LizAnn Carson

Releasing the stories into the world


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Burnout

I dread burnout, and guard against it. By that I mean that I work like a fiend to make sure I get whatever I’m working on finished before burnout hits.

Logical, eh?

But there’s a history here, a pattern. I am what I choose to call a serial enthusiast. I live in terror of the day that I wake up and simply don’t want to do whatever it is that I’m doing anymore.

Some people have said that I get what I need from whichever activity engrosses me, then move on. This may account for the cardboard box in my basement full of partially finished cross-stitch projects. I love cross-stitch, honest. But then that morning comes, and the latest project goes into the box—for another time, of course.

I think the issue of burnout at the moment has a lot to do with my stated intention of getting three books released this summer. They’re all written, thank heaven. Two of them ought to be considered finished; I mean, there’s a limit to how many times you should even think about going through the manuscript one last time, tweaking this, finding the last missing quotation mark … yes, there ought to be a statute of limitations on this stuff.

And that brings me to another fatal flaw: perfectionism. Do you know why perfectionists can read all the advice about not being perfectionist, and not even see themselves in it? I can tell you why. Because that’s not how you see it. You’re not going for perfect. You’re going for good enough. What you’re doing will be judged, after all. People will see and comment. It’s not perfectionism if you’re just trying to make it as good as it reasonably can be. If you just want people to love it as much as you do.

Are you sensing a perfect storm here?

Well, what I didn’t expect was that it wouldn’t be my brain that would do me in. I’d been aware of tension amounting to pain in my neck and shoulders for a few days now (well, okay, maybe a few weeks), and for the last couple of days I’ve fought off a headache. No fighting this morning, though. Tension headache, steel band around head, the whole works. Acetaminophen, caffeine, and a couple of chocolate digestive biscuits later I felt better. So I tried to work on the current revision of Mel, the third book in the Calder Creek Series. Want to guess what happened?

Two ibuprofen and another cup of coffee later, I was pointedly avoiding my computer and relaxing with a new book on Zentangle, when my whole body caved in. It felt like a low blood pressure episode. I went limp.

Limp, I took myself off to the sofa for a nap.

Now, a cup of tea and a cinnamon raisin scone later, I feel better, although still weak. I think I may not work on Mel for a few days. I think that might be wise.

So, naturally, what do I do? Sit down at my computer to document this mini-collapse. Oh, I’m a wise one, you betcha.

Never mind. The sun’s trying to come out, the cat’s asleep in front of the fire (not that that’s unusual), and really, everything’s going pretty well. I will learn to pace myself, honest. I’m good at learning from my mistakes.

Maybe on the next book …

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Spring Cleaning

It’s that time of year again ….

Have you noticed how, when spring comes, the light changes? Quite apart from the daffodils, twittering birds, baby animals, flowering cherry trees, and so forth, suddenly there’s this greater light, this cleaner, brighter light, flooding your day.

Ah, yes. Cleaner and brighter. And shining right in my windows. Just what I needed. Because now all that winter dust that’s been easy to ignore for the last few months has become resplendent motes dancing in sunbeams. Every winter activity is reflected in disorder—no, let’s call it chaos—throughout the house.

Yep. Time for spring cleaning.

Now, please believe that I have vacuumed and dusted and tidied and otherwise cleaned house throughout the winter. But spring changes things. There’s this need to throw open curtains and windows, let the outside in, get fresh air … and clean. Spring cleaning isn’t like other cleaning. It’s inspirational, almost romantic. It’s kind of like the first day you put on a short-sleeved shirt after a winter of sweaters: it’s about freedom. Freedom from everything that’s piled up over the course of the dark months.

I’m getting twitchy, so I’m taking action. I’ve already completed my income tax. (Now there’s a symbolic cleaning job for you!) Someday soon I’ll clean my desk, which is, frankly, out of control. How much discipline does it really require to take ten used printer cartridges to the recycling bin at the office supply store? How hard could it be to throw away the piles of scrap paper covered in notes that were undoubtedly important at the time but now are simply illegible?

(I’ll let my husband wash the windows. There are limits.)

And then there’s the writing. I’m drowning at the moment, and beginning to think that my plan to release three books together (The Calder Creek Series) is misguided. Part of this is because every time I go into a book that I thought was finished, I have to re-finish it. To “clean” it. There’s always something else to tweak. It’s driving me nuts. It’s time to bring order into chaos.

So I’m working on a plan. A tidy, orderly, clean plan, which will allow me to do final revisions to the first two books (which are for all intents and purposes done), while bringing the first draft of the third book up to snuff. Step by orderly step. Calmly.

I like the feeling of getting on top of things, of keeping it all under control, in the same way that I like an up-to-date calendar and a monthly budget. This is probably also the reason that I’m pretty solidly in the planner camp when it comes to writing (as opposed to “pantsers”—writing “by the seat of your pants”).  I love the free flow of inspiration, but I need the underlying structure or I get panicky. Spring is my time to get a new grip on that structure. Call the carpet cleaner, put the summer sheets on the bed, write, move the herb pots to their summer home on the deck, dispatch the dust to wherever dust goes. Write. Calmly. Cleanly.

I love spring.


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Staying within the Lines

Secret Garden, not quite finished

Secret Garden, not quite finished

I have a new coloring book. I love it. (If you’re curious, it’s called Secret Garden, by Johanna Basford.) It has page after page of these wonderful, flora-themed line drawings to color and play with.

As a child, I was always a first-rate colorer. I knew how to take my time, to stay within the lines. As I got older, I remember being frustrated by the juvenile nature of most of the available coloring books. This was long before grown-up coloring books became popular, of course. Now you can get coloring books to help you study anatomy or botany, coloring books that mimic stained glass windows, coloring books with patterns ranging from old wallpaper patterns to crazy paisleys, and everything in between. Being an adult colorer has never been easier.

No one ever told me, back in those childhood days, that you could draw your own pictures. That you didn’t have to be confined by someone else’s lines. It was as an adult that I discovered that I could draw, if I put my mind to it. Or that I could create Zentangle drawings that blew my mind. Nobody told me.

I’ve picked up some of those skills now, to some extent anyway. But I’ve also colored my way to my relatively ripe age, happy as a clam.

Funny thing, though. When I look at my coloring in my new book, I realize I’m not quite as good at staying within the lines as I was.

Being me, I have to wonder if this is symbolic. I’ve never personally wanted to stay within the lines. Sometimes I wonder if that’s part of why I became a romance author.

Pity the poor romance author! Given no respect, no credibility. And yet we account for an enormous percentage of fiction sales. And while not all romance writing is great, a lot is nothing to be ashamed of. We can write, dammit. But it really does feel sometimes like we’re on the outside looking in, waiting for someone to notice us and say, hey, wait a minute, this book is actually good.

I’ve heard it said that romance writing is writing to a formula. In some cases it plays out that way. But not all cases. Having the lines pre-drawn, as in a coloring book, means you know the beginning and the ending before you start writing. But then you get to choose the colors, fill in the blanks. How the beginning and ending happen, and all the steps in between, are yours to tint. My finished drawing, or book, isn’t going to look a thing like yours.

And then there’s the business of coloring outside the lines on purpose. Now we’re getting exciting—and scary. My new coloring book actually encourages you to draw your own lines, add to the patterns. I’m not sure I have the courage for that (the old what-if-I-mess-it-up thing starts happening). In writing, sure, I’ll try it. It’s called finding your voice. It’s called ignoring convention and going with your gut. It’s called making your book the best darn book you can, on your own terms.

I bought a new pack of markers to go with my new coloring book. And that’s what I’ll do this afternoon after tea, having written all morning. I’ll stay within the lines or not. I’ll layer colors. Maybe I’ll add a trailing vine or a red flower. I’ll make the picture my own.

(One last note. In amazon.ca, Secret Garden is a number one best seller in children’s coloring books. Kids these days are a lot luckier in their selections than I was!


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Love of Collage

It’s odd, perhaps, that although I’m obsessed with words, I’ve never had any interest in keeping a journal.

Oh, I’ve made a stab at it from time to time. I have a couple of nicely bound journals filled with life highlights – mostly photos and hand written, short comments. It can take five to ten years for me to complete a journal, so you can imagine it’s not a very complete record of my life.

Some years ago, I did a wonderful goddess program called The Ninth Wave (http://www.thesilverbranch.org/ninthwave/journey.html) with Lunaea Weatherstone. And she introduced me to collage. I’m forever indebted to Lunaea for this revelation. A little later I discovered an intriguing book called Soul Collage: An Intuitive Collage Process for Individuals and Groups, by Seena B. Frost.

These two resources taught me that collage can document your life, from the day you taught your kids new words when a full carton of milk got spilled on the floor to the day you learned a new spiritual insight. Soul Collage also gave me a format: 5×8 inches, small enough that a collage doesn’t take forever, large enough to accommodate many images you find in magazines.

I’ve probably got a hundred and fifty collage cards now – plus a full tarot deck. This is a double card I made for my life as a romance writer.

Casting Spells

Collage can be anything you want it to be. You can cut pictures out of magazines in their original squares and stick them on a piece of paper. You can obsessively trim tiny antennae on the picture of a butterfly before sticking it onto another picture of a mountain range. You can add text. You can leave lots of blank space, or you can fill your page completely. You can take your time or finish it all in under an hour. (I tend to be the obsessive, trim-around-the-antennae type of collager.)

The point is that collage is a simple and inexpensive way to journal, if you don’t want to “journal”.

Lately I’ve been doing more electronic collage, using paint.net (which I’ve mentioned before). Once you master layers it’s an easy way to put images together from the web to make your own, personal collages. I took the photo near Victoria, BC, and added John O’Donohue’s perfect words.

Celebrate the day

Give it a try. Choose one magazine and find a piece of paper or card stock, a pair of scissors, and a glue stick, and you’re good to go.

For me, the good news is that 5×8 inches is one of the standard book cover sizes when you self-publish with Createspace.

So yes, for Seducing Adam I did my own cover. No hero, no heroine, just a house on a hill and some roses. And yes, this breaks the “rules” for romance fiction. But the thing is, when I troll the Amazon website under contemporary romance, it isn’t the hero-and-heroine covers that attract me. Nora Roberts’ Garden Trilogy comes to mind here.

I’d planned on going to a cover designer. I have several strong references from fellow writers. And undoubtedly I will take that route in the future. If you have a look at, for instance the Killion Group website (http://thekilliongroupinc.com/) you’ll see right off the bat that there are lots of effects I could never get with my rudimentary skills. But for now, well, Seducing Adam is a non-gritty, non-erotic romance, and it doesn’t cry out for the bells and whistles.

Collage is fun, anyone can do it, and you’re creating your own, personalized art. Give it a try!


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One Week to Launch – Give or Take

What happens when you’re within, say, a week of seeing your first book published?

Nothing. As far as ordinary living is concerned, you cease to exist.

Because there’s no time; you have a gazillion things to do. There’s no space in your brain box; your neural pathways are basically fried. You are, in a word, obsessed.

So anything approaching normal life is out the window. Back-burnered. Non-existent.

Furthermore, you risk nervous wreck-hood. The house doesn’t get cleaned. The meals get made, provided that making them involves taking them out of the freezer and heating them. You’re up an hour earlier than usual, because you know – you know – that there are typos in there you haven’t found, or that the last cut-and-paste left half a paragraph missing.

You know that the whole thing should be rewritten. Because it isn’t good enough, is it? Is it? Maybe it is. Never mind, you can always tack on another hour at the end of the day.

And then there’s everything that goes with the launch date. Formatting and learning how to submit to – in this case – Kindle. Write the blog, get the new page up there. And then there’s the dreaded publicity thing. Sad but very true to say, social media and I seem to live on different planets. I write this blog, and I’ve made a stab at Google + (since I seem to have ended up on it by default anyway), but somehow I can’t get into it.

Did I mention that I picked this moment in my life (thank you, Black Friday) to buy my first Windows 8 computer? Truth to tell, I’m afraid to turn it on. Maybe next week.

Okay. Calm. Focus. Here’s the deal. I’m working  toward a launch of Seducing Adam next week, on Kindle, a little later in paperback. I can do this. I. Can. Do. This. There seems to be a combination of excitement and terror and too-much-to-do-at-once that rolls over all the good intentions. And naturally I’m convinced about those typos and missing chunks of paragraphs, so in the re-read of course I’m finding things to re-word, to clean up, to enhance, to … to … oh heck.

Did I mention my thumbs? Woke up this morning with aches in both thumbs. Who knew that being a romance novelist was dangerous to your health? Typing is a challenge this morning, which may mean it’s time to stop for coffee and a scone, give the poor thumbs a rest.

Do you have time for coffee and a scone? Really? Can you edit while you eat? Don’t stop. Don’t stop!

Okay, time for some balance. I could revise Seducing Adam until the proverbial cows come home. My deadlines are self-imposed. Sometimes it’s a better plan to remember to take a breath. Enjoy the scone. Go to yoga. Or at least, get up from the computer and go see if the sun is shining. (I call my dark little office space “The Cave”.)

I hope that next week I’ll be announcing a book launch. Today, I’m showing off a book cover and a blurb. Look for the new page – and fingers crossed, everyone. Here comes the plunge.


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Thanksgiving

Holidays have a way of derailing you. You’ve got your plan for the day, week, year, lifetime, all neatly laid out, then wham! – along comes a day outside of the ordinary, and there goes the agenda.

That explains how I managed to miss a post last week. Here in Canada it was Thanksgiving, which we celebrate on the second Monday of October. This schedule has some advantages: the weather isn’t as bad as November in much of the United States. (On the other hand, we almost never get the “white and drifting snow” experience.) Having the holiday on Monday means everyone isn’t shopping around for an extra vacation day to make it a long weekend. We do tend to go all out with the pumpkins and turning leaves, not to mention the turkey, stuffing, and all the accompaniments. However, there are no pilgrim fathers in the Canadian pantheon. There aren’t lots of stories and myths around this holiday. It’s simply what it says it is: a time of thanksgiving. Of gathering together.

(And, of course, a time to head south for just a touch of cross-border shopping. But that’s a different story.)

My Thanksgiving was pretty much as expected, other than eating too much, which wasn’t expected at all. (I like to think I’ve outgrown stuffing myself, but maybe not.) One of our kids is still in town, so he and his wife contributed half of the feast. We digested with a manic four-handed round of table tennis, then carried on to the pumpkin pie. Then the son and daughter went home, and yes, I felt tons of thanksgiving at the moment my head hit the pillow that night.

Lots to be thankful for in that simple little vignette. Plenty of food on the table, health and lightness of heart to take to the table tennis table, love bringing us all together. Soft pillow at the end of it all. Not so different from an American Thanksgiving, really.

Writing an American Thanksgiving can challenge your skill – and not just because of those pilgrim fathers. Because while Canadians honor and celebrate our holiday, it just doesn’t carry the impact the American version does. So when a romance writer in Canada sets a book in the United States, she has to do her fair share of research to get the mores and memes right. That’s part of the fun of writing, for me, the learning and experimenting with ways that aren’t the ones I have here in Canada.

Still, I like my quiet, slightly understated version of Thanksgiving.

(As a bonus, so far we don’t have to contend with Black Friday. I’m thankful!)


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Failure as a Woman

Okay, I admit it. I’ve failed the woman-test.

Makeup? I’ve never learned the mysteries. Foundation? Powders and blushes? My mother never taught me, and I never learned. My occasional dabblings have failed to enhance. Plus, I get bored trying.

Hair? At least I do get it professionally cut nowadays. With standard instruction to the stylist: whatever it looks like when I wake up in the morning is what it’s going to look like for the rest of the day. Minimum maintenance, that’s me.

Clothes? Put me in anything flirty and feminine and mentally I go straight to cow-in-a-dress. Way back when, I had my colors done – remember that? Thank the Goddess for that! Now at least I know I should stay away from forest greens and oranges and such. The problem is, I really, really don’t want to be condemned to a life of pink. Personality-wise, pink is so not me.

But my big guilty secret? I’m not interested in shoes.

This at least means that my feet are in good shape. But it affects every aspect of my external presentation. I rarely wear skirts, mainly because I don’t have the right shoes. My sturdy lace-ups would look dumb, even I know that. So I suffer wardrobe challenges on a regular basis, and mainly wear jeans. On reflection, I don’t get invited to up-market restaurants very often …

I have a life-loving, girly-girl heroine coming up in book three of the Calder Creek Trilogy, so I foresee challenges ahead. Writing what I know clearly isn’t going to work, this time out.

This is where an active imagination shows its worth. Because even though she is so different from me, I do know how Mel feels in her clothes. She feels damn good. Ready to play, complete in herself. If her long, carrot-red hair is frizzy today, she doesn’t care – perfect with a peasant blouse, one she can pull just a little bit off the shoulder. If her shorts are, well, really short, it’s a hot day and she’s likely to be chasing a Frisbee. Clubs? Something diaphanous. Work? A shade less flirty, maybe a ruffle at the neck, stronger in the color department; nothing shy and pastel about Mel.

Have I learned something about my heroine by writing this post? Yep. And isn’t that one of the joys of being a romance writer? I’m getting to know someone now who was never me, a special someone heading for the happy ending I already see on her horizon.

I’m an absolute sucker for falling for my heroes – don’t we have to love them a little to write whole books about them? But we fall for our heroines, too, or at least I do. They’re our friends and our daughters and ourselves, we learn about them and learn with them.

Yeah. Writing romance is a good thing.