Saturday, December 30, 2006

UnBEElievably Random (and Cute!)

No, this is not my dog dressed up like a Beedog. This cutie's name is Aster and he's one of hundreds of Beedogs--yes, you read that right...hundreds!--on, which features photo after photo after photo of dogs dressed as bees.

Okay, I knew a lot of owners dressed their pets in sweaters and cute little outfits with hats, but until recently, I had NO IDEA that so many dressed them in bee costumes, and then apparently sent them in to this website for all of us to surf through and enjoy. It's amazing how many beedogs are buzzing about out there.

Anyway, dogs crack me up, especially small ones, so I really do get a kick browsing through these pages. And I hope you do, too.

Hey, I did warn ya'll that my posts were going to be about some fairly random content. Can't get much more random than a website dedicated to beedogs! :-)

Happy New Year!

Thursday, December 21, 2006

Evil Santas?

Who hasn't seen some ratty-costumed Santa who made you want to grab onto your mom's leg, spin on your heel and high-tail it in the opposite direction before he made eye contact with you? You'd rather chance that your letter arrived at the North Pole in time than get anywhere near the scary man in the red suit, right?

Well, you were not alone--as proven by the photos on the website, SCARED OF SANTA GALLERY: Tis the season to be scared witless, which is hosted by People have posted their own photos of their children frightened of Santa (from about 1940 t0 the Present).

Looks like years of nightmares and therapy.

Merry Christmas! :-)


Thursday, December 14, 2006

Where's Kenny?

Ah, Kenny Rogers. Who doesn't love The Gambler?

Have you ever spotted someone in a crowd and thought, Gee, that man looks a lot like Kenny Rogers. I wonder if it's him?

Well, it turns out there's a website that's devoted not TO Kenny Rogers...but to Men Who LOOK Like Kenny Rogers! Woo-Hoo!

And by the way, my parents' neighbor looks a lot like Kenny, and I swear I think his picture is on the site! It's hard to tell if it's the neighbor or just someone who looks like him, though. LOL

Anyway, Men Who Look Like Kenny Rogers offers a gallery of photos, Kenny Spotting Tips, Look Like Kenny Tips, Kenny of the Month, and Recipes!

Good luck in your Kenny spotting adventures!


Sunday, November 26, 2006

If Only the Internet Came in Scratch 'N Sniff

Already tired of fighting the crowds and traffic after the long weekend, but still have gift shopping to do for friends who are Perpetual Kids? Uh-huh. Thought so.

Check this out: Ever hear of a cologne that smells like Play-Doh? How about Dirt? A Cosmopolitan? Or Birthday Cake? How much fun are those scents?!

Or for the carnivore in your life...There's the Bacon Wallet. Yep. The website says it all: "Elvis would want you to have this."

And you don't have to fight for a parking space. Can't beat that.

So, do you have a favorite scent from childhood?


Wednesday, November 22, 2006

In the Immortal Words of Monty Python...

And now for something completely different!

Since The Writer's Vibe is dedicated to...well...writing, I've decided to dedicate this blog to randomness and fun stuff. And boy, have I found some random stuff out on the Internet! LOL

Wanna know if you're pregnant? I've found a website that offers an ONLINE PREGNANCY TEST. Yes, that's right, folks. It'll tell you through your computer whether to expect a bundle of joy. ;-)

And guess what? It'll tell you the sex of the baby and who the father is as well! But what if you don't like which father it picks? Well, just tell it to pick another one! LOL

I'd like to announce that I'm expecting a baby girl and the father is Janet Reno. And even better...My husband is expecting a baby boy and the father is the Mailman. Isn't that sweet?

Don't forget the birth certificate...

Click the link to get your

  • Free Online Pregnancy Test

  • Have fun!


    Saturday, September 02, 2006

    The Writer's Vibe

    Looking for me? :-)

    Catch me over at The Writer's Vibe where you'll find posts on craft and the business of writing, interviews with writers and publishing professionals, new book releases and signings, and information about writing events. That's right! We're shaking things up, so hop on over and join us!


    Cerritos Library Event

    Thought I'd pass along this bit of news, as it sounds like a blast!

    Enjoy an afternoon tea with 6 fabulous writers! If you’re in the Southern California area, check out this event at the Cerritos Library.

    Sunday, September 17 from 2:00 p.m. - 4:00 p.m.

    Love is in the Air - An Afternoon Tea in the Skyline Room

    The Friends of the Cerritos Library will host an afternoon tea with five local Romance writers. The participating authors are Maureen Child, Barbara McCauley, Sandra Paul, Charlene Sands and Patricia Thayer. Local resident and author Louzana Kaku will moderate the panel discussion. Books will be available for purchase. Cost per person is $20. Register before Friday, September 8, as seating is limited. Please contact Janice at (562) 924-2474 or Chitose at (562) 926-3565 for more information.

    Saturday, August 26, 2006

    Holy Scooter Gangs, Batman!

    Scooter gangs rule the streets in Italy. They seemed to travel in packs and appeared fearless when nearing any car. It was like a game: cars vs. scooters. And they’d get bonus points when a pedestrian screamed and jumped back onto the sidewalk.

    Yes, I added to the bonus points total over and over again. Every time I stepped out onto the street I had to keep my eyes peeled for scooter gangs. I swear, they’d materialize out of nowhere. I’d start to cross when there wasn’t any traffic, but then PRESTO, there they were…aiming for me. Does that sound paranoid? I tend to think that way. A lot.

    But what struck me most was that we never knew if it was going to be a student with tattoos, a scooter chick dressed in Italian chic, or a business man in what my family and I liked to call a “scooter suit” (seen in photo above). But we learned to look out for one another, so when someone shouted, “Watch out--Scooter suit!” or “Careful--Scooter chick!” we knew exactly who was aiming for us. And that, my friends, is how we survived the mean streets of Firenze and Roma.

    We also turned the noun “scooter” into a verb while driving the roads. We had walkie-talkies in each car as we caravanned from town to town and more than once someone in one of the cars would declare into their handset, “We’ve been SCOOTERED!” This meant that a scooter gang had darted out in front of the car and separated it from the other two cars in our party. I’m not sure why they felt the need to do this…Perhaps to weaken us. But it never worked, as we managed to reunite and become more seasoned, aggressive drivers, like the Italians.

    What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger, right? Hmm. That can also be applied to the life of a writer…

    Take care,


    Friday, August 18, 2006

    Harry Potter's Hedwig Has Nothing on Duke

    For three nights, we stayed in the famous Dalhousie Castle, outside Edinburgh (pictured below). Built in the 13th Century, Edward I stayed there just before he defeated William Wallace, Oliver Cromwell laid siege to the castle and the nearby Rosslyn Chapel (ring any bells, Da Vinci Code fans?), Queen Victoria had tea there with one of the Ramseys of Dalhousie, and yes, it is haunted as well. What more could you ask for in a castle?

    Well, how about a falconry? Okay! My family and I had the fabulous opportunity to meet and help feed a falcon and owl--up close and personal. We couldn't pass up the chance to do this at a non-Disney built castle, as the United States is sorely lacking in medievalness.

    The owl in the picture above is Duke, who would swoop down to snatch his meat, and then he'd hang out on my arm until my muscles burned from holding up his weight. Man, he was heavy! Originally, I wanted to fly the itty-bitty screech owl in the picture below. He was so cute...I could've put him in my pocket and walked around! But as you can tell by my windblown hair above, it was a blustery day and it would’ve been torture for the tiny owl to have to fly just then. However, I fell in love with the majesty and strength of Duke, who could probably carry a Nimbus 2001 wizard's broom without faltering.

    An hour and a half didn’t seem like nearly enough time to spend with the fascinating birds—we could’ve stayed for hours and hours, but we did have other places to go that day, including Rosslyn Chapel (only a few minutes from Dalhousie Castle).

    Okay, I have to tell you that visiting the chapel was quite surreal. In 1996, the chapel had a total of 6000 visitors that year, but this year, they expect to reach 150,000. And the residents of the town are still a bit stunned by the amount of buses and tourists that ramble down the streets of their once sleepy hollow. Once inside the chapel, I felt as if I had entered Disneyland. People everywhere. But the chapel personnel are charging visitors to enter, so they've been raising the money needed to restore the building, inside and out. And they thank Tom Hanks for that.

    Oh, and we were told by the gentleman working registration at the castle that a few months ago the chapel's vicar (or priest?) became fed up with the crowds, as he could no longer hold prayer and services there. So he packed up and left. A definite downside to the fame.

    So what about you? Have you ever visited a place that has changed because of a work of fiction? Or even just looked at a place in a different way because of something you've read in a work of fiction?


    Monday, August 14, 2006

    Visiting Story Settings

    In a post a few months ago, several of us discussed places that resonated deeply with us. You know, the kind of place that feels as if you'd been there before? This is what I felt in certain areas of London, especially Hyde Park and Chelsea. In the top photo, I'm on Rotten Row. You have no idea how excited I was to finally see that infamous road! My family thought the heat had stewed my brain because I wanted my husband to take my picture on it. My husband kept asking, "You really want a photo of this dirt road?" But it wasn't just ANY dirt road--it was Rotten Row! As you can see, he's not quite the history buff that I am. That's all right...I've forgiven him. ;-)

    In the story that I'm currently writing, Rotten Row makes an appearance, so it was pretty cool to be standing in the same place where I'd set my characters.

    And in the bottom photo, I'm standing on Cheyne Walk in Chelsea, next to the Thames. Several of my characters live there in books one and two of my series, and while walking along that particular street, I realized it looked EXACTLY as I had imagined it! Exactly. Even down to the where the trees were planted. I felt as if I had strolled down Cheyne Walk more times than I can count, yet it was the first time I'd ever been there.

    So what about you? Have you ever visited a place that you'd used as a setting? Did you get the details right? Or terribly wrong?

    Tell me, tell me!

    Happy Writing,


    P.S. Did any of my friends notice that I am NOT wearing black in those photos? Just checking... :-)

    Thursday, August 10, 2006

    Views of Wildlife in Hyde Park (scroll down for pix)

    Thought I'd show you some of the wildlife we found while wandering Hyde Park one evening. We set out on our walk with the intention of researching the park for my current story and this is what we discovered...Yes, I am a brave, brave soul and will go to great lengths to get the details just right for my art. ;-)

    One is of a squirrel eating an ice cream on a stick. Yep, even the British animals know how to eat without dirtying their hands. I bet they eat their pizza with a knife and fork, too. It's just plain wrong that they should have better table manners than most Americans. Sheesh.

    Another is of a swan gliding along the Serpentine, which was one of what seemed like a hundred or so swans and their signets. Absolutely peaceful--well, except for the geese that kept honking and begging us for food.

    Then there's one of a DOGGY! Ahem, I mean an adorable Terrier prancing along a path near Kensington Palace. There didn't seem to be a leash law in the park because a multitude of dogs enjoyed racing through the tall grass as they chased one another, the water fowl, and the squirrels.

    And the last is of a wild and free-spirited couple enjoying each other's company in the unkempt grass near the Italian Fountains. Relax, the man was wearing a pair of shorts...I think. Maybe not. Oh, well, they seemed to fit in with the other animals.

    Happy writing,


    Beauty in a Scary World

    In light of the news this morning, I thought I'd post two photos of beauty. (And thank God that my family left the U.K and Italy a few weeks ago, rather than this week.)

    The sunflower field grew just down the hill from the villa where we stayed. Every few kilometers or so, we came upon such a breathtaking view of happiness.

    As hot and humid as Tuscany was, we didn't complain because we knew we'd be treated to an amazing sunset, a gift. Although, we did joke that according to the weather reports, it was hotter in Florence than in Tel Aviv and Cairo. That's pretty darn hot for a beach girl from Southern California! But just look at the colors that blanketed the hills and valleys every night.

    Is there a particular setting, book, memory, ect. that brings you a bit of happiness when things get a bit scary or rough?

    Take Care,

    Michele Cwiertny

    Wednesday, August 09, 2006

    A New Photos Page

    I finally have a Photos page set up on my website. Yay!

    Most of the pictures are from the RWA conference in Atlanta and there are a few of my friends and writing buddies as well. You can check them out by clicking the link in the sidebar or by typing in

    As a preview, I've posted the photo of me with bestselling author Christina Dodd, whose writing hooked me once I read her historical romance THE RUNAWAY PRINCESS several years ago. She's absolutely gracious and charming, and she didn't even bolt when she saw me eagerly heading in her direction with my camera in hand. Thanks, Christina! :-)

    Oh, and by the way, Christina's keynote speech in Atlanta ROCKED!

    So tell me...Who among your favorite authors, heros, mentors, movie stars, or anyone have you always wanted to meet and take a picture with? Have you had the opportunity to do so?

    Can't wait to hear your stories...


    Friday, August 04, 2006

    Doing My Happy Dance

    Oh my gosh, you guys! I'm so thrilled to announce that my historical romantic suspense manuscript, TO REIGN EDEN, has been named a finalist in the Georgia Romance Writers 2006 Maggie Award of Excellence for unpublished writers! A huge THANK YOU to the published authors who judged the contest. I am so honored to be a finalist. ::hugs and kisses::

    Okay, back to writing... :-)


    Thursday, August 03, 2006

    Italy: The Land that Loves Arnold

    When we were up late one night (Or was it early one morning? I don't know...All I can remember is that it was dark outside), a few members of our party, who were still adjusting to the time change, discovered that Italian television is a bit different than American TV. Several channels were titled Sex TV and tucked in between those channels was a channel with a catholic priest broadcasting mass. Yes, you read that right.

    So, we found ourselves flipping through the channels quickly, trying to find something we could comfortably watch with family members of all ages. We all breathed a sigh of relief when a young Gary Coleman popped up on the screen. Different Strokes! Yay! None of us had seen that show since the 80s.

    It was an episode I hadn't seen before, but the character Arnold was the entire show. I jokingly asked my husband if they had cut out the rest of the characters because Arnold really was the best part. Then the credits rolled and we started to crack up because it was now title "Arnold" and had a montage of that character and ONLY that character.

    Later that day, my family and I were walking back to the train station in Florence and spotted the picture shown above in an alley. Guess the Italians really do love Arnold! I think it's sweet. And as warm, friendly, and incredibly giving as the Italians are to everyone, even American tourists, it doesn't surprise me too much that they love Arnold.

    Have you ever been in a place where you're surprised about who is famous there? And if you write a story that is set in that place, does it change the way you write about the people who live there?

    Tell me, tell me!


    Tuesday, August 01, 2006

    What the Heck is That?!

    During our first full day at the villa in Tuscany, several members of our party rested in the shade of an umbrella while soaking in the amazing view of the valley and the Chianti vineyards below. We were all in this serene state of mind, sipping iced tea that tasted remarkably like a peach Jolly Rancher, when we spotted what appeared to be a baby hummingbird darting about the flowers. How cute! A baby hummingbird. I've never seen one before. Have you? It finally flew away to where we all imagined its mother to be, waiting for it to return home. Sigh. Sweet.

    A few hours later, another member of our party, who had stayed at the villa the week before as well, asked us if we'd seen the flying bug that sports a snail's head., thank god. I immediately imagined something out of the Jurassic era, something with a snail's shell attached to the head as it flew around, bombarding unsuspecting viewers of the Chianti vineyards. Gross. I don't WANT to see that. At this point, I was ready to sprint inside and shut the doors and windows, as well as zip up our luggage so the freaky insect couldn't hitch a ride home with us--or worse, lay snail head eggs in my clothing. ::shudder::

    A few days later, the baby hummingbird appeared to us again. My husband grabbed his camera and captured an image of it as it hovered near a flower bed. When he looked at the photo on the screen. His eyebrows furrowed and he zoomed in on the image. "What the heck is that?!"

    Yep, all of our little fantasies about the baby hummingbird vanished. It was the freaky snail head insect, but fortunately, no snail shell to be found. Later, we were thumbing through a guide book and found a picture of our friend, the Tuscan Hummingbird Moth. If only we had actually looked at the guide books we'd spent a fortune on before our trip. Sheesh.

    And if that wasn't enough, just before we turned in for the night, my husband and I discovered a millipede climbing the wall in our room and another one making its WAY to our room. They were huge! Boy, that did cause me to keep our luggage zipped up tight. I even entertained the thought about putting the locks back on...just in case the insects were savvy enough to figure out how to unzip baggage. I didn't want to take any chances. lol

    Monday, July 31, 2006

    Back to the Familiar

    Hello! What a crazy, but fantastic, month it has been, as I traveled to Italy, England, Scotland, and Atlanta (RWA Conference). And now I'm home and back to the familiar.

    You know what I missed most when I was Europe? Chips and salsa. Oh, and burritos and tacos. And nachos. Well, okay, I just flat-out missed all Mexican food. The West Coast can't be beat when it comes to Mexican restaurants, which is probably what keeps me from moving East. Sure the East Coast has historical homes, buildings, and sites (not to mention breathtaking landscape), but does it have any good Mexican restaurants? Hmm...Let me know and I’ll be sure to check them out!

    Anyway, my family and I had the trip of a lifetime and I’ll be posting a few photos and blogs about it. (That last sentence has me cracking up because we took about 2500 photos and four hours of videotape. But don’t worry, as I won’t be posting QUITE that much ::grin::). I’ll be sharing some of what I learned that has helped me as a writer, such as setting, weather, food, bugs, more bugs, really gross bugs, ect…and a few things that were memorable to me that might also help you with your own stories. (I'd say that they were hilarious to me, but I know I'm easily amused.)

    Hope to chat with all of you! And don’t forget to let me know about the Mexican restaurant situation on the East Coast. Seriously.

    Thursday, June 29, 2006

    London Calling

    As well as Scotland and Tuscany…

    I’m going to be away from this blog for a while, as I’m leaving on an exciting family/research trip to Britain and Italy. I’m not planning on reading any novels during the trip, but I am packing my journal in order to take notes and to channel my muse (I heard she’s hanging out in Britain—gotta find her).

    And to propel me into the writing mode, I've filled my iPod with instrumental music that reminds me of England and Scotland, such as the soundtracks from PRIDE AND PREJUDICE, MASTER AND COMMANDER, THE LION, THE WITCH, AND THE WARDROBE, and, of course, music filled with bagpipes and fiddles. OK, confession time: I LOVE listening to bagpipes. Tears well in my eyes at the first few notes, especially if the piper is playing “Amazing Grace.” Sigh. I could literally listen to bagpipe music All. Day. Long.

    However, that hasn’t been my packing music. Nope, I’ve reserved The Proclaimers and the Bay City Rollers for that, but now I can’t get “S-A-T-U-R-D-A-Y NIGHT!” out of my head. :-)

    Oh, and I’m totally looking forward to trying Turkish delight. Finally. Ever since I was about ten years old, I’ve wanted to taste the sweet that tempted Edmund in THE LION, THE WITCH, AND THE WARDROBE to betray his brother and sisters to the White Witch. And it can be found in London. Woo-hoo! Yeah, it really doesn’t take much to make me happy. (I know. I could’ve ordered it over the Internet, but it’s just not the same.)

    We’re also spending a week in Tuscany, which will be such a completely different experience from Britain. We’re staying just outside Florence in the Chianti region and I’m sure we’ll take about a thousand pictures of the hills, Florence, San Gimignano, Rome, and Pisa. Can’t wait to see the Leaning Tower (I’m such a tourist)!

    Talk to y’all when I return…


    Tuesday, June 27, 2006

    Nora Saved My Life and Other Conference Tales...

    Hey! Wanna know how Nora Roberts saved my life in Reno? Go to The Writer's Vibe and find out (click the link on the sidebar, as, unfortunately, my browser doesn't allow me to link in this post--no snickering, Jen A.). At the Writer's Vibe, Louise, Dana, and I are relating our conference tales and would love for you to join in the discussion, too! :-)


    Sunday, June 18, 2006

    Whose Story Is It?

    Hello! So, yep, I’ve been away from this blog for a while. Deadlines, you know.

    But while I’ve been working hard to meet those writing and Orange Blossom deadlines, I’ve been keeping the craft of writing front and center. As a matter of fact, I don’t believe there’s ever a time when I’m not thinking about how to create a better story. And P.O.V. is one of those tools of writing that keeps me on my toes. Which character wants to tell the tale? One of them or all of them?

    Whenever I start a novel, I find I write in third person-limited POV. Others exist, such as first person and omniscient, but for some reason third person-limited beckons me every time. The story just seems to click then. Perhaps it’s because I enjoy delving into the psyche of the characters. I want to know how the heroine feels about the hero and vice-versa, or what the antagonist is thinking—what’s his motivation for giving the protagonist a hard time?

    But that can be accomplished in first person, too, right? Yes, there are different ways to approach it, ways that solve my need for multiple character points of view. For example, have you ever read CHOCOLAT by Joanne Harris? (I know. I've used this story as an example before, but I like it alot). Anyway, Harris has two different characters tell first person accounts of the story that takes place in France, during Lent: Vianne Rocher (the woman who runs the chocolate shop) and Pére Reynaud (the local priest). Harris manages to keep the reader in this deep, intimate POV, yet we know exactly what the protagonist and antagonist are thinking and feeling. Cool. That makes me want to attempt writing a story in first person. One day, I’ll give it a try. Have you ever written one?

    Then there's omniscient POV, which has that “fly on the wall” aspect. But whenever I try to write that way, I just…I don’t know…I simply don’t feel close to the characters, so I wind up slipping into third person-limited. It could very well be that I haven’t practiced writing in that POV enough to feel that connection. But it also seems that, as the author, I’m intruding on the story. So maybe more practice is in order. Other writers can pull it off without a hitch, but not me. Have you tried omniscient POV?

    So, what's your favorite? Do you write in more than one? I’d love to hear about it!


    Sunday, June 04, 2006

    If It's Baroque, Fix It (ba-dum-bum-tish)

    No, this isn’t a picture of a Baroque-style palace in Europe. It’s the inside of a movie palace, the Los Angeles Theater, on Broadway in—yep, you guessed it—Los Angeles. This theater opened in 1931 and premiered Charlie Chaplin’s "City Lights" and closed in 1994, except for special events and filming.

    Last Wednesday night was one such special occasion, as the L.A. Conservancy opened the theater for their 20th Annual Last Remaining Seats and showed "The Mark of Zorro," starring Tyrone Power and Linda Darnell, to an eager crowd of what looked to be about 2000 people. What a blast that was! Nothing beats viewing an old movie on the big screen after the decorative curtain rolls up, with the sound emitting from the top of the screen—no Dolby surround sound here—and the auditorium filled with people enjoying the humor and wit of Power’s character, Don Diego/Zorro. I loved it.

    What makes this theater different than the others on Broadway, such as the Orpheum and the Million Dollar? This one had a periscope-like system of prisms that relayed the movie from the auditorium to the lounge downstairs, so one didn’t need to miss the movie if a break was necessary. It also had two soundproof Crying Rooms (how cool is that?) and a playroom for the children. And, of course, one can’t miss the crystal fountain displayed at the top of the grand staircase (as seen in the picture above). Absolutely stunning.

    You guys know how much of a sucker I am for anything historical, right? Well, old Los Angeles and Hollywood are certainly no exceptions. I’ve always wanted to write a story set in 1930s Tinseltown, and strolling down the red carpet and soaking up the French Baroque details of this theater only fueled that desire.

    The only bummer part--besides the guy kicking the back of my chair throughout the entire movie (grrrrr…)--is that the theater is in disrepair. It’s only 75 years old, yet the plaster is chipping off the walls and frescos, the walls in the ladies restroom have holes, and the parquet floors in the lounge below the auditorium are in desperate need of refinishing. It tears me apart to see such a glorious place in such a sad state. It needs to be fixed before it too succumbs to the ruined existence of the other closed theaters on that street, such as The Pantages where Sophie Tucker and other vaudeville acts performed, the Roxie, and the Tower (which premiered with The Jazz Singer—not even the landmark talkie could save that one from closing). Sigh. That’s the Southland for you. But the good news: the L.A. Conservancy is doing what it can to repair the theater.

    If you ever get a chance to tour one of the old movie palaces, I highly recommend you do so. With every step, every turn of a corner, inspiration met me and carried me away to a different era. I’m so eager to get the story that’s forming in my mind down on paper…but I’ve got a few other stories to finish first.


    Tuesday, May 30, 2006


    I've enjoyed reading the stories behind the people who have influenced you and I hope you continue to share them in the comment section of "She Did it Her Way, Part Two." I'm going to keep checking to see if any more have been posted, so please keep them coming!

    On a different note, I'd like to congratulate my friend, Jennifer Apodaca. Her book, BATTERIES REQUIRED (Kensington Publishing), is a 2006 finalist in the Mainstream Mystery Suspense category of the PUBLISHED DIVISION OF THE DAPHNE DU MAURIER AWARD FOR EXCELLENCE IN MYSTERY/SUSPENSE! Way to go, Jen. :-)

    Wednesday, May 24, 2006

    She Did it Her Way, Part Two

    Thank you all so much for the lovely responses to "She Did it Her Way, Part One." As promised, I’m going to tell you the story of my other grandmother, Wilma, and I’ll also let her tell you part of her story in her own words, taken from an oral history interview I conducted with her a few years before she passed on.

    She, like Mary Crawford, taught me the importance of standing up for myself and going after my dreams in a spirited fashion. But not only did she impart upon me strength, she also attempted to teach me to cook and bake, as she was an excellent chef; however, that wasn’t a gene I’d inherited. But I did learn expressions like “That’s not even enough to fill your ear,” which meant I needed to add more of an ingredient when making the crust of her famous peach cobbler. Now, if only I could remember what that ingredient was…

    Wilma grew up in a German farming community in Colorado, the second youngest of eight children. Her parents came to the United States, with their respective families, around 1900 when the flood of Eastern Europeans immigrated here.

    She told me they lived on a good farm, but their lives were hard: “You know, growing up in a German family, we all knew that the man was the ruler of the house, and it wasn’t like we had specific chores to do--we did all the chores. This included milking four to five cows night and day, working in the fields during the day, and cooking, cleaning, and so forth. My father, uh, he just frequented the bars while we all worked. . . .The farther away I could get from the farm, the better. Boy, I had too many sleepless nights with my father threatening to do things to us.” He often threatened to kill them and was physically abusive, but she’d told me proudly that he never laid a hand on her. She said he knew no good would come of it if he had. And I believed her. Still do.

    In all the photos she showed me of her during her childhood, she never cracked a smile. No one in the photos smiled. They all seemed so dismal and heartbroken.

    At the age of 16, she knew she couldn’t wait around for someone to rescue her from the life she hated; she needed to rescue herself. So she left the farm to take a job as a waitress in a drug store in Denver where she got a taste of independence for the first time in her life. And loved it. A year or so later, she told her family she was going on a two-week trip to visit her sister in Yakima, Washington. But she and her best friend, Audrey, headed to San Diego, California instead and never looked back. In her words: “When we left here there was about two foot of snow on the ground at the train station. When we got to California, everything was sunny and beautiful and green and I said, ‘Boy, this is for me’” [laughs].

    She and Audrey left Denver in the beginning of 1942. If you know anything about San Diego, you know it’s a military city and the population boomed after the U.S. entered WWII. Navy and Marine men and their families swarmed the city.

    Fortunately, she and Audrey found jobs in a diner where they worked from midnight to eight in the morning as waitresses, and then eventually as cooks. She told me: “Well, we made a lot more money, and we couldn’t find a place to live--except a hotel that was across the street from the Grant Hotel. And, uh, they were hiring out, uh, their rooms by the month and by the week and making it easier for the--because it was so overcrowded that there just was nothing to be had. There were no rooms. There were no houses. There were no apartments. Nothing. . . . Well, you know, whoever could live together did. The service men who were stationed out here usually had girlfriends who followed them out, and those girls needed housing, too."

    During the day, she and Audrey would head to Shermans where, for about fifty cents, they’d dance to the big bands, like Harry James and his orchestra and Henry King and his orchestra. They had the time of their lives and their pick of men to dance with. LOL

    When I look at the photos of her during her days in San Diego, I can hardly believe they were of the same girl who once grew up on that farm in Colorado. In these pictures, the girl was laughing in a diner with friends, reaching for the sky while swinging in a park, and hanging upside down on monkey bars. She was living life her way, not the way her oppressive, abusive father wanted her to live it.

    Eventually, though, she did find herself sucked back into the world of bad relationships. Twice. But she invoked her own strength and divorced both men. In order to break the cycle, she was determined never to marry again. And she didn’t. My mom broke it completely when she met and married my dad. They’ve been happily married 37 years now. And my husband and I have been married for 13 years already, so the new cycle of happy relationships continues.

    When my grandma and I would speak about her time in San Diego, she’d laugh and tell me story after story about her life there (too numerous to post here), but as soon as we'd speak about her marriages after the war, she'd quit laughing, except when being sarcastic, and she'd say she felt like there was not a lot for her to talk about. She also told me that when she thought about it, her life had been boring. Of course, I disagreed with her. I am still fascinated by it. She did it her way.

    So tell me the story behind a person who influenced you. I can’t wait to read your stories, too! C’mon, you know you want to share them! :-)


    Monday, May 22, 2006

    I Haven't Forgotten You. Promise.

    I want to thank you all for the kind responses to "She Did it Her Way, Part One." I am so touched by all of your comments and your personal stories. Thank you again for sharing them.

    And I know I said I'd post Wilma's story soon, but it's taking a little longer than I anticipated because a few deadlines snuck up on me when I had my back turned. I hope to meet those deadlines today and tomorrow and then post Wilma's story by Wednesday at the latest. Oh, and I found the transcipt of an Oral History report I did, with her as the subject, a few years before she passed away. Finding that has brought back a flood of memories and I can wait to share them with you. :-)

    Also, I plan to write a bit about a research trip I took this weekend to a working, Paint horse-breeding ranch. Wow. That was an eye-opener! LOL It certainly was great research for an upcoming story, though. (Don't worry. I won't go into graphic details!)

    So be sure to check back because I have so much to tell ya'll!


    Friday, May 12, 2006

    She Did it Her Way, Part One

    This is the easiest and the hardest thing I’ve ever written.

    It’s the easiest because when I think of two women who personify strength, integrity, and love, I immediately call to mind my grandmothers, Wilma Morris and Mary Crawford. You want examples of spirited, independent women? Then look no further. They did things their way and that was that. Stubborn doesn’t even begin to describe either of them, but you can’t fault how fiercely loyal they were to their children, grandchildren, and great-grandchildren. And we all loved them for it.

    Wilma and Mary are my heros and the reason I’m the way I am today. They are the embodiment of the type of heroines that I write and have influenced me in countless ways—from how intensely I love my family to how I set goals and accomplish them.

    It’s the hardest because Wilma passed on two years ago (I’ll tell her courageous story in a few days).

    And Mary passed on Thursday night, May 4, 2006. I was fortunate enough to spend the last week in the hospital with her, to be able to tell her over and over how much I love her and for her to tell me the same. Not many get that chance and I know how lucky I was to be given that opportunity. I’m so proud to be her granddaughter and I made certain she knew that before she moved on to an existence where she’d suffer no more.

    The hospital let her family camp out in her room for several days. 24 hours a day, there’d be anywhere from 1 person to 15 people in that tiny space around her bed. We sprawled out anywhere we could—on the tile floor, under the table, in the few chairs that fit in the room--but none of us minded, as we all wanted to be there for her. Just as she’d always been there for us.

    Five children, whom she raised single handedly while working full time. Fourteen grandchildren. And fourteen great-grandchildren. And the majority of us jockeying for position at any given time in order to brush back her hair, to kiss her, and to say…Thank you.

    As we all huddled together in the hospital room, we got to know each other better than we ever had. Family members I hadn’t talked to in 10 years or I had seen only once a year, suddenly became more than family—they became friends as our emotions vacillated between sobs and laughter. We held one another as my grandma slept and we swapped stories about her and one another.

    And when she’d waken, we’d stand around her and tell her the stories, too. We’d do the talking, as she only had enough energy to tell us she loved us, that she didn’t want to be a bother to us, but she was happy we were all there. “No one could ask for more,” she’d say before the morphine pulled her back under. That was all she wanted—for her family to be together. And we were. We wouldn’t have it any other way.

    We talked about how she was a “Rosie the Riveter” during WWII, how she used to only make right turns when driving somewhere, how through her bloodline the women of the family qualify for Daughters of the American Revolution (a grandfather was General Israel Putnam who fought at Bunker Hill—some sources say he was the one who said “Don’t shoot until you see the whites of their eyes,” but other sources say it was some poser name Prescott *VBG*), and how she fought so hard for her own independence, even as the family took away her car to keep her and others safe. But she did live in her own place until the day she entered the hospital. And no one wanted to dwell on the thought that one day that form of independence would be taken from her, too. Believe me, her shouting would’ve been heard clear across the state. She wanted to do things her way. Like I said, stubborn doesn’t even begin to describe her—God love her.

    We all prayed we had her strength. When she was admitted into the hospital her heart only worked at 10% of its capacity. Most people can’t turn over in bed at that, but she was walking around. And at 86 years of age, she was still traveling, up until a few days before her heart attack.

    Last Thursday, we knew she was going to leave us at any moment. With each breath, about 15 of us watched and wondered if it was her last. For hours, we cried, we assured her it was all right to go, assured her we’d be all right, assured her we’d take care of one another, assured her that she did a great job of taking care of everyone else and now we wanted her to be in peace…Then we started to laugh because we realized she was being stubborn until the very end. She wouldn’t go. It was as if she were saying, “I’ll go when I’m damn well ready. And that’s NOT now!”

    Around 7:30 PM, my cousins and I decided we needed to get something to eat, but our parents stayed in the room with her. It was while we were laughing and bonding over our dinner that we got the call. She’d waited for us to leave before she passed on with just her children surrounding her. She did it her way until her very last breath.

    At her funeral yesterday, my cousins and I talked about how we want to be just like her: loving, independent, and spirited. We lucked into being born into this family, to be privileged enough to have her as our grandmother, as our role model.

    My heroines have her qualities, but it wasn’t until these past few weeks that I realized how much of an influence she has been on my life and my writing. I’ll never forget her and will always be grateful to her. Thank you, Grandma.

    Do you have someone whose very life has inspired you in any way? I’d love to hear about him or her, too.


    Tuesday, April 25, 2006

    Obsessed or Possessed?

    Have you ever visited a place and felt an overwhelming connection to it that inspired a need to be creative—whether through writing, painting, photography, or anything else? That place could be a region or a city or even a house. It doesn’t matter because it’s just a place where you feel you belong, a place you feel you understand, a place that feels like it’s racing through your veins, a place that feels like home. No, not just feels like home…it is home. For me, that place is New England, specifically Maine and the Boston area.

    I can hear my family groaning right now. Yes, I’ve become obsessed with or possessed by that area. It’s almost like I lived there in a past life, or something. Even though I’m on the other side of the country and it’s been almost two years since I visited, the connection pulls at me until my gut hurts because I’m not there. Weird, huh? Yep, that’s me.

    Anyway, the area inspired me to write, write, write. Touring the historic homes and buildings, hiking the trails throughout the numerous woods, speaking to the people who live there…I embraced all of it and still do. I can’t believe how much I was able to write after soaking it all in and ::sob:: returning to the West coast. I have no problem picturing my family living in one of those old houses on the rocky, Atlantic coast and watching the boats, filled to capacity with lobster traps, as they head toward the docks. And I’m writing away, inspired by something as simple as a butler’s pantry and basement—things you don’t normally find where I live.

    It’s odd to think that I feel more at home, more comfortable, in a place that I’ve only visited, rather than in the place I’ve lived my entire life. Why is that?

    I think some of this has to do with the fact that the East coast people know how to save and treasure their historic structures (and not plow them over to erect another mini-mall). Sure, the West has a remarkable history, too, but there aren’t a lot of physical reminders of this left—earthquakes and fires have something to do with this, but not everything. And since I write historical stories set in California, I know quite a bit about it’s colorful past. I just wish more of it had been saved.

    I’ve always had a fascination with history, American or otherwise, and have recently discovered that some of my ancestors came to the New World in 1631 and are quite prominent throughout the history books; in fact, some are infamous (Salem, anyone?). Oh, and I also have Cherokee ancestry, so it’s safe to say that one side of my family has been here a loooong time.

    Is it familial history that causes the connection, that inspires me to write? Maybe. I know I’d write no matter what, but just visiting New England wakened something else in me.

    What about you guys? Ever experience anything like that?

    Wednesday, April 19, 2006

    Neck Deep in Revisions

    That’s where I am right now—neck deep in the revision stage of two of my historical novels. The first in the series is completed and I've sent it out to find a home in the publishing world (fingers crossed), and the subsequent two novels have the first drafts completed. Woo-hoo! So now I’m revising. This is where the story really comes to life for me, where I have those “ah, yes, that’s it” moments. Gotta love those. It’s those moments that give me confidence as a writer.

    But what has been exciting for me as I revise the second story in the series, which is set in London, York, and parts of Scotland, is the fact that I know I’ll be in those places in a few months and will be able to pick up some specific, killer-diller details about them to incorporate into the story. Although I do have to remember not to get bogged down with details, it’s fun to uncover those gems that thread the reader into the story—whether you find those gems in books, the Internet, or on location.

    So I’m diving back into my revisions now. What about you? What stage of writing are you in right now—planning, first draft, revisions?

    Monday, April 10, 2006

    What I Have to Do

    How many careers did you go through before you finally allowed yourself to write fiction?

    For me, it was years of sales and retail management. I even went to college to major in business, but then I discovered…the humanity and liberal art courses. Those classes were so much more fascinating to me than business law, accounting, and economics! I’d come home from class, excited to discuss the Greek myths, philosophers, diverse religions, and history with my husband. So many cool stories to tell him about! Yet when I came home from a business class, he’d ask what I’d learned, and at the risk of sounding like a fourth grader, I’d shrug and say, “Nuthin’.”

    Then one fall semester, I came down with pneumonia and dropped out until the spring semester. Being ill gave me time to evaluate in what direction my career was headed and whether I really wanted to go there. I knew I needed something else, something creative. And it was at that time that I found it in a box of old journals and keepsakes I had packed away after I’d graduated high school (I had decided I needed to grow up and get a “real” job). Inside the yellowed pages of my journals, I rediscovered my love of writing fiction. Writing was where I belonged, what I had to do.

    It took me all of five seconds to figure out that I needed to change my major to English and focus on creative writing. And my husband, bless him, didn’t even bat an eye when I told him. That doesn’t mean I didn’t work, too, but I’d finally allowed myself to write fiction in my spare time, which made me a happy camper. Of course, as I’ve mentioned in other posts, I write full time now.

    So what about you guys? When did you allow yourself to write fiction?

    Sunday, April 02, 2006

    How Does the Author Do That?

    When you read, do you read for pleasure? Or is the writer in you always present?

    Ever since I started to write seriously, I can’t read a book without analyzing how the author handles plot, character, pacing, ect…

    Does writing spoil my reading pleasure? Sometimes, I think it does. But then there are those times when I’ll be lost in a story and it’ll be eighty pages before I even think about the mechanics and devices involved. Those stories floor me because they manage to remind me that I’m a reader, not just a writer. I love that. And then, of course, I go back over the story and try to figure out HOW the author accomplished that! So, I guess I wind up analyzing the novel anyway. LOL

    What about you guys?

    Monday, March 20, 2006

    Confessions of a Goal Setter

    Hope you are all having a happy Monday! This is going to be a short entry today because I have a couple deadlines I need to meet, both self-imposed and imposed by others.

    And that is my topic today. Deadlines. I’m curious as to how other writers approach them. So many daily tasks and responsibilities stand in the way of our writing time--family, health, day jobs--and writing might not even be a priority for you. But even so, do you still set a goal and then a deadline as to when it needs to be finished? How do you stick to it? Do you need to trick yourself into finishing a project on time? Or are you strong-willed enough to tell yourself you’re going to do something and you do it? What works for you?

    For example, I like to write my goals on my computer’s calendar. I have daily goals, such as writing X number of pages a day, or a synopsis, or a blog, or an article, and because I know how much I enjoy crossing items off of a To Do List, I know I’ll devote at least some time toward finishing the project. Now, that doesn’t mean I meet all of my self-imposed deadlines every day; no, sometimes I’ll complete the project a week or even a month past when I'd planned to--as long as no one is counting on me to have it completed by a certain date. But I do eventually reach my goal. So, I guess I’m confessing that I trick myself into finishing a project because I can’t stand seeing items left on a To Do List! Sheesh. It’s sad, but true.

    Also, when working on a novel, I’ll write a daily goal of only a few pages. That way, when I surpass the goal, I think I’m on a roll and waaaay ahead of the game. Then I tell myself to keep going and not to lose steam. That little trick keeps up the excitement level. And with continued effort, I reach the end of the story, which is the ultimate goal. Woo-Hoo!

    Okay, so I need to trick myself to reach my goals, but the point is…it works for me. And that’s all that matters.

    So what about you? I’d love to hear how other writers approach deadlines, either self-imposed or imposed by others.

    Michele Cwiertny

    Friday, March 17, 2006

    In Between Working on...

    Happy St. Patrick’s Day!

    It’s been a surprisingly productive week for me. Always a good thing, right?

    My website is up and running. You can visit me over at, as well as here. I hope to fill it with helpful information and links soon. Any suggestions? Of course, once I sell I can put the book cover and news about the book on the home page—can’t wait for that day! Tee-hee.

    I’m also co-editor of ORANGE BLOSSOM, so with the help of the awesome Louise Ahern, I’ve been putting the April issue together before the deadline (And we certainly couldn't do it every month without our fantastic contributors. Thanks, guys!).

    And here’s the surprising part: I’ve actually managed to sneak in some writing time on my contemporary story.

    BUT in between working on the above, I’ve been reading Mary Castillo’s IN BETWEEN MEN--which I love, by the way. The characters are humorous, yet sensitive, and they behave like human beings. Love that. She makes me care about everyone in the story, and dang it, I’m having a hard time putting the book down so that I can get back to work! Ah, such talent. So, if you get a chance in between working on your own projects, check out IN BETWEEN MEN (and note the green cover—perfect for St. Patrick’s Day).

    Okay, back to work…

    Michele O’Cwiertny

    Monday, March 13, 2006

    Wait...It Gets Easier, Doesn't It?

    On Saturday, I heard romantic suspense author Rebecca York speak, and one thing she said really surprised me: Even after about 100 fictional stories published, she still feels fear when she sits down to begin a new story.

    Now, I’m assuming there’s excitement and anticipation mixed in with her fear, but just hearing her say that tells me that even the most experienced, seasoned writers can feel insecure at times (of course, York obviously knows how to deal with it, move on, and finish the story). But this made me wonder what other writers feel when they start their stories.

    Okay, you all know it by now…I’ve made no secret of the fact that I plan, plan, plan before I sit down to write chapter one. But even if I have a 20 to 30-page outline of the entire plot and I’m thrilled as heck to get started on fleshing out the characters and story, my chest still tightens when I look at the blank screen. It takes me a day or so of writing before I’m relaxed enough to lose myself inside the story. Thankfully, I do manage to move past that terror; however, I’m really hoping it'll get easier the more I write. Perhaps it will…

    What about you? What emotions rush through you as you start a new story?

    Michele Cwiertny

    Saturday, March 04, 2006

    It's Just First Draft Stuff

    After reading some of the comments on “Write to Sell or Write for Yourself,” I began to wonder what other writers considered a first draft. A few of us commented that we prefer to finish a draft before we ask for feedback, as that is the draft we simply need to get out of us before we revise and get down to the core of the story.

    But what do you consider to be a first draft?

    After my novel writing classes where we spent MONTHS on about 50 pages of a 400+ page story, I had to break myself of the habit of revising and revising a page before I could move on. If I’d kept on at that rate, I’d never finish a novel because, frankly, I’m not one of the fastest writers, and it is too easy for me to get hung up on trying to perfect a paragraph in the first draft that may or may not be cut once I step back and look at the story as a whole. So perfecting as I go along doesn't work for me.

    Once I gave myself permission to plow through the story, to get it all down on paper, I finally felt that sense of relief and accomplishment when I typed the last sentence. Now, that doesn’t mean I’ll let anyone read that draft (I cringe when I read it. Yikes.), but at least I have a better handle on my characters, their motivations, their conflicts, and the plot in general. Then the revisions begin, which usually take longer than the first draft.

    So, I’m curious…What do you consider to be your first draft? Is it a polished work of art (yeah, I know some of you are out there)? Or do you plow through it in order to ground your beginning, middle, and end? And how much revising do you do along the way?

    I can’t wait to read your thoughts on this…

    Michele Cwiertny

    Tuesday, February 28, 2006

    Write to Sell or Write for Yourself?

    As a writer waiting for her chance to perform at the Big Show, I come across this internal debate when I sit down to write or revise a novel: Do I want to write to sell, meaning follow the loose guidelines of certain publishers, or do I want to write the story of my heart every time and pray that a publisher loves it? How badly do I long to be published?

    For example, I have two versions of one of my historical novels. The first version has a decidedly more historical tone throughout—slower paced at times, much more detailed, but still lots of action. The second version has a historical romantic suspense tone—much faster pace, more dialogue, and more action.

    Here’s my dilemma: I absolutely loved the first version, but after some feedback and a little guidance I found the second version more exciting. So which one is now the story I really wanted to write? Am I selling out the first version just so I can one day hope the story will be published?

    Hmm. I’m beginning to think no. The more I compare the two versions, the more I find the second version is simply a better story; therefore, it is the story I wanted to write in the first place. Does that make sense?

    Has this happened to you before? At what point do you think it stops being the story you set out to write?

    Do you authors ever feel this way? Or do you always write just for yourself and find sometimes you’re fortunate that what you want and what the publishing house wants are one and the same?

    I’d love to read your thoughts on this…

    Happy Writing,

    Michele Cwiertny

    Saturday, February 25, 2006

    Discipline in Writing

    When I first started out writing fiction, I wrote short stories that ranged from 2,000 to 5,000 words. But after six months or so of trying to fit everything I wanted the reader to know about my characters into such a small word count, I came to the conclusion that I needed to write a novel.

    I wanted characters’ back stories and subplots, neither of which were feasible in short stories. And for every short story I’d read, I’d read a hundred novels, so my preference is obvious there as well.

    One of my professors once said that writing a great short story requires discipline because the writer must make every word count, must make every detail and phrase have a meaning. And the shorter the story, the more discipline it takes. Some people might find that writing one is much more difficult than writing a novel.

    But does that mean writing a novel takes less discipline? Sure, everything must have it’s meaning, must be connected, in a 100,000 word story, too. But does the higher word count give the writer more freedom to write a little looser than a tight short story?

    When I told that same professor that I wanted to stretch my wings a bit and write a novel. He blew out his breath and nodded, then said that was a discipline in itself. Writing a novel is like training for and finishing a marathon. I took that to heart and remembered it every day over the next year or so as I wrote and learned and rewrote and revised and sweated over this different sort of discipline. And I’ve also learned that every word must still count, every paragraph must have a purpose, and every scene must force the reader to want more—only on a larger scale.

    I find both types of stories an exercise in discipline, but at this point in my life, I also find that I enjoy and prefer the marathon of writing a novel.

    So, what do you think is more difficult to write—a short story or a novel? And which do you prefer to write?

    Happy Writing,

    Michele Cwiertny

    Tuesday, February 07, 2006

    Yea! It's a New Week...

    And it has already proven to be better than last week. Woo-Hoo!

    I’m ready to tackle the projects on my To Do list, such as finish my novel proposal by Friday. Whew. That’s a big one, but it can be done, right? Right.

    Today, I’m going through each page and keeping in mind some comments made by my trusty critique group…and even some comments made by contest judges. Yep, contest judges. Even eeeevil contest judges. Ever get a critique from one of them?

    Okay, so they’re not really evil, but have you ever had a judge type up page after page of why your entry simply didn’t work for her? And you couldn’t bring yourself to read the comments because your vision blurred and your hands shook? Then you wondered if the judge even bothered to read your entry—that was how wrong she was about it? But, no. Wait. She’d listed way too many details about your story just to prove she did indeed read it. In fact, she didn’t seem to miss even one sentence of your entry when shelling out her criticism. And what made it worse: She was published while you were...not.

    You have? Hey, me too! See, you’re not alone.

    It’s all right. Take a deep breath.

    Now, what did you do about it? Did you take those sheets of paper and feed them directly to the shredder or did you throw them in a drawer and tell yourself you’d read them again when you’re feeling more objective?

    Well, here’s how I handled it in this particular situation: As much as I was sorely tempted to head to the shredder, I opted for the drawer. Boy, am I glad I did. After a day or two of separation, I was able to read the comments as a reader and editor, not as the author. I'd found that the first time I'd read it through, my eyes had gone straight to what she hated about the story and nothing else. When I had gained a little distance from my initial reaction (anger), I discovered she’d not only pointed out the good with the bad, but had given valid reasons why certain characters and motivations just didn’t work. Dang it, she was right.

    It was the harshest criticism I’d ever received, but it turned out to be some of the best because she was correct in telling me what needed to be changed in order for the story to be even stronger. And that’s what we all strive for, right?

    Do I think all judges comments are correct? No, I don't happen to think so. It has taken a little practice for me to separate the constructive criticism from the plain ol' bad criticism, but I've learned to be a bit more objective when receiving both kinds.

    So, now that my skin has toughened up and I've moved on to other stories, I keep in mind the comments made by that judge and others, too. As long as I keep learning to become a better writer, I’m a happy camper.

    All the best,
    Michele Cwiertny

    Oh, and if you’d like to read a great blog article on critique groups, then be sure to check out the one written by Louise Ahern on The Writer’s Vibe (see sidebar for link). :-)

    Thursday, February 02, 2006

    Ever Have One of Those Weeks...or Months?

    I'd like to introduce you to my best friend, aspirin.

    Yeah, it's been one of those weeks. And I bet I'm not alone in feeling this way every once in a while.

    1. My co-editor and I have been doing our best to get out the launch issue of the redesigned Orange Blossom. We met our deadline. But the printer on the other hand...not so much. Sigh.

    2. When not working on that, I’ve been carving out time to get my proposal together for one of my historical novels. Of course, I want it to be perfect, and as I’m NOT perfect, that means polishing until it feels right. But that's the beauty of being a writer, right? I can revise until it works.

    3. Then there’s the entry on romance that I promised to write for the OCC/RWA blog A Slice of Orange (check out the link on the sidebar for fun and heart-warming stories and essays on romance from the members of OCC). Funny how I have no problem writing a 100,000-word novel, yet when I just need about 500 words, I stare at a blank page for a loooong time.

    4. I’ve also been reading through my critique group’s work for our session this weekend. Doing so is definitely not a chore or even stressful, but, you know, it takes time to do it right.

    5. And I can’t forget to mention family obligations.

    Don’t get me wrong, though, because I LOVE staying busy, especially when it involves writing. But with everything going on, I really can’t be surprised a headache attacked me. Nor am I surprised that I wound up catching whatever bug from hell is going around. For the past two days, I’ve been saying things like, “I got a code” or “Hi, I’b Bachele.”

    So, that’s why I haven’t posted anything this week. But thanks to my best friend aspirin as well as my remembering that I need to give myself a little slack every now and then, I am feeling better.

    What about you guys? Do you ever feel like you just can’t wait for the week, or even the month, to be over? How do you handle it? How about you writers who work outside the home? How do you balance work and writing without going insane? Do you own stock in an aspirin manufacturer? Drink green tea or a triple espresso?


    Friday, January 27, 2006

    Something New

    One of my resolutions this year is to try something new each week that will help me grow as a writer.

    So far I have:
    1. A personal blog where I write at least two entries a week on writing
    2. A website, which is being designed right now and should be up and running within the next few weeks. I can’t wait for you see it. I’m so excited!!
    3. Be a Golden Heart judge. Done.
    4. Join the best critique group around (G). And no, you guys, I wasn’t stalking you, or anything…I just loved having you as friends. Being in the critique group with you is just an added bonus.

    Okay, so these are just what I wanted to do in January. Mission accomplished! What got me thinking about these ideas were all the new things I’ve tried and loved in the past three months, such as joining the Board of Directors of OCC/RWA and helping to revamp the newsletter, ORANGE BLOSSOM, to reflect a magazine format. All of this helped me kick-start my brain again (well, that and eating blueberries) and caused me to look for new ways to treat my writing as a profession.

    Of course, I have other personal resolutions, such as to be in the best shape of my life in 2006. Ahem. I know THAT'S not going to happen when even as I write this the spinach dip in the refrigerator is calling my name. And it's only 8:30 in the morning. Oh, man...must...stay...strong.

    I'll stick with my writing goals and maybe the rest will follow. :-)

    So, what’s new with you? Tell me some of the new things that you’ve tried as a writer.

    Thursday, January 26, 2006

    A Darn Cool Experience

    Yesterday, I finished judging my stack of entries for the RWA’s Golden Heart Contest, which is a contest known for recognizing excellence in unpublished romantic fiction. It’s one of the top competitions for unpublished writers of romance and I felt honored and excited to be asked to judge.

    Wait! Before you, I’m not going to tell you what category I judged or talk about the entries and scores. LOL!

    But it is a relief to have completed the task. The entries have been scored and the scores have been mailed to RWA’s national headquarters. My part is finished and I can breathe a little easier. Whew.

    Believe me, I felt the weight of responsibility in getting this judging thing right—my shoulders still ache from the pressure. So many writers depend on judges to give it their best shot, and fortunately, I can sleep well at night now because I know that’s exactly what I did. And you know, I'm happy I found a way to volunteer at the national level, too.

    It was such an eye-opening experience for me to do this, though. Instead of critiquing the entries (something that I’m used to doing), I had to judge them. It took some major re-thinking for me to look at a submission and decide if it was one of the best stories I’d ever read…or not. It did give me more freedom to read the story for the story’s sake, as I didn’t have to go through it and figure out how I can help this writer strengthen the story. Oh yeah, there are contests where judges critique as well, but this wasn’t one of them—thank goodness!

    So, for me, it was a darn cool experience. And if you haven’t tried it already, I highly recommend you do so. Have you guys ever been a judge in a writing competition? What experiences do you want to share?

    Happy Writing!

    Michele Cwiertny

    Monday, January 23, 2006

    The Girl Who Wasn't a "Joiner"

    I really can’t stress enough how important it has been for me to find friends with whom I can talk about the business of writing. Friends I know who understand the joy, the fear, and the need to write because they live it, too. Friends whom I can turn to at anytime and ask, “What would you think if I tried this?” And I know they’ll give me their honest opinions—good or bad. Friends that I look at and wonder where they’ve been all my life so well do we fit together.

    But I've got to tell you--it wasn’t as if I was just strolling down the street or sipping café mocha in a coffee house when I met them. Sigh. Nope, things just don’t come to me that easily. Wouldn’t it be nice if they did?

    Hmm…now that I think about it, that’s a tough question. Life would be easier, yes, but would I grow as a human and a writer if I didn’t have to work at it? Probably not. Just catching a few, sickening moments of those spoiled rich kid reality shows tells me nobody should have it easy.

    Oh, and before I forget, there’s something else you should know about me—I’ve never been a “joiner." But if I wanted to become a professional in this business, then I needed to move past the recluse stage into which I'd cornered myself and go out there into the scary unknown. So, one day I made a momentous decision: I forced myself to step outside the comfort zone of my house and join a writers’ group where I’d mingle with other writers and possibly learn more about the publishing business.

    It wasn’t until I’d taken that step that I discovered a support system I never knew existed and met those friends that I mentioned above.

    From the time I walked through the doors and into the first meeting, I’ve felt the good vibes envelop me. It put a spring in my step that I didn't realize had been missing. And that spring is still there almost two years later! The published writers offer advice and encouragement to the unpublished, the unpublished encourage one another, the published encourage each other, and every goal accomplished—no matter how tiny--is celebrated. It was and still is this atmosphere that reenergizes me every time I attend a meeting. This is where I belong.

    Never once have I looked back and wished I’d just stayed home. Instead, I push myself even more and jump in to volunteer and become better acquainted with the members and speakers. I want to help spur and energize other writers, as well.

    In becoming more involved, I’ve also met such AMAZING people! I count myself lucky that they're now my friends with whom I feel as if I’ve known my entire life. I never realized how much I needed them—and I certainly hope I have something to offer them, as well.

    So, if you haven’t already tried it, think about joining a great writers group. I think you’ll be surprised where it’ll lead you. I am. As my confidence and my writing and people skills expand, I scarcely remember the girl who was not a “joiner.” I love what I’m becoming and I know I’m moving in the right direction.

    Is there anything that you've done that seemed scary at first but turned out to be one of the best things that ever happened to you? Tell me, tell me!

    Michele Cwiertny

    Thursday, January 19, 2006

    Euphoria is a Business

    Originally, I planned to call this site On the Hunt: the perseverance of a fiction writer, with the intention of gearing my entries toward how I’m hunting and capturing my dream of becoming a published author. I take the business of writing seriously. It’s not just a hobby or a’s a business, and I wanted the name to reflect that.

    But then a few days ago, I checked out my friend Dana’s blog and she’d written an entry questioning just where the term hobby ends and the designation of a career begins when it comes to writers. It was when I read the definition of the word career--a chosen pursuit—that it all clicked for me. She and her trusty dictionary inspired me to change the name of this site to The Chosen Pursuit: the perseverance of a fiction writer. And, yes, before you ask me, I did thank her.

    Okay, so how exactly do I know that this is a career and not just a hobby, you ask? Well, first it’s how others around me, like my family and friends, and I perceive it: it’s work. It’s a job I cannot ever imagine leaving and I to which I willing devote nine or more hours a day. It’s a crazy, mostly frustrating, but can be wonderfully satisfying business.

    And at this point in my career, that satisfaction rushes through me at the moment when I finally get a chapter, a scene, or even just a sentence right and suddenly the characters stand not two feet in front of me, and I swear I hear them breathing, making every minute of frustration and headache worth it. Astounded, I realize have created a world into which I can disappear for hours at a time. Wow. It’s a high that has me dancing and singing around the house (Not in public, though. I wouldn’t subject you guys to that. Really.) But how could I ever give up such euphoria? I couldn’t. This is why I’ve chosen to pursue the job of writing every day.

    However, what I’ve come to expect is that I have to be patient, not just patient for the words to come when crafting the story or proposal, but patient when waiting for an answer from an editor or agent and patient when receiving criticism with which I don’t agree (this usually comes from judges in a contest, but that’s a blog for another day!).

    But to help me rein in my patience, I keep busy. Yes, revising the current story or moving onto the next one, researching, writing articles, networking with other writers and industry professionals, and taking on volunteer positions, such as becoming co-editor of the Orange Blossom (OCC/RWA’s newsletter) with my friend Louise Ahern, quickly swallow up the nine or more hours a day I mentioned above. All these things help me remember that writing is a business and I don’t need to be published to be a professional in my chosen pursuit.

    I’m still learning, of course, and I’d love it if some of you published authors out there wouldn’t mind sharing some of your wisdom and experiences with me. Can’t wait to hear from you! And thanks again, Dana, for bringing up this subject.

    Michele Cwiertny

    Monday, January 16, 2006

    A More Beautiful Picture

    Recently, an editor who will always have my heartfelt thanks had sent me a revision letter for my historical manuscript, TO REIGN EDEN. Although the changes were hardly complicated, it took me awhile to figure out how to take apart my story like pieces of a jigsaw puzzle and put it back together to form a different, but definitely more beautiful, picture.

    Now I can step back and study the new picture with all the pieces intact. And you know what I discovered? I’m more in love with the story and the characters than ever before.

    I scrutinized each piece, each scene, each character, and forced myself to focus on how to make it all behave differently, how to make it all ring truer, how to put together a more complete picture. And it worked! My characters and their motivations are stronger, each scene serves its purpose in expressing the need and wants of the characters, and sparks fly between my hero and heroine.

    It wasn’t easy for me to do that. No way. Writing is never “easy” for me, but that’s probably because I expect my stories and characters to convey so much to the reader. I know what I want to experience when I pick up a book and those standards apply to my writing, as well, which can very well lead to a massive headache, but I wouldn’t have it any other way.

    And even though those standards of mine are high, there are always ways to raise the level of the story. Such was the case when the editor read my story. Yes, I had definitely written the story to my best ability before I’d sent the manuscript to the publishing house, but with a little guidance I managed to learn more (I’m constantly learning) about how to write a compelling novel.

    No, I’m not telling you that the story is perfect and will never be revised again (don’t I wish!). Rather, I’m saying that I am open to becoming a better writer each time I sit down to the computer and visit my stories.

    Now it’s time for me to polish my proposal again…

    Happy writing!

    Michele Cwiertny

    Sunday, January 15, 2006


    Is a college degree essential in order to become a great writer?

    I am almost always asked that question when acquaintances, usually other writers, discover that I have a B.A. in Creative Writing: Fiction. My answer to the question: Absolutely not!

    I must confess, even on that last day when I walked to the podium with my fellow classmates and shook hands with the president of the university, I was only an...okay writer. Yes, I was better than when I first pursued the degree, but I wasn’t anywhere near what I’m capable of now. Today, several years later, I can see I’ve become a better writer because I’ve kept practicing, kept writing, kept learning from craft books, and kept learning from my mistakes. I know I’ve got a loooong road ahead of me to become a great writer, but it will come with time. I also know I’ve learned more since I’ve graduated than while I was pursuing my degree.

    So, why did I want a degree? Because earning one was my Everest. I wanted to be the first female on my mom’s side of the family to earn a B.A.. It was a personal choice for me—I wanted to make my family proud. And I count myself lucky that I was able to do so while pursuing my passion.

    And it HAS always been a passion for me, even when I tried to stifle it by becoming a business major. Once I realized I couldn’t escape this desire to write (no matter how many mind-numbing books on business law and economics I’d studied), I felt a release, a freedom, I’d never felt before then.

    This is what I HAVE to do. The thought of doing anything else other than write still makes my stomach turn sour. And I thank heaven every day that I have a loving, understanding, and creative husband who didn’t even blink twice when I told him what I was planning to do with my life. He believes in me and that means more than any B.A., M.F.A., or Ph.D.

    Many successful writers have proven over and over that degrees are not essential, not even high school degrees. I hear their stories everyday. And that excites me because I know IT, meaning the mixture of creativity, need, and desire, comes from within us. If they can succeed, then so can I. And so can you. We just need to go out there and DO it.

    So, no, you don’t need a degree to write. You need the IT inside you to write more than anything. You need to be willing to work at it until you find your voice. You need to be willing to learn from your mistakes. You need to make sure your skin is tough enough to take the criticism—because as you writers know, not everyone will embrace your stories and characters the way you do. And if you’re lucky like me, you’ll find amazing critique partners (I love you guys!) that will help you through the rough spots in your story, the rough spots in your career as a writer, and the rough spots in your personal life. I don’t believe you need a degree to be a great writer, but I do believe that you’ll need support whether it’s books on craft and career, critique partners, or friends who believe in you.

    But first, you must believe in yourself. You CAN do it.


    Michele Cwiertny