August 20, 2017

FIRST PLACE WINNER! What the Clocks Know

I'm ridiculously excited to announce that this weekend, my last novel, What the Clocks Know, won first place in General Fiction for the 2017 Red City Review Awards!

You can see the full list of winners in each genre here:

And here's some of what Red City Review had to say in their 5-star review:
"Rumer Haven presents a twisted paranormal story in her latest novel. Keeping to a small-foiled cast, Haven features Margot, a young woman whose vulnerable state is intensified by her paranormal experiences. . . . A unique approach to Haven’s writing style is her use of red herrings. Taking advantage of her principal character’s vulnerability, Haven keeps her audience often confused as they are trying to figure out if Margot is suffering from a mental condition, is really experiencing the paranormal, or both. By using this literary tool, Haven is able to not only produce a consistent narrative flow, but also provide a flurry of unexpected character scenes up to and including the story’s close. What the Clocks Know offers paranormal enthusiasts a refreshingly gripping yet keenly deceptive read."
They also previously had this to say about Seven for a Secret:
"An intriguing tale that twists together the paranormal with a witty rom-com, Seven For a Secret is both a ghost story and a romantic escapade. . . . By pairing the modern-day story with intriguing elements from the 1920s, including ghosts and tantalizing trysts, Haven crafts a spellbinding plot that is sure to keep readers enraptured. . . . The story unspools at the perfect pace, layering more and more upon the reader as they move along the narrative. The comparisons that are drawn up between how women were treated in the early twentieth century to how they are viewed in the modern era is an especially fascinating element of the book which the author pulls off quite well. By blending genres of romance, historical fiction, and the supernatural, Haven pulls readers into her story with ease, as her talent for constructing such a juicy novel displays itself readily in every chapter."
You can find the full reviews here:

What the Clocks Know

Seven for a Secret

Thank you, dear readers, for your constant support!

June 1, 2017

Upstate 8 Literary Festival: Keynote (Part 5 - CONCLUSION)

In Part 4 of my keynote speech, I addressed why we write and how that entails writing what we don't know as well as what we do. I cautioned how we must also assume accountability for what we create, so writing the first draft is merely the first step of a longer process. And on that note, I finally conclude this keynote series! Thanks for listening to me babble on and on if you've made it this far. ;)

As your own editor, you need to be a “self-conscious” one. I don’t mean self-conscious as in insecurity-ridden—I think we’ve all probably mastered that one just fine. What I mean is to be conscious of the kind of writer you are and the audience you’re writing for.

Step back from your draft and look at it as a whole. Does it achieve what you want it to? Is this is what you wanted to write? Also, is this what your readers will want to read? How will they experience it?

Because, we can’t forget about the reader if we eventually want to share our work. Arguably 80% of its meaning will come from the reader, not us.

No matter how much they might lose themselves in our writing, readers still form their own interpretations based on their personal experiences and attitudes. So, we want to strike a chord with them through our work so they can make their own meaning from it. 

In many ways, our writing is self-examination. We see ourselves in our words every step of the way. But consider, too, how our writing can hold a mirror up to our readers, confirming or challenging their perspectives and possibly showing them another way of living and thinking. As much as your writing might be for yourself, it could also help your readers make sense of themselves, others, and the greater world around us. 

And while I’m on the topic of others reading our work, allow me to drill this into your heads:

Everyone needs an editor.

Everyone needs an editor.

Everyone needs an editor. 

I stress this not only as a writer whose manuscripts desperately need editing, but as an editor who’s prepared dozens of manuscripts for publication. Even the strongest stories with the strongest grammar need more work than you’d realize. Whether it’s idea development, pacing, style, or the nitty-gritty of sentence construction and continuity, everything you write needs another set of eyes. For as solitary as the act of writing is, we can’t do it alone.

Everything we write becomes our dear, sweet baby, and we can be ever so proud of it—and of ourselves—but it’s downright diva to think we’re above having our work critiqued. I know it’s scary, though. Writing is such a personal passion. Such a vulnerable one. What we write is who we are, and who likes hearing they’re anything less than perfect? So, frankly, every time we hand our work over to others, we’re giving them the power to upset us.

It’s hard to control how other people will respond to our writing, but we can control how graciously we respond to their feedback. It’s okay to admit we’re not perfect, and we’ll never improve unless we accept our limitations by accepting help from others. I actually feel more confident knowing that. Because I know I’m not alone, and once I can own my weaknesses, I can work to strengthen them.

As an editor, it never ceases to amaze me how much easier it is to identify issues in someone else’s manuscript than my own. As a writer, I’m simply too close to my story to see what others can. So, I welcome having my work edited. And I welcome editing others’ work, even if it takes me away from my writing—because it’s a thrill to help someone else share their story with the world, and I in turn learn so much from their talent and creativity.

Also, editing’s not just fixing what we’re doing wrong but learning what we’re doing right. As a teacher and an editor, I have always balanced my criticism with positive feedback so that my students and authors feel good about their work and remain confident in their voices and what they have to say. That’s why I end every editorial letter with this:

“It’s an act of great trust when a writer shares his or her work with someone else and opens it to commentary. I thank you for this trust and hope my feedback demonstrates an understanding of your work, your style, and what you’re seeking to achieve.”

Because here’s the thing: No matter what, your writing is for yourself. Even when you’re sharing it with the world. Keeping an audience in mind doesn’t mean forgetting who you are at heart. 

There’s endless advice out there for what we writers should and shouldn’t do. But, ultimately, there’s no one-size-fits-all formula to writing a good story, sketch, narrative, essay, poem, or play. We each bring something unique to the craft, and that’s something we should celebrate in our writing as well. 

You can only be the writer you are. So, listen to your voice, and find your way of smelling the flowers.

May 30, 2017

Upstate 8 Literary Festival: Keynote (Part 4)

In Part 3 of my keynote address, I described my writing process yet emphasized how this will vary for everyone. I also recommended reading as essential to writing, and then questioned why we write in the first place. So, in attempting an answer to that...

Anaïs Nin once said, “We write to taste life twice, in the moment and in retrospect.” 

That’s a lovely sentiment, isn’t it? Tasting life twice…what a sweet gift that writers get to enjoy.
Whether we’re writing fiction or non-fiction, we draw from life experience in some way to fuel our work with authenticity and heart. Who we are impacts what we write as well as how we write it. You and five of your friends could look at the same tree and each describe it differently.
It’s meaningful, not egotistical, to consider how your sense of self informs your writing. And it’s when you stop being yourself in your writing that it can start sounding inauthentic and cliché.
Because, they always say, Write what you know.” And I agree with that, even though we have to write what we don’t know. I mean, I don’t know about you, but I’ve never been suspected of murder or haunted by a ghost. I haven’t lived in Victorian London or 1920s Chicago. I’ve never been a twenty-five-year-old man or an eighty-year-old woman. For that matter, I’ve never been a panda or puppy lost in the forest! But I’ve written characters who are, which means I rely on research, observation, and imagination as much as experience. I have to know what I don’t know, and then make the effort to know more about it. 
Writing what we know isn’t about writing our autobiographies. We can draw from events in our lives, but what we know is more about what we feel, how life experience has shaped us emotionally. We can harness that emotion to help us empathize with experiences outside of ourselves, and we can express it in a way that helps others empathize with us, too. The best way to engage our readers is to make them want to take the journey with us, inserting themselves into the experience even if they’ve never lived through anything like it either.
So, in tasting life twice, why not spice it up with more flavor? Why not challenge yourself to know what you don’t know and expand on experience? In many ways, my real life has offered the inspiration I’ve needed to get started, yet the story inevitably evolves from there, trekking into terrain unlike anything I’ve personally known. I simply fit true elements into fictional contexts to communicate something entirely new. It’s like dismantling a clock and using its gears to build a time machine.
Ernest Hemingway similarly said, “From all things that you know and all those you cannot know, you make something through your invention that is not a representation but a whole new thing truer than anything true and alive.”
We also infuse authenticity into our writing through our powers of observation. For most folks, the world becomes too familiar as we age, losing more and more of the wonder it once held for us as children. Back when we questioned everything, were so curious about all of the things.
Writers, though, are blessed with the ability to hold on to that wonder. We notice subtleties, noticing people and how they behave, wondering where they’re going or coming from, how they got that scar above their eyebrow or why they’re smiling to themselves when they think no one’s looking. We might notice a tree and think it looks kinda sad and lonely, or maybe something about it seems hopeful and safe. We notice with a painter’s eye that clouds aren’t just white or grey, or how the mood of a room shifts as the sun rises and sets. We notice what a gust of air feels like in our lungs, through our hair, and what it smells like, and what memories those scents can conjure. How the rustling leaves sound like a waterfall.
We behold the world with wonder, and not only are we richer for it, but we’ve been called to write it down so that others can see the world through our eyes and maybe notice it as if for the first time. 
There’s not always beauty in this awareness. We might instead reveal the darker side of humanity through gritty poems or prose. There might not be a happy ending. But there will always be Truth, so long as we write what we wonder at, and do so through our genuine voices and ability to empathize with what others might have to say, too. That is what makes our writing authentic and universal.
Unlike the negligent Dr. Frankenstein, however, we do need to be mindful of what we bring into being. Our writing inspires us, speaks to us, surprises us, yes, but it also relies on us to nurture and shape it, to find a suitable place in the world for it.
So, when you finish drafting your work, you’re really only just beginning

Sorry to break it to ya. But luckily, editing is a creative process, too.
More on that in Part 5, the conclusion of this keynote series...

May 26, 2017

Upstate 8 Literary Festival: Keynote (Part 3)

In Part 2 of my keynote speech, I shared my meandering path to becoming an author, from corporate consulting to teaching to moving across the ocean and finally writing in earnest. But like any job, writing is WORK. So, to continue...

Films would have people believe that we writers are reclusive, brooding creatures, feverishly scribbling with ink-stained fingers by candlelight, dashing off masterpieces in a burst of inspiration as our Muse sings softly in one ear and her sister strokes a harp in the other.
I know friends have found my life very Hemingway and romantic, the expat writer crafting stories in foreign cafes when I’m not at my typewriter up in a garret or a turret or something...when, in reality, I’m most often in my flat at the computer, wearing yoga pants—maybe a sock-monkey hat—squished into the tiny second bedroom that also triples as my office and my husband’s closet. Writing is my work, so sometimes I just have to do what it takes to git ’er done. No frills.
Never mind getting published and marketing books after the fact—the writing and revising alone is work. All of it.
And that does psyche a lot of people out. Understandably so! What’s more intimidating than staring down a blank computer screen or sheet of paper?
But whenever I’m asked for advice on how to start writing, my response is pretty basic: “Start writing.” The only way to do it is to, you know, actually do it. You can’t sculpt anything without the clay. There’s nothing to polish and perfect without a first draft. A really rough, rambling, rookie first draft. That’s what you cut your teeth on.
So, just write. Write about everything; write about nothing. Watch people and things; observe behavior and sensory detail. And when you first write something down about it, don’t put the pressure on yourself to make it perfect. That all comes in due time. For now, just let go.

Getting in the habit of writing a little something every day warms you up and gets you into a groove. Stretching and flexing your creative muscles is just like exercising—the more you do it, the more energized you feel and the more you want to do it and inhibitions drop away.
I’ll admit it: My own process isn’t pretty. (Definitely not any prettier than me in a sock-monkey hat.) My creative process is messy and mental and just plain mean to me sometimes. Because all of my stories originate from a very scattered place: my brain. And the only way to get them out of my head is to kick up a windstorm in there and blow the ideas out onto paper.

And I do mean paper. I write my manuscripts on the computer, I do, but they always start as pen-to-paper. I don’t know why, but something about the physical act of handwriting dislodges ideas in a way that typing at the computer does not. And, honestly, I don’t even try to be organized about it—as soon as I have the bud of an idea, I go all-out brainstorming—writing any and all thoughts that come to mind onto any and all scraps of paper I can find—so then I can eventually look back at them from a bird’s-eye view and begin connecting the dots.
From there, I tidy it all into an outline. Granted, nothing neatly divided into tiers of A, B, C, 1, 2, 3 like I used to teach my students for five-paragraph essays. They’re more like back-of-the-envelope bullet points, but guidance nonetheless. Just enough to give me a sense of the story’s shape and direction without confining my creativity.
It’s definitely different for everyone, but I personally need to allow for some organic flow, balancing structure with spontaneity. I wouldn’t enjoy the writing process nearly as much if I plotted everything meticulously in advance. That gives me the breathing room I need to change my mind if I end up wanting to head somewhere else.
It also allows for those odd-and-wonderful moments of pure writing magic, when it’s almost like the characters are whispering the next scenes in your ear. As if the story already exists on some level, independent of you, but you’ve been chosen to tell it. When this happens, it’s a little haunting but so amazing. When, truly and almost inexplicably inspired, you just write without knowing where it’s going and end up creating something better than it ever would’ve been if you’d thought about it too hard.
Those are the moments when writing feels easy. But since you can’t force the magic, you need to enforce the method. 

Ultimately, you need to find the method that works best for you, and surely your process will evolve with experience, just as mine continues to. But even setting our own expectations requires discipline as we make time for our writing and revise it until it becomes the best version of itself.  
I wish I could say that I write every day, but I don’t. At least not creatively. Otherwise, sure, I’m writing. I write emails or text messages or social media posts (or keynote speeches). But creatively, some days I just don’t feel it. The story goes quiet and the characters don’t speak to me.
Those are discouraging times, and I always feel guilty. Because we can’t just sit around and wait for inspiration. We need to try to show up on the page in some way. 

Sometimes I do so by revising what I’ve already written. Or, I take to pen and paper again to brainstorm. Or I don’t write anything at all but still think through my plots and characters away from the computer. I’ve had some great revelations hit me while I’m shampooing my hair in the morning or falling asleep at night. I’ve even gotten pages of material just from walking through the old Victorian cemetery near my flat and reading the gravestones.
So, whatever works. Go for a walk. Ride your bike. Sketch or color some pictures. Just because you’re not literally writing doesn’t mean you aren’t still “writing” in your mind—just as long as you do at some point jot down your thoughts before you forget them. Even writing just five minutes a day is better than none. You wouldn’t train for a marathon by running twenty miles your first day. You start small and do what you can to show up on the page.
Still, at those honest-to-goodness times when I feel too tapped out to create anything—well, then I show up on someone else’s page.
I read.

I sincerely believe we cannot be good writers unless we’re good readers. Every time we read, it’s an investment in our writing. On one level, we can observe how other writers structure and develop their work and craft their language. On another level, we can simply lose ourselves in the experience of someone else’s written world, rediscover the joy to be found in words and imagination to remind us why we’re writing our own pieces and recharge us for when we’re ready to return to them.
Because, why do we write? Why should we? 
I'll explore that next in Part 4 of this keynote series...

May 25, 2017

Upstate 8 Literary Festival: Keynote (Part 2)

In Part 1 of my keynote address, I related my personal history with the Upstate 8 and how my writing life began by entering my elementary school's Young Authors Contest. I learned at an early age that rejection is part of the process, but also that the more I tried, the more I improved. The key was to KEEP WRITING. Yet on that note... 

I wish I had kept writing creatively, but I’d let it lapse awhile during and after college, when I studied finance and became a consultant. In the years to follow, I wrote mainly emails and financial analysis. As all the while, my mother lamented, “Where are my writers? Where is my poet?” since all four of us kids had gone into either accounting or finance.
My brothers are still CPAs, but both my sister and I are now authors—so, Mom? You’re welcome. My sister and I both started out in finance, too, and maybe we weren’t writing fiction then, but we continued to read it as our escape from an everyday existence that paid the bills but didn’t quite make us tick. I don’t regret pursuing a business career—it’s challenging and rewarding in its own way—but during those daily commutes to downtown Chicago, when I was reading a novel when I probably should’ve been keeping up to date with the Wall Street Journal or something, I just knew. I knew I wasn’t long for the business world.
One day, I left the office to visit a bookshop. I was picking out a gift for a niece or nephew, looking through the children’s section when I came across my all-time favorite picture book as a kid: The Story of Ferdinand, by Munro Leaf. I don’t know if you’ve read it, but it’s basically about a peaceful bull who loves smelling flowers more than anything. He chooses not to romp around with the other young bulls and won’t fight inside the bullring in Madrid. He simply wants to sit under his favorite cork tree and smell the flowers.

Believe it or not, finding this book in that bookstore on that day was an epiphany for me. Standing between the shelves, flipping through this story that I hadn’t read since childhood, I realized that I didn’t want to fight the corporate bullfight anymore either. It went against my grain, and all I wanted was to find my way of smelling the flowers, too.

Which is when I realized: books. Books are my flowers. They always have been. Reading them, teaching them, now writing and editing them. My life’s been a virtual greenhouse ever since I decided to pull a 180 and leave consulting to study English language and literature instead. I earned my masters in education and became an English teacher, first as a student teacher and long-term substitute at Geneva High School (go, Vikings!) and then as a full-time teacher here at St. Charles North (go, North Stars!). Teaching was by far the toughest job I’ve ever had, but I loved my work here. I loved my students and colleagues and the communities of the Upstate Eight. In my heart, this area will always be my home.
But life does happen. Nearly ten years ago, I got married and moved to London for my husband’s career. I won’t pretend the transition wasn’t difficult, but now I’m a dual American and British citizen, and the UK has become another home, and another inspiration for writing. 

And I’m talking crazy inspirational—I can’t walk a block without stumbling on something of historical or literary significance. I live right down the street from where Beatrix Potter wrote her Peter Rabbit tales. I often stroll through Kensington Gardens, where Peter Pan was inspired, and I’ve explored Shakespeare’s hometown. I’ve seen Charlotte Brontë’s original manuscript for Jane Eyre and stood in Jane Austen’s house (which is pictured here). I’ve hung out at Charles Dickens’ old haunts and met his great-great-great-granddaughter Lucinda Hawksley. I’ve even had one of my manuscript chapters critiqued in person by a descendant of Charles Darwin, the author Emma Darwin.
So, for close to a decade, I’ve been OMG-ing my fool head off over walking in the footsteps of my literary heroes, feeling ever humbled by their talent but ever aspiring to it.  

Yet the fact of the matter is, moving to London did take me away from family, friends, and my teaching career here. That was heartbreaking. And though I started out teaching across the pond as a substitute, until I could find satisfactory full-time work, I blogged for a London relocation agency, writing about life in the UK from my expat perspective. Professional blogging was my first foray into writing at length every day, and I found the process of sharing my written experience very therapeutic. And since I only worked part-time, I finally had the opportunity to try what I’d always wanted to do: write a novel.
Oh, yeah, suuure. Write a novel. Simple.
Right. I had no clue how to come up with an idea that I could run with for the entire length of a book! But what I always consider first as a writer is: What do I enjoy as a reader? Probably the best advice I’ve ever received and could impart to you today is this: Write what you want to read.
Write what you want to read.
For me, that’s fiction with elements of mystery, history, and a touch of the supernatural. Something modern but with a Gothic edge. Having lived in historic buildings in both Chicago and London, I can’t help but think of all the lives that occupy the same spaces over the decades if not centuries. Living and dying there. I look around and imagine what might’ve happened in the rooms where I stand, where I sleep. So, the nature of time and the soul just fascinates me and can be explored through so many dimensions; I don’t think I could ever exhaust all the ways to approach it.
But sometimes even all that possibility is overwhelming—almost scarier than having no clue what to write about. I might feel like my ambition exceeds my talent, and I psyche myself out. Which blocks me from writing.
To overcome a really bad bout of writer’s block that I had on my first book, I turned to short fiction. I cracked open a journal and did freewriting like I used to in high school. I started a personal blog and posted my responses to writing prompts. I also took some of these entries and revised them to submit to flash-fiction sites and short-story contests. And I simultaneously began editing for a small publishing company, which helped me hone my craft by helping others.  
And within a few years of trying, really trying to make space for writing in my life, I got two short stories and two novels published, mostly under the pen name Rumer Haven. 
Both novels are ghost stories of sorts that switch between past and present, and I’m currently wrapping up a 1920s murder mystery. After that, I’m tackling a paranormal book series, if all goes to plan, along with an anthology of supernatural stories. So, for as much as I’ve done, I’ve still got my work cut out for me. 
Because let’s not kid ourselves: Writing is a joy, but writing is also a lot of work.
To be continued in Part 3 of this keynote series...

May 24, 2017

Upstate 8 Literary Festival: Keynote (Part 1)

This past April, I was tremendously honored to deliver the keynote address at the Upstate Eight's 2017 Literary Festival in suburban Chicago, Illinois. I still have a ways to go on my journey as a writer, but what a privilege to share what I've learned so far with the next generation. I'm in awe of the creative students I met that day and can only hope that I encouraged their own journeys in some small way. 
I'd like to finally share this speech with you, too, dear readers. But since I yammered on for at least a half hour, I'll post in installments. Without further ado, here is Part the First...

Good morning, everyone! I can’t even begin to tell you what an honor it is for me to be here with you all today, in the presence of such talented writers, and in the school where I used to teach.
My career path has admittedly been a rather meandering one, but St. Charles North was one of its most important destinations. I owe so much to this place. And to the Upstate Eight overall, as I grew up in Bartlett (go, Hawks!), but since there wasn’t a Bartlett High School back in my day, I received my education at Elgin High School. (Any Maroons here? Go, EHS!). 
I’m an old-fart forty-year-old now, but believe me, I remember being your age…the fun and the uncertainty and the whole career path still ahead, not yet sure where it’ll begin. Maybe you do know what you want to do, or maybe you’re still figuring it out like most folks. Maybe you’ll seek publication one day or maybe writing will remain a happy hobby. 

These days, all of you write for class assignments, but, if you’re here today, you likely also write privately as a creative outlet. Maybe you submit work to your school’s literary magazine, or maybe you write flash fiction or fanfiction online. Or perhaps you just keep it all to yourself in a well-worn and trusted journal. We all write for our own purposes, but the main point is that we all write
When I think about my own writing life, I can’t help but look way back to grade school, to the Young Authors contest at Wayne Elementary. I don’t like to brag, but…I won that contest when I was in sixth grade. I’d written a gripping coming-of-age tale titled The Kid Next Door. I not only wrote the story, I illustrated it. Double threat. And after I won, I did a school-wide publicity tour, visiting different classrooms and reading excerpts. 

But never fear, it didn’t go straight to my head. I didn’t start out on top as an eleven-year-old. That wasn’t my first go at writing and setting myself up for acceptance or rejection. Oh, no. I had first entered that contest in second grade, when I submitted a short story called The Panda’s Lost Mother. It was a dramatic piece about a panda who gets lost in the forest. And I gave it this big twist at the end where the panda gets found. I know. I thought I really had something there.
Needless to say, the story didn’t win. Not even close to a runner-up. Because, big surprise, it was a really terrible story. The dialogue was stiff, it told more than it showed, the conflict was severely underdeveloped—and, quite simply, it didn’t deserve to win. I hadn’t given it much effort.
So, I tried again the next year with a story called The Lost Puppy

That story was about—wait for it—a puppy that gets lost in the forest. I know! This stuff writes itself! I drew pictures for that, too. And though this third-grade effort offered better description and a more heightened sense of tension, it didn’t win either.  
But I would not be deterred.
The next year, I challenged myself in a different genre altogether and decided to write poetry. And I illustrated that as well. Because, apparently that was my thing. And that year, I made it as a runner-up. 

So, my morale was back. Yet I sat out the contest in fifth grade—regrouped, I guess…waited for inspiration. I’m not sure. All I remember is that the following year I wrote The Kid Next Door and tasted greatness.
Okay, so, in retrospect, that story was pretty terrible, too. But that’s not the point. When I wrote The Panda’s Lost Mother, I was a seven-year-old hack. I didn’t want to write that story; I wanted to win the contest. It’s like when I tried out for badminton freshman year at Elgin because I wanted the satin team jacket. And I got rejected for that, too!
But by the time I wrote poetry in fourth grade, I wanted to. I found actual joy in it. And then I didn’t force myself to enter something the next year. I didn’t write another story until one came to me that I actually wanted to write. And I think that’s why, ultimately, the third and fourth times were the charm.
At the time, of course, I was just having fun. I wouldn’t know what an important lesson I had learned until twenty years later when I began writing in earnest. But looking back on it now, I appreciate how every time I wrote and submitted a story to that contest, I made progress. I also failed, but then I tried again and got better. 

I’m no stranger to rejection in my adult life either, but the more I’ve written and submitted my stories, the more rejections have turned into acceptances. It’s a bit of a numbers game, but also a matter of growing in the craft. The greatest acceptance we could ever experience, though, is our own acceptance of our work. We, first and foremost, need to love it and feel proud of it. And if others don’t love it, well then, we have to accept that, too.

I think it took me a while to learn that. As I outgrew my childhood moxy, I became more self-conscious as a writer. As of middle school and high school, I’d stopped entering writing contests, though I’m not sure if it was mostly lack of confidence or motivation. Probably a combination of both. I wasn’t proactive like all of you seated here, contributing your lovely literary work to this festival, which is so admirable. I’m so proud and inspired by what you’re accomplishing today.

What I can at least say for myself at your age is that, insecure as I was, I never stopped loving to write. I mean, yeah, I usually moaned over English assignments like everyone else, but whether it was a poem, short story, or essay, I truly did enjoy the challenge of crafting sentences in a way that would clearly and effectively communicate my message. I enjoyed figuring out what my message was in the first place. And I enjoyed playing with language, experimenting with turns of phrase. English is such a word-rich playground for that.

Which is why I loved, loved when my teachers would assign creative writing. My favorite task was when my sophomore English teacher gave us time in class to conduct freewritings. We had to keep a notebook solely for that, and she would give us something like five minutes to just write without stopping. Without caring about grammar or spelling or how weird our train of thought was getting. We just had to run with it, and it was the most liberating sensation, unlocking parts of my brain I didn’t realize I had.

Twenty-five years later, I still distinctly remember Mrs. Morrison commenting in my notebook, “You have a poet’s instinct for imagery.” That’s stuck with me. As does a professor’s comment on one of my graduate-school essays. He’d said my writing was good, but it could be great if I just relaxed it a little.
And it did need relaxing. I always tried too hard, speaking more from my head than my heart, trying to sound intellectual, and saying in two words what I could’ve said in one. I hope you take your teachers’ feedback to heart like I did, be it their compliments or criticism. Both are invaluable and neither should encourage you to either rest on your laurels or give up. Keep. Writing.   
To be continued in Part 2 of this keynote series...

September 26, 2016

Signing in the Cemetery!

What a haunted hoot I had with fellow paranormal author Shani Struthers last weekend! Saturday was our morbid-yet-merry book-signing at Brompton Cemetery.

One of London's "Magnificent Seven" cemeteries from the Victorian era, Brompton was the birthplace of my novel What the Clocks Know. I stumbled on this graveyard immediately after relocating to London several years ago, and it's been my favorite London location ever since. As Morrissey sings in the Smiths' song "Cemetry Gates":
So we go inside and we gravely read the stones
All those people, all those lives
Where are they now?
With loves and hates
And passions just like mine
They were born
And then they lived
And then they died
That's what I contemplate, too, whenever walking through Brompton. This cemetery has some notable residents resting in peace there, like the renowned suffragette Emmeline Pankhurst. But the unknowns also fascinate me as I wonder who they were. Now of very special note to me is one Charlotte Pidgeon, whom I "met" early on during my Brompton strolls and ended up fictionalizing in my story. (Beatrix Potter, too, used to take names for her Peter Rabbit characters from the headstones here.)

So you can imagine my thrill when the lovely Friends of Brompton Cemetery agreed to host this signing, and that joy increased exponentially when Shani Struthers agreed to sign by my side. Shani is the author of Jessamine, the Psychic Surveys series, and the new This Haunted World series (which just launched with book one, the Amazon bestseller The Venetian). Her ghost stories are among my favorites, a wonderful complement to my own paranormal fiction, and fit in perfectly with our unconventional venue. All of our books paired well with wine, too. 😄🍷

Also at Brompton's chapel this month is artist Iluá Hauck da Silva, who gave a talk about her "Minotaurs of the Mind: The Second Coil" exhibition prior to our signing. She and her work are stunning, and I was captivated by her inspirations and process. 

Shani and I originally intended to hold our event inside the chapel, too, but we were graced with lovely weather (something you cannot take for granted in London!) so decided to move the party outside. The sun eventually tucked behind the clouds, but we still enjoyed the fresh air and our view, as well as greeting passersby.

Among our attendees was an actual ghost-hunting team! Does it get better than that??! We are so grateful to Twilight Ghost Hunts for stopping by before their overnight ghost tour of the London Tombs.

Our excitement lasted right to the very end, when we raced against time to pack up and reach the gate before we got locked in the graveyard overnight!! We did make it out, carrying on our supernatural celebration with "spirits" of the cocktail variety at the Troubadour cafe. Here is Shani looking ab fab at our private post-party:

Needless to say, we had a spooky and splendid time on Saturday, and now our souls are restless for more! 👻 👻