Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Reprint: Breath of Life Guest Post

Here's another "reissued" guest blog post while I'm tied up with editing for the month of December. This particular entry was originally posted on September 18, 2012, on the Breath of Life blog in support of my then-upcoming release of "My Apple Tree." I was very appreciative of the opportunity and am grateful to Rev. Kim Justice over at Breath of Life for hosting me. I'm providing the link to the original posting below; I encourage you to check out her blog!

Behind the Scenes of My Apple Tree by Elizabeth M. Lawrence

When I was a little girl, my parents had season tickets to the opera, and I went with them. I had become fascinated with opera when I was only about four years old and I saw Verdi’s La Traviata on television. Beverly Sills sang the part of Violetta, and I was completely captivated. I was even permitted to stay up past my bedtime to watch the end. My parents were delighted at my interest and encouraged it, which is how I wound up with my own regular seat for the season.

When I was older, I began to complain about how every opera ends in a death (usually the female lead). I never figured out why, other than that as human beings our response to death is much more multi-faceted than any other emotional experience. We weep, we rage, we laugh, we go numb. Every person in the world understands the depths of grief and loss, whether it is a person, a relationship, or a phase of one’s life. Death is always with us; that is why you can see every tragic play, listen to every opera, watch every heartbreaking film, and read every gut-wrenching book, and your reaction will not fade in intensity. I have seen horrible things in my life, but I will always cry over Violetta. 

Autumn is harvest time, which is obviously the inspiration for the title of Renaissance Romance Publishing’s seasonal collection. It is a complex time of year because we experience both the bounty of the harvest and also the death of the world around us as it prepares for winter. Halloween or Samhain is a perfect example of this. We celebrate, we dress up, we come together as a community, whether to be scared, entertained, or for religious observance. It is a fun night, but behind the decorations and laughter is the specter of Death. The holiday typifies the autumn season.

My Apple Tree is the story of David Cleary and Emily “Mel” Wallace. Both are attempting to cope with lives that have been ripped apart by violence. David is struggling with the loss of his childhood sweetheart Katie when he first encounters Mel. He has been haunted by the belief that he failed Katie, and he wants to make up for his past shortcomings by saving Mel. What first motivates him is guilt, but he comes to find that in order to protect Mel, he must learn to let Katie go. Ultimately, David’s emotional journey is meant to give the reader the understanding that as long as we remember, nothing we love is ever really gone.

Here is an excerpt:
His first thought, when the haze of desire had lifted and they lay out of breath and exhausted, was to wonder what the hell was going on between them. They both were trying to recover from their past experiences with love, and neither wanted a new relationship. So why the hell were they unable to keep their hands off each other?
When David managed to drag himself away from her and they had both gotten dressed, Mel followed him out to his car. He paused before opening the door to brush his fingertips along the curve of her cheek with a smile. She took a deep breath as if she was summoning her courage and spoke. “David, we can’t see each other again.”
His brow furrowed, and he began to protest. “But . . .”
She shook her head. “It’s no use. I don’t know what it is between us, but we can’t seem to be able to be in the same room together without this happening. I just can’t do this. I’m too afraid that I’ll wind up falling for you.”
He winced. “Don’t fall for me, Emily. I’m not worth it.”
She just gave a helpless shrug, the wounded expression in her eyes sending a stab of guilt through him. They stood awkwardly facing each other, both uncomfortable and thinking things that they lacked the courage to say. At last, taking a deep breath, Mel spoke.
“Good-bye, David.”
When Renaissance Romance Publishing first discussed the inclusion of one of my stories in this collection with me, I decided that My Apple Tree would be the most appropriate for the season. Like Halloween and harvest and all the rest, this story revolves around the theme of growth and change and death. It is not meant to be a sad story. Instead, it shows a young man learning to honor the memory of the woman he has lost by loving the woman he has found. There is always loss and grief in our lives; David’s story walks us through the heartbreak and into a new understanding that the blessings we are given are no less wonderful for being temporary. I hope readers enjoy going on the journey with him!

Sunday, December 16, 2012

Reprint: Girl Who Reads Guest Post

I am super-busy for the entire month of December with various editing jobs, so I thought I'd "reissue" a guest blog post or two to pass the time. This particular entry was originally posted on September 12, 2012, on the Girl Who Reads blog in support of my then-upcoming release of "My Apple Tree." I was very appreciative of the opportunity and am grateful to Donna over at Girl Who Reads for hosting me. I'm providing the link to the original posting below; I encourage you to check out her blog and reviews!

 My Apple Tree [was] published on September 25, 2012, as part of Renaissance Romance Publishing’s Harvest Treats collection, as well as individually as an e-book. I’m very excited about this release, since this will be my first work in print.

This story began years ago as a daydream I had while listening to an old Celtic song about the grief of losing the person you have sworn to love and protect for the rest of your life. It isn’t a particularly happy song, but the lyrics’ raw and unapologetic emotion paints a very vivid picture. As time wore on, the original tale of pain and hopelessness grew and changed into something more, but the story was not really complete until this year.

My great-aunt Helen has lived in Joplin, Missouri, for as long as I can remember. Over the years, I have become very familiar with the city, its people, and its landmarks. When it was struck by a massive tornado on May 22, 2011, Joplin was changed forever. So many people lost so much, and I was heartbroken over the death and devastation that was left in the storm’s wake.

One year later, in May 2012, I traveled to Joplin with my mother to visit Helen and got to see the remaining damage first hand. It’s difficult to wrap your mind around it. You drive along the rolling hills under the shade of the trees, and then suddenly – wasteland. The change is so dramatic that you can almost believe you’ve been transported to another planet. By the time you begin to adjust to the new landscape, boom! The trees and houses and shops reappear as if by magic.

The good news is that people are rebuilding. Life in Joplin keeps moving forward, in spite of the horrible destruction and grief. When you’re there with the people who lived through it, you hear stories so heartbreaking that even the news reports didn’t broadcast them. It’s hard to imagine moving forward and continuing on when you contemplate the enormity of what these people faced. But there are signs of hope and new life and perseverance everywhere, and this is what struck me as I tried to come to terms with what I was seeing as I drove through this forever-altered landscape.

Not far away from the city is a large, out-of-the-way cemetery where a large number of my family are buried. While we were there, I took a photo that is now the cover of the ebook version of My Apple Tree. I decided to use this particular picture because, even though the story itself is about living with the aftermath of death and loss, it is also about learning to embrace life again. That is precisely what the Joplin community showed me this past spring, and it brought an entirely new dimension to my story. I hope that I managed to capture that sense of hope and renewed life well enough to share with readers who pick up the Harvest Treats collection.

Girl Who Reads Guest Post 9/12/12

Friday, November 30, 2012

Raising the White Flag

Well, NaNoWriMo, you beat me this time. There were too many distractions, too many bizarre injuries, too many hurricanes, and too many other obligations. I am attempting to accept my defeat gracefully. There are many other WriMos out there in the same boat as me. NaNo is a real challenge every year, and even the most prolific writers encounter periods when their time is not their own.

 I knew fairly early on that this was not going to be a winning year for me, but I didn’t surrender until the last day. Why? Simply put, every word you write for NaNo is a word that you wouldn’t have otherwise written. Despite my relentless distractions, I managed to write 25,000 words this month, and that’s nothing to sneeze at.

I continue to learn more about my own writing process, as well. This is hugely important. I consider writing to be a form of art, and like any artist, I must continually work to improve and stretch and challenge myself. The life of an artist is a journey, and the public’s perception that an individual is either talented or not, full stop, is erroneous. The Stephen Kings, J.K. Rowlings, and Neil Gaimans out there aren’t born writing well – it’s a learned skill. Events such as NaNoWriMo are wonderful vehicles for writers to learn and grow and develop their abilities, and so no attempt could ever be seen as a failure.

Another consideration that keeps me from spiraling into a vortex of self-loathing and chocolate binging is that many of the obligations that kept me from working on my novel were tied to my work for Renaissance Romance Publishing. This is a good thing, because it reminds me that I finally have a career that I can enjoy and find fulfillment in. I’m lucky to have been given such an opportunity after so many years of patent specifications and embassy certifications and demanding clients and mysteriously disappearing (yet critical) case files. It’s hard to get depressed over having a full and rewarding life.

I still love the NaNoWriMo experience, and I’m looking forward to giving it another shot next year. Perhaps this time I’ll try advance preparation and a smidge of organization… maybe.

Tuesday, November 27, 2012


So, NaNoWriMo has been something of a disaster this year. Between my litanies of physical complaints, I have also had the most unbelievable string of unusual distractions and challenges crop up throughout the month. I’m going to save myself some time and trouble and just blame Hurricane Sandy.

There are four days remaining, and I have 30,000 words left to write. While technically doable, I tend to be a rather deliberate, plodding sort of writer, so I’m not sure how realistic the goal is. I have already scraped through every note and partial outline and random margin squiggle for ideas, and I’m feeling a bit uninspired.

This could have been avoided in large part if I had taken the time to outline the full novel before November began. Unfortunately, we are none of us in complete control of our time, and my other commitments did not allow for that preparation. This was still a good experience, though, since I now know that I need to begin outlining far in advance of next November’s attempt. If you are like me and do not have a steady and easily-anticipated schedule, you may want to join me in my planned year-long brainstorming session.

All I can say is that all the terrific ideas I have are all jumbled together into a mess because of the lack of planning. I don’t think I’ll be able to untangle the skeins before the end of the month, but I’m still plugging away. It may be a lost cause, but the ultimate purpose of NaNoWriMo still holds true: it’s one of the best ways to motivate yourself to sit down and write, and whatever my final word count, it’s still more progress than I would have made otherwise.

The deadlines lie thick upon the ground for the remainder of 2012, so I’ll take whatever I can get.

Good luck to my fellow WriMos as we reach the end of another National Novel Writing Month. May your pens be swift, and your wit abundant.

Thursday, November 8, 2012

The Art of Manic Laughter

So… it’s still November. I’m still doing NaNoWriMo. BUT. I haven’t been able to work on writing for five – count them – five days straight. Not good.

This does serve to illustrate one of the reasons why WriMos go slightly insane by the end of the month. It’s called “Real Life.”

This year, we started with Sandy, the superstorm of incredible bad-timingness. Our local schools were closed for almost a week, and one middle school was even turned into a shelter. The weirdest part about this was that I live in Ohio – not exactly ground zero, as far as the storm path was concerned. However, power was restored to everyone in my City only a day or two ago, so the impact was significant.

We spent the first days of November trying to contact our friends in the hardest-hit areas, especially those in New Jersey, Virginia, and New York, and making sure that our local friends and family got whatever assistance they needed. I’m not the most selfless gal around, but even I had a hard time focusing on my own agenda with all that going on. Of course, school closures and horrible weather combined to produce cabin-fevered, cooped-up children. By day three, there was no ADHD medication on this Earth that could have kept Shorty from ricocheting off the walls. It was like he was competing with Sandy to see which of them could knock my house over first.

Things got back to relative normality, and I decided to go out with a friend. I had forgotten that I am Karma’s personal Slinky, however. I have a history with stairs. It’s not a good one. With my customary grace, I tripped up (yes, up) a flight of stairs and smashed the ever-loving hell out of my left leg.

Hello, ice packs and ibuprofen. And today, I had the added indignity of going in to the doctor’s office where A) they weigh you – every girl’s favorite thing; and B) I was sent for x-rays, which were handled by technicians younger, thinner, and more aesthetically pleasing than me. To add insult to injury, they asked me how I managed to hurt myself so badly. I told them I was just naturally graceful.

Did I mention that we had the presidential election on Tuesday? I voted early by mail, but it didn’t help me avoid Election Day distractions. Hellooo, live streaming. Goodbye, productivity. I tried to resist, but Jon Stewart is just too damn funny to be denied.

Tonight was our parent/teacher conference for Shorty. I should send his teacher an apology. Most parents don’t keep the teacher there for an hour and a half. My husband and I together are like a vaudeville team that time forgot. She was very patient, though, bless her.

All these hiccups in the road are behind me now, so my novel should blossom and thrive unimpeded. Right? (It’s okay to lie to me on this one.)

Shorty’s birthday is next week. My teenager’s parent/teacher conferences are Sunday. I have editing jobs lined up in a queue, mocking me with their not-doneness. Thanksgiving weekend looms. And those are just the things that popped into my head. I’m sure I’m missing stuff.

I do not despair, my fellow WriMos. I have done this thing before, and I know that where there is a will and a supply of coffee to rival the inventory of an apocalyptic bunker, anything is possible.

Don’t give up now if you’re struggling – there’s plenty of time!

And if you’re already at 50,000 words, I can only congratulate you and say with absolute sincerity:

Go away. I hate you.

Monday, November 5, 2012

Not Going According to Plan

This year, I was going to have an outline. I was going to arrange my plot ahead of time, actually finish the Scrivener tutorial so I could use it for once, and I was going to go into NaNoWriMo with a solid game plan.

As anyone who has read my blog can probably guess, that is not what actually happened.

I have heard of some people having already produced a NaNoWriMo word count of 20,000 or higher, and I’m trying not to spiral into a vortex of self-pity. There is a remote possibility that I might just been the teensiest bit competitive, but I can neither confirm nor deny it. Depends who’s asking.

I have so much on my plate right now that if I stop to really think about it, I wind up in the fetal position weeping to the accompaniment of terrible 1980s power ballads. I have 50,000 words to write, a charity piece to complete, and two manuscripts to edit… not to mention those paltry house/children/husband/personal hygiene issues that occasionally require my attention as well. Add in things like a hurricane, my teenager’s report card (don’t ask), a smashed kneecap, a new internet provider, and the virus from hell that is bouncing around my household, and things may feel just slightly completely out of control and hopeless.

Don’t worry for me, though. This is my third year participating in NaNoWriMo, so I’m a little calmer than I might otherwise be right now.  That’s not to say I’m actually calm – just less completely batshit insane.

What have I done today to combat stress? I gave myself permission to watch a couple episodes of Sherlock. I pfutzed with Instagram. I iced my knee while working on one of my editing jobs. And I opened the file for my NaNo novel, cast an appraising eye over it, and said, “Nope, not today.”

I want to enjoy writing this novel. Even with the pressure of the 30-day deadline – and often because of it – I have actually enjoyed writing the novels I created in prior years. When I sit down to write this year, if I’m not enjoying it, the deadline doesn’t matter. My feeling is that, with a ton of other things hanging over my head, I won’t be able to relax and have fun.

My advice to first-time WriMos is simple: relax. Yes, you want to use the pressure of the deadline to free yourself from your inner editor, but don’t put so much on yourself that you spend the entire month miserable and subsisting on Fritos and reheated diner coffee. You’re a writer, so writing should be fun for you. I still plan to hit 50,000 words by midnight on November 30th. I also plan to be sleep-deprived, slap-happy, and perhaps a wee bit mental. But those are all things I enjoy (in moderation). NaNo is the one time of the year when you are really aware of the breadth and scope of the writing community around the world, and it gives you a wonderful sense of camaraderie and belonging that we isolated and often awkward novelists are not used to experiencing.

So relax. Have fun. Write down every lunatic idea that pops into your head. And if you cherish your sanity at all, don’t worry about other people’s word counts. The only person you’re competing with is yourself.

Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Here We Go Again...

Here we are, quivering once more on the cusp of November. I am preparing to take that deliberate leap into insanity known as NaNoWriMo. If you have never heard of this authorly phenomenon, please see my barely-coherent posts from this time last year for a slap-dash, but essentially accurate, explanation.

Before I fling myself into the abyss, I wanted to stop by and relay my thoughts on this auspicious occasion. Unfortunately, my thoughts seem to have distilled down to something along the lines of: “I must be out of my ever-loving mind.” Nonetheless, I will make a concerted effort to post regularly about my NaNo experience this year in between choruses of Nearer My God to Thee.

On a side note, everyone has discussed the fun-filled gobsmack that was Hurricane Sandy. No one was more surprised than me at the impact that an east-coast storm could have on Ohio. I really thought that, like so many other tourists, it would head straight for New York City and ignore the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame. I was wrong. Not only was the Rock Hall damaged, but thousands of residents are still without power and Shorty will be staying home from school for the third day in a row. In fact, one nearby school is now being used as a shelter for people displaced by the storm. We were very lucky to have been in one of the first areas to which power was restored, and all our friends in the affected regions have had their heads cyber-counted.

Many people have suffered terrible losses, however. Please consider donating to the Red Cross by texting REDCROSS to 90999 to give $10 to American Red Cross Disaster Relief.

Now, to all my fellow WriMos, best of luck to each of you! May your wit be plentiful, May your word counts be high, and may your coffee never get cold!

Friday, September 14, 2012

Why I'm Not the Next Neil Gaiman

My parents had a bad habit when I was growing up. Any new thing I took lessons for became an instantly-impossible hurdle. Here’s how it went:

Young Me: “I want to take ballet!”
Parents: “Wonderful! We’ll enroll you!”
Young Me: “Yay! This is going to be fun!”
Parents: “Make sure you work hard, or you’ll never become the principal dancer for Ballantine!”
Young Me (with considerably less enthusiasm): “Um… yay?”

So I took ballet until the class got onto pointe, when I realized that shit hurt no matter how much lamb’s wool you shoved into the toes of those torture devices they call shoes, and I dropped out. And then a year later…

Young Me: “I want to take violin!”
Parents: “Wonderful! We’ll enroll you!”
Young Me: “Yay! This is going to be fun!”
Parents: “Make sure you practice hard, or you’ll never become the next Itzak Perlman!”
Young Me (with considerably less enthusiasm): “Um… yay?”

So I took violin until I realized that I didn’t like being choked by a large piece of wood and had discovered that whipping the bow at the piano bench made outstanding dents in its surface, and I dropped out. Then a bit later…

Young Me: “I want to take piano!”
Parents: “Wonderful! We’ll enroll you!”
Young Me: “Yay! This is going to be fun!”
Parents: “Make sure you practice hard, or you’ll never get to Carnegie Hall!”
Young Me (with considerably less enthusiasm): “Um… yay?”

I should mention here that I am double-jointed. This means that if I apply pressure to my fingers, the knuckles bend in the wrong direction quite often. Did you know this makes playing piano difficult? I do… now. ANYWAY, some time later…

Young Me: “I want to take voice lessons!”
Parents: “Wonderful! We’ll enroll you!”
Young Me: “Yay! This is going to be fun!”
Parents: “Make sure you work hard, or you’ll never be the next Beverly Sills!”
Young Me (with considerably less enthusiasm): “Um… yay?”

I’m an alto. Like “hello-I’m-going-to-the-basement” alto. My voice teacher thought I was a mezzo-soprano. Also, I then entered the high school years, and my social calendar became much more important. I did join the college choir and women’s ensemble, both of which I enjoyed, but the one-on-one lessons were not a particular success.

I should say here and now that I know how very lucky I was to have parents who had the means and willingness to give me access to all these lessons over the course of my childhood. I suppose that it is especially telling that as a child I knew who all the people were that my parents held up as role models to motivate me. I’d seen Madame Butterfly performed live four times before I’d hit puberty. I actually saw Yule Brenner onstage in The King and I. I’ve seen Dame Judy Dench and Kenneth Branaugh perform Coriolanus in England. I got to hear Beverly Sills sing before her retirement. These are all wonderful, enriching experiences that I feel privileged to have had.

So, what’s my point? 

What the patterns above will show you is that before I’d even begun to try, I was being held up to an impossible standard, and this stripped all the fun out it. It wasn’t enough to say, “Yes, we believe in you. Go out there, do your best, and have fun!” Instead, the message was, “In order for this to be worth anything, you must go out there, be better than anyone else, and become famous!” I was told to be the best of the best before I’d even really started, and it was off-putting.

I love writing. I mean I really, really, really love it. When I told my parents that I was going to be a professional novelist, here was the reaction: “We always believed that you could write the Great American Novel!”


I write romance. It’s sometimes funny, sarcastic, strange, or serious, but it’s still romance at the end of the day. I’m not looking to write the Great American Novel. I don’t really want to. But as soon as that thought gets in your head, it’s poison. How many writers out there have been literally crippled by the belief that everything you write is inadequate? How many of you despair because your books aren’t immediately popular and Hollywood isn’t knocking at your door? How many of you wind up softening your true writing voice to make it sound like the style of one of your writing heroes?

I know people who love you really believe you’re brilliant and are happy to tell you so. But if you’re anything like me, that expectation of brilliance is a heavy burden. How am I supposed to release a mushy, sentimental love story when my nearest and dearest are expecting the next War and Peace?

For myself, I had to flush out that thinking entirely. Comparing yourself to someone at the top of their game is unrealistic and unfair. You didn’t know Stephen King when he was struggling with rejection letters and feelings of inadequacy. Of course it looks effortless from your perspective – you’re not in his head (thank God). I have had to force myself to stop comparing myself to my idols. 

Give yourself permission to try. It’s okay that you’re not successful right off the bat. You don’t need a film deal to be a novelist; you just need to love writing. As long as you are fulfilling that essential drive within yourself to create, nothing else matters. Honing your craft, improving your weaknesses, and learning to tell the best story you can will only happen if you continue to love what you’re doing. Otherwise, you’re going to be a little kid sighing over piano lessons and dreaming of doing something fun instead.