Twyla Tharp, Genius

"The call to a creative life is not supposed to be torture. Yes, it is hard work and you have to make sacrifices. Yes, it is a noble calling; you're volunteering in an army of sorts alongside a phalanx of artists who have preceded you, many of whom are your mentors and guides, upon whose work you build, without whom you have no fixed point of reference. They form a tradition that you have implicitly sworn to protect, even while you aim to refashion it, and sometimes even shatter it.

But it's also supposed to be fun."


Le Tombeau d'Edgar Poe

Last night, the Nashville Symphony did a performance dedicated to Edgar Allan Poe featuring Stravinsky's SYMPHONY OF PSALMS and Rachmaninoff's THE BELLS. As you can imagine, we bought tickets early. How can you not love the idea of music inspired by Poe's writing?

In between the two Russian masters was a piece by composer Dominick Argento called Le Tombeau d'Edgar Poe. It was quite brilliant, playing off of my favorite Poe poem, Annabel Lee. Listening to this unique interpretation, I was struck by a realization. So much of our social networking is dedicated to saying something. Something important, eloquent, worthy. I've blogged for years with this purpose in mind: to edify, educate and elucidate my purpose.

What I rarely do is share my inspirations. They hit me daily, in large ways and small. It can be something as simple as the smile of a stranger, or as complex as a movie script. Poems, fragments of conversations, links I find interesting - my zeitgeist - has been largely missing.

So this space will now have some less elucidating, education and edifying pieces. No less worthy, I think, but perhaps more an exploration of my own personal zeitgeist without extensive essays to "explain" my thoughts.

Let me start with Le Tombeau, then. The Tomb of Edgar Poe, inspired by the brilliant Annabel Lee. How apropos.

It was many and many a year ago,
In a kingdom by the sea,
That a maiden there lived whom you may know
By the name of Annabel Lee;
And this maiden she lived with no other thought
Than to love and be loved by me.

I was a child and she was a child,
In this kingdom by the sea;
But we loved with a love that was more than love-
I and my Annabel Lee;
With a love that the winged seraphs of heaven
Coveted her and me.

And this was the reason that, long ago,
In this kingdom by the sea,
A wind blew out of a cloud, chilling
My beautiful Annabel Lee;
So that her highborn kinsman came
And bore her away from me,
To shut her up in a sepulchre
In this kingdom by the sea.

The angels, not half so happy in heaven,
Went envying her and me-
Yes!- that was the reason (as all men know,
In this kingdom by the sea)
That the wind came out of the cloud by night,
Chilling and killing my Annabel Lee.

But our love it was stronger by far than the love
Of those who were older than we-
Of many far wiser than we-
And neither the angels in heaven above,
Nor the demons down under the sea,
Can ever dissever my soul from the soul
Of the beautiful Annabel Lee.

For the moon never beams without bringing me dreams
Of the beautiful Annabel Lee;
And the stars never rise but I feel the bright eyes
Of the beautiful Annabel Lee;
And so, all the night-tide, I lie down by the side
Of my darling- my darling- my life and my bride,
In the sepulchre there by the sea,
In her tomb by the sounding sea.

~Edgar Allan Poe

Review of the Quo Vadis Habana Notebook

Oh boy, do I ever know what I’m going to be passing out to everyone this year.

The wonderful Karen Doherty from Exaclair, Inc., the exclusive U.S. distributor of Clairefontaine, Exacompta, Rhodia, Quo Vadis, and a bunch of other really fine paper products, sent me a Quo Vadis Habana notebook to test run.

As you all know, I am a paper freak. I covet nice paper, and pristine notebooks to capture my thoughts. Earlier this year I bought myself a Moleskine and started keeping all my thought in one place in an attempt to work in a more streamlined, GTD life style. I like the Moleskine, but the paper is yellowish, and I can see the notes from the previous page, which means I end up starting a new page every time I have a thought. 

My friend and fellow author Jeff Abbott turned me on to Clairefontaine notebooks and their lovely, clean white paper. I’ve become a bit of a convert, and this revelation has sparked an extensive search for the perfect notebook.

Clairefontaine makes the nicest paper in the world – heavy, very white and no bleed regardless of the pens I use. There’s nothing better than the heavy, steady feel when turning the pages. So you can imagine how excited I was to get the Habana, loaded with it's yummy Clairefontaine 90g paper.

The Quo Vadis Habana notebook is a great size too, 6” x 9”, bigger than my Moleskine by just the right amount. (Sadly, my Levenger pen keeper is too small to fit around the edge, so I’ll have to order a new one.) The notebook opens and lies almost flat, and has a solid backing that isn’t too stiff. The pen slips along the page, allowing notes and thoughts to flow unhindered. And the extra inch of space means I rarely have to stop and flip a page in the middle of a thought. For folks like me who hate to waste paper but don’t like to have multiple thoughts on the same page, this is perfect.

All in all, I have to give this notebook 5 stars. And I’m going to be passing them out as Christmas presents to all my friends and family who love the feel of an elegant notebook, and I’m going to the store to take a gander at their highly-rated planners.

Check out the excellent Quo Vadis blog here for lots of great info, reviews, and random musings.

I broke my thumb at boucher-Contest!!

As many of you know, I thought I might have broken my thumb while goofing around at Bouchercon. A month later, I finally went to the doctor, and the verdict? Yes. I've broken my opposable thumb. Sadly, on my dominant hand, too.

So, since I am an idiot, I figured y'all should benefit from my lunacy. Hence, the "I Broke My Thumb At Boucher-Contest"!

I will choose two winners at random* who will receive an advance copy of THE COLD ROOM. Not an ARC, mind you, but a real, live, signed book, prior to the February release.


All you have to do is virtually sign my cast (which is actually a spiffy, fashion forward hard splint - see above) by leaving a comment here. Don't worry about sympathy, I'm well past deserving that. Just leave a note saying you want to read THE COLD ROOM, and I'll enter you in the contest.

Entries can be left through December 1. Thanks for playing!

*Random means names will be put into a hat and drawn by the wonder husband, who, lucky man, has two working thumbs.

You break it, you buy it

Revisions can be hell.

I’m currently working on a revision of book 5, THE IMMORTALS. When I started, it looked like it was going to be simple. I needed to add a subplot. No big. Move a few chapters around, dump the story in the appropriate spots, read through and voila! Revision done.

Yeah. Not so fast, there, Sparky.

After staring at the computer for three days trying to decide just exactly how I wanted to do this, I realized it wasn’t going to be the snap I first thought. If I wanted to do it right, I needed to do things a little differently.

I write in a very linear fashion. There are a few times when I’ll jot notes toward the end of the manuscript of what the next chapter is about, or throw down some words to describe my climax. But for the most part, I start at the beginning and write sequentially, allowing the story to unfold as I go instead of jumping around from scene to scene.

I had a great opportunity a few months back—I was the media escort for Diana Gabaldon when she came to Nashville. Now that’s not a job I’d ever want again, because I was a stress monkey the whole day, worrying about getting her to the right place on time (you’d think since I live here I wouldn’t be so damn worried, but I was.) One of her talks, she mentioned how she builds a book. I’d heard this before, but I paid special attention this time, to see if it was something I could do.

Diana writes scenes. Separate, living, breathing entities. When she has enough of them, she starts stitching the book together. Sometimes she’ll find that the season is wrong, or the time of day, and rewrite it to match, but for the most part, the way she puts it together sounded absolutely seamless.

Now, I’m a realist. Of course it isn’t seamless. Proper chapter and scene arrangement is vital to the story – you can’t have things out of order, your readers will get confused.

So when I realized I needed to do this subplot, I decided to try it her way.

Surprisingly, it’s sort of working.

But here’s where I got stuck. The subplot revolves around a situation that happed six years earlier. You know what’s coming next. Yep, I have to write in the dreaded of all forms – the flashback.

Stop your groaning.

I’ve never written in flashback before, not extensively like I’m doing now. It’s not the easiest endeavor. Which is fine, I’m always up for a challenge. But I don’t know what the standards are. As the story unfolds, I’m seeing two things: one, it could be a book of its own, and two, I might be better served if I have a second POV. But you’re not allowed a second point of view when you’re flashing back in someone’s head, are you?

I spent a day fretting about this, then finally called New York.

My brilliant editor scoffed slightly and said, “Write it and see if it works. If it doesn’t, you’ve cost yourself nothing.” Which of course is the right answer.

It’s not the easy answer, though. No one wants to spend time exploring when they’re on deadline. I immediately mentally resisted, listing out all the reasons why I shouldn’t try – time being one of the biggest ones. I’m not much for throwing work away—when I write it, it goes in. The idea of writing scenes basically on spec to see if they might work is an anathema to me.

But in the course of all this angst, I suddenly realized what I was really asking. I wasn’t worried so much about the dual POVs in the flashback. I was asking if I could break the rules.

And since when do I ever worry about the rules?????

Happily, when I went to my office, this was the first thing I saw. It’s on my door.


“There are no rules except those you create, page by page.” ~ Stuart Woods


You can imagine the chagrin I felt. Permission? This is writing, damn it. We’re writers. We are the all-powerful creators of universes. We do what we want, when we want. We defy gravity, boundaries, planes of existence. We bring the dead to life. Yes, there are rules, but it’s our job, our mission, to break them. That’s what we do. All successful writers thumb their nose at the rules. Even Stephen King says, “Know the rules so you know when to break them.”

Ah. There’s the rub. We’re allowed to break the rules, but we have to know them first. Okay. Consider this your hall pass.

Here’s the rallying cry. Go forth, and break all the rules. Write something today that’s been eating at you, something that you’re worried about. Something your mind says won’t work. Maybe it won’t. But until you get it on paper, who knows???

When’s the last time YOU broke the rules?

Wine of the Week: 2007 Primaterra Primitivo

PS: Happy Friday the 13th!! Unlike Halloween, good things usually happen in the Ellison household on these days. I hope something good happens for you too!