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!

Almost Forgot St. Paddy

Wow, 1:30 p.m. and I just realized it’s St. Patrick’s Day. There’s no reason I ought to remember except that I’m part O’Brien and those O’Briens like to spread around their Catholic guilt — even within my heathen veins.


Interestingly enough, I’m emmersed in all things Irish at this moment. I’m swimming in mist and rain, in gloom and dreariness. I’m exploring drystone walls and green landscapes, Celtic tumuli and Medieval relics. Atmospherics everywhere, or so I hope.

My novel is about as contrary to St. Patrick and his missionary goodness as you can get. If anything, I might, just possibly, poke a little fun at Catholicism. No offense to anyone; I figure I can because it’s a sickness that runs in my family. (Kidding! Kind of.)

I’m on the tail-end of this revision. Really. I am. Down to the individual words. Got a wearying list of them I’m “Find”ing because I ran into them too often while reading the printed manuscript. Various forms of the words “shiver” and “lurk.” “Gaze.” “Creak.” “Glance.”

And, for some reason, “smile,” too. Despite the fact that my characters are running around on a serious quest, I’ve got them smiling alot–usually as subterfuge. Gotta remedy that.

This is THE most boring revision task. But it’s necessary, so return I must. Back to all those blasted smiles.

Have you noticed that you fall back on certain words when drafting your stories?

Never Mind “Write What You Know”

The write-what-you-know maxim never appealed to me. I’m a student at heart. I like research.

So, when an Irish friend blew through town a few weeks back, I eagerly prepared myself to take full advantage of his good nature. My list of questions wasn’t exhaustive, just a few odds and ends from the first draft. (In-depth research will require a trip.) For example, do four-year-olds go to nursery school, pre-school, any school at all? Answer: Yes, and it’s called “junior infants.”

Trousers or pants? Well, since “pants” equals underwear, best beware. However, I can use the following phrase in dialogue: “complete pants,” which means “rubbish.” Over pints, I asked my friend about hot plates for camping and graffiti among other things. Poor guy, at one point I even pulled out my novel journal to quote his Irish-ness verbatim.

I’ll be the first to admit that research complicates the process. Why can’t I set a story in good old Portland, Oregon? At least then I wouldn’t have to contend with the lousy exchange rate…

Here’s an example of an actual research list, most of which relates to things Irish.

Fourth Draft Research (May ’06 Trip)

  • In small jurisdictions, are there detective guards plus regular (uniformed) guards? What’s the internal lingo for differentiating them? (page 6)
  • For civilians: do they say “guard” or “officer” or “police” etc? (page 6)(page 160)(page 175/6)(page 181)(page 297)
  • When CA seat belt law into effect? (page 32)
  • Called “Jane Does” in Ireland? (page 35)(page iii-11)
  • Check smoking laws vs. date of story (page 36)(page 95)
  • Women’s shelters in Ennis? (page 42)
  • Moonstone significance research (page 70)
  • Is “bedsit” really a word? (page 158)
  • Can drink outside? Festival, booths, etc? (page 183)
  • DPP – prosecutor. What called in civilian terms? (page 184)
  • What time pubs close generally? (page 256)
  • Alcohol withdrawal symptoms (page 267)
  • Can you borrow against a house in Ireland? (page 267)
  • What do nurses wear? (page 270)
  • How phone calls handled on general wards? (page 311)
  • Public defenders used like in US? (page 324)
  • Visitors allowed into interview rooms when arrested? (page 324)
  • Call for lawyers when get arrested? (page 325)
  • State Pathologist has a van? (page 377)
  • False arrest—conditions of arrest; conditions to let go; how long can hold etc. Allowed visitors? (page 390)
  • Get a public defender automatically like in the States? (page 392)
  • Does peat go gray and powdery like coals? (page iii-23)
  • Check robins and wheatears in September. (page iii-70)


A Guinness? Please!

ireland3a.jpgSaturday night I found myself at Kell’s Pub with a writer-friend named Bonnie. She was in town for a night, and we caught up on our gossip and writerly doings in the midst of partying 20-somethings. We’d originally met on the Maui Writers Conference circuit, and, speaking of St. Patrick and all good things Irish, we roomed together during an Irish writers retreat in 2006.

Here we are at the Rock of Cashel, County Tipperary.

We get on well for many reasons. We believe in each others’ writing (she’s the better artist, actually), aren’t drama-queens, and appreciate space and independent behavior. In fact, she’d heard the following through the small-world-writers-conference grapevine — it’s truly bizarre how insular and petty that world can be: Apparently, we earned ourselves a snobbish reputation during the retreat!


One evening after a day of writing and workshopping, a few of us decided to dine together. Word went around, and our cozy group of four turned into a loud and demanding 25. I couldn’t stand it. Neither could Bonnie. So we opted out with nice excuses and ended up at a local’s pub (no tourists there!). We ate our sandwiches and sipped our Guinnesses alongside a couple of old codgers we barely understood. This was perfect for us.

ireland5.jpgWere we snobs? Maybe, maybe not. Our flight wasn’t personal to any individual — it was the herd itself. Peer dynamics can be tough for those of us with lone-wolf tendencies. Besides, what difference could our departure possibly have had on the rest of the group? None. Or so we innocently assumed as we said our goodbyes.

I raise a St. Patrick’s Day toast to all “snobbish” individualists everywhere!






P.S. Check out this St. Patrick.

I snapped this shot in a village church during a 2004 novel-research trip. At the time, it struck me as, uh, colorful. Not the usual saintly statue so worth remembering. Low and behold, the image came in handy a few months ago when he made a surprise cameo appearance in my current first draft.

Testing: Am I Live?

I should be writing today’s allotment of novel pages by now, but I’ve decided to test this blog, my fledgling effort. In truth, I’m procrastinating, which is silly because I know exactly what needs to happen in the current scene.

The scene takes place in a fictional village in County Clare, Ireland. It will be a scene of conflict, but since fiction is all about conflict, that statement says nothing. I love writing about internal conflicts, characters who are wounded and flawed and trying to get by. However, the scene I’m about to write is a good old-fashioned verbal confrontation between two strong-willed men. That one of these men is dying and the other not telling the whole truth should make the scene fun to write. So why am I procrastinating?

(Because I can, I suppose. I have all day to get my five daily pages out of my head and into the computer.)

I live in a two-bedroom, two-bath apartment. The master bedroom is my office because it faces south, not that that matters this morning. It’s misty outside, kind of romantic like I remember from my childhood in the San Francisco Bay Area. The quaking aspen aren’t quaking, but their branches loaded with gold leaves shiver as squirrels go about their autumnal business. The leaves are waiting for a good breeze to set them flurrying all at once. It’s quiet out there with everyone at work.

I look out the window a lot, but then I’ve been doing that since I was kid. I sometimes wonder if dreaminess is one of the prerequisites to being a writer, and a novelist in particular.

It may be quiet on my street, but it’s growing increasingly loud in my head. The confrontation wants to get written.

Welcome to my blog. I might use it as a procrastination device all too often.