I Lived in Steve Berry’s House!

Photo by Suzy Hazelwood on

I was recently lamenting my lack of writing inspiration with an author friend and I had an epiphany. While I was blaming the demise of my muse on now being an editor, which makes me agonize over every word and comma, the answer hit me. I’ve stopped daydreaming.

Years ago, when I first started writing novels, I was caught in a loveless marriage, so I started making stuff up. I read romance novels, surely, but I also put myself into romance situations…in my mind. I pictured meeting handsome strangers and being swept away. I would fantasize while washing the dishes, force myself to stay awake in the bed until the wee hours, pretending I was something I could never be. But in my dreams, I could be anything I wanted. 

Then at some point, I realized this obsessive compulsion to avoid real life wasn’t healthy. I thought, “Well, if I sit down and write this story out, maybe it’ll get it out of my system.” So I did. I sat down at a bulky computer (in the mid-90s, computers were not sleek), opened up Word Perfect, and started telling my daydream.

The Process

My editor-in-chief

Putting my visions, thoughts, ideas into concrete words was exhilarating. One day I typed in a full fifty pages. Another day, I was so wrapped up in the story I forgot to hit “save” – well, you know the outcome to that story. Power failure and total loss. I cried for two days then got back on and rewrote it. (I’m still bad about hitting “save.” So much for lessons learned.) I could sit at that computer for 18 hours, kids and husbands be damned, and crank out the word count. The entire book, which ended up at a whopping 160,000 words (that’s close to 600 pages), was pretty bad.

The end of that part of the story is when I finished the book, I felt so empty, and so drained, that I sat down and wrote another book. That one, 20 years later, became Hitchin’ and it’s published. And it’s still my favorite of all my stories. I ended up writing four full books in two years before we moved back to Norfolk, Virginia.

So what’s that got to do with Steve?

Downtown St. Marys – The Riverview Hotel is the white building on the far left

Which brings me to Steve Berry. A couple of years ago I made a trip to St. Marys, Georgia (where we’d been living when I wrote those stories) because one of my books was based there, and I wanted to see how much the area had changed. (The area, a lot… the small, quaint downtown of St. Marys, very little.) I stayed in the Riverview Hotel – it was there in the early 90s when I’d lived there, and I thought it would be fun. (It’s supposed to be haunted, but I didn’t see any ghosts.)

Very unlike this complete introvert, I started talking to people. I wandered into small shops and chatted up the owners, and as is often the case in small towns, gathered a whole lot of town gossip. Not the least of which was the fact the Riverview’s owner had been married to Steve Berry.

Wow. I love his books!

Historic Riverview Hotel, St. Marys, Georgia

When I returned to the hotel (which was just one block away) that evening I joined the local crowd at the outdoor patio for a drink (where the brick columns are in the photo). The owners invited me to sit with them, so I did, meeting more locals and chatting them up. I told Gaila how I’d lived there before, near Crooked River State Park. She told me she’d lived in a house out there, also. As we compared notes, I said, “The house I lived in was on Live Oak Lane,” and she responded, “Our house was on Live Oak Lane.”

Imagine my shock when we determined I had lived in her and Steve Berry’s home that Steve had rented out after their split. I was blown away. Talk about coincidences (you can’t make this stuff up).

That house had been added onto over the years, and had a long hallway leading to four bedrooms, with the master at the end. In the middle of the hall was a niche, wide and deep enough for an upright piano, and we had our computer there. And that’s where I spent all those hours, writing those four books.

In retrospect, I like to think that house had some kind of psychic vibe…some energy left behind by Steve. Or maybe it was the house itself. I can’t even swear Steve did any writing within its walls.

But it’s sure nice to think so.

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Back Among the Living

Totally dropped the ball on my journey with Trudy. After a week in the hospital with the flu, it was tough to get back to writing. But my treatments are finished, and now I’m picking my writing up again.


I’m participating in the Women’s Fiction Writers Association’s (WFWA) annual “Write-A-Thin”, a month-long writing assignment where you set a goal and stay accountable by checking in with other writers each day to post your progress.

I WILL finish editing my WIP (that’s “Work-in-Progress” for my non-writer friends) this month.

On with the show!

Hey! Yo Momma Gots Tatts! The Demise of Trudy Tumor, Part II

Call me a dinosaur (my son does), but I don’t like or understand tattoos. I thought, briefly, about getting something small and significant (a quill pen and inkwell? A typewriter?), and ultimately nixed the idea. Too expensive, too permanent, and who wants an indistinguishable pen on their arm/shoulder/leg when their skin is old and wrinkled? That quill pen might turn into an Indian chief’s headdress.
So imagine my surprise when I was told I would be getting tattooed as part of my treatment process.
Shannon, the chief radiology therapist, took me into her x-ray room for my trial run. Her room houses a normal CT scanner. I lay on the table and let her situate me. Using all of my merged CT scans, PET scans, and whatever other info they had on me, her machine circled around me with laser beams indicating my three “spots.” She X’d them with a green magic marker – one on each hip and one in the middle (each one just low enough so I’m not inclined to drop my drawers to show them off). The actual tattoos will be about the size of a pin head. But I can still claim them as the genuine article. 🙂
Shannon told me she had one patient who was so flipped out about the tattoos, that she got one on her arm to show the woman how unnoticeable they really are. That’s a dedicated medical professional in my book. She gave me a mini-lesson in radiology. The table I’ll be on is “radiolucent” – it has a clear plastic covering (like a cell phone screen cover) over a plastic grid, so when the machine spins around me, it can zap from the bottom as well as the sides and top. Other “normal” x-ray tables have “radiopaque” surfaces. Someday those two words will end up in a book of mine, along with Shannon, the self-professed x-ray geek. She is truly a wealth of information.
Then, as a bonus, I found out her son was headed to Chicago for Navy boot camp and would be going to Charleston, SC for nuclear power training. My son is a nuke, down there working/teaching on the prototype training platform. So eventually they’ll run into each other.
Small world.
I headed from there into the world of radiation, chemotherapy, and more – stay tuned! I’ll have pictures (NOT of my tatts!!) in upcoming posts.
Meanwhile, I get to tell my kids “Hey! Yo Momma gots tatts!”

The Demise of Trudy Tumor

The words lingered in the air, like a submarine’s missile hovering just above the water before it ignites and blasts across the sky. Then, like the missile, they came crashing down around me, bouncing around in my head, making any other conversation nothing more than an automaton.

Five days later I sat in an examining room, waiting for the doctor to reappear with his verdict. The door opened, he slid in and sat down. “Well, you have a tumor. It may not be, but it’s probably cancer.”

And there went that damned hovering missile again. Huh? What? Cancer? Unh uh. Not me. Me? I tried to focus on his explanations while he pulled out a drawing of a human colon/rectum/anus and starting drawing – which consisted of a round ball at the opening of my anus. It looked like a mighty big ball. I hoped that was just for effect. He finished talking (what had he said?) and asked, “Do you want this?” The paper fluttered in the air conditioning. “Uh, no.” He tossed it in a drawer and closed it. Wait a minute. If I’d known you were going to leave it there, I would’ve at least thrown it in my own garbage can. He bustled me out to the nurses’ desk and told someone to set me up an appointment for a colonoscopy and biopsy.

From there, I walked out to my car, climbed inside, called my fiance, and cried. “He said I have cancer,” I wailed. Then, on the way home, the anger set in. Who the hell was he to waltz in that room and tell me I “probably” have cancer? He doesn’t know me. He can’t tell that with one little exam. He’s wrong. That’s all there is to it. He’s just wrong.

And that got me through the next two weeks, through a CT scan, the colonoscopy (which, despite what you’ve heard, really isn’t the end of the world – no pun intended), and through the waiting. I’ve learned that while “stat” to me means NOW, in the medical profession it’s anything from “now” to “before the patient drops dead”. Guess I wasn’t in any danger of doing that at the moment.

So when I sashayed my non-cancerous little butt back to the doc for his apology for scaring the crap out of me (pun intended) and he said, “Well, you have a squamous cell carcinoma,” the first thing I thought was, “That’s skin cancer. What the hell is he talking about?” But indeed I do. Right in my butt. The size of a golf ball, no less.

I didn’t go through the “why me”, but I did go through the “how could everyone have failed to notice a golf ball in my butt before it got to be a golf ball?” It’s not like I haven’t had any of “those” exams.

And how embarrassing! Now, not only do I have cancer, I have anal cancer? Who’s ever heard of that?  And I’m supposed to tell people this? I don’t even like telling people I have a hangnail. So, I didn’t tell anyone, except my fiance, my  two children, my sister and my best friend. Of course, my fiance and sister told everyone, so now everyone exponentially knows. But it’s okay. I get cards in the mail and chocolate. 🙂

Back to Trudy – I’ve since had a PET scan, which detects “hot” spots (cancer), and the cancer has not spread beyond Trudy. That was great news. I’ve started radiation and chemo, (more on that to follow), and I’m still working and doing laundry. Life pretty much goes on. My daughter informed me that she was “moving home” to take care of me – I think she’s disappointed I haven’t needed any taking care of yet. My son’s coming up from Charleston to visit this week. So there are some bonuses to all this. And I feel very confident with the excellent medical care I’m getting.

Alas, poor Trudy. Your days are numbered!

…to be continued…



If it’s broke, fix it!

I’m struggling with my NaNo word count. I’m way behind, and see no breakthroughs ahead that will bring me up to speed.

I hate this book.

I love the plot idea and the small bits of events I have planned. But there’s nothing tying them together . . . I need more subplots and segues. I’m just jumping from scene to scene. The characters are flat (the nice guys are just NICE and the bad guys are just SLEAZY). They’re all one dimensional.

I started writing novels in 1994. I never outlined, I didn’t plot . . . I did do some extensive character development, however. But I started writing with one goal: to get A and B together, or A to meet B – there was always an end result in mind. In the process, my characters spoke to me. They went places I never expected. Yes, I edited a lot. I cut hundreds of pages from the final stories. But I could also crank out as many as 50 pages in a day. I was driven.

But my writing has taken a turn. I’ve since taught high school English and become a grammar-nazi. God forbid I should misplace a comma. And in the evolution of all this, I’ve lost my emotion. My heart. My guts. Like the talented violin player who is technically gifted, but her playing has no heart, neither does my writing have any heart.

And that is heart-breaking to me. It makes me want to quit. To give up this dream of writing books I’ve had since first grade.

I complained to my daughter-in-law about this problem last night—how I used to be able to write by the seat of my pants and miracles happened. The one book I tried to plot took me ten years to write. The other four took just a few weeks each.

She said,

“You’ve changed. You’re not the same person you were 18 years ago. So you need to change how you write.”

CARAMBA! Is this a teachable moment? An epiphany?

I need to change how I write.

I understand this is a defining moment for me and my writing. If I can embrace this notion, maybe I’ll get my writing mojo back.

And maybe I can finish NaNo this year.

Why Would You Do This?


Why would anyone subject themselves to the torture of writing 50,000 words in 30 days? That’s approximately 6 – 7 double-spaced pages per day. Every day. For one month.

  1. If you’re not someone who enjoys writing, you wouldn’t.
  2. If you don’t have a story burning inside you that needs to be told, you wouldn’t.
  3. If you’ve never thought, “Gee, I can write better than (insert name of famous author here),” you wouldn’t.
  4. If you’ve never said, “Someday I’m going to write a novel,” you wouldn’t.

But if you’ve ever thought any of these, then you just might decide this is the year to give it a shot.

I’ve done all of those things, however, so why am I doing it? Because I feel like my writing has gone flat. My goal for NaNoWriMo is to let myself go…allow myself to put crap on the page– (because save for a few bursts of brilliance, which there will be, there will be lots of crap)– shut down my inner editor and let loose.

The “powers” of NaNo (that would be the veterans) say I’ll want to quit. Week 2 is the hardest, they claim. Don’t give up–just keep writing. That’s what I hope to do.

This will be fun. I keep telling myself that. If I make it, what a sense of accomplishment I’ll have!

Life is all about challenges. And that’s why I’m doing this.

Dog Under the Blanket

No, this post isn’t about dogs, blankets or husbands in the dog house. I just saw my beagle/basset on the back porch, wrapped up in a blanket like a celery stalk in a slice of proscuitto.

And that could be the starting line of my NaNoWriMo novel (although I hope not).

National Novel Writing Month starts in ten short days. I’ve never done this before, although many (many) years ago I pounded out 144,000 words in six weeks. But I wasn’t working then; however, I did have two children in elementary school. It speaks volumes that I was able to ignore them then better than I can ignore the accumulating housework now.

Regardless, I’m going to give this thing a shot. 50,000 words in 30 days is the goal. I have some old ideas I’ve never done anything with, and I’ve been googling for writing prompts and reading a lot to see if anything gives me that spark. All I need is a seed to plant and watch grow. And the cool thing is, I can use cliches like that and just keep on goin’ . . . because NaNoWriMo is all about getting it on the page. Just like my new t-shirt says, “Even if it’s crap, just get it on the page.”

And that’s what I’m going to do.

But I should be…

When I was in high school, I wanted to read all the time. Which is great, except I didn’t read. I wanted to read Lord of the Rings or a James Bond story or some other contemporary book, but I was supposed to be reading Shakespeare or The Catcher in the Rye or Beowulf. So I ended up feeling guilty about not doing my studies and punished myself by not reading what I was assigned to read, nor reading what I wanted to read, either. Result = reading nothing.

Forty years later, I’m still suffering from the same crux. I want to write, but I have a million things I should be doing. My 90-year old house is crumbling around me and needs serious work. I’m a hoarder and I’ve got to start purging. I’d like to pick up a book, because I love to read and all writers need to read everything they can. I have a day job and I need to spend some time learning some new skills for it.

But, the house isn’t getting renovated. Once every couple of weeks, I do manage to fill a garbage bag or two. Sometimes I get to the library and check out a book, or read something by a friend. The job skills, well… they’re still on the list of undones.

And the guilt lingers (no, I’m neither Catholic nor Jewish, but I could be). I’m making no progress on my life, nor am I making any progress on my writing. I was excited when I started my blog. I thought it would get me back into the writing habit and wonderful things would happen. But I wrote 2 entries and ran out of ideas.

And there, as Shakespeare would say, is the rub. Has my creativity dried up? Are the ideas gone? Or am I just overwhelmed with the other stuff? I’m not sure I can, or I’m ready to, answer those questions. But I do know one thing. There’s only one thing I should be doing.

I should be writing.

What have you done to spark your creativity? Get some ideas? Start the words flowing again?

Stop Writing! Just STOP!

I’m new to this world of blogging, and it’s fun. I’m finding other writers with views similar and dissimilar to my own, and I can always learn something or broaden my outlook by reading them. I focus primarily on blogs about writing and all its extraneous offshoots. But it’s overwhelming to sort through thousands of posts to find the good ones.

This morning I did. A relevant post, well-written, good information, so I started reading, and reading…and reading… Then I noticed the word count – over 1500 words. So I stopped. Now I can’t find that post to look at it again. That’s too bad, because it was interesting.

As writers, nothing is more important to us than our words, but we need to be aware that not all our words are important to everyone else. Sometimes we need to just stop. Right where we are.

A friend asked me to read her 4-page synopsis yesterday – she had to cut it in half. It’s a young adult paranormal, which I don’t read, so maybe that made me more objective, or maybe I’m just ignorant of the genre (which I am), but I brutally slashed it (I hope she’s still speaking to me). I felt like there was a good bit of it, that while important in the story, was not necessarily important in describing the story.

The sad truth is, we live in an I-want-it-now culture, full of text messages, snippets and sidebars. Either we don’t have time, or don’t want to take the time. Something else out there awaits us.

So, in that vein, whatever you write, edit it! Keep it short. To the point. On your blog, if you hit 300 words, cut it or see if you can divide it into two posts. But above all, just STO-