Newsletter Archives




15. Living Like My Character (April 17)

My Boots

For me, one of the things that makes a good novel a great novel is when the author has done her research. Currently, I’m reading The Immortalists by Madisonian Chloe Benjamin. Her description of San Francisco in the late 70s/early 80s brought back vivid memories of that time. I’d forgotten we’d called it “the gay cancer” before we knew it was AIDS. And in David Mitchell’s The Bone Clocks, I can smell the fear as his character sneaks through checkpoints to report on the Iraq War. I’m amazed at the amount of research that went into these books. more




14. Pitch it (April 2, 2018)

29th-writers-institute-logoThis April 12th to the 15th, the air at Madison’s Concourse Hotel will be buzzing with tales of murder in Elizabethan London, dragon-slaying in fantastical worlds, intergalactic war, and Russian espionage when UW-Madison’s Division of Continuing Studies hosts the 29th Annual Writers’ Institute. more


13. Sex Scenes in the Gym* (March 16, 2018)
You’re wondering which gym I go to, right? Okay, I’ll admit, people aren’t really having sex in my gym (as far as I know). Instead, I’ve been listening to Diana Gabaldon’s book, I Give You My Body . . . How I Write Sex Scenes while working on the elliptical machine. Needless-to-sayI’ve been going to the gym a lot more these days! 


Academy Statute12.  Crafting an Oscar-Winning Movie (March 2, 2018)

I’m addicted to story, particularly this time of year when the Academy Awards roll around (this Sunday!). I try to see all the movies nominated for best picture because I love good cinema and I might win some cash — my niece puts together the most amazing Oscar parties! more






11. What a Character! (February 16, 2018)
Beginning novelists want readers to love their characters as much as they do, so often they’ll make them perfect. I was guilty of this. When I first wrote Leo into existence, I continued to point out how gorgeous he is. The funny thing is, the more you state a thing, the less impact it has. And such repetition dulls the reader to the point that they don’t care, which is the worst possible outcome. I don’t need to hit the reader over the head with Leo’s good looks, they get it the first time. more


10. What’s with the Weather? (February 9, 2018)

The snow doesn’t give a soft white damn whom it touches.” — e.e. cummings

Winter has once again decided not to be ignored. It’s that time of year when we get blasted with cold and snow, a slight warming trend reprieve, and then another blast. This past week has been particularly nasty with back-to-back snow dumps causing hazardous road conditions and cancelled plans. Our weather has been a true antagonist — stopping many from achieving their goals. Not so for those of us who are writers, though. Cancelled plans and limited mobility means extra writing time. While the snow piled up outside, I got cozy on my yellow couch, sipped vanilla/caramel tea, tapped my computer keys, and finished the rough draft of my novel-in-progress! more


9. What’s a Devil Particle?
(Also known as “Help with Poisoning Cows – Part Two”) (February 2, 2018)

Novelists use a weird combination of imagination and reality when writing a book. Generally, if the novel doesn’t follow real-world logic, the reader finds it unbelievable and, possibly, unreadable. I’m in awe of the research that goes into many novels. Tom Clancy was a master at research and Stephen King did more than his fair share in his book 11/22/63. A section of David Mitchell’s The Bone Clocks takes place during the Iraq War –when reading it, you feel as if you’re there. In a Goodreads interview, Mr. Mitchell said this about research: “To get it right, you need to research and research and research. And then you need to hide all your research, otherwise something else happens. You get sentences like, ‘Milord, would you like me to light the sperm whale oil lantern or would you prefer the cheaper but smokier pig tallow candle?’ You burst into laughter and—puff!—the illusion is gone. So you have to get it right, then you have to hide it.”

8. Help with Poisoning Cows – Part One (January 26, 2018)

A few weeks ago, I mentioned how the internet has made research so easy for writers. Need to know what birds would be flying around an Illinois gazebo in October? Google it (sparrows). Wondering how long a voice-activated bugging device can record? Google it (144 hours!). Are there any recently-discovered caves in the US? Google it (Lechuguilla Cave in New Mexico, once considered insignificant has been found to be the seventh-longest in the world).cf0f0a97-6aef-445f-ad6c-322dcb7db865
7. Interviewing Leo (January 19, 2018)

Leonardo “Leo” Salvatore Townsend, the protagonist in my series, is attractive (okay, he’s hot), a womanizer (particularly in Carpe Diem, Illinois), and an award-winning journalist with a strong sense of justice. He also has a phobia and a fatal flaw, but he didn’t always have those imperfections. more


6. Creative Ideas (January 12, 2018)

One of the most common questions readers ask writers is where do we get our ideas. Neil Gaiman used to tell people that he gets them from a little idea shop in Bognor Regis. Now he just tells them that he “makes them up. Out of his head.” (Check out his terrific essay on this subject). Stephen King says asking the key question “What if?” leads to his story concepts. He generously gives more insights into what influences his scary imagination in his collection of short stories, The Bazaar of Bad Dreams. The stories are prefaced with an explanation about their origins. Fascinating. more


5. Bursts of Inspiration (January 5, 2018)

It takes an average of five years to complete a debut novel. J. D. Salinger and Margaret Mitchell spent ten years writing Catcher in the Rye and Gone with the Wind while J. K. Rowling wrote Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone in six (check Infographic: How Long Did Famous Novels Take to Write to see who was the quickest author). I started writing Carpe Diem, Illinois in December of 2007 and held a published copy in my hand six years and four months later. That’s a long time to devote to a creative endeavor, which is why many people start to write a book and never finish and why even more people say they’d like to write a book, and never do. Being dedicated to one project for years is hard. So what’s my motivation, my inspiration? more


4. Fictional Worlds of 2017 (December 30, 2018)

For the first five and a half months of 2017, I lived with Paul Salvage in his dystopian world as I completed the second draft of The Devil Particle. I stayed in that world the rest of this year writing about Paul’s rivalGaige Devlin, and his struggles in the second book of the trilogyBut throughout the year, I’ve also inhabited many other fictional worlds. more

3. Fictional Research (December 22, 2017)

One of the things I like best about writing fiction is that I get to play God by creating worlds and the people in them. Even so, my places and people have to be plausible. That’s where research comes in. Like most authors, I’m certain I’m on FBI, CIA, and Homeland Security watchlists because I’ve Googled such things as “bugging devices,” “retrieving deleted emails,” and “pipe bombs.” But I’m not a threat — just a Midwestern writer with a wild imagination. more


2. What’s in a name . . . er . . . title? (December 15, 2017)

A good book title should be so intriguing that it hooks the buyer. Many people have told me they bought Carpe Diem, Illinois just because of the title. Yahoo, success!

Originally, Carpe Diem, Illinois was simply Carpe Diem which I thought was the perfect name for my debut novel. When I learned that book titles are not copyrighted, I did some investigating. I discovered and plugged in “Carpe Diem” to determine if other books had that name. Yep, over 30 books, including one by Nobel Prize Winner Saul Bellow.  more


1. First Words – (December 1, 2017)

I’m officially starting my newsletter today, this minute, with these words. For several years I’ve considered starting a newsletter or blog, talked about it with other writers, received advice, and conducted research. Now I’m actually throwing words out into cyberspace. It’s scary. Like when I typed these first words in chapter six of the rough draft of Carpe Diem, Illinoismore