Category Archives: monday muse

Monday Muse: Everyday I’m Stumblin’

Writing, like eel-wrangling, is a slippery business. You get in there with the best of intentions, and before you know it, everything is wriggling off in all directions.

What, you didn’t know Ro’mama had extensive eel-wrangling experience? My darlings, the things I have in my past would fill several books. At least, I hope they will, since I am mining my ill-spent youth for the Southern humorous women’s fiction I am currently writing.

So, yes, having grown up next door to my Grandma’s fish bait store, I have some experience with eels. You will be able to read all about eels, catwaba worms, and feral cats in my new WIP, tentatively titled HOOK, LINE AND SINKER.

But why is writing like herding eels? Because every time I sit down to get my butt in the actual chair and my hands on the keyboard, I start dithering. Proscrastinating. Mentally wandering.

And the problem is, a certain amount of that is necessary for writing. You have to daydream, to visualize your characters in their scenes. You have to research the little facts that will set the accuracy police on your trail. (When DOES one harvest catawba worms in NW Florida?) YOu have to do a lot of staring out into space as you hunt for just the right word to get the nuance your character needs.

But from there, it is a straight shot down the slippery slope to surfing the web for LOLCats and cute shoes, and the next thing you know, you’ve spent 4 hours and 17 minutes on Pinterest and haven’t written a syllable.

So I am a bit reluctant to share today’s little morsel of Muse fuel — it can do wonderful things for your creativity, but like crack cocaine or hot Krispy Kreme donuts, you have to know when to say when.

I’m talking StumbleUpon. It’s a nifty litte app that lets you create an account & enter your interests, and then it will feed you a steady diet of internet stuff you will like. As you vote yes or no on the pages it gives you, it refines its understanding of your tastes — mine now knows me better than my DH of 28 years!

I told it I like humor, Southern, fashion, writing, and a few other topics, and now all I have to do is hit my stumble button and something funny, Southern-fried, fashionable or literary (or a combination thereof) pops right onto my screen. I started with it on the laptop, but there is an iphone app so you can stumble on the fly, too.

Now, a word of warning: be careful with StumbleUpon. You really can lose yourself in it. But I use it to feed my dear Muse, Bridget, as follows:

Set yourself a time limit or word count that you will achieve. Hit stumble. Now, whatever comes up, write about it til you hit your goal. I use it in conjunction with Dr. Wicked’s Write or Die, and force myself to be creative.

Since StumbleUpon knows what you like, you will get a topic you are interested in. If it’s too hard to write about the first thing that comes up, you can vary the rules slightly and give yourself choice of 3. But no more than that, or you are on the road to websurfing damnation.

Try stumbling a bit, and let me know what you think! Bridget loves it almost as much as she loves tortilla chips and guacamole.

Monday Muse: Thank You Notes

Well, happy Monday to everyone. I’m sagging and dragging today, even more than usual for a Monday, so bear with me.

I got a couple of nibbles on queries from some very desirable agents. Which is fabulous, and wonderful, and everything. But, as you know, I can manage to find the storm cloud to hide every silver lining. Two requests meant I had to buckle down and do the minor cleanups on my MS that I had been avoiding.

Thanks to my fabulous friends, I got quick turn-around on some help with points in the book, and after spending most of the past 48 hours reading and revising, I can say that the book is in the best shape possible.

Not that I said it’s the best book possible. I don’t know anymore if it is good or not — I’ve read it so much that I found myself rooting for the villain. But, given what it is and what my talents encompass, it is the best it will ever be. I’m proud of it, and I’m sending it off into the world to sink or swim.

But before it goes, here’s a big thank you from me and Bridget-my-muse to:

The Fabulously Fabulous Ladies of the SFWG — the finest crit group on the plante. Especially mammoth thanks to DeAnn, Heather, and Susan — Cassie and Mac send you their love. You made them who they are today.

JIllian Chantal, who despite having more on her plate here lately than she could say grace over, did an incredible crit for me — and kept me straight on the various models of Jaguars. My British sex-god can rest assured that he is driving a car which exists in the real world.

And, last but never least, Sue Moorcroft, who told me the difference between Liverpool and Leicester in an effort to make James the Cad sound like a handsome young British millionaire instead of a middle-aged American woman imitating Laurence Olivier.

Y’all are, individually and collectively, the BEST!!!

Monday Muse Management: The Best Method


If you know me in real-time, follow me on twitter or facebook, or have been anywhere within hearing range as I am attacked by a Monday morning, you know that I do not deal well with the beginning-a-new-workweek concept. I loathe Mondays. Hate Mondays. Despise Mondays. Shall I continue? I do have a hefty thesaurus and I’ve hardly scratched the surface of my feelings for Monday.
Which is why, in addition to my general love of alliteration, I devote Mondays here on RomanceMama’s blog to Muse Management. I have to really work with Bridget, my muse, because she is the only person I know who hates Monday even more than I do. If I can’t get her jumpstarted on Monday, she stays sluggish and indolent all week.
I’ve talked about music, field trips, productivity apps (Dr. Wicked’s Write or Die!) and so forth, but I think I’ve finally discovered the ultimate Muse Therapy Secret. Just one application, and Bridget jumped out of bed, eager to greet the day and impatient to put her little hands on the keyboard.
What could inspire such a change, you ask? Well, after the &*^!(* alarm goes off in the morning, Bridgie and I check our email. We’re always looking for that note from Mr. Firth about when he will be arriving to begin our clandestine getaway. (Y’all do know he’s in Atlanta this week?!? That is easily within stalking distance!)
No, we didn’t get a message from a tall, dark and gorgeous British Oscar-winner, but something pretty damn delightful: a request for partial from an agent!! Yes, apparently I’m not the only one with insomnia – she sent it about 3:30 am my time. Said my MS “sounds intriguing,” please send partial, and let her know if I get an offer from anyone else in the meantime!!!
After I threw some cold water on Bridgie, she jumped on the email to tell my local writing buddies and the SFWG chicas, and then she started making lists of all the things she wants to check before we send the MS out.
That’s two requests in a week, my darlings! Bridgie is in alt!
Ok, I understand that this isn’t really practical assistance, as it depends on the whims of agents. But you can’t have everything – it works.

Muse Monday — the LUCKY 7 meme

If you are going to try to make a go of this bizarre hobby/profession/pursuit/obsession calling writing fiction, ya gotta have friends. I don’t mean the “hi, how are you, we should do lunch, call me” kind of friends. I’m talking about people who you can tell about your latest writing funk, confident that they will simultaneously hand you a sympathetic chocolate cupcake and give you the proverbial swift kick in the gluteus that will jump start your muse.

I’m particularly blessed in this area, because I have two groups of friends who fit this description. In realtime, I have the greatest bunch of writers to hang with at the local Books A Million. So a great big shout-out to the Pensacola clique – you know too much about me for us to ever stop being friends!

And in the virtual realm, I am proud – and humbled – to be a part of an incredibly talented and supportive crit group known as the Super Fly Writing Group! (Aka #SFWG on twitter).

They encourage me, challenge me, and inspire me on a daily basis. And the very fact that they let me play in their sandbox gives me hope. I mean, seriously – if these brilliant ladies treat me as a colleague, I must have some tiny bit of talent there somewhere!

Last week, the awesome Candie Leigh, a fellow SFWG member and helluva YA author, sent out a blog challenge called The Lucky Seven. Now, at the time, I was in the midst of a trip to Orlando’s theme parks with my babies, and I didn’t get to play then. But the challenge reminded me that I had been inexcusably lax in my blogging, so now that I am back in the real world, I am picking up on Candie’s meme and running with it. You should all go right now to read her Lucky 7 post at It gives you a fab little taste of her latest novel, SEEK.

As to playing Lucky 7, here are the rules:

Go to page 77 in your current manuscript
Go to line 7
Copy the next 7 lines/paragraphs and post them as they’re written (no cheating!)
Pass the meme on to at least 7 other writers.

I’m sending a shout out to my peeps, so hopefully there will be a whole bunch of you who play along by putting a link to your lucky seven in the comments below!

Now, here’s 7 paragraphs from my most recent finished book, HOLDING OUT FOR A HERO. Cassie Grace thinks all her historical-romance dreams have come true when a wealthy British businessman comes to her small Georgia town. But real life isn’t quite as tidy as a book, and it isn’t always easy to recognize a hero …

A little after two, James called to check on any messages. Right. In a word ruled by cell phones and e-mail, nobody leaves messages for anyone anymore. I told him there weren’t any, but Rosemary had asked about him when he didn’t show up this morning.
“Right. Listen, Cass, just as a favor to me, don’t tell her which towns I’m visiting. Of course Rosemary knows we’re looking at several other sites. That’s no secret, by any means. . . Do you mind?”
Ok, I was torn. I mean, I work for Rosemary, and I owe her a certain amount of loyalty. But on the other hand, James had given me the info on his plans under somewhat exceptional circumstances. And if I had any hopes of my relationship with him going anywhere (which of course I did, in a major way), I needed to help him out, right? So I did the kind of hairsplitting I’d seen Rosie and Mr. F. do. Lawyers can always find irrelevant distinctions that justify what they already wanted to do.
I decided I wouldn’t tell Rosemary anything else. And since he hadn’t asked me if had told her anything already, I figured I could cover both sides of my divided loyalties.
Yes, I know that kind of thinking never ends well. But given my stop to see Trina that morning, what was a little more moral relativism? I had decided to put aside the black/white, right/wrong mentality I was used to and look at things in shades of grey for a change.


Janice and Bobby invited me over to a get-together they had Friday night. The Georgia basketball team was involved in some sort of major game that all the guys in town just had to see, so Bobby set up his computer to project onto a screen in the backyard and threw a cookout. Neither basketball nor Bobby’s hamburgers were high on my must-have list, but it beat staying at home and trying to write while I wondered what a certain British Greek god was up to wherever he was.
I got my crispy black burger – e. coli stands no chance when Bobby Harvey is cooking – and settled down on a quilt Janice had spread to the side of the main game-watching area.

And yes, dammit — I used the phrase “shades of grey” in this MS months before any Twilight Fan Fiction using that phrase hit the mainstream!!! (grumble, grumble.)

Interest in Pinterest?

If there is one thing Ol’ RomanceMama is always on board for, it is wasting time. Many would say that I have taken concept of timewasting to an art form, but I beg to differ. At least for the most part. You see, what looks — and often feels — like wasting time is really nothing more nor less than good ol’ Muse Nourishment.

Sometimes your Muse just needs a bit of free time, so she can wander lazily through the garden, sniffing a fragrant blossom here, rooting out a weed or two there. Gardening, in this metaphysical sense, is the best thing your muse can do to recharge her little creative batteries.

Which, my darlings, leads us to the subject of the day — the latest, and to my mind, greatest, of the social networks: PINTEREST.

Now, you may be kind of like I was with twitter — I didn’t know anything about it, but I knew I didn’t need it. A total timesuck, I called it. A cheap and shoddy replication of Facebook, with less content. Yeah, well, I was wrong about that, wasn’t I? So when faced with trying Pinterest, I gave in gracefully and gave it a shot.

Kiddos, I am here to tell you — if you, like me, are one of those visual type people to get inspiration from images, run — don’t walk — to the nearest computer and open yourself up a pinterest account.

What is it, you ask? Well, remember that bulletin board you had over your bed when you were in high school? Take that, network it with all your friends’ bulletin boards, and give it the ability to instantly download images from the entire World Wide Web. In short, it is a corkboard on speed, with none of the morning-after trembles.

I have filled my Pinterest boards with pix of the hot British actors upon whom my heroes are based, lovely historical fashions and decor to flesh out the worlds they inhabit, and a heaping helping of snarky quotes and sayings, just because I am the world’s biggest fan of snarkiness. And not only that, all the people I follow on Pinterest pin the same kind of wonderful stuff on their boards, so I can browse through it at my leisure.

When poor Bridget, my muse, starts feeling like her creative well has run dry, I give her a few minutes to play in the Pinterest garden. Yes, I have to limit it — too much of anything, despite what Mae West said, can be a problem.

But with a judicious use of Pinterest, Bridget starts running on all her creative cylinders, and a happy, productive muse means the daily word count stays where it ought to be.

So, y’all wander over to Pinterest and check it out. I’m on there as Arabella Stokes — if you like attractive British actors, pretty period costumes and sarcastic humor, follow me. And if you don’t like them, why are you reading my blog in the first place????

Monday Muse: Party Down Wit’ Ya Bad Muse!

Had a great weekend! Got lots of stuff done – laundry, sorted out the TBR pile and gathered up books to give to friends, even made a lovely Indian meal of Shrimp Curry and Cucumber Salad for the DH last night. But the most important thing – (dah dah dah DAH!!!!) is that I am back in the writing saddle again! Did 1500 words Sunday, plus a whole heck of a lot of brainstorming about GMC in my WIP.

And to what, dear hearts and gentle people, can we attribute this flurry of productivity? Why, only one of the best muse-stimulants known to womankind: friends! Yes, when the old well is running dry and you are about to throw in the towel, take your muse out for a nice gabfest (real-time or virtual) with some like-minded, supportive friends and see what happens.

Y’all may have picked up on the fact that my poor muse, Bridget, had been running on empty for a few weeks. Awful as it is to say, Bridgie gets a bit (read massively, incredibly, and horrendously) jealous when it seems that everyone around us is getting good news. And then, right after that influx of achievements by our friends, acquaintances, and others, the yahoo went on the fritz. Poor Bridget was convinced that everyone had stopped talking to us because we were such failures, and she went into a bit of a (read mammoth, overwhelming, and devastating) decline. She decided that we would stop writing, give up the day job, and spent our twilight years collecting shed cat hair (of which our house has plenty), spinning it into yarn, and knitting clever little toilet paper covers. Such is Bridget’s reaction to a bit of social isolation.

But, at long last, the yahoo came back to life, just in time for the scheduled chat of my online crit group, officially known as the Historical Fiction Group, but more colloquially referred to as #SFWG – or Super Fly Writing Group. An hour with the talented ladies of the #SFWG got Bridgie feeling all perky again. She even threw out the cat hair, so those of you with allergies can again safely drop in at Malfunction Junction. It is amazing to find thirteen (I think that is the current enrollment) ladies who write a variety of genres, at various levels of achievement, and yet support, encourage, and give-a-kick-in-the-butt-when-necessary each other.

So to the #SFWG: If I haven’t mentioned it lately, I LOVE YOU CHICAS!!!!!

(BTW, the marvelous Susan Spann, another of the SFWG girls, discusses this same point over at Y’all go read her thoughts, too!)

Then, Saturday, I headed over for a sandals and salsa party at the lovely home of my friend, YA author Micki Gibson. Micks and I scarfed down salsa, guac, chips and a delightful sweet corn cake – all of which was, I am sure, completely Weight Watchers point free. Remember, if you break a chip, brownie, or similar in two, all the calories/carbs/points leak out, and you can eat without guilt.

After the low-cal refreshments, Micki and I had a tete-a-tete about our writing. Now me, I’m a pantser, and I shoot from the hip when I write. Micki, on the other hand, is one of those wonderfully disciplined people who do charts and timelines and actually know what they are going to write when they sit at the computer. So Micki jumps in and starts asking me a bunch of Goal, Motivation, and Conflict questions – the stuff I can’t be bothered with cause I am too eager to put my grubby little mitts on the keyboard.

Well, when Micki started speaking her language, dear Bridget came out to play! Micki and Bridgie plotted the rest of my Southern-fried Chick-lit WIP right there Saturday afternoon. And when I got up Sunday, heathen that I am, I sent the DH and DD to church, sat at my laptop, and kicked out more words in two hours than I’d done in the previous week.

Moral of our story, dear ones? While we often think of our muse as a reclusive, shy hermit who must be coaxed out of her cave into the cold light of day, the fact is, a muse loves a party. Her idea of a good time is a long, unpressured chat with friends she trusts. Preferably with chips, guac, and margaritas alongside.

So whatcha waiting for? Call your writing buds – the ones your muse can trust with her deepest secrets, and mix up the margaritas!


In Bed with the Muse


Dreams are important things for those of us who tell stories. As my good friend Kelly L. Stone tells us in her Thinking Write books, the subconscious brain is where the creativity lives, but it is always having to fight against our conscious mind to get out and express itself. When our work-day brain lets its guard down, when we are sleeping, or nearly asleep, or otherwise not totally conscious, out subconscious comes out to play. and that can lead to wonderful results.

The story is that Elias Howe struggled for years with the design for the sewing machine. he was convinced that it was possible, but he just couldn’t make the breakthrough that made the device perform as he envisioned. One night, though, he had a vivid dream: he was in a jungle, being pursued by “savages.” (This was in the nineteenth century, after all.) Funny thing about these guys, though – they were brandishing spears with holes in the point. Upon waking, he realized that this was the solution he had been seeking. If you go look at any modern sewing machine, you’ll see that the needle is a tiny little spear with a hole in the point — not your standard hand-sewing needle, with the hole at the other end. Only in the misty, wonderful world where logic stops controlling thoughts could Howe break out of the box and come up with a illogical, unexpected solution.

I do a lot of my best plotting in bed, just as I’m going to sleep or just as I’m waking up. I try to see my characters as if they were in a movie in my head, and I just let them wander wherever the muse takes them. I’ve gotten where I don’t dread my bouts of insomnia — they are great chances to hang out and see what my characters are up to. I’ve learned to keep a notebook by the bed, though — if I don’t write some notes down right away, I lose the idea. I woke up one morning, really excited because I had come up with such a wonderful plot for a novel, but — Alas, it would have been a bestseller, if I could have only remembered it!

So next time you’re all writer-blocked and cranky because the words just won’t come, take the easy way out. Take your muse to bed!

Oh, and by the way, y’all — I’m guest blogging over at ManCandyMonday today:

Stop in and share a bit of deliciousness with us!

Monday Muse: 100 Word Challenge


Ok, so I’m posting my Monday Muse very late. In just 90 minutes, it will in fact be Tuesday. So sue me. I got a lot of stuff done today, and I’m getting to things as I can.

The truth is, kids, we tend to put our writing off. As a wife, mom, lawyer, volunteer, church worker, and all the other roles I claim, it is easy for “writer” to get shoved in the back of the closet. And that, as you know, is death to your muse. They have to get out regularly for a good stretch, or they just curl up in the closet and sleep their mythological little lives away.

The only way to write is TO WRITE. Write something, even if it sucks. Write often, write regularly, but above all, write! So I’ve signed on for the 100 Words a Day Challenge. No matter what, however chaotic the messy life of mine gets, I am gonna write 100 words each day on my WIP.

That sounds like nothing, no? But sometimes, when there is a Board Meeting at work, the oldest has the flu, the youngest has a term paper, the DH has his grump on — you know, getting 100 words is right up there with turning water into wine. A miracle of Biblical proportions.

Other days, there isn’t so much going on, and the first hundred is only a gateway to a couple of thousand. But if you don’t start, you’ll never get any words for the day. So, a doable goal, but one which often takes me way beyond the bare minimum.

I’ll be posting my daily wordcounts every so often, so y’all keep me accountable, ok?

TODAY: 746.

Is This Real Life?


I am, for once in my extraordinarily verbose life, completely speechless. If all goes as planned, tomorrow I will be a published author. My Georgian era historical romance, PROOF OF LOVE, will be released by Champagne Books tomorrow, the “buy” link over there will go live, and my lifelong dream will have come true.

It’s been a long, incredible path. I want to thank all the ladies of the Gulf Coast RWA for their love and encouragement. I couldn’t be here without the support and kicks-in-the-butt I got from my sisters at Southern Sizzle Romance. I also owe a lot to Edress, who introduced me to Harlequin Presents all those years ago.

I have to thank my brother for letting me read his copies of Frank Yerby’s historical novels — which had, of course, its consequences. (LOL!)

Most of all, my love and appreciation to my personal Mr. Darcy, Bill, and our girls, for believing in me and putting up with all my hours at the keyboard.

I’ll stop typing now. I’m all verklempt.


Monday Muse: NaNo Fever!

Well, now that we’ve discussed the importance of really, really awful first drafts, and thanks to Dr. Wicked’s Write or Die, you’ve learned how freeing it is to write without taking breaks to think, it is time for the ultimate “just get it on the page” challenge: the madness that is NaNoWriMo.

National Novel Writing Month, also known as NaNoWriMo (or just NaNo if you’re good friends), is the craziest yet most productive tool I’ve ever forced into my dear muse, Bridget’s, dirty little fists. NaNoWriMo will get you well on your way to a finished book, if you don’t die of exhaustion, hysteria, or caffeine overdose before that.

The Office of Letters and Light, an online organization, has declared the month of November to be National Novel Writing Month, complete with a nifty website, lots of social networking, and official emblems you can download and stick on things. But what, you may ask, does it all mean?

It means, dear ones, that you write a novel in a month. Yes, I’m serious. And it can be done. I’ve done the NaNo Challenge the last two years. I didn’t make goal in 2009, though I got 30K closer to “the end” than I would have without trying it. In 2010, I did make goal, but it involved long soliloquys where my heroine quoted pop song lyrics. (Fortunately edited out beginning December 1!) My 2010 NaNo project actually got some good results in a contest and is currently on full to an editor. (Fingers crossed!)

All you have to do is get 50,000 words on the page between November 1 and November 30. That’s just over 1600 words per day. With enough determination, a lot of coffee, and the support of other NaNoers, you can do it. Just forget about having a life in November. Christmas shopping is more fun after Thanksgiving, anyway. And if you have, as I did, a lot of really awful stuff written as December rolls around, that’s why God invented the editing process.

IF you’re interested, check out the official website at I’m signed up as “arabellastokes” and I’m in the North Florida and South Alabama regions. Give me a shout out and lets share lots of virtual espresso as we build the wordcount!