I have a VERY SMALL piece of some VERY GOOD NEWS…

(Drum roll…)

An agent is looking at my Charity MacCay manuscript!

Yes I know, it’s no big deal.  Merely one stepping stone that MIGHT lead to publication.  But when I got the email from the agent that said she’d LOVE (my caps, not hers) to have a look at Charity, I was ecstatic.  I was bubbly with energy and enthusiasm and ebullience.  I was also in a panic because I had to tweak my manuscript REALLY FAST by cleaning up the headers and title page and running another spell check and generally and neurotically making sure it was super-clean before sending it off electronically with a whispered Vaya con Dios!


This happened last Tuesday.  In the days afterward, I realized that my happy feelings had a dark familiarity.  You see, I know what it’s like to be unemployed and scared.  I know what it’s like to be laid off as a company goes under and I have to scramble to get back on my feet.  Meanwhile, my bank account is dwindling as fast as my faith in myself.

Lining up a good agent simply to look at my novel is, for me, like being thrown a lifeline after being unemployed for a long time.  And I should know.  It’s as if no one has even read my résumé and a sense of worthlessness has been creeping over my soul.  But then, suddenly, I’m scheduled for an interview.  What a relief!  Even if I don’t get the job, I made the top three!  I’m not a total loser!

Now I know too that this is what it’s like for so many of us writers, isn’t it?

cloud light

We attach so much self-worth to what we’ve written that every page becomes a piece of ourselves.  If no one wants to publish our novel, it’s like being an eager worker but no one wants to hire us.  Our hearts fall through the floor.  We pretend that getting traditionally published isn’t important.  We swear we’ll just self-publish.  We recite anecdotes of bestselling novels that were turned down by agents and editors and publishers, who obviously are all dumbasses, ’cause like, what do they know?

And then one of those rare creatures shines a light on us, and we explode with joy.

Anyway, this is how emotional the last few days have been for me.  When it came to getting Charity published, I’ve realized that I’ve been reliving a trauma that had nothing to do with writing, yet everything to do with how I feel about myself.

Have any of you had the same kind of feelings?  Have you relived old traumas through your writing?  If so, then I know just what that’s like.

Writing a Movie

on April 6, 2014 in Misc | 13 Comments »

Have you ever wanted to make a movie?  What I mean is, have you  had the urge to put down on paper your story in the form of a screenplay, then imagine being on the set while it’s filmed?

film making

Yeah I know, I’m traipsing through Fantasy La-La land on this one.   But see, the reason I’m asking is because I have a story idea that’s becoming so vivid I’m seeing whole scenes and hearing the dialogue.

And that’s just it – I’m SEEING my story as in a movie, which means I don’t want to write it down as a short story or novel, and not just because I’m in the process of swearing off writing anyway.  What’s happening is that this tale is taking over my brain, and it really would be so much fun to see it come to life.

But here’s the wretched reality:  if you think it’s tough getting a novel published by a good traditional publisher, try shopping around a screenplay.  The odds are actually better that you’d get a huge advance for your novel or win a couple million dollars playing the lottery.  That’s no exaggeration.  Screenwriting in Hollywood is now, more than ever, notoriously tough to break into.

the haunting

Granted, there are really good independent movies that don’t cost a fortune to make.  So if I ever win the lottery I can make my movie. And that notion may not be farfetched because my story isn’t a big honkin’ production; instead it’s a spooky  horror/paranormal thriller in the vein of The Conjuring or The Haunting (the 1963 version, not the ridiculous remake) and inspired by the ghost stories I grew up with, the ones my Irish relatives swear were real and happened to them.  The ones that scared the holy crap out of me as a kid and wouldn’t let me sleep at night, but I still asked to hear over and over.

Speaking of Ireland, the move Once, which won an Oscar for its theme song, was made in Ireland by some first-time filmmakers for around $200,000.  It went on to be a hit here in the U.S.  So maybe there’s hope for me yet.

I just know a bunch of you have wanted at some point in your lives to make a movie.  Would it be a drama, a comedy, or a sci fi?  There are so many genres to choose from.  Or maybe no genre at all because what you want to create is very original.  Wouldn’t that be cool?

Good Stuff

on March 31, 2014 in Misc | 10 Comments »

mark_twain sitting

This week I’ve got one old piece of good stuff for you and one new piece.  First the old….

This last week I came across a fact about Mark Twain that made me feel good.  Did you know Twain had trouble becoming a full-time, professional writer?  He’d been slogging away as a reporter in San Francisco and Hawaii (okay, Hawaii was a blast for him), but his writing gigs still didn’t pay enough and he was poor and in debt.   That’s when he wondered if he should go on the lecture circuit.  What he had in mind was to give a humorous presentation about his experiences in Hawaii.  His writer friends were dead set against this and insisted it would ruin his literary reputation.  His former newspaper boss asked him, “Which do you need most at present, money or literary reputation?”  Twain answered “Money!”

So Twain went on the stage and became a kind of traveling nineteenth century stand-up comic.  And thus a great American writer was born.  Not with a lucrative publishing deal or a bestseller, but with personal appearances that gave him enough fame and money to launch his book career.  In other words, he established a platform first, a very distinct public persona, and THEN he wrote his books.

Maybe this isn’t good new for me after all.  All these years I’ve been concentrating on just writing.  Ah, dang!



The other good–no, WONDERFUL–piece of news is that Hart Johnson’s newest cozy mystery KEEPING MUM is out.  Having read her first two books in this series, I can tell you that I’m eager to read the latest adventure of Cam Harris and her pals as they rush to solve another brain-teasing murder.  There will be drama.  There will be humor.  There will be lots of colorful characters with suspicious behavior….

See, Roanoke, Virginia, may seem civilized and lovely, but underneath the flowery surface lurks lust and jealousy and anger and greed, and all kinds of other motivations that make bad people off other people.  KEEPING MUM is written under Hart’s pen name Alyse Carlson, and it’s available everywhere.  I bought it at my local bookstore, ’cause I’m an old fashioned woman who loves my indie shops.

And of course stop by to say hi to Hart at her always entertaining blog, Confessions of a Watery Tart.  (Sorry I can’t make the link work.  I’m still trying figure out my latest version of Word Press.)

Have any good news yourself this last week, or coming up?  I’d love to hear about it.


Old Inspirations

on March 24, 2014 in Misc | 16 Comments »

Sure, I shoulda been writing this blog instead of being on the phone forever with my sister. But you know what we were raving about?

Old movies and how they’re fantastically well-written.

thin man two

And I mean the REALLY OLD flicks—those black white gems from the 1930′s and early ’40′s. Back in the days of Cary Grant and savvy, sophisticated women of all ages.  How sophisticated, elegant and striking, you ask?  Just watch the scene from The Thin Man that introduces us to to Nick and Nora, the private eye married to the society lady.  Wow.  This is how grown-ups used to talk.

Apparently Johnny Depp was about to star in a remake of The Thin Man when Warner Bros got cold feet over the (gulp!) $100 million budget.  What a joke.  The original is perfect and cost just over a couple hundred thousand–about $4 million in today’s money.

Anyway, this rant began on Friday at work when I made a wonderful discovery:  I can watch old movies on YouTube on my computer.  I HAD NO IDEA!

Of course I didn’t watch an entire flick (I’m a dutiful employee), but I couldn’t resist bringing up a gorgeous HD version of one of my faves, My Man Godfrey, and watching it with a colleague.


After six or seven minutes we had to get back to work, but in those minutes we were introduced to the main characters, their relationships, the plot, the theme, and more jokes, literate dialogue, and poignant moments than can be found in entire novels.  Godfrey is one of the best of the screwball comedies, but like many movies of the Depression there’s also a strong social conscience and an underlying shadow about how we treat our fellow man when he’s down and out.  All of this, yet woven together in seamless storytelling.

I could go on about some of my other faves (The Philadelpha Story, Dodsworth, His Gal Friday), but then I’d be up writing all night. Instead I’d love to hear what old flicks you think are especially well written.

Sure, there’s also a lot of old crap and plenty of modern masterpieces.  But old movies that have made a strong impression on you—which ones would you name?

Sigmund Freud once asked with frustration, “What do women want?”

beck squareAccording to book sales we want Fifty Shades of Grey.  (This SO doesn’t include me.)  In which a young woman signs a contract that forces her to do bad sexual stuff with a gorgeous billionaire who can buy her all the designer shoes she wants.  (And you thought Cinderella was a silly fairy tale.)

According to suspense writer Lee Child, mega seller among women, we want justice and / or revenge.  And also please a passing-through-town handsome hero who takes a middle-aged woman as a lover and sees her for how wonderful she is.

Oh wait, that’s also the plot for the gazillion-selling Bridges of Madison County.

Finally, there are literary bestsellers like The Help and The Invention of Wings.  In which women rebel against nasty conformists and do what’s right and make the mean lady eat shit pie.  Literally.

Then there’s my elderly religious mother who called me up when she finished reading my second Charity MacCay manuscript and exclaimed, “I’m so glad Charity shot that man!”

Gee, Mom, thanks.  Glad you like the deadly part.

See, what I’m exploring in last week’s post and today’s is how most women secretly want to be sorta bad in a glamorous, sexy, power-wielding way.  NOT a trashy Lindsey Lohan way.  We want bad with class.

Oh sure, we admire saintly ladies like Mother Theresa and Jane Goodall.  But try marketing a book with a heroine like that.  When Angelina Jolie played a noble heroine in the movie A Mighty Heart, it did little business, but her bad-girl kick-ass movies have been hits.

The fact is, most women—and most men too—want a woman in a story to have a dark side.  Like Kate Beckinsale in those vamp-in-leather flicks (see photo above).  This is why Scarlet O’Hara is the heroine of Gone With the Wind and NOT nice innocent Melanie.

So I figure that to be good at marketing my upcoming books I’ve gotta go bad.  Emphasize why Charity is NOT always a lady.

This is where fiction meets reality.

Pitching a Book

on March 10, 2014 in Misc | 11 Comments »

“This isn’t a book to be tossed aside lightly.  It should be thrown with great force.”

So Dorothy Parker wrote in a book review.  But the kind of pitching I’m talking about is advertising.  As in how to talk up your own book.

Here’s my question:  If you could afford a good-sized advertisement in a publication, hard copy or electronic, what words would you use to pitch your book?

mad men

I’ve thought about how to advertise my latest manuscript / novel (which is in the still-trying-to-get-it-published-stage), and it ain’t easy. It’s like trying to write a fraction of a blurb.  The pitch should make readers cry out dramatically, “I MUST BUY THIS BOOK!” In this case, it’s my humorous historical novel, Charity MacCay and the Almighty Dollar.

Here’s what I came up with:

When Charity is good, she’s very very good. But when she’s bad she’s brilliant.

Thanks to Mae West for that slightly altered line. Then there’s this one:

Charity MacCay—a Gilded Age bad girl who keeps trying to be good. But being good in a bad world isn’t easy.

Not too original, that one—but is it still catchy?

Here’s the longest version:

Charity MacCay keeps trying to be a good girl.

Then she falls in love with a kind of bad man.

And she gets rich in a sort of bad way.

But when company men take her hard-earned money, she becomes very, very good at getting even.

I’m still working on these lines, and they make my books sound pretty lightweight.  In fact it’s an intelligent, fiercely researched book about the Gilded Age, Manhattan circa 1867-68, and America’s first corporate scandal.  But if I pitched it along these lines I’d sell maybe five, six copies.  And the fact is my novel is also a FUN read about an idealistic, impulsive young woman who rebels against the corset-tight rules of her times.

I’d really appreciate your feedback and tales of your own experiences.  How did you sum up your story in one or two attention-grabbing sentences?  Can it be done?

Have a great week.

clock books

You know what? There are only so many books I can read in my lifetime.

I’m not young. I’m on the downward slope of life. I always thought I’d read all the books I want when I get the time. But the fact is, I’ll never have that much time.

So I gotta cull my to-read list.  My stacks of books.  Shelves of books.  Those many, many e-books.

See, the thing is I have too many books.  This is because a) they were the last copy and on sale so of course I just had to buy them, b) they were only a buck or two at Goodwill, c) they’re Kindle books, which are too inexpensive and easy to buy, and c) they’re gifts from relatives and friends.  It doesn’t help that a lot of them are big honkin’ histories and biographies (my weakness) which I can’t exactly whip through over a weekend.

It also doesn’t help that I’ve met some wonderful writers on the Internet, like, say, YOU ALL!  And of course I just have to get your novels and short stories which are entertaining and exciting and even thoughtful, and I will, eventually, finish reading them all.  But please be patient with me.


I’ve found that what I’m losing interest in are a lot of “literary” novels I have lying around.  They tend to be all atmosphere and beautiful language, but the plot (if there is one) can be so thin that I just can’t hang in there.  Like Toni Morrison’s Jazz: Beautiful writing, but too stream-of-consciousness-no-story for me.  Seriously, some of you know more about storytelling and plot construction than you’d find in her much-praised books.

Okay, I confess that on Friday I bought Hillary Mantel’s brilliant Bring Down the Bodies (Booker Prize winner), because it was on sale and I really want to read it because I couldn’t put down her Wolf Hall.  But I won’t be reading it until I finish some of your books, which I also really want to read, and a couple of history books relevant to my Charity MacCay manuscripts, which I’m still polishing.

Then I swear I’m gonna stop buying books except for those of my blogging friends.  And I’m gonna stay out of bookstores.  And away from Amazon.  Really.  I swear it.

How about you? Do you sometimes feel overwhelmed by all the good books that are out there?

Weird Brain Stories

on February 24, 2014 in Misc | 10 Comments »


Confession: I’m a packrat for articles.

That means I’ve got stacks of articles.  File folders of articles.  A mini-library of articles.

Sure, I’ve kept some because they might give me ideas for a novel, but these days I’m moving away from writing, so I’m throwing away a lot of them.

But for you writers who might like some inspiration, especially in the sci-fi and paranormal genres, here are a few tales from my “Psychology” file.

There’s “Savant for a Day.”  It’s about “transcranial magnetic stimulation” or TMS, which means having a series of electromagnetic pulses directed into your frontal lobes.  One scientist had used TMS on university students (I assume they were volunteers), and while those pulses were being administered 40 percent of the students suddenly exhibited “extraordinary, and newfound, mental skills.”  Imagine almost instantly being able to draw like a real artist or solving mathematical problems with vastly increased speed.  It seems this effect only works while you’re connected to the TMS by electrodes, but who knows where this technology could lead.

brain machine blue

Then there’s the old article about multiple personalities and how some of them exhibit “the immense power of the human mind.” Psychiatrists describe how one personality in the same body can be an alcoholic, but another personality emerges and isn’t.  One is allergic to cats, another isn’t.  One patient has a “personality with an irregular heartbeat and another who has a perfect heart. Even an EEG shows different data for the two personalities” in the same body.

Then, finally, there was the touching piece written by a doctor.

His patient David was dying of cancer that had spread from his lungs through his body and into his brain.  David had a young family that was at his hospital bed every night for two weeks, even after he stopped speaking and moving.  Then one morning the doctor went to his room and found it empty.  The patient had died the night before. “As I turned to leave, I was blocked by a nurse, an older Irish lady with a doleful look on her face.”


“He woke up, you know, doctor—just after you left—and said goodbye to them all.  Like I’m talkin’ to you right here.  Like a miracle.  He talked to them and patted them and smiled for about five minutes.  Then he went out again, and he passed in the hour.”  David’s wife later confirmed the nurse’s account.

As the doctor writes, “But it wasn’t David’s brain that woke him up to say goodbye that Friday.  His brain had already been destroyed.  Tumor metastases don’t simply occupy space and press on things, leaving a whole brain.  The metastases actually replace tissue.  Where that gray stuff grows, the brain is just not there.

“What woke my patient that Friday was simply his mind, forcing its way through a broken brain, a father’s final act to comfort his family.”

How about you—do you come across real-life articles that make you want to write a novel, or at least a short story?

Olympic Inspiration

on February 16, 2014 in Misc | 8 Comments »

red skater

Have any great novels been written about the Olympics?

I don’t think so.  On Amazon I found only a few minor novels and quite a few childrens’ books, but that’s it.

And this is odd when you think about it, because the Olympics really are extraordinary events full of extraordinary people and a whole lotta drama and heart and soul.  Yet I myself have never had a literary inspiration from them.

My body, however, can suffer from Olympics inspiration.

This last week when I was watching the ice dancers, snowboarders and skiers, I wondered if I could even get into some of those positions.  Like when ice skaters crouch down on one leg, hold the other leg straight out and off the ice, and spin like crazy on a thin blade while slowly rising and changing into other positions.  Could I do that?

russian skater

Remember—this Becoming Layla blog started with my learning to do physically whatever my hotshot character Layla Daltry can do.  And I like to think of myself as being in basic good shape.  But could I get into that deep position and hold it for several seconds before slowly moving up? Just on my shoeless feet, no blades, no spinning, and while lightly grasping a chair with one hand for balance?

The answer is no.

On Friday and Saturday I tried to do as much over and over, only to discover that my body should be a whole lot stronger than it is.  So for those two days I worked on those movements and plenty of others, and pushed myself not to the limit but pretty far.

needle skate

Today is Sunday and my body really, really hurts.

Seriously, writing an epic novel about the Olympics would be easier than getting into the kind of shape those phenom athletes are in.  My admiration for them is now boundless.

How about you—are the Olympics inspiring you?  Will you write The Great Olympics Story?  Maybe take up the luge?

And I’d appreciate it if someone could explain to me how athletes steer those luges while moving so freaky fast.

Learning the Hard Way

on February 10, 2014 in Misc | 12 Comments »

I have learned a lesson the hard way.


Some time ago I wrote here that the daughter of a friend was adapting an unpublished manuscript of mine into a screenplay.  He told me about it over dinner at their house (surprise!), and my reaction (since I’m an idiot) was to be flattered.  She’s a young struggling actress in New York and he believed a screenplay would open doors for her.  I was happy to help.


I assumed, however,  that this screenplay would be a mere “calling card,” meaning a producer/ whoever doesn’t want this screenplay but likes what they see and hire her for another job.  In reality, of course, the odds against selling a screenplay are astronomical, even tougher than getting a book published.  I myself wrote a couple screenplays years ago that got nowhere.

Anyway, his daughter finished the screenplay and needed a contract with me in order to show it around.  I checked out the Writers Guild of America website, found what I thought was a suitable adaptation contract, tweaked it and sent it to her father.

OMG, what he sent back to me…

It was completely rewritten and, while most of it was standard fare, he had added two shockers.  First, if “in any way” his daughter’s screenplay helped to get my book published (yes, he was that vague), she was entitled to 25% of my book royalties.  Forever.  And since my book is the first in a planned series, she was entitled to those royalties for my ENTIRE SERIES!

pile screen

The second shocker was that if her screenplay didn’t sell but another person was hired by producers to write it, she and I would share any payment for that new screenplay 50-50.

In other words, he saw his daughter and me as being 50-50 partners, never mind that it’s MY story, MY characters, MY scenes, MY dialogue, MY backbreaking amount of historical research (the setting is1867-1868).  His argument? “Nobody wants your book”—a slap to me and a conclusion he came to because he had sent my manuscript to a few people he knew to help me get it published, but not one of these people (as far as I know) was a literary agent or book editor or publisher.  I had appreciated his efforts, but I’d never suspected that he wanted this kind of payback.

While it’s true that if this young woman sells the screenplay that would help my book, the cost to me would be terribly steep.  Yet when I refused to accept the contract, her father was furious and insulting (okay, so he was being the protective father) and emphasized that we might all make a great deal of money on this deal but if I didn’t go along with it I would have nothing.  Because nobody wanted my book.  He would not change a single word in his contract.

To make a too-long story shorter…


We’re no longer on speaking terms, our long friendship is over, but his daughter (who’s pretty innocent in this mess) has contacted me so I’m trying to work out something with her.  I mean, if I hadn’t been encouraging to her I wouldn’t feel obligated, but now I am.  So I’m going to have to hire an entertainment lawyer to look over the short contract she and I are negotiating, because everyone I’ve consulted and everything I’ve read says that this is essential.  And it’s going to cost me.

Only one good thing has come out of this ugly episode:  I am now determined to find an agent and traditional publisher for my novel, which I have let sit around for too long.  If that doesn’t work I’ll self-publish FAST.  I’ve had raves from a few readers and I know it’s a good book, but I need to have some faith in myself.

So let that be a warning to you, my fellow writers.  NEVER let anyone do anything with your writing without first getting specifics down in a legit contract.


P.S.  Short of a huge change for me and my books, this is yet another reason why I’m swearing off writing, with the exception of one very short non-fiction work I will complete.