Tag Archives: impossible dream

Status Update – Windsor Castle

Apr 05, 2017

The castle itself is so huge that there really isn’t a way to get a single pic of the whole thing.

So for those who don’t know, I’m adventuring in London for a week, looking for story ideas, researching a few things I already know I’m going to write about, and generally enjoying being in my happy place. I would absolutely live in London—or anywhere in the UK, for that matter—if I could. But seeing as they don’t have a visa category that fits me, I’ll have to make due with visit.

And yesterday I visited Windsor Castle! For those who don’t know, Windsor Castle has been a continuous residence of the Royal Family for the past 900 years! It was actually started by William the Conqueror shortly after he took over. And when I say “started,” I mean that various parts of the complex have been built, destroyed, rebuilt, added to, refurbished, and expanded over hundreds of years. In fact, the latest edition to the castle was done in the 1990s. But I’m getting slightly ahead of myself.

These are the old (old, old, old) Norman towers.

Or maybe not. Because I could talk about the magnificence of the design and decoration of the State Apartments or the incredibly art collection (I always get excited when I see very famous paintings in person, and there were very famous paintings that I knew on practically every wall of the place). I could talk about the Royal Family or the fact that Victoria and Albert lived there most of the time in their lives. But what I found most fascinating and what I really want to talk about is the fire of 1992.

I remember vividly when the castle burnt down. November 20, 1992. I have vivid images of aerial shots of one whole section of the castle in flames. But walking around inside of it, I was both curious about where the fire had been and what potentially was destroyed and how it could be that I wouldn’t obviously see all the damage.

Her Majesty’s personal entrance to the castle.

And that’s the cool story.

First of all, I learned how the fire started. It started in what was formerly a private chapel built for Queen Victoria. But the chapel was in an awkward location, and it got in the way of anyone trying to cross from the private apartments to the state apartments. What actually happened is that an ancient velvet curtain was standing too close to an old fashioned spotlight. It got too hot and WHOOMP! The whole thing went up. But not just that, because of the former structure of the roof, not only did the chapel ignite like kindling, it quickly spread all the way through the parts of the castle that were connected by the roof structure.

I think I remember stories of Prince Charles himself rushing to the scene and helping to rescue art and artifacts from the walls and rooms, but I can’t remember if that’s true. Anyhow, several of the larger rooms were massively damaged, including two large halls that adjoin what was the chapel. It’s a shame that I couldn’t take pictures of these rooms myself due to photography restrictions, because they would be really useful to illustrate the following stories…

So one of the rooms that sustained serious damage was the Grand Reception Hall. I took a picture of the picture of it in the Windsor Castle guide book that I bought. (Actually, all of these interior pics are from that guidebook). What you’re seeing is the restored room. The cool stories from this room are, first, the floor. That’s still the original floor, but with a twist. The floorboards were badly charred in the fire. So what did they do? Like a stain on a sofa, they flipped each board individually and put it back down in place. I thought that was awesome. The other story is that giant urn at the far end. It’s two tons and over six feet tall, so they couldn’t exactly haul it out of the room in the middle of the fire. The thing is, it’s made of malachite. And if you know anything about rocks (which I didn’t until the tour explained it), malachite doesn’t come in enormous slabs. So really, the urn is marble covered with a fine layer of malachite fit together like jigsaw pieces. Well, during the fire, the urn filled and doused with boiling water. So the adhesive holding the malachite to its base melted. All of the pieces flaked off in the days following the fire. They had to be reassembled piece by piece in the years of restoration that followed.

The other cool fire story is about St. George’s Hall, which is massive and beautiful. But for a historian, the story behind it is such an exciting insight into history that I was almost jumping up and down. See all that marvelous ceiling beamwork? Looks medieval, right? Nope. The entire ceiling was destroyed in the fire. There was a scary-sad picture of it looking like a burned out skeleton on the tour. So they reconstructed it. BUT, they did all the work in the medieval style with historical tools and erected it completely the way the original ceiling would have been made. And you may or may not be able to tell from this picture, but the texture and color of the wood is very, very different from the hundreds of years old ceilings you see in medieval buildings now. So for me, it totally informed on what these magnificent structures would have felt like when they were new…which is not the same as they feel now. I think places like Westminster Abbey (which I visited yesterday) and Winchester Cathedral (which I visited in 2010) would have felt much warmer and more vibrant than they do now.

But the coolest of the cool parts of the reconstructed castle is the brand new Lantern Lobby. This is where the fire started. Like I said, it was formerly Queen Victoria’s private chapel. But when it came time to rebuilt, they brought in architects to take a look and totally rethink what the space should be. This room is what they came up with. And the ceiling is incredible. But unlike St. George’s Hall, which was reconstructed in the medieval fashion, this ceiling and it’s vaulting was designed by computer! All of the angles and placement and calculations were designed specifically to draw the eye upward and to bring it together into an amazing, aesthetic harmony. And really, this pic doesn’t do justice to how perfectly that mission was accomplished. It’s so cool.

So those are just some of my observations about the castle. I have another really awesome story about St. George’s Chapel (which is bigger than the Cathedral in my hometown), where my man, Charles I, is buried. But I’ll tell that story in another blog post.

Lessons from a Sunflower

Jun 25, 2015

balcony gardenSo for the last two or three summers, when I was living at my apartment, I built up a lovely container garden on my balcony. The way my apartment was situated, I got full sunlight all day, so I had varying degrees of success with different kinds of plants.

This is not a story about those plants.

Because this past winter, for the first time, I bought a birdfeeder. I plunked said birdfeeder into one of the dormant containers of dirt, and all winter long, my cats went nuts as they watched birds turn my balcony into the coolest bird hangout in the area.

This is not a story about those birds.

birdfeederWhen I moved to my temporary home for the summer, I brought my containers, complete with dirt, with me. They ended up scattered all around the garden at this house, the house I grew up in. I kind of had plans to plant flowers and stuff, but I never really got around to putting in the effort.

But someone had other plans.

Shortly after I got settled here, I noticed a couple of sprouts in one of the containers. I kind of knew what they were right away, but with an excited little grin, I let them grow, curious to see if they would actually GROW and end up blooming. Much to my surprise, they actually did grow. Very, very tall! I shouldn’t have been surprised, though. That’s what sunflowers do.

But as I stood admiring the first of the two sunflowers when it finally burst into bloom the other day, I was struck by an amazing lesson that that simple flower had to teach me. That flower was not supposed to be there. I didn’t plant it and I didn’t plan for it. That seed was not supposed to grow and flourish. It was meant to be eaten by birds, not to have a life of its own. But somehow, through fate, the nature of seeds, and a little luck, what was supposed to end up destroyed for someone else’s good ended up becoming tall and glorious and wonderful.

sunflower

We may think our lives are destined for one thing. We may be convinced, by ourselves or others, that we’re no good or meant for nothing more than to be someone else’s tool. We might feel hopeless because of the odds stacked against us. But sometimes the extraordinary happens. Sometimes we are able to rise above the crappy circumstances we are thrust into to become something beautiful and glorious. It can happen, whether we see it coming or not.

So now, next summer, when I move into my new apartment, I’m going to plant sunflowers. A lot of them. Sunflowers will forever be a reminder to me of the amazing things we can accomplish, whether we are “supposed to” or not.

 

Excerpt Wednesday – Summer with a Star – First Kiss

Feb 25, 2015

 

It’s my favorite day! Excerpt Wednesday! And nothing is more fun then sharing a first look at a new book. Not just that, let’s start with the yummy first kiss between Tasha and Spencer, the heroine and hero of Summer with a Star, coming on Monday, March 9th, as an Amazon exclusive! So without further ado….

SummerWithAStar_3D

She sighed, hugging her cooling coffee close. “It’s such a typical story. The kind of thing that happens in movies.” She arched an eyebrow at him. “The worst part is, I put so much faith in him for so long, that when it all came crumbling down, I didn’t feel hurt. Not at all. I didn’t ache like my heart had been broken, I felt stupid. I feel stupid.”

She lowered her eyes, not bothering to fight off the ache of that stupidity as it welled up in her. She was an idiot, one who ran away from her problems, thinking a summer in an expensive house all alone could cure her of that. Well, the alone part hadn’t worked out. The rest of it probably wouldn’t either.

She was halfway through sliding down into even deeper despair when Spence inched closer to her. He set his coffee down, plucked her mug out of her hands and deposited it beside his, then cupped her jaw with his free hand, turning her head toward him. As she met his eyes, he brought his mouth down against hers.

The sensation of lips against lips, warm skin pressing so close, took her by surprise. He was gentle, yet confident. She could smell the salt of the sea on his skin. He teased his tongue along the line of her lips until she opened to him. He tasted of coffee and dinner, and the promise of starlit summer nights. She could float away on a kiss like that.

Instead she leaned into him, resting her fingertips against his side. He tensed, caught his breath—so subtly she could have imagined it—then redoubled the passion as he explored her mouth with his own. Every delicious instinct she had pushed her to snuggle closer to him, to dance her tongue alongside his, to drink him in. She could get lost in a dream like this. Her, clueless teacher, Tasha Pike, making out with Spencer Ellis.

Reality slammed back into her with the force of a train. She gasped and pulled back.

“Wow,” she breathed, struggling to pull herself together. “What was that?”

“A kiss,” he answered. If she wasn’t mistaken, his composure had slipped a little. Warm patches of color spilled across his cheeks.

“That much I got.” She grinned, still not quite believing it. “Why?”

“Why kiss you?”

She nodded.

He shrugged. “Can’t a man just feel like kissing a woman?”

“Sure,” she said, though what she thought was, not Spencer Ellis, not kissing me.

“Besides.” He brushed the back of his fingers along the line of her jaw, drawing her closer before letting go and sitting straight. “You looked like you could use a kiss.”

That was a good thing, right?

“So, do you usually go around kissing women who look like they need it?” She did her best to act cool, as if he hadn’t just raised the temperature in the entire state of Maine by ten degrees.

His sheepish laugh only made things worse. “No. Not really. I am glad you let me, though.”

“You are?”

He nodded. “I’ve been trying to break down the wall you put up for five days now. Looks like I finally did it.”

“Looks like,” she answered. She didn’t know whether to laugh or brush the whole thing off, or lunge at him for a repeat performance.

The problem was solved for her when Spence retrieved both of their coffee mugs, handing hers over.

“Thanks,” he said with a smile before taking a sip.

“Any time,” she answered. A second later, she realized what that implied.

He lifted his brow as if accepting her challenge.

She hid the swirl of butterflies that followed by drinking her coffee. What a difference a day made. She’d learned her lesson: being a stupid jerk earned no kisses, but getting over yourself did. As she settled back to watch the last of the sunset, Spencer’s solid heat beside her, she wondered what other rewards she could earn for good behavior that summer.

 

Summer with a Star is my first contemporary romance, and the first book in a new series, Second Chances. As you read Summer with a Star, you’ll hear the main character, Spencer Ellis, a big-time movie star, mention the script for the pilot episode of a TV show that he’s thinking of signing on to: Second Chances. All of the books in the Second Chances series will involve characters who are involved in the TV show, from its actors to directors to the catering staff (trust me, that’s going to be an excellent story!). You won’t want to miss it!

Lucky for you, you can preorder Summer with a Star now, right here on Amazon.

 

Quantity of Success

Aug 07, 2014

elevator to successThere have been a whole bunch of really great articles about the capacity for success in self-publishing that exists these days, including this cool one from Yahoo! Finance yesterday. I love hearing about other self-publishing authors who are doing ridiculously well. I love seeing my fellow writers achieve amazing things. My friend Sandra Owens’s new book Crazy for Her is on the Amazon Top 10 of all books right now!  It’s a really exciting time to be a part of the publishing world, let me tell you, especially with friends who are bestsellers and shooting stars.

Meanwhile, back on earth, I’m having a completely pitiful summer of sales. Absolutely nothing is working for me. Ah, the joys of how the other half lives! And while, yes, I do get depressed about the volume of suckage at this stage of my publishing life, and yes, I am a teensy bit jealous when I start comparing myself, I also know that this is just the beginning of the beginning for me.

If there’s one thing I’ve learned about publishing, one thing that I really wish wasn’t true, but sadly it is, it’s that size matters. And by size I mean quantity. I’ve heard authors like Courtney Milan and Bella Andre and any number of other bestsellers say that it takes a lot of books in publication before the magic starts to happen. There seem to be certain magic numbers for people, 5-6, 9-10. Numbers like that. I think there’s something to that.

So I’ve been thinking a lot about Billy Joel this week. Some of my coworkers went to a Billy Joel concert over the weekend and came back to the office full of rave reviews. A few desks down from me, the conversation started to fly with song titles that sparked bundles of remembered music and lyrics in my mind. That in turn brought my entire childhood pouring to the surface.

Being the research nerd that I am, I immediately had to go online and read Billy Joel’s entire life history. I learned something (obvious) that I didn’t know that kind of changed my world as a published writer. “Piano Man”, Joel’s first super hit, was released in 1973. Guess when he first started recording and making records? 1965. Now, I may not be good at math, but I can subtract to discover that it took 8 years for that first big hit to hit. That was 8 years of playing clubs, finding the right bandmates, trying things that didn’t work, writing songs, and never, ever giving up. And while the first hit came in 1973, the Billy Joel songs that stick in my heart and the ones I consider his best work didn’t come out until the late 80s. That’s at least 10 more years. That’s twenty years of hard work before Billy Joel recorded my favorite of his songs!

tire slashIt wasn’t just him either. I have this little obsession with Davie Bowie these days too. And Bowie worked and recorded and switched up bands and tried new things and failed and failed and FAILED before he finally succeeded. And boy did he succeed! So much so that he’s been in my dreams twice in the last few weeks…once as an oncologist, but that’s a long story.

The point is, there is a universal truth to every creative effort, every effort of any kind. It takes a lot of hard work to be an overnight success. YEARS of hard work. The more I learn about the publishing industry, the more I’m convinced that, really, anyone who wants to succeed at it CAN succeed, as long as they’re willing to put in the work that their individual career path needs for them to succeed.

Part of that is quantity. You have to write a lot of songs before you write “Piano Man”. You have to write a lot of books before you write the bestseller. And yes, even those people who hit the lists with their “first book” have actually written book after book after book that never saw the light of day. I started writing when I was ten. I can’t tell you how many novels I started but never finished before I finally cracked the code and finished one. And the number of novels I finished before I started publishing? Lots.

It’s two things, as far as I can see. First, it’s that old “it takes ten thousand hours of practice at something before you can master it” rule of thumb. I firmly, FIRMLY believe that to be true. Quantity of time is as important as quantity of output. Second, it’s the inescapable truth that right now in the genre fiction publishing world, series are king. Readers want ‘em, writers need to write ‘em. A series is not one book. A series isn’t even two books or three books, honestly. A series is a lot of books about the same characters and their relatives and their friends and their community. Series. Word.

So am I upset that this has been the summer of suck for my book sales? Okay, yeah, a little. Am I giving up and going home? Not on your life! I’m looking for the combination that works. I believe in my books. I know they’re good. I know all of the ones I have yet to write, have yet to even dream up are good. I just don’t know which one is “Piano Man” yet. But when I do know, oh boy, you’ll know it too!

Don’t give up. Ever.

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Is It All A Matter of Luck?

Jul 31, 2014

Hugh Howey WoolHugh Howey is one awesome guy. He’s written some fabulous books, compiled some awesome statistics, and has a great blog. He even scored one of the industry’s top agents as a self-published author and has had the film rights for his books optioned. He also happens to be super hot and ridiculously charming, imho. I got to hear him speak at RWA nationals last week. Hugh Howey is blessed, you might say. You might also say that he’s lucky.

I hear a lot of talk about luck and “magic” in the book world. There’s a sense that you have to write a great book and then be extremely lucky in order to make it into the stratosphere of publishing stardom. I also hear a lot of people say that luck isn’t an even thing, that some guys, like Hugh Howey, are just born under the right sign, positioned in the right place, and that they will always have a better chance of succeeding than your average schlub.

So, are some people just naturally luckier than others? Are some writers destined to “make it” where others aren’t because of some intangible, God-given magic that you or I just don’t have?

Heck no! I don’t think so. It’s really easy to dig yourself into a hole of despair by assuming that some people, other writers who have hit the big time, have something extra that you don’t have. It’s also a convenient excuse for not shooting for the moon. Because sometimes it looks like those awesome writers have been given something we haven’t. Then out pop the comparisons, and we start to feel really bad about ourselves.

One of the first workshops I attended at RWA nationals in San Antonio last week was a session on how to be a slow writer and still make a living off of your writing. Now, I happen to be a fast writer, but the workshop was being given by Courtney Milan. If ever there was an author I was going to compare myself to and flop into a pool of meh on the floor, feeling utterly unworthy, it’s Courtney Milan. She is amazing. She’s also insanely intelligent and can comprehend things that I, someone with to bachelor’s degrees and a master, can only blink at while drooling like an idiot. I want to be Courtney Milan when I grow up.

Right off the bat in her workshop, Courtney made a key statement. I wish that every writer who hopes and dreams and struggles could have been there to hear that statement. She said that any good writer who wants to make a living off of their writing CAN make a living off of their writing. The only difference is that for some it might take a little longer. That’s it. What it all boils down to is time, not luck.

the governess affairBut she did qualify her statement with something that I think is crucial for all writers to sit up and pay attention to. She began by saying she was presupposing that everyone hearing her words was a genuinely good writer. She also said that statistically, at least one person in that room of a couple hundred people was writing and publishing crap without knowing it. This sounds harsh, but I think it’s the key to everything and the secret force behind luck.

The question I ask myself all the time—ALL THE TIME—is whether what I’m writing is actually good. I constantly wonder if my craft is up to par. Maybe I’m the opposite of these mythical self-published writers who are spitting out garbage and publishing it before it’s ready, but I always think that I could do better. But rather than mope around wringing my hands about it, I study the craft of writing.

How does an established writer study the craft of writing? By reading for craft along with reading for story when I gobble up a book. By gobbling as many books as possible. By attending workshops and reading craft books. By hiring the best editors I can afford and seeking out the best beta-readers I can and listening hard to what they have to say…without being offended if they didn’t like what I wrote. By listening to the critiques that other people have gotten for their manuscripts, even if I’ve never read those manuscripts. By reading through submission requirements for various publishing companies, even though I have no intention of publishing traditionally.

Actually, that last one was an eye-opener, so I want to say more about it. I have a very dear writer friend who writes for Entangled Publishing. I was asking her how she liked them, which led to a discussion of their requirements in terms of tropes and pacing. So I went to the Entangled website and read the submission requirements for every one of their lines, studying what they were looking for, what tropes worked for them, and what they wanted to see in their stories. It has given me some real insight into what resonates with readers and how I might use those guidelines for my own stuff.

The point is, we make our own luck. I don’t think Hugh Howey or Courtney Milan were born more blessed than anyone else, but I do think they are both sharp enough to realize what the real work is and how it needs to be done. Luck is manufactured through hard, diligent work. And like Courtney said, anyone who is determined to make a living from their writing can make a living, given enough time and, I would add, given that they put in the work to ensure they’re publishing the best stories possible.

Don’t give up because you think you aren’t special! You ARE special because you’ve set out to reach a goal in the first place. You and I, we’ll be patient and tackle this thing together. Luck or no luck, we’re in it to win it!

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