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An invitation for Architectural Digest

Dear Architectural Digest, I am a big fan of your magazine. I’ve been reading it carefully for several years now, and I’ve thoroughly enjoyed the celebrity homes, the vacation places, and the adorable country estates in foreign countries. As I turned the last page of your most recent issue, it occurred to me that I’d never seen a home in AD that looked like mine. Perhaps because, until now, I hadn’t thought to make the opportunity available to you! Therefore, I would like to invite you visit my home and possibly consider featuring it in an upcoming issue. I’m sure you get a lot of requests like this, so I’ve taken the liberty of providing some photographs and commentary, to make the choice e

The magic quarter

I've been thinking a lot about beginnings: what makes them work? where are the key turning points? how do they relate to the rest of the story? Earlier this month, I realized that one piece of writing advice that we all hear over and over at every conference, lecture, or blog post about beginnings was getting in the way of my beginnings. This idea was unlocked by another approach to beginnings and putting the two side by side, I realized there's a magic quarter in my favorite books. Let's talk about the directive that wasn't working first. Start with the action. Raise your hand if you've heard this one. It's not actually bad advice, but I was thinking about it in a way that wasn't productive

A little goes a long way

I've wanted to write novels for as long as I can remember, but I've always had a hard time getting to The End. It's daunting, isn't it? You have this great idea, a character you love, or something that compels your forward and yet.....there are so many words to write down. Over the years, I've tried a lot of different approaches. I've launched right in, chasing the glimmer of a good idea. I've tried notecards, outlining, author software with electronic post-it notes and bulletin boards, old-fashioned and digital. These methods all have merits and I continue to use the elements that help me get the pieces of a good story together, but when it comes to the actual writing, nothing beats the sim

Finding inspiration

I'm in a bathroom in a small town in Mexico. It's the same as at home...but different. You can't drink the water, toilet paper is not a given, and you check the water before you put soap on your hands because functioning faucets are not a given either....but the people are helpful, the scenery is amazing, and the weather is FAR better than the icy, cold stuff I left at home. Everything has a certain charm. Then I'm staring at the decorations on the wall thinking they look familiar...but what are they? After success at the water faucet, it dawned on me: those familiar divots are the bottoms of plastic soda bottles, painted and glittered and glue-gunned to the hot-pink wall. Genius! Later in t

Why we need whimsy

It's the first weekend that feels nearly fall-like here, in North Carolina, and I have that urge to make lists, clean the closets, and reflect on summer. As I was combing through some photos from the summer, I thought about whimsy, and how important it is for my creative soul. Summer started with birds. My friend Erin sent me the stencils she'd used in her place in NYC after I oohed over them. My daughter and I painted our mudroom ceiling blue and stenciled our flock onto the walls and ceiling. The gold ones became our mechanical birds. Every time I open the door, my heart lifts. My daughter said "Thanks Mom. I don't think most thirteen-year olds' parents would let them paint on the ceiling.

Organizing your approach to social media

If I say "social medial" and you think "I have nothing to say," your paradigm is about to be totally up-ended. I had the pleasure of hearing President and Founder of The Social institute Laura Tierney's thoughts this week (she's on twitter @soLaur) and I'm going to share what I gleaned from her energetic, polished, and oh-so-useful presentation here, with a slant towards the questions writers are asking. Hang onto your keyboards, because social media is about to make sense! Listen First Social media isn't just about sharing. Don't ask "what should I say?" Ask "what's everyone else saying?" We're writers. We're good at eavesdropping. You've just been handed permission to listen to every conve

Where you do find the time?

I've been thinking about time, lately, and the opening scene of I Don't Know How She Does It (Allison Pearson) comes to mind. The main character, a working mother, is madly "distressing" a store-bought pie at 10 PM after work in an effort to make it look more homemade before she takes it to her daughter's school function the next morning (early, the next morning). I know that woman well. I won't spoil the story (and there's a movie if you're pressed for time!) but it fits right into that lament I lived (and still live). Where do we find the time? It's hard enough to be a parent. Or a full-time employee. Or both. Add writing dreams on top of that and it's no wonder that vigorous conversations

The plot thickens....

I've always been somewhere in the middle of the plotter-to-pantser spectrum, but no more. At least not for now. I've done a deep, painful, belly-smacking dive into the pool of plotting and I'm pretty sure that's where I'll stay. It hurt. There were tears. Notebooks were damaged in this endeavor. But I think I've come up for air a better writer. Writers have their unique talents and phobias - I've got friends who nail structure but are still working on voice. Others who are voice-driven, but not sure where they're heading. Nobody's perfect. I've been thinking about polarity in general lately (I'm driven to see things in absolutes; my world is sometimes all-amazing, sometimes all-terrible) but

Paris postcards

Two years ago, I was poking around in an antique shop in Lenoir, North Carolina, a little furniture factory town in the mountains on the western side of the state, and I came across this book of postcards. Flipping through the soft, faded images, I felt like the universe was whispering to me. As I leaned forward, absorbed by the images of black-and-white Paris, the words became more clear. The whisper sounded distinctly like "get off your butt and buy some plane tickets." I had been thinking for years that I wanted to take my kids to Paris. Thinking and Doing are not the same things. I went home and propped my five dollar post-card booklet up on my dresser where it seemed to arch an eyebrow

The magic of writing

I’ve been doing a bunch of reading about magic – not the fantasy kind, the stage performance kind – and have concluded we can learn from magicians. As writers, we pull our readers into a world of our shared invention. We can’t make a good story without someone to read it, to react to the words, and to experience the sensations, the thrills, and the laughter we’re trying to evoke. Magicians are no different. Without an audience, they’re just practicing a routine without knowing whether anyone cares. But the delight of getting it just right? Having someone believe, for a brief moment, in your world? That’s magic on both sides of the stage. Or page. Consider writers to be another species of mag

The sweet smell of....writing?

I’ve lost my head for perfume. When I’m writing, I can’t give up reading altogether, as some stronger-willed writers do. Instead, I gravitate to topics unlike whatever I’m writing. Instead of dutifully whittling down the pile on my nightstand, I add to it. This is a trait I apparently share with many fellow writers. I occasionally fear that an unexpected tremor will cause the carefully balanced stacks of books to shudder, setting off a cascade of beautiful writing, dusty books, and good intentions that will bury me in my sleep. But I digress. Reading about perfume has changed the shape of my world. I wear perfume. I love the way it can be a mood applied over your skin, with you through the d

Is there a method to your (writing) madness?

I'm in the middle of the madness right now, trying to connect the beginning with the end. It's the part that makes me want to give up, throw it all into the recycling bin, and start on the next idea. And that next idea always seems so tantalizingly easy when you're in the messy middle, doesn't it? I've tried outlines, freewheeling, drawing arcs, storyboarding, and software. If there was a method, I tried it. Then, I read "From Where You Dream" by Robert Olen Butler and found something that works for me. Notecards. When I feel the tug of a new story and it has persisted for a while, I spend time imagining scenes for the story. Each notecard gets a few words, just enough to capture the essence

The stars align

I still have her voicemail message on my phone. Excited, cheerful, amazing. When I listened to it for the first time, a little part of me couldn't believe it and a really big part of me wanted to jump out of my car and do a happy dance in the parking garage! Someone read my book and called me ten minutes later to say she loved it! Clearly, the stars had aligned. I was also destined not to sleep for the next two nights from excitement. A couple of days later, sleepy but still glowing, I listened to a friend tell me about an exciting job offer she had received. "I feel so lucky," she said. "It's manufactured luck," I reminded her. She'd worked really hard to make it happen. A lot of writing fe

The Binder of No (or, why I kept my rejections)

Yes, a lot of these submissions were sent back when snail mail was king and the SASE was queen, bearing tidings of far-off lands. And by "tidings," I mean "rejections." About 3 years ago, I dug all these letters out of my file cabinet, organized them with a copy of the manuscript they accompanied (and oh, they really were not ready for travel!), and put them in a binder. For the more recent pieces, the letters, with their charming icons and New York addresses were replaced by single spreadsheets tracking submissions, notes, and rejections. Why go through all that effort for a bunch of NO's? It helped me to see that I was putting effort into my dream. Kind of a reverse-vision board - proof of

How does a baby bunny feel?

My children have two rabbits. Two rabbits became six (because that's how rabbits roll). That's right, this week, four teeny little bunnies arrived. My daughter is in love with her baby bunnies, delighting over their size, their colors, their little shut eyes and pressed-back ears. They are adorable. I asked her what they felt like in her hand. She didn't hesitate in her answer, "Like a small peach." Those words thrilled me. I could feel the weight and fuzz of that small life nestled in my hand. That's the beauty of a well-chosen description. It's exactly right and you get it right when you care, with all your heart, about finding the right words. Here's to finding the right words! And to bab

How did you become a writer?

I've wanted to be a writer for a long time. It probably started when my best friend and I were going to make a book together. She was the writer, I was going to do the illustrations. But the words, the story, the characters, that was always what I loved. I spent quite a bit of time writing short, little things that never went anywhere. My first published work was in my college newspaper. I wrote the horoscopes. I got a lot of people asking me how I did it. I shall never reveal my secrets....! My littlest sister said to my mother "I didn't know Mary Jane had ESP!" If only! Later, much later, when I felt like I'd missed my chance to be a broody creative writing major in college or to toil away

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