Rain on Your Writing?

It wasn’t too long ago that my life made an unexpected left turn, the wrong way, down a one way street. It started a few years ago and, today, there are vestiges of life’s crap still creeping around in the background. I won’t go into the grim details here, but trust me when I say, “It really, really, really sucked.” Life was dumping a torrential downpour on me, and my writing.

Shortly before everything went off track, I had started to write seriously. My mind was filled with stories that needed to be told. I went to writer’s conferences to learn the nuts and bolts of the writing business, and, furiously, I got to work. Then the sky opened up. I was sent awash down an overflowing river without a paddle (and I fell out of the boat a few times too).

What is a writer to do when they get hit by life’s “little” floods? How do you drag yourself through the quagmire to get back into writing? My biggest suggestion; don’t stop in the first place. Unless you are comatose, there isn’t a reason not to write. At some point my creative juices shriveled up into a grey clump of rotten raisins. I couldn’t think a thought that ran in a straight line. They jumped from one anxiety attack to another. Writing? HA! Sometimes I could only write a paragraph. Sometimes just a few stray thoughts. No matter what, I wrote something.

If you are trying to navigate through one of your life’s rainstorms here are a few suggestions to keep going:

  • Write as much as you can manage.
  • Attend your critique group whether you have written anything or not.
  • Stay in touch with your writing friends (and friends at large).
  • Attend writer’s conferences – (I’ll be at, PPWC2018, and RMFW2018 – I hope to teach a class at the latter of the two).
  • Write about your struggles. It is cheaper than a therapist! *grins*
  • Visit your therapist – they are amazing.

DON’T QUIT! There will be days that you sit at your computer and think, “I’m a fraud! I can’t do this! I quit!” After a brief pity party, get back at it, one word at a time. The flood waters will recede. You will once again be on a safe shore to write how you were meant to; BEAUTIFULLY.

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This post is inspired by Insecure Writer’s Group’s April 4th question: When your writing life is a bit cloudy or filled with rain, what do you do to dig down and keep on writing?

The awesome co-hosts for the April 4 posting of the IWSG are Olga Godim,Chemist Ken, Renee Scattergood, and Tamara Narayan!

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Writing on a Schedule

Schedules are funny things. We have them for so many aspects of our lives: work, deadlines, appointments, school, etc. We keep our lives orderly by keeping a schedule, but does keeping a schedule keep us happy? For some people a schedule is a heavy weight hanging on a thin thread ready to crash down. For others, it is a salvation that steers the ship through each day.

I was recently asked, “What steps have you taken, or plan to take, to put a schedule in place for your writing and publishing?” My reply every time is, “Nothing.”  I hate schedules so when someone asks if I have one for my writing I really cringe at the thought of making one.

It isn’t that I can’t meet deadlines. Give me one and I’m there. Need a story tomorrow about widgets in the 20th Century? I’ll have to you early. Want a blog post about modern kitchens by January 30th? You’ll have it by the 25th. Ask me to creatively write on a schedule? Well, that’s a different animal indeed.

Writing creatively, on a schedule, is like asking a painter to have their masterpiece done by Tuesday. And, by the way, they have to paint on Wednesday from 6:00 am to noon and Friday 5:00 pm to midnight. Final touch-ups have to happen on Sunday, leaving Monday to let it dry. Really?

Creativity doesn’t happen on a schedule. It is more like a flow of energy that comes in waves and currents like the rapids and eddies along a river. It trickles through pebbles during dry spells and when the rains come it turns into a raging force that can’t be stopped just because it’s not on the schedule.

No. I won’t be making a writing schedule for 2018, but I do have some deadlines I want to keep. The Manx is long overdue for completion, and I have too many other projects zinging around in my head that are dying to get onto paper. So, my plan is to get The Manx finished, submitted, and published, without a schedule (dare I say this?) by the close of 2018.

BAM!

 

Many thanks to the Insecure Writers Support Group for their continued inspiration and support. You all keep me writing!!

Another thank you to our wonderful co-hosts for the January 3 posting of the IWSG who are Tyrean Martinson, Ellen @ The Cynical Sailor, Megan Morgan, Jennifer Lane, and Rachna Chhabria!

99 Questions to Ask Your Character

Characters need to live and breathe through your story which, in turn, brings your story to life. If they don’t have odd quirks, a childhood, a family, nor any fears, hopes and dreams, then they are just letters on a page. Even with a well-developed protagonist your words will fall flat if your supporting cast is weak.

Recently I ran into a rough patch that I had struggled to get past. In my mind’s eye I had all my characters figured out. I could picture them in my head, yet when they landed on the page their form lost color and dimension. A fellow author suggested I sit and do a full character study of the four largest characters in the story.

As soon as I sat down to do this I was at a loss for the questions that needed to be answered. Thank goodness for the internet. I did several searches under “character traits” to see what came up. I found quite a few sites that listed many questions I could ask my character, and each site had some main themes as well. As I dug deeper I found that there was also great social media questionnaires that took my questioning to interesting places.

After a while it became quite overwhelming and I ended up with well over 200 questions that could be asked of my book characters. Some questions were the same, just phrased differently, and some were edging on TMI so I edited the list down to 99 of my favorites.

How does this work? Just put yourself in the mind, and body of your character then answer them as your character would. The questions are not in any particular order. I found that this randomness helps to generate new ideas and new ways to look at a character. Of course, not all characters need such in-depth exploration, but as a writer, you get to choose which questions need to be answered to bring each of your characters to life. Have fun!!

1. Describe yourself. Hair color, height, weight, eye color, scars, marks, figure, etc.
2. Where were you born and raised? Where did you go to school?
3. Who are the members of your family?
4. If you could meet anyone on this earth, who would it be?
5. What are you obsessed with?
6. What do you think about most?
7. What does your latest text message from someone else say?
8. Do you sleep with or without clothes on?
9. What’s your strangest talent?
10. Girls______________. (finish the sentence); Boys____________. (finish the sentence)
11. Ever had a poem or song written about you?
12. Do you have any strange phobias?
13. Ever stuck a foreign object up your nose?
14. What’s your religion?
15. If you are outside, what are you most likely doing?
16. What was the last lie you told?
17. Do you believe in karma?
18. What is your biggest fear?
19. What is your greatest weakness; your greatest strength?
20. Who is your celebrity crush?
21. Have you ever gone skinny dipping?
22. How do you vent your anger?
23. Do you have a collection of anything?
24. Do you have a secret? What is it?
25. What was your childhood like?
26. Do you prefer talking on the phone or video chatting online?
27. Are you happy with the person you’ve become?
28. What’s a sound you hate; sound you love?
29. What’s your biggest “what if”?
30. Do you believe in ghosts? How about aliens?
31. Do you have a phobia/fear? What is it? Where did it come from?
32. Stick your right arm out; what do you touch first? Do the same with your left arm.
33. Smell the air. What do you smell?
34. What’s the worst place you have ever been to?
35. Choose East Coast or West Coast?
36. Most attractive singer of your opposite gender?
37. To you, what is the meaning of life?
38. Define Art.
39. Do you believe in luck?
40. Do you drive? If so, have you ever crashed?
41. What is your happiest memory? Saddest?
42. What does your house look like?
43. What was the last book you read?
44. What is your favorite scent/smell?
45. Do you have any nicknames?
46. What was the last movie you saw?
47. What’s the worst injury you’ve ever had?
48. Have you ever caught a butterfly?
49. What does your bedroom look like?
50. Do you have any obsessions right now?
51. What’s your sexual orientation?
52. Ever had a rumor spread about you?
53. Do you believe in magic?
54. Do you tend to hold grudges against people who have done you wrong?
55. Do you save money or spend it?
56. What’s the last thing you purchased?
57. Love or lust?
58. Greatest regret?
59. What is your most treasured thing?
60. In a relationship?
61. How many relationships have you had?
62. Does anyone hate you? Why?
63. Can you touch your nose with your tongue?
64. Where were you yesterday?
65. Is there anything pink within 10 feet of you?
66. Favorites: places, meals, things to do, outfits, animal?
67. What is your secret weapon to get someone to like you?
68. Who is your best friend?
69. What did you do last week?
70. What are your friends like? What are their best qualities?
71. What is your heritage?
72. If you could change yourself in any way, what would you change?
73. What were you doing last night at 12 AM?
74. What are you most passionate about?
75. Are you the kind of friend you would want to have as a friend?
76. You can only have one of these things; trust or love.
77. What’s a song that always makes you happy when you hear it?
78. In your opinion, what makes a great relationship?
79. How can I win your heart?
80. What are you most afraid of?
81. What is the single best decision you have made in your life so far?
82. What size shoes do you wear?
83. What would you want written on your tombstone?
84. What is your favorite word?
85. Give me the first thing that comes to mind when you hear the word; heart.
86. What is a saying you say a lot?
87. What’s the last song you listened to?
88. Basic question; what’s your favorite color/colors?
89. What is your current desktop picture?
90. If you could press a button and make anyone in the world instantaneously explode, who would it be?
91. What would be a question you’d be afraid to tell the truth on?
92. You accidentally eat some radioactive vegetables. They were good, and what’s even cooler is that they endow you with the super-power of your choice! What is that power?
93. You can re-live any point of time in your life. The time-span can only be a half-hour, though. What half-hour of your past would you like to experience again?
94. You can erase any horrible experience from your past. What will it be?
95. You have the opportunity to sleep with the music-celebrity of your choice. Who would it be?
96. You just got a free plane ticket to anywhere. You have to depart right now. Where are you gonna go?
97. Do you have any relatives in jail?
98. Have you ever thrown up in the car?
99. If the whole world were listening to you right now, what would you say?

J.T. Evans

jt-evans-headshot

J.T. Evans stopped by to chat with us about his writing life and how he gets it all done.

KJ ~~ Tell us a little bit about yourself.
J.T. ~~ My Day Job is working as a lead software engineer on a set of international web sites that facilitate the purchase of training courses for other technical people. The nitty-gritty details are somewhat boring, so I’ll leave it up to your imagination as to what “exciting” things I get to do. The upside is that work takes me to Paris for meetings every so often. I live just outside Monument, Colorado with my wife of 16 years and my seven-year-old son. I do my best to treat writing as a profession, so I rarely (if ever) list it under “hobbies” anymore. This means my hobbies are Cub Scouts with my son, playing card/board/role-playing games, and watching hockey (I used to play).

KJ ~~ What are you working on right now?
J.T. ~~ I’m currently working on writing an urban fantasy novel while submitting some short stories to various markets. The novel is about an immortal Roman Centurion living in modern San Antonio, Texas. He works for The Ancients as a bounty hunter while searching for clues into his father’s mysterious disappearance almost two-thousand years ago. I’m hoping to make it into a series, but I’m just now starting chapter 4 of the first book. I hope to be somewhere in the late-teens in chapter count by the end of the month, done with the book by the start of February, and edit it in time for the 2015 Pikes Peak Writers Conference. It’s a hectic schedule, but I think I can pull it off.

KJ ~~ I see on your website that you have published a number of flash fiction pieces along with several short stories. For you, how does this differ than writing a novel (besides the fact that a novel probably takes a boatload more time)?
J.T. ~~ Besides the time commitment, it’s a matter of accuracy with words. Basically, it goes like this. Novels are words. Short stories are the right words. Flash fiction (and poetry) pieces are the right words in the right place. This is all probably gross oversimplification, but that’s how I approach things. If I have a powerful word with depth of meaning, I’ll use it once in a flash piece, maybe twice in a short story, and no more than once per chapter in a novel. In flash fiction, I try to use as many “kick in the gut” words as possible to amp up the pressure of the story in such a short time, but I can’t repeat those words. I also only try to explore one character, one concept, and one setting. No more than one of each of those. In short stories, I’m allowed a few more characters, but no more than two (maybe three) main characters. I also try to keep my short stories down to one setting, and around two concepts. This keeps my word count down. With novels, I let it all fly! I love world building, so that’s where my novels come into play. I get to explore (in depth and breadth) many aspects of the world through the characters’ explorations of the world.

KJ ~~You are a father, a husband, a technoguru, President of Pikes Peak writers, and a writer. How do you squeeze it all in?
J.T. ~~ There are a few factors going into play here. I have a great amount of personal discipline. It’s rare for me to waste a minute while I’m awake on something that’s not productive, but I do still schedule downtime. This prevents me from burning out. My downtime usually involves a quick TV show, reading while eating lunch, or playing with my son. Another thing that works well for me is that my corpus callosum (the bridge between the two halves of the brain) did not form properly in utero. This doesn’t impair my ability to think or act, and it has gifted with ambidexterity, and the ability to quickly shift from logical thinking (my Day Job and running Pikes Peak Writers) to creative thinking (writing). Lastly, I’ve been diagnosed with a rare mental oddity called “hyperfocus.” It’s basically the opposite of ADHD. It’s incredibly useful to be able to focus solely on my work despite being in chaotic surroundings (like at a loud coffee shop). There are some downsides to the hyperfocus, though. When I’m on a strong roll of writing, it’ll last long enough that I’ll forget to eat or take care of my body.

KJ ~~ What does a typical writing day look like for you?
J.T. ~~ For me, writing tends to happen on weekends or late in the evening. I’ll tend to wait until my son goes down for the night. At that point, I’ll stay up late and crank out some words. My peak “brain activity” hours are generally from 8PM until about 4AM. I wish I could stay up until 4AM every day, but that pesky Day Job requires me to be out the door by around 8AM each day to make it on time. On the weekends, I tend to write quite a bit on Saturdays since that is “my day” to be kid-free and do as I please. My family is generally gone Sunday mornings as well, so I’ll continue my work on that day until they get home. At that point, my wife will run about town on “her day,” and I’ll spend some good time with my son.

KJ ~~ Do you have strategies for getting past those days that are hard to write?
J.T. ~~ I’ve never had “writer’s block.” I have had scenes that I didn’t want to tackle because they made me uncomfortable to write. It could be a tender moment, something incredibly emotional, something complex in the physical realm, and so on. At this point, I’ll flip from the creative side of things to the logical and look at it from the new viewpoint. I’ll ask, “Why am I uncomfortable with this?” Once I’ve dissected the problem, I find the nugget of truth in there somewhere. Then I approach the scene from that angle and it works out well.

KJ ~~ What books or authors have influenced you the most and why?
J.T. ~~ The list is lengthy, but I’ll stick to the high points. Terry Brooks, Dennis L. McKiernan, Raymond E. Feist, Lawrence Watt-Evans, and Anne McCaffrey are high on my list because of their incredible world-building skills. However, they manage to drag out wonderful character moments from the world regardless of what is going on. This fine balance is why they make my list. I also love building new worlds in my own way, so learning lessons from these fine masters is something I strive to do.

Carol Berg, Jim Butcher, C.S. Lewis, Ursula K. Le Guin, Brent Weeks, Roger Zelazny, Saladin Ahmed, Jane Yolen, and Robert Asprin also hit the high spots on my list because of the true, raw, emotional, powerful, and exciting characters they create. However, these characters do not exist in a vacuum, so there is some world building in there as well. I aspire to create fictional people that give the reader an emotional roller coaster ride, so these are always on my shelf.

KJ ~~What are your favorite books that you have read simply for pleasure?
J.T. ~~ Interestingly, the author of my favorite book didn’t make the above list. It could be that he has not produced as much as the others. My #1 book of all time is The Long Run by Daniel Keys Moran. The characters in this futuristic, broken world are true. Not only true to themselves, but true to the world. It’s just an amazing piece of fiction. The things I tend to read for pleasure fall firmly in the fantasy and urban fantasy realms. I do branch out and read a bit of science fiction and horror, though. I rarely pick up anything else because my time is so precious to me. I just don’t know if I’d enjoy other things. I might, but I don’t know. This leads me to stick to the things I know.

KJ ~~ If you took a two-week vacation in any book or story, where would you go and who would you be?
J.T. ~~ Most of the places I read about in fiction are horrific places! Marauding orcs, horrible demons, power-hungry fae, and constant warfare tend to be the fare of what I read. I don’t want to visit any of those places at all. If I had to pick a place, it would be the multiverse that Skeeve and Aahz (and their troupe of friends) live in in the “Myth” series by Robert Asprin. There’s plenty of zany antics going on, and it all seems like so much fun.

Website: http://jtevans.net/
Twitter: @jtevans
Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/jtevans.writer

Chris Mandeville

Chris Mandeville

Author Chris Mandeville joins us today for a quick chat.

KJ ~Tell us a little bit about yourself.
CHRIS ~ I’m a UC Berkeley grad, wife of a retired Air Force officer, and mom of three boys. I grew up in California, moved around a bit with the military (including a stint in Canada), then settled in Colorado where I’m more than happy to stay. Once upon a time I worked in advertising (most notably on the Lexus launch and Iams Pet Food) and also taught preschool. Since leaving the paid workforce to raise my children, I’ve always kept busy doing some kind of volunteer work or other, including working with the Red Cross, Project Sanctuary (www.projectsanctuary.org), and Pikes Peak Writers (www.pikespeakwriters.com) where I served for more than ten years on their Board of Directors. Now I’m a full-time writer and president of Delve Writing, an online community providing boot camps for writers (www.delvewriting.com). I love to teach writing and spend time with other writers, so look for me at writing events in Colorado and online, or contact me if you’d like me to present a writing workshop for your group: Chris@delvewriting.com

KJ ~ What are you working on right now?
CHRIS ~ I write New Adult speculative fiction and currently have a post-apocalyptic under consideration at several publishers and literary agencies. While that manuscript is making the rounds, I’m trying my hand at something new: this week I began working on a mystery novel. I love reading mysteries but this is my first time writing one. I’m also putting together an ebook for writers: 52 Ways to Name a Character which is due out later this year.

KJ ~Of the books you have written, which one would you like to tell us about?
CHRIS ~ 52 Ways to Get Unstuck: Exercises to Break Through Writer’s Block
http://www.amazon.com/author/chrismandeville
This is a comprehensive guide to overcoming writer’s block, including suggestions for how to prevent it from occurring. It includes innovative exercises, anecdotes, and advice from dozens of authors.

KJ ~ What was the hardest part about getting this book from the first ideas to publication?
CHRIS ~ There was nothing hard about the project itself—it was a dream to write. The only slight difficulty was that occasionally during the writing process I missed working on fiction because the nonfiction process keeps me in my own life rather than transporting me to “somewhere else.”

KJ ~Where did you get your inspiration for this book?
CHRIS ~ Several years ago the Pikes Peak Writers Conference was in need of a workshop on writer’s block and asked if I could put together something on that topic. I did and “52 Ways to Get Unstuck” was born. The workshop was so well received, I immediately began making plans to put it into book form, but it took me awhile to wrap up some fiction projects before turning my focus to nonfiction.

KJ ~ What books or authors have influenced you the most and why?
CHRIS ~ In terms of nonfiction books for writers, several have been very influential in both my fiction and nonfiction writing. In particular, GMC: Goal, Motivation, and Conflict by Debra Dixon and Writing the Fiction Synopsis by Pam McCutcheon have been invaluable. As far as fiction, I’ve been influenced, inspired, and instructed (as well as entertained) in countless ways by hundreds of books over the course of my life. If I had to choose just one, I’d say Neverwhere by Neil Gaiman stands out as being the most influential because it was only in reading this book that I learned to embrace my own voice as a writer.

KJ ~What are your favorite books that you have read simply for pleasure?
CHRIS ~ Iron House by John Hart, The Golden Compass by Philip Pullman, Midwives by Chris Bohjalian, Diane Mott Davidson’s Goldie the Caterer series, Faye Kellerman’s Decker series, everything by Jeffery Deaver, and I just finished –and loved– The Breakup Doctor by Phoebe Fox.

KJ ~What does a typical writing day look like for you?
CHRIS ~ I like to write in “binges” rather than for a set amount each day, so a typical writing day for me is to tank up on coffee at breakfast, then write all day until something forces me to stop (sometimes that’s making dinner or sometimes I’ll write into the evening). It’s not uncommon for me to put in 8-10 hours on a good writing day. If I’m on a deadline I’ll sneak an hour or two of writing into a busy non-writing day, but I usually plan my week so that I have the opportunity for a couple of binges. The only essentials—besides time—are coffee and my laptop. I can write anywhere, but my usual spot is in a comfy leather chair in the pub at my house. There I have a great view of the woods, it’s quiet except for the wind in the trees, and I have an espresso maker within reach. Heaven.

KJ ~Do you have strategies for getting past those days that are hard to write?
CHRIS ~ Yes! The specific strategy depends on the type of difficulty I’m having. Often when it’s “hard to write” that simply means I’m having trouble getting my butt in the chair and I need to clear the decks and put my nose to the grindstone. I seldom have difficulty being productive once my butt is in the chair and my hands are on the keyboard. If I’m stuck on something related to story/character, or if I’m having difficulty turning my focus away from my non-writing life, I turn to one of the strategies in my book, 52 Ways to Get Unstuck. My top strategies are to take a shower or take a drive.

KJ ~If you took a two-week vacation in any book or story, where would you go and who would you be?
CHRIS ~ Most of what I read is mystery/suspense/thriller, and I don’t want to take a vacation amidst killers, corpses, and danger! So I think I’d choose to go to C.S. Lewis’ Narnia, and I’d want to be myself. I’ve already seen how the characters in the Narnia stories interact with their world; I’d want to experience that magical place for myself as myself.

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Coming July 31: Anthonette Klinkerman (2 time winner of the Reader’s Choice Award) is the author of “Battle of the Grandmas” and she shares some of her thoughts about writing this children’s book.

Phoebe Fox

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KJ~~Tell us a little bit about yourself.
Phoebe~~ I grew up in Georgia, moved to New York City to pursue an acting career, “retired” from showbiz to Florida to work as a journalist, and seven years ago moved to Austin, Texas, with my husband and our terribly spoiled dogs, where I plan to stay for a while. I’ve worked as a film producer/director, a theater critic, a health columnist, a game-show host, a casting assistant for Broadway shows, an intern for Paramount Pictures, and the voice of the heroine in a video game. Kind of a fun and eclectic background to draw on when you’re a writer.

KJ~~What are you working on right now?
Phoebe~~ At the moment I’m putting the final touches on the Breakup Doctor sequel—Bedside Manners, out in March of 2015—and then doing a final edit on a manuscript currently called Falling Together (soon to be retitled, thanks to one of my favorite writers, Marisa de los Santos, who used that working title for her last book). That one’s a bit of a departure from the Breakup Doctor series—a deeper story about a woman who leaves her seemingly happy marriage and literally starts a new life from scratch in an unfamiliar, washed-up beach town after a tragedy she cannot overcome. It’s about forgiveness, really—of the ones we love who hurt us, whether they mean to or not (and often so much more deeply because we love them), and even more important, forgiveness of ourselves for doing the things we once imagined were unthinkable.

break-up-cover

KJ~~Of the books/stories you have written, which one would you like to tell us about?
Phoebe~~ The first in my Breakup series—cleverly titled The Breakup Doctor—is about a therapist who, when she loses her practice, reinvents herself as a relationship columnist and counselor, on call to help you shape up after a breakup. But when her own relationship falls apart, she finds herself spectacularly breaking every one of her own rules. It’s a fun, funny read, but I hope also says something real about how we handle the tough parts of love—not just in our romantic relationships, but with friends and family too. And how to forgive yourself when you fall short of your own expectations. Which seems to be a theme in my writing.
There are a variety of buy links on my publisher’s page

KJ~~What was the hardest part about getting this book/story from the first ideas to publication?
Phoebe~~ A couple of years ago my agent, the tireless Courtney Miller-Callihan at Sanford J. Greenburger, submitted Breakup Doctor all over, and we got some of the nicest, most positive rejection letters you’ve ever seen—but not a single offer. I figured the story was just a no-go, so I put it away and worked on two other manuscripts I’ve since completed.
After that I revisited Breakup Doctor and still liked it and thought it had a story to tell, so I did a heavy rewrite of it and told Courtney that I was going to self-publish, and she said, “Give me one more crack at it first.” (Every author wants a Courtney Miller-Callihan in her corner.) And so she shopped it around one more time, and this time we found the perfect home for it—Henery Press, an intimate house that has impressed me at every turn with their enthusiasm for the book and for me, as well as their industry knowledge and fast growth as a company.
In a way I think this is how it had to happen—Breakup Doctor is a much better book than it was the first go-around; I needed time to “season” the story. And Henery is the exact right publisher for it, and I found them at the exact right time (when they branched out form their usual comedic mysteries to include my genre, chick lit). It makes me think of the story of Breakup Doctor itself—something really, really good came out of what at the time felt like nothing but rejection and heartbreak.
KJ~~Where did you get your inspiration for this book?
Phoebe~~ Breakup Doctor started years ago as an almost entirely different book, generally based around a woman who bought a fixer-upper house to flip it in the hot Florida market, just before the mortgage crisis hit. At the time I was living in Fort Myers, Florida—the epicenter of the mortgage collapse, nicknamed “Foreclosure Myers” in the press. And yes, I had just bought a house.
In the process of writing it, however, I supported several friends through tough breakups (and vice versa), as well as writing a recurring series for my paper about happily married couples and what made them work. I spent loads of time observing, researching, and talking about relationships—why they succeeded, why they failed, and how to handle the latter when it happened—and the book started to take on a new path, though I still wasn’t quite finding its spine.
And then I met the man who is now my husband, and we hit it off fast and hard, followed very quickly by what I like to call “the Great Disappearance” (and my husband likes to call “a figment of my imagination”). After a month of steady contact—dates, phone calls, e-mails, a full-court press—he told me he was going away for a week’s vacation, and I stopped hearing from him. Completely.
I immediately decided he was there with another woman, and that all the great connection I’d thought we’d had was in my own head. I beat myself up mercilessly—how could I have misjudged everything so thoroughly? And in his absence the book finally found its heart: Why can love make us a little crazy, even when we think we have it all together?
Oh—and it turns out my husband was at a weeklong yoga retreat. Where they discouraged computer and cell phone use. 

KJ~~What books or authors have influenced you the most and why?
Phoebe~~ He’s Just Not That Into You, by Liz Tuccillo and Greg Behrendt, literally changed my dating life, and is probably a good large part of the reason I’m happily married today. It was a big inspiration for Breakup Doctor as well. For craft books, Sol Stein’s Stein on Writing is like a master class in writing fiction, and Brenda Ueland’s If You Want to Write is the greatest treatise on and exhortation to creativity that I know of. In the fiction field, I have to say that my childhood reads were among the most influential—they’re simple stories, but books like Harriet the Spy and Encyclopedia Brown and the Judy Blume books and Why Me? and Lisa Bright and Dark gave me an appreciation for storytelling that’s probably a huge part of the reason I love to do it today.

KJ~~What does a typical writing day look like for you?
Phoebe~~ Like a lot of writers, I still work a full-time job, although I’ve had the luxury for the last twenty-plus years of working from home. So generally I get up, walk the dogs, and then write for a couple of hours in the morning, and then work my “regular job” for the rest of the day. Lately I write weekends too, though I didn’t used to—since the first Breakup Doc came out, I learned that getting the word out about your book is also a full-time job. So I’m still working to find the balance between my writing career and my other career, book promotion, and family. I keep assuring my neglected husband and family and dogs and friends that that balance is coming soon….
KJ~~What are your favorite books that you have read simply for pleasure?
Phoebe~~ I’m a big fan of authors like Hester Browne, Lolly Winston, Emily Giffin, Jennifer Weiner, Liz Tuccillo, Marisa de los Santos, Sarah Pekkanen, and Sarah Bird, more or less in my genre. But I also read a lot of nonfiction—I love history, sociological subjects, and biographies (especially if A. Scott Berg wrote them)—some self-help (like any writer worth her salt who focuses on relationships), and recently have been reading more mystery. And Jenny Lawson and the Oatmeal make me snicker like a twelve-year-old boy.

KJ~~Do you have strategies for getting past those days that are hard to write?
Phoebe~~ Usually avoidance and denial, and then more coffee and gritted teeth—the mental equivalent of a cattle prod. My husband and I just saw Eddie Izzard, one of my favorite comedians, and in a Q&A after the show he was asked about what led to his success. I loved his answer: “Determination.” He said that someone once asked him, when he began pursuing acting, why he wanted to be a so-so actor when he was such a brilliant comedian. And his answer was, “Once I was just a so-so comedian.” That struck me so viscerally—the idea that being successful is much less about some kind of innate talent, and more about determination, persistence—just doing and doing and doing that thing you love until you become good at it. That’s what I remind myself of on the days writing feels like a slog.

KJ~~If you took a two-week vacation in any book or story, where would you go and who would you be?
Phoebe~~ I think I would like to visit the worlds of Grimms’ Fairy Tales. I grew up reading these stories, and they were the magic portal for me to my imagination. All things were possible—frogs could talk, a mermaid could trade her tail for legs, a childless couple could wish a minuscule son into existence. Good triumphed over evil, virtue was rewarded, and true love conquered all. They were magnificent and magical and occasionally terrifying, and they opened worlds to me beyond the one I knew.

Word, Word, Word, Word…..

STUCK. Ever have one of those days that you feel so stuck you could scream? Artists of every kind have at one time or another. The painter stares at a blank canvas, a photographer stares at an empty lens, and a writer stares at a blank sheet of paper. Stuck. Nothing. Nada. Ziltch. It is a frustrating experience isn’t it?

How do you go about getting unstuck? A few ideas that may work for you: run,swim, meditate, walk, or jump up and down. Some people find it helpful to do an artistic exercise of a different kind. If you are a writer then scribble a doodle. If you are a painter then write a poem, and if you are a photographer….well, I used to turn the camera upside down just for a new perspective. For writing I like to consult my Delve Writers group who can always come up with a new tip or trick. The latest comes from the top in the unstuckedness class of writers, Chris Mandeville (author of 52 Ways to Get Unstuck). Her advice for today: write the word, ‘word’ over and over again and see what comes out.

I was so inspired by this I ended up with two blog posts. So, in honor of getting unstuck I want you to have some fun too. In the comments please write ‘word’ over and over again and see what comes of it. You can see mine at arbitrarydustbunnies.

….and begin….Word, Word, Word, Word…..