Inspiration and travel

I’m working out the synopses of the two books that will complete the trilogy I’m working on, and I’m super excited that Oslo Norway will figure into the plot. A couple years ago I shared a bit about our adventure there. I really loved Oslo. It was a magical place to me. This museum especially:


Nobel Peace Museum, Oslo


This truly inspirational place figures in the beginning of the third book. So now I’m writing to that. In fact the plotting on these books is happening from the end first, a technique I haven’t used in years. I learned this from good book called You Can Write a Novel by James V. Smith, Jr. and published by Writer’s Digest. I’m really glad that the book is in my craft collection in my library. Happiness.

Anyway, I’m super excited about the new books. I was overwhelmed yesterday but today I’m on fire. My very smart hubby helped me out. Here’s a tip whether you have a great brainstorming partner (which I recommend getting) or not: if you have a problem, articulate it. Then you are able to work on that problem. What I’m trying to say is if you can state what it is that’s bugging you, a problem statement is formed, and the issue moves from hopeless and overwhelming to something workable.

Have a great week, and see you Friday!

Some interesting angles from the forest

How was your week?

I’ve had my head down working on the new book for the Harlequin call. I have had some exercise as I’m trying to make that a priority again. I’ve written one chapter and exercised three times since Monday. Small steps.

It’s funny with category romance. People look at them and say, oh that’s easy to write. But any book that looks easy to write is only because the writer is very skilled! Harlequin has very clear branding in their different lines. Readers buy them for a consistent experience. Writing to the requirements is challenging. I think I understand the requirements, but there is a matter of coming back again and again to the examples and seeing if the concept I came up with will meet them. I hope it does, but of course I also have to write a book that reflects me. There’s really no point in being someone else! I do believe the book I’m writing does that, so it is win win. I’m gaining more experience by attempting a very exacting type of book, learning more about classic romance, and writing a book that reflects my background and values, my style, or “voice.” At the end of the project, I intend to have a good book, regardless of whether the editors at Harlequin want it.

Hey, I found some more interesting angles from that forest outing. Enjoy! And happy weekend.



Exploring creativity, sideways thinking

So I’ve been working all week on the plot for the last of the Cruz sisters’ trilogy. The third one has a mystery plot. It’s a lot of fun, but requires a lot of thinking, and my concentration seems way off. I flit around the project, every time the thinking gets hard, I jump to the internet. I have to keep reminding myself to go back to the work. I don’t know why this is.

Well one of the things about creative writing is that you spend a lot of time with your own mind and discover things about it. I was not happy with this jumping thing. Seems like I need to concentrate and fill in the plot one thing at a time, but I don’t know what to put in all the slots.

This post is sprinkled with unrelated photos, but their very lack of relatedness, relates, because this is the kind of thing I’ve been doing all week, think a little, then do something else.

Lake Tahoe
Oregon, Horsetail Falls

I would read the outline and the guidelines for the classic mystery. Get stuck. Jump to something else. This behavior seemed very unproductive, and I was getting frustrated with myself for not sticking to the plan and concentrating.

Did I share this info graphic with you? This is actually for the book I worked on during NaNo, but which I have set aside to work on the last of the Cruz sisters.

Aesthetics of my novel

Yes, that novel is very outdoorsy, and there are horses.

So here’s what happened when it seemed all I was doing was thinking sideways. Solutions came. I filled these into the outline. It’s sort of like translating vertical motion to circular and therefore useful motion the way a car translates the piston motion to the wheel motion.

What are your plans for the weekend? I hope you will be having fun.

Generating creativity part 3

Oh my gosh, it’s working. Um, that’s why I missed yesterday’s scheduled blog post, sorry about that. I’m so excited by the ideas that are coming to me as I’m planning and writing the last of the Cruz Sisters Trilogy (as I’m now calling it). I talked about the recent twists and turns in my creative journey here:

The Writing Life, generating creativity

and here:

Report on generating creativity

Check these ideas out if you want to try some new stuff. Not that anyone has time. I’ve been making the time because I am really enjoying going deep and doing research, too.

I was rereading A Technique for Producing Ideas by James Webb Young the other night. I’ve been implementing his techniques, in my own way, and seeing results. In rereading, I ran across this quote in the beginning.

An idea, I thought, has some of that mysterious quality which romance lends to tales of the sudden appearance of islands in the South Seas. …to ancient mariners…there would suddenly appear a lovely atoll above the surface of the waters. An air of magic hung about it. … And so it is, I thought, with Ideas. … They appear just as suddenly above the surface of the mind; and with that same air of magic. … But the scientist knows that the South Sea atoll is the work of countless, unseen coral builders, working below the surface of the sea. And so I asked myself: “Is an idea; too, like this? Is it only, the final result of a long series of unseen idea-building processes which go on beneath ‘the surface’ of the conscious mind?

I had this experience today, this sudden appearance of an idea. The sequel to Love Caters All and Third Strike’s the Charm is coming together magically, exactly as James Webb Young said it would. I recognized in the process an amalgamation of two other novels I’ve written and a novella. Also a couple months of hard work on developing massive character analysis sheets and applying them to the new story are paying off as are the combined former careers of my husband and me.

I’ve done a little art work for you today. Here you go, an image from Bodie California, a ghost town.


I’m off to take a peek at what’s going on in your worlds now. Have a good week, and see you again Friday.

Report on generating creativity

A bit ago I blogged about generating creativity and the book A Technique for Producing Ideas, by James Webb Young.

I haven’t yet started using the index cards to jot down observations from in-depth research of what my characters do for a living. file0001601824864I’ve been deeply absorbed in The Plot Thickens, by Noah Lukeman, from  which I’ve developed worksheets. I’m now applying those to my characters. It’s hard work. I like that the worksheets derived from Lukeman’s book are facilitating deep thinking about the characters. When I come to a trait or bit of background that I’ve checked as yes, the character has this, sometimes I have to think a long time about the circumstances that made that happen or the effects of that trait. And this is starting to bring scenes from the character’s life into focus. These bits are like puzzle pieces and these are starting to form a mosaic of the character’s life.

I guess these worksheets are part of my in-depth research for the book, so instead of index cards I have spreadsheets, spreadsheetat least for this part of the research.

I have started the scrapbook, which is for capturing interesting things from each day’s reading or just living, things that inspire me in some way as well as just spontaneous ideas I have on my own. This has been good.

I do so much of my reading online now, but I figured out the equivalent of cutting articles out of newspapers. When I read something online that is interesting, I print it out and paste it in my scrapbook. P1010049If it’s an image, I print that too. My new creativity journal, a Christmas gift from one of my critique partners, has blank pages on the right side, and lined paper on the left, which encourages me to write but also to draw and paste.

I’ve kept tons of journals, but I’m going to index and cross-index this one, as suggested in A Technique for Generating Ideas. I’ve been getting a lot of ideas beyond the scope of my work-in-progress from the in-depth application of The Plot Thickens. Just creating the worksheets has made ideas for short stories pop into my head. Also I’ve had ideas for how to tackle a rewrite of a big novel I wrote a while back that has been beyond me to figure out how to revise and sell. I’ve jotted these in my journal/scrapbook. I might even go back to old journals I kept when writing that book and index the notes there.

What I’m really doing here is embracing how I really am instead of criticizing myself for not being like how I think creative writers should be. This idea of being very disciplined and methodical about thinking appeals to me so much, and the approach is working because it suits my basic personality.

I’ve quadrupled my reading goals this year and am active in two groups in Goodreads. This is also feeding my writing. I recently figured out what makes a book amazing to me, and different ways a book falls short for me. My instincts told me that by really applying The Plot Thickens, I would gain access to making my books more like the books that amaze me.

Time for a pretty picture. Here’s something I toyed with tonight.

Grand Tetons

Have a great week!

Editing and themes

Do you have  goals? Do you resist your goals?

I go through phases when I resist my goals. Right now, though, I am on a roll, checking things off my great project management master list. Right now I’m feeling very energized because I finished the next step in Third Strike’s the Charm, the second edit.

Here’s a writing tip I just recorded for myself in a new document called Process. Process is another topic. I’ll do that soon. But this was just something I learned during second edits that I wanted to share.

I decided to go ahead and read the manuscript backwards. I usually reserve that step for the galleys. However, with my publisher, when you have the galleys, the manuscript is locked down in a PDF and you cannot make changes to it directly. You have to give the line number, the error, and the correction. You have to type that all up. I figured it would behoove me to go ahead and do my very detailed proofreading now while I can make big changes directly in the manuscript.

I expected to find typos, grammatical errors, that kind of thing. I did. However, I also noticed story element things. I had a small thematic element that I had not revisited and two minor plot points that would be nice to revisit as well. I’m excited because I feel that rounding off these elements will provide a more satisfying and richer experience for the reader.

I don’t know why reading it backwards did that, but I think the process keeps your mind alert. Any time I read a sentence but realized I had spaced out, I stopped and read it again and again and again until I was concentrating again. So I was really keeping my mind alert. I did about 12 pages a day.

Reading forward, you miss things because you’re caught up in the story. You’ve read it so many times by now that your mind is filling in what should be there.

Theme has been interesting in this book for me as well and what I learned was that there can be more than one theme. I had a theme that I consciously developed and two smaller themes for one of the characters that I  almost didn’t develop. One of my critique partners noticed that one of them hadn’t been developed enough. And the other very small one I caught on the reverse read.

My takeaway tip for this is to watch for themes when you are doing a careful read-through of the manuscript. You might find some minor or even major themes or seeds of themes lurking in the text. If so, find ways to weave the themes through in more places or to at least complete on them one time.

Theme is really important. If you are a writer, what do you think about theme? If you are a reader but not a writer, do you notice themes in books?

I’m listening to Freedom by Jonathan Franzen now. Okay, the theme is freedom. I’m 7 discs in and I’m starting to feel the hits on Freedom, and oh it’s glorious. One place to look for your theme is in the title.

My process seems to include this kind of amorphous big picture feeling about the book when I start, and oftentimes I have the title, which suggests the theme. But executing the theme? Yeah, it doesn’t happen in the first draft. Some seeds get planted though. And those were the seeds I noticed in second edits and realized I hadn’t grown.

Here are some photos from an outdoor shopping mall near me where I met a friend for coffee. Nighttime is sure to be more spectacular when the swans are lit against a background of darkness, but I do like the elegant shapes, the Italian style background, the bows, poinsettias and wreathes. Enjoy.

Le Boulanger Dec 2 2015-2Le Boulanger Dec 2 2015-1Le Boulanger Dec 2 2015-3


Review of THE SECRET SISTER and author interview with Brenda Novak

Today I’m reviewing THE SECRET SISTER, by Brenda Novak.

This book will have wide appeal. There’s a romantic element in the book, but anyone who wants to be consumed by a great book will love this one.

The Secret Sister Final Front
Click here to go to Brenda’s page with all links and some reviews

Nicci’s Review:

THE SECRET SISTER, by Brenda Novak, is a riveting and realistic tale of Maisie Lazarow, a children’s book author whose life is in ruins. She retreats to her hometown, an island off the coast of North Carolina. Upon her arrival she finds that the bungalows she will one day inherit and where she hopes to stay are hurricane battered. Maisie’s mother is as cruel and her brother as volatile as ever. Maisie’s mother has also sold off part of Maisie’s inheritance, the bungalows, to a construction contractor as payment for rebuilding the units.

Even as she tries to regain her balance the sands shift beneath Maisie’s feet when she discovers a secret that rewrites history and threatens to destroy the fragile remains of the very family she is trying to rebuild.

This riveting tale has pure Brenda Novak emotional immediacy, that feeling that the story is happening to you. THE SECRET SISTER will draw you in and not let go until the fully satisfying ending.

What always amazes me about Brenda Novak is the subtlety of the wrongdoers. This family story explores the complex feelings of adult children who are products of very difficult, even abusive, parents. Of particular interest to me was how Maisey’s feelings about her late father slid across the spectrum from love and grief to fear that she would lose even her belief in his kindness, which has served as the one stick she could cling to in the rough seas of her life.

I like how the book hinges on simple clues, secret pictures and letters. I like the suspense which is gripping without being a thriller. This book reminds me a little bit of The Memory Keeper’s Daughter but with the reliable story magic of Brenda Novak.

New York Times Bestselling Author Brenda Novak was kind enough to answer these interview questions for my blog. Enjoy, and read the book! You won’t be disappointed. You can get all the buy links here:

Now for the interview! Don’t worry, there are no spoilers.

Welcome, Brenda!


Brenda: Thank you for the lovely review. I’m so glad you liked the story—and it was such a pleasure to have you come to the launch party for this book.

Nicci: You’re welcome! And thank you—your launch party for THE SECRET SISTER was awesome. We had fun and love our signed books. Getting to THE SECRET SISTER, you mentioned enjoying writing a Gothic style with this book. Can you say a word or two about what you mean by a Gothic-style story, and also any tips as to creating that atmosphere? For example, I love the name, Coldiron House. You must have had fun naming the house. Is a cold and forbidding mansion an important part of a Gothic type book?

Brenda: Yes, I think a cold and forbidding mansion plays a role in most Gothic novels, and I wanted a little bit of that feeling here, so the ancestral home served nicely for those purposes. Gothic novels are a bit dark and foreboding and mysterious—all things I love as long as the story is also good, which is where the challenge came in, of course. JANE EYRE is a classic Gothic story, and it’s one of my favorites.

A Gothic designation probably has more to do with tone than anything else, so anything that adds a certain dark or mysterious feeling to a novel would help to carry it in that direction.

Nicci: I love the scene where Laney keeps wringing her dress. What amazed me about that was how you built in conflict even into that scene with this character action. Can you share a little of your experience crafting that scene (without giving anything away)?

Brenda: So much of what I do is instinctual that I’m afraid it’s difficult for me to break down my process enough to describe why I did certain things in this novel. I didn’t really intend to create conflict here (not consciously) so much as I knew a scene without some kind of tension is flat and boring. I always try to have something at stake—in every scene—which is where most tension comes from. I also had some characters who bring their own kind of tension, just because one is so difficult.

Nicci: I enjoyed the text message interactions between the characters very much, particularly the tension as the characters are surprised by them or waiting for responses. At one point you had two scenes happening around text messages, on the heroine’s side interacting with her family and on the hero’s side with him and his daughter. You use this new technology naturally and well. Can you share your experience of working with texting in your novel?

Brenda: Thank you. Texting was actually kind of difficult for me to add into my work, at first. I guess that’s because I started writing before I started texting. LOL Now I text so often with my children, husband and friends, that it’s natural for me to have my characters interact the same way.

Nicci: Your bio at the end says you have raised $2.4 million for diabetes research, but in your Author’s note, that figure increased to $2.7 million. This is an incredible achievement. So many people are affected by diabetes, so I would like to provide a link to another book of yours from which all proceeds go to this cause. My blog followers know how much I love food, and I was first in line to get this wonderful cookbook. LOVE THAT! Brenda Novak’s Every Occasion Cookbook.

Click here to help find a cure for Diabetes

Brenda: Yes, there’s a discrepancy because I turned in the manuscript for THE SECRET SISTER before I did my fundraiser for this year. I added in the amount I was hoping to raise, thinking we would get there (like we had every other year). Alas, we didn’t raise quite that much this time. We are only at $2.5 million as a cumulative total, but maybe we can push that up with sales of the cookbook, which is something I continue to push. So thank you for your efforts to help me with that.

An ancient oak and a note about writing

Today I have been reading a new book about writing called Write Your Novel From The Middle: A New Approach for Plotters, Pantsers and Everyone in Between, by James Scott Bell. I gobbled it up during my writing session and the book is helping me with the sequel to Love Caters All. Write Your Novel From the Middle forced me to answer some questions about the characters that really helped. The book includes a slightly different take on the three-part story structure. I really love it so far!

I didn’t get out for a walk today because I hurt my back again yesterday working in the yard. It was feeling better, and I was overly ambitious, trying to pull a four-foot tall palm tree out by the fronds while my husband was crow-barring the roots. Well, tugging on an immovable object with all your strength is not a good idea when you are getting over a strained muscle in your back. I’m a slow learner, but I think I now understand that yard work is hard on the body, and I have to be careful! No worries, though, it’s getting better fast and I’ve learned my lesson.

Yesterday, before my ill-advised yard work, we took a walk at a beautiful park called Rancho San Antonio. I was an annoying walking companion because I kept stopping to take pictures, but at least I told the other two to continue without me, and I would catch up.

This oak tree is one of my favorites.


Learning Photoshop

I am taking a Photoshop class and had my second class tonight. I am learning things that are freeing me to do things I have craved doing. I am a writer, but I don’t have words for how good it feels to start to get my hands on tools that will let me create the pictures I have in my head, or, more accurately, to pursue the visual feeling until I stumble upon something that approaches satisfaction of that feeling. But again, since I am a writer, I have to try to find words for the feeling. I feel fulfilled and freed.

This is a photo you may have seen before since I posted it on my Amsterdam series. This is just a dried flower arrangement in Cafe Rembrandt. I keep revisiting it. I have no idea why I am drawn to it. That is the mystery of art! Art is an expression of our unconscious aesthetic. I know these are not very good; even I can see the stamp of an amateur just discovering the tools.

Cafe Rembrandt colored pencil and artistic textures

But I am overjoyed with my little creations.

Cafe Rembrandt cut out

Free stuff and links Monday, gut instincts and black and white photography

Happy Monday! Or Tuesday, as the case may be. Time for links to things online that I enjoyed this week.

I was intrigued by this article, which I found while looking for something else. I was looking for info on weird feelings in the stomach after food poisoning, another bout of which I just endured. This article is not about that at all but is much more interesting! I’m always writing about my characters’ gut clenching (male) or butterflies (female). It’s hard to come up with other ways to describe characters’ physical reactions to situations, so I’m always looking for other ways to do so and then going back and revising my manuscripts so they don’t say these things the same way all the time.

I recommend this article for writers, especially the list of physical reactions at the end, but this article is of general interest as well.

5 Gut Instincts You Shouldn’t Ignore.

The author (Courtney Helgoe) talks about the enteric nervous system, also referred to as “the second brain,” which is an interesting and new-to-me phenomenon.

In addition to warning you about danger and helping you recognize when someone needs sympathy, your instincts can help your achieve peak performance once you have mastered a skill. Here is the quote for you:

“Once you’ve developed expertise in a particular area — once you’ve made the requisite mistakes — it’s important to trust your emotions when making decisions in that domain,” [Jonah] Lehrer insists. If you know you can do it, trust your gut — not your head.

Next time you’re tempted to think too much about something you know how to do, try a little therapeutic distraction. Say the alphabet backward when your yoga teacher orders you into the dreaded handstand, or sing a favorite song to yourself at the free-throw line. Briefly engaging your conscious mind with something other than the task at hand can leave your instincts free to do their job — and free you to enjoy the satisfaction all that practice has made possible.

I’ve been trying this a bit with my writing, by closing my eyes and just writing what I’m seeing, hearing, smelling, feeling, and tasting in the scene.

I also like what the article said about your first impressions of meeting a new person. I have tried to override negative first impressions, and I’m not talking about danger here, just incompatibility for a friendship, and it never really works out. It’s best just to go with gut feel, I think.

The article also talks about inner conflict versus knowing when something is right.

When your intuition signals that you’ve found something or someone truly right for you, the choice often becomes strangely easy. “It feels healthy; it feels good; it doesn’t feel like you’re forcing it, there’s not a lot of conflict,” [Judith Orloff PhD] says.

Lehrer agrees that when you’re poised to make a big decision with lasting repercussions, like choosing your life partner, you’re best off deciding from the gut. Based on the bulk of his research into the cognitive mechanisms of decision-making, he actually recommends that you “think less about those choices that you care a lot about.”

My other favorite article of the week comes with beautiful pictures. This is a very richly contented blog post about black and white photography with contributions from several experts. This article is on Leanne Cole’s site. I’ve met Leanne, and gone on photo shoots with her. It was interesting to me to see how natural she is at taking great photos. She definitely has that muscle memory, or in the case of art, the eye, for composing beautiful photographs.

Up for Discussion: Images in Monochrome