La Tavola

Jo Thomas~ Jo Thomas

‘Write about what you know,’ people would tell me when I first started writing. The problem is, I didn’t know about anything…or so I thought! I knew I loved food, but I wasn’t a chef, or even one of those foodie types with fancy knifes and a cupboard full unrecognisable ingredients. I just loved to feed my friends and family. I loved the way food brought us around the table together. But what could I really write about?

Then, my husband was asked to go and work on the west coast of Ireland. We went over on a research trip and I had never seen so much rain. But whilst I was there we went to a seafood restaurant. It looked like a fisherman’s cottage at the end of the pier. When we stepped in, it was like walking into someone’s front room. The fire was roaring and there were candles on the tables and on the windowsills. We sat by the window and just for a while, it stopped raining. The moon threw out a silver shadow across Galway Bay and as I sat and ate oysters from the same waters I thought, this is sexy. This is what this place is all about. I began to realise that where ever you go, when you discover the food of the place, it takes you by the hand and introduces you to its people, history and culture. It was there I wrote my first book, The Oyster Catcher, set amongst the oyster beds of Galway Bay.

notebook I was then researching my second book in Southern Italy, in Puglia, where my brother owned a small place. We were in one of our favourite restaurants, a family run tavern in the middle of a rural olive grove. After dinner, the owner joined us and brought a bottle of homemade limoncello, pouring us each a glass. He didn’t speak English and I didn’t speak Italian. But somehow, we had this conversation. He asked me what kind of books I wrote. I told him I wrote about food and love. He explained that, for him, life was all about the food they grew on their land, and he held out an arm; to cook in the kitchen; to put on the table, la tavola, and he banged his hand down on the scrubbed wooden table; for the ones he loved! Then he placed his hand on his heart. ‘That’s it!’ I replied. That’s what I write. Stories about the food that’s grown on the land, cooked in the kitchen and put on the table for the ones we love. I write about la tavola, because it’s there that I share my love. We have our arguments, share our problems celebrate and show our love, at la tavola. Given that I’m from partIrish and part-Italian heritage, I think there must be something in the genes! It is the heart of my home and that’s what I know about.

Since Italy, I have written about wine making in south west France in Late Summer in the Vineyard, honey making and herbs in Crete in The Honey Farm in the Hill and I have just finished my new book set in Spain, Sunset over the Cherry Orchard. The more books I finish, the more places I want to explore through their food and the more tables, wherever they might be, I want to write about.

Jo Thomas worked for many years as a reporter and producer, first for BBC Radio 5, before moving on to Radio 2's The Steve Wright Show. In 2013 Jo won the RNA Katie Fforde Bursary. Her debut novel, THE OYSTER CATCHER, was a runaway bestseller in ebook and was awarded the 2014 RNA Joan  Hessayon Award and the 2014 Festival of Romance Best Ebook Award. Jo lives in the Vale of Glamorgan with her husband and three children.

Creativity Through Divorce

Casey Clipper~ By Casey Clipper   

I’m getting a divorce. There, I said it. Out loud. Admission is half the key, right?

Yeah, right, if only.

This is a secret I’ve held close to the chest for quite some time now, only recently finally informing people of my personal plight. It’s embarrassing. Even though I shouldn’t be, I am. So, I’ve kept quiet and tried to go about my daily life. Try, being the key word.

I haven’t gone into explicit details about my pending divorce, only placing a vague post on social media. My closest friends and coworkers know the insane details and it’ll remain that way. Really, it’s no one’s business and who really cares? I am not one of those people who posts her dirty laundry all over social media for people to weigh in. But when I did make the announcement, something unexpected happened. Well, unexpected to me. Because I had no idea what to expect when I just tossed out there the big D-word.

First, I was completely overwhelmed by the amount of support I received. I had no idea how many people would reach out privately to send me messages of support. I was honestly amazed.

Second, I was saddened at how many authors are also going through what I am. Now, maybe they don’t have the Jerry Springer episode background as part of their plot, like I do. (Trust me, be glad you don’t.) But that doesn’t make their situation any less writer-life-soul-sucking than mine. Which begs the question:

How the hell do we get through this while writing a story?

Good question. I don’t know if I have the answers but here’s what I’ve found that’s semi-working, so far.

1. I just can’t…and I must accept it.

I wish I could say, “Just do this or do that,” and the words will come, but that’s not realistic. They don’t come. Characters don’t speak to you clearly or cleverly when your mind is worried about what is to come next in your personal life. I would love tojournal say that I’m able to lose myself in the manuscript but that’s far from the truth. I can barely concentrate on the page in front of me. I wish there was a turn on/off switch and I could flip it as needed. If only.

I had planned a trilogy release for October. Not going to happen. Only 1 out of the 3 books is written and after giving it to my awesome beta readers, the novel needs a lot of work. This had upset me immensely. I’m not used to my betas ripping apart my novels. (Which, I’m not going to complain about. Their brutal honesty I value greatly.) When expressing my frustration to my author friend, she brought up a good point. “Casey, you’re lucky you wrote a book. Give yourself a break.”

It was then I realized that my determination and drive got me to write a novel but the same persistence wasn’t allowing me to accept that novel was lacking. Which, of course it would be. How on earth could anyone write a good novel when your life is nothing but one big Maury Povich show, waiting for the next bomb to be dropped from a cue card? It was those truthful words from a good friend that gave me some relief. I’ve pushed back the release date until 2018 and can now concentrate on editing and writing books 2 and 3.

2. Continue to work on the novel.

I am continuing to try to work on the novel. I open it every day and even if it’s 1 line of edits, it’s something. Because I know, at some point, my muse will return, roaring to release all the pent up creativity she’s collecting. It’s only a matter of time. But, that won’t happen if I don’t keep opening the manuscript. Plus, I don’t want to get rusty. Who knows if that’s an actual thing with writers but I’m not willing to find out.

3. Lean on your writing friends.

There is absolutely nothing better to get your mind off all the drama than going to a chapter meeting, attending that conference, going to a book signing. Or any of the many other things that have to do with writing but not necessarily the actual writing part. Being able to escape reality for writers/authors in these situations is as precious as readers being able to escape in our novels. Bonus, your writer friends will give you various ways of how to turn your own drama into a book.

In all seriousness, I don’t know what I would do without my writer friends. There is zero judgement. Only concern and infallible support. Lean on them. Tell them what’s happening. Be truthful. It’s such a chore to keep all you’re going through inside. After all, we’re writers. We’re used to expressing ourselves on paper, telling our stories to the world. When we keep our own drama inside, it eats away at our souls.

4. Lean on your friends.

Just like #3, this one is just as invaluable. When I finally made my general announcement on Facebook about my divorce, the responses were overwhelming. My messenger box blew up with readers, authors, and friends contacting me with love and support. I hadn’t expected that. I made a generalized statement and in that short, one paragraph post, the goodness in people came through. That has been one of the better moments of this process.

*Side note: If you’re going to post something on social media, don’t blast the ex. It’s not worth it. Just a vague statement is good enough. Don’t be that drama llama that airs the dirty secrets to the masses. We’re authors of fiction not tabloid writers using our own lives as fodder.

The price of this writer’s divorce? My creativity.

It sucks and not every author/writer will have the same problem. But I know that I can’t be the only one to have their world turned upside down and the muse decides to go on hiatus at the same time. It’s okay. She’ll come back and when she does, she’ll return on fire.

And to those who are going through the same, awful life situation. I feel your pain. I wish you all the best. I hope your words come back soon, too. Dig your heels in and protect your words, your mind, your soul, and yourself.

If you’ve gone through a divorce or are going through one, what are your suggestions in getting through with your creativity intact?

Casey Clipper

Contemporary Romantic Suspense Author Casey Clipper is from Pittsburgh, PA. She's a noted sports fanatic, chocolate addict, and has a slight obsession with penguins. She's an avid romance reader and loves to lose herself in a good book, like we all do, right? Casey currently serves as president of the Contemporary Romance Writers of America. Casey is an active member of the Romance Writers of America, Three Rivers Romance Writers, Kiss of Death, North Eastern Ohio Romance Writers of America, and ASMSG. Casey is the recipient of the 2016 JABBIC HBARWA Short Contemporary Romance Readers’ Choice Award.

Follow Casey on the following platforms:   

Amazon Author Page || Facebook || Website || BookBub || YouTube || Pinterest || Instagram

From Romantic Romance to Ordered Disorder

 ~ Miriam Drori 

Want to know how to approach writing non-fiction when you’re most used to romantic stories? Don’t ask me; I didn’t do it.

You didn’t?

No.

But you’ve published that lovely romance that’s set in a really exotic place called…

Jerusalem. You’re right. My romance, Neither Here Nor There was published in 2014 and my new non-fiction book, Social Anxiety Revealed, is out on August 22.

There you are, then.

woman with flowerThere I’m not. You see, I wrote the first draft of Social Anxiety Revealed back in 2004. I was still working as a technical writer then and was used to organising stuff under headings and sub-headings. I also created lots of different styles for the book to show up the different sorts of writing in it: text, quotes, tables, jokes. I was used to all this from creating technical documents. My publisher has now had the nightmare of converting all that from a Word document to a book.

Wait a minute. You said “jokes” right? You have jokes in a book about social anxiety?

Absolutely. Even people who suffer from social anxiety know how to laugh – although they probably don’t laugh too loudly. And their low self-esteem makes it easy for them (us) to laugh at themselves. Besides, this book isn’t intended solely for people who have social anxiety. It’s just as relevant for anyone who knows someone who might have it. It’s not a self-help book, although it does contain a few tips. It simply explains what social anxiety is – all aspects of it.

Why did you write it?

To raise awareness of social anxiety. That’s my passion. Social anxiety is the most common anxiety disorder there is. It’s the third most common mental health issue. About 12% of people will suffer from it at some time in their lives. And yet most people don’t know what it is.

And what does that have to do with writing romance?

One link is story. Even in non-fiction, you can create a story to illustrate a point. I did this in Social Anxiety Revealed. I made up a fictional character with social anxiety, a guy who lives alone and doesn’t connect with anyone. Then I discussed how his neighbours would regard him.

The ability to create stories has many uses. When I learned (in a Toastmasters club) about giving prepared talks and I had to actually give short talks as practice, my best talk consisted mostly of a story I made up. The talk was more interesting than the others I gave and it was much easier for me to remember a story than a list of points.

Another link is in the contrast. How many romances have you read that include a character with social anxiety? Romance requires two people to approach each other, or at least one to approach the other. And that requires a confidence that social anxiety sufferers usually don’t have. They’re likely to think: she doesn’t like me, or he’ll laugh me off, and so they won’t take the plunge.

The one who is approached also needs confidence to respond positively. If they’re thinking: he only asked me because he has pity on me/has just been stood up/thinks I’m slightly better than having no one to spend the evening with, that positive response is unlikely to materialise.

Is it helpful for a romance writer to publish an unconnected non-fiction work? Does it help with sales of the author’s romances?

Ah, you’ll have to come back to me on that one.

*How has reading / writing non-fiction influenced your writing? 

Miriam Drori has decided she’s in the fifth and best stage of her life, and she’s hoping it’ll last for ever. It’s the one in which she’s happiest and most settled and finally free to do what she wants. 

Miriam lives in a delightful house and garden in Jerusalem with her lovely husband and one of three children. She enjoys frequent trips around the world. She dances, hikes, reads and listens to music. And she’s realised that social anxiety is here to stay, so she might as well make friends with it.

On top of that, she has moved away from computer programming and technical writing (although both of those provided interest in previous stages) and now spends her time editing and writing fiction. NEITHER HERE NOR THERE, a romance with a difference set in Jerusalem, was published in 2014. THE WOMEN FRIENDS, co-written with Emma Rose Millar, is a series of novellas based on the famous painting by Gustav Klimt. Future books will include a sequel to NEITHER HERE NOR THERE.

More information about Social Anxiety Revealed and Miriam Drori’s other books is available on her website/blog as well as her new blog that’s devoted to social anxiety.

How to Use Your Travels to Make Your Story Sparkle

Rachel Magee~ By Rachel Magee

Vacations. We all love them. Just the sound of the word can bring stress relief. We plan, research, save for and dream about them all year long. And when the time gets near, we go shopping, buy new outfits and struggle to cram them all into our over-stuffed suitcases. No? Just me? Well, moving on, then.

If you’re anything like me, you’re never truly on vacation from writing. I may get away from the norm, but my creative mind is always spinning. Vacations fill me with inspiration for new stories or ideas for my current WIP. More than once, I have come home from a trip with a new story completely plotted from beginning to end, or with a scene written out in beautiful detail that had previously stumped me. One time, I had so many ideas for a new novel I spent the entire three-hour fight home scribbling out plot points and character profiles on a stack of index cards. When we landed, the man next to me commented that he hadn’t seen anyone write that fast or that much in a long time. My cramped hand had to agree.

All those precious vacation moments can affect your writing in two different ways. Itcan affect how you, as the writer, write. Or, you can use those tasty travel tidbits to send your characters on vacay. We’ll explore both ways, but first let’s talk about you, the writer.

Close your eyes for a moment and picture your last vacation. Go ahead. I’ll wait. Can you see yourself there, standing in the middle of a scene worthy of being captured on a picture post card, doing what you love, relaxed and invigorated at the same time? Those are the moments, memories and feelings that can fuel your writing. Here are a few ways you can incorporate them in your writing.

  • Seductive Settings. Readers want to be whisked away, and what is a better place to take them than someplace near and dear to your heart? If you don’t want to set your next novel entirely in your last vacation destination, try incorporating elements into whatever setting you do use. A favorite restaurant you tried or a beautiful garden you visited can be great inspirations to add to your settings.
  • Capture the Culture. One thing I love doing on vacation is exploring the culture of the place I’m visiting. I love the little nuances that make every place unique. Recently, I was visiting family in the Florida Keys. I love it down there, everyone is a little more relaxed. They have an unofficial shoes-optional policy. It’s not uncommon to spot locals hanging out in Starbucks or running into the grocery store with bare feet. No one is ever in a hurry, unless the fish are biting. Then they can’t get their boats into the Gulf Stream fast enough. Use these little nuances to create deeper, richer, more interesting characters, or to influence how your characters react in different settings.
  • Making Memories. Did you come home from your last trip with a crazy story? Use it! My books are full of slightly altered versions of crazy things that happened on vacation, and they are usually the scenes that readers say they love the most. Which scenes, you ask? Nope, not telling. But if you think ‘that could not happen,’ there’s a good chance it probably did. Sometimes our best inspiration comes from things that happen in real life.
  • Enriching Experiences.  Experiencing new things expands your world knowledge and broadens your understanding which, in turn, can make you a more interesting writer. Consider every new experience you try to be research for a future novel. Sure, you’re not going to use everything you do in your next manuscript, but add it to your memory bank to use when you need it. Even if all you did on vacation was veg by pool with the intention of keeping your step-count as low as possible, that state of ultimate relaxation can be an experience you might want to pull from someday.

hat and shoes on beachDon’t forget that your characters can benefit from travel, too. Having your characters pack their suitcases, or even their overnight bags, can add an interesting element to your story. Consider how sending your characters on a getaway could affect your story:

  • Taking them out of their norm can changes their mindset, shift the relationship dynamics, or help them see things differently.
  • New experiences can play an important role in your character’s arc. It can be the spark that prompts change.
  • A romantic getaway, or a getaway that turns romantic, can be just what your characters need to jump into that relationship. I mean, we do write romance, after all.

I’m going to leave you with a few helpful tips to harvest the most benefits from your travels.

  • Take pictures. They can help you remember not just the details of the settings, but the feelings that went along with them.
  • Keep a journal to jot down your thoughts. 
  • Enjoy yourself! The more fun you have, the more experience and memories you have to take home.

So, what do you think? Anyone else ready to book their next vacation? It’s all in the name of research, after all. Happy travels!

Rachel wrote her first novel when she was twelve and entered it into a contest for young author/illustrators. Unfortunately, the judges weren’t impressed with her stick figures. So she dropped the dream of becoming a world famous illustrator and stuck to spinning stories. When she’s not busy working on her latest book, she loves to travel with her family and friends. By far, her favorite destination is the beach, which tends to work its way into most of her stories. In fact, her debut novel, Happily Ever Afters, is about strangers who meet and fall in love while on vacation.

Between trips, you can find her at home in The Woodlands, TX with her wonderful husband, their two adventurous kids and a couple of spirited pets, all of whom share Rachel’s love of the ocean. Well, except the cat and dog. They’re both afraid of water. Find out more about what Rachel has been up to at rachelmageebooks.com.

Facebook || Twitter || Google + 

Spooky Noise in the Dark Bathroom

Jeff Salter~ By Jeff Salter

We writers tend to have vivid imaginations… especially when it’s night time and we’re alone in the house. This is a true story from May of 2014. See if you can figure out the actual solution to this mystery. OR… how would you WRITE the solution?

Tap...clack-click. Tap...clack-click.

My ears are more finely tuned to spooky unknown sounds at night when my wife is out of town.

I had just gotten into bed, around midnight, when I heard this repeated eerie sound, Tap...clack-click. It seemed to be coming from the bathroom, the door of which I had just closed (as I always do before retiring).

Tap...clack-click.

It wasn't King Sipper (our cat), because he was up on the bed beside me.

dark doorwayTap...clack-click.

It was not a distant train.

Tap...clack-click.

Turned off my 'white noise' machine and listened closely.

Tap...clack-click.

It was definitely coming from the bathroom, and apparently from the other side of the door my face was presently pressed against. I don't know Morse, but I knew this was no S-O-S. But what was it?

Tap...clack-click.

 — —

 Here are some of the suggested solutions to my mystery that I’ve already received. Add yours to the mix and I’ll return later tonight (or tomorrow morning) to tell y’all the REAL solution.

* walls cooling down

* tap dancing cockroach

* dripping faucet

* battery operated grandkid’s toy

* branch tapping against a window

* Poe’s story, "The Tell-Tale Heart," come to life

* And my favorite of the suggested solutions: attempted communication from aliens who use the old-fashioned “tap....clack-click” language.

Add your possible solution in the comments section and I’ll return later tonight (or tomorrow morning) to tell y’all the REAL solution.

As we authors are composing scenes, let’s not be too quick to end them prematurely. Sometimes the characters can take us in a totally different direction.

Jeff Salter, who has written 12 novels and five novellas, already has 14 fiction titles released with three royalty publishers. His most recent is “The Duchess of Earl” released in mid-July by Clean Reads. Two more titles are due out this year and he has several works in progress.

BICHOK, But Then What?

~ By Tanya Agler

Note: Tanya's companion post, Writing During a Family Crisis, can be found here

Okay, we’ve all been there. We’re about to start writing and bam! The robocall of congratulations comes as you’ve won a free cruise to Nebraska if you turn over our checking account number now. A knock on the office door precedes your youngest running in with blood gashing out of his forehead and an ER trip is in your immediate future. A pop-up notification alerts you a prince in Nigeria wants to give you a million dollars because you’re a wonderful person. Okay, I’m exaggerating on purpose, but think about it. When you sit down to write, how often do you check your e-mail or your Facebook feed for just a second or tell yourself it will be one game of Solitaire? Even right now, thank you for reading this blog, but were you about to open your manuscript? If so, this might be the article you’ve been waiting for. If, on the other hand, you are rewarding yourself by reading one of your favorite website blogs after a productive day of writing, please come write with me and let your discipline rub off on me!

To Do Lists. Why are they the rage this year? Because they work. One caveat. Make a to-do list on a sheet of paper or in a day planner or in a notebook. Crossing items off with a pen or pencil often helps you feel like you’ve accomplished something. How specific your to-do list is up to you. (My wonderful husband has fun whenever he finds my to-do list. He often writes in watch Doc Martin with WH). If you like crossing off lots of activities, go ahead and include items like brushing your teeth and getting dressed. Often crossing off the little things gives a sense of accomplishment. If, however, you only want to itemize your writing goals to stay on task, do that. These are only suggestions on maximizing your writing productivity. Find what works best for you. When you see positive results, stick with that method.

Priorities. Say you’ve used a to-do list for a week and have discovered you can only get two out of three writing activities done each day. Now you know what you are capable of, and you have the power to decide whether to classify those activities in terms of importance or work a little at a time on all three. One caveat. First and foremost, when you are prioritizing your writing tasks, make sure that number one is writing or editing your work in progress. 

Turn off notifications. When you are actually in the chair with your hands on the keyboard, eliminate as many distractions as possible. If you can turn off notifications, do that. You don’t even need an app. Just click on system preferences, click on turn off notifications when you start writing and turn them on again when you’re done for the day. Caveat. I have kids in school, and the nurse calls when there’s a head injury. So I can’t turn off my phone when they’re in school. Do what you can to minimize distractions while taking your personal circumstances into account.

Timers or Sprints. I love my timers. I write for twenty or twenty-five minutes, then I read a book about writing for ten or get up and walk around. If I’m really into a scene, I’ll keep going when the timer goes off, but I’ve discovered I can write for longer periods as a result. Some writers swear by word sprints. If those help you, find friends on FB or go to Twitter and look for a group of writers who will sprint with you.

Spreadsheets. Okay, some of you are now running for the hills. It doesn’t have to be anything fancy. It can be a notebook where you write the date and your word count. I use an Excel spreadsheet. Why? So I can see at a glance the numbers adding up and know I’m writing daily.

Rewards. Yes, I know some of you read the word bribes. I prefer to call them a reward. There are scenes that will be harder to write than others. On these days, I load a little bag with M&Ms or Hershey Kisses. Every five hundred words or so, I reward myself with a Hershey Kiss. I try not to make this an everyday occurrence but, in a pinch, the small treat helps me keep going.

So those are some tips that might make your BICHOK time more productive.

*If you have any tips you want to share, please leave a comment.

This write-at-home mom lives in Georgia with her husband, four kids, one Basset Hound (Vera) and one rabbit (Gandalf). She writes a mixture of inspirational category and sweet contemporary Southern front porch romances. In 2016, she placed first in the Great Expectations Contest (Contemporary Category) and the Catherine Contest (Contemporary Short) as well as finaled in the Maggies and TARA Contests.

When she’s not writing, chauffeuring her children or folding laundry, Tanya loves classic movies (preferably black and white or anything with Cary Grant) or enjoying a cup of tea alongside a good book.

Facebook || Twitter

Irish Alpha Heroes and St. Patricks Day

Casey ClipperHappy St. Patrick's Day! 

Our chapter president Casey Clipper has agreed to tell us a bit about writing Irish Alpha Heroes. 

How's that for good luck? 

So it back and enjoy. 

If you also create heroes based on aspects of your own cultural background, please share in the comments. 

Contemporary Romance: What was it about growing up in an Irish family that you wanted to translate into fiction?

Casey Clipper: It wasn’t necessarily the growing up in an Irish family but more watching the men, like my father and grandfather and uncle (I have a few, but the one who reminds me of my dad the most), that made me fashion the heroes in my stories after them, in a sense.

Watching the way the men in the family treated their wives, gave me first-hand knowledge of the whole alpha personality, who loves and adores the woman in his life. They treated their wives in an extremely respectful manner, acknowledging their wives ran the household and being perfectly fine with that, with zero macho ego thing, holding them in such high regard in their lives.

Yet, they were also the “men of the house”, taking care of their families and spouses. From the outside and looking back on the interaction and daily routines, it’s quite fascinating. (I unfortunately have to speak in past tense because my grandparents and my mother are no longer with us.) 

CR: Do you have any favorite family stories or anecdotes?

CC: Well, my grandmother was probably the most superstitious woman I’ve ever known and managed to pass that down? I don’t spill salt, walk under a ladder, and definitely change directions if a black cat crosses my path. And do not bring an outside broom inside. That was a heated battle in my house a couple years ago between myself and my husband.

four leaf cloverThere is also the memory of Sundays at my grandparents’ home. After church, the entire family—aunts, uncles, grandchildren—would go to my grandparents for dinner and then after the three oldest granddaughters (yes, I’m in the top 3) did the dishes, the aunts and uncles and my grandfather played cards with nickels, dimes, and quarters.

CR: Are your heroes based on actual people from your life? 

CC: Not one of my heroes are based off anyone in my life. They’re really based off an ideal man (though with his own issues) in my mind at the time of writing a novel.

Of course, they’re all alphas and all love their women and are all supportive of their heroine and naturally have to go through their arcs, but I can honestly say that not one character is written with someone specific in mind.

CR: Do you have a process for researching Irish culture?

CC: Names. I research names and their meanings. Even last names. For instance, Murphy (which is used in The Love Series) in 2014 was the most number one surname in Ireland. O’s in front of a name mean “grandson of” or “decedent of” while Mac’s in front of names mean “son of”. Ryan (used in Unexpected Love) means little king. Neil, which I use for a last name in my The Men of Law series, means passionate. 

CR: Are there any stereotypes / myths about Irish culture that bother you?

CC: That the Irish are drinkers. Yes, you’ll always have those in any culture that are stereotypical, but for the most part, we aren’t going to the pub every night and downing Guinness or whiskey and getting into brawls.

CR: Why do you think St. Patrick’s Day has become so universal?

CC: I think because it’s a time where you can go to the pub or to a neighbor's (which is where I’ll be), decked out in your green, listen to Irish music, maybe have some Jamison or Baileys or a Guinness, eat some corned beef, cabbage, and potatoes and relax in the company of friends and family.

In an atmosphere that is just plain fun. I think the American version of St. Patrick’s Day has become more about celebrating good times with everyone, even strangers at the pub. And I think we all need that in our lives right now more than ever. Right?

CR: Is there anything else you’d like to tell us?

CC: Happy St. Patrick’s Day everyone! We’re all Irish today!

* Thank you so much, Casey! *

Learn more about Casey at http://caseyclipper.com

Writing During a Family Crisis

~ By Tanya Agler

Overall, writing is a rather solitary endeavor. Many people, who’ve never finished a book, believe it’s the easiest thing in the world to let the words flow onto the computer screen or onto a sheet of paper. In reality, many writers have day jobs, families, and responsibilities.

Many wake up early to write or stay up late. Some use their lunch breaks or the time after their children go to bed. Day by day, they see their word count add up until lo and behold, they have a first draft and finally a revised and edited book.

But sometimes real life intervenes in a way none of us can prepare for.

Sometimes a loved one gets sick. Worst of all, sometimes our loved ones pass away.

When those crises hit home, how do writers sit down and write when it seems as though everything they knew is falling apart around them?

Believe me, it’s better to think about how you’d keep writing in a crisis when trouble isn’t swirling around you. In the four years since I’ve been seriously pursuing writing as a career, my father has died and my teenage daughter has been diagnosed with a rare disease, VHL, which has required numerous scans, tests, eye laser procedures and outpatient surgeries.

Life happens as you’re trying your best to capture emotion on the page and write a story someone will want to read. So, here’s my advice on what to consider before the crisis hits and you wonder how on earth you are ever going to find time to write or even find that inner writing spark again.

Know why you write. This seems like a basic question. Why do you want to write? Why are you the best person to write the story burning in your head? It’s important to ask yourself why you write because when life hits the fan, you need to know why, out of everything you could be doing with your time, writing means so much to you.

Know your writing style. I’m not talking about your writing voice, although it is important to know that. I’m talking about whether you’re the type of “have laptop, will travel” writer or “a dedicated time and space” writer. Depending on how you work best, you know then how to adjust in those times of crisis. I’ve written in hospital rooms, doctor waiting rooms, and school parking lots, but I also know people who have to write at home and would have awakened two hours early to write at their desks. When you know how you write, you can adjust your schedule to accommodate your writing, if it’s a short term adjustment.

Know your writing priorities. Preplanning, writing or editing (and more revision) all are integral parts of writing. A long time ago, they might have been the only job a writer had. Today, not so much. A writer wears different hats. A writer may have a critique partner or beta readers, should have a website, is usually active on social media or found on a blog hop, and even more. Some writers assign priorities to all the different parts of their writing responsibilities. On days when I’m on the go, I might not have time to write the black moment, but I might have time to set up tweets (one caveat-if you write social media posts ahead of time and bad news breaks, pull the tweets or FB posts) or critique a couple of pages or beta read a chapter. The great thing is when I do get a bigger chunk of time, I can write.

Know when to take a break. All of this sounds great until you’re in the ICU with a family member or best friend or when you get the call from the doctor that you have to start chemo. Sometimes you have to give yourself the freedom to call your agent or postpone your indie release because the crisis is too big. It’s okay to say I can’t write because I have to figure out how my family gets through a car wreck, or I have to undergo cancer treatment, or I have to say goodbye. But when you know why you write, you’ll know when it’s time to open that laptop screen again or sit down at your desk, and the story will pour out of you.

So that’s my advice. Sit down and figure this out when life is good. Then, when life happens, you’ll know why you write and you’ll know when it’s time to get all the emotion you went through into a story that readers will love.

This write-at-home mom lives in Georgia with her husband, four kids, one Basset Hound (Vera) and one rabbit (Gandalf). She writes a mixture of inspirational category and sweet contemporary Southern front porch romances. In 2016, she placed first in the Great Expectations Contest (Contemporary Category) and the Catherine Contest (Contemporary Short) as well as finalled in the Maggies and TARA Contests.

When she’s not writing, chauffeuring her children or folding laundry, Tanya loves classic movies (preferably black and white or anything with Cary Grant) or enjoying a cup of tea alongside a good book.

Facebook || Twitter

Strong Writing Regimen. Strong Body.

~ By Liza Keogh

My writing regimen is getting stronger. Fifteen months ago, I formally ended one career and began to write fiction. I had a yearlong arc of transition ahead of me, and the planets seemed well-aligned to support a multitude of big changes in my life.

My body is suffering. My hip joints are achy, the herniated disc in my lower back is very testy, and my core strength is a thing of the past. Photographs attesting to what once was survive, otherwise, I might have a hard time proving how strong and limber I used to be.

Any of that sound familiar? I knew, going in, that many daily hours in the seated position was deleterious to one's health. Heck, I'd been working with people for over ten years to improve their posture and muscle tone, even to set up at-home yoga and meditation practices to keep them tuned up between classes or private sessions.

And here I was, ignoring my own advice. Perhaps I was thinking I would be immune to the effects of having my butt in a chair for up to eight hours a day. Perhaps I thought the sugary treats my brain was suddenly craving were part and parcel of 'becoming a writer'.

Now what?

Here's what I know: We humans are meant to move (not just be moved). We benefit even more from moving our bodies in different directions. Getting out into Nature regularly is good for our brains, our bodies, and likely our well of inspiration. Adequate water intake is essential, as are good eating habits.

If writing is our thing, and we have word counts and deadlines to meet, along with every other obligation in our lives, how do we keep the vehicle transporting us through this lifetime in good working condition?

Start somewhere. Now. Today, I put on exercise clothes as soon as I woke up, tied on my sneakers, and made myself a cup of rooibos chai tea with hazelnut milk. I am going to walk on my treadmill for 30 minutes before I start writing, and I am recommitting to an anti-inflammatory eating plan. That plan seems to work well for me: it helps ease the aches in my joints, melts off excess pounds, and sharpens my brain. To experience those benefits, however, I have to be rigorous and patient and remember that day three will be horrible.

Vary your vectors. That's a phrase that reminds us to vary our exercise routine. Our fascial system runs throughout our body on up and down, side to side, diagonal, spiral and intersecting pathways. It needs water to stay healthy, 'juicy', and it needs movements to keep from getting sticky. Before I walk on my treadmill I'll do a 10-15 minute functional movement warm-up (see below for a link to my favorite). I've tried running, even once hired a coach to teach me the mechanics of running, and I failed miserably. So, I stick with what I know instead of setting unattainable goals.

Make a plan. After I write, and before I get on my exercise mat later in the day, I'll record a fifteen- to twenty-minute Pilates routine. I have notes and pencil figure drawings from a series of private sessions I signed up for last summer. That was months ago, I know, but I had this idea for a story and... you know how it goes.

Little ideas:

  • Used exercise equipment is out there. My well-loved treadmill cost $100.
  • Get thee to a class. Go with a friend. Pay attention to the instructor, and pay attention to what your body is telling you as you move, and afterward. Get to know your body as well as you know your favorite characters.
  • Get thee to an on-line class. Youtube is a great, free resource. Start with Ed Paget's F.A.S.T. class, and explore the rest of the offerings at Intrinsi, Osteopathic Clinic and Natural Movement Center (Please note: I have no connection with them whatsoever, other than admiring their approach to human movement, and the clarity of instruction. I did a lot of research over the years for clients, and the Intrinsi site is consistently good. Check out the videos on the pelvic floor, too.)
  • Wherever you are and whatever you are doing, become more aware of your posture.

I'd love to know how others keep themselves healthy, or what got them back into caring for their health.

Liza Keogh has extensive experience leading yoga retreats, often in conjunction with writing coaches and therapists. She founded and ran a successful yoga center in Massachusetts and for over ten years brought yoga to venues that included public parks, corporations and low-income health centres.

Most days, she can be found in her writing cabin, working towards her next Life Goal: becoming a published author. You can find her blogging at https://lizakeoghblog.wordpress.com, and on twitter @lazy_liza_k.

2017, Shakespeare, and a Dose of Inspiration

rebeccagraceallen~ By Rebecca Grace Allen

Let’s be brutally honest here: 2016 totally stunk. As a writer and, well, a human, I struggled on every level. My creativity shuddered to a halt. I hit a massive writers block. My relationships suffered. I gained ten pounds. There were times when I wondered why I was doing this whole writing thing in the first place. Then I remembered, it’s because there are stories bubbling up inside me that I have to tell. Stories that I hope will be timeless, ones that will live on beyond me. And sometimes, to write that kind of timeless tale, I need a little inspiration.

Sometimes I find that inspiration in Shakespeare.

I saw my first live Shakespeare performance when I was 14, in a black box theater in Manhattan. I immediately fell in love—with the language, the costumes, the drama, and how the themes of betrayal, corruption, deception and love still rang true today. In high school English class, I adored reading Hamlet while everyone else rolled their eyes at the iambic pentameter. I became an English major in college, and rushed to enroll in a Shakespeare course, dutifully carrying my 2057 page, coffee-stained Riverside Shakespeare around campus. (I also went to a school where a lot of student-run events took place in a building named Falstaff’s. Eat, drink and be merry, anyone?)

These days, I don’t crack open that old Riverside (which, yes, I still have) all that often, but I do watch movie versions. And I’m still amazed at the timelessness of the stories, the classic romance and angst, and how we continue to make his work relevant by creating modern adaptations of it. So I thought I’d share some of my favorite modern-ish adaptations:

West Side Story (1961)

It’s not modern, but it’s the best variation on Romeo and Juliet in my opinion. (Don’t get me started on the Baz Lurhamn version *shudders*.) The idea of putting those star-crossed lovers from rival families into warring gangs and setting it all to music was just brilliant. As an aside, I once performed in an adaptation called South Shore Story, where the North Shore conservative Jews of Long Island were foes of the South Shore Reformed ones. “I feel frummy, oh so frummy...”

Much Ado About Nothing (1993)

This one isn’t a modern take at all, but rather what I consider a perfect portrayal of exactly what The Bard intended. The performances are perfect—I heart Kenneth Branagh’s “Love meeeee! Why?” Plus it’s got Emma Thompson, Kate Beckinsale, Keanu Reeves, Denzel Washington and Robert Sean Leonard.

Midsummer Night’s Dream (1999)

I’ve always loved this comedy of errors, and the idea of characters falling in love with the wrong characters only to finally end up with the right ones. That’s what romance is made of, right? And with Kevin Kline as Bottom and Stanley Tucci as Puck, how can you go wrong?

Hamlet (2000)

Modern setting, techno music, classic language, and Ethan Hawke. Did I mention Ethan Hawke? Oh, and yeah, Ethan Hawke.

10 Things I Hate About You (1999)

This modern version of the Taming of the Shrew will always be one of my favorites. Classic 90’s. Classic Shakespeare. And Classic *sigh* Heath Ledger.

via GIPHY

Now in 2017, I think of myself, and all the rest of us writers, contributing to the collective cannon of literature. It’s a tough time in the world out there, and I know now, more than ever, we creative types have to keep creating. After all, it wasn’t easy in Shakespeare’s time—bear-bating and no indoor plumbing!—and he kept writing. We can keep writing, too.

Rebecca Grace Allen writes sweet, sexy and soul searching romance, emphasis on the sexy! A caffeine addict, gym rat, wife, and fur-mommy, she lives in upstate New York with her husband, two parakeets, and cat with a very unusual foot fetish. Her newest release, TAMING SUGAR, is a modern day, BDSM, Taming of the Shrew, and releases on January 19, 2017.

Website || Facebook || Twitter || Instagram || Goodreads