story the synopsis will tell.

First, I write a sentence or two about each chapter. Then I work on making each of those as emotional and active as possible. Doing this helps avoid the “and then”, “and then”, “and then” feel of many synopses. After that, I weave those summaries together into a seamless description of the story.

If I am lucky, this polished version will be about 3 double-spaced pages, the length of a typical “long” synopsis. If not, I tweak it until it fits. Next, I single-space what I have, because a 1-page synopsis needs to be single-spaced. This version will be about 1.5 pages long, but pulling out only half a page is not terribly daunting.

A final read-through, plus another set of eyes to find mistakes, and the synopsis will be ready. Then the querying can begin!

What is your synopsis-writing process like?

Silver Pen Magazines 2017 Anthology

Earlier this week, money magically appeared in my PayPal account. When I got the email notification, I thought perhaps that Nigerian prince had finally come through.

Turns out, it was something even better.

Silver Pen Magazines 2017 AnthologyLast year, the publisher of Youth Imagination Magazine contacted me. The magazine had published a short story of mine, Dying Breath, in 2014, and they wanted it for their first ever anthology! Of course I said yes.

After the usual lengthy process of compiling an anthology, the Silver Pen Magazines 2017 Anthology hit the bookstore this week!

Silver Pen has 3 magazines, and all are represented in this anthology. There are 22 stories, including mine. I am so excited to share space with the other quality stories and authors in this book!

Dying Breath is a favorite of mine, and I am so happy it is getting a second life in the Silver Pen anthology.

How Many Rejections Is Enough to Give Up on a Story?

While many writers are choosing to go the self-publishing route in order to reap the many benefits of that path, I’m still pursuing the traditional route of trying to get an agent. Thus the newest round of queries I blogged about last week. While I am having decent response, I am also seeing rejections, and I got to wondering: is there a certain number of rejections where you should get the hint and stop querying?

Because I can’t help thinking much farther ahead than I need to (thank you, anxiety disorder), I do wonder what to do if this round of queries doesn’t land me an agent. If no agent bites, that will be over 100 rejections. In the past, that many rejections would probably signal an end to that manuscript’s life, but these days it opens up a new dilemma: Do I put the manuscript in a drawer, or move onto self-publishing?

Concept cover of The Curse of the Pharaoh's StoneI hate to put The Curse of the Pharaoh’s Stone in the drawer. It has had a long and unique gestation, so the manuscript is special to me. In addition, I truly believe in this story. Beta readers, both teachers and middle grade students,  loved it, and I feel in my bones that Pharaoh’s Stone has the potential to go far.

But do I really want to carry the weight of doing everything myself? That’s the trade off. Although the marketing largely falls to the author no matter which route you take, the initial editing, book design, cover design, and all the formatting is taken care of with traditional publishing. That’s a huge investment in time and money, as well as a steep learning curve.

The good news is that I have 2 coauthors on Pharaoh’s Stone, so this is not a decision I need to make alone. The other good news is that we have a long way to go before we need to have this discussion. We still have 48 agents to hear back from.

If you go the traditional route, at what point do you “give up” on a manuscript finding a home? Is there a magic rejection number?

Query-Go-Round 2018

January seems to be query month for me.

Last January, I queried my middle grade book The Curse of the Pharaoh’s Stone. It had some interest, but no bites. After my initial list of 50 agents passed, other issues became more pressing, and I did not continue sending it out.

Over Christmas break this past December, I compiled another list of 50 more agents for Pharaoh’s Stone, and am once more on the query-go-round.

Last time around, I wrote and compiled all 50 queries before I sent anything out. Because each agency wants you to send different material, every query is a little different. Some agencies want just a query letter, others want a certain amount of pages, others want a synopsis, and a few have online submission forms. Preparing them all is a time-consuming process.

This year, I am compiling the queries as I go along. I prepare and send about 5 a day, sometimes more, but never more than 5 at a time. I find that if I do any more than 5, I lose focus and make mistakes.

I’m not sure which approach I prefer. Compiling all the queries ahead of time allowed me to send them all out within 5 days. Doing them as I go along will take me longer to get them all out the door. I suspect the total amount of time invested is the same, it’s just a psychological difference—personal preference.

I keep a list of all the agents I contacted in Excel. Name, contact info, submission requirements,  date I sent the query, and the result. Because so many agents now have a “no interest, no answer” policy, I also have a column that tracks how many days without a response. Some agents give you a time limit beyond which means they aren’t interested, so this column allows me to see at a glance if we’ve passed the deadline. As I send the queries out, I color code my agent database. Green for those out, red for the passes, and yellow for requests for full or partials. So far I have one yellow. 🙂

Do you find that you tend to query at certain times of year? What’s your query process?

One Fish, Two Fish–We Got a New Fish

We bought our first fish January 7th, 2017. Much drama ensued. (Who knew fish had drama?) A year later, the fish saga continues. We are on fish #6.

For quite some time, we had 3 fish. They periodically battled fin rot, but overall seemed happy. Then December came.

First we lost Seashell 2 on December 6th:

RIP Seashell 2. Overnight, the guppy Seashell 2 passed away. Seashell 2 replaced Seashell 1, who died his first night with us when he jumped out of the tank while we slept.

Seashell 2 was a fighter. He was the aggressive one of our 3 fish, always asserting himself against Flower, with Gem acting as peacemaker. He and the others survived the ammonia scare of January 2017, and led a happy fish life until August of 2017.

In August, we went away for 4 days, and when we came back all the fish were showing signs of fin rot. Seashell had it worst, with a huge red streak down the middle of his tail. Emergency actions stopped the fin rot, leaving the others with ragged-edged but whole tails–however, Seashell was not so lucky. The red stripe developed a tumor of some kind, and slowly the tail behind it fell away. Eventually, he only had a thin strip of tail at the top. He was unable to swim to the top of the tank to feed, and I was certain he would die within a few days.

However, he was a fighter. For weeks I watched him scamper around the bottom of the tank, eating algae off the plants and ornaments, and snagging fish food as it sank to the bottom. I was beginning to think he might make it after all, when he was found laying on his side on the bottom this morning. Grade-Girl said a tearful goodbye as we sent him on his way to the ocean.”

Then we lost Flower on December 8th:

RIP Flower. Flower was the most beautiful fish of the surviving trio. A luxurious orange tail that is probably why my daughter named him Flower. He was gorgeous to watch swim around.

Flower took the brunt of Seashell 2’s aggression, but he was not a pushover. He would fight back until Seashell left him alone. He liked to hang out with his buddy Gem and graze on algae.

He survived the Ammonia Scare of Jan 2017, and was the least affected by the Tail Rot Scourge of Aug 2017. Soon thereafter, he began exhibiting neurotic behavior–hiding a lot, hanging in the water head up-tail down, curving his body into an apostrophe, and sometimes dashing madly around the tank and actually hitting the walls. He eventually started coming back out of hiding, but it became obvious something was wrong–his belly was slowly growing. The tumor finally got him today, sometime this afternoon. When found, his belly had begun to tear, and his tail was blood-red, possibly from an artery bursting. Although sad, he had obviously been in pain from the growing tumor for the last couple of days, and probably far longer, so its better he finally went.

Flower has joined Seashell 2 in Fish Heaven, and his body, with a few words by Grade-Girl, has been sent on its way to the ocean.”

So, Gem reigned supreme. Our smallest, most peaceful fish was the lone survivor. But we felt bad for him, because guppies are social fish.

So after we got back from our Christmas vacation, we decided to get Gem a new friend.

Meet Seashell 3:
New fish, Seashell 3







Gem didn’t like this invasion of his kingdom. Our formerly peacemaking fish (who would literally move between two sparring fish) became a tyrant, harassing Seashell. Now I feel a bit bad about getting them together. Things seem to have calmed down a bit, so maybe it will work out.

A year in, the fish saga continues.

Good-bye to Braylon

This week, an 7-year-old boy lost his battle with cancer, and I haven’t been able to get it out of my mind.

Braylon went to preschool with my daughter. He was a bright, shining child. The kind who had it all: academically advanced, a great athlete, but with such a warm, generous personality that everyone loved him.

The type of gifted person that the mythical gods of old caused to die young out of jealousy.

He was diagnosed only about 4 months ago. His type of brain cancer is considered a terminal diagnosis. Less than 10% of kids survive for 2 years after diagnosis.

Braylon faced it all with strength and good humor. A community rallied around him. You could almost dare to hope that he would be one of the very few to beat this thing, because that’s the sort of kid he was.

But miracles are, by definition, rare, and he did not get one. His passing was quick and unexpected, his fight ending just as it was moving to a new level.

I cannot imagine the pain of his parents, his little sister. Braylon’s light lives on in them, and in all those he touched. Although he is not physically here, his light  has not gone out. Like any candle, Braylon lit many others with his flame, creating a lasting legacy for such a short life.

If there is any lesson to be learned from this tragedy it is this: hold those you love close every day. Tomorrow is never promised.

Not even when you’re 7 years old.

**If you’d like to help the family, who still have the heavy medical bills to pay, please go to Braylon’s Warriors and donate whatever you can.**

WP-Backgrounds Lite by InoPlugs Web Design and Juwelier Schönmann 1010 Wien