After the Sonoma-Napa Fires | The New Normal

Last Saturday night, my husband and I went to my sister’s house for dinner. Our youngest was at the homecoming at her high school.  By 2am Monday morning … both places were gone–burned to the ground, along with a huge swath of my hometown.

It’s hard to wrap our heads around the last week here in Santa Rosa. I mean, I’m in the middle of Pitch Wars 2017. The most stressful thing on my plate is supposed to be getting through a full revision, right?

But my reality has changed. Dozens of families we know have lost their homes. 136 families just at our small school. 3,500 houses burned. 6,700 structures. 50,000 evacuated. 95,000 acres burned. 41 dead (though the fact that this number is not far bigger is a miracle).

Here’s how the events unfolded for us.

Saturday, October 7

6am I send my husband and daughter off to her volleyball tournament. I hate to miss watching her play, but I’m in the throes of Pitch Wars 2017 and I have to get some serious revisions done.

8pm After dropping our daughter off at Homecoming, I sit  at my sister Kim’s cool square dining table–the one her sister-in-law gave her–catching up with my nephew, home from college. Their rambling ranch-style house is quirky and imperfect. The view west towards the ocean is all oak trees and vineyards and rolling hills. I grab a wine glass from their 50+ year old cabinets, rinsing it before I pour in my favorite Hanna Sauvignon Blanc (wine snob that I am).  We eat my sister’s famous lasagna and send this dorky snap to my daughter at UC Davis to tell her we miss her.

10:30pm My husband and I wait outside Cardinal Newman High School, watching the students–all dressed up for the Homecoming Dance–leave the gym. We giggle some of the girls walking out–all knees and ankles like teenage giraffes in too-high shoes. Our daughter finally shows up at the car, smiling and sweaty and talking a mile a minute in her cool way-too-expensive Free People dress.

Sunday, October 8

A boring Sunday, like any other. I’m at my computer, banging away at the keys. I blow off going to the grocery store in favor of getting through a few more chapters. (This I will regret later.) We have takeout–again. (Getting to be a regular Pitch Wars problem.) Lauren complains about her homework.

8pm My eyes bleary from edits, I finally crash out on the couch for our nightly family binge of Grey’s Anatomy (we’re in Season 5). We miss having our older daughter lounging there with us–she’s in her third week of college. We get through a few episodes–noticing that the wind has really picked up outside. Weird.

10pm By the time we go to bed, the wind is howling like I’ve never heard it in Santa Rosa before. I hear it was gusting up to 80 MPH that night. We hunker down in bed–always wary of the oak tree that hangs over our house. Darryl falls right off to sleep, but I stay awake reading, every once in awhile glancing up to laugh at the bullet-like hailstorm of acorns that bombard our roof.

Monday, October 9

12:00am I’m still awake reading when Lauren comes into our dark room. She’s just seen a post that her friend has been evacuated from her house on Riebli Road & Mark West Springs because of a fire.

Wait a minute.

That’s not that far from here. And even closer to my sister and parents. And right next to my friend Dani’s house. Her husband is out of town.

I get out my phone. Call my mom. She’s up watching news. Tells me to call Kim. I consider calling Dani. Am I overreacting? I don’t want to wake everyone up.

The wind outside howls some more. I smell smoke. Screw it. I’m calling.

12:18am  Call my sister. No answer.  Text my sister:

She’s up watching the news. Does not realize fire is so close.

Darryl falls back asleep. Thinking I’m overreacting (which, to be fair, I often do). I go out to turn on the TV. A fire started in Calistoga and is headed our way. I look outside, where the trees are whipping back and forth in the wind.

12:40am  I decide it’s better to wake Dani up. Call Dani cell. No answer. Call Dani home. Text Dani:

No answer. Very worried now.

We get an evacuation call on our landline for the hill behind our house. We didn’t even know an “evacuation call” was a thing. The city considers our house part of the hill behind us. I guess they’re right. If it goes, we go.

Back on the phone with my sister–they are now up. They can see smoke and a red glow. Panic ensues. They run around throwing random valuables in bags. They got away with computers. Her makeup. Some jewelry. The photo albums. The dog. They couldn’t corral the cat. They head in one car up their driveway, leaving two behind. At the top of the drive an ominous red glow is cresting their hill and car after car is heading down and out.

Instead of following the line of cars to safety, they take a right turn to head for my folks’ house. My parents are 76 and 78–young and healthy for their age. But still. She helps them gather up a few things. What do you take? No one cares about the china or silver in cases like this. Empty the safe.

1am With a few possessions thrown in the car, my parents and my sister and her husband and son are on the road, trying to get to my house. They have me on speakerphone. A cry wrenches through the phone. My connection cuts off. My panic reaches epic proportions. They call back. On the hill to the east, my sister’s house is on fire. The whole hill is on fire. They change course and head north.

1:42am I finally hear from Dani. They have fled their house, driving through flames licking up either side of their driveway. They cannot find their beloved cat.

It’s hitting home that this fire is on the hill that connects Dani’s house to ours, and it’s moving fast. I start packing up our valuables. Then I start to learn the meaning of the word “valuable”. Turns out, it has almost no relation to how much something cost. I am one of the few who has time to really pack–and I walk right by things I thought were valuable and my only thought is “I can replace that.”

I pack the car with my computer, photo albums, birth certificates, a odd assortment of clothes, some blankets. Then more clothes (wondering if I’m going to have to clothe my sister and mother). I stare lovingly at my baby grand piano, then pack my flute and guitar. We crate the cat (thank God she’s inside). I send a copy of my latest manuscript to my CP Deborah. Just in case.

We are ready. We are not ready.

3:00am Everyone’s up. The smoke is thick, the wind still whipping around. My entire neighborhood is standing out on the street, looking up at the hill behind us. The smoke roils up in a giant, ominous cloud. Reflected in it is an eerie orange-pink glow. We don’t know how far away it is. (This isn’t my photo–but this is what it looked like)

3:30am The smoke is getting thick and I evacuate with my daughter down to my husband’s office in downtown Santa Rosa. He stays to protect the house. (It’s funny, I heard this scenario again and again. The women’s instinct was to evacuate the kids; the men protected the houses.) My parents and sister can’t reach us–the wind has blown the fire across the freeway and it’s burning on both sides now. My in-laws show up. Darryl finally comes down. We have an odd assortment of dogs and kids and food and blankets. No one knows what to say. Our town is burning. I wonder if my house is burning. We have no TV and don’t know where to look for updates.

The kids sleep. The adults stay up.

5:30am The dawn starts to break and we pray for the sound of fire bombers. The sound doesn’t come. The smoke is thick and acrid. The wind has finally died down.

We head back to our house. Our neighborhood still stands, the hill behind us intact. Once again we stand on the sidewalk with our neighbors, staring at the smoke in the distance. Have you heard anything? Is everyone OK? We all know families whose homes are already gone.

We evacuate once more that afternoon, back to downtown Santa Rosa. But our house survives the week. The fires continued to burn. The wind whips up again. My parents sleep in my oldest daughters’ room, wondering if their house still stands.

We learn what Nixle updates are. We follow every social media account of city and county services. We obsessively watch the red dots on the fire map. We start every conversation with “are you still OK?” and end every conversation with “stay safe.” We sleep with half an ear open, clothes set at the ready. We leave all the valuables packed in the car. We shake our heads at reports of looting. How could they?

Eventually, we learned that the fire came within 1.2 miles of us that night (see the blue line). If it had jumped that last road, it’s unlikely the houses on our hill would have survived. Though my parents’ house is just .8 miles from my sister’s, it survived. The wind decided that night who burned and who didn’t.

Walking through our old house, I suddenly love every quirky, imperfect thing about it. The cabinet that shuts crooked makes me smile. The sticky slider is a blessing. We’re lucky to have laundry piles.

Here are just a few of the images that will be etched in my mind forever:

Cardinal Newman High School–where both my husband and I attended. One daughter graduated last year; one is a sophomore there now. Half the school burned. 25% of our students lost their homes in the fire–136 families.

photo credits: The Press Democrat

Our favorite restaurant –where we took our daughter for a special dinner before she left for college. The owners live down the street from us. Their home survived.

photo credits: The Press Democrat

What’s left of my sister’s amazing view of the Santa Rosa plain:

Our friends’ neighborhoods:

Coffee Park


Where my husband asked me to marry him:

(AP Photo/Ben Margot)

Though that first night was battled with limited resources, a huge thank you to the hundreds of first responders who came from all over California and neighboring states to help us.

It’s been eight days since all hell broke loose in my hometown. How will I ever finish revisions on my contemporary romance? It’s set in Sonoma County wine country, which has just burned around me. It’s surreal to go back to something light and uncomplicated, but I’m so grateful to be sitting in my home at my computer, ready to slip back into the story.

Thank you to my awesome Pitch Wars mentor Laura Brown, my co-peep Kerri Keberly and my CP Deborah Mouralis for helping me get through it.

*Some photos above were found online with no credit. If you would it removed, or would like a photo credit added to the photo, please comment below or contact me here.

#PitchWars 2017: Pimp My Bio

Hi PitchWars Peeps!
I’m late to the party but I’ve been busy … ummmm … writing! Sit down and enjoy a nice glass of Pinot Noir while we “chat.”

wine gif

This year, I had a NEARLY FINISHED manuscript as PitchWars approached, so I kicked some major writing butt to get the story complete so I could submit it. This second manuscript was a completely different experience than the first, I’ve officially become a “plotter.”

I decided the time was ripe (well—actually, a bit overdue) to go ahead and #PimpMyBio for the Pitch Wars mentee blog tour.

The Basics
I’m Keli Vice. I live in middle of Sonoma County wine country in Northern California. By day, I consult for amazing wineries who make some of the most incredible wine on the planet (for real—this is not an exaggeration). This is Cab country (Alexander Valley), Zin country (Dry Creek Valley … and NOT the pink kind), Pinot country (Russian River Valley). Yes, they also make a crap-ton of Chard, but I’m a card-carrying member of the ABC Club (Anything But Chardonnay).

Books are the foundation of my life. I have been kicking people out of my room because I’M READING since I was seven. (Seriously. Ask my sister.) I regularly stay up hours after my husband, bleary eyed and yawning, just because I have to know what happens next. Thank God for my back-lit iPad and a consulting schedule that allows me to sleep ’til 7:45am and still start working at 8:00am.

reading gif

I have a strange habit of re-reading novels. Like multiple times. (Most people think this is insane.) I will not even admit how many times I’ve read the Outlander series. I always find some new turn of phrase or different take on a scene—Diana Gabaldon is my hero.

My Writing
Like many of us working on getting our first novel published, that pesky day job and mortgage have kept writing on the side for many years. I have seven book ideas in various stages of development—two complete and edited.

I’ve written a YA/Paranormal Romance titled Shift, and a NA/Adult Contemporary Romance called Behind Cellar Doors. I’m submitting the latter for this year’s PitchWars contest.

I love writing dialogue. When I started writing, I was a complete panster, writing scenes all over the book, then trying to connect all the dots. With the second manuscript I did the complete opposite: the entire summary and “Save the Cat”-style plot arc was written before a word went on the page. I have days where I can’t write a word. I have days where I fall into writing only to emerge out of the rabbit hole hours later wondering what happened to the day.

My #PitchWars Novel
I’m entering a completed NA/Adult Contemporary Romance titled Behind Cellar Doors (75,000 words).


Instead of embarking on a carefree post-graduation trip to Europe, 22-year-old TAYLOR LANSING is rushing home after her father’s heart attack to run the family winery. It’s trial by fire as she works to keep the financially unstable winery afloat, and navigate a budding romance with the gorgeous billionaire financier-cum-winery-owner ALEC ESTRELLA. A series of mishaps raises suspicion that someone is trying to force a sale of the winery. Could it be her new boyfriend?

Short Synopsis: 

22-year-old Taylor Lansing is trying to finish her last final at UC Davis, but someone’s blowing up her phone. The frantic calls from Martin Sandcastle, the winemaker at her family’s winery, send her racing home to Sonoma County: her father has had a heart attack.

Now Taylor must cancel her carefree summer trip through Europe to help run the winery while her father recovers. With the ink barely dry on her winemaking degree, Taylor jumps in with both feet, soon discovering that the winery is in serious financial trouble. She refuses to consider the option to sell out to a big corporation, instead putting up her personal trust fund and banking on the upcoming harvest.

When the high-tech sensors fail in an important vineyard block, Taylor is caught in a downpour and thumbs a ride back to the winery. An ancient work truck stops and she’s stunned when a gorgeous guy in work clothes rolls down the window to offer her a ride. She sees him again a few weeks later at the annual wine auction – this time in a tailored tuxedo. He’s 29-year-old Alec Estrella, the billionaire owner of a venture capital firm, with a budding interest in the wine industry … and in Taylor Lansing.

Their romance begins with a candlelit cellar dinner for two and she’s soon captivated by Alec’s dark good looks and intimate smile. By the night of her birthday, she’s overcome her insecurities and slips into his room for a night of sweet, hot lovemaking.  Alec Estrella might be out of her league, but she’s falling for him. Hard.

But as her private life heats up, Taylor continues to be plagued by troubles at work, clashing with Martin on winemaking and dealing with a series of mishaps, from the frost fans failing to the spring bottling being threatened. Eventually Taylor begins to suspect someone is trying to sabotage her family winery, forcing a sale. Alec’s already bought up all the vineyards surrounding her estate. Could her new boyfriend have his eye on acquiring more than just Taylor’s heart?

I have not yet sent this MS out for Query.


Why I Want to Work with You
Behind Cellar Doors is a promising story—with lots of romantic sex appeal and smart, interesting characters. BUT … with the expertise and advice of one of you fabulous PitchWars Mentors, I want to transform it from a promising story to a solid story to a great book.

Why You (Hopefully) Want to Work with Me
I will work hard. Really hard. I’ve spent years in corporate marketing, so I know how to take feedback on a project, incorporate it and turn in into something better. I want your constructive criticism to make this story stronger, better and more believable. I’m ready to tackle the rough parts and reshape the characters into bigger, brighter more interesting people.

And … did I mention I will work hard?

Random Facts

  • Hogwarts House:  Ravenclaw (I wanted to be a Gryffindor, but the sorting hat insisted)
  • Faction: Erudite (the nice ones)
  • Favorite Fiction:
    Too many to list. A handful: Outlander (all of ’em), The Help, Eat Pray Love, The Pelican Brief, The Da Vinci Code, The Prince of Tides, The Art of Racing in the Rain, The Secret Life of Bees.
  • Favorite YA Novels:
    Harry Potter (esp. The Goblet of Fire), The Fault in Our Stars, The Hunger Games, Divergent, The Raven Boys, Percy Jackson, The Selection, Forget Tomorrow. 
  • Favorite Princess: Belle (‘Cause she’s a geek who reads and saves her father, herself AND the beast — ‘nough said.)
  • Favorite Villain: Loki and anything played by the late, great Alan Rickman
  • Favorite Ice Cream: Chocolate on Chocolate
  • Favorite Movies: Love Actually, Pride and Prejudice, Chocolat, Shakespeare in Love, Shawshank Redemption, The Godfather (I and II), Shrek
  • Favorite Baseball Team: SF Giants
  • Favorite Yoga Move: Dancer
  • Favorite Beach Activity: Snorkeling


My Street Cred
I have an BA in English from UCLA and wrote for a magazine in LA for the first few years after school. Then I got into PR and worked for a tiny audiophile record company that made specialized reissues for hi-fi stereos on gold CDs (great product, bat-shit-crazy owner). After that, I ran the publicity department at our performing arts center and got to rub shoulders with folks like Bonnie Raitt, Wynton Marsalis and Carole Burnett. From there I entered the wine industry and moved through PR and Marketing into consulting. Today, I develop and manage websites, email marketing programs and social media outreach for winery DTC departments (that’s Direct to Consumer for those of you outside the industry).

At Home
I have two awesome teenaged daughters (one off to UC Davis in September), a marathon-running husband, a teeny 5-pound rescue cat who’s a badass birder and the sweetest Lab on the planet. Seriously, the sweetest.

If you got this far down the page—THANKS! I appreciate you reading my pimped up bio! Good luck to all this year’s PitchWars Mentee hopefuls—and THANK YOU to all the PitchWars Mentors. See you  in the Pitch Wars thread on Twitter.

A Dog Called Ego

I was going to write a post about how difficult it is to both accept criticism and then use it to improve your WIP … but my amazing CP Deborah Maroulis captured it so perfectly I will share her words instead!

Deborah Maroulis

I remember the moment I found out I wasn’t a good writer.


Like most introverted masochists, I’d always wanted to be able to say I’d written a novel. It couldn’t be that hard, right? People have been doing it for a few centuries now. Lots of people. Like childbirth. So one Halloween, I’d eaten the last of the good candy, turned out the porch light and signed up for NaNoWriMo. If you’re not sure what that is, click here.

Two months later, I’d written most of a novel. For the record, I did make the 50,000 word goal to “win,” but as I wrote, I figured out my book was going to need to be a tad longer. I tinkered with it for another six months or so and came across a tiny little contest called PitchWars. You may have heard of it.

As the contest burst into…

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To Write or to Edit … That is the Question

Forgive me for taking a break from my own blog. I’ve been away for awhile, now. Since Election Day, 2016, in fact. I wanted this blog to remain a politics-free zone … yet I found myself unable to write without commenting on the swirl of political controversy in which we are all unwillingly immersed. The controversy over Trump’s presidency remains (grows, in fact) … but as that is not the topic of this forum, I will not address it here. (See me on Twitter :-).)

So… . Today I talk about a common dilemma for writers: keep writing the new novel or go back and work on developmental edits on the last novel.


There are only so many hours in the day, after all. Like so many as-yet-to-be-published writers, I DO have a full time day job. So how does one make the call? Do I call it quits on my first manuscript and chalk it up to a good learning experience or do I keep plugging away? (The phrase “beat a dead horse” comes to mind.)

At the suggestion of my A-MAZ-ING critique partner Deborah Maroulis, I hired the hugely talented and fabulous Michelle Hazen to complete a developmental edit round on my  YA Paranormal MS Shift.


Michelle and I kicked off with a “pre-project” chat where we talked about the manuscript, and what I thought were its major issues. We decided I would pull out the troublesome “backstory dump” and send that to her separately, along with the full MS. She spent about seven weeks with the piece, during which I plugged away on my current WIP Behind Cellar Doors, which is well underway and picking up steam: 19 chapters/42,000+ words.

Michelle’s comments on Shift arrived in three pieces: a thorough edit letter talking about the project as a whole, the full MS with her comments in bubbles throughout, and a helpful sample of a first chapter as an example of how to launch the story more successfully.

But now I had TWO projects demanding my attention: a much-needed, time-consuming edit of Shift  and a WIP with great momentum.

So here’s what I decided to do: I set aside a few days to review the edit letter and complete a long, full (and at times cringe-y) read-through of Shift, carefully absorbing all of Michelle’s comments. She has a real gift for delivering big change suggestions with a light hand, and helped spot all of Shifts (many) first-time-author flaws. Her feedback is incredible and useful and eye-opening; it was like taking a personalized writing class dedicated to my particular strengths and weaknesses.

After I completed the read-through, I immediately tackled rewriting Chapter 1 of Shift, taking all Michelle’s comments under consideration. Backstory is my nemesis, but I’m learning and refining how to deal with it–parsing it out instead of dumping it. (Ah–those fledgling novelist mistakes we all must make before we improve! ☺). You can see the results of the Chapter 1 rewrite here.

And now that that’s done … Sam and Emily will be put on hiatus for awhile, while I continue to devote my complete attention to Taylor and Alec, the stars of Behind Cellar Doors. With Behind Cellar Doors I made the leap to adult contemporary romance–and it’s a relief to have a main character who is allowed to not only speak with a full vocabulary but also have a sex life. (Whoop whoop!).

Who knew writing YA was so darn difficult? Telling a complex story with a teenage vocabulary and perspective is not easy, my friends.

And the good news? Having gone through the developmental edits feedback process, I am already incorporating all of Michelle’s suggestions into my new story, helping to keep the pacing tighter and the writing leaner.

I highly recommend you take a gander over to Michelle’s blog, which is filled with great posts on writing and editing. (Is it bad I keep re-reading “How to Write Steamy Sexual Tension?”)

Sending a HUGE THANK YOU to Michelle for her great feedback. If you’re looking for an editor for your work, I highly recommend her.







Summer Reading 2016

I have to admit—I’ve been doing a LOT more reading than writing this summer. What is it about the warm weather? I’d love to see a statistic showing how many of humankind’s great books were written by authors tucked away in a cozy cabin in the cold winter snow vs. those who were trying to write with summer outside beckoning with all her charms. I’d put big money on the first group being a whole lot bigger than the second.

I’ve been reading the advice of a lot of my favorite writers, and they all say to read within your genre … and read outside of your genre. So basically, just READ.

It’s only June 30 … and here’s what I’ve read so far (in the order I read them, as far as I can remember), followed by a list of books I’m planning to read. (Disclaimer: It’s summer, people. I am a fan of easy, enjoyable reading in the summer, so don’t get all serious on me wondering why I’m not reading more weighty tomes. Blame the heat.)

Stephen King, On Writing – A Memoir of the Craft
This title had shown up on several “must read” lists for authors, so I opened it as our plane took off from Oakland, CA, heading to Maui. I’ll admit, I’d tried to read this book before. The first few chapters were fairly biographical—not what I expected. But with a five-hour flight in front of me, I gave it another whirl, and this time it totally sucked me in. Once the great Stephen King starts talking about his writing process, it’s fascinating. He is a terrific writer—there’s not an unnecessary word on the page (something I am working on!).

Robert James Waller, The Bridges of Madison County
I downloaded this book to re-read the moment I finished King’s book. He had spent a fairly long page bashing “Bridges” and I was taken aback. I had loved this book when it was released back in 1992 (I was 21). With Stephen’s harsh comments echoing in my mind, I was convinced I would read the book and love it again. Unfortunately, not so much. I have to admit Stephen was correct in his criticism of stilted storytelling. Though it’s still a lovely story (and any story in which I can envision Meryl Streep is a WIN in my book), I did not enjoy the writing style this time around.

Cecelia Ahern, Flawed
I’m not sure where I saw Flawed listed, but I am glad I stumbled upon it. I hadn’t read Cecelia Ahern before, and further research shows she’s not really considered a YA author. But this dystopian novel about a society that “brands” its flawed people (literally) was quite gripping. It’s only flaw (sorry, I couldn’t resist!) is that it ended with a lot of the story left, and I hate waiting for the next book.

Cecelia Ahern, The Time of My Life
Since Ahern left me hanging with Flawed, I downloaded another of her titles. This was an odd read, about a young woman who had let herself go, and her family calls in “her life” to meet with her. I stumbled a bit when reading the premise. It was presented very matter of fact-ly. Almost too matter-of-fact. I didn’t have time to adjust to the magic/fantasy element being thrust into a thoroughly non-magic story. But once I adjusted and adequately suspended my disbelief, it was a pretty interesting read.

Paula Hawkins, The Girl on the Train
Maybe the only book on my list that came off the bestseller list, I found The Girl on the Train to be completely absorbing, and equally confusing. The back and forth chronology and constantly shifting POV was incredibly interesting, but I had to scan back to see what time period I was in more than once. It did not detract from my enjoyment, and I gobbled the book up (and am looking forward to seeing the movie.)

John Grisham, The Testament
I hadn’t read John Grisham in awhile. And this was a paperback. So although I like to convince myself that my 40+ year old eyes work just as well as they used to … this paperback proved me wrong and I had to squint at it with my cheaters. But it was worth it. I don’t know if this was one of Grisham’s highest rated novels, but he never fails to grip you at the beginning, and keep you hooked until the end. The master of legal drama. Very enjoyable.

Pintip Dunn, Forget Tomorrow
I can’t remember how I stumbled upon Forget Tomorrow, but I’m so glad I did! Pintip Dunn is a skilled YA writer. Her pacing is perfect and the characters draw you in immediately.  If you’re writing YA (or just like reading YA), pick up a Pintip Dunn title. My only regret is this is a book in a series, and I HATE waiting for the rest of the story.

Judith McNaught, Whitney My Love
Similar to my experiment with “Bridges,” this was a re-read of a book, and an author, that I had loved in my early 20s. And it was a bestseller. Read by millions. But I have to say, I’ve outgrown it. By a long shot. I love a good well-written, sexy romance (Outlander, comes to mind), but these descriptions were so overblown, and the characters so perfect (or way too imperfect). And let’s face it —the main male character basically rapes the lead female character. Maybe I’m not as romantic as I used to be, but this book—alas—is no longer for me.

Blake Snyder, Save the Cat
I took a screenwriting class a few months ago taught by Anne Jordan, a local screenwriter. The class was fantastic, and I’d remembered her mentioning this book. I dream of breaking into screenwriting, so figured I’d pick it up. (The funniest thing is I kept telling my husband I’d just downloaded this book called “Kill the Cat,” so now I laugh every time I see the title.) This book is a great resource for screenwriters, but also surprisingly useful for novelists as well. It’s all about the elements of a well-constructed story, and a very entertaining read.

John Grisham, The Confession
Without giving the story away, I loved this book but hated what happened to some of the characters. Centering on the death penalty, I have to say it might have changed my opinion somewhat on the issue. A very interesting read.

Pintip Dunn, The Darkest Lie
I started following Pintip Dunn on Twitter after I read Forget Tomorrow, so I actually got a tweet the moment her latest book was released. I’m about 3/4 of the way through, and this is a good read. Not my favorite of hers, but still keeping me turning the pages. The premise of the main character’s mother killing herself after being exposed for having an affair with a student seems a little harsh to me (maybe as the mother of teenagers … I’d prefer the mother character not be killed off?). Good writing, good pacing. I enjoy Dunn’s work immensely.

These are my “books on deck”.

  • Lauren Oliver, Before I Fall
  • Rainbow Rowen, Eleanor & Park
  • Andy Weir, The Martian
  • Stephen King, 11.22.63
  • Kiera Cass, The Selection
  • George R.R. Martin, Game of Thrones
  • Cassandra Clare, Clockwork Angel
  • Ernest Cline, Ready Player One

Happy Summer Reading! Send me your suggestions. I’d love to add to my list!

2016-17 West Coast Writing Workshops

So it’s halfway through the year … but now that I’m learning to walk the walk, I’ve started paying attention to upcoming writing conferences and workshops. There are tons. Being a Cali girl, though, some of the East Coast conferences – although they look fantastic – are just too pricey to get to. I want to spend my money … and my time … wisely.

(Disclaimer: please note lack of possessive apostrophe in the titles of these conferences is not my choice.)

Here are some upcoming West Coast events that I’m considering:

The Greater Los Angeles Writers Conference
June 17-19, 2016
Los Angeles, CA

2008-era website but looks like a legit conference. The schedule looks pretty interesting – check it out here. Good chance to visit my UCLA roomies?

Napa Valley Writers’ Conference
July 24-29, 2016
Napa, CA

This conference had me at “Writers'” including an apostrophe … but looks like this conference has an application process rather than straight first-come-first-served registration, which might tony up the party a bit. Check it out here. If they let you in – it’s $975 to participate. Plus you have to give them a $25 reading fee to read through your submitted writing sample. Hmmm.

Pacific Northwest Writers Conference
July 28-31
Seattle, WA

A bit of a confusing website, but managed to find the conference schedule here. Pet peeve no-no: their “about” is a video without backup text on the page. No, no, no. Never do this. BUT – looks like it could be a good conference, website aside. Conference registration $475. At the DoubleTree in Seattle (airport).

Mendocino Coast Writers Conference
August 4-7, 2016
Ft. Bragg, CA

Hmmm – Ft. Bragg in August sounds nice. This one is two days of workshops, followed by an optional “Publishing Boot Camp” on Aug. 7. Surprisingly pricey: $575 early bird registration.

The 2016 Writing Workshop of San Francisco
September 10, 2016 
San Francisco, CA

Looks like this one is a focused 1-day workshop limited to 140 people. PitchFest for an extra fee + the presenter is Chuck Sambuchino. I am reading his book Create Your Writer Platform right now (thus all the blogging).

Southwest Washington Writers Conference
September 17, 2016
Centralia, WA

A one-day conference at Centralia College. Check out the schedule here. I think I’ll pass on this one (although I DO have that book idea for the environmental lawyer in Seattle …).

Southern California Writers’ Conference
September 23-25, 2016

Irvine, CA

Yea! Another apostrophe in the title! The schedule for this one has yet to be announced (as of 5/27/16). Will be posted here when available.

San Francisco Writers Conference
February 16-19, 2017
San Francisco, CA

I missed this conference in 2016 but am considering attending in 2017. Early bird registration (until June 1) is $575 – doesn’t say what it goes up to after that. Optional speed dating add’l fee.

Anybody know anything happening in Oregon? Lemmeno if you’re going to a different conference that you recommend – I’ll add it to this list!

Thanks –


So are You a Plotter or a Panster?

noun : one that plots: as
a : a person who schemes or conspires
b : a contriver of a literary plot

noun: one who flies by the seat of their pants: as
a: a person who doesn’t plan anything out
b: a person who plans very little

I was sitting at lunch with author Sandy Baker, a friend of my mom’s who happens to also be the president of our local Redwood chapter of the California Writers Club (arrgh – no apostrophe in the title of this group, which JUST KILLS me. I mean … we’re writers, right? Shouldn’t it be “California WRITERS’ Club”??). But I digress …

So, anyhow, I’m sitting there at lunch in Santa Rosa and she’s giving me all sorts of great advice about what to do now that I have a completed manuscript. And she asks me: “Are you a plotter or a panster?”

Clearly I’m supposed to know what this means, so I kinda fudge my answer. “I guess I’m a little of both,” I lie, hoping this is an adequate response.

Thank God her next lines explain what the hell we are talking about. Evidently “plotters” plan everything out in advance of writing, while “pansters” fly by the seat of their pants.

So later, I’m thinking about this. Which am I?

With many half-finished story ideas … but only one completed manuscript to my name … I’m not sure I’ve fully decided what I am quite yet. Completing my first manuscript was kind of like birthing my first child – I had no freakin’ idea what to expect. Was I going to need an epidural, the doctor asks me weeks in advance? HELL YES, it turns out.

So finishing that first manuscript was such an unknown. I wrote a few key scenes. Then I rewrote everything. Then I stopped for a few months. Then I freaked out after reading the first chapter of all my favorite YA novels and rewrote everything in first person. Then I signed up for NaNoWriMo and wrote a shit-pot every single day for the month of November, despite the fact that it’s my busiest time of year for Vice Communications (the holiday season is kind of my own personal tax-season).

As Shift was starting to feel like a finished story, I happened to take this amazing screenwriting class at the Santa Rosa Junior College, taught by a fabulous, energetic screenwriter named Anne Jordan – who, incidentally, has the longest, most fabulous legs, ever. Though the class was focused on scripts, she introduced an outlining process that might just change my writing life forever. Here’s the gist.

  • Scripts are about 100 pages long – period. This is what is expected whether you are turning in Ghandi or The Hangover.
  • The script is divided into four equal sections (let’s just say 25 pages, each).
    • ACT I – Setting the Scene > Turning Point
    • ACT IIa – Fun & Games > Turning Point
    • ACT IIb – Bad Guys Set In > All is Lost
    • ACT III – Call to Action  > Resolution

(There’s a lot more detail here, obviously, but I don’t want to give away Anne’s material. If you want to know more, order her book The Big Secret: What Hollywood Won’t Tell You. )


So I go home and immediately apply this theory to my 250-page manuscript and it was amazing. My manuscript reached these points in the story almost to the page. A validating moment.

So now I’m working on Shift II: The Call (working title), and I have become much more of a plotter. I’ve outlined most of the story into Anne’s outline format, so I know where I’m headed. And it’s kind of awesome – I mean, in my professional life in marketing, would I ever embark on a big project without having a project outline to follow? Nope. Never.

The outline also allows me to jump around, the way I did when writing Shift. As of now, I have written the opening scene, the final scene, one pivotal scene in the middle and one “fun” scene blocked out. The outline allows me to be a “planster,” if you will. I can write a scene here and there as it comes to me, but I always know where I’m going.

So how do you approach your writing? I know there are a lot of us out there. Let us know what works for you!


On Momentum …

noun, plural momenta
[moh-men-tuh], momentums.
1. force or speed of movement; impetus, as of a physical object or course of events

What is is about momentum? It seems like I am an “all or nothing girl” – whether it’s with my writing or cleaning the garage or working out or remembering to water my plants. If I can JUST … tip over the edge to get the ball rolling, I disappear into my project, only to look up hours later wondering where the time went. And it’s GREAT!

But what about all the other days?

Elizabeth Gilbert (author of Eat, Pray, Love and all-around fabulous, inspirational person of light) has a great take on this. In her latest book Big Magic she talks about just being a workhorse – how yes, it’s wonderful on those days where inspiration flows and the words stream out of your fingertips onto the keyboard. But for the other six days of the week … it’s plain, good-old-fashioned hard work. Just plug away at it – inspiration will come and go, but there is always work that can be done.

I have a poster in my office with a quote from Thomas Edison:
edison quote

So I know a LOT of people who wish they were writing. Who want to write. Who someday-when-life-stops-getting-in-the-way are going to write. But guess what? THIS DAY NEVER COMES.

Bottom line: writers write. They write blogs and chapters and short stories and character descriptions and screenplays (and, in my case, sometimes wine labels and websites and wine club newsletters).

Sometimes the writing is great. Sometimes … not so much. But that’s not really the point, is it? The point is to WRITE.

The other thing writers do a LOT of? READ. Once your writing gets underway, your reading experience undergoes a subtle shift. (haha – pun intended). You start to notice really beautiful writing, or effective writing, or great dialogue. (You also, unfortunately, begin to notice the flip side to these things, but this is helpful in its own way, too.) Read widely. Read in your genre and outside your genre. Read magazine articles and blog posts and biographies. It will help your writing immensely.

So … I gotta go. Shift II beckons and Emily just had too much to drink at her first college party … .

Cheers –

Reading, Writing & Red Wine

If writing is pain then reading is pleasure … and a dash of good red wine makes both far more palatable. I invite you to join me as I explore the fickle, fascinating and (sometimes) frustrating  journey towards the publication of my first novel (and beyond?).

So first –  the good news: I finally finished* my first manuscript! Yea!
*Quick caveat: I’m not sure “finished” is ever possible. But the story is complete, and I’m looking for an agent, so we are using it!

I’m trying not to downplay this first bit. As all first-time (or 20th-time) novelists know, it’s quite a personal achievement. For years I had bits and pieces of stories written. Several chapters here, an outline there, a story I couldn’t stop thinking about.

But I wasn’t getting it done. Heck – it’s EASY to come up with excuses not to write. Kids need attention. Work needs attention. That recipe I’ve been wanting to try needs attention. Frankly – it’s a lot easier to do just about ANYTHING rather than sit down in front of that blank screen and give yourself permission to write.

And the self doubt. Paralyzing. I found it to be a radically bi-polar experience (forgive me for using that term somewhat lightly). One day I’d sit and the words would flow and I would believe in myself. Man! I was SO FREAKIN’ good!

Then, inevitably, what seemed like just moments later, the self doubt would inevitably come crashing down.

“WHO ARE YOU?” it said in a scathing voice, “to think that you have ANY writing talent whatsoever??”

(Self-doubt’s best friend procrastination often joined the party, accompanied by good-old-fashioned laziness.)

So for a long time, I was “someone who wanted to be a writer.” And I have met a LOT of people stuck in that stage.

So here’s how I got the words flowing out of my fingers onto the page: I read. A lot. I read authors in my genre. I read authors outside of my genre. I re-read some of my favorite authors (Diana Gabaldon, J.K. Rowling, Kathryn Stockett, Cheryl Strayed, Stephanie Meyer), trying to pick apart what it was that worked so well with their books. I even read some authors I truly dislike – because if they got published, I wanted to know why!

I joined the local Redwood chapter of the California Writers Club. I took writing seminars. And, I read a lot of books and articles and blog posts about creativity and the writing process. It was comforting to realize that almost everyone else has this strange love-hate relationship with writing as well. It’s compelling. It’s exhausting.

(For those of you still stuck in that place where you doubt the value of your creativity, I humbly recommend the brilliant Elizabeth Gilbert’s “Big Magic.” No matter where you are in your internal struggle, this book may offer you the nugget of wisdom (or, more accurately, the permission) to go for it.)

I also tried to get out of my weird-little-YA-world by exploring other modes writing. I took a songwriting class (not so great). I took a screenwriting class from the fabulous Anne Jordan (A-MAZ-ING). I took part in the 2015 NaNoWriMo writing challenge.

So here I am, sitting proudly with my shiny new 67,200-word manuscript for Shift.


Turns out this is just the first hill to climb. And there are many hills, so dig in people. While the publishing world has busted wide open – turns out it’s just as confusing and crazy as it was before self-publishing. I’ve spent the last few months on a self-guided boot camp learning about an industry in flux, and I’m still a raw newbie getting my bearings.

So that’s what this blog will primarily be about. This discovery of a new field, learning how to query an agent, how to perform a five-minute pitch, working with an editor. I am sure there are many like me out there – and I look forward to hearing from you.