Friday, December 30, 2011

My 2nd Blogiversary

It's been an amazing two years here at Blogger, a time when I've met so many talented and encouraging authors, made some fab friends both within cyberspace and out here in the real world, and worked hard on my craft. The inspiration I draw every day from fellow blogging writers keeps me going. Thanks to all of you for sharing this experience with me!

Just for fun, for anyone interested, here is the beginning of my first ever post:

Where to start when there's no clear beginning?

Compelled. That's how I feel these days, as if there’s something drawing me to its hiding place just over the next rise in Life's road. The attraction is strong. I’m in motion. My internal navigator, though, has closed her eyes. She trusts in the momentum she can’t understand or control. I have to follow her lead, for I know fighting it would be futile.

Here’s what I do know: When you want something very badly, so much so that you can actually see it sitting in your hands when your imagination looks down, then it will be. When I’m most in tune with the world around me, I easily perceive the signs pointing me in the right direction, toward the next goal. With that belief, that knowledge in mind, I embark on this blogging journey.
[Read more...]

Here's to another amazing year of inspiration, writing, and blogging!

Happy New Year to You and Yours!!


Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Life Storms and Silver Linings

I'm an optimistic person who believes all of life's storm clouds have silver, writerly linings. Life storms are what we write about. A story with no catastrophic spike on the plot arc isn't compelling and exciting. Who wants to write about a bunch of people who have no problems, no steep challenges to face? So when a life storm erupts over my head, I try to survive it with courage, patience and grace -- all while I'm taking notes for possible story ideas.

A few weeks ago, I found myself in the eye of an F2 life storm. I'd woken in the night with a headache, which I often do. A glance at the clock told me it was only one in the morning, so I knew I needed to pop a few Tylenol or I'd have monster head pain by morning. So I got up and went to the kitchen for some pills.

The events that followed are hazy in my memory. I remember being hit by a sudden and violent wave of nausea, and I knew I was going to be sick right then and there. The next thing I remember, I was sitting up from the kitchen floor in a pool of vomit. I had passed out. 

I was disoriented but not panicked. You see, my whole life I've suffered from the Vasovagal Response, which means my heart slows down when I'm subjected to certain stimuli, such as needles and blood, and my brain doesn't get enough oxygen. When it happens, I pass out. I've lost consciousness many times; passing out is familiar to me. But throwing up? That's extremely rare for me. So in my disoriented state, I was only concerned about the mess I'd made on the kitchen floor. I cleaned it up before going back to bed.

I still felt very nauseous, and I woke my husband up to tell him I was sick. Apparently I didn't tell him I'd passed out. He looked at his clock and saw it was two o'clock in the morning. Between two and five a.m., I vomited four more times. But at five, an alarming new symptom arose. I was losing blood and fluid from my right ear. Time to panic.

My husband recalls I said, "Maybe I hurt my ear when I fell." By telling him I'd passed out he had the missing piece to the puzzle, and five minutes later he was helping me dress.

The ER physician could see I'd ruptured my right ear drum. He ordered a CAT scan to determine whether the trauma had caused internal injuries. That's when I learned I'd fractured my skull.

The big question was why I'd vomited and passed out in the first place. An EKG showed I have an irregular heartbeat, something called Long QT Syndrome. I was admitted into the hospital for observation and spent the following twenty-four hours hooked up to a cardiograph.

After a night with no crazy heart activity, I was discharged. Thank goodness. Anyone who has ever been in the hospital knows it's no place for a person to rest and heal. Under the watchful care of my husband and kids, I'm doing better every day, and right after Christmas I meet with an ENT and a cardiologist to determine what longer-term treatment, if any, I need.

So, what was the silver, writerly lining to this life storm? I now know firsthand what it's like to be treated in an emergency room - the pain of having to move when you're injured and sick, the fear of needles that prod and test, the different bedside manners of doctors and nurses. I had a CAT scan. I now know the cold environment of that ominous, humming machine, and the unease one feels being fed head-first into its tunnel-like mouth. I also had a sonogram of my heart. That was cool! My heart looked so graceful, the valves opening and closing with the rhythmic grace of a jellyfish hover-swimming through the ocean depths.

When I was transported for the sonogram, my wheelchair was pushed through the hospital by a stoic nurse. When we passed through the wide, automatic doors of the cardiac ward, we headed down a door-lined corridor. It was perfectly silent; I couldn't even hear the rubber-soled steps of the woman slowly pushing me. On either side of the corridor, there were patients in wheelchairs just like me. Each had been draped with a white blanket around the shoulders, right under their chins, just like me. They sat motionless, one chair parked behind the next. Waiting. It was a chilling sight, an image Stephen King would have a field day with. Suddenly my chair stopped next to the wall a few feet from a door. I heard the nurse engage the brake. From behind me, she said, "We're here. Hope you get to feelin' better." And then she turned and left me there with the other silent ones. Eerie.

Life is a stormy place. But like the characters we write about, we need to brave those storms in order to learn, grow, and evolve. So when the next storm brews on your horizon, pray for strength to get through it. Open your eyes and heart in readiness for the lessons to come. And, grab your pen.

[This article first appeared today in my edition of the Drama Newsletter.]


Friday, December 16, 2011

Deja vu Blogfest

It's been six days since my accident and I'm healing slower than I thought. I think I'm just in denial that I'm even hurt. Anyhow, I won't be able to visit many blogs today, and I regret that very much. Need rest though.

In the spirit of this blogfest, I'll post an entry from earlier this year, one that reminds me that even though I've been hurt and my day-to-day schedule has been temporarily disrupted, I have so much to be grateful for.  Here it goes:


It's supposed to snow in northern Japan.

As if the monster 8.9 earthquake and ensuing tsunami weren't enough, or the terrifying 400+ aftershocks -- some up to 7.0 on the Richter Scale, now search and rescue operations will be further hindered by snow. Temperatures will drop to the 20s and 30s, while whole communities have no electricity, or experience rolling blackouts, as experts scramble to avoid a nuclear meltdown disaster. My heart goes out to survivors of this horrific natural disaster.

Puts things in perspective, doesn't it? I've been wallowing in my creative slump for too long. Yeah, it sucks feeling blocked. But I'm warm. I'm not hungry, or thirsty. Everyone in my family is safe and accounted for.

Today, I'm grateful for all I have. But that just doesn't seem good enough, to me.

I will celebrate what I have. It's an honor to have a roomy, beautiful home to live in. Beginning today, I'm going to kick-start my trusted daily cleaning schedule. Monday is Power-Clean-the-Kitchen Day. Each day this week, I'll focus on another room in the house. By next week, the whole house will sparkle and I'll shift into daily maintenance mode. A house is shelter, but it's more than a building. It protects my family life, keeps us together and safe, healthy and happy. I'm grateful for it.

When I'm finished cleaning, I'm getting out of the house! Away from my computer, away from my blockages. Many of you suggested last week that I stop trying so hard to write, get outside, commune with nature, breathe. I'm driving to the Botanical Gardens in Athens. There's a great five mile nature trail that follows the Oconee River before wrapping around the wetlands that give rise to deciduous forests. I'm taking along fruits, nuts & raisins, and plenty of water. I'll have my camera and my journal. I'll celebrate my good health, my vitality, and the beautiful, powerful planet -- capable of supporting life...capable of whisking it away.

Today is about being grateful, celebrating blessings. And praying for those whose blessings lie on rubble.

What are you most grateful for?


Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Holy Head Trauma

Saturday was a busy day full of Christmas shopping and fun, but it ended with a freak accident that landed me in the hospital.

I'd woken at 1am with a headache, so I got up to take a couple Tylenol. In the kitchen as I opened the pill bottle, a wave of nausea hit me like a brick to the head. It happened so fast, and the next thing I remember I was flat on the floor, blinking in the dark and very confused. I sat up in a mess and realized I had, in fact, been sick.

Disoriented, I woke up my husband and told him I was sick. I later learned I didn't mention to him for several hours that I'd passed out. I vomited four more times and was shivering cold. I was concerned that I was so sick, which is unusual for me, but when I realized I was losing blood-tinged fluid from my right ear, my husband and I got scared. He rushed me to the ER.

The ER doctor determined that I'd ruptured my ear drum when I fell on the floor. He ordered a CAT scan to be sure I didn't have any other injuries. I thought it was just a precaution and didn't expect them to find anything. After all, I didn't hurt anywhere; I was just so sick.

Imagine my shock when the CAT scan revealed I'd fractured my skull.

The bone behind my right ear cracked upon impact. Crazy!

I was emitted into the hospital as neurologists and cardiologists worked together to figure out why I passed out in the first place, and to be sure another episode didn't happen. I underwent many tests and learned some stuff about my physical self.

First, I have always suffered from Vasovagal Syncope. According to  Vasovagal syncope (vay-zo-VAY-gul SING-cuh-pee) is the most common cause of fainting. Vasovagal syncope occurs when your body overreacts to triggers, such as the sight of blood or extreme emotional distress. The trigger results in vasovagal syncope — a brief loss of consciousness caused by a sudden drop in your heart rate and blood pressure, which reduces blood flow to your brain.

In the past, I've passed out from having my blood drawn and once, from just hearing the story of a friend whose appendix burst. But Saturday night was the first time I passed out from violent vomiting. I learned that can happen.

I underwent an EKG, which revealed I have Prolonged Q-T interval

My cardiologist wants to be sure my prolonged Q-T intervals don't indicate I have Long QT Syndrome, which is a heart rhythm disorder that can potentially cause fast, chaotic heartbeats. These rapid heartbeats may trigger a sudden fainting spell or seizure. In some cases, your heart may beat erratically for so long that it can cause sudden death. (Source I am scheduled for a stress test after Christmas, which I must pass before I'll be given the okay to resume vigorous exercise, like training for half-marathons. Wow. So thankful all this happened, if I discover something life-threatening in my heart.

Okay, this is getting longer than I anticipated and my head is beginning to pound. Time for some meds and a long nap. Please forgive me for not responding today, should you leave me a comment. I will be back to my old self soon -- within a week, according to my doctors. Just need rest to heal.

Hope your feeling healthy and vital today. Happy Holidays!


Monday, December 5, 2011



I feel like #@!$ today 

Question: Know why?
Answer: Blogger Support 

I have two simultaneous but completely unrelated problems on my blog.

1.  My Google Friends Connect gadget does not update when I get a new follower. It has shown Nick Wilford as my most recent sign-up'er for weeks, (*waves to Nick*), but I have at least a dozen new peeps following who remain un-displayed. 

(BTW, this is the reason I am now using DISQUS commenting system. Please fill in the blanks the next time you leave me a comment! You only have to do it once; DISQUS will remember you. And that way I will have another trail back to your blog, if I've never been there before. Thanks in advance!!)

2.  I have a new blog layout in mind that will include a slider to display artwork for my short fiction and include links to the stories. (If you know me, you know I change this blog rather often-ish. Graphic art is on my top five list of passions.)  Anywhooz, I uploaded into my "practice blog" the HTML coding for the new blog and checked it in the Preview mode. It's going to look beastly!! But when I click Save Template, I get an error message. I've tried in Google Chrome and IE9, I've tried other third party templates, I've tried everything I can think of! Every time I get a different error code that always starts with 'bX-'.

So, I did what any reasonably intelligent blogger does:  I posted two different questions in the Blogger Help Forum, one for each of my issues.  Usually, someone (*waves to Dark UFO*) gets right back to me.

This time, nada. Rien. Absolulte radio silence.


In the meantime while I wait for help, I've tweaked this old blog template.  Looks sleeker, I think. :))

Hey if you've ever encountered any of my problems, won't you tell me about it in the comments? Oh, and I have lots of other problems, if we don't share one listed above. Like, I steal Halloween candy out of my kids' pumpkins. And I hate housework so I keep the place "tidy" until someone says, "Um, Mom/Dear? I went down the hall and walked right into a spider's web. Is  there any still in my hair?" And I cuss. Sort of a lot. (Hey, lots of situations warrant it!)

Hope your week's off to a great start. I'm off to check the Blogger Help Forum...again. Then maybe I'll see if any of the kids has a Snickers left...

Thursday, December 1, 2011

Hey you! Read This (please!)

I’m thrilled to welcome several new followers since the Déjà vu Blogfest sign-ups began. Blogging brings people together and I’ve found some wonderful friendships here on Blogger. That’s why I’m so sad when I can’t follow someone back. Sad smile
Now, I have a personal follow-back policy. If someone finds my humble site interesting enough to follow, I want to extend the same kindness to him or her. The problem arises for me when I click a new follower’s picture on my Google Friend Connect mosaic and, alas! The person hasn’t linked his or her blog to their profile.
Am I describing you? Not sure?? Here’s how you verify:
Find your picture on my Friend Connect mosaic right now. (Or you can go to your own blog and under your About Me, click “View My Complete Profile.” Either action will bring up your Blogger Profile, as others see it. Is your blog linked under “My Blogs?”
If it isn’t, click “Edit Profile” (on left margin, under your profile picture). On the edit page, the third option under “Privacy” is “Show My Blogs.” Click “Select Blogs to Display.” (If you have several blogs that include family blogs, special interest blogs, etc. that you don’t want others to see, only choose your writing blog to display.) Be sure to save your changes.
It’s important to realize that Blogger doesn’t always default to linking your blog on your profile. It’s a great idea to verify that your blog is linked, so people like me can follow you back. Rolling on the floor laughing
And don’t forget to enter the Déjà vu Blogfest! Click the link below the badge on my right sidebar to add your name to Mr. Linky’s list!
School Have a fabulous day! School

Wednesday, November 30, 2011


(Article first appeared today in’s Drama Newsletter, of which I am a contributing editor.)

2011-11-30 09.40.12

NaNoWriMo will come to a close tonight for another year. Though I won't have a badge to display, saying I "won" by reaching the contest benchmark of 50,000 words in the month of November, I DO have a 25,000-word start to a brand-new novel that I'm very excited about. What's more important, I learned a lot about penning a first draft by taking part during the NaNo insanity.

NaNo is good for a writer like me. Typically, I brood over and revise each sentence before moving on to the next. My over-enthusiastic inner editor would argue that that approach is fine. And I tend to agree, when we're talking about writing short fiction. But when staring down the dark tunnel of novel writing, when only a pinprick of light is visible at its end, I'm the first to recognize that my painstaking approach to writing won't work. NaNo promotes writing fast drafts that force your focus forward. To win NaNo, you have to embrace the absolute separation between writing and revising.

There are a couple strategies I learned during NaNo to help a writer silence her inner editor and just write -- fast and furious -- with the intention of getting the first draft, in all its messy and creative glory, down on paper. And these ideas are not necessary for barfing out a first draft in one month. I will use these strategies throughout the year, no matter how long it takes me to write a draft.

*Leafr* Get outside your regular writing routine. If you write at a desk, try sitting on the floor. If you have a laptop, go outdoors to a park or a coffee house - someplace where you've never written before. I usually need quiet to write, but I tried playing Christmas music softly in the background one day. It made me feel instantly happy and relaxed, and I eked out an extra 700 words during that writing session.

*Leafbr* Have your writing totem with you for every writing session. A writing toten is an object which inspires you or imbues you with inspired energy. It can be a figurine, a stuffed animal, a hat you wear, a picture or photo - anything! My writing totem is a small, solid brass figurine that looks a lot like Pumba from The Lion King. I bought him at a copper and brass artisan shop in France about ten years ago. It just looks happy and reminds me of good times. "Pumba" is small enough to sit on my laptop keyboard near where the top and bottom hinges together. When I feel stumped and want to stop writing, I look at him and remember my goals for the writing session. And his jolly belly and goofy stance remind me to have fun while I'm at it!

*LeafO* Challenge yourself to writing sprints. A writing sprint is a set short amount of time during which you refuse to let your fingers stop tapping those keys or your pen to lift from the paper. My favorite sprints are fifteen minutes long. (I find these are great practice for
Leger~ 's "15 for 15 Contest " *Wink*) I am also a big fan of 1K-in-1Hr sprints (1000 words in an hour).

*Leafg* Find friends with which to stage write-ins. I did my first write-in a week and a half ago, and it was fabulous! Summer Frey lives a half hour from my house, and we get together every few weeks to hang out and talk writing-and-blogging shop. Since we were both doing NaNo this year, we decided to meet in a funky local coffee house for a five-hour write-in. We'd wish each other luck and hit the keys, for a while. At some point, one of us would need another cup of coffee or a bathroom break, and we'd stop for ten or fifteen minutes. We tweeted from our couches and updated our Facebook statuses, and laughed a lot. And I wrote 5000 words that day. 5000!

My inner editor feels like she's back from the spa, relaxed and muscle-knot-free. I may not have won NaNoWriMo, but the benefits I reaped from playing along this November made every minute of the crazy chaos worth it. I'll use these and other strategies while I finish my WiP, and for future drafts too.

What's your favorite strategy for powering through the first draft? Maybe you wear a certain shirt or pair of socks? Do you dangle reward-carrots in front of yourself for motivation? Something else?

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Deja Vu Blogfest Sign-ups!

Announcement, everyone!  *clears throat*   DL Hammons, Lydia Kang, Katie Mills and I are hosting the upcoming Deja Vu Blogfest!  The fest is DL's creation, so below are the deets as presented today on Cruising Altitude 2.0.  Mr. Linky sign-ups right below:


The Déjà vu Blogfest

You know one of the things that bugs me the most about the way our blogosphere operates?  It’s the way you can miss some really awesome posts if you have to be away for a while and are unable to keep up with your favorite blogs.  Face it, if you take just a week’s vacation from the blogosphere, you could have missed (depending on the number of blogs you’re following and their frequency of posting) hundreds of quality posts.  It’s really hard to catch up when things get like that, so what I do is read a blogger’s latest post.  You know what that could mean?  The signing of an agent…missed….a book contract finalized…missed…a cry for help...missed...a birth announcement…missed…some other special event in a blogger’s life…gone.  I just shake my head when I think of all of the special posts I’ve missed over time.  And then there are the informative posts about the topics I’m dying to know more about, yep I probably missed some of those as well.

What got me thinking about this (again) was a post I made a couple weeks ago.  It was actually a repost from very early in my blogging career when my followers totaled maybe a dozen.  I felt the post deserved a second chance in front of what is now a broader follower base, and I was right.  It garnered plenty of praise and many commenters thanked me for pushing it back into the light.

Some of my longtime followers (any of you still out there) know that I’ve broached this before.  I even came up with the BLOG RECYCLE STATION where I encouraged fellow bloggers to leave a link to one of their favorite blog posts in the comments of that post.  Innovative, maybe, but now I’m ready to do one better.  Thus I've teamed up with Nicole Ducleroir, Lydia Kang, and Katie Mills to bring you….


How will this work?  First, sign-up to participate with Mr. Linky below (or at any of the ladies blogs above), then shout out to all of your blogging friends and encourage them to sign up as well.  Take the badge above and plaster it everywhere, blogging graffiti gone wild.  Then on December 16th all of those taking part will re-post their favorite blog offering, or one that never received the exposure it should have.  Then as the day unfolds and everyone hops from one blog to another, what they will be reading is the best of the best (as determined by you).  That day the blogosphere will be chock full of past writing brilliance!  Encouragement, enlightenment, knowledge, bared souls, stimulation, hilarity, insecurities, success stories!  All on display…the very same day…like no other time before.  Some of them will no doubt be familiar, well-deserving a second read, but a good many will be the first time you’ve seen them.  And it couldn't be any easier to take writing necessary!

Want to make a little blogging history?  Sign up below and start looking through those old posts!  J



Monday, November 14, 2011

How to Create a Custom Twitter Background

I needed a different creative outlet yesterday, after writing 10,000 words on my NaNoWriMo novel between Wednesday and Saturday. So I decided to create my own custom Twitter background.  It was easy and a lot of fun, so I thought I’d share with you how I achieved it.

I created my background using Paint Shop Pro X2, but you can use Adobe Photoshop or any other similar software, as long as it supports both vector and raster layers.

Before I began, I thought about what kind of look I wanted to go for.  Personally, I like color; I like my web sites to exude a cheerful, playful vibe.  But I didn’t want to overwhelm with bright hues and busy prints, because I didn’t want the background to compete with the profile.  I prefer light backgrounds with black print, as I find those the easiest to read.

I looked for a picture of me that was similar to my profile picture.  (It’s a bit tongue-in-cheek that all my profile avatars are me, in profile. Flirt male

Here is the finished product, and below are the steps I followed to create it:


Step 1:  Layer One – The first layer in your PSP (or Photoshop, etc.) should measure 1440x800 pixels, which will be big enough to fill the screen of viewers with any size computer screen.  (Note: I didn’t need to fill the entire 800 pixels in length, because on my computer screen the bottom section was lost off the bottom.  Also as you design, keep in mind that about 760 pixels in the center of your plane will be covered up with your twitter profile columns.  This means you will only be designing about 225 pixels wide on the left margin and about 300 pixels on the right margin.  I realize that my math doesn’t add up – math sucks!  But the original 1440x800 are just the dimensions you need to ensure you’ll fill the space on twitter.  Based on your own computer screen, you’ll have to play around with spacing until it looks right, on your screen.)
I used a resolution of only 72 pixels/inch because it will be sharp but won’t slow down page uploads for people visiting your page who have slower processors or Internet connections.  This first layer should be set as transparent.

Step 2: Layer Two --  I pulled up the photo I’d chosen and resized it to 215x230 pixels.  I added a slim black border and then copied it.  I pasted the photo as a new layer, atop Layer 1.  I positioned the photo against the left margin, about an inch down from the top left corner. I double clicked the layer to pull up the Properties menu and clicked Layers, then added a drop shadow to the picture. 

Step 3: Layer Three -- I added a new vector layer and opened a text box.  I added my name in fancy font and beveled it with a blue overlay I pulled from the shirt in the photo.  I added a drop shadow.

Step 4: Layer Four – I added another vector layer and opened a second text box.  In it I added my original quote: “I write stories so I can live more lives than my reality would otherwise allow.”  (Love that!)

Step 5: Layers Five thru Eleven – I used raster layers to add individual colored marbles over my photo and down the right margin.  The marbles are simply picture tubes I sized the way I wanted.  Placing each marble so that they appear in a straight vertical line was not easy on my laptop, since I don’t have a mouse yet and was working on the integrated mouse pad thing.  Not easy!

Step 6: Based on the color scheme that had emerged in Steps 1-5, I clicked down to Layer 1 and used Flood Fill to wash the background with a soft, barely-there, dusty blue.

Step 7:  (It’s a great idea to “Save Copy As…” at this point.  This will save your image with all your layers maintained.  DO NOT save the image and merge the layers!  You won’t be able to edit individual layers once you’ve merged down and saved.)  I exported a copy of the image and uploaded it to twitter.
(Never changed your twitter background?  Here’s how:  Go to your twitter feed. Click your name on the far right of the menu at the top.  Click Settings.  Click Design.  Scroll down, and below the twitter themes, click Change Background Image.  Click Choose File, and select your exported custom background image.  Do not check Tile Background.  Click Save Changes.)

Step 8:  This step took me the longest.  Adjusting your background to get the spacing of all the elements right takes a while.  I had to move around elements from each layer, re-exporting and re-uploading to twitter over and over until I had the look I was aiming for. 

Step 9:  I used the Change Design Colors option on twitter’s design page to choose the colors for the profile background (where your tweets appear), text, links, sidebar, and sidebar border.  Save Changes.

And that’s it!  Now I have a twitter page that truly reflects me (at this moment in time…I’ll probably change it in the future!) better than any of the preinstalled themes available.

If we don’t follow each other on twitter, please friend me! I’m NicoleDwrites

See you over there!!

Sunday, November 13, 2011

Testing, testing

So, I’m trying out the Windows Live Writer software on my new laptop. Apparently I can create blog post here and upload them to Blogger.  Pretty cool, if I can get it to work.

If it works, I can use all kinds of funky fonts while writing my posts.

This would be a good thing, since I’m one of those crazy creatives who hates a constricted list of choices why she’s feeling, well, creative.  Open-mouthed smile  <—What?? Emoticons, too?  Yay! Thumbs up

Okay, going to see what this looks like on my blog.  No need to comment, should you happen across this.  Unless you use Windows Live Writer for your blog posts.  In which case I’d love to hear what you think of it.


Friday, November 11, 2011

String Bridge Chart Rush!

Today's the big day! Huge congrats to my friend Jessica Bell, whose debut novel String Bridge is available for sale as of today at Way to go, Jess!

I have read String Bridge and I highly recommend it. The writing is lush and poetically descriptive in this powerful, character-driven book.  It will stir your emotions and, if you're like me, have you at different times in tears of sorrow and tears of joy.  I say, it's a must-read for all.

Today, we're flooding the blogosphere with requests for your help.  Let's see how high we can get Jessica's debut on the Amazon chart.  If you're looking for your next great read, look no further. Pick up your copy of String Bridge today.

And remember that the holidays are right around the corner.  Maybe you have a sister, mother, or friend who would appreciate String Bridge.  I'm crossing names off my Christmas shopping list today!

Here are the links to get you on your ordering way :D

eBook:Amazon US:
Amazon UK:

Amazon US:

And, don't forget that there is a companion CD to String Bridge.  The music and lyrics are by Jessica, and she performs the songs as well.  How cool is that??  And it gets better:   If you purchase String Bridge on Amazon today and email Jessica the receipt, she will send the soundtrack for free!  [jessica(dot)carmen(dot)bell(at)gmail(dot)com]

If you're interested in ordering "Melody Hill, The Other Side," after today, here are the ordering links:

Thanks so much for supporting debut authors, in particular the talented Jessica Bell!

Jessica's links:
String Bridge Website:

Jessica Bell is a literary women's fiction author, poet and singer/songwriter who grew up in Melbourne, Australia, to two gothic rock musicians who had successful independent careers during the '80s and early '90s. She spent much of her childhood travelling to and from Australia to Europe, experiencing two entirely different worlds, yet feeling equally at home in both environments. She currently lives in Athens, Greece and works as a freelance writer/editor for English Language Teaching publishers worldwide, such as HarperCollins, Pearson Education and Macmillan Education. In addition to String Bridge, Jessica has published a book of poetry called Twisted Velvet Chains. A full list of poems and short stories published in various anthologies and literary magazines can be found under Published Works & Awards, on her website. From September 2012 Jessica will be hosting the Homeric Writers' Retreat & Workshop on the Greek island of Ithaca, home of Odysseus.



Wednesday, November 9, 2011

...a VLOG? Oh no, no, no, no!

Yesterday I interviewed the multi-talented Jessica Bell right here on the blog.  If you missed it, I urge you to skip the nonsense to follow, and click this link to go directly to it, instead.  

Seriously, if you read on from this point, you won't come away nearly as educated and enlightened as you would had you read about Jessica.

You still here?  Okay, but just remember, you've been warned.

The thing is, yesterday was a terrible writing day.  I blame it on my dentist.  Honestly, after a 9 a.m. teeth-cleaning, who can relax and settle into to a productive 3k+ writing session?  Yeah, you probably could.  But me?  I'm a big baby when it comes to sitting in that dentist's chair.  That's why I couldn't concentrate on my WiP, and why I ended up doing THIS, instead:


Yep, hopefully today will go better than yesterday.  'Cause seriously, the last thing the world needs is more of this in it!

Thanks for indulging me, lol!


Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Jessica Bell, Interviewed

It was at this time last year that Jessica Bell and I were working together in an effort to finish the first drafts of our novels-in-progress.  I was re-writing my NaNo novel and having trouble restructuring the plot with the new cast of characters I’d swapped for the less vibrant players in the NaNo version.  Jessica was drafting Bitter Like Orange Peel, her second novel which was underway but moving slower than she would have liked.  We swapped chapters every Friday, spent the weekends reading and critiquing, and then met on Skype for a live chat when we discussed our notes.  It was a wonderful time of honest collaboration during which I learned a lot about my own writing style and the art of penning the novel.  And I owe much of that to working with the genius mind of Jessica Bell. She is THE best!

About two and a half months into our writing schedule, Jessica caught the attention of Janice Phelps Williams, founding publisher for Lucky Press, LLC. Janice had requested the full manuscript of Jessica’s first novel, then titled Dead in the Corner of My Bedroom.   It was an exciting time, a hope-filled time when our fingers were crossed so tightly we lost feeling in our hands.  And finally, after Jessica worked her butt off to make changes in her MS that reflected the suggestions Janice sent her, her newly renamed novel String Bridge was contracted for publication through Lucky Press.

I’m so happy for Jessica’s success and it is with love and pride in my heart that I bring you the following interview with my dear friend, Jessica Bell.

1.       How did the idea for String Bridge first come to you?  Did it begin with a character, a theme, a story line, or something else?

I don’t think there is one thing from the first draft that is in the final version, so regarding ‘getting the idea,’ it wasn’t like an idea just hit me and I started writing about it. It was gradual, and developed more and more with each revision. The thing with this book is that I never really ‘focused’ on plot. It was more about the characters and their emotions and their interactions with each other. This book is very much centered on the ‘effect’ rather than the ‘cause.’ Even though music doesn’t define me as much as writing does, it is still a big part of my life. The inspiration for the book came about when I was thinking about a time in my life when music was all I ever wanted to breathe. Even though my priorities had changed then, I still wanted to write about the power music has over someone who is so passionate about it. But I think music could be replaced by any sort of passion in String Bridge, because basically the story is about needing something more than you need yourself.

2.       String Bridge is a triumph in character-driven storytelling.  And the accompanying soundtrack to the book is an absolutely brilliant idea, both as a way to heighten, for readers, the emotional impact of Melody’s conflicts, and as a marketing tool.  How did that project come to be?

The songs that appear in the book started off as poems. Then it occurred to me that I could create and produce an album for Melody. That’s when the idea for my book trailer came about after listening to a few of my mother’s songs on YouTube. The poems then turned into lyrics. When I finished the final revisions I sat down and wrote music to the four songs that appear in the book. Once those were done, I wrote six more songs to create Melody’s album. I’m hoping this album will create a little more interest in the book, than the book itself is capable of, as I can actually market the music to an audience that probably wouldn’t look twice at the book without the album existing.

3.       Such a brilliant idea!  Let’s talk more about the book, now.  So many times, an author slips a slice of her soul into her main character, shaping the character by drawing from her own perceptions and life experiences.  How much of your soul does Melody carry inside her?

It’s quite hard to say, to be honest. I could try and give you a percentage of how much of myself is in Melody, but I think I would always change my mind. I think every writer puts themselves into every character, but the similarities come through in waves which depend on various factors, such as mood, while writing. For example, I’m as emotional and passionate as Melody is. I’m as cheeky as Tessa is. Depending on the circumstances, I can get as cold and aggressive as Betty and Alex, and as passive and timid and obedient as James. I can sometimes be as boisterous as Heather and as caring and generous as Serena. I can even be quite selfish at times, which I think each and every character in String Bridge is as some point or another, and so is each and every person on this planet at some point in their lives. There is always going to be a piece of the author in every single book they write. And that cannot be avoided.

4.       We meet Melody when she’s in a very dark, low place in her emotional life.  How were you able to channel those emotions each time you sat down to work on the project?

Though touched by a few very dark moments in my life, it was mostly instinctual. There were times though, when I was writing, where I felt my instincts might be wrong. There were so many times I wondered whether what I was writing was too melodramatic. I didn’t want the book to become a soap opera. I really had to sit back during those moments and close my eyes and put myself in Melody’s shoes, and ask myself, “How would you react if your husband did this to you? How would it make you feel? Does this reaction suit Melody’s character?” Sometimes my possible reactions didn’t suit her character and I had to alter them accordingly, but trying to live it in my mind certainly helped. Personally, if I were in Melody’s situation, I wouldn’t have put up with as much as she did. I also probably would have slapped myself in the face and told myself to snap out of it and take a look at all the blessings I have in life.
Mind you, I can’t deny how many times I bawled my eyes out after writing this book. It certainly was taxing on my mental state. Sometimes I even felt myself slipping into her depression. I usually had to take a few days break to feel ‘normal’ again between rewrite sessions.

5.       I’m not surprised; there were scenes when I was bawling my eyes out too!  As much as an author can invent feelings and reactions for their characters, you wrote String Bridge at a time in your life before parenthood.  Life with children is a reality often difficult to imagine without direct experience.  What was it like creating four-year-old Tessa?  From where did you draw inspiration for her personality, mannerisms and word choices? 

I think I created her to be the daughter I hope to have. I’ve worked with kids her age before in a few English schools here in Athens, so I drew a few observations from that experience. But mostly it was guess work.  There were also a few times as I was writing when I thought about a home video my grandmother took of me singing in her garden when I was four or five. I guess you could say Tessa is a bit like I was as a kid.

6.       Mother-daughter relationships play important roles in this story.  Did the exploration of the dynamics between Melody and Tessa, and between Melody and Betty, become a cathartic experience for you?  Did their story lines reflect your own hopes or fears about parenthood?
Yes, it certainly did. I love and adore kids. I can’t imagine never having the chance to bring a child into this world. But ever since discovering I wanted to write, and doing so consistently, I haven’t thought about children so often. I’m always asking myself, do I really want to bring a child into the world if I can’t see myself sacrificing time for it? I haven’t answered that question yet. I know women think they can have it all. And I’m sure we can to some degree if we really put our minds to it. But there are only a certain amount of hours in a day and there’s always going to be something that doesn’t get the attention it deserves. I’m not sure I’m willing to struggle with that. Not yet anyway. Let’s hope my biological clock keeps ticking until I can finally take the plunge.

7.       Speaking of the time you consecrate to your craft, how long did it take you to write String Bridge, from beginning the first draft to completing the finished manuscript?

I spent about five years writing it because it went through about seven different revisions. Although it wasn’t the first thing I’d ever written. I was still learning along the way. And you know what? It still doesn’t feel finished to me. Sometimes I wake up in the middle of the night with ideas on how to improve it. That can be a bit annoying actually, because now it’s impossible. Ha!

8.       I can relate to that!  Is a story ever, truly, finished?? *shakes her head no* Everyone’s story about how they landed their book contract is different, but a common thread that connects everyone seems to be the emotional roller coaster ride of the journey.  What was your path to publication like, for you?

Full of tears and low self-esteem and realizations about my strengths and weaknesses, eureka moments, rejections, more tears, doubts, high self-expectations, not being sure if I could cope with all the let downs, but pushing through anyway. But one thing I’m very proud to say is that I never ever had one thought of giving up. It just wasn’t an option for me. It was the first thing I have ever ever ever wanted so much in my entire life. I wasn’t going to let it go over a few years of pressure.

9.      What’s next for Author Jessica Bell?  Any new projects you can tell us about?

My second novel, Bitter Like Orange Peel, is about a twenty-five year old Australian archaeology undergraduate named Kit, who doesn’t like to get her hands dirty. She feels misplaced and comes to the conclusion that meeting her father, Roger, will make some sense of her life, despite him being worth the rotting orange rind in her backyard. Well, at least that’s what she’s been conditioned to think of him by the three women in her life: Ailish, her mother—an English literature professor who communicates in quotes and clichés, and who still hasn’t learned how to express emotion on her face; Ivy, her half-sister—a depressed professional archaeologist, with a slight case of nymphomania, who fled to America after a divorce to become a waitress; and Eleanor, Ivy’s mother—a pediatric surgeon who embellishes her feelings with medical jargon, and who named her daughter after intravenous. Against all three women’s wishes, Kit decides to find Roger, but in doing so, discovers he is not the only rotten fruit.

My third novel, Muted, is set in Arles, France, in a totalitarian society where it is illegal to wear clothes. In some streets, it's also illegal to sing without accompanying instruments. Concetta, a famous Italian a cappella singer from before “the change,” breaks these laws. As punishment, her vocal chords are brutally slashed and her eardrums surgically perforated. Unable to cope with living a life without song, she resolves to drown herself in the river, clothed in a dress stained with performance memories from her hometown, Milan. But Concetta's suicide attempt is cut short as someone grabs her by the throat and pulls her to the surface. Is it the busking harpist, who encouraged her to feel music through vibration, acting as saviour? Or a street warden on the prowl for another offender to detain? From this moment, the reader will discover how Concetta came to be in this position, and what will happen to her after the suicide attempt.

Muted will explore a variety of themes such as overcoming loss, coping with mental illness and disability, dealing with discrimination, loss of freedom, inhibited self-expression, motivation to succeed, escaping oppression, expression through art and music, self-sacrifice, channelling the thoughts of the deceased, and challenging moral views and values.

So many projects in the works!  Best of luck with all of them, and everything the future holds for you.  Thanks so much for sharing your experiences and your stories with us!

Thank you so much for having me, Nicole!

Purchase links:


Amazon UK: (Coming soon)


Jessica's links:
String Bridge Website:

Jessica Bell is a literary women's fiction author, poet and singer/songwriter who grew up in Melbourne, Australia, to two gothic rock musicians who had successful independent careers during the '80s and early '90s. She spent much of her childhood travelling to and from Australia to Europe, experiencing two entirely different worlds, yet feeling equally at home in both environments. She currently lives in Athens, Greece and works as a freelance writer/editor for English Language Teaching publishers worldwide, such as HarperCollins, Pearson Education and Macmillan Education. In addition to String Bridge, Jessica has published a book of poetry called Twisted Velvet Chains. A full list of poems and short stories published in various anthologies and literary magazines can be found under Published Works & Awards, on her website. From September 2012 Jessica will be hosting the Homeric Writers' Retreat & Workshop on the Greek island of Ithaca, home of Odysseus.