Getting it done, sans doute

“Begin at the beginning,” the King said, very gravely, “and go on til you come to the end; then stop.”
– Lewis Carroll, Alice in Wonderland

“Best advice I’ve ever received: Finish.”
– Peter Mayle

Sounds easy, right?

I doubt “the King” was talking about writing a novel (I never read Alice in Wonderland), but I think A Year in Provence* author Peter Mayle was.

When I wrote UNDERWATER, I did begin at (what I thought was) the beginning. But it didn’t turn out to be. To guess what I mean, click here and “Look Inside” to read the first few pages.

Now I’m working on Book 4, another thriller with tie-ins to UNDERWATER, and I’m at that part between the beginning and the end, where I must “go on.” (I’ve written about un tiers – a third – so far.) While I’m behind on my goal of 50,000 words** by Thanksgiving (looks like it will be Noel), at least I’m hitting my plot points. And when I’m finished, I’ll stop.

(Then I’ll begin revisions, editing, etc…but that’s another post.)

“Going on” right now is work, and it can be hard to focus sometimes. Doubt creeps in…and I push it away.

This book, like UNDERWATER, is set in Atlanta, and scenes take place in fictional neighborhoods here, with a few (real) landmarks as anchors. And, like in UNDERWATER, characters are not based on people I know, and events are made up. Drawn from my own experiences, observations, and imagination, they interweave and eventually turn into a novel.

“Focus more on your desire than on your doubt, and the dream will take care of itself.”
– Mark Twain
* Which I have read, as well as many of his other books
** Which is well over the mid-point of the story 


Part Deux: 2 Literally-Asked Questions, and More

Here’s a few more of the questions asked at the Book Launch Party for my novel UNDERWATER, and the answers (and announcements) I wish that I’d should have given (and made):

En premier (first):

The novel is dedicated to my mother, Sally, who was a guest at the party. She knew how nervous I was speaking in front of the large group, and fortunately, she reminded me to announce the book’s dedication to her. I did, but here’s what else I should have said…

I dedicated the book to her because she’s been so supportive of my writing. Years ago, when I mentioned my idea of writing a book, I told her that I was thinking about writing a novel based on my year in France.

“Do it!” she said. “It’s not too late!” When MAKE THAT DEUX was published, no one was more proud of me than she was – and no one’s asked me more about the details of  UNDERWATER, and when it would be released! Thanks, Mom.

En second:

Several people named in the book’s Acknowledgments were in attendance at the party. But who (besides other authors) reads the Acknowledgments page?* So I wished I had recognized them, and explained how much they helped. From pacing and plot to the smallest story details, their input was invaluable!

Enfin (finally), les questions:

Where did you draw your inspiration from for this story?

I drew on some of my own life experiences when writing the story.

My husband and I were “underwater” on our first house in the late 1980s, before being underwater was cool. We moved across the country for a new job in the midst of a declining real estate market, a side effect of the Savings & Loan crisis. We had no choice but to (seriously) downsize and do our best – and to start all over again. No one came to our rescue, and one thing we learned was that it’s much easier to upsize than to downsize. Much easier.

But we did it. We lived not just within our means, but way below them, for several years. In short, we did “Dave Ramsey” before Dave Ramsey was cool.

More than a decade later, after building a new home in the Midwest, we left the area, again for a new job. We sold our house at a loss. Downsizing followed, but we recovered more quickly this time.

When I began writing UNDERWATER, I knew the premise, the protagonist, the villain, the storyline…and I knew the feelings of despair, desperation and stress connected with a house underwater.

I thought that I could write about those feelings through the eyes of fictional characters, and about the havoc that the situation wreaks in all of their lives.

What books have you read recently, and what do you like to read?

I read a range of fiction and some non-fiction, including biographies. I like everything from suspense to coming-of-age stories and romance. I also like historical fiction and classics. And I usually like anything set in France, which includes presque tout – almost everything – by Peter Mayle.

Earlier this year, I read Stephen King’s 11/22/63, and his book written for authors, On Writing (a bonus was an appendix of good books to read). Another great book I read was Unbroken by Laura Hillenbrand.

For the answers to some other questions about UNDERWATER, such as how I selected the title and characters’ names, see FAQ – UNDERWATER. 

* Take a look at my Acknowledgments page (it’s short!) to find out more.

Habit (partie deux), plateaus and follow-through

“Best advice I’ve ever received: Finish.”


– Peter Mayle

Last June,* I wrote about habit and routines, and my readiness to examine my own. My creative side has always resisted them: I wanted to choose what to do and when to do it, letting spontaneity rule. On the other hand, I was happy I was practicing good health habits (like eating a light, healthy breakfast and exercising regularly) and I was ready to dispose of my bad ones (like drinking too many diet Cokes).

Two truths from a book I had just read were helpful:

1. Replacing a bad habit with a good one works much better than just discarding the bad.

2. Routines save mental energy: you’re freed from making daily choices, and can focus on more important decisions.

I decided it was a mid-year’s resolution time, and I made changes. But it wasn’t until three months later that I began to hold myself accountable to them.

In September, instead of just drinking fewer sodas, I cut them out completely and replaced them with water. I started keeping track of exercise and meals, and when the right choices (soon) became habit, they were much easier to maintain. I felt as though I had discovered the secret (for me) of a healthy lifestyle.

I didn’t make my new choices routines impossible to practice, and since then I’ve stayed on track. Because I was afraid I’d jinx myself (or maybe because I didn’t want to have to defend my decisions), I didn’t tell many people about my newfound resolve or progress. And when others offered unsolicited advice, I smiled, listened, and carried on. What I was doing was working.

I had to be more flexible when it came to my work routines – not what they were, but when to perform them. In the fall, I worked my writing schedule around taking a seriously ill family member to her medical appointments, but I managed to keep it up; thankfully, she’s now healthy again.

Then there was the publication of my novel MAKE THAT DEUX. A short interruption in my writing routine, it took a little time and effort in October to travel from my computer files to e-readers and booksellers. Then, I added marketing to my routine.

But in health – and in writing – I’ve hit some plateaus….which can be very frustrating. I’ve learned something very important about them, though:


Helicopter views of plateaus in the Grand Canyon

photo copy 3

They don’t go on forever…and to get past them, you have to keep going.

I’m an East Coast girl: I love Atlanta and the Appalachian Mountains, where my ancestors lived, and I’m not crazy about the rugged majesty of the Rockies. Sometimes, when I hit a plateau, I feel like I’m out west facing a beckoning frontier, but one that’s not getting any much closer.

Mais, il faut continuer.

Which brings me to follow-through. I like to bring my endeavors to completion – I don’t like to start unless I feel that I will, come what may. It may sound inflexible, but it’s not; flexibility is key to finishing. I try to save my choices for when I’ll need them: to adapt, to redirect, to coach myself, to revise and improve. I’m determined to get it done, so I keep going, and then…I finish.

“Nothing is particularly hard if you divide it into small jobs.”

-Henry Ford

* See my post of June 6, 2012: D’habitude: routine

Aix (and adventures) en Provence

Peter Mayle’s autobiographical novel A Year in Provence was published in 1989, ten years after I arrived in France to spend a year of college in Languedoc-Roussillon, the region à côté to the west.

During school holidays, carrying a backpack, my Eurail pass, little money and no credit cards, I traveled with friends to Spain, Italy, Greece, Switzerland, Holland and England. But aside from Paris, I didn’t travel much in France. I did visit Carcassonne and the beach villages of Carnon-Plage, La Grande Motte and Sête, but I never made it to nearby Avignon, Aix-en-Provence or the Luberon valley.

So when I read Mayle’s book (and later, the rest of his books) set in Provence, I was enthralled. Like so many others, and because I love the south of France anyway, I wanted to visit Provence. Someday.

That day turned out to be Thursday, July 5, 2012.

My husband and I arrived in Aix the evening of July 4th, after driving* west from Nice. That morning, I thought it would be fun to take the coastal route through Antibes, Cannes and St. Tropez. We would stop in some quaint spot for lunch, perhaps not until Hyères, and then drive on to Aix and arrive at our hotel in the centre ville in plenty of time to relax and have a cocktail. Then we would go to nearby Venelles for a dégustation (wine-tasting) and tour of a vignoble (vineyard)  to be conducted in French at Château l’Evesque. We would dine at La Flambée du Luberon, the Château’s restaurant.

We made it to Cannes on the congested coastal road, then decided to take the autoroute instead. We did have a wonderful lunch at a café in Hyères, then continued west and north to Aix. We arrived at Hotel Saint Christophe with no directions or help from our car’s GPS *, found the parking garage after two tries, wedged backed our car in a parking space in the garage and checked in. I called the Château to confirm our reservations for the evening and get directions (en français) from Jean Michel Escoffier (I had previously emailed Nathalie, his wife.) Then we decided to have that drink and take a taxi.

It was the right decision. We arrived on time and joined un petit groupe of ten French people for a tour of the vineyard and lavendar field, led by Jean Michel –speaking in rapid French and (fortunately for us) talking with his hands. Then it was time for the dégustation with Nathalie, who described the wines speaking almost as fast as her husband had. So far in France, I’d understood about 90% of what I heard, and had held my own communicating in the language that I’d been (re-)studying for a year. But comprehending the Escoffiers was a major challenge — and a highlight of mon voyage.

The following morning, on July 5th, we left Aix and ventured into the Luberon valley just to the north. We exited the autoroute at Cavaillon and drove to Apt, then followed a winding road through some beautiful petits villages médiévals made famous by Mayle (and that Madame Marie-Hélène**  had advised me not to miss): Bonnieux, Lacoste, Ménerbes and Oppède. There, we stopped for a leisurely lunch before heading to Avignon for the rest of the day and to Montpellier that night.

It was hard to leave the Luberon, and I kept thinking about Peter Mayle and his writing. A few years ago, when I was just beginning as a writer but after I had finished the first batch of revisions on my upcoming novel, I wrote a letter to Mayle asking for advice. I sent it to his publisher in New York, hoping that it would find its way to him somehow.

Mayle’s books and interviews reveal him to be a wonderful and kind man. In the spring of 2008, he wrote me back a three paragraph letter, typed on his personal stationery and signed in ink. His last line was:

“All I can say is courage, and don’t give up.”

* For more explanation about our adventures en voiture, see the post Le Tour de (Montpellier) France.

** mon prof de français

Create a website or blog at

Up ↑