Monday, October 24, 2016

How a Novel is Like a Hurricane

If you live on the coast, and especially if you’ve ever experienced a hurricane before (Florida, 2004: Charley, Frances, and Jeanne) you pay attention to Hurricane season (June through November) keeping an eye out on the NOAA National Hurricane Center website for what’s brewing in the Atlantic. This is similar to how stories brew. Lots of ideas form, just like a lot of lows, depressions, tropical storms, and even hurricanes form, but never make it to the US, those ideas never make it within striking distance of becoming a novel.

Oh, they may actually become a hurricane of intent, like a solid partial, but turn or simply fade away before posing a threat of becoming a real novel that will disturb my life for the foreseeable future.
A tropical wave began with potential to become a depression, like when a vague idea for a plot, or for me, I imagine a specific character I need to explore. Soon Matthew passed through typical stages of development and Floridians began taking note. A novel may pass through similar stages, and just like each hurricane is unique, my budding novel may evolve differently: the villain might appear before my hero; the setting may play a key part in the plot, or my heroine decides the story is all about her.
Once Matthew gained strength and the NHC began posting potential paths that included the east coast of Florida, my checks of their website became a little obsessive. 
Just as my stories begin to take over my life (my husband has caught on and is rarely confused when I begin telling him what happened to “Joe” or “Lis” that day--my current hero and heroine in Point of Failure, book three of my Gulf Coast Rescue series).

Things were heating up in the Atlantic and the very real possibility of a hurricane striking Florida meant plans needed to kick in. 
This is that threshold between the possibility of a novel (when a nice strong outline and maybe even a pretty decent partial becomes a very viable novel—wow, this looks like it could be real!) Just as research kicks up and plot twists percolate, real plans for boarding up my house and plans for evacuation are put into place. Now it’s not so much a matter of if, but when and how bad. 
For my budding novel, I need to decide how big of a story do I have? Is this a novella, an 80,000 word romantic suspense, or a 100,000 word mainstream thriller?

Putting up the shutters is concrete action that mirrors my growing first draft. With this clear action, there are still a lot of unknowns and variables. Will a mandatory evacuation be called? (While this was true in 2004 for both Frances and Jeanne, both times we opted to stay on our island and tough it out—but neither of those hurricanes were considered “major” (category 3 or higher) Matthew was predicted to maintain major hurricane status as it traveled up the eastern coast of Florida, at times with a dead aim at the island I call home).

In my novel I’ve made some concrete decisions as well—who my characters are, what challenges they will be facing, and how it has to end. But just like the path of Matthew changes almost hourly, my story can take new paths and unexpected twists that only reveal themselves as I put words on the screen.

Once the mandatory evacuation is given, more concrete plans are put into place: the bottom shelves of my bookcases are emptied. Clothes in the bottom drawers are packed and placed on the bed (assuming minor flooding might occur: even though our island is not on the ocean, it is between two rivers that routinely leave their banks when pushed by hurricane-strength winds)—but if the roof goes, you can pretty much kiss your belongs goodbye! This I would equate to a finished rough draft. Things can and will change, but I have a solid direction and timeline to work in.

Packing up the truck, not knowing if I will have a house standing when I return is another great analogy—if I’ve sold my novel I’ve made a commitment to produce a specific work by a specific time. Even if I self-publish, I need to make that promise to myself—but there are unknown pitfalls all along the way.

After I load my cat into the truck, my husband and I hit the road anticipating an adventure—no matter what happens, our little family (real and my imagined characters) are going to face a lot of unknowns (will we find a motel/hotel room or be camping in the truck? How many gas stations and restaurants will be closed along our route? A bigger problem when you have so many coastal areas evacuating inland.)

My stories continue to evolve between drafts with surprises and serendipity (so that’s why my heroine is afraid of dogs!) when we found the last room at a motel in Ringgold, Georgia (where we ended up buying a trailer that we can use to not only haul our two motorcycles in, we can live in comfort when the next hurricane comes calling). The return trip and subsequent clean-up
(we were extremely lucky when Matthew jogged east instead of west) is like that final read after my novel has been revised and edited. Sometimes you have only minor changes, other times you basically start over.

Either way, it’s just another adventure for a novelist living on the coast—one I’m very willing to face, because you just never know what’s going to happen with hurricanes or novels!

So, how did you weather Matthew’s passing or your latest draft? Did you pass the storm reading a good book, or two? Editing or starting over with a storm of new ideas?

Monday, October 17, 2016

Picture The Author In Residence...

This is a picture post, accept my apologies, but I've got two deadlines at the end of this month and words are already wheeling in my mind like a swarm of midges :D. But as I'm planning on attending a writing retreat at the end of Oct at Clacton (Essex, UK), I thought I'd share with you some pictures of Places I Have Written In!

Obviously I have my usual 1/3 of the dining table at home (affectionately known as ClareSpace)

and my regular weekly trip to the local pub with my friend and fellow author Sue Brown

but I also recently had a holiday in the Lake District, and finished my book sitting in their breakfast room after everyone else had gone out walking (including Hubby!) leaving me with this spectacular view:

so I thought I'd add a few more places I've written in the last few years, and ask my fellow authors - where have YOU written that you enjoyed most / were most amazed at / found most inspiring / or most amusing?

Tell all! :D


Here's me in (variously): Portugal, Madeira, Keswick, my garden marquee when the weather really *wasn't* warm enough to sit out! (see our fleece jackets), watched over by my friend Jordan's cat in Wisconsin, watched over by my friend Chrissy's cat in Michigan (see a pattern emerging here?!), waiting in a Q at an anime convention (I'm the one in the pink hair), and oh look! back at the pub with my trusty pink travelling laptop (Barbie). She's been with me at all these stops. What'll I do when she finally expires?! (and I can no longer hang by my fingernails onto Windows 7? *lol*).

~~Clare London~~

Tuesday, October 11, 2016

How do you shake off stress?

A dirty six letter word that haunts us all is stress. As writers, we blame it on the internet, changes from the good ole publishing days, or significant others interrupting us in our writing caves. But the truth is, stress is frequently a mismanagement of our lives mixed with reality that drops in our laps at inopportune times and places. It’s the year when family gets ill, the kids all decide to get married, and you’re moving across the country for a new job or to be closer, or perhaps farther away, from relatives.
Writers get particularly cranky when winging through a chapter, with a perfect idea in mind to enhance a character or plot, only to be interrupted for a simple question and totally lose the train of thought. Yes, it is like walking into a room and forgetting why you were there. The computer screen devoid of your idea stares back. Stress builds. The mind shuts down further instead of coughing up that sweet idea to make the story a bestseller.

You decide to take a break and struggle out of the chair. Cramps tighten your legs, and a sore backside is numb in places. Thoughts of writers die young echo in your head. So we admit that stress hangs over us like a gremlin on our shoulder waiting for the opportunity to up our angst. How can you counter it? 

Magazines, blogs, and various articles offer a bevy of solutions, but few fit us all. A Forbes article suggested focusing on half of what you need to get done and let the rest go. Some of it will fall back in your lap, but you will shine through by doing a stellar job of managing the half you kept. Not a bad idea, but it requires blinders and nerves of steel. And the ability to say NO. I’ve been working on that for the last twenty years.

Since family and friends have proven to be wise sages, I asked them what they did to relieve stress. The question had two parts. What simple thing do you do to relive stress when time is tight? And what do you do when time is favorable for something more extensive?

Predictably food and drink rated high on the list of short term solutions. Chocolate, ice cream, and tea popped up in several answers. However, more than one of those who succumbed to sweets, felt they had to work off the added calories. So if you like to exercise, chocolate as a stress reliever might work. If physical activity is not your thing, the very act of eating anything might only increase stress.

Mental meditation also relieves stress. One person mentioned thinking about funny things and good times. Many liked to read (a song to a writer’s stressed heart). Others mentioned yoga, prayer or meditation type exercises. Several listened to music, while relaxing, painting, exercising, or hiking. One writer mentioned writing something then throwing it away as though getting rid of the stress with the paper. Studies have found using expressive writing exercises reduces the stress in patients. Physical touch between humans or between a human and their pet also produces particularly calming results. One woman said after a stressful day, tea and a hug from her husband fixed everything.

Exercise plays a strong role in stress relief. Running and forms of weight lifting dump chemicals into our bodies that act against stress. Gardening seems to be cathartic for several as does playing with grandchildren, shooting hoops or hiking. Combine nature into the hike and it can be calming, peaceful, and a distraction from stress producing thoughts. Harvard Health suggests deep breathing exercises.

My first step might be to take one respondent’s advice and put things in “time order” or rather prioritize. Some things can wait while others can’t. Set up interruption times so people will be aware of when to leave you alone. List makers often reduce their stress by checking off completed items and proving to themselves they have made progress.

One exciting but stressful event for me is the upcoming release this month of two romantic thrillers in the Taking Risks series. The first book, Under the Radar, comes out October 17 and the second, Off the Chart, two weeks later. Thanks for visiting and have some chocolate before diving into your stressful day.

Monday, October 10, 2016


     Daniel in the Book of Daniel interprets Nebuchadnezzar, the King of Babylon’s dream. The king dreams of a sculpture made of gold, silver, brass and iron—seemingly strong but flawed because his feet are made of both iron and clay. The clay will cause the sculpture to topple. Recently newspapers talked of Michelangelo’s David and the unexpected weakness of his feet. Feet of Clay has been employed for millenniums to refer to a person’s weakness of character.

Peter Paul Rubens

     Today we talk of Achilles Heel as a failing that can cause a powerful figure to perform ineffectively. Greek mythology relates the prophesy that the baby Achilles would die at a young age. Thetis, his mother, took her child to the River Styx, believing its magical powers would shield Achilles from harm. Thetis immersed the baby in the water holding him by his heel—the water bathed every part of his body except his heel—a physical failure. Achilles lived through many battles but during the Trojan War died from a poisoned arrow shot by Paris that become fixed in the one weak spot his mother could not protect. 

     In folklore, a Golem is created from inanimate matter—clay or mud. Raw material that leads to an unfinished human. It is often employed today to describe someone blundering, and dense who may carry out man’s orders under some conditions but is hostile and destructive under others. 
   I don’t read many biographies anymore. Bios often show the feet of clay, the Achilles heel, the sometimes destructive artist I had previously respected and admired and I find it affects my enjoyment of their work. It’s hard for me to separate the shallow, often despicable person described in the page of a book from my personal image of the painter, actor, or author whose work I once treasured. Many people can compartmentalize and separate the artist’s work from his or her behavior, I find it difficult. How about you?

Wednesday, October 5, 2016


Last March, I wrote about a weird experience I had at a hotel in The Ghost and the Rational Woman. It was weird in that I never actually saw a ghost (or heard, or felt, or whatever) but I was nevertheless spooked.

I carried that “spooked” feeling home with me, and for weeks (months) afterward I had trouble sleeping. Finally I did the only thing a writer can do in a situation like this: I wrote a ghost story. And today, I’m happy to announce that Shelter will be released on October 14. In honour of the release, I will be running a Goodreads giveaway from October 9 to 23, but if you’re curious and don’t want to wait, just comment below and I’ll enter your name for a chance to win one of two e-copies of Shelter.

Oh, and just so you know, I’ve just returned from staying at that same hotel, and everything was fine. No ghosts. Not much sleep, either, but only because I was so busy!

Here’s the back cover blurb for Shelter:

After six long months on the run from her abusive husband, Ash Gantry finally finds a place to call home in Albans, Ontario. It doesn’t take long for her to fall for the small town with the big heart. But more than the town itself, more than its inhabitants, it’s the house on Hawk Street she falls in love with.

But while her heart wants to stay, her head tells her to keep moving. If she keeps moving, her husband will never find her. Only, she’s tired of hiding. Tired of running. Tired of being afraid.

Let him come. She’s staying.

Then she discovers that her new home hides a dark secret, one even more dangerous than the man hunting for her. By the time he finds her, she may already be dead…

Marcelle Dubé’s Shelter crosses women’s fiction with suspense and a frisson of modern gothic. Dubé is the author of Ghosts of Morocco and the Mendenhall Mystery series, including The Shoeless Kid, The Tuxedoed Man, The Weeping Woman and The Untethered Woman.

Comment, and I’ll enter your name for the draw, which will take place on Friday, October 7.