Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Happy Holidays

Happy Holidays to all. May you have a joyous Christmas season, quiet time and laughter with family or friends, and a New Year filled with prosperity and peace.

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Now Available - FINDING HOPE

My new novel, FINDING HOPE, is now available in both e-book and trade paperback. You can order your copy by clicking on the book cover. In the meantime, enjoy this excerpt.


A clatter from the kitchen jarred me awake. Anthony’s side of the bed was empty. I looked across to the red numbers on the alarm clock—seven-fifteen.

"Oh, shit. I slept in."

I tossed the blankets aside and swung my legs over the edge of the bed. Then I remembered the note I’d left on the fridge last night. Sliding into my worn slippers and pulling on my robe, I stopped at the bathroom and then headed downstairs to face the music.

When I walked into the kitchen, all activity halted and heads turned. I stopped as well and stared back at the three faces turned toward me. "Good morning."

Several beats went by in silence before Anthony mumbled, "G’morning," and went back to his coffee-making. My first instinct was to take the measuring spoon from his hand and make coffee. But I couldn’t. I didn’t.

Gabriella spoke. "Nice note, Mom. Is this, like, a test or something?"

I stood and read the note I’d hung on the fridge:

Dear family,
I quit. Effective immediately, I am no longer the cook, laundress, shopper, housekeeper, chauffeur, landscaper or resident problem-solver. Oh, I’m also not the banker or the ATM. I am, however, the instructor. Classes will begin tomorrow and seating is limited, so you should sign up early.

A cooking class will be conducted at five-thirty sharp. Bring your inquiring mind and appetite. A cook book will be available. On Saturday, I will offer two sessions—general housekeeping and laundry. Supplies will be provided. However, if you are attending the laundry session, please separate clothing into lights and darks and bring those with you. This class begins at nine a.m. in the basement.

Housekeeping will commence at ten, once you have mastered washing machine settings and drying times. Rubber gloves are recommended for those who have delicate skin or have had expensive manicures recently.

Other workshops, such as money-management, will be scheduled as needed and announcements will be posted. Don’t be late and get left out in the cold.

Janet R. DeMarco,
Wife, Mother, Person
(not necessarily in that order)

I opened the door and pulled the orange juice from the fridge, turned to face my stunned family and, to add to their confusion, took a swig directly from the carton—something I’d constantly told Michael not to do.

Gabby shook her head, Michael suppressed a smile, and Anthony glared at me.

"Mom, um, I need…" Gabby began.

Anthony caught her eye and, with a dark, warning look, shook his head ‘no.’ She swallowed the rest of her request with a gulp of juice.

I put two slices of bread into the toaster and set the butter and jelly on the table. Anthony, who’d succeeded in brewing a pot of coffee, poured a mug and extended it to me. "Coffee?"

"Thank you. I’d love some," I said, taking the cup of steaming liquid.

"Are you going to work today?" Michael asked.

"Yes, I am. It’s my last week and I want to help Uncle Teddy find a replacement."

"You’re quitting that, too?" Gabby asked, her eyes wide.

"Yes," was all I said in reply.

Anthony carried his coffee to the table as I rose to get my toast. We brushed past one another and I felt the chill. He was not happy. He was confused and trying to figure out what was going on with me. I smiled slightly, enjoying his dilemma.

Michael grabbed his backpack. "You need to move it, Gabs, if you want me to take you to school."

"I need a few minutes. And don’t call me Gabs." She looked at me, her mouth worked into a pout, then yelled for Michael to wait.

Typically, I would drop her off on my way to the office. Apparently, they were all thrown off kilter by my resignation.

Anthony put his cereal bowl and cup into the sink and turned. "So, um, are we having the lasagna for dinner tonight or what?"

"Oh, I forgot about that. Well, I guess we can reschedule our cooking class for tomorrow night. I’ll leave instructions for the garlic bread and salad, and the baking time for the lasagna. That should be simple enough, don’t you think?"

His jaw hung half-way to his knees, and the confusion in his eyes made him adorable. I wanted to tell him I was just kidding, but I wasn’t.

I put my plate and cup into the dishwasher and said, "Have a good day. I’ll see you tonight." I hurried upstairs to get dressed so I could go and deal with Teddy.

~ * ~

The song I hummed as I drove the few miles to DeMarco Construction wasn’t even registering in my brain. It was just a catchy, cheerful tune. I felt a strange power surge as I parked, slung my purse over my shoulder and entered the office. As soon as I stepped behind my desk, I was met with a barrage of requests and demands by two of the foremen and Teddy.

I held up both hands, palms out—the universal signal to STOP. I don’t think it was my outstretched palms, but probably the cold stare and pursed lips that silenced all three. "Teddy, you and I need to talk before I do anything else."

"But..." Mack said, leaning across the counter toward me.

I turned and locked eyes with him; he got the message, as did the other man. The two shook their heads and walked out of the office. Mack called over his shoulder, "I’ll come back when you’re not so busy."

Teddy ushered me into his office, where I chose to stand. "This won’t take long. I quit."

"But, Jan… Look, how much will it take? I know you’ve gone above and beyond most of the time, and I owe you."

"Oh, you owe me plenty. Mostly for covering your sorry ass with Stella when she couldn’t find you."

"So, an extra hundred a week? Shorter hours? What?"

Teddy and I stood eye to eye. Teddy, unfortunately, took after his mother’s side of the family. He stood five foot seven. His mousy brown hair gave his hazel eyes a pale, foggy appearance. He looked nothing like his male cousins for whom the phrase ‘Italian stallion’ could have been coined.

"You’re not listening, Teddy. I quit. I will do this week’s payroll, mainly because I want my check and the very generous severance pay you’re giving me. I will call the newspaper and place an ad for a replacement, if you like."

Teddy dropped into the plush leather desk chair and ran his fingers through his limp hair. "You’re killing me, Jan."

I was not taken in by his drama. Teddy should have at least five Oscars on the shelf behind his desk for past performances.

"I want a life, and this isn’t it."

"What does Anthony think about all this?" he asked, as if the question was logical.

My jaw tensed, and warmth spread across my chest. "What difference does that make? I’m a big girl, Teddy, and I can make these decisions for myself. Anthony has nothing to say about it."

"This place won’t be the same without you, Jan."

"Yeah. It’ll be chaos without caffeine, swimming in dust bunnies."

"If this is about cleaning, I can hire a cleaning lady."

I let out an exasperated sigh. "It’s not about cleaning. It’s about me realizing I want more than this, and deciding I’m not willing to compromise any further. Now, if you want the payroll done for this week, I have to get to work. Do you want me to put an ad in the paper?"

"Yeah, fine. Whatever. You know, I expected more from you, Jan. After all, we’re family."

"And I could say the same," I replied before returning to my desk.

I nearly laughed when I looked up to see two pairs of eyes beneath yellow construction helmets peering through the window into my office, waiting to be invited back inside. I waved and, when the door opened, stated loudly, "One at a time."

~ * ~

When I called the newspaper, I had to fight the temptation to fill in all the unspoken duties of the job. I resisted, though, realizing that if I did that, no one in their right mind would apply. I ran to the bank to make a deposit into the payroll account, then returned to the office and cut the paychecks.

Teddy, who was usually gone by lunchtime, was still in his office, casting furtive glances at me every time I passed his open door.

At four o’clock, I took the checks in for his signature, handing him my paycheck and my severance check first. "These need your signature. If you feel this amount is unfair, we can talk about it."

"No, Jan, what? Unfair? I trust you. I just wish I could do something to get you to stay. I’ll miss you, you know."

I grinned. "Yeah, like you miss a toothache once the tooth’s been extracted? You’ll miss me the first time Stella calls here looking for you and the new girl doesn’t know enough to cover your ass."

"I can train her. After all, I trained you, didn’t I?" He rolled his eyes up and glanced at me.

I was too hurt to get angry. He’d nudged a spot that was raw and tender. Teddy had unwittingly hit the nail on the head. I felt like a trained seal. I moved through my days, from task to task, responding to commands and hoping for a spare sardine to be thrown my way. My vision blurred as tears brimmed in my eyes.

"Ah, jeez. I’m sorry. I didn’t mean that to sound the way it did," Teddy said, his face flushed.

"Forget it. It’s not your fault. You can’t help being an ass. Thank you for giving me this job when I wanted one. If the new girl has any questions, I’ll answer what I can." I took the checks from his hand. "I’ll see you around."

I gathered my purse, my coffee mug that said ‘World’s Greatest Mom,’ and my spare umbrella and drove to the bank to deposit my checks.

I arrived home at five-fifteen to find Anthony standing in the kitchen reading my heating instructions for the lasagna. Gabby hunched over the sink and whined about not knowing how to make a salad.

"How can you not know how to make a salad?" Anthony grumbled. "You put vegetables in a bowl. Wait. You have to wash them first."

They looked up as I entered the kitchen. "You’re home early," I said to Anthony.

"Yeah, a little. So, um, how was your day?"

"You mean, did I quit? Yes, I did. Your cousin’s a real piece of work, you know."

"Did he say something he shouldn’t have? Did he insult you?" he asked in his best macho voice.

"No, at least not intentionally. You know Teddy wouldn’t do that. He tried to buy me out. I did get a nice little severance check. I think I’ll treat myself to something special, a day at the spa or some new clothes."

Gabby heard ‘spa’ and ‘clothes’ and jumped right in. "Ooh, Mom. They have a mother-daughter special running at the spa on Penrose. It’s two-for-one. I’d go with you. Then we can go shopping."

"I’m sure you would and we could, but I was thinking of a day just for myself."

Her face clouded and she scowled. She has her Uncle Teddy’s flair for drama. I’d decided this was a genetic imperfection in the DeMarco family that had no bias as to gender.

"What time is dinner?" I asked.

Anthony looked at my hand-scrawled instructions for the lasagna and the baking time for garlic bread. "Another half hour, I think."

"Good, I can’t wait to change out of these clothes and get comfortable." I headed through the living room to the stairs. "Oh," I called back, "I’ll set the table when I come back."

When I returned to the kitchen, the overly browned loaf of garlic bread sat atop the stove. The pan of lasagna steamed in the center of the table, and a salad had been placed to one side. Michael was putting the last of the silverware at each place.

"Dinner’s ready," Anthony said, sending bits of burned crust flying as he sliced the garlic bread.

I sat in my usual seat and filled my salad bowl. "Well, this is lovely. I’ll conduct the cooking class tomorrow evening, same time, same station. Salad?" I asked, passing the larger bowl to Gabby.

"Grrr-eat," she growled, taking the bowl. "I can hardly wait."

Anthony flashed his ‘that’ll be enough’ look, and she silenced, grabbing a large spoon and digging into the lasagna.

"Mom, I got an invitation today from West Virginia University. It says I should have a parent come with me to tour the campus. Can you go?" Michael asked.

"When is it?"

"It’s a week from Tuesday."

"Sure. I’d love to. I won’t have anything else to do that day," I responded, smiling. "Is that okay with you, Anthony, or did you want to go?"

Anthony filled his plate. "No, I’ll have to work."

"Okay. It should be fun. A little mother-son time."

Gabby looked up at me. "Oh, sure. You can go with Michael for a day, but you can’t take me to the spa with you."

"This is different and you know it. Pass me the bread, please." I refused to play into Gabby’s hand. Anthony smiled as he chewed.

I offered to load the dishwasher and clean up. "I didn’t resign from life. I’m willing to do my share."

No one argued.

I finished in the kitchen, then joined Anthony in front of the TV and watched three different episodes of "Law and Order."

When the news came on, I stood and stretched. "I’m going to take a nice hot bath."

The tub in our master bath is huge, and I can stretch my full length. After filling the tub and adding lavender bath salts, I eased into the steaming water. I felt my body silently voice an ‘aaahhh’ as I lay back and rested my head on a rolled towel.

Okay, Jan, I thought to myself, let’s talk. What’s happening?

Closing my eyes, I revisited the events of the past two days. I concluded that I felt underestimated, unappreciated and unfulfilled …too many ‘uns’ in my life.

I breathed in the scent of lavender and slid lower into the warm water, entering a semi-sleep state. I imagined what my life might have been like had I made different choices. I would’ve had a career, of that I was certain. I concluded it would have been something in the helping professions. I’m a good hand-holder and problem-solver. Just ask everyone in my family. They all look to me to solve their problems.

Marriage would have been in the picture. I like being married, having an ‘other’ to balance me out. Anthony does that, usually. He’s the hot blooded, quick to anger and quick to react, stereotypically Italian husband. I’ve always been the mild-mannered, thoughtful, peace-loving and forgiving one. Some would say it’s my English heritage. Some would say I have no backbone. I have had to learn to accommodate to fit into the DeMarco family—Italian on both sides for hundreds of years.

I would still have chosen to have children. I love the kids, miniatures of Anthony and me. I see much of myself in Michael’s personality, though he looks exactly like his father—curly, dark hair, bronze skin, a straight nose with the tiniest bump and perfectly straight teeth. Well, the teeth he got from Dr. Stewart, the orthodontist.

Gabriella has my ash brown hair, full mouth and slender build, but her father’s dark eyes and his flash of temper. She’s loud and boisterous, a DeMarco through and through, whereas Michael is soft-spoken and reserved.

I could have been a good teacher or a nurse, perhaps. I enrolled in accounting classes at the community college because my mother insisted I go to college, and I didn’t have a clue then what I wanted to be when I grew up. Maybe I still don’t.

Growing up happened quickly when my mother died, leaving me orphaned at eighteen. My father had died in an accident at the steel mill where he worked when I was a toddler. My great aunt and uncle took me in, and I lived with them while I finished my two-year degree program.

Then I met Anthony and my destiny was determined. I worked for Breckman Insurance, and Anthony came in to purchase car insurance for his new Camaro. I can still feel the way my heart slammed against my chest wall when he smiled. We had dinner the next night and, within a year, were planning our wedding.

I shuddered as I remembered meeting Mama DeMarco for the first time. I had a few strikes against me: I wasn’t Catholic, I wasn’t Italian and I was looking to take her son away from her. By the time our wedding date rolled around, I’d converted to Catholicism and learned to make my own spaghetti sauce. And I learned that you never take an Italian mother’s son away, even when you marry him. Angela DeMarco continues to make that clear at every turn.

I opened the drain with one toe and let some of the lukewarm water seep out, then closed it and turned on the hot water tap, refilling the tub. Okay, Jan, so if today is the first day of the rest of your life, what are you going to do?

Sunday, November 23, 2008


FINDING HOPE, my new women's fiction novel, will be released December 10 by Wings ePress, Inc. I'd like to share an excerpt, just to whet your appetite.

Janet DeMarco is having one of those days. She feels underappreciated, underestimated, and misunderstood. She accidentally resigns from her job and, when her husband finds it amusing, she posts her resignation to her family on the refrigerator. Janet becomes a blonde, changes her name to Hope, and finds three people who help her realize the blessings in her life: her husband's eighty-year-old grandmother, Carmela (a/k/a Sophialoren), Ricki, a young single mother, and Joy, a homeless woman close to Janet’s age.

Janet learns that, sometimes, our questions about life don't necessitate change, but lead us to own the choices we've already made.

Finding Hope is about the ever-evolving spirit within every woman.

~ * ~

Dear family,

I quit. Effective immediately, I am no longer the cook, laundress, shopper, housekeeper, chauffeur, landscaper, or resident problem-solver. Oh, I’m also not the banker or the ATM. I am, however, the instructor. Classes will begin tomorrow and seating is limited, so you should sign-up early.

A cooking class will be conducted at five-thirty sharp. Bring your inquiring mind and appetite. A cook book will be available. On Saturday, I will offer two sessions--general housekeeping and laundry. Supplies will be provided. However, if you are attending the laundry session, please separate clothing into lights and darks and bring those with you. This class begins at nine a.m. in the basement.

Housekeeping will commence at ten, once you have mastered washing machine settings and drying times. Rubber gloves are recommended for those who have delicate skin or have had expensive manicures recently. Other workshops, such as money-management, will be scheduled as needed and announcements will be posted. Don’t be late and get left out in the cold.

Janet R. DeMarco, Wife, Mother, Person
(not necessarily in that order)

~ * ~

To read reviews of FINDING HOPE, as well as excerpts and reviews of my other books, visit my website: www.geocities.com/lindarettstatt


Friday, November 14, 2008

Turning off your infernal...er...internal editor

It's that time of the year again--leaves are falling, the days are short, and NaNoWriMo is in full swing. Ah, yes, that month of total insanity when writers set impossible goals and drink gallons of coffee in a vain effort to meet them.

Well, I've given in to the insanity, once again. Well, why not? The first book I wrote during a NaNo challenge is due for publication next month. How hard can it be to do it again?

Apparently the two years between NaNo challenges have lulled me into a false sense of hope. As a writer, I like to think I keep learning with every manuscript I finish. My critique group is more than willing to help with my education, too. Through the process, I've developed an internal editor--that voice that is constantly correcting me--line by line, word by word. I've dubbed her my 'infernal editor'.

So, you can imagine the conflict of trying to write 50,000 words in one month while a little voice in your head constantly says, "No, no, no. You absolutely cannot change point of view here."

I had a little talk with my infernal editor when I decided--at eleven p.m. on October 31--to accept the NaNo challenge this year. I told her she'd won a contest and would be taking a little trip to the Caribbean. Oh, she was so excited--and so gullible.

Well, she's gone now. I'm free of her constant nagging. I can write anything I want, any way I want, and she'll never know.

I'm 17,000 words in, as of this writing, and I have the rest of the weekend before me. My laptop may explode. The moment I feel like giving up, I look at the cover for Finding Hope--my last NaNo manuscript that comes out on December 1 with Wings ePress. That gets my creative juices flowing again!

Oh, if you see my infernal editor and she asks about me, tell her I'm learning to belly dance.

For those of you who are also burning up the keyboard this month, good luck.

Now, back to work.


Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Finding Your Starting Point

The importance of the first few lines we write cannot be underestimated. That first string of words has to reach into a reader’s heart, mind, or soul and grab them, pull them into the story, or attract them to our main character, and keep them reading.
How do you know where your story begins?

I’d suggest that, when we start a new manuscript, we don’t always know the starting point. We discover the best possible starting point as we write. In reading through a first draft of a recent manuscript I’d finished, I discovered the starting point midway through the first chapter. All that came before was unnecessary information. I knew the moment I hit the starting point—the lines that pulled me in and propelled me into the story.

Agents, editors and readers aren’t privy to our internal reasoning as to how back story and information that provides a set-up, no matter how well-written, comes into play. They want a line or two, at the very beginning, that makes them want to know more.

Think about it. If I write: Sue was my best friend all through school. We know each others secrets as well as we know our own. She’s the first person I call when I have good news to share. I’m the one she turns to when she needs a listening ear. We’re closer than sisters. The call came at three a.m. My best friend, Sue, is missing.

Do you really want to know about the relationship first? Or do the last two lines of that paragraph set up the story and make you want to know more?

Find your starting point--and write!


Thursday, October 9, 2008

A Simpler Time (a reflective essay)

It was only a two-hour flight from Memphis to Pittsburgh. The plane was cramped and bumped along on the changing air currents, making the flight seem longer. It was cool when I left Memphis, though the forecast was for sun and fifty degrees—not bad for February. As we flew northeast, I gazed out of the narrow window and, through a break in the clouds, could see snow blanketing fields and capping mountains—reminding me that it was still winter.

I was going home. Well, not exactly home, but to the place I had called home since my mother had died. Home—the home of my childhood—didn’t exist any longer.

My thoughts drifted back to that place—the old clapboard house, built by my great-grandfather, the boards blackened by years of coal smoke and pock-marked by termites. I wondered now why no one had ever thought to paint it. The house had stood out starkly alongside the other homes in the neighborhood—those of brick, or soft, white siding, or cloaked by a coat of glistening paint.

It was home, however. Warmth emanated from a large hearth in the center room that had been converted from a dining room to a living room and back again. The decades-old wallpaper evidenced a bygone era and bore crude crayon drawings from my early years as an aspiring artist. The air was often heavy with a mixture of furniture polish, cigarette smoke, and homemade pie.

The dining room was nearly filled by my great-grandmother’s dark cherry table that opened to comfortably seat twelve and had twelve matching high-back chairs with brocade cushions. It was the finest piece of furniture in the house. My sister and I used to line the chairs in a double row and imagine we were on a passenger train, crossing the plains, or en route to some exotic land. I always got to be the engineer, because I was older and I was bigger. She would line her dolls on the seats, pretending they were the passengers, and would pass down the aisle collecting the tickets we had crafted from construction paper.

I didn’t have dolls. Instead, I strapped my holster to my hip and practiced my quick draw—just in case of an attempted train robbery. We could play like that for hours, until we got on Mom’s nerves. We were then told to, “Go outside and get the stink blown off ya’.” That was her way of saying, “You’re driving me crazy, and it’s a nice day. Go and play outside for a while.”

It was a simpler time—the fifties—when innocence was cherished. We were four and six and would think nothing of bounding out into the yard wearing only cotton briefs, a cowboy hat with matching boots and, of course, my holster. We would invent games, explore hiding places under the porch, and invite ourselves to dinner at a neighbor’s house. We lived in a neighborhood where the kids were everyone’s kids, and every parent had the authority to correct you.

On balmy summer evenings, adults gathered on porch steps or sat in the yard in folding chairs while all the kids raced from yard to yard, playing tag or catching fireflies. Eventually, someone would disappear and return with cold drinks for the adults and popsicles for all the kids. On any given evening, one of the youngest would fall and scrape a knee, only to be scooped up and comforted by the nearest adult, then sent back into the fray.

It was a simpler time.

The era of the fifties was a good time to be a kid. I sometimes look around today and think about what kids have now that we didn’t have. But then I like to think of what we had that, I fear, has been lost—we had disorganized sports where we learned to choose sides, to compete, and to deal with rejection and loss; we had two, sometimes three, generations under one roof; we had elders who would tell us stories about the past and anecdotes about quirky family members, and we eagerly listened; we had imagination that drove our play; we had structure that taught us to know limits. We had childhood, and were allowed to be children. We had adults who, each in his or her own fumbling way, tried to keep us alive long enough to graduate from high school and to then be sent out on our own. We had few expectations, but many rules, and we knew them. We had consequences, and we suffered them. We had rewards, and we earned them. The rules were clear, the consequences reasonable, and the rewards often something as little as a quarter.

It was a simpler time.

We had heroes, too. My personal favorites were the Lone Ranger, Hop-Along Cassidy, Sky King, and Lassie—all who fought for justice, countered evil, and saved the day. We had dreams. By the time I was ten, I had read Black Beauty at least four times. I dreamt that I would grow up and ride around the country on a huge black stallion named Gypsy. We would sleep under the stars and go wherever the trail would lead—this from the person who now considers camping a night at Motel 6!

We had a house with one bathroom and one telephone, and you had to stand in one place to talk on it. We had one car—a well-used '47 Buick. We had an 8mm movie camera that silently captured birthday parties, parades, and Mom trying the hula hoop. A really good time was getting together with the family to watch our silent movies. We had a family doctor who actually made house calls and sometimes prescribed such non-traditional remedies as a shot of whiskey to cure the croup—and who, by the way, charged five dollars for a visit. We lived in a small town where everyone knew everyone. Our friendships blurred all lines of distinction for color, class, or belief—the other kids were just other kids.

We lived life. We savored it. We chewed it slowly, letting the flavors become a part of us—taking it all in—with few distractions. We had time.

Today, life comes at us faster, passes by quickly, and leaves us shaking in its wake, often times feeling unsatisfied and empty—swept along by our busy-ness. How many times do we find ourselves saying things like, “I can’t believe it’s Christmas already!” I don’t remember hearing that much when I was a child. We lived in the moment, eased into the seasons, enjoyed the transitions. I don’t remember three out of four kids in my class being diagnosed with ADHD. We just had the typical one or two “bad” kids who spoke out in class, wouldn’t keep still, and spent a lot of time in the corner. There was no diagnosis for childhood.

We’ve all heard the cliché, “Stop and smell the roses,” but we’re often moving so fast that we have to grab the rose on our way by, snapping it off at the stem and carrying it along until we find the time to take a far too brief sniff. The scent fades, the rose dies, and we are left with only browning petals, the sting of a thorn, and unfulfilled longing.

Now, don’t get me wrong. I rely on my computer and my cell phone. I wonder how I got by, day to day, without either. And, I’ll admit, I’ve enjoyed a video game now and then. But right now, at this moment, sitting on this plane and remembering how life used to be, I’ve come to realize that in moving forward, I may have left behind things that served me well.

I made some rules for myself: I won’t spend every waking hour mindlessly surfing the net. I’ll put at least as much effort into being happy, as I put into being dissatisfied. I’ll appreciate my cell phone for its convenience and the reassurance it offers, but I’ll turn it off at certain times—at restaurants, the theatre, during conversation with friends, while walking in the woods. I’ll give my work one hundred percent, but I’ll give the rest of my life one hundred percent, as well. I’ll put time aside and savor that time to smell roses, to really watch sunrises and sunsets, to listen to the laughter of children, to not be surprised when holidays sneak up on me, to read the credits after a movie.

I have an older, wiser friend who once said, “If life was meant to be lived that fast, I’d have been born with a rocket strapped to my ass.” Crudely put, but insightful just the same.

Have you ever wondered what would happen if we just stopped? What would happen if we went back—the way you do when you hurry past a shiny penny lying in a parking lot, then stop and go back to pick it up, believing in its power to bring good fortune? What would happen if, for one day, we turned off the TV, the computer and the video games with which we pass the time, downshifted a gear or two and stepped outside to share an iced tea with the neighbors, to catch fireflies with the kids, to watch a sunset, and to act as if today, this moment, is the most important?

Sounds simple, doesn’t it?

What does this have to do with writing, you ask? Well, it has a lot to do with my writing. We are, for better or worse, shaped by our early years, the values handed down to us by parents and grandparents, the things we have as well as the things for which we hunger. I know the ways my writing is influenced by all of these factors--the way I've learned to 'do' life.

What has made you the writer you are today?

Linda :)

Monday, September 29, 2008

My Newsletter and Other News

I've started a newsletter to keep my friends and fans abreast of what's happening with my books. If you'd like to join, follow this link: http://groups.yahoo.com/group/lindarettstatt/

I expect the newsletter to be published every other month (unless a lot of great things happen in between:) I may make an occasional special announcement, but you won't be overwhelmed with email from this loop. It is not a chat group, so members cannot post to the group list.

In other news (since I've already published my October newsletter): I had an opportunity to meet with Tracy Farrell, an executive editor with Harlequin. Let me first say, Ms. Farrell is a delight and took the terror out of 'my first time' (for a pitch, that is.) As a guest speaker for the River City Romance Writers, Tracy's discussion was informative and enlightening about the current climate of publishing, especially in romance and related genres.

I'll be attending the New Jersey RWA conference at the end of October, where I'll be pitching a different manuscript. The workshop lineup for this conference looks great, and I'm looking forward to networking with other authors, agents, and editors, and meeting a few friends.

Now, I'm going to go and write something. :)


Tuesday, September 9, 2008

Writing Out Loud

I am a writer. I tell myself this every day—between my real job (as my friends refer to it) and all of the other demands that gobble up valuable minutes.

Shortly after I began my first novel, I was presented an unlikely gift—I was relieved of my job. My services were no longer needed. Since I no longer had a real job, one of my friends suggested that I could now dedicate myself to writing. And so, I did. I worked feverishly to finish that first novel and to complete two others. I diligently set about soliciting rejection letters from agents and publishers.

Then I was offered a job back in my home state. It sounded like a dream job—if you have to have a real job. I made arrangements to stay with a friend while I looked for suitable housing.

I had developed a rhythm, a routine for my writing—write until three a.m., sleep until ten, proofread while I enjoyed my morning coffee. It worked well for me.

Now I found myself in someone else’s home and having to adapt to someone else’s routine. Apparently, people with real jobs don’t stay up until three a.m., and they are usually showering and clanking around the kitchen at six-thirty. I had been displaced from my routine and from my quiet work space, using only my laptop with a folding TV tray as a desk. Oh, did I fail to mention that my new housemate was studying music?

On one particular day, I had the house to myself. I took the laptop into the living room and began to edit my previous night’s work. As I got into the midst of my story, my housemate came in, settled into the recliner and began to practice sight-singing—her homework for the next day. (Thankfully, she sings on key.) But after realizing I had read and re-read the same paragraph three times, I excused myself and moved to the dining room.

Twenty minutes later, and as I was once again fully involved in my story, my housemate decided it was now time to practice the piano. The piano is in a small room—you guessed it—next to the dining room.

Not wanting to disrupt the household routine, I again excused myself and said that I was going to work upstairs in the spare bedroom. I placed the laptop on the wobbly TV tray and settled myself back into my manuscript. Before long, my housemate appeared on the second floor, stating that it was now time to work through her computer—the one right outside the spare bedroom. She had to go online and use a program that played music aloud so she could identify the notes. This involved singing the notes and, as I observed, talking herself through the exercise, swearing only occasionally.

I later discovered that, if you proofread your work aloud, it’s easy to clear a room. From now on, I’m writing out loud!

Monday, September 1, 2008

A New Review Is In

I just returned from vacation on Mackinac Island (as if that wasn't good enough) to find a wonderful review of The Year I Lost My Mind from Fallen Angel Reviews. You can read the review by clicking on the following logo.

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Researching In Reverse

I seem to be developing a pattern. In my first book, And the Truth Will Set You Free, I relocated my character, Kate, to Connecticut. Last October, I traveled to New England and through Connecticut to see how closely my research for the story fit with reality.

In one of my recent completed manuscripts, Shooting Into the Sun, I send my characters to Mackinac Island, Michigan. I've never been there, but always wanted to visit. Well, I'm leaving tomorrow and, after a brief stop over in Pittsburgh, PA for a book signing at the Sto-Rox Public Library, I'm heading to Mackinac Island.

As with many things in my life, I'm once again working in reverse. I research a place, write about, then visit to see how close I came to fact. It seems to fit with what my high school driving instructor said: "I actually think you drive better in reverse." Well, there you have it.

In any case, I'll be back (no pun intended) after Labor Day. Until then, go and write something.


Wednesday, August 6, 2008

The Curse of the Sagging Middle

Okay, so this can have different meanings, depending upon your perspective. As I prepare to skid sideways into another birthday and wonder what the hell happened to my once-girlish figure, I ponder ‘the sagging middle.’

As writers, we are cautioned about the sagging middle--the point in our story where it droops and loses tension. How much like life is that? As I tugged at the waistband of my favorite jeans the other day, I noticed my sagging middle, and wondered how it got there.

Well, I know how I got my sagging middle--too many hours in the recliner under the laptop, a can of soda and a bag of chips at the ready, (and just a little chocolate). Okay, okay. A lot of chocolate. My sagging middle came from putting all the wrong junk into my body and limiting its activity.

And there it is--how we get a sagging middle in our stories. We fill it with junk--unnecessary details, the little wanderings we go into when we stray from the story, characters that don’t serve a real purpose, lines that don't move the story forward. And we lose the tension and the action. That fantastic beginning that grabbed our reader by the throat and held her there suddenly becomes jello that’s sat in the sun too long. We manage to get back on track and tighten up our ending, but it’s an uphill climb.

Here’s a test I’ve discovered to determine if you have a sagging middle. (No, don’t look down at your navel. I’m talking about writing again.) Highlight a section that you might use as an excerpt. Paste it into a new document, then read it. Does it stand alone? Does it represent the story or give a glimpse of one of your characters? Would it make you want to read the entire book?

If you answer ‘no’ to any of those questions, your story needs liposuction and a good workout. (Or maybe I’m talking about my waistline now?)

Breaking your story into random excerpts will tell you if it’s filled with junk, or (cliche alert) fit as a fiddle.

Now, go, and give a chapter a workout.


Monday, June 30, 2008

Writing In A Flash

I don't believe in writer's block. I've said that many times. However, I'm not naive, and I know that we sometimes come to a screeching halt with whatever story we're writing. The question is, what do we do?

I've discovered a few things that keep me writing, keep me moving forward. When I get to chapter nine and find I'm not sure how to begin chapter ten, I think about those scenes that have played out in my head, but fit further along in the story. Then I write them. Sure, there's a gap between where I stopped the story and the scene that may or may not appear in chapter fifteen. But--I'm writing. I'm creating. I'm not sitting and staring at a blank computer screen.

Some of my colleagues write flash fiction, short stories and poetry. I've written short stories, and I have a flash fiction piece recently accepted for publication next year. Flash fiction is particularly a great exercise to hone our skills for being concise and using an economy of words to describe our characters and their situations. It's a story of less than 1,000 words that has a beginning, a middle, an end and, ususally, an unexpected twist. There is an art to this form of writing. And it can be fun.

A third tactic for keeping my story alive and moving forward is brainstorming--talking the story out with another writer or critique partner. This opens your mind to new possibilities in your story. And it's not always what the other person suggests, but what you hear yourself say aloud about your story as you talk it through that energizes you to continue.

We all stall out at times, uncertain about the next line, the next scene, or how to get from where we are to the story's end. The most important thing is to not remain stuck. Write something, anything. Keep the creative juices flowing, even if you have to write a short essay about the frustration of being stuck.

Trust me. The next word will come to you -- in a flash.

Now, go. Write something.


Wednesday, May 28, 2008

My Muse Has Attention Deficit Disorder

I don't know about you, but I can't seem to work on only one book at a time. But I just took inventory of my flash drive and realize I have five--FIVE--books in process. In all fairness, the first draft of one is complete, but needs to be trimmed by about 3,000 words. The others are anywhere from two to seven chapters in length, so far.

Coming up with ideas is not my problem. Keeping those ideas straight and on track is becoming an issue. It's like trying to walk five leashed, and poorly trained, puppies at one time.

When faced with multiple story ideas, how do you decide which one to run with first? And, once you do, how do you set those other tempting little nuggets aside for the future?

It's been my practice to work on two books at the same time. I find that it keeps my imagination flowing and staves off writer's block. But five works in progress seem to be a bit much. It can lead to a different type of writer's block, when you become so immersed in several stories that you can't focus on any one of them.

So, what do you do when your muse develops ADD and drags you in five directions at once?

Linda (who is covering her ears and singing, "la, la, la, la" while she works on ONE book.) :)

Friday, April 25, 2008

Lose Your Mind!

The Year I Lost My Mind will be released May 1 by Wings ePress, Inc. www.wings-press.com

Here is a brief excerpt:

My name is Beth Rutledge. Today is my birthday. I am fifty-one years old. I have a thriving interior decorating business, a son in college, a daughter who just made me a grandmother and a husband whom I love very much. My mother will tell you I have been having a midlife crisis. My best friend will tell you I am courageous. My husband will tell you that, on my last birthday and for just a little while, I lost my mind.

I will tell you this: Sometimes you have to lose something in order to reclaim it. Sometimes you have to trust the love that holds the seams of your life together and stretch it to a new limit. Sometimes you just have to lose your mind…and follow your heart.

~ * ~

Lose your mind, and follow your heart with me on May 1 at Wings ePress, Inc.

Thanks to those of you faithful readers who enjoyed And the Truth Will Set You Free and Pieces, also available from Wings ePress.

Happy reading!


Thursday, April 24, 2008

Start Your Engines, and Write Your Way Home

When I was in high school and taking a driver's education class, the instructor looked at me one day and said, "You know, I think you drive better in reverse." It was the day we learned three-point turns, and I took his comment to be a compliment.

In writing, I've learned that some of the same principles apply as in driving a car. You have to start your engine (listen to your muse), have plenty of fuel (possess a command of language), and recognize the important signs that control traffic (know how to use punctuation).

You have to know when to turn up the heat and the time to cool things down. And you must be willing to take adventurous detours. But you also have to be able to make a neat three-point turn in narrow spaces.

I've often thought about my driving instructor's comment and considered how I apply that same skill to others areas of my life, writing included. Yes, I sometimes write in reverse. I often find that I have to justify my personal assertion that writer's block does not exist--or that it doesn't have to exist. So, if I hit a roadblock, reach one of those 'no thru traffic beyond this point' signs in my story, I must choose an alternative. I either have to find a detour, or I jump ahead in the story, then write my way back.

And I have to say it works. Every single time. I may not know where I'm going next, but I know where I want to end up. So, I jump a plane (so to speak) and get to the destination. Then I figure out my way back to where I left off.

Is this the ideal way to write a novel? Nope. Is it a way to write past the roadblocks? Absolutely.

You're skeptical, I can tell. Go ahead, give it a try.

Go, now, and write something.
.gnihtemos etirw dna ,won ,oG.

Whichever way works best for you.


Friday, April 4, 2008

Extra! Extra! Read all about it!

Reviews--either a writer's dream come true, or your worst nightmare. Some writers consider reviews a necessary evil of writing. Of course, your viewpoint depends upon whether the review is 'good' or 'bad'.

What constitutes a 'good' review? Most of us think a good review offers undending praise for our work, recommends it as a 'must read' and gives fifteen stars out of the ten available. Of course we love those reviews.

Then there are the 'bad' reviews--the ones that, while reading, you can see the reviewer sneer, shrug and make an 'oh, well' gesture. And, of course, you may encounter the nightmare review--the one that says, in essence, 'this book is a piece of meaningless garbage and not worth the time or money you'll spend standing in line at the cashier.' I don't personally believe this kind of review is necessary, no matter how poor the reviewer considers the manuscript to be.

Here is the challenge posed to us writers. When we request a review and it's less than positive, do we include the review in our promotional material, post it to our web site or post the link to the reviewer's site? Do we thank the reviewer for his/her time, even though we're not thrilled with the review?

What is the proper etiquette here?

In discussions among authors, I've heard opinions fall on both sides of the fence--gracefully accept the review, thank the reviewer and move on, or ignore the review and the reviewer (and make a note to never request a review from that person again). Some post a scathing retort to the reviewer.

Writing is a business, albeit a very personal business. Not all reviewers seem to keep that in mind, to remember that an author's words hold more than letters from the alphabet, set into a particular arrangement to tell a story. Our writing holds our hearts and souls, along with hours of blood, sweat and tears. It behooves reviewers, I believe, to be both honest and kind.

I don't post every review I receive on my web pages. After all common sense and good marketing practices would dictate otherwise if a review does not paint a positive picture of a book. It is, in the end, about attracting readers and selling books. Is this dishonest? No. I do, however, thank the reviewer for their time and for their honest review. They've done their job, even if we don't agree with the outcome.

I have read of authors who received scathing reviews that slammed their work and their skills. And they've taken the review site or the individual reviewer to task, gotten the review pulled from the web and received an apology.

Tact. Some people lack it. As writers and reviewers, we have to strike a balance between honesty and tact. I've reviewed work for several authors. Have I thoroughly enjoyed each and every book equally? No. Have I ever told an author they should hang it up and go back to their day job? No. Cruelty and personal affronts are not warranted.

If, as a reviewer, I encountered a book upon which I could find nothing positive to comment, I would return the manuscript to the author with a note about my reasons for declining the review.

For whom are reviews written? For the reader. Yep. Reviews are not intended to provide the author with marketing and PR material. Although they can serve as a barometer for our writing. They are intended to give the reader either an enticement or a warning. But--every review is one person's opinion. We need to remember this, both as writers and as readers. Some of the best movies I've seen were panned by the critics.

My advice?

Writers--employ good judgment about how you use reviews of your work. Respond professionally to your reviewers.
Readers--consider reviews, but trust your own instincts. Look at the book, read the blurb, visit the writer's web site and read an excerpt.
Reviewers--maintain professional integrity, but also remember that there's a person on the other end of that novel.


Saturday, March 22, 2008

Where do you get your ideas?

This is a question I'm often asked. But it usually comes out as: How do you think this stuff up?

I visited an injured co-worker yesterday, along with the rest of the staff from our small office. Being the new kid on the block, I wasn't tuned into some of the discussion. They talked about a couple who had dated in high school, then been separated because of family disputes, but who reunited later in life. One of my co-workers looked at me and said, "There's a book in there somewhere." And, indeed, there is.

I returned to the office and, having a quiet afternoon, sat at my computer and considered the story that could be told. Half an hour later I had an outline for a new novel following the theme of two young lovers, separated by family and by life events, but reunited later in life after both have married and raised families, endured divorce and widowhood. In that instant, The Hope Chest began its journey into print.

So, where do I get my ideas? From life. The makings of great story lines are all around us. We have but to observe, listen, and take good notes.

Where do you get your ideas? Or, to quote my friends, "How do you think this stuff up?"


Tuesday, February 19, 2008

I Love Your Writing, But...

Most writers have received numerous rejections that read something like this: Thank you for your recent submission, _______. Although your writing shows talent and I found your story to be interesting, I'm afraid it is not for me at this time.

You read and re-read these words, and your mind takes off on a run, with your heart in close tow. Oh, sure. What they're really saying is, 'You can't write worth a damn and your story sucked, big time. You're a LOSER!'

Then you get the old, "you've gotta have a thick skin" lecture from well-meaning friends (or from that chastising voice in your own head.) You search your manuscript, looking for that one word, or line, or paragraph that sabotaged your otherwise brilliant career. Maybe if I change my heroine, her crisis, her background--her underwear! Maybe, then, they'll like me...er...my book.

You can make yourself crazy, trying to figure out what that somewhat cryptic rejection meant. I'm talented and you liked my story---but it's not for you? It begs the question: Are you looking for a no-talent writer to produce a crappy story?

But what if you take the agent, editor or publisher at his/her word? What if you take to heart what has been said? You are talented. You have an interesting story. It's just not what this particular agent or publisher is seeking at the moment.

Who needs a thick skin, when you have an open mind? Think about it. What does this person, who has in all likelihood never met you, stand to gain by lying to you? Do you think they really want to let you down easy by cushioning the fall with false praise?

I'm not asking these questions to challenge you but, rather, to challenge myself. To change the way I view the dreaded rejection letter (which has become a two-line rejection email--even more impersonal).

I received just such an email yesterday, after the publisher held onto the manuscript for eleven months with the note that it "showed potential for their market." I had a choice: I could become angry, frustrated, cynical--let it take me down. Or I could take it in stride, smile at the fact that this particular editor saw something positive in my writing and in my story, and I can reason that I was offering beef when she was hungry for chicken. (Okay, really bad analogy, but you get the point.)

Learning to deal with the rejection that comes with this business can be challenging. Most of us don't write only from our heads. We write from our hearts and souls. And, so, when our work is rejected, it hits us on a personal level. It is personal.

If I believe this editor who said she liked my writing style and found my story to be interesting, and if I take that personally, I should be feeling pretty good about myself about now.

Shouldn't I?

Now go, shake off the dust and re-submit something!


Thursday, February 7, 2008

Dancing With Your Muse

Okay, so what do we writers do when our muse takes a vacation?

Some writers refer to this time as a period of 'writer's block'. I don't personally believe in writer's block. The term implies that one has the inability to write anything. I can always write something, just not necessarily what I want to write.

But I admit there are those times when I find myself pulled up at a standstill, unable to find the words for the next sentence, unsure of which turn to take that will further my plot. It's usually at those times that my heroine (bless her heart) becomes selectively mute--not giving me any hint of where she wants to go next.

What do we writers do? We sit and stare at a blank computer screen. Or, perhaps, we minimize the blank document and play Solitaire. Occasionally we even resort to drastic measures like housecleaning! Some writers shut down the computer entirely and put all writing aside for a day or two--or a week, or a month, or... But at some point, you have to come back and try again. And, if the inspiration is still not there, if your muse is still off dancing on some exotic beach with a Margarita in her hand--then what do you do?

My suggestion? Join her. Dance with your muse. Clink your glasses together and laugh at that nagging voice in your head that keeps shouting: "You must write something!" Know what I think will happen next? I think your muse will smile, take a sip of her Margarita (or coffee, or iced tea), tilt her head and whisper, "Want to hear a great story?"

Writing is work, and it is challenging. But, the day it ceases to be fun is the day I switch to Solitaire, or just shut down the laptop and watch TV. Nothing will squelch creativity faster than the sense that you have to do it--a performance anxiety of sorts.

So, relax. Dance with your muse, and wait to hear what she has to say next.

Happy writing!


Wednesday, January 23, 2008


I am so pleased to announce that my fourth book, FINDING HOPE, is now under contract for publication with Wings ePress, Inc. in December, 2008.

Here is a tease to tantalize you.

~ * ~

Dear family, I quit. Effective immediately, I am no longer the cook, laundress, shopper, housekeeper, chauffer, landscaper, or resident problem-solver. Oh, I’m also not the banker or the ATM. I am, however, the instructor. Classes will begin tomorrow and seating is limited, so you should sign-up early.

A cooking class will be conducted at five-thirty sharp. Bring your inquiring mind and appetite. A cook book will be available. On Saturday, I will offer two sessions--general housekeeping and laundry. Supplies will be provided. However, if you are attending the laundry session, please separate clothing into lights and darks and bring those with you. This class begins at nine a.m. in the basement.

Housekeeping will commence at ten, once you have mastered washing machine settings and drying times. Rubber gloves are recommended for those who have delicate skin or have had expensive manicures recently.

Other workshops, such as money-management, will be scheduled as needed and announcements will be posted. Don’t be late and get left out in the cold.

Janet R. DeMarco, Wife, Mother, Person (not necessarily in that order)

~ * ~

And, to tide you over until FINDING HOPE is released, THE YEAR I LOST MY MIND will be available in May, 2008. For a glimpse of these and my other novels, please visit my website at:

The cover for THE YEAR I LOST MY MIND is now completed. (Many thanks to Pat Casey-Evans, Art Director at Wings ePress, Inc.)

Happy reading and writing!

Tuesday, January 15, 2008

Creating Three-Dimensional Characters

One of the challenges we face as writers is that of creating three-dimensional characters. Our readers have to be able to visualize the people in our stories, to hear their voices and see their personalities shine through.

So, how do we create people that leap off the page for the reader? Think of the characters you know—friends and family members who stand out because of their looks, style of speech, mannerisms, dress, or other distinctive personality characteristics. In one of my as yet unpublished works, I have a female character who was the wild child among a group of five girlfriends. Now, as an adult, she writes for a New York-based soap opera and loves to share stories of her exploits with young hunks. I drew her personality—extroverted, bigger-than-life, risk-taking—from a high school friend of mine. When I wrote Polly, I visualized Joan (not my friend’s real name). I remembered how Joan entered a room like she owned the place, announced her arrival, and then held court.

In my first book, And The Truth Will Set You Free, I wrote the character of Sam, a mild-mannered, emotionally wounded middle-aged man. One of my first readers commented that she liked the story and could identify with my heroine, Kate, but that she fell in love with my hero, Sam. When I asked what it was about Sam, she said, “He’s so real, the kind of guy you’d want to meet at that stage of life. I could imagine having dinner with him.”

If you’ve been to Disneyworld, you may have visited the Honey, I Shrunk the Audience show. It’s an experience of sights, sounds, and sensations. 3-D glasses bring the action right into your face. That’s the challenge we face as writers—to create characters that get into our readers faces and into their minds and hearts.

I think that, if your characters are well-drawn and three-dimensional, your reader should be able to read a line and know, without a tag, who is speaking, or to visualize which character just entered the scene. Characters should have the qualities of real people—good or bad. They should be easy to love and enjoyable to hate. They should not be cardboard cut-outs that move from scene to scene without real emotions and distinct actions.

Think about it—we’ve all met at least one person in life who presents themselves in this way--one dimensional, flat. Did they draw you to want to spend more time with them, get to know them better?

Now, think about those persons you’ve met that you wished you could spend more time with, get to know better. Or that, in the very least, grabbed and held your attention. Those are the characters you want to create.

Now, go. Listen to the voices in your head--and take good notes!