The Real Witchwood Manor

She’s not a stripper. She’s an ecdysiast.

The lady in the fantastic hat (and precious little else) is Gypsy Rose Lee. She was a vaudeville performer, burlesque dancer, and her mother’s second favorite child (of two). Gypsy put the tease in striptease with an act so unique, so elegant and refined that American journalist H.L. Mencken made up a word to describe it. He called her an ecdysiast, which essentially means “one who molts,” because of her slow, one-feather-at-a-time way of taking off her clothes.

In addition to her career as a stripper – no, wait – as an ecdysiast, she was also an actress, a playwright and a novelist. (I believe the phrase you’re looking for is renaissance woman.)

By now you’re probably wondering what any of this has to do with me or my book. That’s a valid question. Here’s what: Gypsy Rose Lee once owned a house in a small town in the lower Hudson Valley region of New York state, which also happens to be my home town. It’s on a main road but it’s set back so far that you can’t see the house when you drive by. All you can see is the sign that spells out the name of Gypsy’s house: Witchwood Manor.

It’s just an ordinary sign, nothing remarkable about it, except that name. It’s so evocative. So mysterious. I remember being a little kid, driving by on the way to the grocery store with my mom, and wondering what it meant. Were there witches in the woods there? Magic? Was there a girl, maybe one like me, who lived there? Was she good or bad or maybe both?

Witchwood Manor has been sitting in my imagination, just waiting for me to figure out the story I wanted to tell about it for a long time. When I started writing Tab Bennett and the Inbetween, I took the name for Pop’s house without a second thought. Then I filled the house with magic and elves instead of witches and added the girl (only she’s a woman now) who would have to figure out if she was good or bad or both before the story could end.

I like to think Gypsy would be OK with that. At least I hope she would. I have a sense that she was exactly the kind of artist I’d like to be: bold, multi-faceted, visionary, and confident enough to take her clothes off in a room full of people and be able to make intelligent conversation while doing so. She’s kind of become my idol and I’d like for her to like what I’ve done with the place.

I’m telling you all this because I want the Witchwood Manor sign. Badly. I’ve wanted it for years. In high school I had a friend who offered to steal it for me. I declined. Last week someone offered to paint a copy for me. I thanked her, but that’s not exactly what I want either. I want that one from out on the road. The only question is, how do I get it – without resorting to petty larceny?

I’m going to work on that.

In the meantime, do any of you know (or are you) the actor Victor Garber? To the best of my knowledge, he’s the current owner of the real Witchwood Manor so I’d imagine he’s the man I need to see.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Deadlines & the Fiction Writer: How to turn Emotional Issues into Motivational Tools

I need deadlines. Without them I will wander around aimlessly, accomplishing nothing, thinking about what to have for lunch. I will call my sister. I will read a book. I will spend whole days looking at pretty pictures on pinterest (Click here) to see my boards but don’t blame me if you get sucked in over there and fail to accomplish another thing all day. But if I know someone is counting on me to be finished by such and such a time, I will be finished. Come hell, high water, or a plague rat where the mouse should be. No exceptions, no excuses. I’ll be done.

“I love deadlines. I like the whooshing sound they make as they fly by.”
– Douglas Adams

Traditionally self imposed deadlines haven’t been nearly as effective for me. That’s probably because without the (nearly paralyzing) fear of disappointing someone hanging over my head, I don’t feel as much pressure to perform. (Readers, these are my staggering emotional problems. Staggering emotional problems, these are my readers. There. Now we all know each other.). But as I’m working on book 2 of the Princess of Twilight and Dawn series,  (Click here for a sneak peak at Chapter 1) of Tab Bennett and the Underneath) I find myself sticking to my schedule, meeting my writing goals (665 words a night), and getting shit done even though there’s no one standing behind me, looking at me with sad puppy eyes and saying things like “I’m not mad; I’m just disappointed.” Do you want to know why? Because of the readers. Because they’re out there in the world waiting to find out what happens to Tab next and because only I can tell them. And I really don’t want to let them – you – down.

“But what about me?” you ask. “Unlike you Jes, I’m well-adjusted and I refuse to be manipulated by guilt. What tools can I use to help me meet my deadlines?” I’m so very glad you asked. When the psychological scars of your childhood won’t get the job done, meeting deadlines comes down to four important rules:

1. Be aware of the deadline: It will sneak up on you if it can. Mark it on the calendar. Circle it. Write it on the ceiling above your bed. Make acknowledging its approach an inescapable part of your day. Whatever you do, don’t lose sight of it.

2. Celebrate small successes: I like to break a project up into pieces so I have lots of little goals to meet. Lots of little goals to meet mean lots of chances to celebrate how competent and trustworthy I am when I actually meet them. (As an aside, there’s a potty training method that works on basically the same principal. It involves letting your child eat lots of pretzels and chips while drinking coke and hanging around the house without wearing any pants. Like toddlers, writers love to do well and be patted on the back for it. Coincidentally, they will also work for salty foods.)

3. Prepare for the other thing: Build a cushion into your schedule. That’s right; I’m telling you to plan for failure. Look, things come up. Life comes up. Sometimes you just can’t get to it. It’s not the end of the world if you’ve planned for it. That’s why I have a cushion. To catch my lazy butt when I fall.

4. No Sleep til Brooklyn: In this case, Brooklyn is your deadline and the one getting the no sleep is you. Stay up late. Get up early. Finish when you said you would.

But what about you? Do you work best with a deadline or do you prefer a more open ended schedule? Do you find those countdown clocks to be an awesome motivator or a terrifying reminder that time is shooting by you at the speed of light. Were you a Beastie Boys fan or was Vanilla Ice more your speed? Tell me all about it in the comments. Maybe we can help each other out.

The Love Triangle: An Informal Poll

People keep asking me who Tab ends up with –  Robbin or Alex. This is a terrifying question because the truth is, just between you, me, and the series of tubes we call the world wide web, I have no idea. Sometimes I think it’s definitely Alex. But sometimes Robbin is so sweet and angry and sexy I begin to think it might be him – in spite of all the baggage. But then I don’t know because I have a sense that Alex has a lot going on that we just haven’t really had a chance to get into yet. And he certainly doesn’t lack for sexy…

I’m never this conflicted. It was very easy for me to decide I am a Team Edward, Team Eric, Team Damon kind of girl. And Logan or Piz? Come on, is there even a debate there?

It’s usually so clear to me. But not this time. So I thought I’d ask around. See what some of you are thinking. It won’t change how things end up for Tab and her small but devoted team of love interests, but I’m curious. So if you’ve read the book and picked a favorite, I’d love to know who and why. Stop by the comments and let me know.

 

PS: Write-in candidates are also welcome.

PPS: You think Tab’s love life is complicated now, just wait until book 2.

 

 

The Writer’s Block

Do you get writer’s block? I do. Often. Honestly, I have it a little bit about this very post. It’s frustrating because I wanted to write it. I had ideas about writing it. But when I sat down to write it, nothing happened. So I checked my email instead. I looked for summer shoes at zappos.com. Then I wrote a sentence, erased it, and bought a sundress. It’s a problem, an expensive problem.

So what do I do about it? Well, for one thing I just put my wallet out in the car. Now in order to buy anything else I’d have to put my shoes on and go all the way out to the driveway. And it’s dark out there. And there might be a bear or something hanging out by the trash cans because we have bears in the neighborhood now. So I’m probably not going to do that. Because, honestly, I’d rather write this post than fight a bear.

“writing about a writer’s block is better than not writing at all”
– Charles Bukowski

Anyway, we were talking about writer’s block. There’s all kinds of conflicting advice about combating it. Some say you should get up and do something else for a while. I tried that once. I didn’t write another word for four years. Some say it’s better to stay at your desk. To keep working even if what you’re writing is awful.

“When I’m writing, I write.
And then it’s as if the muse is convinced that I’m serious and says,
‘Okay. Okay. I’ll come.'”

– Maya Angelou

I’m with Ms. Angelou on this one. Even when I know I have no chance of writing anything I won’t immediately want to delete, I still sit down at the desk. I still make myself type. Even when it’s really hard. Even when there’s something I’d like to watch on TV. When I lack the motivation to get there, these are things I tell myself:

1. You can’t call yourself a writer if you don’t write. If you’re not a writer, you’re a person with a lot of imaginary friends. You are too old for imaginary friends.

2. Robert Frost was right: the best way out is always through. Getting through takes effort.

3. There’s nothing more common than unrealized dreams and wasted talent. (see 1)

4. Everyone gets writer’s block from time to time. It’s a drag. But if you find a way to tip it over, you can stand on it.

5. TIVO is recording your show anyway.

Then I begin to work.  Sometimes I sit there with my fingers poised above the keys, waiting for inspiration. Sometimes I write for two hours and then delete the whole thing. The reward is eventually the words come back and the story gets moving again.

What do you do when you get writer’s block? Do you get up? Stay seated? How do you work through it? Leave a comment and let me know. Maybe we can help each other out.

 

 

 

 

Trust Issues: A Word from Tab Bennett

Lately my life is like a fairy tale. Unfortunately for me, it’s the Grimm kind. The kind where the woods are deep and dark and full of monsters; where a mother’s longing for something forbidden means terrible consequences for her daughter; where the huntsman who takes the princess for a walk in the woods plans to steal her heart – literally – right out of her chest.

I’ve always thought of myself as normal – ordinary even – but that changed after my sister’s disappearance brought some long-hidden secrets into the light, revealing a world I never dreamed existed and a destiny I can’t deny. Now “normal” means wicked subterranean kings and murdered Elvish princesses and clandestine revenge schemes. Instead of planning to marry my childhood sweetheart, I’m fending off a handsome prince’s irresistible advances. Suddenly I’m not a bank teller / college drop-out anymore, I’m a frickin’ Elvish princess.

To get to happily ever after, I’ll have to sort out my trust issues, unravel an assassination plot, and avoid a sociopath with an axe to grind – all without the help of a fairy godmother.