Why It’s Great to be a Writer

I wrote my first … lemme see … god, I think it’s 16 … books on a typewriter. The very first one might have been on a manual one – that was back in the days when an IBM Selectric was a wet dream. And I actually liked typing – I liked having the pages pile up beside me, I liked the click of the keys and the sound of them hitting the … roller? It had a special name — platten? (I just went and looked it up – I was close. Platen.) Ah, the good old days. I used yellow newsprint for my early draft, because my mentor did, and onion skin for the final draft which was a big nono but I did it anyway.

And so it goes. Stories helped me survive a … shall we say difficult … upbringing. Think Mommie Dearest crossed with Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf crossed with Lost Weekend and you get the picture. But I could always retreat into books, and into my own stories, and I could survive. Maybe my siblings didn’t have that escape. (They both died young from their various addiction issues, as did my father).

But those stories kept me going my entire life (so far). When I was going through infertility and every month discovered that I wasn’t pregnant I would curl up in my big bed with a comforter and reread Georgette Heyer and make it through the day. When I was a suicidal teenager I watched a new tv western (trust me, it was brilliant) and fell so in love with the world that I decided it was worth living. (By the time the show was cancelled I was past suicidal thoughts and none have returned for more than 50 years, thank goodness.

If a story is going strong then life is wonderful – there are days when I can’t wait to get to the computer (yes, I upgraded) to find out what my people are doing. In fact, that’s what gets me there every day. That, and discipline, which I had to discover myself due to the aforementioned upbringing. My worlds, as dark as they might be, are always a safe place for me.

Two things really brought that home in the past few years, one mundane, one existential. I was stuck in an oral surgeon’s office, having two teeth removed. When I went in I hadn’t realized I wasn’t going to have anesthesia, and I sat there, clutching the armrests, tears rolling down my face, in an absolute panic. Desperate to distract myself, I threw my mind into my latest characters, and the panic began to fade. The surgeon did something new and horrible (no physical pain, mind you) and the panic came slamming back, so once more I raced back to my story world. It wasn’t until the third time this happened that I realized what was happening. That world brought me calm and peace even in really dire circumstances.

The other was at a really low time in my life. I’ve got Major Depression as a diagnosis, no surprise with a father and a family history of Bi-Polar Disorder and a mother who had a borderline personality plus a family history of depression. In general I have an excellent medical cocktail and a real enjoyment of life, but occasionally the black cloud breaks through.

A few years ago life was so bleak and hopeless, and I was so trapped, that I drove home from visiting my BFF Crusie, weeping (and it’s a long drive). I tried to think of anything that could bring me hope, peace or joy (I always fight the blues like mad) and there was absolutely nothing – everything was disaster and despair. Until I thought of what I was writing. Thought of the other books I wanted to write, the stories and worlds that were there for me. Remembering story, the movies that never failed to transport me, the books that kept me alive in my childhood, the characters I had waiting for me, was a ray of hope that made the weeping stop. When there had been nothing but devastation there was suddenly wonder.

I used to annoy cancer survivors by saying that the perfect book at the right time can cure cancer. (They ignore the fact that I’m a cancer survivor). But man, it’s true. When you get the perfect story, either reading or writing or even watching on a screen, it puts you in the zone so squarely that I think healing endorphins flood our bodies. Or maybe it’s pixie dust.

Whatever it is, it’s magic

In honor of that magic I’m going to recommend books every month that will cure whatever dark cloud is swallowing you up. Books that can silence Donald Trump and wipe out the southern legislators. Books that turn Mitch McConnell into turtle soup and William Barr into a toadstool.

Was there ever a time we needed magic more? Another friend, Kathleen Gilles Seidel, said she never aimed to change people’s lives with her books, she simply wanted to change their afternoon. With enough good afternoons you can survive anything.

Happy Valentine’s Day

Hello, my children!  What better way to celebrate Valentine’s Day than with a new book?  WILDFIRE is the latest in the FIRE and ICE books – a member of Committee travels undercover to a private island in the Gulf of Mexico.  His job is to terminate the megalomaniac who lives there who’s trafficking in weapons of mass destruction.  Getting in his way will be Sophie, the man’s wife, and a former agent herself.  She’d had the original mission, and instead she’d fallen in love with the man and betrayed the Committee.  His orders are to terminate her if she gets in the way, otherwise leave her to herself.

But that was before he saw her.

Lots of sex, just a soupçon of violence, an evil, megalomaniac billionaire (is there any other kind?) and you have WILDFIRE!  It’s out in audio with Jill Redfield, a wonderful narrator, in paper and in e-book format.

On top of that, the first two in the current series, Driven by Fire and Consumed by Fire are on sale this month, both in paper and in ebook format, plus they’ll go on sale in the UK around February 20th, I think.  And who doesn’t love a bargain?

Anyway, lots of good stuff out there, and I’m really pleased with WILDFIRE.  The hero is loosely based on Hiddles, though I’d already finished writing it when NIGHT MANAGER came out.  Probably just as well – I might have gotten carried away.  If Hiddles isn’t your cuppa (foolish people) then Daniel Craig or anyone else sinuously sexy and lethal will do.  Head on over to Pinterest if you want to see some photos I gathered for inspiration at the time I was writing it.

In the meantime I’m busy writing the final Rohan book, HEARTLESS, the story (at last!) of Emma and Brandon.  I’m just at the point where I’m about to put them in bed together, and it will be a complete disaster on almost every level.  Can’t wait!

(I feel like I’m catching up with long lost friends – sorry I get so distracted and forget to come here).  Anyway, politics and this country are insane, the winter up in Vermont is very cold and very long, I’m playing with dolls (using my child’s American Girl dolls to dress them like my characters) and learning Danish, which I find highly entertaining (I’m 50% Danish, and in a melting pot like America being 50% anything is unusual).

This is my Danish family in the 1930s – the little old lady is my great grandmother, my mother is to the right and my grandmother to the left. They travelled through Nazi Germany to visit the old country when my mother had a fellowship.

Coming soon will be reissues of some of my very best books, like NIGHT OF THE PHANTOM.  In the meantime, WILDFIRE was an absolute treat to write, and I tend to feel the ones that practically write themselves are some of the very best.

Go forth and purchase!  http://tinyurl.com/zmteodv

Golden Days Ahead!

I live in one of the most beautiful areas of the country – northern Vermont – and autumn is amazing. The leaves have the most astounding colors – crimson, orange, flame, coral. Everywhere you go there is enough color to make your eyes bleed, and we all talk about when “peak” is – the day when the color is at its height. Once that’s past and the color starts fading and leaves start falling to the ground people tend to think it’s all over and nothing but winter ahead. But that’s when one of my favorite times come – what I call the Golden Time. The bright leaves turn gold, half of them end on the ground, the rest still on the trees, the tamaracks, which normally just look like evergreens, turn a rusty gold, and when the sun hits it gold everywhere. It’s a more subtle beauty, but gorgeous nonetheless, a perfect time for walks (the deer hunters aren’t out there yet) with the smell of woodsmoke in the air.

Which brings me to the big push I’ve been working toward. In the next month we’re doing a massive group of releases of what I call Krissie’s Greatest Hits (well, Anne Stuart’s Greatest Hits). We started with CINDERMAN, which we released today. I rewrite and expand the books, taking out clunky stuff and adding (usually more characterization and more sex), but when I read them it’s almost like reading something new from a favorite author. Obviously I write to my own fantasies, so Anne Stuart knows exactly what I like. And CINDERMAN was an absolute hoot! It would make a terrific tv movie, with the t-shirt wearing heroine, the grumpy professional, the paranormal comedy. We’re starting this at a $.99 introductory price, to be followed by THE SOLDIER, THE NUN AND THE BABY (it’s original title – Harlequin changed it to THE SOLDIER AND THE BABY), BLUE SAGE, NIGHT OF THE PHANTOM, and ONE MORE VALENTINE. CINDER MAN, THE SOLDIER AND THE BABY and ONE MORE VALENTINE were all RITA finalists. NIGHT OF THE PHANTOM was one of the 10 Best Books of the Year (RWA did that for a few years in the ’90s).

Then, towards the end of November, Belle Bridge Books will released BREAK THE NIGHT, another RITA finalist and my Jack the Ripper story for the late lamented Silhouette Shadows imprint.

These are some of my finest books from one of my most fertile periods, and I’ve had a blast going through them – a happy respite from the political news that churns my stomach (I shall say no more. At least, at this point).

So grab CINDERMAN while it’s cheap – it’s sexy, funny and ridiculous. The hero and heroine get slimed in a lab accident and he becomes a super-hero, of course: he’s invisible for two hours in the morning and the evening and when he wiggles his nose and blinks he can set things on fire. They have to go one the run from the bad guys, keeping low as he practices his fire-starting skills in the forest of northern California (it wasn’t a drought back then). And think of the sexual possibilities of invisible sex!

Chief Eagle Feather Rides Again!

I spend my summers acting.  Sometimes I’m a Shakespearian court member or a soprano in the chorus, sometimes I’ve got something juicier. I don’t really care — I just love being a part of our wonderful group.  I’m greedy, so this year I’m in both productions, Annie Get Your Gun and To Kill a Mockingbird.  For Annie I’m Chief Eagle Feather, complete with blonde hair and Danish complexion, as well as singing as high as an A (below high C).  Don’t think I could sing a B or a C, but fortunately I’m not called to.  And our theater group, Greensboro Art Alliance and Residency (GAAR( is wonderful in finding ways for me to participate even though I can barely walk right now.  I just limp onstage and cop and squat, then do lines or sing from that vantage point.

In Mockingbird I’m a 98 year old racist/morphine addict.  I was also supposed to weigh 98 pounds but that seemed unlikely.  Mrs. Henry Lafayette Dubose is downright nasty, but beneath it all she’s a romantic.  I can’t really soften her much, but I’m having fun saying awful things to the actors playing Scout and Jem.

Unfortunately I haven’t gotten much writing done.  So today I’ve printed up what I have of HEARTLESS (working title for Brandon and Emma) and I’ll work on that during the downtime.  I’m in three scenes in Act One and not sure how many in Act Two.  In Mockingbird I’m dead by Act Two, so that should give me lots of time to work before curtain calls.

Acting is a great way to open your mind up to different forms of creativity.  It’s easy-peasy for me to create a backstory for my characters, to know them in and out.  It gets my mind going in different directions, which is always a good thing.  And most of the actors (lots of them Equity members from NYC) are wonderful, particularly our artist in residence, Marla Shaffel, who was nominated for a Tony award for lead actress in a musical a few years ago.  We’ve got a couple of stinkers, and every year I make a tentative gesture of friendliness towards them, only to be iced out.  And then I ignore them.  I do have a hard time understanding why people are unpleasant when it’s so much nicer to be warm and sharing, but that’s the way it is.  I’m not cut our for a competitive environment (one reason I haven’t gone to RWA for a number of years.  The other reason is that’s our theater season, and I get a lot more joy and satisfaction out of the plays).

Some summers I’ve written every spare moment and cherished the time I had.  (Two summers ago).  Some summers I’ve written grudgingly and resented it but I had a deadline (last year).  This year my only deadline is my own, and I intend to do exactly what I want to do.  Which is write this book — I need to live partly in my fantasy world to feel truly alive – and rehearse and hobble around and be glad I’m not in the madhouse at San Diego (though San Diego is a wonderful city).

Next year’s going to be a harder decision — it’s a choice between GAAR and our brand new multi-million dollar theater or Disney World.  And I really really love Disney World.

Fortunately I don’t have to decide this year.  I just have to get to rehearsal in 45 minutes and sing my little heart out as a Scandinavian Native American.

Onward.