Friday, September 15, 2017

The Best 5 Writing Podcasts (out of 1,000s)

One obvious way to find good writing podcasts is to go to the major magazines and papers. They all have writing and reading related podcasts.

But I want to hear from people like me, novelists in the trenches of a first or second book, writers suffering through querying, plotting, character development, point-of-view decisions. Authors working to publicize their indie books or books out from smaller book publishers. I want to know how they're doing it, how they keep on doing it, and what new ideas are out there for me.

I love to listen to podcasts at the end of my work day, or after dinner and after whatever nightime writing I can manage. So I made a list of some down-to-earth writing podcasts to share with you (and to remember for myself):

Writing Excuses
This roundtable between writers gives me the feeling of hanging out with a fiction writing group. Funny, insightful, sometimes silly or snarky, I don't so much learn here as gain a sense of camaraderie and community.

Story Grid
Definitely for tips & tricks. As a pantser who winds up with nearly an entire novel written by the seat of my pants, who then desperately tries to develop an overview of the story arcs and pacing, I found the Story Grid spreadsheet intriguing. Shawn Coyne and Tim Grahl are good presenters with useful ideas.

Self-Publishing Podcast
I'm not an Indie author, but I always find the Indie-publishing network has great ideas, especially for marketing a book that's out. Specially interesting is the podcast on using Amazon ads. Mainly, these guys are funny.

The Creative Penn
Mystery writer Joanna Penn has the widest range of writing and publishing topics, is often funny and engaging in bringing you writerly info, and has some great guests. She also podcasts every week. I'm addicted to this one, if only to feel the collegial sense of writers struggling together in this crazy endeavor to write and get our words out there.

How Do You Write
Rachel Herron hosts novelists talking about how they do what they do. I can't seem to get enough of hearing authors talk about their process, how their latest books were conceived and arrived in publication. Good guests.


Saturday, September 09, 2017

Blue Heron Speaks - Featured Poet

I'm thrilled and honored to be the  Featured Poet in the September Issue of Blue Heron Speaks. This wonderful online poetry journal has a goal of presenting "messages of inspiration, support, and nourishment for the soul."And they really do offer heart-centered poems that speak to seekers after beauty and peace. My three poems include the title poem from my forthcoming collection, Arabesque. An excerpt from the poem treats the word "arabesque" in its other meaning, a calligraphic figure:

In Ugarit they baked their dictionaries,
clay tablets incised with punctures and points,
arched and tented words. The idea of reading
marks may have come from the leaves’
dancing shadows. This morning the tree’s
shadows script moving letters on my wall.
Likeness is our essential speech.
Shapes echo others. The eye is a leaf
and its own tear. A preying mantis
profiles a priest. Clouds coil,
and we are all walking texts
waiting to be read.

Another poem in this trio, "At the Inn of the Sea", anticipates the way the world is becoming, if you look beyond the headlines and surface appearances:

Here at the summer inn,
the physical world bursts
out wild every day. As if evil
is just an aberrant weed
in a vast undersea forest
that can consume every quirk and blip.
I stand silent before a hydrangea’s
blue symmetry, its sphere of birth
implying an epoch to begin fresh,
a world as heavenly as it always
meant to be, and mine becoming
a more celestial body.

My novel, The Renaissance Club, is a love story about a contemporary time traveler going back to 17th century Italy to meet her artist hero, sculptor Gianlorenzo Bernini. It will be published by Fiery Seas Publishing in January 2018. 

Monday, September 04, 2017

Writing on a Holiday - Dodging Parties to Get to the Writing Desk

By Writing Holiday, I of course mean Writing ON a Holiday. Holidays are better known as Writer's Retreats, for all writers truly addicted to their art seize on the first amount of free time to face the blank page. Or the written page that desperately needs revising.

Novel writing occurs over an extended period of a year or more. Long form story writing requires you to visit your work as often as possible -- that's my main writing tip to novelists! Novelists are like that Beach Blanket Babylon lady who carries the whole city of San Francisco on her hat. We carry our long, complicated stories around in our brains months and even years.

Writing fiction is a complex business, even in short forms, like short story or novella. You juggle many layers: character, event, setting, backstory, and tone, in every sentence. You devour books and articles on writing tips, fiction craft,

And then once you're done you become an encyclopedia on book publishing, publishing companies, book marketing, book clubs, and social media.

So happy Labor Day -- or whatever holiday is coming up! Use it well as a writer, and enjoy your literary laboring. I'm sure you'll find an hour or so, even if you have to get through a holiday party to get back to your writing desk.

Tuesday, August 29, 2017

Have to Write a Book Blurb? Writing Tips to Make It Easier

Becoming a novelist is a major amount of fun, but also some hard work and unexpected challenges. Among the hardest things in writing fiction is to sum up your book -- persuasively! -- in a few sentences. I know some terrific novelists who tear out their hair at this point.

But such short summaries are needed for a book's back cover, Amazon page, author website, and publisher site. They're used everywhere in social media to sell a book, and are probably as important in doing that as cover art. Here's an article that gives some good writing advice:

The Fussy Librarian - Beth Bacon on Book Blurb Writing

Some more writing tips blurbs:
  • Look at samples - Go to Amazon and click on the bestsellers in your genre. ... 
  • Use a formula: Most fiction book blurbs start with a situation (a), introduce a problem (b) and promise a twist (c).
And here's another article from Kindlepreneur that defines the difference between a back cover blurb and a book description, as used on Amazon and other online bookstores:

How to Create a Back Book Cover Blurb that Sells

And here's the blurb I wrote (with my publisher, editors, and advisers)  for my novel, The Renaissance Club:

-->Would you give up everything, even the time in which you live, to be with your soul mate? May Gold, a young college adjunct, often dreams about the subject of her master’s thesis—sculptor Gianlorenzo Bernini. In her fantasies she’s in his arms, the wildly adored partner of the man who invented the Baroque. In reality, May has just landed in Rome with her teaching colleagues and boyfriend who is paying her way. Feeling like a precocious failure, she yearns to unleash her passion and creative spirit. When the floor under the gilded dome of St. Peter’s basilica rocks under her feet, she gets her chance. Walking through the veil that appears, she finds herself in the year 1624, staring straight into Bernini’s eyes. Their immediate and powerful attraction grows throughout May’s tour of Italy, every time they share a brief hour. By the time she reaches Venice, all the doorways to her happiness seem blocked—all except the shimmering doorway to Bernini’s world. She must decide if her adventure in time will ruin her life or lead to a magical new one.

 The Renaissance Club is forthcoming from from Fiery Seas Publishing in 2018. 

#amwriting #writingadvice #bookblurbs #nomore-hairtearing-out

Monday, August 21, 2017

What Makes a Great First Page in a Novel?

Someone in one of my writing groups asked what makes a great first page. It's an excellent question, and no two answers will be alike, despite what the bestseller lists and books on writing "the breakout novel" tell us.

Character always draws me into a book. I don't read many thrillers or fast-paced stories. Someone reported the advice that a first line of a novel should make you nervous. I think that works well for readers who love suspenseful stories. I'm not so reeled in by suspense, but a great character in the book's opening -- even an unappealing person -- will catch me.  

A Man Called Ove did this, with the most unique character I've ever read about. I kept reading just to see who was going to punch him in the face. Here are three book openings whose characters, sketched nimbly in first paragraphs, hooked me. And the books proved just as good as their openings!

A Man Called Ove, by Frederik Backman

Ove is fifty-nine.
            He drives a Saab. He’s the kind of man who points at people he doesn’t like the look of, as if they were burglars and his forefinger a policemn’s flashlight. He stands at the counter of a shop where owners of Japanese cars come to purchase white cables. Ove eyes the sales assistant for a long time before shaking a medium-sized white box at him.
            “So this is one of those O-Pads, is it?” he demands.
            The assistant, a young man with a single-digit body mass index, looks ill at ease. He visibly struggles to control his urge to snatch the box out of Ove’s hands.

> What is it about an unlovable chaaracter that can be so fascinating? It took me many pages to develop any sympathy for or liking of the curmudgeon Ove, and yet I kept turning pages. The humor, the complete meanness of the man, the way we’re inside his head and yet see others reacting to him as if they’re allergic to his laconic vitriol. Laconic vitriol … now there’s a character description you don’t see every day. Unique.

The Time Traveler’s Boyfriend, by Annabelle Costa

            Tick tock … tick tock … tick tock …
            Do you hear that ticking noise? I swear to God it’s like I’m going crazy, but I hear something ticking. And no, it’s not my biological clock. Yes, my biological clock is ticking (I know, Mom), but it’s not audibly ticking. Like, I don’t walk down the street and hear it. Nobody says, “Hey, what’s that noise? Is that your ovaries?”

> The reason this character comes alive is a combination of the title and the ticking described with such a distinctive voice that we know before we get her age that she’s mid-thirties and something very weird is happening. If her ovaries were just ticking Hello? When are we getting pregnant? I wouldn’t have kept reading, but I know someone’s going down a time tunnel, and as time travel interests me, I’m hooked. Such books don’t usually begin in the manner of chicklit, so I’m fascinated enough to keep going and see how the author will make this combination work.

Longbourn,  by Jo Baker

The butler … Mrs. Hill and the two housemaids …
            There could be no wearing of clothes without their laundering, just as surely as there could be no going witghout clothes, not in Hertfordshire anyway, and not in September. Washday could not be avoided, but the weekly purification of the household’s linen was nonetheless a dismal prospect for Sarah.
            The air was sharp at four thirty in the morning, when she started work. The iron pump-handle was cold, and even with her mitts on, her chilblains flared as she heaved the water up from the underground dark and into her waiting pail. A long day to be got through, and this was just the very start of it.

> Who couldn’t want to know how anyone could get through such a day? And what the heck are chilblains? Even if the title and epigraph didn’t tip you off that this is the Upstairs, Downstairs (well, mostly downstairs) of the Bennet family in Pride and Prejudice, and it didn’t tip me, you’d want to read on to find out if poor Sarah survives even one day of this labor.

Thursday, August 17, 2017

FREE preview chapter of The Renaissance Club, my time travel novel, a love story

In case you haven't read about this already, I'm giving away a free chapter of The Renaissance Club, due to be published by Fiery Seas Publishing in January 2018. You can claim one from Instafreebie here, or simply by going to my website. 

Would you give up everything, even the time in which you live, to be with your soul mate? May Gold, a college adjunct teacher, often dreams about the subject of her master’s thesis – Gianlorenzo Bernini. In her fantasies she’s in his arms, the wildly adored partner of the man who invented the Baroque.

But in reality, May has just landed in Rome with her teaching colleagues and older boyfriend. She considers herself a precocious failure and yearns to unleash her passion and creative spirit. Over the course of the tour, she realizes she has to choose — stay in a safe but stagnant existence, or take a risk. Will May’s adventure in time ruin her life or lead to a magical new one? The Renaissance Club is forthcoming from from Fiery Seas Publishing in 2018.

These aren't the actual covers, but I had fun playing around with images! If you want to comment, please do.

Monday, August 07, 2017

My DIY Writer's Retreat - Part 2 - Writing Tips

I finished my 10-day Do-It-Yourself At Home Writing Retreat, and I learned some new things about my creative process . I got a lot done:
  • Edited the first third of my novel manuscript
  • Wrote three new poems
  • Prepared ideas for cover art for my forthcoming novel
  • Wrote a couple of blog posts and some tweets
  • Finished the script for a musical
  • Had some fun days in nature and in town
 It was an experiment, as always. I learned that a writing retreat can be as short or long as you like and can manage. A writing retreat is really just at heart a self-discipline, an intention. A promise you make to yourself to do something deeply pleasing and also productive. I've found there are three important elements: time, place, and strategy.

A holiday -- any three-day weekend has the golden potential of being a writing retreat time. For a novelist, who must keep writing fiction over an extended period of years, any weekend can become a DIY writer's retreat. But a holiday weekend has a special glow. A  delicious sense of timelessness. The prospect of losing track of TIME gets my creative juices going.

Since it's a StayWriCation -- home-based writer's retreat -- for me the place is imaginary. This is my favorite writer's retreat place, beside a beautiful ocean. Of course this is Monet's ocean in Normandy, and I like to think of myself as painted by Monet into it, the woman with the red umbrella standing there. In literal reality, my place is usually a couch in the living room, with an occasional foray to my deck or a coffeehouse with my laptop. PLACE for me is mostly in the landscape of my work in progress.   

Deciding on goals is key to a successful StayWriCation --- even if you don't achieve them! I find it key to my every day, planning what I want to accomplish, and then being flexible about what comes. Interruptions happen, new directions, ideas, wishes. If you're too rigid, inspiration dries up, and if too scattered, nothing happens. So STRATEGIC PLANNING WITH FLEXIBILITY  is my best gambit. I think of Bernini's sculpture of David, aiming at the giant. You can hit the target of a big goal in a compressed amount of time with strategy and a good aim. 

More articles on Do-It-Yourself Writing Retreats:

Julia Guirgis' Self Writing Retreat
A good list of tips for creating your own retreat at home 

Bustle's 3 tips on a DIY writer's retreat

Cynthia Morris' tips on creating your own retreat 
One thing I like in this one is rcruiting allies. When I did my recent DIY retreat, I enlisted the support of writer friends, and the cheering section was like NaNoWriMo, very motivating.

Thursday, August 03, 2017

Twitter for Authors -- Writing Tips

Twitter -- with all you have to do writing an entire novel, and then spendig nearly as much time finding a publishing house and marketing it after publication -- why jump into this fast-moving river that is Twitter? Why grab your 15 seconds of attention in the feed to try and sell your book to readers? The simple answer is because any social platform gives you the chance to benot just an author to potential readers, but a person. You make connections. Hopefully, you meet people who will want to read your books.

I initially joined Twitter to get news. It was the season of the Green Revolution in Iran, and the mainstream media didn't seem to know that anything was happening. There was this fearless woman tweeting out news from the square where the pro-democracy protest was gathering, and I just signed up because someone on Facebook said that's where you could find out.

Then I was glued to someone called Oxford Girl, who was putting out tweets through a complex network that allowed her to use her cell phone to get brief reports and pictures of the action out, while (resumably) keeping her safe.

The Atlantic described it this way: "The immediacy of the reports was gripping," reported the Washington Times. "Well-developed Twitter lists showed a constant stream of situation updates and links to photos and videos, all of which painted a portrait of the developing turmoil. Digital photos and videos proliferated and were picked up and reported in countless external sources safe from the regime's Net crackdown." Journalists even gave the unrest in Tehran a second moniker: the "Twitter Revolution."

My husband couldn't pry me away from the computer for about three days.

Now the launch of your novel isn't going to attract the breathless interest a developing revolution gets, but it is a news event, for you and for your fans. It may be modest in comparison to NationalGirlfriendsDay, or whatever outrageous thing the Tweeter-in-Chief posted last night. But it's news to those who follow you. The difference between Twitter and other platforms is the speed of news and sense of excitement. So it should probably be in your network.

Build a following, largely by following others and tweeting about your writing life (#amwriting #writinglife #amediting are good hashtags to follow and use), and then when you have some news, tweet and ask your @friends to retweet. If you want some basics, here's The Ultimate Guide to Twitter for Writers.

Follow me @Rachel_Dacus and I'll follow you back!

Friday, July 28, 2017

Magical Realism in Women's Fiction

There's a reason a good number of novelists writing about women and their relationships (the loose definition of women's fiction) include elements of magical realism. It's a fine way to make visual a character's  adventures in relationships.

A butterfly emanating from a woman's mouth when she tries to answer her lover, a small elephant that keeps appearing in different Italian towns -- elements I've used in my novel The Renaissance Club (forthcoming, Jan 2018) -- signal to us as readers that we're about to enter an  interior realm that obeys different laws than the usual ones, laws of feeling and symbol.

 I seek out these WF books with magical realism because to me
that's the deeper reality, the one described by unlikely occurrences and symbols appearing in unusual ways and places. Here are two magical realism reads in women's fiction, and writers who often use MR as a way to shape the story of a woman's journey.

Aimee Bender's newest is The Color Master, a collection of stories called "a wondrous collection of dreamy, strange, and magical stories." The bestselling author of The Particular Sadness of Lemon Cake (one of my favorite novels ever) has been called an enchantress whose lush prose is “moving, fanciful, and gorgeously strange” (People), “richly imagined and bittersweet” (Vanity Fair), and “full of provocative ideas” (The Boston Globe). In her deft hands, “relationships and mundane activities take on mythic qualities” (The Wall Street Journal). Enough said.

Susanna Kearsley's The Rose Garden. When Eva's film star sister Katrina dies, she leaves California and returns to Cornwall, where they spent their childhood summers, to scatter Katrina's ashes and in doing so return her to the place where she belongs. But Eva must also confront the ghosts from her own past, as well as those from a time long before her own. Kearsley's other books use magical elements to shape a character's journey.

Sarah Addison Allen's Garden Spells. Allen uses magical realism as nonchalantly as her character might pick up a trowel and dig in the earth. Her story is set in a garden with magical properties, so that its apple tree bears special fruit. She has a naturalistic way of telling her stories that makes the magic seem natural too.

Do you have any authors and titles to add to the topic of women's fiction and magical realism? I'd love to hear them! Here in the comments. Thanks for reading MR!

Saturday, July 22, 2017

DIY Writing Retreats - Writing Tips

I'm calling mine a StayWriCation, because I plan to host my solitary writer's retreat here in the most comfortable, lovely place I can work -- home. Many writers escape to rural retreats where they often share solitude (how is this possible?) with other writers in an unplugged, calm setting, in order to make progress on whatever they're starting or working on. I can't afford travel, hate planes and airports, miss my dog when I leave home, and insist on the comforts of a speedy Internet while writing. Writing retreats are not really designed for me.

So one year, I crafted my own StayWriCation. It was in November, and I had to finish final editing of a childhood memoir, so as to send out queries and snag an agent. I was determined to have pure, unadulterated, daily writing time -- and what better place to have it than my sun-filled, high-ceilinged living room, with a wall of glass, a deck nestled under trees, with the roses I grow to water while thinking through plot points, hummingbirds whizzing over my head?

I developed a daily rhythm, working from 7 am until 1 or 2 in the afternoon, and then taking myself out for fun, going places I normally don't go. I treated my home, the San Francisco Bay Area, as if I were a tourist, wanting to see exciting things.

It worked like a dream. Novel writing is long and requires great concentration. For those without young children at home, I recommend trying a home-based, Do-It-Yourself Writer's Retreat whenever you need to make a big push: first draft, first edits, approving publisher's edits, etc. I don't sit at a writing desk, but roam around the house and neighborhood using portable devices. My muse seems to enjoy a good walk or a lng shower. I've learned to memorize long chunks of writing until I can get to a computer.

You'll have to warn your spouse that you're Not Available during certain hours, but presumably if you're a novelist, he knows the "I'm Writing" look -- the vacant stare, lack of response to questions, mumbling to yourself. Mine says he can never tell if I'm talking to someone or dictating onto my phone. So he doesn't like to interrupt me -- great!

For ideas and inspiration, here are some articles on how-to DIY your writing retreat. Every one of them mentions having a writing goal, to which I say YES!!

A Summer Personal Writing Retreat: Turning your home into your sanctuary
Writer Laura Munson defines her own personal Walden

Writer's Digest - Create Your Own Mini-Writing Retreat

E.M. Welsh's How to Have the Perfect Weekend Writer's Retreat

But don't be limited. Dream your own perfect in-place writing retreat. Maybe it's in a local cafe, a library, or like one of my friends, a hotel room so close to her home she can walk to it.

Happy writing! What's your current writing goal? Write me if you like. 

Saturday, July 15, 2017

Author Blogging & Why It's Essential - Publishing Tips

Should be easy, right? After all, many of us set a word count quota for the day's writing, somewhere in the thousands of words. Surely we can spare 200 or so for a short blog. But deciding what to write about is what always stops me from blogging. Who am I as a writer? Do you really want to hear about the Green Veggie Smoothie I just made with my food processor, throwing in fresh pineapple, cucumbers, apples, spinach, lettuce, grapes, cucumber, and orange, and how it tastes like the smell of watering my garden early in the morning, before the sun is high, with hummingbirds duking it out overhead to get to the feeder above me?

Or smells like sunlight coming through the leaves. After all, I'm a poet. I need to exercise these metaphor muscles the way gardens need water and fertilizer.

But you didn't come here to this title about blogging in order to hear that -- did you? That's the dilemma of the literary blogger. We have a tendency to get personal, to get specific, and to ignore the title topic until almost the end of the blog.

Plus, they say you have to add lots of visuals to your blogs if you want anyone reading them. We just can't read any more without illustrations. Here's my smoothie.

So now, to the question of how to blog as an author. Now that I have your attention with personal stuff and visuals. Here's an excellent article on the three things you must do in an author blog.

My writing process is pretty much like going to work every day. I reserve two hours from the moment I open my eyes (with coffee -- here's another visual) and before I get started working at the mundane job, for creative writing.  I'm disciplined about it, but I count everything as writing, even reading about how to write (though not reading about how to market books -- that's death to the creative flow, though very necessary in other zones of the day.)

 My writing process is sort of effortless once I'm in the zone of those two hours. I know you hated hearing that, but it's true. Assigning a regular time is like waving huge bars of chocolate in front of my Muse. She can't resist.

So there you have it. One article of how-to, a fair amount of personal with a dash of wit (I hope), and a lot of pictures. Author blogging. It was fun!

Thursday, July 13, 2017

Stealing from Jane Austen - Writing Tips

Virginia Woolf observed about Austen, “Of all great writers she is the most difficult to catch in the act of greatness.” I'm an Austenite (having an upstairs and a downstairs complete set of her work qualifies, I think). I'm writing a book whose characters are based on the Dashwood sisters from Sense and Sensibility. I'm not the first writer to steal from the extraordinary Jane, and I won't be the last. The fabulous film Clueless did it best, in my opinion.

But having absorbed a wonderful book by John Mullan called What Matters in Jane Austen, I'm newly empowered to study her tips and tricks and to profit from her behind-the-scenes example. We can study Austen as if in a writing course of the kind Master Class offers. Imagine Jane's Master Class! I'd put Aaron Sorkin's right behind hers for fabulous ideas, but that's another essay.

So how to steal the good techniques from Austen. Let's break it down.

Character sketches. Write down Austen's concise character descriptions and keep them in files. Novelists in her time could drop in whole character sketches at the outset of a book, covering personality, backstory, and relationships with other characters in a summary fashion. We don't do it that way anyway; we interweave these tidbits into action-based narrative. But keep Austen's wonderful character sketches handy and let them inspire your character introductions and expansion of backstory.

Setting & Weather. For a terrific time-travel visit to the settings of Jane's novels, read Kathleen A. Flynn's The Jane Austen Project: A Novel. Her attention to the details of Austen's world, via the challenges two time-travellers face, is exquisitely vivid. How to pull on a glove, when to offer your hand to a gentleman (or not), how to speak to a servant, what is the proper time for paying a short neighbor call -- all this boggles the mind and is a terrific example of the function of setting in a novel.

And a NYT article by Kathleen Flynn on Elizabeth Bennet's mad skills if she had to be a debut novelist of today. Flynn remarks, "The assets a young lady of 1815 might deploy are strikingly like those of a debut novelist: beauty, money, connections and wit. And bringing up the rear as always, the tricky question of merit."

Language & Diction. And another article by Flynn examines Austen's word choices and how they contribute to her perennial popularity. One thing that impressed me was that her books contain a higher percentage of words referring to women and family relationships than other writers of her time. Her books are women's fiction before such a term was invented. She used words like "very" and "much" that support her irony and witty observations on characters and events. Where qualifiers like that can be misused, standing in with the not-right word for the right one, Jane uses them to intensify her sardonic effects and observations. Make a list of your most used words and see how they bear on your style and connect with your audience.

More Stealing From Jane to come. For now, go ahead and steal. I don't think Jane will mind.

Friday, July 07, 2017

How to Be An Author And Preserve Your Writing Time

It's the best of times -- having a book or two or more out in the world, for people to read. It's the worst of times -- feeling the constant pressure to get books into readers' hands and Be An Author, publicly.

I'm feeling the best and worst times right now, as I prepare to have two new books launched in 2018. What to do today? That's the first thing I think of, not the new novel or poem I'm working on. And since I've pledged to write two hours first thing in the morning, the question now is, do I blog or tweet or Facebook about a book already out -- or do I close the curtains and the doors, pretend I'm a mushroom hidden under the forest floor, and plunge into the solitary delight of creation.

The truth is, the creative process can get lost in the marketing part of Being An Author. And that's a shame. Writing should be the core thing.

I need to not know what comes next in my writing, so I don't outline. I just set aside two hours first thing every morning to find inspiration. I can paint my nails, watch the leaves stir in the trees, tend my roses, but I have to be thinking creatively and feeling the creative wind blowing. For me, this is the magic spell. Make the time, and things come. Your time might be midnight or dinner hour or noon, but see if a schedule works for you.

Of course blogging and posting on social media is also writing. Sometimes the muse inclines her head toward one or another platform and says, "Go talk to them." And then you can be both Author and Writer and maybe mention your book while you're at it. (The Renaissance Club, forthcoming in January 2018 from Fiery Seas Publishing.)

Tuesday, July 04, 2017


Happy Fourth! But this post isn't about our national celebration of Independence -- unless I can conflate America's with my own independence as a writer. There. Done that. I'm celebrating today and in general because 2018 will see TWO OF MY BOOKS PUBLISHED! Both my fourth book of poetry and my novel The Renaissance Club (forthcoming from Fiery Seas Publishing, 2018) will appear next year on Amazon and other places you can buy books, in formats for bookshelves and ereaders.

In rocketry, they call it lighting the candle -- when they fire up the missile for launch. I feel my launch as a writer will truly be 2018, with my fourth poetry collection and first novel on the launch pad and ready to light both candles. Maybe it's the fault of my stars to have two come out in one year -- or maybe it's because I've been busy writing these two books for seven years. Interestingly, both books have taken that long.

But with further drumrolls or sky rockets, I'm extremely pleased to announce that FutureCycle Press will publish my poetry collection Arabesque in August 2018. Thanks to Editor in Chief Diane Kistner and the editorial team for selecting my manuscript. I don't yet have a cover, but here's a poem from the book -- for all who are celebrating the holiday and summer at the beach -- with thanks to Editor Richard Peabody and Gargoyle for first publishing this:

A View of Life from the Beach

On a stretch of powdered shells
where the surf flops and the horizon sways,
I wrestle my towel and nap, counting
each wave’s smack and long dreaming
myself more awake to each
sand grain’s crystal splendor.

After a race into the sea
and a tussle with a towel,
I plan a long slide into the deep water.
Gusts of evening halfway-arc
my life’s bridge. I am old but the sea

sighs softly all night in my pillow,
like the sounds of lovers
who keep reaching for each other
and the tides of years roll me
over onto my back. I otter
on each wave’s foamy tip
and again slip beneath.

Every morning, half-drowned,
I open a mango under a local palm
and read the news like a seaweed tangle,
then pop the pods
as a child does, merely for
the pleasurable whoosh
as they release salt water.

Monday, June 12, 2017

Time-Travel Romance, Italy & Love -- How to Find the Best Novels

If you're picky about history, but love a time-traveling heroine going back in time, if you love love stories and romance, but don't like the formulaic romances the major publishers put out, you might find it hard to locate books you like. I do. My must-haves for a time-travel love story include: good historical research, a well-defined sense of place, believable characters, and love that goes deeper than just a steamy attraction. 

That's a lot to ask! The gatekeepers of publishing use very narrow formulas, So I delved into backwaters of Amazon categories: time-travel romance, historical fantasy, science fiction romance, historical time-travel, and other secret pockets, where I've even found the likes of Alice Hofmann and Mark Twain. Because sometimes a good story is just unclassifiable. I've made a list of my finds, which I hope to keep adding to. I'd welcome your suggestions!


We can't change the past, but the past can change us. (That's one of my favorite statements in a time-travel novel!) Fern’s vacation in Italy turns into a nightmare when she's snatched back in time and lives the life of Cecilia, lady in waiting to Queen Caterina Cornaro. Luca, a local architect, comes to Fern's aid when Cecilia embarks on a passionate affair with the artist Zorzo. Echoes of the past manifest themselves increasingly in the present until past and present collide.

The Rose Garden, Susanna Kearsley
When Eva's film star sister Katrina dies, she leaves California and returns to Cornwall, where they spent their childhood summers, to scatter Katrina's ashes and in doing so return her to the place where she belongs. But Eva must also confront the ghosts from her own past, as well as those from a time long before her own.

Echo In Time, Lindsey Fairleigh
Kind of a conventional romance formula, but such an unusual setting, and a twist for the heroine. Alexandra Larson isn't quite human, but she doesn't know that. Lex simply considers herself an ambitious archaeology grad student with a knack for deciphering ancient languages. When she's recruited to work on her dream excavation, Lex's translating skills uncover the location of the secret entrance to an undiscovered underground temple in Egypt. She is beyond thrilled with what she's is the enigmatic and alluring excavation director, Marcus Bahur.

Doomsday Book, Connie Wills
I have to include this one, though not technically a love story because I just love this one. A history student in 2048 is transported to an English village in the 14th century. The student arrives mistakenly on the eve of the onset of the Black Plague. Her dealings with a family of "contemps" in 1348 and with her historian cohorts lead to complications as the book unfolds into a surprisingly dark, deep conclusion.

For a preview chapter of my "time-travel historical romance love story novel" The Renaissance Club, visit here

Tick-tick-tick! (Falling through time can tatter your clothes, according to many novels.)


Thursday, June 08, 2017

Why Italy and Bernini? 5 Reasons You Should Go to Italy

What's so great about Italy, and why did I spend many years of my life writing about it, culiminating in my novel The Renaissance Club, which features Italian sculptor Gianlorenzo Bernini?

Good questions. What I keep coming up with is that Italy is Bernini, and Bernini, Italy. I mean the place is full of gorgeous, sumptuous, emotionally moving art. It's a place so full of art you start to take it for granted that you'll turn a corner and see some gorgeous sculptural fountain or fantastically beautiful church.

And Italian Renaissance and Baroque art packs a wallop that can stop you in your tracks. Below are some of the reasons to visit Italy -- five fantastic, life-size Bernini sculptures. You can only get a small idea seeing a photo, because these life-size, or even bigger, statues are like people who walk into the room, naked physically and emotionally.

This one, for example, is life size, and not much elevated above the viewer's plane. It's in the Villa Borghese in Rome.

A really startling thing about this one, is it is like meeting Bernini--he used his own face for the David. Probably the expression he often wore while chiseling on marble!

This contr-apposto pose, with the body twisting on itself, is something Bernini pushed to the limits. His figures move like actors on a stage. It was something really new, probably shocking, and certainly moves us looking at them. 

This is one of the dynamic statues that made me want to write a novel about Bernini! To read a free preview chapter, head over to my website:

Rachel Dacus, Author

And here's Bernini again, wearing a somewhat different expression in this bust of A Damned Soul.

The sculptures are very much in motion, with lots of curving planes and lines. Italy is so full of these curvilinear forms, in buildings, fountains, sculptures everywhere, and choice of subjects of art, that you begin to feel like you're in a boat, riding somewhere, bouncing up and down, side to side, on the waves.

When I came home to my Northern California suburb, I really missed the waves, the romance, and of course Bernini. His massive scultpures don't travel. Bernini everywhere in Rome,gave me such depth of feeling and passion as I've rarely seen in art. Ecstasy and torment---rarely anything blandly inbetween. So of course, I had to write a time-travel novel about him! I'd like to time travel and really meet this amazing genius.

For 10 unforgettable reasons to visit Italy, click Lifehack's list here. Really Venice and Bernini are  enough reasons.

Thursday, May 25, 2017

Squeezing Into a Box - Selecting Your Category in Publishing

CATEGORIES! I know it's all about discoverability. I know that Amazon ranking depends on choosing the right category and tags for your book. I know, I know ... and I hate fitting into boxes.

I finally figured out where my book fits on Amazon, and I can't say I'm happy. But I'm going to be in:

When I was going after agents, I was all, like "Upmarket commercial or women's fiction with a magical realism twist." This was advised by my editor, who has served as a literary agent for one of New York's top firms. I figured she should know. 

The Renaissance Club, (forthcoming in January 2018 from Fiery Seas Publishing) will be categorized under Fiction in different ways on different platforms. I'm with other fantasy authors, mainly, some romance, though all the romance publishers said my love story didn't fit the formula! Another fox I couldn't squeeze into.

I went back to the drawing board, only to find the drawing board looks like Einstein's chalk board on one of his more frustrated days.

So what is the difference between these ever-evolving categories on bookstore shelves and Amazon's  categories. Arthur Krystal in The New Yorker ignited a public debate with his article in 2012

Lev Grossman, author of the best-selling Magician's Trilogy, jumped into the discussion.What's wrong with genre? It seems we're all heading into one or another.

On Amazon you have to drill down from Books --> Literature --> Literary Fiction --> Women's Fiction or Fantasy. The road seriously branches here, but I've been going on the assumption that because there are more books in this category than in Fantasy, it might be a fruitful avenue to pursue. But my novel appears too literary for this category. So back to the fork in the road. Under Fantasy (with less than half the titles as Women's Fiction), you have no more sub-genres to choose from. Which leads me to conclude that a) my story doesn't fit well into this category, whose emphasis is on other worlds, and b) magical realism is not a sub-genre on Amazon, nor in most bookstores, so back to just plain Commercial or Mainstream Fiction as a category. Try standing out in that Amazon crowd.

Which boxes can you squeeze into as an author? And do you also find it frustrating, after the freedom of writing an entire novel, to have to perform this exercise? My sympathies!

Thursday, May 18, 2017

Going Indie? - Publishing Tips

This is La Spezia -- one of the locations in my work-in-progress novel, The Romantics, the story of two half-sisters, their dispute over an inherited cottage in Italy, inhabited by the ghost of the poet Shelley.

This is where I wish I was living, even imaginatively. But I'm stuck dealing with the hassles of publishing my last novel, The Renaissance Club. This is the fate of the Indie author -- the self-published or micro-press published novelist. Nothing is easy, and everything takes up the precious time we need for the slow, slow, but deliciously slow creative process.

So I'm turning to one of my favorite gurus on the subject of publishing to help you navigate, if you're trying ot decide whether to be an India author. Here's Jane Friedman on a new twist in self-publishing: getting an agent AFTER you self-publish. And if you're still trying to decide if you have the right stuff to be a self-publisher, here's Jane on how to make the decision. She's so practical, and that really helps with a highly emotional decision!

As for me, I'm an Indie at heart. I like conceiving of book covers (even if I 'm not an artist), and I like the whole idea of marketing my stuff. I love playing on social media and establishing myself as an author this way. Blogging is what I do to relax, ditto Twitter and Facebook.

I'll see how things go, but I may publish The Romantics on my own. There are so many good reasons to go Indie -- a big one being the luxurious feeling of control. I really miss it. But the cure, of course, is writing something new.