Thursday, April 30, 2009

A Place To Write

I enter my place to write. It’s a beautiful study with floor to ceiling bookshelves containing every book I ever read, plus many I have yet to read. There’s a large walnut desk in the center of the floor facing the double carved doors with a soft leather chair I can whirl around sitting behind it. The chair turns to a matching computer desk with files neatly stored in the immaculately kept drawers. To my left are large spotless windows looking out on a beautiful manicured lawn that sweeps downhill to a lovely pond. On this pond the Canadian geese have stopped for their morning swim and are greeted by the long necked swans. On the padded window seat, my beautiful cat waits for the right moment to greet me with a soft purr.


My actual writing space is a spare bedroom on the first floor of my condo. There are no bookshelves, but there are piles and boxes of books. Some I’ve read, some I haven’t and some I probably never will. My desk is a second hand one I got when my son-in-law closed his building office. My chair is also an office reject. It does swirl around, but it squeaks. There is a window in my ‘office,’ but the association hasn’t cleaned them this year. I have to keep the blinds closed anyway because if I don’t the sun hits my computer screen and I can’t see what I’m writing. Besides that, my view is of the parking lot of the complex and offers little inspiration or relaxation. As for my cat – he’s trying to jump on the key board so I’ll rub his head or scratch his belly if he isn’t successful in making me get up and feed him again. This ‘office’ also serves as a storage area. My off season clothes are in here as are my Christmas decorations and some boxes that have never been unpacked since my move to this condo. A table to the side holds the items I’m trying to sell on ebay. In the middle of all this chaos I wander in here every day and sit down to write, knowing I have it better than many people.

I know a woman who writes on a card table in the corner of her bedroom. Another one has a set up in her basement near her washer and dryer. A male friend has put a computer station in his walk in closet. And many, many writers have written their books on the kitchen table or a temporary desk in the living room.

The point is not where you write, but that you continue to write. We would all love to have the perfect office as in my dream, but even that wouldn’t guarantee success in the writing game. Some of today’s best books have been composed in cramped or undesirable conditions. It doesn’t matter how plain or fancy your writing space is, the important things is that you set someplace up to write and then WRITE. The words on paper are what really count.

And who knows, someday you may hit the best seller list and be able to afford the writing space of your dreams.

Monday, April 27, 2009

Defining Yourself as a Writer

blog26 I’m sure there are other writers out there who can give me some tips on this one.  Like most writers, I’m very much an introvert. I like to watch and listen to other people at parties (if I’m actually forced to go to a party) and stay on the fringes of a conversation.

I’m lucky to be a woman because at most gatherings of people-meeting-people, I’ve noticed that one of the first things a man is asked is, “Where do you work?” or “What do you do?” 

That’s pretty far down the line of questioning for women.  Usually I’m first asked if I have kids.  Then how many kids I have, then if they’re boys or girls.  Then where they go to school. 

Then, finally, (and moms know this is a sensitive subject to be carefully introduced with other moms) if I stay home with the children or if I work. 

This question invokes different responses from me.  If I’m really just wanting to fly under the radar and escape from the conversation, I say “Yes, I’m home with the kids.” Although sometimes a friend will walk by and say, “Because you write books!”

I know I should always say (keeping promoting in mind) that I’m a writer.  It’s certainly something I’m proud of. But I get such a variety of responses that I’m hesitant to admit to it.  Sometimes I get the feeling that a woman thinks I’m showing off.  Sometimes they don’t really know what to say and lurch ahead to other topics. Sometimes they’re really interested and ask about the book or my writing process.

When you’re “just another mom”, it’s much easier to be part of the Mom Club and the conversation follows a fairly predictable course.  Being a writer is wonderful in most ways, but it’s not exactly the most ordinary of professions. Defining myself as a writer in a completely comfortable and confident way is something I’ll have to work on.

What I’m reading: Death of a Witch by M.C. Beaton.

Thought-Provoking Blogs:

Mysterious Matters on why some writers get rejected.  I’m not sure I agree with a couple of the reasons.  See what you think.

BookEnds blog with the two reasons why your query is rejected. 

Make Mine Mystery on “waking up your characters.” 

The Rejecter on what happens when contracts don’t work out.

Rachelle Gardner's blog on painful reviews. 

Thursday, April 23, 2009

The Caroina Conspiracy Guest blogger is Janis May

Tell us about yourself.

Oh, dear, what a boring subject to begin with!

I'm a 7th generation Texan on one side and have almost 1000 years of Scottish ancestry on the other. I was first paid for writing when I was 9 years old (won an advertising slogan contest) and sold my first novel (WHERE SHADOWS LINGER) to Dell in 1979. I was one of the original 40 women who founded RWA back in 1980.

Since I bore quite easily, I've done a number of jobs, everything from talent agent and performer to jewelry designer to Supervisor of Accessioning for a bio-genetic testing DNA lab to editor in chief of two multi-magazine publishing groups... and just about everything in between. One thing I'm especially proud of is that I founded and for 9 years was editor/publisher of the NT Newsletter of the American Research Center in Egypt, a scholarly publication that for the duration of my tenure was the only monthly publication for ARCE in the world. It may still be, I don't know.

On a more romantic note, I married for the first time at 54, after being proposed to in a moonlit garden across the road from the Pyramids in Egypt. My husband is a Captain in the Navy Reserve, returned just last year from his second deployment to Iraq. He's also several years younger than I. My mother passed away unexpectedly 3 weeks after our wedding. Now we're living in the house where I grew up - which is a very strange feeling, as I hadn't really lived here in decades - with two neurotic rescue cats.

The Husband and I are both very interested in Egyptian archaeology - we met in an ARCE meeting - and plan to return to Egypt next year.

Tell us about what you're working on now.

As I said, I bore easily, so I always have several projects going. I'm working on a college textbook to be published in Peru for world-wide distribution on archaeological illustration. There are 4 or 5 of us working on the project, which - like so many scholarly projects - has been plagued with delays. My portion is the history of archaeological illustration before the Napoleonic paradigm shift of 1798. Not too shabby for someone without a college degree!

In the fiction field, I'm working on a romance about a couple who meet when they clash over custody of their orphan grandson. She's something of a free spirit gallery owner and he's the epitome of a button-down Eastern banker. This takes place in Albuquerque New Mexico, one of my favorite places in the world.

I'm also working on a mystery series about two very individualist women named Rebecca Cloudwebb and Flora Melkiot. Rebecca was a Dallas Police detective invalided out of the force after she was nearly killed in a shoot-out which she found out was orchestrated by her ex-lover, a dirty cop. She has opened an antique shop with her late partner's widow. Flora is the wealthy widow of a jeweler who could best be termed the dark side of Miss Marple. She listens at keyholes, picks locks and gleefully blackmails anyone and everyone into doing what she thinks best. If I'm not careful, she'll take over the whole series!

I'm also working on another mystery about a professional researcher working on the archives of an exclusive finishing school which closed in 1962. She's working for a very strange and egocentric writer, is getting a divorce from her wealthy cheating husband and is startled to find out that someone will still kill to keep the past buried. This could easily develop into a series.

That's all at the moment... I think.

What are your work habits?

Feast or famine. Some days I'll do anything - including dusting and laundry - to avoid turning on the computer. Other days I can't wait to get into the library where my desk and computer live and get started. Some days writing is a chore, roughly akin to jogging through Jell-O; other days, The Husband practically has to pry my fingers from the keyboard to get me to go to sleep at a reasonable hour. And everything in between.

The constants are - I must have coffee or Diet Dr. Pepper (sometimes both!) within easy reach. Same with Kleenex, hand lotion and lip balm. Cookies help too. There is always a cat hovering somewhere around and before we lost our beloved little poodle she would sometimes have to bite my ankle - she was very little - to make me realize she had to go out.

Tell us a funny story about being an author.

A funny story? Life as an author IS a funny story. You can begin with those people who think because you have published a book you're wealthy. Or those who - usually at a cocktail party - will with an air of great largesse tell you they have a wonderful idea for a book they'll tell you so you can write it and then you'll both split the money. One time it wasn't funny when I stabbed a particularly obnoxious specimen of these with one of those tiny colored plastic swords. First time those little swords were ever really useful. Or, if you write romance, the eternal question (usually accompanied with a leering glance) of Do you really do what you write about? After a while the hostesses learned to keep the little colored plastic swords away from me!

Before my mother died I was working on an idea that would later become ECHOES IN THE DARK. One of the major plot points is that the heroine, whose leg is in a cast, sees what may or may not be the ghost of a Confederate soldier. Mother said I'd been working too hard and she was going to take me to lunch. Well, I'd had an accident to my foot and it was bandaged to a fare-the-well. Mother drove us to a local cafe and I got out of the car, then looked up and saw a Confederate soldier calmly walking in the door. I shrieked and pointed him out to her, but by the time she could look up from locking her door, he was gone.

Of course Mother knew the storyline, so she was immediately convinced that I was hallucinating. I mean, you don't see Confederate soldiers strolling around suburban Dallas! Except I did. I took off at a rather ungainly and painful lope, Mother following shouting for me to calm down. I couldn't calm down. I was going to see if I had seen a soldier or not. If I had, there was a rational explanation. If not, I was going straight to the funny farm!

Just as I reached the door, it was opened from inside - by a Union soldier in full uniform. He never could understand why I started laughing and patting his arms and face, repeating, "You're real... you're really real." Turns out that a local reenactors group was having a meeting there.

Another time I was driving to Arkansas to visit a girlfriend. This was before I married. I had driven the route many times before and drove almost on autopilot while my mind churned with a particularly thorny problem in my work in progress. Suddenly there was a stop sign on a road where there shouldn't be one, and I realized I had no idea of where I was. I had to get into the next town to be able to find my location a map. Imagine my chagrin when I realized I had not only missed the destination town, I was in a completely different state! Did figure out how to solve my story problems, though!

So - it's a small wonder that The Husband says sometimes I'm only half in the world of reality. Luckily he loves me anyway.

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

New friends

We met some new friends at the Mint Hill Farmer's Market last Saturday. Jim and I were there to give our poisoned plant workshop and sign copies of our books during the Herb and Flower Festival.

There was a big crowd and the weather was nice. We met readers who'd enjoyed our garden mysteries and found some readers who wanted to try them for the first time.

Joe Kish stopped by on his way back from the recycle center and told us he was going home to get his wife. "She's reading your books right now. She won't believe you're here and she can get you to sign her books!"

We were polite and said we would see him later. Of course, I can't say how many times people have said something like this and never come back. I think people feel a little strange sometimes when they see you sitting there with a big pile of books.

But Joe was as good as his word and came back about an hour later with his wife, Billie. She had a shopping bag with our books in it and wanted to buy what she didn't have already.

Both Joe and Billie were wonderful! It's amazing how you can connect with some people right away.

This Saturday, we'll be at the Rocky River Vineyard Spring Festival. We're looking forward to meeting old friends and making new ones over a few glasses of some muscadine wine and (hopefully) some beautiful weather!

Hope we sell out of books again!

Joyce Lavene

Thursday, April 16, 2009

38 years and counting

Jim and I were married 38 years on April 14. It hardly seems possible! Not so much from the standpoint of the years flying by as that it actually happened.

People often ask us about the secret to a successful collaboration, in marriage and writing. We have answers, of course, but the REAL answer is that we have always been separate but together. Both of us were loners when we met, outsiders, and we chose to be loners together.

The day after we got married (my mom's idea) I burned our marriage license. I knew we'd either stay together because it was right for us or not. No little piece of paper can make it so.

We have struggled and fought and made up a thousand times. There have been triumphs and tragedies. But through it all we have maintained our friendship, our passion, and our love for each other. It was only natural that it would spill over into the thing we loved best besides each other and our children: books!

I never thought it would last so long but I'm a one day at a time kind of person so it surprises me when I wake up each morning. I can't see the future so I don't know what it will be in regard to our relationship.

But on the 14th, we had about four hours to fill between meetings. We drank some red wine by a waterfall. We watched a thunderstorm cross our favorite lake. Then we had a wonderful dinner together. That night, his head was next to mine on the pillows when we went to bed. That's enough for me!

Joyce Lavene
PS Jim sent me this plant at the newspaper and now I have to wonder what he's up to.

Sunday, April 12, 2009

How to Feel Dated, and Resolving to Write Something that Isn’t

blog23 I think of myself as pretty young, usually.  I just turned 38 this month. Aside from knees that sometimes make funny noises when I go up the stairs and maybe that time I pulled a muscle in my shoulder when I sneezed, I usually feel youthful.

But my kids seriously age me.

My son just turned 12 and got an Ipod for his birthday.  At first, I felt like the cool parent because (since I have my own Ipod), I knew how to charge it, get it recognized as a device by Itunes, sync it, and even download a song from his wish-list from the Itunes store. 

But then, something went wrong.  I clicked the wrong button and the Ipod started syncing to my playlist.  To my son’s utter horror and complete panic. 

“Mom!  What happened!?  What is this stuff?  Jimmy Buffett? Frank Sinatra?  Who are these guys?  How do you get this stuff off?”


One day my son didn’t know who Mr. Spock was.  Sigh.  But I just saw a trailer for a new Star Trek movie.  Thank goodness…he’ll end up getting my dated pop culture references.

When I rented The Muppet Movie, my children didn’t watch it.  Not even the seven year old. 

I didn’t get very far with my evil plan to make them watch Chitty Chitty Bang Bang or The Nutty Professor, either.

I had slightly better luck when I introduced the kids to I Love Lucy.  They seemed to really find it funny.  My son seemed baffled by Leave it to Beaver although my seven year old watched it for a bit. I really want to see if The Brady Bunch holds up, but I haven’t tried it yet.

Some of the books I enjoyed when I was a child didn’t go over so well with my son.  I wanted him to like “The Great Brain” series, but couldn’t seem to get him into them.  But he loved Tolkien and C.S. Lewis and enjoyed A Wrinkle in Time and The Wizard of Oz. I am just about to introduce my daughter to Nancy Drew.  But I want it to go well!  I will be seriously disappointed if she doesn’t like Nancy.  I know that’s awful, but somehow it’s really important to me.  Luckily, they’ve updated Nancy a bit, so I may start with one of the modern ones and not Secret of the Old Clock

I really shouldn’t be too upset.  My kids have enjoyed true classics like Alice in Wonderland and The Wind in the Willows. And they’re loving the new, modern classics like Harry Potter.  Their music isn’t very obnoxious (okay, sometimes Hannah Montana may grate a little, but it’s not all bad.)

I’m not aspiring to write anything that holds up as well as my favorite classic literature.  I’m no Jane Austen.  But I don’t want readers to pick up a used paperback of one of my mysteries in seven or eight years and snicker over dated references.  So I won’t be mentioning our current economic crisis.  And I won’t be talking about specific “new” technologies that will go through several generation changes in the next few years.  Some things….humor and genuine emotion do seem to transcend time.   It took my kids’ enjoyment of I Love Lucy to help me realize that.                                                   

Friday, April 10, 2009

A conversation with William Spear

WILLIAM SPEAR: Thanks for inviting me to Carolina Conspiracy, Joyce; it's a pleasure to be here. My writing at Lit Between the Ears - both the blog and my first book - develops characters and tells stories through sounds.

What are the types of sounds readers would find in your writing?

[Joyce Lavene] It would all depend on the book. In our NASCAR mysteries, it would be loud cars. In our Renaissance mysteries, it would be loud Huzzahs!

WS: Are there any sounds peculiar to the Carolinas?

[Joyce Lavene] You know, I haven't ever thought about it before. There is this loud bird outside my bedroom window that keeps saying 'percussion, percussion'.

JL: Do I get to ask any questions?

WS: One more from me - What radio dramas have you listened to and what did you enjoy about them?

[Joyce Lavene] I loved War of the Worlds. It was so dramatic. I also loved a series of Edgar Allen Poe stories dramatized on the radio. They were really creepy, in a good way.

JL : What made you so interested in sounds, William? Most people hardly notice sounds around them.

WS: When I was young, my family drove back and forth between Ohio and North Carolina. My parents would play old radio shows. The different beginnings hooked me.
By the way, I've directed The War of the Worlds ten times. Howard Koch's script holds up well. Also, Poe is a favorite here, too. My adaptation has been performed - complete with sound effects - and a version is posted at my blog. [ Spear: The Raven from the WGAE Big Apple Short Radio Drama Festival; link: ]

JL : What are your favorite sounds?

WS: Directing a studio full of actors and sound effects. It's kind of like DNA; the same ensemble of performers can create a comedy, drama, or horror. A performance can be big and expansive or modest and intimate. A more accessible definition is conducting a large orchestra.

JL : How do you develop characters and tell stories with sounds?

WS: It's about suggestion and inference rather than full descriptions. Set the characters in motion, share the stage with the listeners' imagination, and guide the whole play a series of plot points. The only fear is that the audience can change channels at any moment. That's a fairly strong inducement to make every line be meaningful.

Thanks for being here with us, today, William!

About William E. Spear
Mr. Spear published his first anthology, a collection of radio plays titled LIT BETWEEN THE EARS, VOLUME ONE: CHEKHOV, O. HENRY, SPEAR and TARKINGTON ON THE AIR, in July 2006. He is also Publisher and Producer of Lit Between the Ears, a blog which celebrates the power and people of dramatic audio. In 1999, he founded Hunterdon Radio Theatre, a 501 C3 community radio theatre corporation in Clinton, New Jersey.
His second anthology, title MAYONNAISE IN MY CAKE AND OTHER DELIGHTS, is scheduled for release on October 1, 2009.

He may be reached by email at:
Lit Between the Ears, Volume One (book):
Lit Between the Ears (blog:)

Monday, April 6, 2009

Carolina Writers Conference

The Carolina Writers Conference was great this weekend! Lots of friendly people who listened attentively as about 20 authors spoke about various aspects of writing. I can't say enough good about the people from South Piedmont Community College, Wadesboro Library, and the Carolina Romance Writers who put it together! The event was close to home for me but there were also authors from outside North Carolina.

It makes me wonder why there aren't more local events like this. Sure, the Malice and RWA National conferences are good but unless you live in Hawaii (where Left Coast Crime was this year) or other big cities where most conferences take place, you miss out. What's surprising about it is that there is a ton of writers from all genres and nonfiction here in N.C. You'd think there would be lots of small conferences.

Money is always the problem (that's why they called it the root of all evil)and I'm not sure there is an answer to always having a BIG crowd. Maybe the best answer would be for people who put together conferences to seek out corporate sponsorship. I don't know. I've been asked to help put together a small conference locally. Once I get through that, I might have a better understanding of what we're up against. I'll let you know!

Joyce Lavene

But for now, thanks CRW, SCCC and Wadesboro! It was awesome!

Thursday, April 2, 2009

Dress The Part

In the writing game nobody cares if you get up in the morning, dress like a bum, don’t take a shower, don’t comb your hair, or don’t put on make-up if you’re a woman or don’t shave if you’re a man. But when you go out in public to promote your work, it’s a different story.

Just because you can get away with writing your books while wearing the shirt the baby spit up on or the jeans you wore to paint the bedroom it doesn’t mean you can get away with dressing this way in public. If you do the public will quickly shy away from you and this is not good. You want the public to swarm around you begging for an autographed copy of your novel. People will not do this if they are looking your over and wondering if you’re some street person who has stolen someone’s identity.

Dress the part of a professional. This doesn’t mean you have to go shopping and blow your budget on designer suits or fancy clothes. It simply means, make yourself presentable.

If you’re a woman wear a business suit or neat dress and keep your jewelry and your make-up tasteful. Good shoes are a must. If you’re going to be standing a lot don’t wear three inch heels unless you’re accustomed to wearing them daily. If you’re most comfortable in casual clothes, wear pants with a nice sweater or blouse. Use simple jewelry as accents – earrings maybe.

If you’re a man, a suit and tie are always good, but so is a nice pair of slacks and a casual shirt. Be sure your shoes aren’t scuffed and you need to make sure they’re comfortable, too. And yes, jeans are fine as long as they’re clean and neat.

No matter what your sex, be clean. Brush and floss your teeth. Use breath mints. Make sure your hands and nails are clean. A woman should never wear chipped nail polish and men shouldn’t look as if they’ve just changed the oil in their car.

Most important, always wear a smile. Sometimes it isn’t easy when someone rattles on and on to you about how they’d write a book if they just had the time, but you can do it. They probably won’t remember and tell their friends about your smile, but they certainly will remember if you’re scowling and rush them away.

(Taken from my book Writer to Writer)