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Digging deep

Did you know that Mexican drug trafficking organizations (DTOs) have built sophisticated tunnels running under the border between Mexico and the US? The tunnels are reinforced or bored into rock, and often have electricity, phone service, and fresh air ventilation systems!

An article about a tunnel discovered in 2006 sparked the idea for the opening scene in my current WIP. DEA agent Steve Reyes and his team are ambushed during a raid on a warehouse where one such tunnel entrance exists. Here's a video of Anderson Cooper touring a tunnel found earlier this month in Tijuana. Amazing!

For my past books, I've done minimal research, usually which could be accomplished on the Internet. Which street connects downtown San Diego to Ocean Beach? Does UCLA have a swim team and a sports medicine degree? Are the cliffs of Malibu rocky like the central coast?

You get the idea. But for my current story, I need more. I just ordered several books about undercover DEA agents and money laundering inside the DTOs. If I want this to be a series, I figure I need to have a better understanding of what it's like for these guys to be undercover, and how the DTOs operate. I want my stories to ring true, and I hope what I read will spark a few scene ideas.

So, I have some heavy, but interesting Christmas reading ahead of me. What about you? How much research do you do for your stories?

Daily Squirrel: officer

The smile on Taryn's face refused to be tamed, even as she stood at attention. The slim gold bars in the Colonel's hand sparkled like glitter in the brilliant sunlight. Thirteen weeks of screaming instructors, room inspections, leadership exercises, push ups, and overdosing on caffeine were over. She'd made it!

In two more minutes she'd be an Air Force 2nd Lieutenant. The first woman in her family to join a longstanding family tradition. Every day, every event of her life, had led to this moment, and she intended to savor every second of it.

Permission granted

When I go running, I usually set out with a goal for that run–say 35 minutes. Sometimes, when I've met that goal, I think, “Great, but it'd be even better if I went around the loop once more and made it 45.” Yes, my hips will thank me, and an extra ten minutes will not normally throw off my whole schedule, but surpassing a goal isn't always the right choice.

There's a delicate balance between shirking your work and going overboard. It takes discipline to keep going when it feels like you won't make it, but it also takes a sort of discipline to stop when you reach your goal.

For example, I have set a daily writing goal of 1000 words. Some days it takes me less than two hours, and other days I sit in front of the computer for 12. And some days, I don't meet it.

Often, I feel like I should keep pressing, even if I meet my 1000 words, to make up for the days when I don't. Shouldn't I just keep typing until bedtime? Write during lunch? Skip reading that book I've been dying to open?


As tempting as it is to work on my MS day and night (and I still do, a lot), I'm granting myself permission to stop at 1000 words. Stop after reading one contest entry. Stop after doing one class exercise.

Otherwise, I'll miss out on the little joys that I so look forward to. Every good effort deserves a reward. I'm not yet getting paid to write, but I can pay myself in other ways. Relax with a good book. Hang out with the kids. Have lunch with a friend.

How do you keep yourself from burning out, but still meet your goals?

The Daily Squirrel: goal

A crimson banner emblazoned with the word “FINISH” flapped in the breeze at least a mile down the road. It appeared closer on the long, straight path, but she had only passed the eleventh mile marker a few minutes ago.

Her legs dragged as if weighed down with lead, but she kept shuffling forward in a pathetic jog-walk. No one thought she could do this. Brad had laughed right in her face when he overheard her telling the boss she signed up for the half-marathon.

She might not finish in ninety minutes like super jock, Brad, but she would finish if it killed her. She couldn't wait to see the look on his face when she crossed the finish line. He wouldn't be laughing then, and he might start to wonder what else she could accomplish if she set her mind to it.

Let him worry, she thought with a smile.

Meme, myself & I

Christine tagged me on her blog, Digging out of Distraction, so I'm supposed to do this meme for you. What the heck is a meme you ask? I'm not too ashamed to say I had to look it up, so if you don't know, click here and then come back.

I don't have anyone left to tag since the instigator in my group, Martha of Just Me & You, posted hers on Friday. Oh, well. Feel free to add your own responses in the comments!

So this game of 26-question “meme” tag goes like this: answer the 26 questions then tag those who have to do it too…

1. What’s the last thing you wrote? What’s the first thing you wrote that you still have?

Last thing: a scene from my current WIP, Floater

First thing: a recount of a trip to Switzerland (when we lived in Germany) written in 3rd grade, and illustrated by my grandmother

2. Write poetry?

Not too much anymore, but have a whole folder of it. The last one was for that same grandmother several days before she died.

3. Angsty poetry?

Mostly romantic poetry, or random ramblings.

4. Favorite genre of writing?

To write: contemporary and romantic suspense

To read: most romance (limited paranormal, though), mystery, political/spy thrillers

5. Most annoying character you’ve ever created?

Hayden Farmer, the nerdy stalker from my very first MS [but I loved his email address: hayfarm@… ;-)]

6. Best plot you’ve ever created?

Always the one I'm working on. Plot is actually my weak point, so I struggle with this. I'm still pretty proud of how Counting on You turned out, though.

7. Coolest plot twist you’ve ever created?

Since none of my books are published, I don't want to share, just in case. Hey, I can dream. 😀

8. How often do you get writer’s block?

True writer's block? Almost never (even though I blogged about it a few days ago). Usually I struggle if a scene isn't working. When it hits, I go jogging, or start making lists until I figure out where to go with the story.

9. Write fan fiction?

Heck no. I'm trying to emulate, but not recreate.

10. Do you type or write by hand?

Mostly type, but I often think creatively better on paper. I always have a notebook dedicated to the WIP I'm working on where I can put notes, ideas, and write lists, or just think through several scenarios. If I had to write a book longhand it would never happen. Plus, Scrivener just makes organizing so easy…

11. Do you save everything you write?

YES! I even have old one-line ideas that I emailed home from work years ago, transferred to Word.

12. Do you ever go back to an idea after you’ve abandoned it?

Yes, and I have several WIPs that I started before I was ready for them. I definitely plan to repurpose them at some point.

13. What’s your favorite thing you’ve ever written?

There are some scenes from Counting on You that I absolutely love. There's no better feeling than going back over your own work and thinking, “Wow, I wrote that?” It doesn't happen often.

14. What’s everyone else’s favorite story that you’ve written?

The only one anyone else has read is Counting on You, so by default, that's it. 😉

15. Ever written romance or angsty teen drama?

Um, yeah. Romance, obviously.

Teen, but not angsty. I wrote my first novel (the term is loosely applied here) in 7th grade. The parents died and the girl goes in search of her biological father after escaping from an orphanage. (Like in Disney, all good adventures start when the parents die or disappear.) She also meets a friendly gang (I know, right?) of boys along the way, and rides a Greyhound bus. (After the Air Force sent me on the bus–twice!–I realized it wasn't all it was cracked up to be.)

16. What’s your favorite setting for your characters?

San Diego, hands down! It's one of my favorite cities. I started two MSs set in Virginia (near D.C.), but didn't finish either of them. I'll eventually get there, but I think writing about San Diego is a great excuse to go back for a visit, don't you? 😉

17. How many writing projects are you working on right now?

One WIP, the monthly newsletter for a military spouse group, my blog, occasional articles for SM newsletter

18. Have you ever won an award for your writing?

Yes! Counting on You won 1st place in the 2009 Heart-to-Heart Contest.

19. What are your five favorite words?

Oh, Lord. I can never do favorites on the spot, but I may come back and fill them in as they occur to me.

20. What character have you created that is most like yourself?

Probably Kate from my first MS, When You're Not Looking. Similar career, personality, and some life events. That was my “get all your biographical crap out of the way” book. It's not all me, but there are a lot of little bits.

21. Where do you get ideas for your characters?

I really don't know. I'm sure they are combinations of people I've met, but I don't base them consciously on others. They just pop into my head along with the story premise.

22. Do you ever write based on your dreams?

Not so far, but I get great ideas during the alpha state just before sleeping and after waking.

23. Do you favor happy endings?

They are an absolute must! Of course, I write romance, so the HEA is essential.

24. Are you concerned with spelling and grammar as you write?

Yep. I'm an editor by nature. I can't leave something incorrect and just keep writing.

25. Does music help you write?

I usually prefer silence, unless I need to block out the noise around me. Occasionally, music is inspiring, but mostly I like peace and quiet.

26. Quote something you’ve written. Whatever pops into your head.

This counts for my Daily Squirrel, right? 😉 This is the rough draft of the last scene I wrote for my current WIP, Floater. I'm sure my lovely CP will have some comments… (love ya C!)

Libby threw her bag into Diego’s truck and shivered in the ocean breeze. Strands of her dusty hair whipped across her face and she pushed it away to find Steve looking at her. He stood with his head down, hands in pockets. If he dug his toe into the ground, he’d look like a nervous third grader.

Screw this. She wasn’t letting him walk away without a fight. Rather than yell or cry, or leave without saying goodbye, she closed the space between them and wound her arms around his neck.


She stood on tiptoe and cut him off with a firm kiss. His muscles stiffened, and he pressed his lips into a tight line.

So she fought back.

Her tongue darted out and licked his lower lip, teasing as she ran her fingers down his chest. His body trembled and he slammed her hips against him as he opened to her, sweeping his tongue into her mouth. She poured all of her love and longing into him, the world shattering around her as they melted together.

She relished the heat and hardness of his body molded to hers and forced back bitter tears as she released her desperate grip on his waist. Reluctantly—her body screaming in protest—she untangled herself, ignored the shock and naked desire on Steve’s face, and got into Diego’s truck.

If that didn’t brand Steve’s heart, nothing would.

Too much

Guess which house belongs to the writer?

In case you can't read it, it says, “DITTO” with an arrow pointing to the electric wonderland. 🙂

If you haven't seen it yet, check out The Twelve Tips on Queries (instead of the 12 Days of Christmas) on Janet Reid's blog. It perfectly captures the angst of the aspiring writer with humor!

In the spirit of the holidays, I'm adding a few of my favorite gift ideas for writers to the blog mix…

  • Scuba slate or AquaNotes waterproof paper for capturing those ideas in the shower
  • Fingerless mittens to keep hands warm while typing
  • Subscription to Writer's Digest
  • Gift certificate to any bookstore
  • Gift certificate to an office supply store
  • Ear plugs
  • Lap desk

Final note. For those who knew I'd entered, I did not place in the The Harlequin Presents Writing Competition 2009, but congratulations to those who did! My only hope for Counting on You now is if they ask for a partial based on the entry. Otherwise, I think that book is shelved.

Forward into romantic suspense. I just ordered several books about undercover DEA agents and the drug wars in Mexico/US. I'm hoping it will give me some valuable background for Floater and the series.

[No squirrel today. I have to get ready for a holiday party. Yikes!]

The pirate and the pack rat

Today's blog is also showing at:

In my non-writing life, I'm not a pack rat, I'm a purger. I have a Goodwill donations bag going at all times, and I relentlessly thin the morass on a regular basis.

I will admit that moving frequently helps. No place for that thingamabob in the new house? Toss it. 😉

However, in my writing, I horde and reuse scenes as if they were precious heirlooms. On my current WIP, I took out 20,000 words, and nearly started over, but I didn't toss those scenes. Instead, I moved them into my unused scenes folder (Scrivener makes this super easy), and raided them (the pirate part) later for usable material.

Heck, I poured hours of effort into those words. Why not repurpose them, if possible?

Even though my plot went in a different direction, there were perfectly good elements buried in those deleted scenes. With a few tweaks, the sex scene in the bedroom could be brought back wholesale. A part where I described the scenery as they drove north fit perfectly into a later scene. (The reason they were traveling changed, but the scenery didn't.)

Sure, most of my hard-earned prose is destined to stay in the dustbin, but there's no reason not to recycle when it works. And for the rest of those words? Writing is never a waste of time. It's part of the learning process. Every word gets us closer to the one million mark.

The Daily Squirrel: follow

Annabelle's father wrapped his large hand around hers, engulfing it in calloused heat. She smiled, knowing that her cheeks would ache from it by the end of the day.

“Follow me,” he said, pulling her toward the workshop.

She stepped inside the dim room, ready to burst with anticipation. The familiar scent of pine and sawdust tugged at a string in her heart. She would always associate the earthy smell with her dad and his woodwork. Her eyes followed him eagerly as he strode to a table where a large object stood covered by a canvas cloth.

“Are you ready?” he asked as a large grin spread across his weathered face.

She nodded and jumped up and down. He removed the cloth with a flourish and her eyes widened in surprise. She clapped and ran to the workbench.

Atop the rough, battered surface sat the most beautiful doll house she'd ever seen.

Judge Dread

Until recently, I dreaded being a contest judge. However, once I earned my PRO¹ status, I sucked it up to help my chapter with the Linda Howard Award of Excellence. We had the happy misfortune of more entries than expected, and not enough judges.

What I didn't expect was how much I'd learn from the experience.

  • It turns out that I've picked up a lot about writing in the last year (though I still have a long way to go), and even though I'm not an expert at applying it, I can often spot the good elements and the problems in others' writing. Being a CP has been instrumental in teaching me the art of critique (still learning that, too).
  • Judging is good insight into the quality of other writers' prose. It's easy to assume that everyone else is light years ahead of you in the writing game, but the reality is that contest entrants fall all over the scale. It's helpful to get a gut check.
  • Judging is more time consuming than I expected and is forcing me to manage my writing schedule so I have time for the hour (at least) needed to read and score each entry.
  • It helps to have been on the other side of the judging and to know what contestants are looking for. My chapter put on a class to discuss that very topic, and it was a good reminder, but I wouldn't recommend judging to anyone who hasn't been on the receiving end of a score sheet before.

Judges have the opportunity to nurture and teach. To provide both help and encouragement. I only hope that I can live up to that ideal.

¹PRO status is granted by RWA to members who have submitted at least one completed manuscript to a publisher or agent, but have not yet been published.

The Daily Squirrel: secret

Loving Robbie Howe was foolish. All the girls swooned in the presence of the quarterback, track star, and honor roll student. How could you not love the tall blond with the lopsided smile and friendly charm? But since the night he'd changed her flat tire after soccer practice, her schoolgirl infatuation had grown into something more.

And now, somehow, the whole school new about it.

She dropped the schoolbooks in her locker with a loud thud and turned away right into a broad chest. When she looked up, Robbie's crooked grin stopped her heart and she struggled for air.

“I hear you have a secret,” he said, his deep blue eyes never leaving her face.

Oh God. Her cheeks heated and she fought back tears of embarrassment. Her legs wouldn't cooperate with her desire to run.

“I have one too,” he said. Then he leaned forward and kissed her.

Suddenly, running was the last thing on her mind.

Knocking down blocks

Yesterday I hit a block. I tried repeatedly to start a scene, and just couldn't make it happen. My people (characters) thought the scene was boring and they wanted nothing to do with it. They were right.

What finally pulled me out of my state of stumped was Shirley Jump‘s Rule of Six. I'm taking her course right now, and I highly recommend it. Basically, making a list of six ideas for a scene forces you to dig deeper than the easy (read: uninspired) ideas that come off the top of your head. You can apply the rule of six to any part of your manuscript (e.g. scene goals, character motivation, book title, you name it).

So, instead of stewing in my head, I finally sat down, made a list of six goals for the scene, and came up with something totally unexpected. The new scene is not only more interesting (my people cheered), but it set up several future scenes where I'll introduce a new character, and begin weaving in background for turning the book into a series.

Such a simple tool, yet so powerful. The key is sitting down to do it.

What tools do you use to overcome writer's block?

P.S. For more of Shirley's wisdom, join her Just Write It group.

The Daily Squirrel: shoes

Jenna slid her foot into the spiky heels and stood up. The world looked different from her new height. She towered over the saleswoman and looked down upon the peons rummaging through the sale racks. In these shoes, she could do anything, be anyone. Her confidence soared.

Chin up, she strode forward with the grace and dignity of a princess, flipped her long hair back, and smiled at a cute guy as she…wobbled on the miniscule heel and landed on her ass between the sneakers and the baby shoes. So much for grace and dignity.