LizAnn Carson

Releasing stories into the world

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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, 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!


Writing Winter Memories: Snow

Back story: I grew up in Columbus, Ohio. Later, when I had a young family, I lived in Montreal.

So when I write about the Solstice/Christmas season, what do I write about? Snow.

Depending on the setting, of course. Seducing Adam occurs in coastal British Columbia, in the springtime; no snow in this one. But when the setting works … oh, yes.

As someone who’s lived in Atlanta and New Zealand and now lives in the Pacific Northwest, I can testify, first-hand, that a lot of the world doesn’t have snow at the end of the year. But somehow that’s become the staple romantic image, hasn’t it? All the stuff about sleigh bells, snowmen, ruddy-cheeked kids coming in for hot chocolate … you get the idea. In fact, whether you live in a snow-coated part of the world or not, by now, you may be heartily sick of it.

Well, I agree. And yet I scoured my little city looking for artificial snow to add romance to my (artificial) Yule tree – and failed. I’d left it too late. All the rest of Victoria got there first. I envy them their romantic trees with sprayed-on snow.

I haven’t seen snow at Christmas in years. And I’m old enough now to put that longing for the whole sugary image aside and be grateful for clear sidewalks. Christmas Day in Victoria was brilliantly sunny and about ten degrees (call it fifty Farenheit). We went for a walk along the waterfront, along with every other resident and dog in the city. Would I, in my wildest imaginings, trade a snowscape for this? Not likely.

So, as I work on the first two volumes of the Calder Creek Trilogy, what do I write? Snow. In Amanda there’s a whole Christmas day in which half of Calder Creek has no power and the storm of all storms is raging. In Pat there’s a family snowball fight. Writing those scenes had a funny effect on me. The setting and the events stayed with me for days: the whole package of cooking the celebratory dinner, taking the kids out to play, collapsing around the fire feeling warm and loved … and the snow, always the snow.

How do you write a snow day that fires the romantic imagination? Well, you throw in all the tropes – almost incidentally, without clichés. You include the romance of watching snow fall through a window, perhaps with a hot drink. Add a fire, and cozy pyjamas. If it’s a holiday, add food to die for – and let your characters overeat (just a little, we don’t want discomfort here). If your story has kids in it, give them an afternoon of happy play, indoors or out. Allow everyone a time at the end of the day to collapse in blissful content. In short, buy into the myth, using that writers’ rule: show, don’t tell.

Once you’ve got all that, by all means throw in the emotion and conflict of a good novel. They’ll play well together; trust me. In fact, a romantic setting with less than romantic events ramps up the tension very nicely.

If you’re in snow now, I hope you enjoy it. If you’re not, rest assured life’s just as good! And you can share the snow experience when you read, listen to seasonal music, dream. With the advantage that you don’t have to shovel sidewalks …

Best wishes for 2015.


Who Knew It Was Fun?

It’s an odd mix of fiction and real life, this writing lark. You’ve got one foot in a world of dreams and another foot in the kitchen dealing with the slow cooker.

I didn’t write for a long time, other than the occasional poem. Why? Because I had expectations. It was the next great Canadian novel or nothing, and for me that meant – nothing. It took me a long time to realize, first, that not all of us have the great Canadian novel in us; and second, that there are novels out there that are a lot more fun to read than Moby Dick.

I belong to a very intelligent book club. I mean we read books like Madame Bovary and Don Quixote. But in the middle of an otherwise challenging winter I realized that I don’t always have the stamina to handle Aphra Behn (Never heard of her? Neither had I.), or even the latest Margaret Atwood. Guess what I discovered that winter? Romance.

When, sweetly blushing, I admitted to one of the other book club members that I was reading  romance novels, she said, “You should write one.”

“You should write one.” Sometimes words get into your head. It wasn’t long before I was imagining plots, hearing dialogue, considering motivations – and buying Writing a Romance Novel for Dummies. (True. I couldn’t believe it either. Good book.)

Alas, being a romance author isn’t particularly romantic. You  wear out your eyes staring at a screen, worry that the ache in your thumbs might become carpel tunnel syndrome, and threaten to withdraw supper-making services if your family doesn’t leave you alone. Your back aches. Your cat feels abandoned. But oh, what can you do, things are bad, heroine’s weeping and hero’s in a snit ….The cat has to wait; you can’t leave them like this. Only another few more pages …

Working. Tearing hair. Discovering a plot twist ten chapters back that leads you straight to a dead end. Help! Another cup of coffee. Maybe a little cry. (Maybe a big sob.)

Strong arms, gentle hands caressing you, drying your tears …

Enough of that. Back to work. Read the thing over. OMG, it’s boring. Boring! Lament: Oh, woe! My masterpiece! What must I do to save you?

Rewrite, hone. Rewrite some more.

I love it. I fall in love with my heroes and delight in my heroines. I get a kick out of creating the quagmires they get themselves into, and cheer as they emerge – together. Sometimes, I even learn something from them.

Is it fun? Oh, yeah.

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My Books

Okay, I’m putting myself out there as a writer of contemporary romances, so I suppose I should at least let you, the world, know what I’m up to.

I also write poetry. I write essays. But the romance tops the list; I don’t remember when I’ve had so much fun with writing. (My husband says I live vicariously, but that’s another story.)

So here’s a summary of what I’m working on and what I expect to do with it all.

  • There’s Seducing Adam, set on a small island in the Pacific, between Victoria (where I now live) and Vancouver.
  • There’s the Calder Creek Trilogy: three women finding their men in a small town in central Ohio (where I grew up).
  • There’s a shorter one in the planning stage, which will make it to first draft in November’s NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month), assuming I gird the old loins and go for it.

None of these exists “out there” yet. But they will. They are coming ….

My target is to have Seducing Adam and the first two books of the trilogy ready for publication around next February. Seems like a long time, but self-publishing turns out to be not simple; the writing’s the easy part. If I can get it all sorted out sooner, I will; I suffer from the writer’s lust to hold the finished book in my hands and say, “Whee-hoo! My baby!” In the meantime I have to somehow stay sane while I wade through the legalities and formatting and book covers and ISBN’s and publicity and all the rest. Agghh!


In the sanity department, I’m actually in a good place: lots of support and love, a wonderful place to live, and my favorite time of year. (Not my sinuses’ favorite time of year, perhaps, but I try to ignore that.) The long, glorious summer we’ve had in the coastal Pacific Northwest – glorious except for the forest fires – is almost over; today was the last day for the pots of mesclun and basil. I like the clearing-the-decks feeling of autumn, new paper and pens and rulers and protractors (remember those?). There’s an anticipation about autumn, as well as a dying off. Maybe that’s the point: making space for whatever’s next. But then I was always one of those kids who really wanted to get back to school. Geeky, I guess. And what’s next, these days, is exciting.

Good fortune to you all as we wander into autumn.


Intersections – A Romance Writer Meets the Real World

Driving home sedately in the right-hand lane, I found myself behind an empty and rickety school bus out for a leisurely Sunday stroll. I moved to the empty middle lane, planning to do a quick nip around the lumbering thing. What is it about empty lanes, that they can’t stay empty when they’re expected to? Did every other car on the road have the same idea? That school bus beat me to the highway by a good city block.

Generally I don’t mind too much being overtaken by real life. But by an empty school bus? Please!

I remained calm. I received brownie points.

To be overtaken by “real” life is pretty common for me, perhaps because I spend so much of my days immersed in the worlds of my novels: heart-churning, gut-wrenching situations, heroes to swoon for and heroines to cheer for. Not to mention the challenge of conveying all the heart-churning and gut-wrenching with the best possible words in the best possible order. So when I’m finally forced to go to the grocery and clean a bathroom or two, it’s a serious dose of life overtaking art.

Where this is all going – where is it going, anyway? To the intersection. Not the block-behind-the-bus one, but the one where the best possible thing I can do for my hapless hero is send him out for macaroni and a tomato, or set him to scrubbing a bathtub. I could produce dissertations on the utter futility of trying to keep the cat’s hair off the sofa, or on the sheer beauty of a functioning slow cooker at 5:30 pm – daily life in my household. Sooner or later – an intersection! – a heroine will despairingly wonder why she chose a white cat to go with her hero’s black slacks, and a hero will produce an instant stew to impress the light of his life.

So in this, my first-ever blogging adventure, I’ll browse the intersections: bits from my “real” life and pieces from my writing life – including news about my books’ progress and when they’ll surface in reality (early in 2015, I’m hoping). I hope you’ll enjoy my meanderings.

I’m considering participating in National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo) this year. I’ve got an idea – and a month or so to flesh it out into a plot. Stay tuned, and I’ll let you know how it all plays out.