MARTHA STEWART, HAH! | Secret Life of a Chaotic Writer

Luna the One-Eyed Wonder Dog, messy eater
Luna the One-Eyed Wonder Dog, messy eater

My mind is too full. It’s so full of novel stuff (page proofs! an upcoming conference to prepare for! what about the current work-in-progress?!?!?) and Debutante Ball debut author blog stuff (fabulous relaunch 9/1! brainstorming! getting organized!) that I’m in danger of short circuiting. In fact, the other night I turned on my bedside lamp because I couldn’t sleep, and the bulb flared, popped, died, and blew the circuit while it was at it.

How perfectly symbolic.

The ying and yang of all this brain activity is that I’m oddly blank too. For example, when the light bulb blew out the circuit, I whimpered because I couldn’t bear the thought of dealing with an electrician. I whimpered some more when I realized I had no Wifi and would have to unplug the television cable. It took me 12 hours–t.w.e.l.v.e. hours–to remember to flip the circuit breaker back to on. Uh-huh, that’s what I’m talking about. Oddly blank.

Here’s another example: As of last week, I have ants in my house. I’ve lived in my place for three years, but NOW the frenetic little beasties show up.

Again, how perfectly symbolic.

Yes, OK, I’m too distracted to keep up on the cleaning. The place is a wreck, and my wee dog, Luna the One-Eyed Wonder, is a messy eater. So, yes, dried-up wet food crusts the linoleum. Or rather, crusted the linoleum because the ants cleaned it up for me. Now that they’ve discovered the Eden that is my kitchen, they’re here to stay.

I gaze at the ants–my own little ecosystem–clean up new dog and human messes, and that’s about it. My brain blanks out when I think about the next step. Honestly, I can’t be bothered to buy one of those ant poisoner thingies. I don’t even know what they’re called, and I can’t be bothered to find that out either. So the little beasties and I shall live in harmony for the time being.

I forgot about my toenails. No summery pedicures for me. In fact, I shouldn’t be seen in sandals.

I forget to roll the pet hair off my clothes before I run out of the house.

I discovered a mushy, practically liquified, bunch of asparagus in the crisper.

A load of laundry has been sitting on the dining table for a month. It’s dusty with–you got it–animal hair, so I’ll need to wash it again. Someday.

At a stop light, I sneezed and rolled into the car in front of me.

I blew through a stop sign–whoops!–and received a $250 traffic ticket.

I lost my keys and shelled out $150 for a locksmith…

Now I don’t know how to end this post. I normally try to round them out, return full circle, but. My mind just went blank again.

I’m a Debutante! (I’m Serious. Really. I Am.)

pink-tilted-tiara-mdI’m in high-octane brain power mode this week. Practically twitchy, I’d say. I’m having a hard time focusing on one task for long, so let’s hope I finish this post before twitchy little authorial tasks such as plastering my new author photo everywhere or joining Google+ veer me away again. (Yeah, I know I poked fun at Google+ last week. Call me changeable.)

Why am I twitchy? I’m a debutante, donning my metaphorical tiara and pearls in honor of all debut authors everywhere! I was accepted at a debut author group blog called THE DEBUTANTE BALL with four other fabulous and feisty debut authors. We’re shaking things up! A new website design, new and interesting weekly topics, the works. We’re a mighty team, and we’ve virtually known each other only since Sunday. My brain is on overdrive with ideas.

The five us will be sharing our rollercoaster ride to publication with you, and we’ll also be helping each other out behind the scenes. Lots of moral support as we no doubt succumb to Author Overwhelmed Syndrome. (I stole this term from another great debut author group blog called BOOK PREGNANT. Thank you, Jessica Keener!)

So here we are, the debuting author debutantes of 2014 as introduced last weekend on The Debutante Ball. We start blogging in September.

13H-Heather-134x150HEATHER WEBB: Author of BECOMING JOSEPHINE (Plume/Penguin, December 2013)

Heather grew up a military brat and naturally became obsessed with travel, culture, and languages. She put her degrees to good use teaching high school French for nearly a decade before turning to full time writing and editing.

As a freelance editor, Heather spends oodles of time helping writers find their voice and hone their skills–something she adores. She may often be found Twittering helpful links, sharing writing advice and author interviews on her blog Between the Sheets, or teaching novel writing in her community. Other favorite haunts are, where she contributes to the Editor’s Posts and Writer Unboxed where she poses as Twitter mistress.

Lisa_new_edit_color_optLISA ALBER, Author of KILMOON, A COUNTY CLARE MYSTERY (Muskrat Press, March 2014)

Lisa received an Elizabeth George Foundation writing grant based on Kilmoon, in addition to a Walden Fellowship. Her short story “Paddy O’Grady’s Thigh” appeared in Two of the Deadliest (HarperCollins), an anthology edited by New York Times bestseller Elizabeth George. In addition, Lisa was nominated for a Pushcart Prize for the story “Eileen and the Rock.”

A Californian with a penchant for travel, animal advocacy, and photography, Lisa worked in international finance and book publishing before exchanging the corporate ladder (no more business suits!) for storytelling. She currently lives in the Pacific Northwest with a one-eyed rescue spaniel and an accident-prone cat.

13H-Susan-Gloss-128x150SUSAN GLOSS, Author of VINTAGE (William Morrow/HarperCollins, March 2014)

Susan Gloss is a graduate of the University of Notre Dame, where she majored in English and Spanish, and the University of Wisconsin Law School. She lives on Lake Monona in Madison, Wisconsin, with her husband, young son, and a neurotic hound dog. She balances–-or attempts to, anyway–-writing and family time with working as an attorney, curating an online vintage shop at, and writing about food for Edible Madison magazine.

13H-Natalia-Sylvester-143x150NATALIA SYLVESTER: Author of CHASING THE SUN (New Harvest/Amazon Publishing, May 2014)

Born in Lima, Peru, Natalia Sylvester came to the U.S. at age four and grew up in South Florida, where she received a B.A. in Creative Writing from the University of Miami. A former magazine editor, she now works as a freelance journalist and copywriter. Her articles have appeared in Latina, Writer’s Digest, and The Writer magazines. Chasing the Sun is partially inspired by a family member’s kidnapping. Natalia lives in Austin, Texas, with her husband and two rescue dogs, Maggie and Pita.

13H-Lori-Rader-Day-150x150LORI RADER DAY: Author of THE BLACK HOUR (Seventh Street Books, July 2014)

Lori Rader Day won Good Housekeeping’s first short story contest, chosen by bestselling author Jodi Picoult, and the Chris O’Malley Prize in Fiction from The Madison Review. Lori muses on Twitter at @LoriRaderDay.

APPLIED FICTION | Like Applied Mathematics Only Not

The Professor in a authorial pose.
The Professor in a authorial pose.

Two days ago I ran into one of my favorite coffeehouse friends. We’ve been running into each other for years in coffeehouses all over town. I call him The Professor, because that’s what he is — a brainiac ex-academic with a neverending treatise about what makes humans human. Three volumes so far. He’s a man of many spoken words, too, so when I decide to join him, I’m committed for an hour. I never know what profundity, nonsensical or not, will gush out of his mouth. Sometimes I wave my hands in his face to stem the tide. (He doesn’t mind — maybe he’s used to it.)

He sat at his usual table with his Mac, an ACE bandage, a used straw, an onion, and a jar of pickles. He offered me a pickle and got to talking about a friend who needed writers for a super-secret contract writing gig, which, of course, he couldn’t reveal or else he’d have to kill me. But it’s a great idea, he said. Innovative. Proprietary. He showed me the online job ad, which said things like, “Can you write colorful stories with no colors?”

Then he said, “You might call it applied fiction.”

“Applied fiction? You mean to say metafiction?”

No, he meant applied fiction. Like applied mathematics only with storytelling.


I barely know what applied mathematics is except to say “statistics.” Statistics is an example of applied mathematics (I think).

“So,” I said, “applying fictional methods to…?”

He’s got twinkly eyes does The Professor, especially when he’s cracking himself up. “It’s kind of like you telling a story to the rug so that it will vacuum itself.”


Is that kind of like me telling a story to the blank page so that a fiction (or blog) idea will generate itself?

And if applied fiction exists, does theoretical fiction exist also? Oh wait, that’s a no-brainer. I could blog endlessly about theoretical fiction, a.k.a. fabulous stories that I never write because I’m too busy vacuuming the rug.

UPDATE | Mom’s Dementia

mom_birthday“I swear, my memory lasts two seconds,” Mom said, leaning forward with a big smile.

We sat at her favorite restaurant, Ruby Tuesday’s. Her days of fine dining with my restaurateur dad are long gone. She’s comfortable at this chain restaurant. She never gets tired of it. As she says, “I haven’t eaten at Ruby Tuesday’s in ages,” even if it has only been two weeks since our last dinner out.

Since my last blog post about Mom, she quickly went down hill. We went through a hellish year in which she kept getting lost while driving and kept giving her social security and credit card numbers to shysters. We kept believing her when she said she had a grip on things, that this time she would remember not to answer the phone when strangers called and not to drive anywhere that wasn’t inside her safety zone.

Finally, we had to accept reality, and she had to accept our intervention. She no longer drives or manages her own money. We hired a caretaker to come around during the day. My sister buys her groceries, and I take her to her doctor’s appointments.

The thing about it is, she’s lost so much memory that she’s no longer anxious about it. This is a relief, in a way, but it’s also heartbreaking. She used to rail against her condition. Now she doesn’t seem to care much.

Last night I arrived at her house to search for memorabilia from my dad’s restaurateur days. I was asked to write a guest blog for the fantastic Jungle Red Writers blog. (If you read crime fiction, you’ve got to check it out!) I was honored, and I also panicked because I needed my dad’s famous coffee toffee pie recipe for the blog post. Of course, my mom couldn’t remember where the memorabilia was stored–or even what I was talking about. And I couldn’t find it. Which meant she might have thrown it out, not remembering its significance to us daughters.

I could feel myself freezing up like I do when I’m upset and frustrated. But I couldn’t bitch at Mom. How could I? I gave up the hunt, and we went to Ruby Tuesday’s. I re-explained the importance of the memorabilia, especially the recipe. She blinked, apparently startled. “Oh, we should find that stuff for you.”

“Yes, Mom, I already looked, and I couldn’t find it. Don’t worry, I’ll ask Nicole. She probably has it.” (Crossing my fingers…)

Mom’s gaze clouded over. Now befuddled, she turned the menu over and back. “What do I want to eat?”

She’d decided on the shrimp parmesan pasta not two minutes previously. I reminded her. She said, “I swear, my memory lasts two seconds.”

As always, she beamed as she said it. As always, she went on to joke that her crappy memory sure comes in handy when she’s watching Law & Order reruns.


P.S. My sister, Nicole, who lives in California, scanned everything I need to write the Jungle Reds guest post. Whew! Look for it this Sunday.

GOOD NEWS | I’m Officially a Debuting Novelist

KILMOON takes place in western Ireland. Old burial grounds like this provided tons of inspiration.
KILMOON takes place in western Ireland. Old burial grounds like this provided tons of inspiration.

(Read more about the novel here: KILMOON)

Yep, that’s me: debuting novelist! I’ve been debuting myself in my imagination for years, so it’s strange to be here with a baby book on its way through a gestation cycle — editing, and interior design, and cover design. Exciting!

My authorial cycle is just as hectic. Here’s the immediate to-do list:

1. New website. My current website is pretty stale now. Needs a revamp. So I need to find a website designer, decide on content, write that content…

2. Author photo! If you’re anything like me, the thought of having your photo taken — especially an official photo — doesn’t send you over the moon with enthusiasm. First there’s the pose. Shall I sit with chin on fist, looking contemplative? Or how about with arms crossed in an I’m-a-serious-writer pose? To be honest, I picture myself at a pub with a Guinness standing proud before me. Perhaps with a Guinness and with chin on fist?

And what about wardrobe? I might have to buy a few new tops, and I don’t like clothes shopping. Makeup?! Yee gads. I’m also not a fan of makeup, but I might need to buy — foundation? Hmm…I’d better ask for advice from my girly-girl girlfriends.

3. Last bits of the manuscript: acknowledgments, dedication, author bio. The acknowledgments are challenging because I’ve been revising the novel for years (off and on). I can’t remember everyone who provided feedback or research information. Lesson learned for the second novel: keep an acknowledgments list!

4. Figure out social networking, for real. It might help if I blogged consistently, eh? I hereby and with sincere hope vow to write a blog post once a week. (What’s today? Wednesday? So, every Wednesday? Do any of you dear readers have an opinion about which days are the best blogging days?)

Facebook – check. (Come find me if you’d like!) Do I REALLY need a Facebook author page? I’d better ask around.

Over the weekend, I Twitter-ized myself. Getting familiar with that. Just learned that “RT” means “retweet.” That’s a good start.

I think I might join Goodreads because I’ve been meaning to anyhow. And that’s it. No Tumblr or Pinterest or whatever the latest social-media outlet is. (I do need to finish revising the second novel in the series, after all.)

5. Most important: keep writing! It’s way too easy to get sidetracked by social media and the business side of writing. I’m feeling pressure to be out there in the see-and-be-seen way. I’m the friendly sort, so this isn’t too hard–and I like meeting new people. (Just yesterday I virtually met Kristopher of, a book reviewer–nice and smart reviewer!) However, since I’m the easily distracted type, this could be problematic.

There are more tasks, but I’m feeling a wee bit exhausted having written up my top five. OK, off to write the acknowledgments!

The Resurrection Season

The first daffodils
The first daffodils

Wow, this is a strange feeling. Me sitting before a blank WordPress page, attempting a resurrection of sorts. My life as a blogger went down hill around 2009, when I hit the skids with my fiction and my livelihood and my attitude. The blog archive tells a sad story of a blogger who had spurts of activity in 2010, 2011, and 2012, only to fizzle out repeatedly.

Shite happens, most definitely.

I watch my mom grow dim with dementia. I work a day-job that pays the bills and provides health benefits, but doesn’t fulfill me. I plug away too slowly at my fiction, trying to rally my optimism and faith back to their pre-economic-downturn heights.

But it’s spring, right? The first daffodils are blooming, and a Northern flicker returned to tippity-tap against the wall outside my bedroom. The cat carouses outside all night, and the dog takes her time sniffing every new leaf and blade of grass.

Best of all, even though I knew we were still in for crap-cold and dismally wet weather, there was that one evening last week when the air smelled green and my skin tasted warmth. I breathed, and breathed again.

Spring like a soul’s sigh.

It may be that the long winter of my discontent is lifting. Or maybe not. Not sure. Never am sure.

The daffodils are blooming, and I’m writing this blog post. That’s all that matters.

Toenails and Mindfulness

Pretty good for a first timer.

I promised myself I’d blog every week. So now I’m here, online, writing, and the only topic that pops up is the pedicure I gave myself last night. My toes look mighty pretty painted a Jordan-almond lilac, but so what?


I’m not sure, so I’m just going to write, right here and now, and see what my preening is really all about.

First off, it occurs to me that last night was my very first DIY, full-on pedicure. Make no mistakes, I’ve paid for pedicures, and I’ve slapped on the quick, last-minute coat of paint. Last night though, I soaked my feet, scraped my callouses, excavated the gunk around my nail beds, pushed back my cuticles, clipped and filed the nails, slathered on the foot creme, AND THEN applied the bottom coat and two coats of the childish lilac. (Forgot the top coat though…next time.)

I was proud of myself when I woke up this morning. I might as well have been a bride-to-be holding out her hand to gaze at her engagement ring. Admiring herself, admiring myself.

I’m astounded that I’d never given myself a pedicure before. And, even more astoundingly, I sat around with Angie, a fellow writer, watching old BBC episodes of “Absolutely Fabulous” and drinking red wine while I did it. I’d never before engaged in a girly evening like that either. I’m serious, never, not even as a teenager. My best girlfriend and I used to play chess. Either that, or we were drinking with our neer-do-well friends. Call us bad girls with nasty toenails.

Angie was surprised by my cluelessness. I had a mom, I had sisters, I had many best girlfriends growing up. How did I miss this girly right of passage (sans the red wine–or maybe not)? How could I not know why we use a bottom coat? No clue. For most of my life, I’ve treated my feet, well, like feet. I need them to transport myself, and to hopefully maintain my balance.

Here’s the thing: DIY pedicures require a quiet mind. Otherwise, what’s the point? To rush through the process, thinking ahead to the many other tasks I must cross off the to-do list, fretting about aspects of my life over which I have no control…Perhaps this is why I’ve never indulged in the DIY pedi before now: I tend to inhabit the land of the future, and this land is fraught with imagined obstacles and turmoil and conflict.

It’s quite exhausting.

So maybe I keep gazing at my confectionary toes because they return me to mindfulness. Simple pleasures in the here and now, you know? I could get used to girly frivolity; it might even be good for me. And even better, doing it with a friend! Angie taught me, for example, that two thin coats of paint are less likely to chip than one thick coat.

Who knew? (I certainly didn’t.)

FLOUNDERING | Indecisiveness Bringing Me Down

Which way should I go?

If decisiveness is the hallmark of a great leader, then I’m letting myself down in Writingland. I’m sitting here at my computer procrastinating — talk about being the queen of social networking. This kind of queenliness isn’t good for my fiction. This morning I handed over my sceptre to my flaky coregent, who should have abdicated long ago. Today, she reigns supreme first on Facebook, then on various fictionista blogs such as Murderati, The Lipstick Chronicles, and Jungle Red, and now, here, on my blog.

I simply can’t take her seriously at the moment. Off with her head!

Here’s what’s going on in the bigger picture of my fiction pseudo-career: For awhile now I’ve considered self-publishing because I’m getting no joy from the traditional route. I’ve been working hard (between one major bout of depression, one major bout of economic hardship, not to mention the day-job), folks, since 1999.

In the spring, I told myself to give the agent-hunting thing one more heavy push, and if nothing comes of it — that’s it, self-publish. I’ve revised my favorite unpublished novel, and I continue the agent process…

Meanwhile, here I am in Writingland, also known as the Land of Indecision, having handed over my power to the Queen of Procrastination. I take responsibility. I’m being foolish. I need to make a decision about what to work on RIGHT NOW.

I’ve been here before. My ailment is called between-project-itis. It’s an inflammation of the brain that causes me to flounder around for a few days — hopefully only for a few days — while I get my head around the notion of beginning something new. Picture me flopping around, like, say, that time in Hawaii when a wave floated me over a pretty coral bed, then retreated to leave me stranded atop said coral, frantic and splashing while my friends laughed at me (until they saw my bloody wounds — I still have scars on my legs)…

That’s me, flipping, flopping around in berserk fashion. I feel a pull in two directions at once, hence, my indecisiveness. It feels like I need to make a decision based on a career strategy, or some such thing, or else trust my gut…

1. Start a new novel that I developed last year. I’ve got the  major plot points, I’ve got the major characters. Will require what all first drafts require: tears and toil.

2. Revise an existing novel that I still feel has oodles of commercial potential. I now know how to revise it to amplify the potential. Will require major historical research.

I’m leaning toward the second option. I figure there’s no reason not to self-publish this novel while pursuing the traditional route with the other one. Right? Right. Did I just make a decision? (I can’t tell…honestly.)

This Is my Big Toe

Well, hi there after so long. I feel like I’m venturing into a cozy room after wandering an outer darkness for awhile. My room is a parlor with striped wallpaper and fringed lamps, and it contains a roaring fire and dozens shabby, genteel wingback chairs. In those wingback chairs lounge virtual blog friends of times past. You, my blog friends, are ghostly as yet — but welcoming — and my chair sits in the middle of everyone, already warmed by the fire.

This is my big toe venturing back into blog-world. It needs a little warming up, so I shall stretch it toward the hearth by way of 2010 photos.

Hey, how are you? Drop a line, let me know.

January: Hanalei Bay, Hawaii! Vitamin D! Lots of mai tais!
February: Early spring
March: Oregon coast for one of my impromptu writers retreats
One-eyed doggy a-okay
Happy Easter

See My Nightstand?

Book chaos as of January 2008

Oh dear. My previous post stood as my latest installment for FAR too long. As an emotional barometer, it’s misleading. Have I been morbidly depressed since October 20th? Is this why I haven’t posted? 

My friends tell me to quit being so hard on myself, so this is what I did: I let it all go for awhile and just lived my life. I pondered my fiction, wondering if I should quit all together. I decided to quit, in fact. Funny thing is, I may play the I’m-quitting-fiction game, but fiction doesn’t want to quit me. In fact, I found myself applying for an artist-in-residency as well as imagining a new novel. 

Oy...July 2009

And, let’s face it, you know it’s time to post anew when you get this from two friends within 24 hours. 

“Sometimes I read your blog and really worry about you.” 

“Ooh, I read your blog, and think, Lisa’s on her way to a dark place.” 

OH dear. But, see my nightstand…See see?

And now!