Meat Loaf, Muscle Memory, and Writing Romance (Also Sims)

Most importantly, the Meat Loaf of which I speak is the singer, not the food. I did get to meet Meat for about five seconds, at an autograph signing. I blurted out that he broke my creative block. He immediately lit up like a Golden Retriever at hearing “who’s a good boy?” and asked which song, and how, and what genre did I write, which was when his handler gently apologized to both of us and said he had to move the line along. That stuck with me, though, and cemented my love of the Loaf. Which brings me to last night.

I was not listening to Meat Loaf last night. I was listening to a Sims 4 Let’s Play video, which is probably my current favorite viewing material. Even so, I had no intention of writing-writing (cue amused chuckles) as I listened, and managed custom content, and fiddled with my Sims journal, shown here in the charge of my co-worker:

That thing is packed full of altered index cards, because a) they are sturdier, and b) with my vision, dot grid only works if it’s about an inch from my face, and crooked writing is a big no. Every card is a Sim, their aspirations, goals, traits, spouses, children, and ultimately, when they move to the “graveyard” section, causes of death. No overthinking on this stuff, because it’s a game. So, there I am, thinking that I’m going to have to cut down and punch more cards, because we’re moving into the next generation, and then I’m grabbing one of those discarded dot grid pages, to make notes for the cards I’m going to want to make for the Sims 2 and 5 versions of what I’m doing.

Still no Meat Loaf. There was, though, at some point, a frantic pat through the dark (ah, the joys of motel writing when Real Life Romance Hero is asleep) for my writing-writing notebook. After that, a lot of ink came out of the pen in my hand, as notes on a long-overdue scene from Drama King filled the formerly empty pages. Pages. Plural. When I am done with this post, I will transcribe and send the scene off to my long-suffering contemporary writing partner, Melva.

Still not listening to Meat Loaf while I wrote that, but as soon as I set down notebook and pen to try and get some sleep (my brain throws slumberless parties on a regular basis) the first notes of this song trickled into my subconscious:

this song is relevant to my interstes

One thing that has stuck with me was a tidbit from an interview, where Meat talked about his songwriter, Jim Steinman. He said that what audiences need to remember is that everything Jim writes is part of a universe in his head, that is basically an epic vampire opera. I believe some of it was produced as an opera, in Germany. Possibly in German, which does not sound out of the realm of possibility.

What does this all have to do with muscle memory or romance writing? Actually, a lot. In the midst of custom content and screenshots and Let’s Plays and other things that are still creative but not focused on producing pages, my brain gets to free-float and do its story stuff wihout me getting in its way. Ad the facilitator of a long-ago writer’s group often said, once we put pen or pencil to paper, we were not allowed to stop it moving. The process would beget the product.

With things like this, my brain goes “storystorystorystorystory” and “atttttmosssspheeeeeeereeeee” until I am darned near besotted with it. When that happens, oh look, how did all that writing get on the page? I better get more paper. Not just for one book, because while I was furiously scratching out dialogue for Drama King, Bern and Ruby, from Her Last First Kiss were at the edge of my vision, tapping their feet, and next to them, Cornelis and Lydia from Plunder. All of them with lists grievances….uh, adjustments I need to make so that they look the say they do on the page as they do in my head. Not only physically, but you get the drift.

One of my Sims notes is to set aside time (after writing) to learn Reshade (lighting editor…ish?) and fine tuning presets I didn’t even know could be fine-tuned but make all the difference from bright and cartoony (which is fun, too, when I have the taste for it) to…my people. It is like that with reading and writing, too, as recent conversations with bookish friends have confirmed. Keep at it, when it’s possible. Put the pen on the paper. Keep it there. Sooner or later the muscle memory will kick in, and therein likes the tale. Literally.


Typing With Stuffed Paws: Anything That Doesn’t Look Like An Umbrella Edition

Greetings, foolish mortals. Sebastian Thunderpaws Hart-Bowling coming at you, with some of the stuff of the week that was, with special guest, Writer Chick. Why is Writer Chick here on Friday? Easy. She went to what Skye’s notes refer to as the people vet, and there was apparently medicine involved and she forgot what day was what day, and here we are. Anyway, what that means is that she did most of my work for me, so I will drop her link to last week’s Buried Under Romance here, and hand it on over.

Read it here.

Writer Chick also read this book, and will be reading these:

Current library TBR

I will pause (or paws) here for some fur-sonal maintenance, while Writer Chick has her say. Here’s the picture she had as her header:

The header that would have been….

Interior, coffee shop, day.

Two women, A and N, sit in a booth, with hot beverages and various art materials. Both hold pencils in hand, blank pages in front of them. A traces around the base of a plastic to-go lid, then sections the circle into pie-like sections.

N: (peers at A’s page) Is that your umbrella?

A: Hopefully.

N: Do you know how to draw an umbrella?

A: (deadpan) Yes. Erase everything that doesn’t look like an umbrella. :flips the lid, to add small arches to the inner edges of the circle, then erases parts of outer circle that do not look like an umbrella:

Annnd scene. :curtsies:

This scene, as you may have guessed, comes, as the best dramas do, from real life. Real life, in this case, meaning my real life, and my weekly breakfast with N. This week, it was an artist’s date (artists’ date, as there were two of us?) N brought the wrong paper, so ended up doing her sketch on regular notebook paper (spoiler: it looked fabulous anyway, and I want real versions of the dresses she sketched, please and thank you.

I, as promised, brought my new water=soluble crayons and watercolor paper, along with a pack of baby wipes (for the smushing around of colors) and mechanical pencil (for the drawing of things,) metal ruler (for the drawing of straight things) and fancy eraser (for erasing of drawn things that are in the wrong place.) The umbrella thing was a passing mention. IT’s for the cover image of my April monthly planner section, so, really, all I needed to do was sketch, and N wanted to see how the water-soluble crayons worked, and the background kind of happened on its own. The black blob in the corner was supposed to be another umbrella, but that didn’t work out so well, so now it’s…a shadow? Ominous cloud? Artistic license? Yeah, I’ll go with that.

We both drew, as we talked about writing, and both put some color on the pages. N had woodless colored pencils. These are new to me, and I am guessing they are colored pencil guts without the usual casing. I paid attention to the way she held the pencils (she is an artist of some years’ standing) and how she lay down the color, while I scribbled and glopped crayon onto my paper, then attacked it with baby wipes, turning aimless scribbles into soft washes that built on each other. We talked about stories we’d both like to write, vague terms for me, more specific ones for her, and the domestic tornadoes whirring through both our families, thankfully at lower levels.

When Mr. N came to retrieve us, he asked, as he always does, if we had a good meeting. N, as she always does, said that we did. She waxed (pun intended) rhapsodic about the crayons, and the store at which they might be purchased. Mr. N is, himself, an artist, so this is relevant to his interests as well. In time, they dropped me home. I touched base with Real Life Romance Hero, then dug out marker paper, to try the same design on another surface. Yep. Still works.

N did suggest that I could tilt the umbrella, to show it from an angle instead of straight on, and I may try that, later, but, for today, I am content to say that yes, I do know how to draw an umbrella. At least this umbrella, and that’s all I really need to know. Okay, except for the size of the monthly divider, but I can tackle that one another day.

TL:DR: Yes, I can draw an umbrella. Yes, this applies to writing. Yes, I am being purposely vague because I have to be out the door in five minutes. I have a picture of an umbrella, though, even with color, and a mood, from a certain perspective, and I am confident that I can draw it again. I can also write books. This is very useful, because I am a writer. Tell the story and don’t worry about all the fiddly other stuff.

Yeah, so that’s about it. I will direct Writer Chick back to one of her multiple calendars, and, hopefully, things will be back on track next week.

Peace Out,

Writing Lessons From My Art Journal

Happy Halloween, and/or day before National Novel Writing Month, to all who participate. The extrovert in me loves the community of NaNo, and the competitive side of me loves the pounding toward a goal, hell-bent for leather, as my Aunt S used to say, but anxiety is not as thrilled about the pressure, so, for me, doing the slow and steady thing works better, so I will cheer on all who are participating from the sidelines, and keep on going at my own pace..

Once again, we have Monday’s blog on Wednesday, and I am okay with that. Domestic Tornado Season is, hopefully, winding down, fingers crossed. In the meantime, butt in chair, fingers on keyboard and/or pen to paper whenever possible.

Lately, I’ve been using my art journals to destress, and, as usual, they’ve taught me a few things about the writing life. I don’t know how I settled on it, but, in the middle of one of the bigger tornado surges, I took out the nearest art journal to hand, and turned to a fresh page.

First of all, I did not draw anything on these pages. Both pages are stencils, by Jane Davenport, whose art supplies I love, love, love. The notebook cover and insert are both from her collection, as well. No compensation here, just a fan, sharing what works for me.

I’ve tried to start this blog entry many times, and I always get in my own way, so I am going to go ahead and throw whatever is in my head onto the page, which is generally how the best stuff happens, anyway.

Earlier, this week, I grabbed the art journal, pictured above, some face stencils, and a Pitt artist pen, and started throwing stuff down. These stencils have options as to what features I can put, and where. Usually, I start off placing the eyes too high. Moving them around before I actually set down any ink helps, and keeping a small notepad next to my art journal also helps, because working with art stuff is a great way to get my story brain on the back burner, which is when my imaginary friends often do some of their best stuff, while I’m looking at lines and shapes and colors.

Right now, it’s already after 3PM, which means that the ideal posting times have passed for the day, and I could call myself now two entries behind and promise that I’d take care of it tomorrow. I know this is bull, because tomorrow is already booked (no pun intended) and a post written after the ideal posting times is going to get more hits and reach more readers than the post I’m going to write, eh, sometime. This is also the first thing that my recent art journal experience has taught me about writing:

* Put Some Stuff On The Page. 

This is important, because, without that, nothing gets done. The idea stays in my head, and, no matter how many people I tell about it, nobody will get the full experience. Including me. As long as the idea stays in my head, it stays perfect, and I can’t fail. Once I commit ink to paper (or the digital equivalent) the ball is actually in play. If I don’t like what I made, A) nobody has to ever see it, and B) I can open to a new page and start again.

*Use What You Already Have. 

I love going to art or craft stores, looking at all the pretty stuff, imagining what I can do with it, and petting the packaging. Sometimes, some of it even comes home with me, which means I can actually use it. I can also actually let it sit there and taunt me with its un-touched-ness, but I don’t get to find out what it can really do, unless I bust it out of the packaging and put it on the page. See first point, above. Those craft store displays and online adverts are very tempting, buuut know what? That box of stuff is right here, and everything in there was the shiny new thing once. It came home for a reason. Time to actually let it fulfill its purpose, or, at the very least, see what it can do.

*Experiments Are Good

When I first started using the traveler’s notebook system of covers and inserts, I was very adamant that I only wanted one particular size, about five by eight inches, because that was the size of notebook I already liked. Two sizes, if we count pocket. Then, I had to have this particular cover, which came with this particular insert, which is standard size, eight inches square, folded in half (my brain is not going to do the math) but this was the insert that came with the cover, and it was marker paper, and I have markers, and what’s the worst that can happen?

In this case, I can fill the entire thing in a record amount of time (I am one spread away from filling the whole insert) and then start making my own, from paper I already have on hand, because I love what my brain does when I am art-ing, which leads to the next point.

*Take Notes

This one, I cannot stress highly enough. My story brain works best in a fertile environment. If I’m making art, I have a pen in my hand already, so, if there is a pretty piece of paper (or the back of an old envelope) nearby, it’s ready to catch any thoughts that pop into my head. I am also usually listening to something while I art, and, recently, that’s included a lot of You Tube videos on writing and/or reading.

This is normally where I want to wrap the post together and relate it directly to writing, but I’m not going to do that right now. I’m going to leave it where it is, hit “post,” and grab a notebook or two.






Typing With Wet Claws: Off The Grid Edition

Hello, all. Skye here, for another very special Feline Friday, coming to you from Camp Grandma. This is a special post, because it is a special day, and that special day is because Anty is getting ready to come and spend most of the next week with me. Because Camp Grandma does not have interwebs, apart from the remote connection, Anty will be off the grid (and on the floor, with me, because I am a floor girl) and therefore will not be posting on Monday. She has mentioned some vague ideas of writing a post on Monday anyway, and seeing if she can upload it when Anty Melva comes to camp to take Anty to lunch (I will stay in my bunk and have fish jelly, because that is the best lunch ever. Except for peanut butter, and I already know Anty put peanut butter on the grocery list) but Anty said not to make any promises, but she is keeping a retreat diary and will share some of that when she can.

The day that Anty goes back to Right-Now Apartment is also a very special day, because that day is also Uncle’s birthday, aka the best day ever. I do not know what Anty is getting Uncle for a present, but I already know what I am giving him. I think he would like a shed whisker, maybe a claw, or a glop of early fall shed fur. What do you think? Maybe I will give him all three. Anty will take pictures of me, but nothing beats the real thing, amirite? All three it is. Probably. We may have to see what happens on the laser pointer front first. Worst case scenario, the ghost cats have mentioned something about a flashlight that is rumored to be almost as good as a laser pointer, but only at night.

Being off the grid until Uncle’s Birthday will not affect Anty posting on Buried Under Romance on Saturday, because she knows how to travel through time, and already set up that post. I do not know how she does it. Probably something related to planning, because she has been doing a lot of planning lately. Like, a lot, but that is a whole other post. Her most recent Saturday Discussion post is here, and it looks like this:


Um, no, actually, that is the picture that goes with Anty’s next post for Buried Under Romance, but I will leave it there, because Anty has a very strict schedule for today, and the “help Skye with her blog post” section is a lot smaller than I would normally like, but I do get Anty 24/7, apart from her lunch with Anty Melva, and possibly a walk to the post office (that would be Anty walking to the post office, not me, because I am an inside girl. I spent the first six months of my life outside, because I was born wild. Trust me, it was not that great. Inside only for me from now on, thankyouplease.)

When it comes to Anty’s Goodreads Challenge, this entry will be very brief. Thanks to Anty’s new discovery of Book Tubers, she has been adding a lot of books to her To Be Read lists. As of today, she is ten books ahead of schedule, having read sixty-four out of ninety books, which puts her at seventy-one percent of the way to her goal. Since Anty has a fully charged Kindle, and a whole bag filled only with books, I think it is safe to say that she is going to be reading a lot during this retreat. Sometimes, she does read out loud to me, which I very much appreciate. If there is a kitty in the book she reads aloud, she does do the kitty voice. She has a funny accent, but she does okay.

Another thing Anty does okay, and would like to do okay-er is art. I like watching Anty do arty things, because it is very interesting. Her hands move a lot, she usually has music playing, and, sometimes, her supplies have interesting smells. Some kitties like to help their humans by batting the supplies around, but I do not do that. I sit nearby and observe, because I am a good girl. Anty and I have some of our best talks that way. Often, when I help Anty do arty things, that lets the story part of her brain free-float, and then some of her writing problems work themselves out, on their own. Bloop, all solved. Anty is very much looking forward to that part of the retreat. Maybe I can sneak some peanut butter, if she is absorbed enough in arty things while her rice cake is left unattended.


Anty has not made any art here yet. These books and pocket are made by Dyan Reavely

I am not sure if Anty is bringing that particular art book with her (it is very cool, though, and she looks forward to playing with it) because she has a theory that keeping the supplies on hand to a carefully curated minimum will encourage her to use them in more ways, but I figured this post could use another picture, and she had that one hanging around, so that’s what you get.

Anty is also bringing a bunch of movies, that we can watch together. It is very thoughtful of her to have a laptop that plays movies, because Grandma keeps her TV in Big Carpet Room, in which I am not allowed. I like watching TV with my humans, but Big Carpet Room is a no-kitty zone. That is because of what Michelangelo, one of the ghost cats did (back when he was a non-ghost cat) and Grandma has concerns that it will give me ideas. I cannot say exactly what it was, but I strongly believe it has to do with, um, stuff. Grandma has me 100% on my stuff habits, and she is not taking any chances. Grandma’s house, Grandma’s rules, so Anty and I will have movie dates in my room.

That is about it for this week, so, until next time, I remain very truly yours,


Skye O’Malley Hart-Bowling (the kitty, not the book)


That’s how many pens I now carry with me on a daily basis. Fifty-nine pens. No, you may not borrow one. I probably need to keep a couple of decoy pens on hand for when the question inevitably arises. It always does. Real Life Romance Hero knows to come to me first when it comes to office supplies, before heading to Staples or Office Max. He knows well enough not to ask, “do you have an X?” but “do you have a spare X?” Smart man. For those wondering if this is a post about pens, the answer is: partly.

To give some context, this is the latest addition to my daily carry:



The first time I saw it, I thought it was a planner. Easy mistake. It was in with a bunch of planners, the only pen case of its kind in the entire display. It even had a bunch of assorted gel pens already inside, in case the rows of pink elastic loops inside were not indicator enough. Three compartments. Ten loops on each side of each compartment. I did some quick math. If I played my cards right, I could carry sixty pens with me, every single day. Um, yes, please. Sixty pens, literally wrapped in motivational soundbytes? Double yes, please. Triple yes, please, because it coordinates with Big Pink.

Immediately, my mind swam. Sixty pens, yes, but what sixty pens? That’s the important question. Pencils? No, not in here. I love the pale pink interior too much. Pencil smudges would be a distraction. Pens, then. Also highlighters. Ooh. I have that set of pastel highlighters that has been, so far, hiding in a pouch, along with some fineliners. The workhorse pens, the ones I reach for the most, those could go in there, too, but what about the rest of the spaces?


There were a lot of attempts at filling those slots before I finally figured out that the highlighters were more substantial than regular pens, and an empty loop is not going to be the end of the world. Originally, the highlighters and workhorse pens were going to be on the side where the Stabilo fineliners (yellow barrels and colorful caps) now sit, because it took me a while to decide what had to go where.

Not what I wanted to go where; there’s a difference. My initial idea was that all twenty slots in the first compartment would be for workhorse pens/highlighters, the second for a set of markers, and the third would be my special pens that people who are not me better not even think about borrowing. The problem there was that I do not have twenty workhorse pens/highlighters. I’m not using bright highlighters right now, and I very rarely use ballpoints. (Purple Hannah Howell promo9tional pen, excepted) and I like to have pens next to each other look like they belong together.

The markers were the easy part. I had twenty Crayola Supertips, and twenty spaces in each compartment. Bam. Not too difficult at all.


(Mostly) rainbow order, like with like, as my mother would say (that phrase drove me bonkers when I was a kiddo, but I now see its use) and everything where I need it. This is a color coder’s dream. Never mind that I had to move everything over into the third compartment a few minutes later.

Part of that was because A) I didn’t want to carry twenty of my favorite pens around where anything could happen to them, and B) I counted my Stabilo fineliners, sitting next to my desk, in their original packaging, which I love, but rarely use (the pens, not the packaging, though that, too.) There are thirty of them. Hm. If I moved a few things around, I could have thirty spaces available, and then I could have them with me, literally all the time.  Cue image of me shuffling pens around (also of dropping package of fineliners between chair and wall, then crawling around, searching for them, and counting to make sure they’re all there) and then slipping thirty pens into thirty slots.


“Um, Anna,” I hear some of you saying, “this post is literally all about pens. Or pen cases. Kind of a niche. That stationery blog might be something to think about, mkay?” I hear you, and I get it. Thing is, getting these pens in order, while simultaneously gearing up for Camp NaNo helped me notice that organizing writing implements and organizing writing have more than a few things in common.

What’s most important to me? What do I want to carry with me on a daily basis? Does it all flow together in a way that feels comfortable to navigate? Does what I want to fit in this space, actually fit in this space? Exactly what do I need to accomplish what I want to accomplish? Do I know how I want to use what I already have? Do I need anything that I do not currently have, and, if so, how and when do I intend to obtain it?

This case is for pens, and pens only (I count markers as pens.) I also love pencils, but those go in pencil cases, not a pen case. I also love sticky notes, but there’s no place for sticky notes in this case. No place for gummi bears, either,  no matter how much I love them, so stuffing them in there would make no sense (and result in gross pen case and potentially inedible gummi bears; nobody wants that.) Maybe this is merely an excuse for me to play with  art/office supplies, but maybe it’s more than that. Maybe it’s all part of getting closer to being the writer I want to be.

Dialogue With a Hypothetical Bouncer

Last night, I legit finished an art journal. Granted, only the last couple of spreads are worth showing to anybody, because a big chunk of it is lettering practice, Tests of pens and stencils, ideas that did not translate well to the page, layouts for my planner that I may or may not have implemented, more pen tests, and, at last, the lightbulb moment when I finally figured out two important things at once.

First important thing: I finally, finally, finally figured out how to use Distress Inks and blenders to make the kind of backgrounds I’ve slavered over for literally years. Second important thing: this quest took me so danged long that most of my Distress Ink collection was no longer viable. As in dried out, not transmitting color anymore, pining for the fjords. All that stuff meaning those pads got a one way trip to the circular (actually rectangular, if we’re talking my specific office trash receptacle) file. Not exactly what I had planned.

Sure, there are other inks in that line, still available, probably most of the colors I had to toss, as a matter of fact, not to mention some new ones, and even a new oxide formula (don’t know exactly what that does, but if it looks pretty and grungy at the same time, I want it.) Since the mini size of these inkpads are sold in bundles, frequently at stores with pretty nifty coupons on a regular basis, it won’t cost a fortune to build up a decent palette or two. It’s the principle, though. I wanted to use those pads. I picked out those pads, those particular colors. While I can probably get mot of the same colors, they won’t be the same pads. That bugs me.

What I turned out with what I had on hand wasn’t bad. As a matter of fact, it was this:


This is the only page I’m showing.

That’s three clinging-to-life inkpads, one homemade stencil (dress form) with one commercial stencil (damask pattern) and one commercial stamp (face.) Also ten very inky fingers, and one sense of accomplishment. This particular art journal lives in my traveler’s notebook, Big Pink, so, at some point today, I will need to slide out this insert and put in a brand spanking new one. I haven’t done that yet, but I did, finally, give myself permission to haul out a precious, hoarded item (okay, two of them, but the pens have only been here for a week or so):


That’s a Moleskine sketchbook, with smooth, thick pages, and the thirty pack of the Stabilo fineliners. Real, grownup artist tools, and the only artist around here is :shifty eyes: me. I have vivid memories of sneaking into my father’s art studio when I was but a wee little princess, and pilfering his art supplies (pro quality is far superior to kiddo quality; I knew this even in preschool) and putting them back where I found them, because I didn’t want to get caught.  Now, the only one here to “catch” me is me.

This is the part of the post where I steer it back toward writing, because the two are so closely related they can’t get married without a papal dispensation. Impostor syndrome is real. I think Mondays are its natural habitat. What do I think I’m doing, sneaking into fictionland, to play around with characters and plots and settings, all willy-nilly, with either willful ignorance or clear disregard (maybe both) of proper practices and/or market trends? Huh? Going to need to see some ID here. RWA membership? Okay, I guess that’s something, but are you published? You are? Could’ve fooled me What books? Cute backlist, honey. Don’t you have some laundry to fold?

Well, hah. Joke’s on you, Hypothetical Bouncer, because I already folded the laundry, and put it way, so no, I do not. I’m here at this desk for the same reason I snuck into my dad’s studio about elebenty billion times. I have to. There’s no way around it. Forget “want.” We’re talking “need” here. It didn’t occur to kiddo me, that my dad was a professional, and I wasn’t, that he had over three decades of experience and education ahead of me. I didn’t care that he’d painted murals and book covers, mainly because I didn’t know that at the time. What I did know was that I loved the feel of the white paper with the black and gray markings in one corner, that he kept in the bottom drawer of the green filing cabinet. I knew I loved the smell of the markers that had not one but two tips, even if I was not supposed to smell them on purpose. I couldn’t draw a realistic face, and even my box houses with triangles for roofs left a lot to be desired, but I loved the pen in my hand and the color on the paper, and, so, I kept at it.

Which brings us to today, Monday, and me at my desk, fingers on keyboard, not one but two projects in front of me; the revise and resubmit on Chasing Prince Charming, and Her Last First Kiss. I’m not that bothered about working on Chasing Prince Charming, because A) I’m doing it along with my co-writer, Melva, and B) I don’t read a lot of contemporary romance, so there’s not a lot to which I can compare this project.

Historical romance, though, hoo boy. Whole other animal. If I spin my chair around (and I can, because spinny office chairs are the best office chairs; I will fight dissenters on this one) I will see the bookshelf filled with Bertrice Small historicals, and another bookshelf with historical romance novels I intend to read, once I can get past the darned bouncer in front of that one.  Oh hey there, YA reader girl. Looking for a historical romance, are you? Yeah, I’ve seen your Goodreads. You think you can play with the big girls? Some of the books on this shelf are old enough to go to kindergarten, and you haven’t read them yet. Not going to learn much about current market trends on this shelf. You sure that’s what you want?

Something akin to, “um, yeah actually, I do,” perches on the tip of my tongue, because I do want to read those books, and I don’t like that bouncer’s tone. That’s when I take a closer look at her. She looks kind of familiar. Long, reddish brown hair, black glasses, rose gold hoop earrings, exactly like the ones in my jewelry box. Umm, wait a minute. Wonder if I could distract her with some professional quality art supplies.




Brush Markers and How I Use Them

Earlier this morning, a writer friend asked if I could talk about my experience with brush markers. Good thing, because I needed a topic for today’s post. Disclaimer: I still do not technically have a bullet journal, but I have written about what I have as my daily carry, here. I’ve swapped out the handmade journal (I’m keeping it for swatching new pens/inks) for an unlined Moleskine, but otherwise, the system remains the same.  I’m still incredibly new to the world of brush markers, as in it’s only been a week since I ventured into these waters, but I’m already finding them useful.

I’ve been using highlighters in my notebooks for about as long as I’ve been using notebooks, but I don’t always want the traditional highlighter colors. They can be harsh on my eyes, and, sometimes, they don’t fit the mood of the page or notebook I’m using, so I wanted to try an alternative. After a brief spin with colored pencils, I saw many of the contributors to Art Journaling magazine, and figured I’d give them a try.

First up: American Crafts Bible Journaling markers. I am Christian, but I don’t know what Bible Journaling is, besides pretty, from pictures I’ve seen, so can’t speak to that use.  My goal was to find markers I could use to take the place of eye-searing highlighters. Price point was low on these, so good place to stick a toe into the water, right? Well….


Book pictured is a Markings journal, with gridded pages. This is for daily tasks, and I am still figuring out the color coding I want to use. Original coding was:

  • Yellow: Problem Solving, aka anything I needed to get out of the way before I could get down to business, or could affect my ability to write that day.
  • Orange: Essentials, aka, anything with a hard deadline for that day. Blog entries, domestic responsibilities, emails to return, online critique sessions, etc.
  • PinkChasing Prince Charming related tasks; writing/editing, Skype sessions with Melva, anything that gets this book closer to a complete second draft.
  • BlueHer Last First Kiss related tasks: writing, editing, research, again, anything that gets this book closer to a completed second draft.

I waffled off and on with using green for Heroes and Heartbreakers things, and purple for well filling/self care, but they morphed into a more general “notes” section, which I don’t always use, so that may still change. In this iteration, peach is for problem solving, green for essentials, then pink and blue remain the same. These markers are very subtle, and might work better for their original purpose; I haven’t tried them that way. There is also a fine tip on these pens, as well as a brush tip, but I haven’t had use for them.

Tombow Dual Brush Markers were next, bought from open stock at a local art store. These are the ones I have heard recommended the most, and there are a lot of colors, both in open stock and prepackaged. I fell in love with the pink and the blue when I swatched them in my daily carry book, and then grabbed the tan and green to complement those.


The meteor-shaped black blob is a leftover from me re-inking a fountain pen. I think it adds character. These are also double-tipped markers, brush tip on one end, fine tip on the other. I don’t get a lot of use out of the fine tipped end on the lighter colors, but maybe I haven’t found the right use for them yet. Nice to have, anyway. I like the pink and the blue for my daily task book, and the tan is a nice alternative to yellow, though I may want to try a lighter green next time around. Still pretty, and the colors all have similar value, so it feels harmonious, which actually does matter for me. Will definitely try other colors, maybe in a prepackaged assortment next time. These can be a bit pricier, but, I think, worth the investment, and chain craft stores often run coupons that can make for a very nice discount.

Faber-Castell Pitt Artist Pens also have an excellent reputation.  I have one (1) black Pitt pen, for art journaling, after hearing a lot of good things about it (all true) so when I wanted to branch out into brush markers, these were a natural. I might have picked a different assortment than the basics, but the store that had the fifty percent off coupon had only basic and gray packs (I will probably get the gray pack later, because I am me.)

I love the packaging on these, and the feel of the pens in my hand. I can come closer with these to my original color coding system (I love color coding; artist’s kid, so that started at a very early age) but still not sure on the actual colors I want to use for my daily task pages. This may require more research in open stock. I do like that these pens are only brush tip, as I don’t use the fine tip on the other markers, and the wallet they come in makes for a durable carrying case. I have not used them in my task book yet, but took them out for a spin as art markers yesterday, and found them very easy to use.

Biggest difference I have found between using brush markers and highlighters, besides the degree of eye-searingness, is that I need to put down the brush marker color first, and then write on top of it, and that after it dries. That takes about ten to fifteen seconds, which isn’t all that long, so I like to do all the color first, and then list tasks.  The markers also let me doodle borders on the pages, instead of using washi tape. Using tape borders in the same place on succeeding pages means that builds up bulk on those places only, which results in sunken writing surfaces. Sunken writing surfaces are very seldom efficient, so brush markers help keep the page bulk uniform. Plain, undecorated pages make me antsy, but if I can put down even a streak of color, then that anchors my brain.

All swatches above are done on ivory paper, but I can swatch any or all of the markers on white paper, upon request. Again, I am very new to using brush markers, so tips (pun unintended, but it works) from more experienced users are welcome. Those who use brush markers in your planning, what brands/colors do you like?





The Art of Being a Tease(r)

This past Saturday,  author Marianne Rice was our guest speaker at our monthly CR-RWA meeting.  The topic? Book teasers. What I knew about them? Zero. Okay, not really zero, but close enough. I knew they were pretty, that I liked seeing them, and the Greek chorus in my head, this time comprised of my dad, a lifelong artist, retired commercial art director; and cover art queen, Elaine Duillo, would not remain quiet. Here’s what they said:

Dad: Advertising is the art of telling people what they want.

Elaine Duillo: A cover’s job is to get the reader to cross the store to pick up that book (paraphrased, from a phone interview that I still fangirl over,  coughety-cough years after the fact.)

It’s not possible to think of those two bits of wisdom, without also thinking of the anecdote that prompted the Duillo quote/paraprahse. I’d been perusing the new releases in the romance section of the Waldenbooks (see, I told you this was ancient history) down the street from where I lived at the time. Two little girls arrived about the same time I did, far too young to be romance readers themselves, as in write their ages in single digits young. Girl A pointed excitedly to one cover. “Ooh, I’ll be her,” she squealed. Girl B pointed to another cover. “I want to be her.” Over and over again, through the selection, picking out their favorites, until their big person summoned them, or they ran off on their own; I don’t remember which.  I wanted to pick out my next reads, so their ultimate destination wasn’t my concern, though I suspect they may well have become romance readers, and I hope that they are.

What I do know is that I was those girls when I was their age, and my Aunt Lucy’s visits always included a big brown paper grocery bag full of historical romance novels, as a gift for my mother. My job was to take the bag to the laundry room and de-bag the books, for Mom to look through later. I was forbidden to read them, as I was too young, but those covers were fair game. I spent a lot longer than I strictly needed on that job, crafting stories in my head, based on the cover images and back blurbs, even if I didn’t know what all of the words about the more, ah, intimate, sides of the story, meant. Fast forward coughty-cough years, and I am not only a romance reader, but a romance writer and blogger. I write romance, and about romance, and, though it’s been a while since my last release, I do still have a backlist and several projects in the works, so this workshop on teasers was more than relevant to my interests.

Because I learn best by doing, I was angry at myself for not having brought my laptop to the workshop, as Marianne Rice gave us the opportunity to create a book teaser on the spot, and I love that kind of thing. Both the nifty playing with graphics, and the chance to make something at the drop of a hat, and showing off one of my book babies wouldn’t hurt, either. I tried. Canva is not compatible with my Android phone, so I seethed, then took out a Post-It and sketched a layout. As soon as I got home, I put the new knowledge to the test, and made my first ever teaser:


Now I want to read this again.

Not bad for a first time at bat, if I do say so myself, and there was a very similar feeling when I hit “save” as the first time I saw the first version of the cover. It’s real, or, in this case, it’s still real. My baby is still pretty, and I still want to pump a fist in the air when I think of Mateo and Frances sailing off into the sunset, for real. Okay, the sun was already down, but give me this one.

Queen of the Ocean gave me the chance to play with one of my favorite tropes, reunited lovers, which works super well for novellas, and dip my toes into the waters of one of my favorite eras, the sixteenth century. No Court intrigues in this one, but I still get a delicious shiver when I think of the opening scene, of Frances at the water’s edge, staring down the only way she saw to escape the grim reality of life among a family of wreckers. She clings to the memories of Mateo, her childhood best friend and first love, spirited away by his seafaring father, out of her life forever…until the same sea that took him from her dumps him at her feet when his ship runs afoul of her family’s plans.

All of that came rushing back when I browsed through images free for commercial and personal use.  Add a small blurb, the title, pop the cover in there, and there we have it. My name was the last thing I added, because it hadn’t crossed my mind to do so before, but it’s mine. I wrote it. I’m proud of this story, and if doing something I’d do for fun anyway (playing with pretty graphics) could get Frances and Mateo into the hands of new readers, well, that’s a win for both counts, from where I’m sitting.

For today, my trip back in time takes me not to sixteenth century Cornwall, with Frances and Mateo, but eighteenth century London, with Hero and Heroine, and Her Last First Kiss, because critique meeting is tomorrow, and if I want N’s feedback, I have to have pages to show her. Even so, making the Queen of the Ocean teaser reminded me that I have this lovely graphic, by the amazing Sandra Schwab (who also wrote my favorite gothic, Castle of the Wolf) still waiting for the right text:


Image by Sandra Schwab

The first time I opened the email with this image in it, my first thought was, “there she is,” and there I was, in the scene where she takes out her pistol and aims it at…well, that would be telling. It would also be writing, or in this case, re-writing, because we’re on draft two of this now, Ruby and her hero and I, and every day’s work brings us one step closer to getting that story in the hands of readers, too.  Seeing a visual representation of that journey, even while it’s still in progress, can provide a much needed creative boost. If it whets some reader appetites along the way, well, we’ll take that, too.

What do you like to see in a book teaser?



If Not Now, When?

In two more days, I will be at the Let Your Imagination Take Flight conference.  Between now and then is laundry, packing, about elebenty bajillion emails, and some furious keyboard pounding, as the Beach Ball reaches endgame. This year, I’m pitching again, after a couple years’ break, and I am co-presenting for the first time ever. There’s no time to be nervous. There’s only time for doing what has to be done, and figuring out the time in which I can do it. This entry is getting pounded out in one go, because I have pages to fill, and there is the aforementioned laundry to be done, with the help of Housemate, because I have, according to Housemate and Real Life Romance Hero alike, sustained the most Anna-y injury ever. I hiccupped too hard, and now my back thinks it’s digging-Housemate’s-car-out-of-the-snowbank all over again. Good thing my work involves sitting in a comfy chair.

Every three months, a new issue of Art Journaling magazine comes out, and I pounce on it as soon as I possibly can. Every time, I scan it quickly, then take a longer look later, with beverage of choice, possibly a nibble or two, and drink in all the inspiration. I wish I could make pages like that. I wish I could layer colors and make backgrounds and figure out where to put stamps, and knew the best kind of white pen to write on paint or magazine images, and not look like a third grader on the first day of art class (even though pretty much every artist ever has been a third grader on the first day of art class, at some point in their creative journey.) I look through, and I want to make those pages, and I make some pages, and some of them are kind of okay, but nothing more than that.  At some point, I throw my hands in the air and wander off, leaving scraps of waxed paper and blobs of gesso in my wake.

This past weekend, while doing my regular grocery shopping, I made my ritual pass through the notebook aisle and found something I’d never seen before. Cahier style notebooks, with multicolored bright pages, plain black cardstock covers, but -BAM- color explosion inside. I am pretty sure that the package of three notebooks jumped into my cart of its own accord. This is not a bad thing. I hate blank white pages. Hate them. They’re…blank. They’re…white.  They’re…:gestures vaguely: there. Daunting. Where the heck does a person start on a plain, blank page? This is exactly why my morning pages have to be done in a pretty book, or one I make pretty with my own embellishments. I knew as soon as I saw these, I had to take a crack at using them to make those pages.

Yesterday, I needed to get out of the house, so I threw a few long-neglected supplies into a bag, grabbed my new toy and headed for the coffee house I hadn’t seen in over two weeks. No overthinkings, only making marks on the page. I’d started at home, with an ink test on the last page of one of the books, and then…I printed. I doodled. I squiggled. I made notes on things I had bought but never tried, or tried once and wandered off because it didn’t work perfectly the first time. I put in my earbuds, put on some Netflix, and I put stuff on the hot pink page.


Here’s a better look at the supplies I used:


I didn’t use the glue stick, because I didn’t bring anything I could glue onto the page, but it’s in the bag, so it’s there when I need it. When it was time to go home, I had a couple other techniques I wanted to try. I slapped some gesso on the next spread of pages (okay, first, I slapped some matte gel medium on the inside cover first, because I didn’t read the label before I opened the jar) and then, when that dried, thought I’d have a go at another thing I’d always wanted to try, and always looks foolproof. It is not foolproof. I am referring to the green blobs in the corners.  Those green blobs were meant to be gentle washes of different shades of green. Maybe next time.


Even so, I think I did okay. This is only two layers on one substrate. I still have stamps I’ve been too nervous to try, because they are special stamps, from a favorite creator, and I don’t know, or have forgotten what I did once know, about inking those images and getting them to do what I want. Still, the way I see it, I have two options here. I can leave the special stamps safe in their packaging, or I can rip off the cellophane, slap some ink on those suckers and see what they can do.

In that respect, it’s not all that different from writing. When I sat down with the contents of my travel pouch, and a pristine, hot pink page, with its subtle contrast of lines, I wasn’t going for perfect. Nobody ever had to see this. Nobody would ever judge this (that only applies when one does not slap it on the interwebs, btw) and my only goal was to explore and have fun doing it. I knew I would create imperfect pages, and that took all the pressure away. What did this tool do? What kind of mark does this pen make? Let’s find out. Let the movie play and slap things down on the page and drink tea, censors off.

As the first draft of the Beach Ball bounces its way to the finish line, I’m keeping that in mind, and that’s also the plan for draft two of Her Last First Kiss. Create imperfect pages, on purpose. Let the movie play.



Fair Day, and Another Blog Begun

Right now, I have a deep, burning, urgent need to read Fair Day and Another Step Begun, and I Would Go Barefoot All Summer For You, two long-out-of-print YA novels by Katie Letcher Lyle. This is not want. This is need, like these books are a part of my writer self that I did not know were missing, until something, likely falling down a YA rabbit hole on Goodreads, jogged my memory. I’d read Fair Day when I was in junior high, and fell wildly in love with the exquisite use of language, how a story set in then-contemporary 1970s America could have the feel of a time and place long ago and faraway. I did not read Barefoot, and I think I may, at the time, have scoffed at the title, but that only means I was not ready for that book then. I am, now.

Both books have their roots in medieval ballads, Fair Day a direct contemporary (for 1970s) retelling of the centuries-old ballad, Child Waters. I don’t know how these books came back to my attention, but, right now, it hurts that I don’t have them, which is a clear signal that there is something in them that I need. Neither book is in the library system, though two nonfiction books on plants by the same author are. Not quite the same, so the search continues. Ebay or Amazon it is, unless I strike gold at the local UBS, which is probably a longshot, but still going to try.

My memories of Fair Day are hazy, but I remember, while reading that book in the second floor study hall (if I remember physically where I was at the time I read something, it’s a sure sign it has become part of my idea soup) how it felt both modern and ancient at the same time, in a sort of world set apart. I love that kind of thing. Give me a pop singer backed by a symphony orchestra, or modern music played as though it were from centuries before, and I am going to play it until somebody’s ears bleed. This is one reason why my family knows that it is a good idea to keep me well supplied with backup earbuds at all times. There is no such thing as playing a song on repeat too many times if it has something to say to my storybrain.

It’s the same with books. If there is something about a book that gives me that “Yes. That.” feeling, then I have to have it, hold it, touch it, smell it, stare at the covers, flip through the pages, until it becomes a part of me. Once it’s in, it doesn’t come out. Well, it does, as something from it will find its way into a story or character or idea, and it will be reproduced, but the original inspiration stays put, ready for me to draw from it again, as needed, in near or far future.


Why this/these book(s) now? I don’t know, but I have learned not to question it. Sure, the cover does have a vague sort of historical romancey feel, if one looks in the right light. I don’t remember if Ellen and her child’s father end up together, and I don’t want to know until I (re)read, so I don’t know if this a romance. I don’t want to know. The heroine in the foreground, the man on horseback in the distance, the dirt road between them, her long, loose hair, her oversized coat, the bare trees reaching to the cloudy sky, the lyrical title, the memory of how the school library was often my sanctuary when life got rough. I remember the bite of cold air on my skin. I remember falling down and getting  up and going onward, onward, onward, left foot, right foot, left foot, right foot.

I did not read Barefoot, but, when I read “Toby Bright is coming,” said Aunt Rose, my storybrain quickened. Yes. That. Shut up and take my money. I need this book. Don’t need to know another thing about it, and, in fact, don’t want to know. Given that the heroine is thirteen, I don’t think this is a romance. I think it’s what those old-timey people in centuries past would call “calf love,” and I am fine with that.

Maybe I’m entering the magpie stage for whatever comes next, acquiring bricks for a house I have yet to design, much less build. As of this week, I am six chapters and change into the second draft of Her Last First Kiss, and there’s a new Melva chapter from the Beach Ball sitting in my in-box, which means I need to send her one back. There needs to be a What Next putting itself together on the back burner, because I am going to come to The End on both of these projects, and I do not want to blink into the abyss.

So, yes, medieval ballads. Check. Soak in the exquisite marriage of language and emotion until I am drunk on it. Check. Emotional afterglow that is still with me I’m not going to say how many decades later. Yes. This. This is what I want to take in. This is what I want to put out. Titles that feel like music. Lyrical prose. Characters who let me feel each beat of their heart as though it were my own. I want to read that. I want to write that.

For now, I can stare at the covers and pick apart the design elements, maybe mess around with paint and ink on paper of my own, to see what comes about, either to come up with something similar, or figure out how the original artist did it. Note what music feels the rightest while I do, and see what imaginary friends poke through the fog in the process. The journey of a thousand miles, they say, begins with a single step. Maybe this is one of those. Only one way to find out.