I love listening to music when I write. This was my go-to playlist for The Lake Michigan Affair as I was writing. This playlist sets the mood for the book. There is one scene in particular that takes place towards the end of the book (I can’t be more specific) where Rosalie is walking by Lake Michigan, this is a very dramatic scene. If this book was ever made into a film the only thing I would push for is that this song plays for this scene. The link can be found below, and to me it will always be Rosalie & Sebastian’s song.
The Lake Michigan Affair Ten Day Countdown: Fact #2- The Book is Set in Chicago
It is said to write what you know, and Chicago is my hometown. I never questioned where to set this story because it was always obvious to me, that this is a Chicago story. I feel like the city itself is almost a character in the book. There are so many Chicago landmarks that are key to this story.
Here is a list of some of the Chicago locations in the book:
The Lake Michigan Shoreline (Near North Ave. Beach): So many poignant scenes take place here. I’ve walked there a million times and when I think of Chicago, this to me is my city. While the scenes aren’t on the beach, they are on the paved trail at the beach, that provides the most spectacular view of Chicago. You can see the beach here. Also the view of the skyline on the front of the book was taken from this spot.
The Field Museum: One of the most important scenes in the book takes place in the Field Museum in downtown Chicago. An event is held here in the book and trust me, look up events at the Field Museum, the space is incredible for fundraisers, and weddings. You can visit their Instagram page here.
Rosalie’s Parish Church: Chicago is full of gorgeous robust Catholic parishes throughout the city. Rosalie’s parish is an amalgamation of lots of Catholic parishes. Her parish is not named after any one parish in particular but I wanted it to feel very Chicago in nature, and the anchor of Rosalie’s community.
Rosalie’s Neighborhood: As I said earlier, Chicago is a city of neighborhoods, each with their own culture and flavor. While Rosalie’s neighborhood is made up, you can still find pockets of tight-knit neighborhoods like hers. She lives in a mostly Italian-American neighborhood, full of old worker’s cottages.
UIC Hospital: While I don’t think I ever mention the hospital by name, I always assumed that Richard (Rosalie’s husband) practices medicine here.
There really are too many places to mention but I hope you enjoy learning a little bit about Chicago in this book.
Quarantine Stories: A Creative Exercise
Hello all, sorry I disappeared for a bit, but with the state of the world, I think it is excusable. As the global pandemic rages on, and I begin my fourth week of self-quarantine. I have learned two things about myself. First, stress and creativity do not go hand in hand for me. When I am really stressed creativity turns off. The second thing I have learned how unusual circumstances can lead to interesting story prompts. This brings me to Quarantine Stories. Right now we are living through a global event, time will be measure as before and after the pandemic. All of this being said, I want to say thank you so much to all of the front line workers, doctors, nurses, law enforcement, package carriers, mailmen and mailwomen etc. Bravery is stocking shelves, delivering mail, and caring for the sick without proper PPE these days. Thank you to these stoic individuals who are keeping the basic necessities functioning.
As I said earlier, the thought of quarantine started to percolate my creativity. I thought of fun, heartbreaking, and awkward scenarios where characters are effected by quarantine. I had this thought two weeks ago and my brain gnawed on the idea. So the more I thought about it, I think this might be an interesting creative exercise to write a series of very short stories where the only rule of the story is that the characters must be stuck together in quarantine. The quarantine rules do not have to match current laws set by global governments, there is a bit of creativity here. I do not mean for this to be a disrespectful exercise in any way. Like most of us globally, I am looking for a way to fill my time. My goal is one story a week. We’ll see how it goes.
So let’s begin:
Quarantine Story #1: April 8, 2020 (Mark & Gemma)
Gemma woke as Mark’s arm pulled her in closer to him. She opened her eyes not believing it was morning again. She surveyed the yellow walls of the studio apartment, from the futon where she and Mark had spent all weekend in each other’s arms. She rolled over slightly and his eyes opened.
“You’re awake,” Mark said, his voice still raspy from sleep.
“Mmm, I am. I need to get moving or I am going to miss my flight.”
“Nope, I’m not letting you go, you’re my prisoner,” he joked.
“Well, I can come to be your prisoner next time I am in St. Louis. I need to go home to England.
Gemma watched Mark’s playful smile pierce with a pang of sadness, and she felt remorse for it. This is insanity she told herself. She followed Mark home after a wild night out and proceeded to have the wildest sexual experience of her life thus far. They had only left the bed to eat and shower. They binge-watched old kung-fu movies, both finding a true fan in each other. Gemma sat up and looked for her phone. She had not checked it since Saturday morning. Her job was high stress and she knew everything could wait for one weekend of fun.
Mark propped up as he watched Gemma walk around the small apartment, naked. He found her boldness and confidence incredibly sexy. He could not pull his eyes away from her petite frame, that was curvy in all of the best places. It didn’t hurt that her black hair swayed across her back as she walked towards her purse. Mark tried not to salivate at the thought of sleeping with Gemma one last time. As she dug in her purse for her phone he got off of the futon and pulled a t-shirt over his head.
“At least let me make you breakfast first,” he said as he walked over to the tiny kitchenette.
He poured began to make a pot of coffee as he realized Gemma had not answered him.
She still ignored him. He turned around and saw her standing still naked as she held the phone in one hand scrolling through her phone and her other hand over her mouth. Reading her face, Mark knew something awful had happened. He walked over to her.
“Are you okay,” he asked.
Hearing the concern in his voice, triggered her attention.
“My flight’s been cancelled. The borders have been closed. I…”
“What? Why? What happened?”
“It’s this virus. All travel has been shut down. My mum and dad are back home in the UK, my auntie, and friends.”
“Does it say how long?”
“I don’t know I haven’t gotten that far yet.”
“Here, let me look,” Mark said as he turned around looking for his own phone.
“Turn the telly on,” Gemma instructed.
Mark grabbed the remote on the nightstand and clicked it on. President Malcolm stood at the podium, in the middle of a speech. Gemma came over and sat next to where Mark sat, both transfixed by the American President declaring the borders of the United States were now closed, as globally travel was banned due to a rapidly spreading global pandemic. Gemma reached back and pulled the blanket from the futon around her. Mark wrapped his arm around not sure if it was to comfort her or himself. As the President concluded Gemma looked down at her phone.
“I have to call parents, would that be okay?”
“Of course, I’ll shower to give you some privacy.”
Mark stood, and realized he should probably call his own family. He grabbed his phone and walked into the bathroom, shutting the door behind himself. With his apartment being a true studio, the bathroom was the only enclosed room, where one could give and get privacy. He turned on the shower, hoping the noise would block out his own calls home. He talked to his parents who were isolated on their farm in rural Illinois and were prepared. They urged him to head to the farm, and it sounded like a good idea, but he wasn’t sure yet. He wasn’t going to just leave Gemma in his apartment.
He showered in record time and put a towel around his waist as he walked out of the bathroom, hoping he wouldn’t disturb Gemma. She sat on the futon her head in her hands. Mark walked over softly and sat down next to her. She could smell the scent of his shampoo and could feel the moisture evaporating off of his skin.
“Were you able to get ahold of your parents and your family,” he asked.
“Where am I going to go. Your? President said that the borders are closed for the next six weeks at minimum. I’ve called my hotel and they are requesting guests check out. I guess they called over the weekend to alert me to this, but the one weekend I put my phone away, the world ends.”
She wiped a tear from her cheek as Mark stood up.
“You’re going to come home with me. My family owns a farm just across the state line in Illinois, in Berlin. It’s tiny, they have a big farm with plenty of room. I called them when you made your calls and they invited me, us, out.”
“You told your family about me?”
“Not exactly, but you are welcome to come along.”
“I’m a stranger to them.”
“You’re not to me. I know this really isn’t the time for this, considering all that is going on but I like you, I mean, I really like you. That being said you don’t have to feel the same way about me, I know how nuts that sounds as we’ve only just met. The offer stands no matter your feelings for me.”
Gemma wiped both of her cheeks. There was something about her curled up in his blanket, upset and afraid, that compelled him to lean down and kiss her but he resisted the urge. She looked up at him, with her piercing green eyes, and tear-stained cheeks.
“I couldn’t it’s rude.”
“Not here, I promise you. The city is going to get nuts, you have nowhere else to go. I’d offer to let you stay in the studio but I don’t have food here, and I don’t think it will be safe. Please come with me?”
Gemma sat considering her options. She hadn’t said it but she felt the same way about Mark. She chewed her bottom lip, thinking through her options, while she looked at the perfect specimen of a man standing in front of her. The night she had found his dark curly mop of hair adorable the night she had met him, and his chocolate-brown eyes seemed to melt her insides in all of the best ways. He was clean-shaven on the night they had met, but he now had the beginnings of a beard. His muscular build reassured her that he could protect her in the new reality they had woken up to.
“Are you sure it won’t be an imposition?”
“No way. My parents would be thrilled. Here I can give you the address that way you can tell your family where you’ll be if that helps?”
Mark bent down looking at her squarely.
“My mother’s name is Betty and my father’s name is George. They’ve lived in Berlin their whole lives. The family farm has been in my family for three generations now. I am their only son, my sister Carina lives in Florida with her husband. She is staying down there to be near her in-laws. You’ll actually be doing me a favor, my parents are almost in their seventies. It would be nice to have someone my own age to talk to. I promise you it is the safest place on the planet, there is almost a three-mile square perimeter of corn around the entire farm.”
Mark reached up and tucked a long piece of her bangs behind her ear.
“All right. Thank you. Are you sure?”
“Absolutely. I promise you we’ll be safe there.”
Gemma stood up and began to look for her clothes. She dressed in Friday night’s club attire that she had worn to Mark’s apartment. Her bags had been packed up and were waiting at the concierge the hotel had instructed her.
“I’m sorry but can we please go to the hotel for my bags before we leave town?”
Mark zipped the suitcase that sat on the futon and pulled it off of onto the floor, the metal wheels of it clicking on the wood floor.
“Ready? We’d better get on the road, so we are in our shelter place by 5 pm. as the President said.
Gemma nodded that she was as Mark pulled the suitcase behind him. He reached out his hand for hers and she took it as they walked out of the apartment into the unknown.
A Spot for Inspiration
I was walking on the shore just two short weeks ago along the Malibu coast in California, at my happiest to be in such a gorgeous place. As I walked, the surf tickling my toes, and the waves crashed on the rocks, I glanced over at the large beach homes that hugged the coast. I was struck with a spark, an idea…inspiration. An idea came to me for a book, a really good idea. I’ve been thinking about the idea ever since, but the idea of inspiration and place has also been on my mind.
Meanwhile, I have made what feels, like a massive career transition within those past two weeks as well. I left my former job and took a job in Chicago. I don’t live in the city, I reside within the commuter-belt, albeit a very far edge. So last week, I grabbed my high heels and stepped into my new life, doing a job that I have worked an entire career to get to. I won’t lie, it feels good, no great, to be here. I also know that although I have “made it” to this level, my work must be worthy for now and for forwarding advancement.
As exciting as this transition is, my new opportunity has put back downtown Chicago again. Chicago is my home city. When I travel the world and people ask me where I am from, I reply, “I’m from Chicago,” even though I don’t actually reside within the city. The first day as I stepped off of the commuter train, out of the station, and out onto the street, I thought about all of those who came before me and all of those who will come after me. Then I thought about my characters, doing the same thing I am doing, going about their daily lives in this amazing city.
So much of my work is set in Chicago, because it is the city that I love, and it is the city that I know. As I was walking to catch the train home yesterday, I walked in the exact footsteps where Ben and Rachel from McKinley Park had their first date. I imagined them walking under the EL on the hot summer night. I couldn’t help but smile, genuinely smile. I am sure the others on the street if they even noticed wondered why this crazy woman wore a big smile but I didn’t care. As I walked further, my newest book has a scene set in the State Street Macy’s, I thought of the two characters as I walked past. Chicago is a rich setting, and I think it is why I use it so much in my work.
I am a firm believer that place directly impacts not just where a story is set but the writer too. I remarked to my husband while we were in LA a few weeks ago, that one would almost have to reside in LA for an extended period of time to accurately write the area. Sure writing a trope of LA is easy, but if you really wanted to richly set a work there… In my opinion, you’d have to go there and stay for some time. For reference, when I mean LA, I am talking about the greater LA area. It is so vastly different from the coast, to Anaheim, to Santa Anna and into the mountains, you’d have to be there to accurately describe the setting.
This past fall I took a trip for a long girls weekend down to New Orleans. At the time I was reading the book Fat Tuesday by Sandra Brown, which is set there. I picked up the book before I travelled thinking it would be interesting to read a book about a place I had never been and was soon to travel to. The experience of reading a book set in downtown New Orleans, while walking the streets the characters had, was a decadent experience. There was so much more to see, hear, smell, taste that added a rich velvety layer of complexity to Brown’s story. Granted I can’t travel to every book setting but the experience stuck with me.
When I first started writing romance, then reading it – yeah I know I got that backwards, but it’s the way it happened, I read a series by Christine Feehan. The setting for some of the stories were set in the bayous and swamps in Lousiana, as a home base for the characters. I read an interview with her about her research for the books, and she talked about spending time there for the purposes of book research. She discussed how the beauty of place resonated with her. When I read her books set in the bayou, they felt detailed in a way that you know she had been there. She describes place so well, and I would argue that the place in itself was an inspiration and a character in the series.
The more I write the more I learn. It used to annoy me to no end when writers would drone on about “the process.” I naively thought to myself, just sit down and write. How time has a way of teaching each of us. Place is important, whether reading or writing, it matters. I get it now. I am grateful to walk in the setting of my own work every day now.
My Writing Year of 2019
This has been an interesting year writing-wise. I came into 2019 having just finished three completed novels, in fact, I finished the last one on December 22nd of 2018. I came into the year on a creative hot-streak! There was a lot of change for me personally last year too, a career change, followed by another one in short succession. I would’ve thought that change would’ve stifled the creative process but it didn’t. I couldn’t write fast enough. The creative juices were flowing, they were overflowing!
I came into this year without any expectations for writing, other than, I would continue to write. With six completed works under my belt I wanted to change direction, I wanted to find an agent. As I read everything I could get my hands on about finding an agent, one thing that became clear was that I needed to build a platform- hence the birth of this website. I set to crafting the perfect query letter and all I can say is I had a lot to learn, and probably still do if I am being honest. I put my head down, got to researching and started querying. Let me just say for those of you who have never done this- it is rough.
My writing comes from somewhere deep inside of me. That being said, when I reach out to an agent for representation, I am putting my work out there, and it is no longer mine and mine alone. I have to be open to changes that will come to the story and the characters along the way, it is no longer my own fiefdom, that is terrifying. There is also the emotional response of hoping it’s good enough and that my writing isn’t a joke. Bottom line, querying is an emotional landmine, but that being said, it is a necessary process. So far, querying has had its ups and downs but it has also helped me grow as a person. I have had to learn to handle rejection in a way that I never have before- it’s humbling but good. As 2019 rolls to a close, I am still currently seeking representation, but I am not deterred. I am emboldened to keep going. I believe through and through that, I have to work for the things I want in life.
Aside from querying, I did write this year. I wrote McKinley Park and published it a chapter at a time on this very blog. In fact, it was this blog that prompted the completion of McKinley Park. As I wrote on the McKinley Park page, I had started the story awhile back but had gotten stuck and had shelved it. I knew if I said I would finish it here on the blog, that the public pressure would force me to complete it. I was right! Writing a book and publishing it a chapter at a time, in a new genre, what could go wrong? McKinley Park stretched my skills as a writer. It also made me kill my darlings! Don’t worry, I won’t share any spoilers, for those who haven’t read it. This was an amazing exercise as a writer! Thank you to all of you who read along!
Writing-wise things were humming along, I was querying, writing McKinley Park and then everything ground to a halt for an unexpected and life-changing surgery. After surgery, it seemed that all of my bandwidth was used just keeping my professional and student life going, and at times I felt like I was barely keeping my head above water. What I did not expect, nor prepare for was the emotional cost of my operation. It was like a grenade going off in the middle of my life, I feel like I am still picking pieces of emotional shrapnel out of my skin. For most creative people who have been through a life-changing event, they can tell you, your creativity takes a hit too. I wasn’t prepared for that either.
For the first time in a long time, I didn’t want to write. I tried to force it, and that did not go well. I was terrified that I had somehow broken that special creative part of myself. Then one night I dreamt about all of the characters I had created and as woo-woo as this sounds, I felt like they were encouraging me to try again. I knew that creatively I couldn’t start something new, I wasn’t there yet, so I rewrote my first book- the project that made me fall in love with writing. I thought this would be an easier lift, as I didn’t really have to create much, the world was built, and the characters were there… Again, I was mistaken. Rewriting is HARD, but it was exactly what I needed to get back on my feet. Like a muscle that had atrophied, my rewrite started off slowly and then as time went on, my writing got stronger.
As November came around and NaNoWriMo kicked off, I tackled it with the same enveloping enthusiasm that I always had. I love Nano, but between school, work, and a renewed querying effort, I just didn’t have the bandwidth- something had to give. I refused to look at the truth of the situation, I could do a few things really well, or all of the things I was trying to accomplish poorly. Querying demands your very best, you can’t phone that in, neither can you do a half-assed job working on your Master’s degree. To top it all off, what started as a great idea for my Nano, fizzled and then eventually came to a grinding halt. The story just didn’t work. I had another idea on the back burner and I enthusiastically set to work on that, and the writing went well but I simply just did not have the bandwidth. Recognizing my own limitations, I stepped back from Nano for the first time ever. That was painful.
With the end of the year less than a month away, I have started another project! One evening while I was driving home from work I had an idea for another novel. This wasn’t a moment, where I thought to myself “oh that’s an interesting idea,” no this was a sledgehammer of an idea, more like “WRITE ME NOW OR I WILL CUT YOU!” The force in which the idea came was powerful. It was welcome! It was my inspiration, roaring to life! So I’ve started writing this book, with Joe and Noelle and I am telling their story. I don’t know exactly where it goes yet but I have a pretty good idea. Do you want to know what the best part is? I am having fun writing again! Even more important, the feeling that writing is a necessary part of my life is back! I could not be happier to get started with this. If you are asking yourself, about the bandwidth thing dear reader, all I can say is two words Christmas break. I am on Christmas break from grad school, I now have the bandwidth to dedicate all of me to this project and I could not be happier.
My hopes for the next year is to find an agent for The Lake Michigan Affair and to continue writing. I am excited about the possibilities a new year brings! I am also grateful for the good and difficult times this past year has brought. Life is a learning experience, and I have learned a lot this year!
Happily Ever… Never
For the past week, I’ve been thinking about his blog post, about romance writing, and happily ever afters. I had the post loosely sketched out in my head and then yesterday something happened. I was scrolling through Twitter on my lunch break and I saw a post about romance writing and happily ever afters and how a story wasn’t a romance if the story did not end that particular way. I wanted to comment but scrolled past, then I went back, I was compelled to comment, against my better judgement. Side note, I like to think I usually have better judgement. I commented with the utmost respect, in fact, I even said in my tweet, “I mean this with the utmost respect.” Then it happened, I had voiced my opinion on the subject, knowing it’s not popular. It took all of twenty seconds later for the backlash to start.
Now, I know that when you participate in social media you had better put on your big girl pants because not everyone is going to be nice. I was told that if my work did not have a happy ending then 1. it’s not romance, 2.I’ll never get an agent, and 3. my work will never sell. Ouch! Maybe it’s true, maybe it isn’t and I will say the majority of my works end happily. I had intended to write an opinion piece about romance and stories that end happily, but instead, and probably equally as unpopular, I want to talk about genre.
I know some stranger on the internet really shouldn’t have mattered to me so much but, the comments were not kind, and written from a fellow romance author. I was under the impression that we romance authors stuck together, and stuck up for each other. Another commenter on the thread felt compelled to direct message me the definition of romance according to the RWA (Romance Writers of America, the national organization for romance writing) and to let me know that I am not a romance author if all of my work does not end happily.
I tried to shrug it off and go about my day. After an impromptu dinner date with the hubs, he suggested a trip to the local bookstore. I am always game for a trip to the bookstore! As we walked through I made my way to the romance section, which has grown considerably over the past few years. I took a seat on the small stool used to reach books higher on shelves and studied the covers. There was your alpha-male, cowboy adventure, a cartoonish woman on the front, and then your erotica all on the same shelf. (Note: I am NOT knocking any of these subgenres!) As I looked at the shelf I began to wonder, “am I a romance author, does my work belong on this shelf?”
Before I could a full-blown existential crisis, my husband wandered over with his book choices under his arm. I turned to him and asked him flat out, “Am I a romance writer, or do I write fiction with romantic plots,” as another tweeter had felt compelled to tell me. He stood there for a minute, I could see he was perplexed by the question, and I wondered if the tweeters were right. I felt the pit of my stomach begin to burn as I waited for his answer. Like the amazing man that he is, he gave an amazing answer. “Your work belongs on that shelf,” he said as he pointed towards the romance section, “or any other shelf you want it to in this whole damn store.” Then he asked me, “do you think Stephen King lets people tell him, that he doesn’t write fiction, or his books aren’t scary enough to be classified as horror? No, he writes what he writes because he loves it. You write whatever stories are inside you, and don’t let someone else tell you who or what you write.”
Guys, I was speechless. Now my hubs is a pretty smart guy and occasionally he says something resonates with me. I say occasionally because we’ve been together for almost twenty years at this point, it takes a lot to really shock each other. What he said last night will be imprinted on me forever! I woke up this morning with a smile on my face thinking to myself, that my stories and all writers have their own way of telling their stories. Gatekeepers do their genre a disservice in curtailing what should or should not be classified. Writing is an art, sure your work can be classified as different types but at the end of the day, art is unique.
At the end of the day, I write the type of romance I want to read. I like writing and reading dramatic, high-stakes romance that sometimes has a happy ending and sometimes it doesn’t. I don’t feel like I’ve wasted my time, reading a romance novel if it doesn’t end happily. In the end, I ask my self two things, first, was there a great love story, and two, did it make me feel for the characters? If I can answer yes to both of those questions then to me, I’ve just read and or written a great romance novel.