Monday, April 20, 2015


About a year ago, they hired a new maintenance worker at my day job. He’s extremely polite and conscientious.  One morning, also about a year ago, he startled me by greeting me by name.

“Good morning, Betty. How are you?”

Awkward… you see, that isn’t my name.

My real-life name is relatively close to that but it never has been nor ever will be, Betty. What do you *do* when someone calls you by an incorrect name? I’m sure I wore a clich├ęd "deer-in-the-headlights" expression at his friendly welcome.  Do I correct him or not?

Frozen in place, I considered differing hypothesis in the split second I had before replying.  

  • OK, the guy is competent, but our cleaning company changes crew members so quickly – he’d likely be rotated out of our company location before the floor he was mopping was even dry. Definitely.  For sure.
  • I was in much earlier than normal that day – I should not have even been in the area he was working in at that time. I’d rarely see him in the future, right?

  • He’s so nice, and it would seem rude, wouldn’t it?

Yeah - you guessed it – I convinced myself to totally cave to the non-confrontational, not-enough-caffeine-in-the-morning reply.   “Good morning, Mike.  I’m well, thanks.”


Of course, this began what has become a year-long unending stream of being greeted as “Betty” morning, noon and night. I wince when co-workers overhear him call me Betty and cast me sideways glances. I see Mike in every section of the huge building when I leave my desk. In a short time he was promoted to team leader and he must work lots of overtime as he’s always here. He’s still so unfailingly nice and polite it would be really, really rude to correct him at this point.

And so I remain Betty.

So – what does this all have to do with the craft of writing?

It’s a roundabout way of introducing the topic of character names, and some questions:
  •          When do you develop character names? Before you write a word or after you begin a story?
  •          Do you research names? If so can you recommend any sites to visit? Some good suggestions can be found in this Writers Digest column:
7 Rules In Picking Character Names

  •          Some authors reach out to readers on social media and ask for specific types of names for their current WIP’s – has this worked for you?
  •          Do character names affect whether you buy into a book's premise or not?

Oh – and I’ll confess the real reason I choose to remain as Betty…. How often does our real day to day life get to mirror the exact lyrics of a popular, beloved Paul Simon song?  Story has it, he and a former wife were at a party and someone kept calling his wife "Betty" and himself, "Al" - so he wrote a song about it.

Lyrics can be found on Paul Simon's official website, here:

You Can Call Me Al...

Maybe my next heroine will be named Betty... it's a thought!

Monday, April 13, 2015

Love and Research, Love of Research

I happened to mention to an acquaintance the other day that I belonged to a romance writers’ group. “Oh, god,” she said, “anyone can write that stuff.”
                Before you go all fifty shades of offended, a brief analysis of that phrase, taken word for word, indicates that she’s perfectly correct. Anyone can write that stuff.
                But who says they can do it well?

One of my first, and favorite, conversations with our own Bertrice Small happened several years after I had encountered her writing. I did not come to Bertrice’s stories the usual way: I was hired to proofread one of her books, and came away fascinated by the amount of actual history she included in her epic romantic novel.
                When I finally met her in person, I mentioned to her that I was amazed by how much more she’d managed to teach me when she wrote about the goings on in 1500s European courts than I’d ever managed to stay awake for in college.
                Bertrice gave me a confidential smile and said, “Ah, you caught me. I like to slip that in so my readers actually learn something.”
                Her “slip that in” comment was an understatement for the way she presented a deep knowledge resulting from vast amounts of research. Her books, and her writing, are her legacy. She didn’t Wikipedia a topic – she was old school. She read and cross-referenced and read some more. Bertrice was not famous for the amount of books she wrote – she was famous for the quality of the books she wrote.

It’s the depth of a story that makes it stick. And no, not anybody can write that stuff. It requires intelligence, insight, organization, and a willingness to go deeper and write a bigger, more colorful, and ultimately richer tale.
These days, there are so many ways to get published, whether a writer is good or not, that a reader’s options for entertainment are literally limitless. If your geography is off, or your murder method doesn’t work or your forensic timing is botched, or even if your regional accents seem forced or incorrect, you’re going to jar your reader and turn them off. And they will pick up another book, only it’s likely to be by someone else.
                But the good news is that as the options for readers of romance are virtually limitless, so are the sources for accurate and intriguing information. Just a miniscule sampling of what’s out there, in so many areas:

The Book of Poisons, Stevens and Bannon, Writer’s Digest Books, 2007.
Women of the Beat Generation, Knight, Conari Press, 1996.
Fashion in Underwear: From Babylon to Bikini Briefs, Ewing, Dover, 1971.
Religions of the World, Breuilly et al, Transedition Limited and Fernleigh Books, 1997.
Architecture Explained, Stevenson, Dorling Kindersley, 2007.
The Steampunk Bible, Vandermeer, Abrams Image, 2011.
American Victorian Costume in Early Photographs, Dalrymple, Dover 1991.
The Illustrated Encyclopedia of Guns, Fowler et al., Metro Books, 2010.
Miss Manners’ Guide to Domestic Tranquility, Martin, Crown, 1999.
Charms, Spells, and Formulas, Malbrough, Llewellyn Publications, 2001.
Images of Lost London 1875-1945, Davies, Atlantic, 2012.
Damn the Man! The Slang of the Oppressed in America, Dalzell, Dover, 2010.

If you’re writing location or time period in a place you can’t actually get to, there are also geographical and historical DVDs, museums, community websites, even realtors who make great resources for getting your facts straight. Even if you’re working with a fictional setting, it’s good to place it somewhere, culturally or climatically, so researching environment, seasonal weather trends or plant life enrich your descriptions. Your primary plot might be about love, but where and when that love occurs and how your characters behave or endure with what’s available to them in the complexities of their cultural and physical surroundings, keep your readers coming back for more.
Of the books listed above, my current favorite is The Book of Poisons. I used it initially as reference for a novel but it’s also extremely well-organized and engagingly written so I’ve learned more than I expected on an unusual topic.
                Are there any resources you’ve discovered that really filled out a story you wrote or one that you’re working on now? Are there any you haven’t found that you wish had been written?

Monday, April 6, 2015

Easter With Friends

I spent Easter Sunday at my friend's house. Her seven year old daughter was adorable in a long floral skirt, with her Easter basket filled with chocolate bunnies, green paper grass, and plastic eggs of pink, yellow, and purple.

We had dinner. Fresh flowers graced the table. The sweet perfume of white hyancinth and purple and yellow pansies were a welcome delight after an unusually harsh winter.

Wine and fond memories flowed. We watched home movies of bygone days and resurrected the past: 1986 Field Day at Catholic School, a choir performance, sledding down the driveway, a cosmetic commercial, twirling baton show, and The King and I play.

Friends since before we were seven and to this day.

Every day I sit at my computer and write romance. I try to capture those memories that taught me what love is. If only I could express that feeling to the world and let them know. So many Easter Sundays, so many joys and tears. From this love is born a writer who cherishes the gift of deep friendship and celebrates the renewal and rebirth this season brings.

Happy Writing!


Monday, March 30, 2015

Going Over the Waterfall

This week I took a much needed vacation to clear my head of the winter cobwebs that had taken root in my consciousness. I'm sure you know exactly the ones I'm taking about too. That feeling of muck, of having nothing that makes any sense scrawled across your paper or characters that seem wooden or simply won't behave.

As with most vacations, I tried to unplug from the stress of my everyday life and give myself over to the carefree, no schedule, and no decisions to make that didn't include what to wear and what to drink type of existence. I tried getting on the plane with the plan to leave the laptop off, not check the email and absolutely NOT say "yes" to a project I knew would stress me out.

But if you're a writer...this is easier said than done.

Plots are always zinging through my brain...begging me to jot down names, places and details that might be forgotten when the alcohol wears off. :)

Of course, I had this blog post and due date nagging me when I looked over at the lonely laptop sitting next to my suitcase.

Of course, I agreed to write an article for a newsletter, its due date just by coincidence the same date as the blog post that needed to be written.

Of course, my current WIP mocked me and chastised me for neglecting it while I ate chocolate, watched movies, and shot pool with my nephew.

Then on Friday afternoon, after a fabulous lunch with my South Carolina sisters, they took me to the waterfall. Okay, I've seen waterfalls before, and this one isn't all that impressive...but there is just something about the rush of the water, the untamed flow energy spilling over rocks that can't be ignored.

All at once the words and thoughts I needed to write this blog post, the idea I needed to create the backbone of the article, and even a character arc for my current WIP burst through the frozen damn of my blocked creative energy. Yes, I stood there much longer than my sister thought I would soaking up the creative vibes that filled the air in the fine mist of the falls.

Turns out Mother Nature might be on to something...take one blocked and stressed writer, surround her with a force of nature not to be reckoned with and watch what happens.

Don't happen to have a waterfall near you? Head to the ocean, walk through the woods, find a field of flowers. Take the time to let something bigger than yourself surround you for a few minutes. Let the experience feed your soul.

Take your creativity over the falls and let it loose!

Have a great week :)

Tuesday, March 24, 2015

LIRW's open house -- Welcome

LIRW is happy to announce our first annual Open House for writers from all around Long Island. Please join us for a great afternoon and learn about our group! All writers welcome.

Do You Have a Book in You? -- Set it Free! 

Learn how to get that book inside of you onto shelves and bestseller lists. 

Get your story on paper and into the hands of editors, agents and readers. 

Find out why the published panelists believe that joining a writer's group can change your life. 
Program includes:

A panel of published writers from the Long Island Romance Writers (LIRW) who will give a brief presentation.

An informal Q and A with LIRW members who can answer your questions about writing and publishing.

Information on how to join RWA and LIRW

Light refreshments will be served in the Atrium.

Long Island Romance Writers
First Annual Open House
Saturday, March 28th, 2015
11-4 p.m.
South Huntington Public Library
145 Pidgeon Hill Road Huntington Station, NY 11746  

If you have any questions please feel free to contact Michele -- her email is michele at michelelang dot com.

Monday, March 16, 2015

LIRW is having an open house and Facebook party!

Come meet members of LIRW, our local chapter of Romance Writers of America,
and learn how to make the journey from dream to publication.

Open House features:

A Panel of Published Authors will give a short presentation on their journey to publication,
the challenges, the new opportunities, and the benefits of joining a writing group.

A Q and A Session: bring your questions about writing to our experienced panel

Networking: A chance to break off into smaller groups to ask our LIRW members about specific genres within Romance

A reception in the atrium with light refreshments

Information about joining RWA and LIRW

For a sneak peek at how LIRW can help you,
we invite you to our Facebook Party (click "Join" and then partake in the fun and comment on the posts)  on March 19, 2015 from 6pm - 9pm (EST).

All writers are welcome!

                          Long Island Romance Writers
                          First Annual Open House
                          Saturday, March 28th, 2015
                                           11-4 p.m.
                          South Huntington Public Library
                          145 Pidgeon Hill Road Huntington Station, NY 11746  

Tuesday, March 10, 2015

United Voices

The notes for freedom were once again heard floating across the Edmund Pettus Bridge this past weekend. “We Shall Over Come” and “This Little Light of Mine” flowed from many mouths as they retraced the steps of those who marched fifty years ago. 

Many civil rights songs have their roots in Baptist and Methodist hymns and traditional Negro spirituals Martin Luther King said in his memoir. of the Montgomery Bus Boycott, Stride Toward Freedom, ‘"One could not help but be moved by these traditional songs, which brought to mind the long history of the Negro’s suffering."  Other songs, like "We Shall Over Come" were borrowed from other struggles.*
                                             "This Little Light Of Mine" (first verse)

This little light of mine, I'm gonna let it shine.
This little light of mine, I'm gonna let it shine.
This little light of mine, I'm gonna let it shine.
Every day, every day, every day, every way,
Gonna let my little light shine.
Light that shines is the light of love,
Hides the darkness from above,
Shines on me and it shines on you,
Shows you what the power of love can do.
Shine my light both bright and clear,
Shine my light both far and near,
In every dark corner that I find,
Let my little light shine.

                                                       "We Shall Over Come"

We shall overcome, we shall overcome

We shall overcome some day

Oh, deep in my heart, I do believe

We shall overcome some day

The Lord will see us through, the Lord will see us through

The lord will see us through some day 

Oh, deep in my heart, I do believe

The Lord will see us some day

We’re on to victory, we’re on to victory

We’re on to victory some day

Oh, deep in my heart, I do believe

We’re on to victory some day

We’ll walk hand in hand, we’ll walk hand in hand

We’ll walk hand in hand some day

Oh, deep in my heart, I do believe

We’ll walk hand in hand some day

We are not afraid, we are not afraid

We are not afraid today

Oh, deep in my heart, I do believe

We are not afraid today

The truth shall make us free, the truth shall make us free

The truth shall make us free some day

Oh, deep in my heart, I do believe

The truth shall make us free some day

We shall live in peace, we shall live in peace
We shall live in peace some day
Oh, deep in my heart, I do believe
We shall live in peace some day

 Executive director of King’s Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC), Wyatt T. Walker, once stated, ‘‘One cannot describe the vitality and emotion this one song evokes across the Southland. I have heard it sung in great mass meetings with a thousand voices singing as one; I’ve heard a half-dozen sing it softly behind the bars of the Hinds County prison in Mississippi; I’ve heard old women singing it on the way to work in Albany, Georgia; I’ve heard the students singing it as they were being dragged away to jail. It generates power that
is indescribable’’ (Carawan, 11).         

You can say music is only words set to notes, but when the words transcend past mere written letters to connect heart and mind as one and becomes synonymous  with an action, it transforms the effort into a compelling work by both the writer and those whose voices ring clear.

*"We Shall Over Come"has its roots in the Highlander Folk School. It was first used in 1945 as a protest song by striking tobacco workers in Charleston, S.C..

Sources: The Library of Congress,

Martin Luther King, Jr.and the Global Freedom Struggle

Los Angeles Times,


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