Pens Fatales

A Dream During Cancer Treatments Becomes a Reality: A Writing Retreat in Scotland

One week from today, I'll be stepping off an airplane in Edinburgh, Scotland. Along with me will be several members of my local writers group who are joining me for a week-long writing retreat. And even cooler than that? The week culminates with my 40th birthday! (Update: You can see photos from the trip here.)

My first trip to Scotland, 30 years ago.
I hatched this plan nearly 4 years ago, while I was going through chemotherapy treatments for breast cancer, a time when I had no idea if I'd be alive and well at 40. The writing retreat was a fantasy that gave me something to look forward to. (So was throwing myself into my writing and going on a round-the-world trip — one down and one to go!)

Since completing my cancer treatments I've been healthier than ever, so I decided to make this writing retreat trip a reality. It's far too easy to slip back into the day-to-day responsibilities and ruts of normal life, but ever since that unexpected experience, I'm committed to seizing the day.

Why Scotland? I liked idea of taking my local writers group with me on this celebratory trip to a place that's been special to me since I was a kid. I first visited Scotland when I was 10 years old, tagging along with my professor mom who was spending the summer doing research in the Highlands of Scotland.

Scotland captured my imagination on that first trip — Loch Ness and its famous monster, castle ruins perfect for exploring, ghost stories told by people with cool accents — so I returned many times. My longest stay was when I lived in Edinburgh while attending the University of Edinburgh for my Junior year abroad during college, I set a big chunk of my first novel, Artifact, in the Highlands of Scotland, and my novella "Fool's Gold" (in the Other People's Baggage anthology) is set in Edinburgh.

Dunnottar Castle, Scotland, along the coast where Artifact is set.

When I thought about where I'd want to go on a writing retreat, I liked the idea of Edinburgh because it's a mix of foreign and familiar, modern and mysterious. That way, I could get my creative energy flowing in a great setting, not be too distracted by feeling like I needed to go out exploring ever minute of the day, and share the experience with several of my dear friends. The plan is to spend our mornings writing in local cafes, then head out exploring the city and surrounding areas.

Having fun in Edinburgh in the '80s.

I wanted to do this trip with my writers group because 1) they're awesome, 2) writing is so much more fun when done with kindred spirits, and 3) they took my wig shopping before I started chemo and bought me my amazing mystery-writerly wig!

Pre-chemo wig shopping party with the Pens Fatales in 2011.

I'm so glad it worked for four of my writer pals to come with me. I'll be posting photos and stories of our adventures from Edinburgh on Twitter, Facebook, and perhaps even Instagram (we'll see...).

See you online from the other side of the world. But only while I'm not immersed in my next novel, which might just turn out to be set in Scotland.

Halloween in Hardcover!

For the past month I've been so focused on finishing my latest novel that I neglected to blog about the exciting news that the Jaya Jones treasure hunt mystery series is now available in hardcover!

Henery Press is still publishing all the titles in their original trade paperback format (as well as in all eBook formats), but these hardcover editions are an additional buying option. They're aimed at libraries in particular, since hardcover books last the longest in circulation. If your local library doesn't yet have copies of my books, you can request the hardcover editions.

The Jaya Jones treasure hunt mystery series in hardcover.
"Fool's Gold" (prequel novella in OTHER PEOPLE'S BAGGAGE),

As the Henery Press office sorted through the new hardcovers, one staffer commented on Facebook: "They look SO LOVELY!! I keep walking by and touching them. (so yes, when the authors get them, they'll be all fingerprinty and if used in a murder, I'll be a suspect.)"

The Henery Press office, taking stock of the beautiful new hardcover books!

Now for my dilemma. When my writers group formed in 2009, only one of us had books out. I started a single shelf on my bookshelf (the top shelf of one of my biggest bookshelves) devoted to books by members of my writers group. Earlier this year, the shelf filled up! Where am I going to put all of our new books?

My writers group shelf that ran out of room last spring.

Perhaps this lovely, rainy Halloween will inspire me to reorganize my bookshelves... 

A Balancing Act

The verdict is in on my new book proposal.

The good news: my agent loves the story and characters! But (you knew there had to be a "but," didn't you?) she has some substantial edits, too. They're good ideas, but the challenge is that I'm currently deep in revisions for the next Jaya Jones treasure hunt mystery, Pirate Vishnu.

How to stay focused? A mini writing retreat with the Pens and friends.

To stay on track for Pirate Vishnu to be published a year after Artifact, I need to remain focused. The sequel is in pretty good shape right now, but that's not good enough. I can feel it coming together, and that's an exciting feeling! Unfortunately, the silly book doesn't seem to want to write itself. I have to put in the time to make it come together. And at this stage in the process, I can't work simultaneously on another project.

After receiving my agent's revision notes last week, at first I was tempted to dive right in. But common sense caught up with me. I don't want to write books that aren't as good as I can make them. There's a temptation to give in to a sense of urgency, but I have to remind myself to fight against it. I'm in this for the long haul, so I don't want to drive myself crazy and burn out. 

Therefore the new mystery series idea is on hold until later this spring. I'm striking a balance: I'm going to write the best books I can, but also keep a rigorous writing schedule so I'll be able to write all the books I want to write!

In the meantime, I'll have some new short story news to share very soon, and if 2012 is any indication of how quickly time goes by these days, Pirate Vishnu will be out in no time.