Archive for the ‘fiction writing’ Category

Okay, whoa.guesthousecover

I just refreshed my blog three times because I was sure there had to be a post more recent than my last one LAST YEAR.

Nope. Gah.

Friends, where does the time go?

I’ve missed coming here—I’ve missed having you all visit. So it’s time to get back to it.

I’m sure you’ve all been reading the posts for The Next Big Thing in which writers are tagged to talk about what they’re working on. I’ve been fortunate to be tagged a few times but because I’m such a superstitious goof (I blame my gypsy blood) I was always hesitant to play. Just last week, author Peter Geye, who I had the pleasure of meeting at SIBA and who I’ll be seeing again in two weeks at the UCF Book Festival, tagged me and I figured the Evil Eye might finally be looking away or sleeping or whatever the Evil Eye does when it’s not looking directly at a person.

So now, without further ado, I’m ready to play The Next Big Thing:

What is the working title of your book? The Guest House

What genre does your book fall under? Women’s Fiction

Which actors would you choose to play your characters in a movie rendition? Oh, a hard one, for sure. The novel features many characters—and truly covers the spectrum of romantic relationships and ages so while I did imagine a few actors as I wrote, I would be hard pressed to cast everyone. The novel centers around two families, one a North Carolina family who summers on Cape Cod and the other a local family who owns a construction business on the Cape. The matriarch of the local family, Edie, still runs the business with her son and fiercely supports her all-female crew. She’s sharp-tongued but highly emotional, earthy but feisty—I imagine Sissy Spacek or Sally Field. Her daughter, Lexi, an architectural photographer who finds herself falling in love with the younger brother of the man who broke her heart is more reserved than her tempestuous mother but every bit as passionate. Maybe Emily Blunt or Rachel Weisz.

What is a one-sentence synopsis of your book? The lives and hearts of a wealthy Southern family and a local family of builders become tangled through several generations of summers on Cape Cod.

How long did it take you to write the first draft your manuscript? I would say 4 months, but I tend to rewrite so intensely through the process and change so many things that I can never keep drafts straight.

What other books would you compare this story to within your genre? I have always been a fan of authors who write about life on the coast, so I’d love to imagine my novel might appeal to the same readers of Karen White, Wendy Wax, Elin Hilderbrand, Patti Callahan Henry and Heidi Jon Schmidt.

Who or what inspired you to write this book? Growing up in New England, I spent a good deal of time on the Cape—but it was a summer I spent working and living on Martha’s Vineyard on the property of one of the shingle-style cottages featured in the novel that was my true inspiration for the story. I’d always remembered it as a deeply romantic place, full of secrets and promises.

What else about your book might pique a reader’s interest? After a long, cold winter (even for those of us in North Carolina!), it might be nice to start summer vacation a little early. Also, as a student of architecture and architectural history, it was important to me to include lots of architectural details in the novel’s setting.

When and how will it be published? It will be released by NAL/Penguin on June 4 of this year—just in time to hit the beach with a good, sandy read!


Okay—now it’s my turn to pass the questions. I am excited to tag two very gifted writers who I have known since I first started blogging, Laura Maylene Walter and Averil Dean. Ladies, I can’t wait to read all about your Next Big Things.

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I can hardly believe THE MERMAID COLLECTOR has been out in the world for over two weeks now.

I have been incredibly fortunate to have so many people cheering me on throughout these days (and before) and hosting me at their wonderful blogs while my MERMAID breaks the surface! In case you might have missed any of my visits, I just wanted to share the list here and and to send out a huge thank you to you all who have hosted me or reviewed the book, as well as a huge hug to all of you who have been so supportive across the internet-universe.

I am a lucky lady to have so many kind friends.

Teri Carter: Carter Library

Devourer of Books

Bermuda Onion: Review and Interview


A Novel Review

Literally Jen’s Blog: Guest Post and Review

Traveling with T

The Debutante Ball

Deep South Magazine–Part of their Fall/Winter 2012 Reading List

Writerspace Blog


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Photographer: Catherine Pelura

I first connected with Erika Robuck on Twitter because we both spelled our names with a K. True story!

Turns out, we had a lot more in common than just that. Erika is not only an incredibly lovely and gracious woman, she’s also a talented writer whose novel HEMINGWAY’S GIRL I had the pleasure of reading before it launches in five days on September 4th  so I was thrilled that Erika agreed to come visit the blog and answer a few questions about her book.

But first, a bit about HEMINGWAY’S GIRL:

Key West, 1935. Mariella Bennet has just lost her father and now must temper her dreams of starting a charting fishing boat business with the new responsibilities of caring for her ailing sister and her emotionally-crippled mother. When a chance encounter with Key West’s most famous resident Ernest Hemingway offers her a chance to work in the writer’s house, Mariella can no more deny the opportunity to offer financial security to her grieving family than she can deny her attraction to her employer—an attraction that is quickly complicated by the entrance of a new suitor, and Hemingway’s suspicious wife.

As Mariella tries to balance her feelings for both men with her devotion to her family, a storm of another kind brews in the distance; a hurricane that threatens to devastate an already struggling coastal town—and bring about the collision of many hearts when it finally comes ashore.

Romantic and beautifully-rendered, HEMINGWAY’S GIRL shines its expert lens on a rich slice of history—and a man we all imagine we know. Mariella is a deeply satisfying character. Torn by her growing affections for both Hemingway and Gavin, she remains fierce but tender, driven but loyal. Erika has deftly housed her wonderful and diverse cast in settings that reveal incredible period detail, then she lets them fill the pages.  

Without further ado, it is my absolute pleasure to welcome Erika Robuck to the blog!

* * * *

EM: Erika, my first question is a two-parter: It goes without saying that Hemingway is an iconic, larger-than-life character. But like so many historic figures, we as readers can all-too-often imagine we “know” that person and bring to the table our fixed notions of who they are. In HEMINGWAY’S GIRL, you have done a remarkable job of drawing Hemingway as a unique character, so well-rounded and genuine. Firstly, did you find that a daunting prospect as a writer, to know you might be challenging a reader’s fixed ideas? And secondly, how did you find ways to bring out the uniqueness in a character that came with so much baggage? Was it hard to know which parts of his personality to keep and which parts to accentuate or even play down?

ER: When I first realized I would write about Hemingway, I was worried that both his legions of fans and critics would search for their versions of Hemingway in my work, and make noise if they didn’t find it. Because of this, I spent as much time as possible with not only biographers’ versions of the famous writer, but with his own writings—from fiction, to essays, to letters. After reading thousands of pages of text, I felt like I had a firm grasp of the kind of man Hemingway was, and I think I have portrayed him fairly. I am prepared that I will stir up some backlash from those with strong opinions on Hemingway, but that is part of the risk I am willing to take to represent this time in his life and hopefully, to inspire people to go back and read his work.

EM: One of the many things that struck me as I read HEMINGWAY’S GIRL was the incredible attention to detail you showed in setting your historical scenes. That must have taken such thorough research! I know personally I can get so overwhelmed by collecting period details and am never sure how much/how little to insert to set the scene. Can you talk a little bit about that process? Such as, how did you choose what to include and if you have a system to organize so much information as you go?

ER: Thank you, Erika! Research is one of my favorite parts of the writing process and why I love historical fiction. There are so many undiscovered corners of the past that want to be known. The Labor Day Hurricane of 1935 was one of those forgotten events I found while researching the novel. Hemingway wrote an op-ed piece for a communist paper expressing his outrage over the deaths of the WWI veterans building the Overseas Highway in the Keys from that hurricane. Once I knew the novel would build to that event, I was able to focus the very broad research I’d already done on that time in 1935. I then made very detailed timelines of the months of 1935 with regard to Hemingway’s life events, what was going on in the Keys, and what was going on in the country. Then I imagined my characters and placed them in the events to give readers an emotional connection to the past.

EM: Mariella’s relationships with the two men in her life, the tempestuous Hemingway and the tender boxer Gavin are both so rich and diverse–yet the reader always feels there is a remarkable sort of balance in her affection for both men throughout the novel, even as she is exploring her feelings for each. Was it hard as a writer to maintain that for her? Were there points in the story where you felt as conflicted as she did and possibly wanted her to make different choices in a scene?

ER: Oh, yes. I struggled with my feelings about what my protagonist would do as much as she did. Both men represented lifestyle choices or aspects of Mariella’s character that would greatly influence her future. Both men had appealing sides and not so appealing sides, but I loved both of them dearly. I think we all have these dark and light aspects of our inner selves, and we surround ourselves with people that fuel our needs at certain times. The greatest challenge for me was building up the more positive aspects of Hemingway’s personality in light of all of the popular views of the writer. His loyalty, his understanding of social strata, and believe it or not, his capacity for sensitivity to others came through in his letters and in his fictional characters, and I hope I did him justice.

* * * *

My warmest thanks to you for sharing your thoughts, Erika!

Friends, you can learn more about Erika and her novel HEMINGWAY’S GIRL at her website, or follow her on Facebook and Twitter.

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When I saw that it has been MONTHS since my last posts…Friends, I’ll be honest. That shocked me. It shouldn’t, I know. As mom to two little ones who grow so fast, I should know how quickly time flies from us.

So here were are in mid-May! Summer is here (at least in my neck of the woods) and school is drawing to a close and I’m looking forward to sharing some of these lazy summer hours with all of you.

I’m very excited to be heading to Columbia, SC this weekend for the South Carolina Book Festival where I’ll be sharing two panel stages with authors who leave me pinching myself, frankly. If any of you happen to be in the area Saturday or Sunday, I hope you’ll drop by. Like my blogging friend and fellow writer Laura Maylene Walter, I will return with highlights from the event and maybe even pictures.

In other news, I’m awaiting the page proofs for my upcoming release THE MERMAID COLLECTOR which comes out on October 2. I’ve seen the cover and it’s gorgeous–I can’t wait to share it with you all, along with more information about the novel itself. There’s no gumbo this time around, but there is a lighthouse, a mermaid legend, and star-crossed lovers–several of who manage to untangle their fates just in time. I hope you’ll enjoy reading it as much as I enjoyed writing it.

So here’s to summer everyone. I’ve missed catching up with you all here–so I’d love if you’d take a sec to let me know what you’ve been up to in the comments!


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No, I’m not talking about the Oscars or The Golden Globes (which I always read as The Golden Girls, which is never a bad thing), I’m talking about blog awards.

I have been awarded the Versatile Blogger Award from two very dear friends I have had the good fortune to meet through blogging, Sherry Stanfa-Stanley, and Julia Munroe Martin, who bestowed this on me in May and in my pre-release haze I completely neglected to post my appreciation AND my 7 things you may not know about me!

So without further adoo–and with my warmest thanks to both of you ladies for thinking of me…

7 things you may not know (or want to know? Oh, too late!) about me:

1. I was a hockey goalie for our high school hockey team. It was all guys except for myself and another girl who was also a goalie–only she was actually really, really good.

2. I worked for several summers as a tour guide for the only remaining Shaker Village, at Sabbathday Lake, Maine.

3. I was on Romper Room. (Extra points if anyone actually remembers that show.)

4. I love, LOVE to drive.

5. Knives freak the heck out of me. I don’t know if I was a Thanksgiving turkey in a past life, but I always get the heebie-jeebies using knives in cooking. And I LOVE to cook! My husband, who as I’ve mentioned once or twice or a thousand times, is an amazing cook and values his collection of knives and can’t understand why I use a small serrated steak knife to cut a watermelon, for example.

6. Tanya Tucker and I have dated the same man. (Okay, so he was nine when I dated him, and by “dated” I mean he asked me out at recess, then called me that night to break up.)

7. I love stale Peeps.

* * * *

Okay, now fair’s fair…How about 1 little-known thing about all of you?

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No one likes rules.

Well, I never did. And even though I am now a parent and responsible for laying them down and upholding them, I still don’t like them. But they are everywhere, and in some cases, they have to be. As I get older, I appreciate that simple truth.

But what about in writing? Do we need rules in writing? And are these rules global or do we each latch on to our own preferred cache of writing laws to hone our craft? And what happens when a highly-admired writer “breaks” these rules we hold dear?

A purist's Whoopie. Chocolate with vanilla filling.

I have recently posted about the preferences for/against any dialog tags other than said or ask, as well as the use/misuse of adverbs. If pressed, I would say these tenants are some of my “rules” in writing, as in, the ones that I believe make my writing stronger and tidier and better-crafted when I can adhere to them.

Or do they?

Just the other day I started Jonathan Franzen’s new novel Freedom and within a few pages, there they were: tags and adverbs!–and not just once, but several times! Egads! Someone mused (optimistically, I might add), another person teased (and teased again within a few sentences). I was confused, I was shocked, I was wickedly thrilled! How could a writer of such esteem use adverbs, and tags other than said or ask, when all my writing life I’ve believed that doing so was frowned upon?

Now make no mistake, I am not a purist. (Well, except when it comes to eggnog, Whoopie Pies, and to not tweaking the original Star Wars movies–George, did you have to replace the aged Anakin in the final Jedi ghost group shot? Really?) There are plenty of times in my novels when I have used more than my quota of adverbs. Many, more more. LITTLE GALE GUMBO will indeed greet the world with several that I simply couldn’t bear to cast off. This is not a critique, simply a curiosity. An observation. Maybe even, a bit of a relief.

So what about you all? What happens when a writer you admire, or even one you know 90% of the world’s population admires, breaks a writing rule you hold dear? Does it make you rethink your rules? Or does it make you believe even more firmly that rules in writing are as individual as writers, or better yet, just made to be broken?

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Dialog tags. Where would we be without them?

Let’s ask Girl and Boy what they think:

“I don’t know.”

“Don’t you?”

“I just said I didn’t, didn’t I?”

“Did you say it or did I say it?”

“I’m not sure. Which one of us is talking right now?”

And this is why we need them. So the issue at hand for writers isn’t whether or not to use them, but how sparingly and which ones. As writers and readers we know there are essentially two teams:

Team 1 says only use “he said, she said” or “she asked, he asked” (and sometimes the second option is even discouraged).

Team 2 favors the more demonstrative tags, the use of exclaims and snaps and shouts and whispers, etc, etc. etc…(and let’s not forget the often-overused adverbs, wherein we whisper quietly or shout loudly.)

For me, I fall somewhere in the middle of the two (as I suspect a lot of people do.) Some days, I am fearless when I write. I stick to the basics. I use only said and asked, and I strike out adverbs before they can reach the keyboard. But I won’t lie–it’s a battle. My inclination is always to use something else, and to, yes, tack on that dreaded adverb. I did so some  in LITTLE GALE GUMBO and I assume I will do it some more in my next novel. But sparingly.

Because the truth is that the strongest dialog doesn’t need a tag to clarify its intention. As so many writers teach, the words being said should be enough indication.

For example:

Jill folded her arms, her eyes narrowing. “Must be nice being so perfect at everything,” she snapped snarkily.

Now I’m betting you already guessed the tone of that line even before you read the tag, which, frankly, comes a little too late anyway to be of much use to the reader. Now if you didn’t get the gist of the speaker’s tone, well then, the dialog should probably be reworked.

So fellow writers and readers, which team are you?

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Lately I’ve been struggling with a flashback scene of two characters, a man and a woman, who ultimately become lovers but who are, in the scene I’m now writing, merely teenagers fumbling through their first date.

I’m finding it tough. Excruciating, actually. Not because I don’t love these two people (I do) and not because I don’t have all the faith in the world that they belong together (because they do). What has me so at odds is how to write age-appropriate dialog for them. I cannot seem to “write down.”

I don’t know about you, but nothing drives me battier than when I read dialog of young characters who have the wit and vocabulary and general worldliness of people FIVE TIMES THEIR AGE.

Now I know today’s teenagers are savvy. Very savvy. They are much sharper and far more informed than I ever was, even in those uber-angst John Hughes years. But really. In any era. In any century. Gramaphone or Ipod, teenagers have to talk like teenagers.

And yet, here I am! Finding myself in danger of committing my peeve. I repeatedly make our hero and heroine too witty, their banter too clever, their interests too unlikely. Because I know how to write them at forty. The trick is figuring out how to write them with that same attraction, that same connection, at seventeen.

Anyone else have or have had this dilemma in your writing? Do you agree that it’s hard to write authentic dialog for characters who are out of your age group, be it older or younger? Are you often tempted to make their conversations smarter/sexier/wittier/generally more or less mature than you know is believable?

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Last night my writing critique group got together for the first time (we’re an on-line group) and one of the topics of the evening was to establish goals for the next year, specifically what we hoped to glean from the group for ourselves as writers. The answers were diverse and when I said that I had never belonged previously a writing critique group, all were shocked. One of our members said that he was particularly surprised because he was always under the impression that writers require feedback from a community in order to grow and sustain their writing. I have to admit, I always thought the opposite of writing. For me it has always been a truly solitary experience.

Now don’t misunderstand, I very much love talking about the craft with others, VERY MUCH, but in terms of working on my craft, I always considered the evolution an intensely individual experience. And until our host had posed that perspective, I had never thought of it otherwise. I gleaned instruction by reading the works of other authors, reading articles written by editors and authors on shaping everything from plot to dialog. I read and I wrote. I read and I wrote. But until I submitted a deeply revised manuscript to an agent in a query, I rarely showed.

What about all of you? What do you want from a writer’s group? Mentors on your craft, or friends with whom you can share the joys and frustrations of writing, or maybe even both?

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Good news tonight!

My editor has finished reading the newest draft of LITTLE GALE GUMBO (which includes a new ending!) and she’s delivered a hearty thumbs up! We’re nearly there, she assures me, which is wonderful to hear, because I’m due to deliver the final draft of the novel to NAL in a little over a month. Just a few changes left, she says, nothing huge. I’m relieved, and thrilled. The next step is to make edits using track changes, which means the file is now THE FILE. It’s a brave new world for this kid, but I’m ready. Put me in, coach!

All this sounds like a good excuse to celebrate. (I’m one of those people who needs little encouragement to reward myself–Laundry folded? Let’s open that bottle of red!)

So what’s a better reward than a smooth, tangy slab of  triple cream soft-ripened cheese that’s been nearly melting in room-temperature North Carolina heat?

Presenting, Le Delice de Bourgogne (just imagine an accent aigu over the second e)…

I might use some bread or I might just use a spoon, I’m not entirely sure…

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