Award-winning author
Unusual times, remarkable places

The "Standard of Ur" from ancient Mesopotamia

The "Standard of Ur" from ancient Mesopotamia

26 December 2007

Be careful what you wish for

The “Katrina Fifteen.” That’s what New Orleanians call the fifteen pounds many people gained after the federal levees broke and flooded the city.

My plan for today, the day after Christmas, was to start snacking less and increase my daily time on the elliptical machine to 45 minutes, in hopes of getting rid of my Katrina Fifteen by next Christmas and fitting into my pre-Katrina clothes again.

I should have told others my goal.

My friends and family know what I love most in the world, and they gave it to me for Christmas . . . lots of it.

To whit:
  • a Godiva gift certificate
  • a 17-ounce canister of chocolate truffles
  • four Dagoba chocolate bars (2 ounces each)
  • three Chocolove dark chocolate bars (3.2 ounces each)
  • two Endangered Species dark chocolate bars (3 ounces each)
  • one Rapunzel dark chocolate bar (3 ounces)
  • one Ghiradelli dark chocolate bar (3.5 ounces)
  • one box Ghiradelli dark chocolate squares (1 ounce)
  • assorted Godiva chocolate bars (12 ounces total)
  • a canister of hot cocoa mix
  • homemade chocolate fudge
  • one box of Lindt chocolate Fioretto (1.6 ounces)
  • one box of Capolavori chocolates (0.6 ounces)

Some of these gifts were nominally for both my husband and me.

My husband doesn’t care for chocolate. I get it all.

If I don’t write like a dervish for the next several weeks, it won’t be my the fault of my wonderful friends. They’ve provided me with plenty of writing fuel and lots of phytochemicals to keep me healthy. Now my task is to produce prose worthy of all that chocolate.

Oh, and to set the alarm early so I can get up and on the elliptical machine before work. Wonder if an hour a day will be enough to counter my friends' generosity?


Some quotations from the Website of the Chocolate Manufacturers Association:

"Chocolate doesn't make the world go around, but it sure does make the trip worthwhile."


"Man cannot live on chocolate alone; but woman sure can."


"I could give up chocolate but I'm not a quitter."

"Chocolate flows in deep dark, sweet waves, a river to ignite my mind and alert my senses." 


"Chocolate is a perfect food, as wholesome as it is delicious, a beneficent restorer of exhausted power. It is the best friend of those engaged in literary pursuits." 

—Baron Justus von Liebig (1803–1873), German chemist

19 December 2007

I am Lion, hear me roar

As mentioned Tuesday, Julie at Virtual Journey nominated me for A Roar for Powerful Words award. I’m honored that she has found my writing strong and worthy of notice.

The award is also a meme. The recipient is to blog about what she or he thinks are three essentials for powerful, effective writing and nominate others who exemplify good writing.

I’ve read other Roar recipients’ lists of essentials and agreed with all of them. But for me, the most important essentials are more basic.

1. Powerful, effective writing has a purpose and accomplishes it. A piece of writing should make you think, or laugh, or cry, or take an action, or change your mind about an issue, or go to the computer and Google for more information. If I write an article about proper footwear for people with diabetes and no readers change their shoe-buying habits, I have failed, no matter how beautiful my prose or lyrical my sentences.

2. Powerful, effective writing uses the right word in the right place. I believe a writer should have at hand at all times a dictionary (I have more than 20 dictionaries in my office, and I look up even common words to get a feel for their denotations, connotations, nuances, and etymologies) and a thesaurus (I like Rodale Press’s The Synonym Finder best) and use them frequently. Words are our weapons; we should be properly armed at all times.

3. Powerful, effective writing uses correct grammar, except when it shouldn’t. Nothing cripples an idea faster than to be expressed in a sentence rendered confusing, ambiguous, or impotent by poor grammar. Grammar rules are to writing as the proper temperature of the kiln is to clay. Strength and beauty result from knowing the limits and using them to one’s advantage.

4. I know I’m only supposed to list three items, but I feel strongly about another essential. Powerful, effective writing soars when it drops its deadwood. As a copyeditor, I see sentences weighted down by redundancy (“red in color,” “mentally assess”), filler (“very,” “due to the fact that” instead of “because,” “basically”), throat-clearing (“I’d like to start by saying . . .”), bureaucratese (“on a daily basis,” “utilize,” “impact” used as a verb), and adjectives piled willy-nilly on each other like apples in a basket (“new Murrieta Temecula Republican Assembly Gold Eagle member”). After I get the rest of my reference books unpacked, I will post on how to lighten leaden prose.

I pass on the award to three people:

Steve Malley at Full Throttle and F**k It for his clear, concise, useful writing advice and examples

Charles Gramlich at Razored Zen for the same reason

Candice Proctor/C.S. Harris at Candy's Blog for her powerful posts that chronicle living in New Orleans after the flood

My Christmas/Hanukkuh/Eid/Kwanzaa/Winter Solstice wish for my blog readers is for them to go forth and ROAR!

18 December 2007

Lions roar, pictures speak

Julie at Virtual Journey honored me with a nomination for A Roar for Powerful Words award. Thank you, Julie. The award comes with an obligation to blog about what the recipient thinks are the three things necessary for writing to be effective and powerful. I want to think on that a little longer and will post my answers later in the week.

In the meantime, Julie also started a meme she calls the Gallery Meme and invited readers to participate. I was intrigued and will post on that today.

Here are her rules: Choose an image(s) of any kind (photo, art, or graphics—your own or attributed), then write a description, poem, or 'scene' about them as you please, and say why they are meaningful to you.


It was April of 2006, and my in-laws were visiting. We drove down to the Quarter to see the Gay Easter Parade and found the parking spaces in the Quarter and Faubourg Marigny already snatched up by parade goers. So we parked in Tremé, a neighborhood I was not very familiar with. I got out of the car and crossed the street, and this is what I saw:

How could I not take pictures of a sculpture of such power and pain? It wrenched my heart and I did not even know what it was.

Later I learned its story.

The wall behind belongs to historic St. Augustine church, a Catholic church built for free people of color and dedicated in 1842. The church served a wider congregation than its original intention, though, and had the most integrated congregation in the United States. In the center of the church, free people of color had a block of pews, and whites and other non-blacks had a separate block of pews. Charitable people of color purchased the pews in the outer aisles so that slaves would have a place to sit in church—a first in the United States. Through its history, members of the church, such as Henriette Delille and Homer Plessy, have worked to help the poor, the sick, the elderly, and the oppressed.

The sculpture itself was erected in 2004 and is called The Tomb of the Unknown Slave. It honors all slaves who died in the United States and particularly the black and American Indian slaves who were buried in Tremé in unmarked and now-forgotten graves.

The shrine contains a 1500-pound cross made from a marine chain. Hanging from the cross are shackles such as slaves were forced to wear. Surrounding this central cross are small metal and wood crosses.

Normally stark, the shrine is softened in this picture by Easter lilies.

To me, this picture contains the history of New Orleans in microcosm—racism and racial tolerance, brutality and compassion, beauty and violence, badly treated slaves and a well-to-do class of free people of color, despair and hope, all coexisting in an improbable mix that birthed the modern city that embraces its history while not hiding from the parts that were dishonorable and cruel.

To learn more about St. Augustine church and its shrine, visit

Anyone else want to take up the challenge of this meme?

12 December 2007

Interview with best-selling romance writer Hailey North

Welcome, Hailey, to my blog. Thank you for taking the time to answer questions about your new contemporary romance from HarperCollins, Not the Marrying Kind.

Not the Marrying Kind, two urbanites reluctantly return to the small town where they both went to high school and bump into each other for the first time since then. You moved from the city to a small town shortly before writing this book. Did any of your experiences or emotions about this move make their way into the novel?

I appreciate this question . . . yes, I suppose my move from New Orleans to Covington did influence my characters’ experiences. Though as someone who lived in many small towns around the South and Midwest, I think I envisioned Harriet from that greater experience of having left (er, fled) the southern Midwest to college in California. The visits back to the Midwest were not without their challenges.

This book was different from your previous books. Less humor than usual and more . . . je ne sais quoi. Depth? Sorrow? Strength?

What was different was me pressing into places inside myself that really, really hurt. It's more authentic. Most of my ha-ha funny stuff is a means of protecting my vulnerability.

For the post–Hurricane Katrina reader, romances were perfect for taking one’s mind off the difficulties of everyday life and vicariously experiencing good events. But for you as a writer, was it difficult to write a story with a happy ending when you were displaced and your house destroyed?

It was difficult to write, period. It would have been harder to write a bleak story. I’ve spent years and years of my life scribbling in notebooks, filling the pages with dreams and characters. After Katrina when my husband and I hauled wheelbarrow after wheelbarrow to the street, I cried as I said goodbye to the molded, warped piles of all those notebooks. But even as I cried, I was cheered by the reality that those notebooks had become published novels and if I’d done it before, I could do it again.

As you’ve noted, this book is not my typical “light romance.” I was in no mood after losing our home in Hurricane Katrina to tred too lightly into a happily ever after story. However, as I spent more and more time with Harriet and Jake and their family and friends, I came to realize that despite tragedy and trauma, we can all come out okay on the other end. They helped me to realize the redemption.

Did Hurricane Katrina change anything about the way you write, either your method or your characters or plot?

The most important thing that Hurricane Katrina changed about my writing is that I now possess a laptop. We packed, at the last minute, I must confess, to evacuate and I didn’t tow my desktop or any backup disks. We were leaving, after all, for only a few days. Hahahaha. When we made our way back to our flooded house and I found my desk and computer and boxes of files and all our wall-to-wall, floor-to-ceiling bookshelves full of books tossed around like dinghies in a particularly violent storm, I could do nothing but cry. And then begin to shovel the resulting mess into the wheelbarrow my husband transported to the street to be picked up by the Bobcat and dump truck crews. Words can barely express the loss.

And about being a newlywed . . . thank God we went through it together. It made us even more bonded.

Even though Not the Marrying Kind takes place in Arkansas and never mentions Katrina, it feels like a Katrina book to me because the intertwined themes of loss and recovery are so strong. Yet it’s an optimistic book, not a sad one. It was cathartic for me to read; was it cathartic for you to write? Or was it hard to write about loss when the wounds were still so fresh?

I think my response above answers this question. And yes, when all was said and done, it was cathartic. We carry on. We grow through the loss. We are reborn.

I’ve always found the story of how your early critique group helped you get published inspiring. Could you retell the story for blog readers who don’t know you?

As to my early critique group . . . yes, and yes and yes. Gosh, have I written anything that contained a comma splice? If so, I owe a dollar! We were merciless. Met every Wednesday evening without fail for four or so years. We all published our first books, all five of us. Wow! And yes, I did have to “audition” to get accepted as a member. Thank you, Meryl Sawyer and Olga Bicos. And thanks for letting me pass muster!

Many romance writers, including you, started out as lawyers. Which is harder, being a lawyer or writing romance novels? Which is more fun?

Which is harder, being a lawyer or a romance writer? It depends. Seriously. My husband is a criminal defense lawyer specializing in capital cases. If he flubs up, his client gets the needle or the electric chair. If I slack off, I miss a bestseller list. Hmm . . . .

What is your favorite part of writing?

My favorite part of writing is hearing from readers who relate to my characters as people. Living, breathing, complicated, annoying, adorable people.

What is your writing regimen? Would you recommend it to aspiring authors?

My writing regimen?? Hahahahahahaha. When I’m on deadline I write like a maniac. A whirling dervish.

Do you write with or without your cats Mocha, Stanley, and Daisy?

At this very moment, Daisy is asleep on my lap. Mocha is in her safe place, the laundry basket at the foot of our bed. And Stanley is snoring peacefully on the foot of said bed.

What books can we look forward to in the future from you?

Books in the future . . . ah, now, that’s a good question. I may do some more “Nancy Wagner” books . . . as in Two Sisters and All Our Lives, the first two books I published with Avon Books, before I transfigured into Nikki Holiday, author of paranormal romantic comedies. And then . . . and only then, came Hailey North. So it’s yet to be known who I shall be next.

Thank you again for visiting my blog to talk about writing and your new book Not the Marrying Kind.

Visit Hailey North’s Websites at and Her book Not the Marrying Kind is available at all major bookstores and can be ordered online from and Barnes & Noble.

04 December 2007

Interview with historical mystery writer Laura Joh Rowland

Today I welcome to my blog Laura Joh Rowland, author of the Sano Ichirō mystery series set in Japan in the 1600s. St. Martin's Press recently released the 12th book in the series, The Snow Empress. Once a poor and lordless samurai, Sano is now chamberlain of Japan. He is still solving mysteries for the Shogun, though. This time, he investigates the kidnapping of his son, Masahiro, and the murder of the mistress of the mad lord who may be holding Masahiro captive—if he has not already killed the boy.

Thank you, Laura, for visiting today.

James Clavell’s
Shōgun was an extremely popular book in our teen years. Did it influence your choice of the time of the Tokugawa shogunate as the setting for your novels?

I looked to Shōgun as evidence that there was a market for books set in feudal Japan. That Clavell’s novel became a bestseller and a classic was proof that many readers were interested in Japan and willing to buy books on the subject. The huge success of Shōgun was a selling point for my first book. But I didn’t read Shōgun or watch the miniseries until after I started writing my first book, which is set almost a century later than Shōgun, in a very different political and social era.

Is it difficult to research this time period well since you don’t read Japanese? Do you have any research tips for novelists who wish to write historical novels but don’t know medieval Latin, Norman French, 17th century Japanese, or whatever the language of their time period is?

Research is always a challenge, but there’s quite a bit of material about 17th century Japan that’s available in English. That’s a popular period. Advice for budding historical novelists: Pick a setting that has enough written about it in your own language. And remember that a little research goes a long way. The disadvantage of writing about a place and time that has a wealth of accessible information about it is that all those historical details can bury your story, and no matter how hard you try to be accurate, there’ll be somebody who can spot your mistakes.

You were lucky enough to have the late science fiction writer George Alec Effinger as your mentor. How then did you end up choosing the mystery genre to write in? What other writers have influenced you over the years?

I’ve always been a big fan of the mystery genre. So was George Alec Effinger. He taught a course, at the University of New Orleans, on writing mystery fiction. That’s where we met. He had a solid understanding of the structure of mystery novels, and his landmark book, When Gravity Fails, is actually a mystery set in a science fiction milieu. I learned a lot from George. Other writers who have influenced me are P. D. James and Martin Cruz Smith, although my writing style isn’t much like theirs, and neither is my subject matter. If we have anything in common, it’s the serious treatment of the characters and issues in our books, and a strong sense of place and social context that makes our fictional worlds seem real.

One problem many New Orleans writers have is that recovering physically and mentally from Hurricane Katrina takes an enormous amount of time. You successfully balanced redoing your Katrina-flooded house with writing The Snow Empress. Any tips for the rest of us?

When disaster strikes, give yourself a break, because who else will? That was my philosophy during the aftermath of Katrina. I looked on my writing as a welcome break from dealing with insurance companies and contractors, living in a partially gutted house while workers renovated it amid much noise and chaos, and witnessing the devastation all over New Orleans. My fictional world of ancient Japan was my refuge. I was glad to immerse myself in my characters’ problems and temporarily escape my own. But I know other writers who couldn’t write at all for months after Katrina. Some of them write books set in New Orleans, and they had to adjust to drastic changes in the city. The time they spent away from writing was the break they needed in order to recover. There’s wisdom and healing in doing what comes naturally.

In The Snow Empress, Sano and his wife, Reiko, become unlikable as grief and rage over their son’s kidnapping drive each close to abandoning the samurai code of honor. This seems a risky move for a writer. Did you fear alienating readers?

I strive for emotional intensity in my books. That means placing my characters in serious dilemmas, where the stakes are high and they must make difficult, controversial decisions. People in that kind of situation are not warm and fuzzy to be around, and Sano and Reiko may turn off some readers who like tame stories about characters who can play by the rules because nothing that bad ever happens to them. But I don’t write for those readers. Maybe if I did, I would sell more books, but then again maybe not, because I wouldn’t have the readership that I do now.

Unlike many authors nowadays, you do little promotion for your books. Why is that?

Time and energy are in short supply, and I’ve always chosen to invest most of mine into writing rather than into sending out mass mailings or trying to make appearances at every venue for selling and promoting books. I do have a website, I do signings at bookstores and speak at conferences, and I occasionally go on tour. But unless the publisher foots the bill, it’s hard to reach a large number of readers without spending more money than I can afford. And the effectiveness of self-promotion is hard to quantify. More effort and money spent doesn’t necessarily equal more book sales.

What is your writing regimen? Would you recommend it to aspiring authors?

I get up at around 7 a.m., have breakfast, and read the paper. Then I go for a walk while I plan the scene I’m going to write. I work up enough material about the characters, setting, action, dialogue, and plot development to fill up 5 or 6 pages. Then I write until 3 or 4 in the afternoon, with a break for lunch. I highly recommend walking. It’s good exercise, and it gets the brain moving. But I know that many authors aren’t morning people, and many don’t like regular routines. Every author has to create his/her own regimen.

Your next book, The Secret Adventures of Charlotte Brontë (a March 2008 release), will take place in a completely different time and place. Why did you start a second mystery series?

I wanted to stretch my wings. Even though I love my Japanese series and plan to continue writing it, I’ve always wanted to try something else. I picked Charlotte Brontë because I love her novels, and I’m fascinated by her adventurous, tragic, romantic life. She’s the perfect heroine. I’m also fascinated by Victorian England. It has striking parallels with our own time, such as rapid, dramatic advances in science and technology that changed the world forever. I don’t know whether The Secret Adventures of Charlotte Brontë will become a series, but I certainly hope so.

Thank you again, Laura, for taking the time to visit my blog and talk about writing and your books!

Readers, keep an eye on Sphinx Ink's site. Laura will be guest-blogging there soon.

Laura's Website is at The Snow Empress is available at major bookstores and can be ordered online from and Barnes & Noble, as can the previous books in the series. The Secret Adventures of Charlotte Brontë is available for preorder.

28 November 2007

Interview with humor writer Christee Gabour Atwood

Today I’m pleased to interview Christee Gabour Atwood, a woman who has worn many hats—syndicated columnist, anchorwoman, radio personality, stand-up comedian, actress, editor, lobbyist, consultant, training manager, public speaker, and Universal Studios tour guide. She has spent November on a “book tour by blog,” visiting blogs to discuss her book Three Feet Under: Journal of a Midlife Crisis, published by Cardoza Press.

Congratulations, Christee, on the recent publication of your book, and thank you for visiting my blog.

Thanks for inviting me, Shauna. I always enjoy getting to visit with you.

I’m having so much fun with my book. Just finding out that other people are insane just like me makes it worth the public humiliation. And I get to visit with lots of famous writers before they get the restraining orders in place.

I know you're a big fan of the elastic waistband, so I thought you might be able to answer a fashion question that's been bugging me. How do clothes without elastic waistbands work? I mean, if I were, for some masochistic reason that escapes me now, to buy a skirt without an elastic waistband, what would I do? Buy it in four sizes and then change into the next larger size after each meal?

Good question. I think they put silly stuff like buttons or zippers on some skirts, but what is the purpose of that? I mean, the old “extender” of a rubber band around the button and through the buttonhole is frowned on—even in a society that wears pants so low that plumbers get embarrassed.

I guess they expect us to stay one size. Lack of versatility there. And I won’t fall prey to that kind of stagnant thinking.

So, to make a long answer longer, don’t even consider clothing without elastic. If it’s good enough to keep Santa’s beard on, it’s good enough for us!

Your book takes a humorous look at both middle age and your writing career. Which has been funnier, middle age or your career?

They take turns. But, judging by the way people laugh when they’re reading it, I think my résumé must be the funniest thing ever written… And it’s one of the few fiction pieces I’ve done. Everything else I’ve written has some truth in it…

I look back on my writing career (I use “career” in the loosest sense of the word) and I have to laugh. I remember the days of typing stories in my office (aka hot-water-heater closet) when I was in elementary school, and I laugh because I can’t even fit into that closet now. (Yeah, there’s that elastic theme again.)

I think of some of the first Great American Novels I sent off to publishers, and I’m embarrassed to have killed those trees. My manuscripts have traveled more than I have. They’ve really enjoyed it, and I live vicariously through the postmarks.

I’ve gotten rejection letters that were so “personal” that they had been copied with a hair on the copy machine. A giant curl on your form rejection letter is not as funny as you’d think—until some years later. And that’s the thing—it all seems funny now. So my writing career is pretty darn funny to me. And all that rejection is going to sound so good when I can say, “Yes, Mr. Letterman, those early days in writing were tough. I can’t imagine how I ever got along without my third yacht.”

Midlife, however, is a pretty funny thing too. Any period of life where I can blame hormones for everything is pretty darn fun for me.
  • “So I yelled at the cat. Hormones.”
  • “Yes, officer, I was speeding. Those darn hormones made me do it.”
  • “Well judge, I admit I did smash the mirror in the JCPenney dressing room. But it was hormones… and the fact that the XXL fit.”
Like anyone’s going to argue with you if you mention hormones. They’re usually as nice to me as the pharmacy people are when I pick up my megadose of Prozac.

Did I answer the question? What was the question? Oh yeah, is midlife or writing career funnier. Both. It just depends on the day.

I'm 51, and I'm really enjoying the perks of middle age. I'm expecting my fifties to perhaps be the best decade of my life. What’s wrong with me?

You obviously are much too well adjusted.

I doubt many people would agree with you!

It’s time for you to get your AARP notice in the mail. That will knock you down a notch! They keep sending ones to me and I return them with a nasty note reminding them that writers never retire. We just move to large-print versions.

I actually do like middle age. I’m loving the last of my 40s because I’m finally starting to feel comfortable in my own skin. I’d like for their to be a little less of that skin and for it not to have quite so many little roadmaps appearing on it, but it fits me just fine.

Just keep being a writer. That’s the best way to keep from getting too content. Those publishers sure can help you stay humble, can’t they?

You believe in humor as therapy. How can people add humor to their lives to help them deal with writing problems, midlife problems, post-Katrina problems, or the year remaining of George Bush's presidency?

I can help with ideas for humor for all those problems, except maybe the Bush thing. That’s too scary to joke about.

Here’s a couple of methods to add humor to your life:
  • Read the newspaper. No, not the depressing stuff—just the headlines. I love finding mistakes. Some of my favorites: “Blizzard Hits Four States. One is Missing.” “Lawyer to Offer Poor Free Advice”
  • Read quotes from celebrities. For example:
  1. Vanna White said, “It’s not the most intellectual job in the world, but I do have to know the letters.”
  2. Samuel Goldwyn said, “A verbal contract isn’t worth the paper it’s written on.”
  3. And Dan Quayle … well, there are just too many to list.
  • Read bumper stickers.
  1. “As long as there are tests, there will be prayer in schools.”
  2. “I still miss my ex-husband, but my aim is getting better.”
  • Carry a rubber chicken with you at all times. I personally use mine as a tool in a multitude of ways. I love to stick it in the car window, roll up the window so that just the head hangs out, and let it flap around as I’m driving. People never tailgate you when you’re driving with a chicken head in your window. I don’t know why, but it’s fun.
  • I also like to label my trash can as “Inbox.” And when someone I don’t want to talk to calls, I pretend to be an answering machine, beep, and hang up before they can “record” their message.
Those are just a few of my tips for finding humor in everyday life. Well, those and drinking heavily. Wine in a box is so handy. How can you beat that?

You've done some creative—no, I have to be honest, Christee, they were really bizarre—things to promote yourself. Could you talk about some of them and how they worked for you?

What’s bizarre about dressing in a full-body chicken suit and sitting in a bookstore window in a mall to write a novel in 30 days? Yeah, that was for National Novel Writing Month.

You know, I’ve done a few really impressive things in my life. I’ve been awarded a Senate resolution, been named Young Career Woman, won Adjunct Faculty of the year, had the highest radio ratings in the history of Louisiana, and been a professional speaker, an executive, a media personality, etc., but it took a chicken suit for me to get national attention (see CBS News article: Write a Book in 30 Days). What’s wrong with that picture?

I’m trying this virtual book tour this month, and it’s a fun way to do a book promotion. I get to talk about myself all month and I never have to get out of my pajamas.

For booksignings, I’ve learned a lot of things. I never sit down. I babysit kids while their Moms shop. I give directions to the restroom. I stand next to my book on the shelf, reading it and laughing. (Which is not terribly convincing, since my picture’s on the cover.) Whatever it takes… I’ll try it…

I like to create events—like the Menopause Fashion Show and my Thirsty Thursday Drinking Club. I’ll speak to any group that leaves their door unlocked. I give bookmarks to trick-or-treaters and drive-thru workers. I wear shameless shirts that say, “Will write for food.” I’ve been everything from Harry Potter emcee to Mrs. Claus.

All of this has combined to give me media appeal that works well for me. I get lots of interviews on talk shows, syndicated radio shows, and things like that because they see this strange stuff and realize that this is not a normal person. They know I’ll be “different.” Yes, I humiliate myself, but it works for me. I’d rather do it to myself than have someone else do it for me.

So many people start books; so few finish. Please compare and contrast your writing method with theirs. This question constitutes 10% of your grade.

Those people worry about silly things like writing quality, correct use of nouns, verbs, and modifiers, and paying their mortgage. By eliminating all of those things and being prepared to move into a refrigerator box at any time, I’ve been able to finish my books.

I’d stop there, but since my grade is riding on this one, I’ll also say that I don’t accept the concept of writers’ block. Why should we be allowed to claim “I’m blocked” and get off work? The garbage man doesn’t get to do that. The kid at the drive-thru can’t call in and say “I’m blocked” unless it’s a health condition caused by the food. And I’d be darned perturbed if my surgeon called in “blocked” on the day of my surgery. What makes writers so special?

So I believe in writing when I’m in the mood, when I’m not in the mood, and when I forgot to check to see if there’s any mood present. And sometimes it stinks, but in between all those stinky words, there will always be a few not-so-stinky ones hiding. When I cull the others out, I can usually find something to salvage in a day’s work.

Why are rubber chickens funny?

Because they have nothing to hide. Yes, with a rubber chicken, what you see is what you get.

Plus, they make such a great tool. (Remember the car tip earlier?) I even use them in meetings. If someone gets negative, they get the chicken thrown to them. Then they have to hold it until someone else says something negative. It reminds people to be positive … and it’s just darn funny to watch a rubber chicken fly around the room.

Having a little rubber chicken on my keychain has been a wonderful thing for me too. I never lose my keys in my purse—nothing else feels like a rubber chicken. And valet parkers never lose my keys either. Plus, I carry it hanging out of my pocket. It reminds me not to take myself too seriously. Hard to be a bigshot with a chicken hanging out of your pocket.

Could you tell us a little about the other things you've written and why my blog readers should drop everything and rush out right this minute and buy them?

Well, right now I have three business and training books in various stages of publication. The first one is out—Succession Planning Basics. It outlines a format to create career maps in your workplace. Yes, someone actually had me write a serious book. How scary is that?

My other two will be out within the next few months. They are Presentation Skills Training and Manager Skills Training. Pretty cool. They are entire two-day seminars—ready to go. They even include a CD with PowerPoints, forms and handouts, etc. So basically, anybody could pick these up and teach a workshop on these topics. If someone is thinking of going into the business of seminars or training, these are great starting places. And yes, they’ll notice that I even sneaked in some humor. No one is safe from my sense of hummus. Oops, I’m getting hungry. I can always tell from my typos.

I also write a regular humor column in City Social Magazine in Louisiana. “Life’s Lumps” has been a feature of that magazine since 2002.

And the sequel to Three Feet Under is in the works. Look for In Celebration of Elastic Waistbands, coming soon to the bargain bin at a bookstore near you!

Thank you again, Christee, for stopping by my blog on your virtual book tour.

Thanks for letting me visit with you, Shauna. We miss you here in Louisiana! And remember, anything you read about me on the Post Office wall is greatly exaggerated…

Three Feet Under: Journal of a Midlife Crisis is available for purchase at and Barnes & Noble. Christee maintains a blog about writing, "Elastic Waistbands," at and a Website about her book at

We interrupt the regularly scheduled blog. . .

Author interviews will continue tomorrow with humor writer Christee Gabour Atwood. But in the meantime, I've been tagged with the middle-name meme.

Here are the rules:

1. You have to post these rules before you give the facts.

2. Players, you must list one fact that is somehow relevant to your life for each letter of your middle name. If you don't have a middle name, just make one up...or use the one you would have liked to have had.

3. When you are tagged you need to write your own blog-post containing your own middle name game facts.

4. At the end of your blog-post, you need to choose one person for each letter of your middle name to tag. Don't forget to leave them a comment telling them they're tagged, and to read your blog.

My name is Sue.
How do you do?
(couldn't resist quoting The Great Cash)

Sscience fiction and fantasy. It's both the genre I write in and my favorite one to read, dating back to when I was in elementary school and started reading the books from the adult area of the library. Books in the other sections of the adult area didn't have much to interest a gradeschooler—too much romance, politics, and other adult concerns. But sf/f had universal themes of interest to people of all ages. Choosing one's future. Fulfilling one's destiny. Becoming the person one should be. Adventure. Life in other times or under strange circumstances. I already loved fairy tales. When I found the sf/f section of the library, I was hooked for life.

UUdders and Putters. For many reasons, I was glad to leave the Midwest. I'm a city person. I like eating at good restaurants, going to concerts and museums, and having a good selection of interesting stores to shop in. But one thing I like about the Midwest is straightforward talk and lack of pretentiousness. Udders and Putters is a good example. No sophisticated city would be home to a place like Udders and Putters; it resides instead in the farmlands near Yellow Springs, Ohio. There you can pet the goats and cows, eat ice cream made from the milk of said cows, and play miniature golf. How cool is that?

EExercise. I believe exercise is an important part of the writer's toolbox. It pumps oxygen to the brain to help you think better, helps reverse the damage done to the heart and lungs by sitting in one spot for hours eating chocolate (or your own writing fuel of choice), improves your stamina so that you can spend even more time at the keyboard when deadlines loom, and stretches out those back, neck, and shoulder muscles that get so tight when one sits and types all day.

I'll tag:

Sphinx Ink

Farrah Rochon (sorry, I know you have a long middle name)

Julie of The Journey

19 November 2007

Interview with historic mystery writer C.S. Harris (Candice Proctor)

Today's guest is Candice Proctor. Her newest historical mystery from NAL, Why Mermaids Sing: A Sebastian St. Cyr Mystery, written under the pen name C.S. Harris, has just been released. Why Mermaids Sing is the third in a series of mysteries starring a young nobleman in Regency England who was scarred by his experiences as a spy in the Napoleonic Wars. Sebastian St. Cyr, Viscount Devlin is drawn into investigating mysterious deaths despite opposition from his family and the authorities. The first and second books in the series are What Angels Fear and When Gods Die: A Sebastian St. Cyr Mystery.

Welcome, Candice, and congratulations on the publication of your new mystery.

You wrote romances for many years. Why did you decide to try your hand at a historical mystery?

When I first started writing romances, historical romance writers were free to set their book in any time or place, and I really took advantage of that. I set one book in Medieval France, another in the Old West, another three books in different parts of Australia in three different time periods.

But then publishers realized that writers who “branded” themselves—i.e., “she writes steamy Regencies” or “she writes funny Westerns”—sold better. I started coming under a lot of pressure to “pick a time and a place and stick with it.”

The problem was, my story ideas always came to me as a set of characters in conflict in a specific time period and setting. I knew that if I simply picked a time and place and tried to artificially manufacture characters in conflict, my pleasure and my creativity would both evaporate. Some people can do that, and do it very successfully. I simply can’t. So I decided that if I had to “pick a time and place and stick with it” (can you tell how tired I got of hearing that phrase?), I’d rather create a set of characters and write a mystery series.

Given that you're an expert on the French Revolution and women's role in it, why did you choose to set your story in Regency England and have a male hero?

I did toy with the idea of developing a series set in the French Revolution, but I just couldn’t seem to summon up a lot of enthusiasm for it. The French Revolution was a really bleak, depressing time. I find it fascinating historically, but I really didn’t want to spend the next ten or more years of my life fantasizing about it. But Regency bucks in knee breeches? Women in filmy dresses and gamon curls? Much more pleasant!

I did in fact consider a female protagonist. Actually, the first character I developed was Kat Boleyn, with Sebastian as her lover. But I didn’t want to write a cozy series; I wanted something edgier, something darker and more dangerous. I couldn’t realistically see a Regency lady throwing knives and fighting and chasing murderers though the sewers. Given the conventions of the time, I realized I needed Sebastian as my protagonist.

In historic mysteries, generally the detective is free of some of the prejudices and blind spots of his or her age. Brother Cadfael (Ellis Peters), Sano Ichiro (Laura Joh Rowland), Benjamin January (Barbara Hambly), Isaac of Girona (Caroline Roe), and Catherine LeVendeur (Sharan Newman), to name a few, all share with Sebastian St. Cyr progressive ideas about women, tolerance of people of other religions or ethnic groups, a compassionate attitude toward the poor and other unfortunates, and training or travel that provides them with unusual skills and insights. Do you think writers give their detectives these traits to make them more sympathetic to the modern reader or because being open-minded gives the detective a huge advantage over the typical person in solving the mystery?

I don’t know about other writers, but Sebastian is the way he is because I myself wouldn’t like him if he were jingoistic or prejudiced and closed-minded! The other characters in the series do have some of those failings—Tom, for instance, is very suspicious of foreigners, while Sir Henry Lovejoy is very religiously conservative and Jarvis has the ethical standards of a wolverine. Don’t get me wrong; I still like all of those characters, despite their faults. But I demand more of Sebastian.

The horror writer and psychologist Charles Gramlich once told me that he believes that in stories, the hero is our teacher-by-example, and that if we are to be that hero’s disciple for the duration of a tale, we must respect that hero, they must have traits we admire and would like to have ourselves. Ironically, I see a disturbing trend in contemporary genre fiction, particularly thrillers, toward creating “heroes” who share many of the same traits that I associate with Hitler’s inner circle—intense jingoism, militarism, prejudice against other religions and ethnic groups, a willingness to use torture and slaughter the innocents of other nations. I don’t think those kinds of protagonists ever endure. They’re simply not heroic.

You've talked in your blog about how you hate revisions. What is your favorite part of writing a book?

I had to think long and hard about this one. I realized my favorite part of writing is whenever things are going well, when the story ideas click effortlessly in place, when characters spring magically to life on the page with all sorts of wonderful nuances I never consciously imagined, when a scene shapes up to be more powerful than I expected it to be, when the words fall without effort to describe a setting or an emotion with unusual grace or precision. That’s when I get that thrilling zing that makes me love writing.

On the other hand, I hate writing when my characters seem flat, when the words tear and strain, when my plot twists me into a knot and backs me into a corner. So I guess the answer is, there really isn’t any one aspect of writing I enjoy more than the other. When the process is working, it’s heaven. When things aren’t going well, it’s hell—and I’ve only myself to blame.

Do you enjoy researching your books? Do you have any suggestions for not getting bogged down in research at the expense of writing time?

I’m a historian, so it’s inevitable that research is one of the things I enjoy about writing historicals. I need to be very, very careful not to overdo it. When I was researching Night in Eden, I spent over six months reading Australian history. I finally had to tell myself, “Candy! You’re not going to be teaching a course entitled Introduction to Australian History. You’re just writing a novel!” I don’t think I’ve gone to quite that extreme again, but anyone looking for suggestions on not getting bogged down in research needs to go elsewhere!

What is your writing regimen? Would you recommend it to aspiring authors?

I have a horrible writing regimen. I’m not a morning person, so I seem to waste big chunks of the day doing laundry and cleaning out litter boxes, and doing yoga, and checking email and blogs, and reading the news. (I’m a huge news junky; I read on-line newspapers from all over the world. I tell myself it’s research.)

Usually, it’s almost lunchtime before I actually start producing anything. Now that my youngest has gone off to college, I’ll work through until my husband, Steve, comes home for dinner. I frequently work during the evening, too, although that’s usually plotting, editing, or research, rather than actual composition.

My lifesaver is our lake house. I can go up there and be away from all distractions—Internet, daughters, husband, laundry, vomiting cats—and just write like crazy for five days at a time. I fall into my natural rhythm, which means writing until 5:00 am and sleeping until 11 or so the next morning, then getting up and doing it all over again. I live and breathe my story, it flows out of me with amazing grace, and I produce scores of handwritten pages. I then come home and type up.

It’s a crazy system, and even though it works for me, I wouldn’t recommend it, no.

One problem many New Orleans writers have is that recovering physically and mentally from Hurricane Katrina takes an enormous amount of time. You seem to have successfully balanced rebuilding your Katrina-flooded house and refinishing your furniture with writing your books and making your deadlines. Any tips for the rest of us?

I didn’t write anything for seven months after Katrina. Part of it was that I was spending 18 hours a day gutting and then rebuilding our house and working on the furniture. But a big part of it was I was simply too emotionally battered to reach within myself the way one must when one writes. I had a book due in November 2006—Why Mermaids Sing—and finally my family told me in April that I had to stop spending every day working on the house and write. I set up my computer on the bare concrete slab of my empty office and just stared helplessly at the screen.

What saved me? I started my blog. I wrote about Katrina, and somehow that freed me to begin writing my book. The other thing that saved me was the little house we bought up near Clinton, Louisiana, as an “evacuation house,” i.e., someplace to go next time we need to evacuate for a hurricane.

At first I went up there just to get away from the trauma of New Orleans and the distraction of our shattered house. But I’ve discovered there is something about breathing in clean mountain air and sitting on the porch swing staring out at a peaceful, sun-sparkled lake that makes me amazingly productive, and it’s now become a part of my writing routine.

I’m still stunned that I actually made Mermaid’s deadline—and the recent deadline for my fourth book, too. The house in New Orleans still isn’t finished, of course, but we’ve been back in it now for over a year, and my writing career is solidly back on track. I can only credit the support of my family and the magic of the lake house.

Book trailers remind me of TV drug ads: Music and visuals set a mood, but one learns almost nothing about the product. Your Website has a book trailer for Why Mermaids Sing. Do you think book trailers help sell books? If so, how?

I think the best book trailers are designed to appeal to the emotions—at least, that’s what I tried to do with my trailer. Get a little bit of information out there, but mainly evoke a dark and mysterious mood. So many of the ones I’ve seen are too long and boring—even if I had been considering buying the book, the video would have put me off! But then, maybe I simply wasn’t their target audience.

Do I think book videos help sell books? Not to me, but then I’ve learned I can’t use myself as a gauge for other people’s thoughts or behavior.

So why did I make one? It made my publisher happy—publishers like to see authors doing things to help sell books, and making your publisher happy is VERY important in this business.

I also did it quite simply because it was fun. I made my own, and I enjoy facing a challenge and mastering a new skill. I doubt anyone will decide to buy Why Mermaids Sing based solely on the book trailer, but it might help tip that mental/emotional balance. Right now, book videos are still fairly new, so they have a novel appeal. Eventually, I suspect everyone will have them and no one will be watching them. But then, I thought vampires were a passing fad back in 1996, so what do I know?

One of my favorite characters in your series is the scholarly spinster Hero. Are you willing to give any hints about what's in store for her in future books?

Hero was one of those magical characters who simply sprang to life on the page. I personally find her a fascinating character, and she plays a major role the fourth book in the series, Where Serpents Sleep. Beyond that, my lips are sealed!

Thank you again, Candice, for taking the time to visit my blog and talk about writing and your books!

You can find Candice Proctor's Website at and her blog at Her book Why Mermaids Sing: A Sebastian St. Cyr Mystery is available at major bookstores and can be ordered online from and Barnes & Noble.

15 November 2007

Odds ‘n’ ends

Five reasons to have an office cat

  • Ernest Hemingway had one, and it is a common practice in the arts to improve craft by emulating the masters.
  • You’ll never need to buy a paperweight.
  • A cat always needs to be fed, combed, or petted or to have its mousie retrieved from under the dresser. Cats let you take breaks without guilt.
  • Writing is a solitary profession. But with an office cat, it is not a lonely one.
  • A cat serves as a constant reminder of what your prose needs: grace, elegance, silky smoothness, flexibility, strength, and sharp hooks.
Office cats at work: (left) Hemingway and his cat (Ernest Hemingway Photograph Collection, John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum, Boston); (right) Dulcinea Malueg-Roberts (Copyright 2007 Shauna S. Roberts)

2. Farrah Rochon’s book Deliver Me, which sold out its first print run, went into a second printing. If you missed it the first time around, it is back on store shelves and available at and Barnes & Noble. (An interview with Farrah appeared in this blog on 16 May 2007.)

3. The third book of Charles Gramlich’s Talera series, Witch of Talera, has just been released. It is available at (An interview with Charles appeared in this blog on 30 May 2007.)

4. Interviews with Louisiana authors C.S. Harris and Christee Gabour Atwood will appear here soon. Both have new books out: Why Mermaids Sing: A Sebastian St. Cyr Mystery (Harris) and Three Feet Under: Journal of a Midlife Crisis (Atwood).

09 November 2007

Copyeditor: friend or foe?

Out in the real world, when people learn I’m a writer and copyeditor, they have no idea what the “copyeditor” half involves.

Neither do many writers, judging from the complaints I’ve heard some make about copyeditors.

No horns sprout from my head; the number “666” is nowhere tattooed on my flesh. My job is not to ruin your golden prose, but to buff it to its highest shine so that it reflects well on you.

In the "Razored Zen" blog today, Charles Gramlich argues that a writer’s primary purpose is to get his or her point across. Your copyeditor helps you do that, and more. Here’s how.

•The copyeditor puts your copy into the magazine’s house style so that usage is consistent throughout the issue. Some publications use a comma after the penultimate item in a series (lions, tigers, and bears) and some don’t (lions, tigers and bears). Some italicize species names and some don’t. Some italicize captions and some set them uppercase. Some say 98°F and some, 98 °F. Some use “Koran” and some, “Qu’ran.” English contains hundreds of acceptable style and spelling variants, and the copyeditor has to know which ones a publication uses.

•The copyeditor also makes your copy logical and internally consistent. A person’s last name should be spelled the same way each time, for example. Reference 1 should be cited before reference 2. If a word has multiple acceptable spellings or abbreviations, the copyeditor changes the text so that the same one is used each time. Variations could confuse the reader, who puzzles over the distinction the writer is making between “analog” and “analogue” or between “fluorodeoxy glucose” and “fluorodeoxyglucose.”

•The copyeditor looks for grammar, syntax, spelling, word, and math errors. Even professional writers sometimes make basic mistakes, and doctors often misspell drug and chemical names.

•The copyeditor is alert for factual errors, both definite ones that can be corrected immediately (one can be sure that the Battle of Hastings did not take place in 1966) and possible ones (for which the copyeditor may do some research, send you a query, or both).

•The copyeditor fixes other problems that might confuse readers or send them off to do a Google search. In particular, most magazines want an article on first usage to give people’s full names, spell out abbreviations and acronyms, define technical terms not familiar to the readership, tell what state or country a nonmajor city is in, and give both generic and brand names of drugs.

•At some publications, the copyeditor may take out unnecessary words that weigh down the text, unknot tangled sentences, and smooth awkward passages that could confuse a reader.

Next time you’re tempted to cuss out the copyeditor who slashed red across your pristine black-and-white pages, take another look. You’ll probably find your text is cleaner, clearer, more accurate, more consistent, and easier to read. In other words, the reader can grasp your message better. Your copyeditor may be your best friend between submission and publication.


November is author interview month at “For Love Of Words.” Look for at least two interviews with authors with newly released books in the coming weeks.

31 October 2007

Word candy

Some words are just delicious to say. The tongue wraps around them tenderly, letting the syllables roll out slowly to savor all the taste before the word melts away.

My favorite word candy is antique rose names. Like a chocolate cake drizzled with framboise liqueur and garnished with raspberry drupelets and mint leaves, these names layer flavor on flavor. There’s the sound of the name itself, the beauty and perfume of the rose it represents, sometimes memories of growing the rose or seeing it at the botanical garden, and the intriguing histories behind the development of the rose and its naming.

The antique rose closest to my heart is Souvenir de la Malmaison. The picture at left cannot do justice to the perfection of its color and form. The name is a joy to say, far more piquant than its original name, “Queen of Beauty and Fragrance.” And the name evokes one of the world’s great love affairs, with a tragic and bittersweet end: The cast-off empress spends her lonely last years creating a magnificent garden.

Many rose breeders named their creations after their wives or lovers or in honor of some important person. These are among my favorites to say (please forgive my not taking the time to put the accent marks in): Cecile Brunner, Baronne Henriette de Snoy, Belle Poitevine, Dame de Coeur, Duchesse de Brabant, Felicite Parmentier, Frau Karl Druschki, General Jacqueminot, Ghislaine de Feligonde, Kronprincessin Viktoria, Madame Alfred Carriere, Zephirine Drouhin.

Some names make me laugh: Baby Faurax, Climbing Don Juan, Granny Grimmetts.

Some raise questions about the rose’s history or habits: Complicata (is it really hard to grow?), Gruss an Aachen (aka Salut d'Aix la Chapelle; did the breeder purposely snub other cities, or did he die before creating Gruss an Koln, Gruss an Bonn, etc.?), Mutabilis (are you in danger of its developing gigantic flesh-eating blossoms during the night?), Seven Sisters (can you only own one if you went to an exclusive women’s liberal arts college?), Variegata di Bologna (are the petals the colors of lunch meat at different stages of ripeness?), York and Lancaster (do the bushes hold pitched battles and change sides with confusing frequency?).

And some, like the eponymous roses, are luscious on the tongue: Celsiana, Coquette des Blanches, Enfant de France, Etoile de Lyon, Reine des Violettes, Reve d’Or, Rose a Parfum de l’Hay, Safrano, Veilchenblau.

Although you might be pleased to have a rose bearing your name, it can be a mixed blessing. Eleanor Roosevelt said, “I once had a rose named after me and I was very flattered. But I was not pleased to read the description in the catalogue: no good in a bed, but fine up against a wall.”

24 October 2007

Out of the frying pan, into the fire

We left New Orleans because my husband did not ever want to fix a flooded house again in his life.

Now we find ourselves surrounded by another disaster, one even bigger than the breaking of the levees: an inferno consuming much of Southern California. When I look at the newspaper’s map of the fires, I see that the areas north, west, and south of our town are burning.

We have been spared. But the beautiful stark hills we see from every window of our house have taken on an ominous aspect. Dotted with dead brush, they are ripe for burning. The Santa Ana winds roared through here Sunday and Monday, ripping all the shingles off our garden shed and tearing shrubs out of the ground. They left our hills untouched.

We smell the smoke and see the gray haze. I scan the hills periodically for signs of flames.

Even living through the Katrina experience, I never could get my mind around the whole of it. Too many people were affected, too many square miles. These fires are even harder to grasp. One million refugees? Can it be true? What will happen to them?

I do know that these people are worse off than we Katrina refugees were. Most flooded houses could be repaired, and in most cases second floors and their contents were spared. This week’s fire victims have lost nearly everything. Even if the firefighters put out a fire in time to save a house, the water from the hoses likely destroyed everything inside.

At times like this, I wish I were religious so I could yell at God.

fire photo copyright Ernest von Rosen,
other photos copyright 2007 Shauna S. Roberts

17 October 2007

Copyediting: The mysterious middle s

I haven’t blogged on a copyediting topic since April, so it’s well past time. Today’s subject: plural formation.

Because of its mixed ancestry, the English language makes nouns plural in numerous ways. Plurals could provide grist for many weeks of entries. Today, I’ll focus on an often overlooked, often confusing class of nouns: compound nouns.

Compound words are just what they sound like: two or more words stuck together to mean a single concept.

Some compound nouns are easy to punctuate. Doghouse, skyscraper, teaspoonful, breakthrough, and city council all take a final “s”: doghouses, skyscrapers, teaspoonfuls, breakthroughs, city councils.

Others are tricky. They may take an “s,” but not at the end. Examples are:
•fleur de lis —> fleurs de lis (although fleur de lis is an alternative plural)
•passerby —> passersby
•surgeon general —> surgeons general
•attorney general —> attorneys general
•pâté de foie gras —> pâtés de fois gras
•mother-in-law —> mothers-in-law
•coup d’état —> coups d’état
•chief of staff —> chiefs of staff

How do you know where to put the “s” in a compound word? The easiest way is to check the electronic dictionary on your computer or the hardcopy that sits by your side. (You do keep at least one dictionary always at hand, right?)

Alternatively, follow the rule given by The Associated Press Stylebook and The New York Times Manual of Style and Usage: Add the “s” to the most important word in a multiword compound noun. Of course, then you have to decide which word is most important.

Or try the lazy way. If you look at most compound nouns, you’ll find that only one of the words in it is a noun. If you add the “s” to the end of the noun, you’ll usually be right.

There are exceptions, though, to the lazy way. For example, compound nouns that end in ”ful” use an “s” at the end: handfuls, cupfuls. Your ear will usually be able to tell you when you have the "s" in the wrong place.

10 October 2007

Five writing strengths

My friend Lisa Kenney of the blog Eudaemonia tagged me with a new meme: Identify five writing strengths I have. Her timing was perfect, because I had no clue what to blog about this week. My life still revolves around unpacking boxes, dealing with contractors, and trying not to get lost on the way to the grocery store. I haven’t given much thought to writing.

Here, then, are what I consider five of my writing strengths.

1. I have a good vocabulary and excellent grammar and spelling skills. Readers usually don’t have to guess what I’m getting at because I’ve used the right words in the right order.

2. I have a thick skin. Writers need feedback. I can accept it from editors and other writers without feeling hurt. (I do admit to getting annoyed with physician and scientist reviewers for my nonfiction articles who substitute multisyllabic technical terms for plain Anglo-Saxon, ask for irrelevant information to be added, and insist on other reader-unfriendly changes.)

3. I’m concise.

4. I didn’t start writing fiction seriously until my mid-forties. As a result, I have a wealth of personal experience to draw on: I’ve lived all over the country; been poor, well off, and in-between; known people of many ages, occupations, religions, ethnic backgrounds, and political leanings; had a wide variety of jobs; made colossal screw-ups; and looked death in the face. I can write from experience instead of rehashing what I’ve read in other novels.

5. I read a lot of nonfiction, particularly history, biography, and science. It’s a good way to replenish the creative well with ideas, and it fills in the gaps in my knowledge when I want to write about something I haven’t experienced personally.

So often, by the time I’ve been tagged for a meme, everyone I know has already done it. Not so this time. So I will tag:

Farrah Rochon

Roz at The Ninth Muse

Sphinx Ink

Candice at Candy’s Blog

Therese Fowler at Making It Up

03 October 2007


Charles Gramlich blogged about resonance in his Razored Zen blog on September 26. He defined resonance as the “degree to which a name or a term evokes already existing associations in a person’s mind.” He suggested that words like “Freud,” “Jesus,” “Adolph,” and “steel” have mental weight that pack a punch for readers.

I came across another kind of resonance this week: resonance of situation.

The September 2007 issue of Locus contains an interview with Guy Gavriel Kay. (An excerpt can be found at He said that when he goes to countries or regions that have experienced political and cultural repression, such as Croatia, Poland, and Quebec, people ask whether his 1990 fantasy novel Tigana was based on their own history. In Korea, the novel is marketed as a political novel, not as fantasy.

Guy Gavriel Kay is one of my favorite authors, but Tigana left little impression on me. In fact, I could not remember anything about it, so I reread it this past week to see why I reacted so differently from the Croatians et al.

The answer was clear: Tigana tells the story of a conquered land whose name has not only been changed but also erased from history, and its architecture has been reduced to rubble. No one who was not born in Tigana can speak its name or hear it pronounced. Many of those who weren’t slaughtered by the king who conquered them have fled to other regions. The plot follows a few Tiganians who are working to bring down the tyrant and revive Tigana.

The people of Croatia, Poland, and Quebec have experienced similar events; the people of the United States haven’t. The situation did not resonate with me when I read it a decade ago.

Ironically, that’s no longer true. After most of New Orleans was destroyed by the failure of the federal levees in 2005, some members of Congress suggested that New Orleans not be rebuilt, or be rebuilt elsewhere. The people of the Broadmoor neighborhood found a big green dot (representing a park) painted smack over Broadmoor on the first proposed rebuilding map. A diaspora of musicians took place, probably permanently changing New Orleans culture. Some of our historic buildings were destroyed or had to be torn down. I’ve had a small, bitter taste of what it means to have one’s political and cultural identity threatened with erasure. This time around, I’ll remember Tigana.

28 September 2007

Sixty-four reasons I haven’t blogged

For some cruel and perverted reason, the packers labeled these forty-seven boxes "Shauna office"—along with another seventeen that you can’t see in this photo and several that I’ve already unpacked. Surely they can't be all work-related. But I have to open and empty each one to find out.

Yes, we’ve been here two weeks and I still haven’t unpacked my office or done any writing.

Our drive from Louisiana to California went well. I had not expected the scenery to be so beautiful and was sorry not to have my camera available to capture it for you. We saw conical mountains, rounded mountains, jagged mountains, striped mountains, bare mountains, plant-speckled mountains, boulder-strewn mountains, and even one strange pyramidal mountain that reminded me of old pictures of the temple of Ur before it was excavated.

I’ve spent my time so far mostly unpacking and resting from unpacking. Still, we’ve been able to enjoy some of the perks of living in California. Our house is in the foothills, so in addition to good views we have a constant breeze that lets us eat outside on our patio even when it’s hot and cools the house in the evening enough that we rarely need to run the air conditioner during the day. A few hummingbirds have already discovered the feeder my husband put up this past weekend, and we have at least one roadrunner that hangs out on our property. The photo at right shows the clearly-not–New Orleans view from our back patio.

Back to blogging about writing next week—if I can get my sixty-four excuses unpacked.

30 August 2007

From the ashes like a phoenix

Last week, on 29 August 2007, New Orleanians commemorated the second anniversary of the failure of the federal levees that left 80% of New Orleans under water and more than 1500 people here dead. It was perhaps the greatest manmade disaster in American history.

The only bright spot of the catastrophe was the revelation of the generosity of individual Americans and people from other countries. More than a million Americans came here as part of formal groups to help us recover. Many, many other people helped in the rescue effort; contributed money; housed and fed homeless relatives, friends, and complete strangers; and helped in many other ways. Our government may have abandoned us, but ordinary Americans and people from other countries rushed in to help.

New Orleans was battered but not beaten. Today I'm proud to post a few photographs that show the spirit of New Orleanians, who faced disaster with humor and determination. (First image copyright 2005 Vince Roberts; all other images copyright 2006 Shauna Roberts.)

Zip code 70125 was still officially closed to residents when this picture was taken, but that didn't stop us or our neighbors from going into the city to start the first step of rebuilding: throwing out ruined refrigerators and other trash.

Creative reuse #1: submerged car becomes street art

Creative reuse #2: ruined musical instruments becomes Christmas decorations

Funny—no takers for this generous offer

No street signs, no problem; people made their own

Signs of people returning

Despite all their hardships, people still found the time to make elaborate costumes and take part in parades, throwing beads and toys to the eager crowds.

Fare thee well, New Orleans. I may not blog for a couple of weeks because of our move to California. See you then from the other side of the Rockies!