Monday, August 07, 2017

My DIY Writer's Retreat or StayWriCation - Part 2

I finished my 10-day Do-It-Yourself Writing Retreat at home, and learned some new things about my creative process . I got a lot done, though I did allow some interruptions, including:
  • Edited the first third of my novel manuscript
  • Wrote three new poems
  • Prepared ideas for cover art for my forthcoming novel
  • Wrote a couple of blog posts and some tweets
  • Finished the script for a musical
  • Had some fun days in nature and in town
 It was an experiment, as always. I learned that a writing retreat can be as short or long as you like and can manage. A writing retreat is really just at heart a self-discipline, an intention. A promise you make to yourself to do something deeply pleasing and

there are three important elements: time, place, and strategy.

Labor Day is coming up. Any three-day weekend, for those of us who work, has the golden potential of being a writing retreat. Really, any weekend does, but a holiday weekend has a special allure for me, a sense of timelessness I can sink into. The prospect of losing track of TIME gets my creative juices going.

Since it's a staycation retreat, for me the place is imaginary. This is my favorite writer's retreat place, beside a beautiful ocean. Of course this is Monet's ocean in Normandy, and I like to think of myself as painted by Monet into it, the woman with the red umbrella standing there, getting inspired by the sound and sight of the waves and clouds. In reality, my place is usually a couch in the living room, with an occasional foray to my deck or a coffeehouse with my laptop. PLACE is mythical for me when I'm writing. Mostly I'm in the landscape of my work in progress.   

Deciding on goals is key to a successful StayWriCation --- even if you don't achieve them! I find it key to my every day, planning what I want to accomplish, and then being flexible about what comes. Interruptions happen, new directions, ideas, wishes. If you're too rigid, inspiration dries up, and if too scattered, nothing happens. So STRATEGIC PLANNING WITH FLEXIBILITY  is my best gambit. I think of Bernini's sculpture of David, aiming at the giant. You can hit the target of a big goal in a compressed amount of time with strategy and a good aim. 

More articles on Do-It-Yourself Writing Retreats:

Julia Guirgis' Self Writing Retreat
A good list of tips for creating your own retreat at home 

Bustle's 3 tips on a DIY writer's retreat

Cynthia Morris' tips on creating your own retreat 
One thing I like in this one is rcruiting allies. When I did my recent DIY retreat, I enlisted the support of writer friends, and the cheering section was like NaNoWriMo, very motivating.

Thursday, August 03, 2017

Twitter for Authors -- Should You or Shouldn't You

This isn't a How-to, this is a Why-to. Why jump into the fast-moving river that is Twitter and try to grab your .05 seconds of attention as the feed flows past at the rate of a river fed by a hurricane?

I initially joined Twitter to get news. It was the season of the Green Revolution in Iran, and the mainstream media didn't seem to know that anything was happening. There was this fearless woman tweeting out news from the square where the pro-democracy protest was gathering, and I just signed up because someone on Facebook said that's where you could find out.

Then I was glued to someone called Oxford Girl, who was putting out tweets through a complex network that allowed her to use her cell phone to get brief reports and pictures of the action out, while (resumably) keeping her safe.

The Atlantic described it this way: "The immediacy of the reports was gripping," reported the Washington Times. "Well-developed Twitter lists showed a constant stream of situation updates and links to photos and videos, all of which painted a portrait of the developing turmoil. Digital photos and videos proliferated and were picked up and reported in countless external sources safe from the regime's Net crackdown." Journalists even gave the unrest in Tehran a second moniker: the "Twitter Revolution."

My husband couldn't pry me away from the computer for about three days.

Now the launch of your novel isn't going to attract the breathless interest a developing revolution gets, but it is a news event, for you and for your fans. It may be modest in comparison to NationalGirlfriendsDay, or whatever outrageous thing the Tweeter-in-Chief posted last night. But it's news to those who follow you. The difference between Twitter and other platforms is the speed of news and sense of excitement. So it should probably be in your arsenal of places to trumpet your news.

Build a following, largely by following others and tweeting about your writing life (#amwriting #writinglife #amediting are good hashtags to follow and use), and then when you have some news, tweet and ask your @friends to retweet. If you want some basics, here's The Ultimate Guide to Twitter for Writers.

Follow me @Rachel_Dacus and I'll follow you back!

Friday, July 28, 2017

Magical Realism in Women's Fiction

There's a reason a good number of novelists writing about women and their relationships (the loose definition of women's fiction) include elements of magical realism. It's a fine way to make visual a character's  adventures in relationships.

A butterfly emanating from a woman's mouth when she tries to answer her lover, a small elephant that keeps appearing in different Italian towns -- elements I've used in my novel The Renaissance Club (forthcoming, Jan 2018) -- signal to us as readers that we're about to enter an  interior realm that obeys different laws than the usual ones, laws of feeling and symbol.

 I seek out these WF books with magical realism because to me
that's the deeper reality, the one described by unlikely occurrences and symbols appearing in unusual ways and places. Here are two magical realism reads in women's fiction, and writers who often use MR as a way to shape the story of a woman's journey.

Aimee Bender's newest is The Color Master, a collection of stories called "a wondrous collection of dreamy, strange, and magical stories." The bestselling author of The Particular Sadness of Lemon Cake (one of my favorite novels ever) has been called an enchantress whose lush prose is “moving, fanciful, and gorgeously strange” (People), “richly imagined and bittersweet” (Vanity Fair), and “full of provocative ideas” (The Boston Globe). In her deft hands, “relationships and mundane activities take on mythic qualities” (The Wall Street Journal). Enough said.

Susanna Kearsley's The Rose Garden. When Eva's film star sister Katrina dies, she leaves California and returns to Cornwall, where they spent their childhood summers, to scatter Katrina's ashes and in doing so return her to the place where she belongs. But Eva must also confront the ghosts from her own past, as well as those from a time long before her own. Kearsley's other books use magical elements to shape a character's journey.

Sarah Addison Allen's Garden Spells. Allen uses magical realism as nonchalantly as her character might pick up a trowel and dig in the earth. Her story is set in a garden with magical properties, so that its apple tree bears special fruit. She has a naturalistic way of telling her stories that makes the magic seem natural too.

Do you have any authors and titles to add to the topic of women's fiction and magical realism? I'd love to hear them! Here in the comments. Thanks for reading MR!

Saturday, July 22, 2017

DIY Writing Retreats, or StayWriCations

I just made that up, StayWriCations, but if NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month) can do it, so can I. Many writers escape to rural retreats where they often share solitude (how is this possible?) with other writers in an unplugged, calm setting, in order to make progress on whatever they're starting or working on. I can't afford travel, hate planes and airports, miss my dog when I leave home, and insist on the comforts of a speedy Internet while writing. Writing retreats are not really designed for me.

So one year, I crafted my own StayWriCation. It was in November, and I had to finish final editing of a childhood memoir, so as to send out queries and snag an agent. I was determined to have pure, unadulterated, daily writing time -- and what better place to have it than my sun-filled, high-ceilinged living room, with a wall of glass, a deck nestled under trees, with the roses I grow to water while thinking through plot points, hummingbirds whizzing over my head?

I developed a daily rhythm, working from 7 am until 1 or 2 in the afternoon, and then taking myself out for fun, going places I normally don't go. I treated my home, the San Francisco Bay Area, as if I were a tourist, wanting to see exciting things.
It worked like a dream. For those without young children at home, I recommend trying a Do-It-Yourself Writer's Retreat whenever you need to make a big push on a project. You have to warn your spouse that you're Not Available during certain hours, but presumably if you're a writer, he knows the drill -- the vacant stare, that lack of response to questions, the mumbling to yourself so that he can never tell if you're on the phone or dictating onto your phone.

For ideas and inspiration, I've found others doing the same. Here are some good articles on how-to DIY your Staycation writing retreat this summer. Every one of them mentions having a writing goal, to which I say YES!!

A Summer Personal Writing Retreat: Turning your home into your sanctuary
Writer Laura Munson defines her own personal Walden

Writer's Digest - Create Your Own Mini-Writing Retreat

E.M. Welsh's How to Have the Perfect Weekend Writer's Retreat

But don't be limited. Dream your own perfect in-place writing retreat. Maybe it's in a local cafe, a library, or like one of my friends, a hotel room so close to her home she can walk to it.

Happy writing! What's your current writing goal? Write me if you like. 

Saturday, July 15, 2017

Blogging as an Author

Should be easy, right? After all, many of us set a word count quota for the day's writing, somewhere in the thousands of words. Surely we can spare 200 or so for a short blog. But deciding what to write about is what always stops me from blogging. Who am I as a writer? Do you really want to hear about the Green Veggie Smoothie I just made with my food processor, throwing in fresh pineapple, cucumbers, apples, spinach, lettuce, grapes, cucumber, and orange, and how it tastes like the smell of watering my garden early in the morning, before the sun is high, with hummingbirds duking it out overhead to get to the feeder above me?

Or smells like sunlight coming through the leaves. After all, I'm a poet. I need to exercise these metaphor muscles the way gardens need water and fertilizer.

But you didn't come here to this title about blogging in order to hear that -- did you? That's the dilemma of the literary blogger. We have a tendency to get personal, to get specific, and to ignore the title topic until almost the end of the blog.

Plus, they say you have to add lots of visuals to your blogs if you want anyone reading them. We just can't read any more without illustrations. Here's my smoothie.

So now, to the question of how to blog as an author. Now that I have your attention with personal stuff and visuals. Here's an excellent article on the three things you must do in an author blog.

My writing process is pretty much like going to work every day. I reserve two hours from the moment I open my eyes (with coffee -- here's another visual) and before I get started working at the mundane job, for creative writing.  I'm disciplined about it, but I count everything as writing, even reading about how to write (though not reading about how to market books -- that's death to the creative flow, though very necessary in other zones of the day.)

 My writing process is sort of effortless once I'm in the zone of those two hours. I know you hated hearing that, but it's true. Assigning a regular time is like waving huge bars of chocolate in front of my Muse. She can't resist.

So there you have it. One article of how-to, a fair amount of personal with a dash of wit (I hope), and a lot of pictures. Author blogging. It was fun!

Thursday, July 13, 2017

Stealing from Jane Austen

Virginia Woolf observed about Austen, “Of all great writers she is the most difficult to catch in the act of greatness.” I'm an Austenite (having an upstairs and a downstairs complete set of her work qualifies, I think). I'm writing a book whose characters are based on the Dashwood sisters from Sense and Sensibility. I'm not the first writer to steal from the extraordinary Jane, and I won't be the last. The fabulous film Clueless did it best, in my opinion.

But having absorbed a wonderful book by John Mullan called What Matters in Jane Austen, I'm newly empowered to study her tips and tricks and to profit from her behind-the-scenes example. We can study Austen as if in a writing course of the kind Master Class offers. Imagine Jane's Master Class! I'd put Aaron Sorkin's right behind hers for fabulous ideas, but that's another essay.

So how to steal the good techniques from Austen. Let's break it down.

Character sketches. Write down Austen's concise character descriptions and keep them in files. Novelists in her time could drop in whole character sketches at the outset of a book, covering personality, backstory, and relationships with other characters in a summary fashion. We don't do it that way anyway; we interweave these tidbits into action-based narrative. But keep Austen's wonderful character sketches handy and let them inspire your character introductions and expansion of backstory.

Setting & Weather. For a terrific time-travel visit to the settings of Jane's novels, read Kathleen A. Flynn's The Jane Austen Project: A Novel. Her attention to the details of Austen's world, via the challenges two time-travellers face, is exquisitely vivid. How to pull on a glove, when to offer your hand to a gentleman (or not), how to speak to a servant, what is the proper time for paying a short neighbor call -- all this boggles the mind and is a terrific example of the function of setting in a novel.

And a NYT article by Kathleen Flynn on Elizabeth Bennet's mad skills if she had to be a debut novelist of today. Flynn remarks, "The assets a young lady of 1815 might deploy are strikingly like those of a debut novelist: beauty, money, connections and wit. And bringing up the rear as always, the tricky question of merit."

Language & Diction. And another article by Flynn examines Austen's word choices and how they contribute to her perennial popularity. One thing that impressed me was that her books contain a higher percentage of words referring to women and family relationships than other writers of her time. Her books are women's fiction before such a term was invented. She used words like "very" and "much" that support her irony and witty observations on characters and events. Where qualifiers like that can be misused, standing in with the not-right word for the right one, Jane uses them to intensify her sardonic effects and observations. Make a list of your most used words and see how they bear on your style and connect with your audience.

More Stealing From Jane to come. For now, go ahead and steal. I don't think Jane will mind.

Friday, July 07, 2017

How to Be An Author And Preserve Your Writing Time

It's the best of times -- having a book or two or more out in the world, for people to read. It's the worst of times -- feeling the constant pressure to get books into readers' hands and Be An Author, publicly.

I'm feeling the best and worst times right now, as I prepare to have two new books launched in 2018. What to do today? That's the first thing I think of, not the new novel or poem I'm working on. And since I've pledged to write two hours first thing in the morning, the question now is, do I blog or tweet or Facebook about a book already out -- or do I close the curtains and the doors, pretend I'm a mushroom hidden under the forest floor, and plunge into the solitary delight of creation.

The truth is, the creative process can get lost in the marketing part of Being An Author. And that's a shame. Writing should be the core thing.

I need to not know what comes next in my writing, so I don't outline. I just set aside two hours first thing every morning to find inspiration. I can paint my nails, watch the leaves stir in the trees, tend my roses, but I have to be thinking creatively and feeling the creative wind blowing. For me, this is the magic spell. Make the time, and things come. Your time might be midnight or dinner hour or noon, but see if a schedule works for you.

Of course blogging and posting on social media is also writing. Sometimes the muse inclines her head toward one or another platform and says, "Go talk to them." And then you can be both Author and Writer and maybe mention your book while you're at it. (The Renaissance Club, forthcoming in January 2018 from Fiery Seas Publishing.)

Tuesday, July 04, 2017


Happy Fourth! But this post isn't about our national celebration of Independence -- unless I can conflate America's with my own independence as a writer. There. Done that. I'm celebrating today and in general because 2018 will see TWO OF MY BOOKS PUBLISHED! Both my fourth book of poetry and my novel The Renaissance Club (forthcoming from Fiery Seas Publishing, 2018) will appear next year on Amazon and other places you can buy books, in formats for bookshelves and ereaders.

In rocketry, they call it lighting the candle -- when they fire up the missile for launch. I feel my launch as a writer will truly be 2018, with my fourth poetry collection and first novel on the launch pad and ready to light both candles. Maybe it's the fault of my stars to have two come out in one year -- or maybe it's because I've been busy writing these two books for seven years. Interestingly, both books have taken that long.

But with further drumrolls or sky rockets, I'm extremely pleased to announce that FutureCycle Press will publish my poetry collection Arabesque in August 2018. Thanks to Editor in Chief Diane Kistner and the editorial team for selecting my manuscript. I don't yet have a cover, but here's a poem from the book -- for all who are celebrating the holiday and summer at the beach -- with thanks to Editor Richard Peabody and Gargoyle for first publishing this:

A View of Life from the Beach

On a stretch of powdered shells
where the surf flops and the horizon sways,
I wrestle my towel and nap, counting
each wave’s smack and long dreaming
myself more awake to each
sand grain’s crystal splendor.

After a race into the sea
and a tussle with a towel,
I plan a long slide into the deep water.
Gusts of evening halfway-arc
my life’s bridge. I am old but the sea

sighs softly all night in my pillow,
like the sounds of lovers
who keep reaching for each other
and the tides of years roll me
over onto my back. I otter
on each wave’s foamy tip
and again slip beneath.

Every morning, half-drowned,
I open a mango under a local palm
and read the news like a seaweed tangle,
then pop the pods
as a child does, merely for
the pleasurable whoosh
as they release salt water.

Monday, June 12, 2017

Time-Travel Romance, Italy & Love -- How to Find the Best Novels

If you're picky about history, but love a time-traveling heroine going back in time, if you love love stories and romance, but don't like the formulaic romances the major publishers put out, you might find it hard to locate books you like. I do. My must-haves for a time-travel love story include: good historical research, a well-defined sense of place, believable characters, and love that goes deeper than just a steamy attraction. 

That's a lot to ask! The gatekeepers of publishing use very narrow formulas, So I delved into backwaters of Amazon categories: time-travel romance, historical fantasy, science fiction romance, historical time-travel, and other secret pockets, where I've even found the likes of Alice Hofmann and Mark Twain. Because sometimes a good story is just unclassifiable. I've made a list of my finds, which I hope to keep adding to. I'd welcome your suggestions!


We can't change the past, but the past can change us. (That's one of my favorite statements in a time-travel novel!) Fern’s vacation in Italy turns into a nightmare when she's snatched back in time and lives the life of Cecilia, lady in waiting to Queen Caterina Cornaro. Luca, a local architect, comes to Fern's aid when Cecilia embarks on a passionate affair with the artist Zorzo. Echoes of the past manifest themselves increasingly in the present until past and present collide.

The Rose Garden, Susanna Kearsley
When Eva's film star sister Katrina dies, she leaves California and returns to Cornwall, where they spent their childhood summers, to scatter Katrina's ashes and in doing so return her to the place where she belongs. But Eva must also confront the ghosts from her own past, as well as those from a time long before her own.

Echo In Time, Lindsey Fairleigh
Kind of a conventional romance formula, but such an unusual setting, and a twist for the heroine. Alexandra Larson isn't quite human, but she doesn't know that. Lex simply considers herself an ambitious archaeology grad student with a knack for deciphering ancient languages. When she's recruited to work on her dream excavation, Lex's translating skills uncover the location of the secret entrance to an undiscovered underground temple in Egypt. She is beyond thrilled with what she's is the enigmatic and alluring excavation director, Marcus Bahur.

Doomsday Book, Connie Wills
I have to include this one, though not technically a love story because I just love this one. A history student in 2048 is transported to an English village in the 14th century. The student arrives mistakenly on the eve of the onset of the Black Plague. Her dealings with a family of "contemps" in 1348 and with her historian cohorts lead to complications as the book unfolds into a surprisingly dark, deep conclusion.

For a preview chapter of my "time-travel historical romance love story novel" The Renaissance Club, visit here

Tick-tick-tick! (Falling through time can tatter your clothes, according to many novels.)


Thursday, June 08, 2017

Why Italy and Bernini? 5 Reasons You Should Go to Italy

What's so great about Italy, and why did I spend many years of my life writing about it, culiminating in my novel The Renaissance Club, which features Italian sculptor Gianlorenzo Bernini?

Good questions. What I keep coming up with is that Italy is Bernini, and Bernini, Italy. I mean the place is full of gorgeous, sumptuous, emotionally moving art. It's a place so full of art you start to take it for granted that you'll turn a corner and see some gorgeous sculptural fountain or fantastically beautiful church.

And Italian Renaissance and Baroque art packs a wallop that can stop you in your tracks. Below are some of the reasons to visit Italy -- five fantastic, life-size Bernini sculptures. You can only get a small idea seeing a photo, because these life-size, or even bigger, statues are like people who walk into the room, naked physically and emotionally.

This one, for example, is life size, and not much elevated above the viewer's plane. It's in the Villa Borghese in Rome.

A really startling thing about this one, is it is like meeting Bernini--he used his own face for the David. Probably the expression he often wore while chiseling on marble!

This contr-apposto pose, with the body twisting on itself, is something Bernini pushed to the limits. His figures move like actors on a stage. It was something really new, probably shocking, and certainly moves us looking at them. 

This is one of the dynamic statues that made me want to write a novel about Bernini! To read a free preview chapter, head over to my website:

Rachel Dacus, Author

And here's Bernini again, wearing a somewhat different expression in this bust of A Damned Soul.

The sculptures are very much in motion, with lots of curving planes and lines. Italy is so full of these curvilinear forms, in buildings, fountains, sculptures everywhere, and choice of subjects of art, that you begin to feel like you're in a boat, riding somewhere, bouncing up and down, side to side, on the waves.

When I came home to my Northern California suburb, I really missed the waves, the romance, and of course Bernini. His massive scultpures don't travel. Bernini everywhere in Rome,gave me such depth of feeling and passion as I've rarely seen in art. Ecstasy and torment---rarely anything blandly inbetween. So of course, I had to write a time-travel novel about him! I'd like to time travel and really meet this amazing genius.

For 10 unforgettable reasons to visit Italy, click Lifehack's list here. Really Venice and Bernini are  enough reasons.

Thursday, May 25, 2017

Squeezing Into a Box - Selecting Your Category in Publishing

CATEGORIES! I know it's all about discoverability. I know that Amazon ranking depends on choosing the right category and tags for your book. I know, I know ... and I hate fitting into boxes.

I finally figured out where my book fits on Amazon, and I can't say I'm happy. But I'm going to be in:

When I was going after agents, I was all, like "Upmarket commercial or women's fiction with a magical realism twist." This was advised by my editor, who has served as a literary agent for one of New York's top firms. I figured she should know. 

The Renaissance Club, (forthcoming in January 2018 from Fiery Seas Publishing) will be categorized under Fiction in different ways on different platforms. I'm with other fantasy authors, mainly, some romance, though all the romance publishers said my love story didn't fit the formula! Another fox I couldn't squeeze into.

I went back to the drawing board, only to find the drawing board looks like Einstein's chalk board on one of his more frustrated days.

So what is the difference between these ever-evolving categories on bookstore shelves and Amazon's  categories. Arthur Krystal in The New Yorker ignited a public debate with his article in 2012

Lev Grossman, author of the best-selling Magician's Trilogy, jumped into the discussion.What's wrong with genre? It seems we're all heading into one or another.

On Amazon you have to drill down from Books --> Literature --> Literary Fiction --> Women's Fiction or Fantasy. The road seriously branches here, but I've been going on the assumption that because there are more books in this category than in Fantasy, it might be a fruitful avenue to pursue. But my novel appears too literary for this category. So back to the fork in the road. Under Fantasy (with less than half the titles as Women's Fiction), you have no more sub-genres to choose from. Which leads me to conclude that a) my story doesn't fit well into this category, whose emphasis is on other worlds, and b) magical realism is not a sub-genre on Amazon, nor in most bookstores, so back to just plain Commercial or Mainstream Fiction as a category. Try standing out in that Amazon crowd.

Which boxes can you squeeze into as an author? And do you also find it frustrating, after the freedom of writing an entire novel, to have to perform this exercise? My sympathies!

Thursday, May 18, 2017

Going Indie?

This is La Spezia -- one of the locations in my work-in-progress novel, The Romantics, the story of two half-sisters, their dispute over an inherited cottage in Italy, inhabited by the ghost of the poet Shelley.

This is where I wish I was living, even imaginatively. But I'm stuck dealing with the hassles of publishing my last novel, The Renaissance Club. This is the fate of the Indie author -- the self-published or micro-press published novelist. Nothing is easy, and everything takes up the precious time we need for the slow, slow, but deliciously slow creative process.

So I'm turning to one of my favorite gurus on the subject of publishing to help you navigate, if you're trying ot decide whether to be an India author. Here's Jane Friedman on a new twist in self-publishing: getting an agent AFTER you self-publish. And if you're still trying to decide if you have the right stuff to be a self-publisher, here's Jane on how to make the decision. She's so practical, and that really helps with a highly emotional decision!

As for me, I'm an Indie at heart. I like conceiving of book covers (even if I 'm not an artist), and I like the whole idea of marketing my stuff. I love playing on social media and establishing myself as an author this way. Blogging is what I do to relax, ditto Twitter and Facebook.

I'll see how things go, but I may publish The Romantics on my own. There are so many good reasons to go Indie -- a big one being the luxurious feeling of control. I really miss it. But the cure, of course, is writing something new.

Sunday, May 14, 2017

Poems for Mothers

In honor of Mother's Day, which often coincides with or cozies up to my birthday, here are two poems I wrote for my mother. She wasn't the problematic parent, so she got fewer poems than my father, the riddle of whom I keep trying to figure out in verse. But poems for her and for the mothers intrigue me this year, in which I lost a stepmother. So maybe more to come.

Apple Pie Order

The hands that cut the apple
are white-fleshed as the silence
between us in the kitchen. Her sob
of breath. Cotton cloths, simple tasks.
Her hands skin and delve
a pale core from each green globe,
slice smiles and drop
them in the dough's lap.

My mother's hands soothe my forehead,
tug and tuck corners, tails, hairs
and sheets. Shove me forward, hold me back.
From their towel-wrapped rigor,
I know cradle and slap. Above
their industry I feel the tears.
For fear of seeing fear
in her, I watch the hands

Make a small, safe corner
for sweet flesh to be sectioned,
layered, sugared, snugged
under thin-rolled crust.
She always knows what comes next.

Her short, round fingers make do,
patch holes, keep going,
though nicked, scraped and scalded.
Ten trudging dough-faced soldiers,
rosebuds furled in flour-scented might.

From Femme au Chapeau (David Robert Books, 2007) 

-- For my mother

In the cathedral mountains she climbed
a boulder-strewn peak and found
a coyote slain mid-bound,
entombed in snow.
At her feet lay an empty bone-
shell in the high pass
where wind hones
rock to hosannas of silence.
Resurrected in a pet hound, that wild
child raced through her days,
howled joyful in her mind.
Wild things come to us
and we are drawn to the untamed,
to remember our long journey.

She housed generations of dogs,
made pilgrimages to the mountains
where they galloped through high plains
and life wheeled around her,
voices of sky and earth echoing
long after she came down.
Pairing feral with civilized,
she shared food and den,
watching them
as they watched her,
learning how frail yet enduring
the bond that tames us.

from Earth Lessons (Bellowing Ark Press, 1998)

Thursday, May 04, 2017

Shameful Day in Washington

“We are all breathing a sigh of relief,” Representative Chris Collins, Republican of New York, said. “We’re living up to a campaign promise we made, the Senate made, the president made.”

This statement was made after the House today passed legislation to repeal the Affordable Care Act (Obamacare).

The Urban Institute (funded by the venerable Robert Wood Johnson Foundation) in 2016 estimated the costs to individual Americans should a repeal of ACA pass -- and these are just a few things to consider:
  • Number of uninsured people would RISE by 24 million by 2021
  • 81% of those losing coverage will be working families
  • There would be 14.5 million fewer people with Medicaid coverage in 2021
 It means people will be sicker and people will die. I hope the Republicans breathing a sigh of relief are having breathing issues that are no longer covered under their replacement -- if they ever come up with one. It's a mean wish, but my meanness pales in comparison to the idea of passing a law that will end up killing children.
Not to mention the loss of an estimated 200,000 jobs in healthcare from this new law.

Way to commit political suicide, Republicans. Last time I checked, those affected were all voters (except the children).

As Jimmy Kimmel pointed out recently on his show, it's shameful to take health care away from sick children. And that's exactly what these legislators are trying to do.

But it's not too late! Call or write your legislators today. We can still reach those who can make a difference before it's too late for millions of Americans. The Senate still has to vote on this shameful legislation -- you can contact Congress and quite simply save lives. Do it today.

“I have never seen political suicide in my life like I’m seeing today,” Representative Louise M. Slaughter, Democrat of New York, said. Representative Nancy Pelosi of California, the Democratic leader, warned moderate Republicans who supported the measure: “You have every provision of this bill tattooed on your forehead. You will glow in the dark.”

Monday, April 24, 2017

Character Quirks & Little Defining Things or Events

I'm working on a new novel. I know the basic setup: it's about two half-sisters who clash over inheriting a cottage in Italy, along with its resident ghost, the poet Perch Bysshe Shelley. The setup (hook) has specificity, but a story that can fill a novel drills down into such granular particularity you find yourself imagining exactly how each character walks, eats, where they carry their stuff, which kind of pillow they prefer, and whether or not they can tolerate broccoli. It's all germane to the story, hopefully. But finding it out is a great labor.

As with all my great labors these days, I turn to the Internet. And seeking, I found several great essays on character-building, especially my favorite part of it, character quirks.

Here's Writing Geekery on character quirks.
The essential point is that a good character quick blends characterization and character development. 

And here's a character quirk I used that didn't: a gold pen. My character originally used it to aid others in time travel. But why? Someone gave this tour guide a gold pen in gratitude, and so the pen had the ability to fold time, or write paragraphs of history. Not a good quirk and certainly not a good logical rule for time travel. I wound up keeping the gold pen -- evidence that this character was wealthy and beloved by his wealthy clients, but not more than than. A minor, not developmental quirk, but then this character didn't develop through my story. He helped others do so, but he didn't have an arc.

It's possible to get so enamored of a character's quirk that you try to build a story around it, and that's fine, as long as it does support a story. But I do love character quirks and how they aid my remembering a character as I read. Sometimes it's an event in a character's life. How she once cut school to go catch crayfish in a creek and instead caught an unopened letter.

And I really love gold pens. Maybe for the next time travel story?

Saturday, April 22, 2017

Books, Books, Swimming in a Sea of Books

E-reading devices have made me a fiction-reading junkie. Hooked on Books was the name of a used book store up the road, which is sadly now closed because they sold paper books. But the books I buy on non-paper are proliferating like rabbits in springtime on my e-reading devices. I am so very hooked because of the ease of reading. On my phone, I always have a book with me.

I’m about to launch a book of my own, The Renaissance Club, a time-travel novel set in Italy involving the great Baroque sculptor Gianlorenzo Bernini and a contemporary young art historian who specializes in–him. Fortchoming from Fiery Seas Publishing, the novel will appear as an e-book original and paperback. While I love that it will be both on paper and the ether, to suit different reading tastes, I’m an e-only reader. My eyes and hands like holding a Kindle better than a paperback. And I can turn pages faster, read more books (on my iPhone in the dark!) and consequently, have begun to simply consume novels. So I'm hoping that the e-version will be the popular one.

I now have — I blush to admit it — almost 100 books on my e-reading app, which means accessible on all my devices. A sea of books. What, for a reader and writer, could be more delicious?

What do you think of this cover mock-up for The Renaissance Club?

Comments welcome!

Wednesday, April 12, 2017

New website for THE RENAISSANCE CLUB - my novel's upcoming debut

New novel, new author website. Sounds simple, doesn't it? I've looked at so many author sites and the ones that stick with me are SO SIMPLE! Simple is hard. And I'm short of funds to pay a really great designer. As the daughter of a painter, however, I have my esthetic tastes, and as the daughter of a rocket engineer (same guy), I have my HTML skills. So -- drum roll, please -- here's the new author website for Rachel Dacus.
My new slogan: "In my world, love always wins." And I stick by that philosophy. I'd love feedback, comments, anything you have to say about the website or anything. When it comes time for cover design, I'll be asking for your opinion too! In fact, maybe I'll make some kind of contest out of it, a free ebook of THE RENAISSANCE CLUB for the winning comments. Or something like that! 

As I may have mentioned, James McAvoy is my pick to play the complicated, volatile genius Bernini in the film that I very much hope they're going to make of THE RENAISSANCE CLUB! The part of May Gold has yet to be cast in my imagination, but I'm working on it. Curly long dark hair, a curious and sometimes mischievous look in her large, dark eyes. Thoughts?

Monday, April 10, 2017

What a Writer Can Learn from HAMILTON

This lucky writer of plays, poems, and novels got to see the spectacularly innovative musical theater that is Hamilton. Having listened to the recording at least ten times, watched every Youtube clip of the musical numbers at least five times each, I could have rapped or sung along with many of the numbers. Yet in many ways, I was unprepared for the play itself, its drama and intensity, its organization of themes and events. 

So in one performance -- probably the only one I'll get to see for a long time -- I had a lot to learn, and I had to learn it on the fly.

The biggest surprise -- immediately -- was the near absence of non-rap dialogue. The story  proceeded by one after another spectacular number -- the kind that usually begins and ends a show. And each number, or many, were highly narrative. There was in-the-moment action, of course, but a lot of character-as-his-own-narrator speeches, delivered in rap, fast or slow, but almost always rhythmic. So there was a stylization in every scene, every song, that reminded me of Shakespearean speeches, with a kind of formal structure you don't see in musical plays, unless it's Shakespeare or opera. Rap, after all, is a form of poetry, and so the comparison to Shakespeare's rhythmic and often rhymed lines isn't surprising, after all.

My second surprise was the pacing. The whole show was thrillingly beyond fast. At a certain point, you just settle into being bombarded with content and you absorb as fast as you can. Regular musicals let you absorb plot in normally paced dialogue before the next huge production number hits, tying it  together. This show makes you learn the story through extravaganza. You scarcely catch your breath before plunging off on another wild ride again. It's like surfing monster waves.

I guess the most surprising thing to me was how much narrative was embedded in this history musical, often by the character about himself or herself. That's really a unique way to put a story together. I'll be thinking about that for a long, long time. And when I got back to bingeing on Hamilton songs and raps, it will be with an analytical writer's eye. What can I replicate here, how can I use the formality of rhythm or some other device to create structure? And where can you rent those stage turntables?

Saturday, March 25, 2017

Casting the Film Bernini from My Novel THE RENAISSANCE CLUB

The Renaissance Club by Rachel Dacus, Fiery Seas Publishing (forthcoming).

That felt good to type! Today I'm handing over my final manuscript to the publisher. It feels like handing over the controls of my airplane in mid-flight. Next, they wrap the book with a cover. Very important element. I can't help but  imagine casting Gianlorenzo Bernini, around whom the story unfolds, for the movie. Here he is in his self-portrait, age 26, an image that was part of my inspiration to write the book. Who could play the temperamental, charismatic artist?


Don't you think McAvoy would be fantastic in the role? I thought of him because of his thrilling portrayal of Jane Austen's love interest in the movie Becoming Jane. But what if they made The Renaissance Club as a musical -- then it must be Chris Pine!! We can darken his hair. I'll write the lyrics, unless Stephen Sondheim wants to. How great is Captain Kirk singing as the Prince in this clip from Into the Woods?



Saturday, March 11, 2017

Which Broadway Musical Illustrates Your Writing Process?

I'm having a Saturday writing morning that's deep into Crazy Lady Writer Head, thanks to too many exciting things to to work on at once. Plus my work-in-progress new novel, I have a novel to edit, a play to finish, a poetry manuscript to edit, and a memoir to edit. I feel like the bride above, who almost wants to call it off when it comes down to really doing the thing.

It's been a wild ride in my writing world since early February, when I had two offers to publish my debut novel The Renaissance Club, an expression of strong interest (with request for changes) for my next poetry collection, Arabesque, and even interest from a publisher in reviewing my memoir, Rocket Lessons. The thing is, I promised a lot to many, and now I'm facing the Saturday morning page like a sweaty-nervous bride.

See the above video for a glimpse of my writing process today. I think we all should talk about our writing processes not in the usual bland narrative terms, but as illustrated by Broadway musicals. Writing is all about the qualities of the Broadway musical: brightness, energy, force, and action. And an insane belief that inspiration --- like love --- will always win.

Here's a more upbeat glimpse of my usual Saturday writing space, which I'm trying to get into today --- Anything Goes:

If you had to pick a Broadway number to illustrate your writing head today, which one would it be?

Tuesday, February 07, 2017

My Favorite Fictional Sweethearts

Valentine's Day approaches, and over on Goodreads, someone asked me what are my favorite fictional couples. I cheated, of course, and managed to get in three pairs of lovers.

First, I'd have to say Romeo and Juliet.
There's nothing like starry-eyed and highly sexed young lovers spouting the world's most enchanting, poetic love lines  as they barrel toward their doom.

Right behind that pair are, for me, Jane Austen and Tom Lefroy in the book and movie BECOMING JANE. I'm a devoted Austenite, and would of course include all her lovers, Emma and Mr. Knightley first among them.

The biodrama about their author, starring the compelling James McAvoy, is based on an imagined (but possible) love affair between Jane and the Irishman. I love that story because the demise of their plan to run away together rests on noble feelings on both sides. They recognize what in the long run would be best for the other. Swooning and spiritual upliftment, quite a combo! They're in some ways the opposite of Romeo and Juliet.