never-marry-a-stranger_large  I started writing when I was thirteen years old, but didn’t pursue publishing seriously until I was in my 20s. It took me thirteen years to become published. NEVER MARRY A STRANGER is my 20th book, and I have two manuscripts sitting under my bed that will never see the light of day. My writing schedule has fluctuated a lot in that time, due mostly to my children.

 

When they were little, I used to sneak time to write (this is before I was published). They went to bed early, and so did my husband (he used to work an early shift). After 9:00, I would closet myself in my office and write for a couple hours. Writing was so new and marvelous that I would look up and find it was 1:00 a.m.! I was just so amazed that I could write a book. And I was lucky in that my husband has never been the kind of man to begrudge my need to write. He knew how important it was to me. He’s still my biggest support.

 

Sniff, okay, enough of the mushy stuff.  The good thing was, writing like that kept me in the story, because I tried to use whatever free time I had. But the bad side of this was that sometimes I was just exhausted, especially after I began to work part-time, programming computer-controlled machines. Hard to find the brainpower to write when even reading the newspaper at night seemed too demanding. Sometimes months would go by before I’d write again, especially when I got stuck in the plot. Thank goodness for my critique group. We meet once a month, and that forced me to write. But I never gave up on my goal. The rejections were getting better and better. I came up with a new proposal, Avon read it—and asked if I had a completed book. And I did!  The Darkest Knight was published in January, 1999.

 

After all the joy and amazement and pride settled down, I realized that no longer could I put something aside for months. I had my first deadline—nine months later. I’d never written a book in under two years. Heck, one took five! Way too much research and procrastination. I’m better at both now. I was still working part-time, so I only had evenings and weekends. My logical brain kicked in, and I started making daily page goals, allowing myself a month to revise at the end. Much tougher, especially now that my kids were playing soccer and lacrosse, swimming year round, or singing in the school musical. But I was determined to be a professional writer.

 

Within a year I was able to quit my other job and write full-time. It was definitely easier, but I discovered a whole new set of challenges. The weakness of procrastination still gnawed at me. And trust me, I’m not big on cleaning. It was the paperwork, the carpooling, the college admissions, the sports tournaments. And as an author, there are websites and contracts and page proofs and bookmarks. I slowly learned that I could get the most actual writing done in the morning, so I taught myself to be a lark instead of an owl. No more staying up late. In bed by 11:30, up by 6:30.

 

And it’s still the same way now that my last child is in college. My evenings are no longer filled with their events (and I miss that so much!). But I find that I have no wish to write at night anymore. I try for five days a week, 6-8 hours a day. That lets me write 2-3 books a year (since I write under Julia Latham, as well).

 

As I look back, I realize that writing was very different at the many stages in my life. I guess the message is to persevere and change as you need to.  Or are you resistant to change?

 

 

 

 

I had a lot of fun writing A Duke of Her Own, not in the least because I fell in love with Oyster, my heroine’s dog. Oyster is a pug – a rather naughty, sweet, bumbling pug. In the past, I’ve avoided putting animals in my novels: they seem to me to pose big problems for writers, akin to those surrounding children.

After all, a romance focuses on an intense period of lives of two lovers. Babies and animals can seem to be thrown in for the heck of it, something akin to the cheap thrill of a Hallmark card with a puppy on the front. Mind you, I love puppies – here’s my picture of Oyster, which I found on-line somewhere while trolling for puppies.

26-oyster

So I made up a rule for myself when I thought up Oyster, Eleanor’s little pug.

Oyster could be in the novel, but he had to have a crucial place in the plot. He couldn’t simply be a live accessory, a dog who appeared only for the sake of generating cute images in the reader’s mind. My model? Jennifer Crusie’s use of dogs, especially in my favorite Crusie novel, Crazy for You. The dog in that novel instigates the break-up of the heroine and her stalker boyfriend. In fact, the stalker’s craziness is accelerated by the presence of the dog – and as his mental state continues to break down, the dog is the tool Crusie uses to reveal the stalker’s innate cruelty and instability.

Well, I had an unstable character too, though in a very different way, and I thought that a dog might be just the way to reveal her inner self. But how to do it? Obviously, sweet little Oyster was going to have to be put in harm’s way. Enter the wonderful Connie Brockway, who knows everything about dogs!

I called her up and she told me exactly what physical symptoms a dog would show after being knocked unconscious. It allowed me to make that scene so intensely visual that though it’s only been ten days since the book was published, I’ve already received over a hundred emails, mostly talking of that one scene.

My newest project is a fractured version of Cinderella. It’s proving quite tough. A short list of my problems: Cinders herself is a bit pathetic, the prince is a black hole in the story, and then there are all those animals! If you go with the original story, you have rats and mice. If you go with Disney, you get a few other animals thrown in… either way, I’m obviously stuck with some more four-legged characters.

So what’s your favorite romance with a dog – or another pet? How does the animal work within the plot? Just what would YOU do with the rats in Cinderella?

 
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