The Spocktastic Blog

A Journey Through My Mess

I woke up this morning inspired to write. I knew my direction but I also felt like I needed to find the notes I took at a session at the 2018 Romance Writers of America convention in Denver. I could not remember the name of the speaker, but it was about writing for your id. It was a great session and gave me permission not to try so hard to break out of the aspects of romance I enjoyed but worried were cliche. I shouldn't be different for the sake of being different. If it feels right to me, it will feel right to my readers.

The problem I have is that I have loads of spiral note books and I use them for all sorts of things. Which one I write in depends on which one I grab when I pack my bag. I do dress sketches for Irish dancing. I take notes on staff meetings. I write outlines and scenes for whatever is in my head that day, no matter what actual project I'm supposed to be writing. It's a mess. Most of the notebooks are half-full but not in any sort of sequential order. Some of them include ten pages at the back. Usually the very act of writing it down means I'll remember and then type it out later, but I don't do this with notes from events.

As I looked through my notes I found such stand alone, with no context at all, statements as:

  • 200+ years of rape.
  • Bags of seed save the day.
  • "I trust you" is the highest honor you can give someone.
  • Boob situation/solution?

I found World of Warcraft fan fiction that I'd forgotten about interspersed with teaching notes I never followed up on. The collection of notebooks went back to 2012 and one of the pages includes my attempt to turn the Batman image into Celtic knot work. I found pieces of a chapter based on the characters from Shakespeare and became inspired to work on the that project (something shelved four years ago so I could finish the manuscripts that needed it) then found notes for my actual work in progress that inspired this search through my notebooks in the first place. Thank goodness that got me back on track.

I did what I should have done in the first place and shoved all the book back onto my bookshelf to go through another time when I wasn't in the I NEED TO WRITE NOW mood. But first I took a picture.

The crazy thing is that I know there are more somewhere.

I did a search online after all of the fruitless digging through spiral notebooks and found the answers to all my questions -- but this puts a damper on the sense of urgency I had while looking through years of randomness. The speaker was author Dr. Jennifer Barnes. This post from Eight Ladies Writing summed it up well and gave me the basic list I was looking for. The blog post author, Jilly Wood, wrote that, "Stories or scenes depicting sex, touch, beauty, wealth, power, competition and danger push our pleasure buttons." Wonderful. Question answered. My journey through years of random notes/writing only served to let me know I needed to be more organized.

Posted on Saturday


Erin Kane Spock


On Sep 8, 2019 at 12:36 PM
Susan Kane said:
keeping and finding all those notebooks was serependious. And that you now have insights and questions answered is even more amazing.

This is amazing. Where now?
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Historical Costuming

I had a wall of Rubbermaid containers in my room, four long, 3 high, for about two years.

My husband hated it.

Let it be known that it was his fault. He brought them in from the garage because he wanted me to sort through them and thought putting them there would inspire me to get it done. He was wrong--I just couldn't bring myself to do it. Besides the fact that going through them would lead serious allergies and require a good days commitment to having no bedroom, it also meant coming to terms with the fact I would never wear those costumes again. That's right, those bins were FULL of Elizabethan lower nobility costumes, early reign and the remnants of the fabrics I used in their construction. Each gown was the product of hundreds of hours of work, much of it by hand. Each gown was a reminder of the wonderful times spent at the Renaissance Faire* as a lady in the court of Queen Elizabeth. Each had been meticulously researched, designed, and constructed based on portraiture of the period, Patterns of Fashion 3 by Janet Arnold, and the guidance of costuming mentors within the guild. These gowns (I had a few men's suits too) represented some of the first times I let myself be proud of work I'd done. Yes, there were plenty of mistakes, but when I wore them I felt accomplished. No false humility--I'd made something from nothing and I felt great about it. (Note: not all of the costumes were 100% historically constructed. I made modifications for the ease of dressing since I don't have servants.)

This year I finally went through the boxes and, as I knew I would, gave almost all of them away. I donated them to a dear friend who will see they find good homes and, hopefully, be worn again. It's bittersweet, but it's okay. I keep telling myself that. At least my bedroom has a functional window again.

I may not be participating in living history events for the time being, but my love of costuming has an outlet in my historical romance. You would be amazed at how much I had to cut out of Courtly Pleasures to make it readable. The False Lady Beatrice, my current work in progress, has a mixture between courtly fashions and the functional clothes of the peasantry. I'm having fun with the dichotomy and what that says about Beatrice's identity.

Just for fun, here is a short video showing the steps to dressing Queen Elizabeth I.

Fun random facts about my costuming adventures:
  1. I once constructed a corset with a lace up front flap to accommodate nursing.
  2. I made my 18 month old a full dress (coral pink, pictured below) and, since it was so small, built it as a single unit. It worked out great so I decided to make one for myself (also pictured below). The dress weighed over forty pounds and was so unwieldly it was difficult to store and required three people to help me dress. Bad idea.
  3. I sewed pockets into my petticoat and could access them from the front split in my overskirt. 
  4. I used large zip ties as boning in my corsets and plastic coated laundry line wire on my farthingale. Super not period.
  5. My favorite bumroll was bright yellow and looked like a banana. I called it my butt banana.
  6. I kept one costume, the one that came in first place at my faire's costume competition. There's no way it will fit now, but it might someday. Maybe. 
  7. My computer doesn't recognize the word 'unwieldly.' Farthingale and bumroll make sense... but unwieldly? It's not an unusual word.

My daughters, ages two and three. I did not include oversleeves, corset, or farthingale because, you know, the age two and three thing. I wanted these to be light, breathable, and to be able to throw these in the wash

Circa 2009
I am in the gray dress (it's the awkward, one-piece dress mentioned above) dancing with an actress portraying Mistress Anne Vavasour.

*Faire: yes, I know it's spelled wrong, but that's how my Ren faire spelled it to make it olde English-y.

Posted on Thursday


Erin Kane Spock


On Aug 8, 2019 at 5:15 PM
Susan Kane said:
knowing how much detail that goes into such a creation, I wonder how long and how many seamstresses it took to put together just one dress?

It must have been really really difficult to cut out some the knowledge you have about that time period. It certainly gave you a true understanding of the culture.

Your babies are so cute! They look like little princesses!

The final dress (blue) is exquisite. The queen comes in as a second in this photo.
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Courtly Scandals: Abortion

When I started Courtly Scandals, one of the defining parts of Mary's life was her abortion.

The story grew as she struggled with forgiving herself, not because of any philosophical discussion of right or wrong, but because she'd wanted that baby and hadn't been strong enough to defy her father. Opposite to today's definitions, she had no right to chose what to do with her own body because she another person demanded she have an abortion.

I changed the story at a well established author's advice: she said I would alienate readers over a controversial issue. It made sense to me, but I wanted to keep the meat of the problem. It was integral to the story. I changed it to have her lose the baby in a traumatic accident before going through with the abortion. The choice was taken away from her but she still blamed herself for not being strong enough to stand up for herself and mourns what might have been. In the scene where she shares her story with Blanche Parry,  Blanche doesn't bat an eye because it's not a unique situation, but that doesn't change how Mary felt about herself. Mary, that was her moment of no return. Rational or not, a feeling of guilt was true for her.

Whether a reader was pro-choice or pro-life I had hoped that they could accept the struggle to come to terms with trauma from the past. Mary's personal journey was to learn to love herself and realize she is worthy of love. Part of that involved her being able to forgive herself, right or wrong, and move forward with a sense of hope. Personally, I believe there are things in everyone's lives that they have to either ignore or to forgive themselves for everyday. They may have nothing to do with varying ideals of morality or law, just choices from the past that each of us have to live with.

I have had varying responses and ended up alienating readers anyway. The moral of this story is that you can't please everyone. All readers have their own filters and I can't control that. I can just tell stories and stand behind them. I don't regret putting Mary on this journey. As an author or historical romance I like to link the past with present and show that the people that paved the way for our society were not that different from ourselves, that nothing is new.

Posted on Wednesday


Erin Kane Spock


On Jul 10, 2019 at 12:38 PM
Susan Kane said:
Wow. Wow.

This is such a powerful move to make, to bring that issue/event to the reader's awareness. This is a move that absolutely had to make itself out there. In romance novels, abortion and/or miscarriage never or seldom happens. I think readers want the straight-lined romance to happen. But this is what could happen in that road to love.

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Back on the Grid

The last time I blogged was in March. That's also when I deleted my Twitter app.

March was when the RITA finalists were announced and none of them were black. Romancelandia in Twitterverse exploded in rage and accusations. As it seems to happen more and more each day, reasonable concerns lead to vitriol and extremist views. There was no gray area and I found that people I had respected in the writing community were truly toxic. I tried to continue to be active online and NOT engage. The problem was that both sides of the discussion triggered an anger response and I didn't need that in my life. I deleted Twitter. I stopped posting on Facebook. I backed away from the Romance Writers of America and did not go to chapter meetings. I just couldn't.

Since then I've been a serious reader. Yes, of course I always have been a reader but since I started taking publishing seriously I stopped reading for myself and read for research. That took the joy out of it and made it a chore. So I started reading non-romance so I could just read. I went through almost everything Neil Gaiman, Brandon Sanderson*, and Marie Brennan. I have an hour and half commute every day so many of these were on Audible and Neil Gaiman narrates many of his books so I got to feel like I knew him**.

I didn't read a romance until just recently when my preordered copy of Say No to the Duke by Eloisa James arrived. I'd forgotten I'd ordered it. I hadn't seen the newsletters or promotions. It was like a surprise gift in the mail and I read it in a day. I read for joy. It reminded me about why I loved romance. Everything about it spoke of healing and optimism. It made me laugh and cry. Yes, I knew there would be an emotionally satisfying happily-ever-after but I never rolled my eyes or yelled at the book on the journey there.

I write this blog post out of genuine optimism that romance is a place I can find escape and solace again. I am certain that Eloisa James does not need my support or any additional blips on her Google alerts. She's made it as a romance author and this book will be successful with or without my review. That is not the purpose of this post.  This is a celebration of the genre and the hope that is woven into the stories, the hope that was stolen by anger and bias in the industry. This book revived me and I am so grateful.

So I'm back on the grid again.

*Not including the Wheel of Time books. I read those as a young adult before I really understood the misogyny implicit in all of Robert Jordan's depictions of women. Maybe Sanderson elevated it, but I read those so long ago that I don't care to reacquaint myself. Though I do chuckle every time Sanderson has one of his characters blush furiously. I've used that one in my own books as a joke with myself that I wouldn't expect anyone but my brother to pick up on.
Addendum: Maybe I should give them a chance because, after all, Sanderson is awesome and his heroines are awesome.
**I think if you read enough of an author, you do get a peek inside their brain. Don't worry, I have no illusions that Mr. Gaiman and I are buddies. I was excited to learn, however, that he and Tori Amos are friends. It answered the question about who the Neil she referred to in her songs was. When I realized that I felt like I had learned some GREAT TRUTH but no one else was excited about it :(.

Posted on Tuesday


Erin Kane Spock

Label: motivation


On Jul 3, 2019 at 2:51 PM
Susan Kane said:
Quite a few discoveries.

Taking a step or two away and filling yourself up with reading good stuff is the way to go.

Gaiman is great, a little peculiar, but great.
On Jul 3, 2019 at 5:00 PM
Lynda R Young said:
Reading a lot is good for writing too. Just saying ;)
And welcome back to the grid.
On Jul 4, 2019 at 8:32 AM
Elizabeth Mueller said:
Thank you for commenting on my blog, I appreciate your feedback on my social media article.

I whole-heartedly agree on people taking on extremist views and being so toxic. I'm wavering about my decision on remaining with FB for that very reason. I try to avoid reading comments on news articles, youtube, and other places because the average person is so toxic! In this world full of individuals, they sure like to spew poison when it comes to anonymity. Do they *really* think this way? It makes living in this world feel unsafe with so many masks running around, right? **shiver**
On Jul 4, 2019 at 8:36 AM
Elizabeth Mueller said:
I just sent a request for that book to add to the local library's collection. I sure hope they honor it!

Also, I love romances!!! le sigh
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Sneak Peak of a Work in Progress

I lived in Glanmire, Co. Cork, Ireland from 1985 to the summer of 1988. My grandparents owned the Vienna Woods Hotel and my family operated it. We lived in a bungalow at the top of the hill, above the hotel and surrounded by woods. We kept the wood open and maintained the paths. Some of the growth was ancient and some ornamental from the time the hotel was a private home. It was an amazing place to grow up.

I take terrible selfies.
I concentrate too much on the mechanics.
My husband, two daughters, and I visited Ireland this past summer. My eldest daughter, then thirteen, was the same age I was when we left. I tried to share my experiences but the hotel and grounds had changed so much that I felt very little connection and the lack was heartbreaking. I had built this homecoming experience up so much that nothing could have matched the expectation. The saddest part was that the wood was completely inaccessible and even the main opening at the top of the hill was blocked by dumping. One owner at some point had used the wood as their own private waste
disposal for debris from expanding the hotel (it is now about 3 times the size of the original structure). For the record, the hotel was in great condition, the staff welcoming (surprisingly so considering I was probably really weird), and the restaurant experience great. We stayed in a vacation bungalow.

I need to go back and spend time not being a tourist and just let myself experience Ireland slowly, day to day. I know I will and soon, but in the meantime I hold on to memories of belonging that I never had again after moving back to the states.

One of my manuscripts in progress is set on the grounds of the Vienna Woods (although morphed for my creative use because a writer I am all powerful). The premise is that a woman returns to the Ireland seeking the connection she'd had to the land, an elemental power within the earth, something that pulsed through the forest itself. Due to disrespect and greed the forest is in peril and with it the spirit that feeds nature itself. This story is a paranormal romantic suspense with only the seeds of my own life experiences at its core. This is The Gift meets Quiet Man meets Avatar and is quirky and creepy and endearing all at once. I look forward to actually finishing it to my satisfaction (I have finished it  twice now :(, but both went in the wrong direction).

Click below to read a selection from the manuscript when Gillian first steps into the wood after thirty years away.


Tendrils of blue electricity glowed and crackled, hovering over the misty earth. Reaching with fingers of light, it sought her out. Gillian watched, mesmerized, unsure if she should run away or give herself to the power one more time. Fear and excitement paralyzed her and all she could do was wait as the living lightning snaked closer, a pulsing stream of incandescence, kinking and curling as it crawled.
All she had to do was show herself, take two steps into the open, and it would touch her, filling her with its earthy energy and memories, knowledge of things she had no right to know. It was tantalizing and, she shivered, scary. Really, really scary. Whenever it happened, she never knew if she would ever find herself again. Then that last time…
Gillian blinked against the still bright sunlight of the summer evening, the memory of the old dream fading as reality settled in. No longer a child hiding from some fantastical floating light, she knew better now. Experience of years, too many years, schooled her in the harsh realities of life. There was no magic in the forest and never had been; her dreams were based solely on the over-active imagination of a child.
The last time she’d stood here, holding her breath in anticipation at the lower mouth of the woods on the once-paved carriage path of long dead aristocrats, she’d been a teenager in tears about leaving Ireland. Now, a thirty-five year old widow with a daughter in college, she didn’t feel any different. The wood before her was just as dark and ominous, and lush and beckoning, as it had been all those years ago.
Her Wellingtons squelched as she shifted within the sodden indents of the manicured lawn. She tucked a stray wisp of white blond hair back under her bandanna and straightened her gloves, ready to work. With a resolute nod, she stomped forward through the wet morning into the shade of the trees. She had nothing to fear here. She was an adult, experienced in forestry and ready to respect the biodiversity that lay before her. The forest would be her friend once more, if not on a magical plane, then on a basic, fundamental one.
She came to save it.
Gillian crouched low and picked at blistering bark at the exposed root of an old oak, exposing dark sap. Even the soil around the base of the trunk had a fetid stench, something completely foreign to her sensory memory of the wood. The scent she remembered was earthy and green, this had a touch of hot garbage. There was some sort of disease at play she hadn’t seen before; never in her research or hands-on work with the department of forestry in Flagstaff, Arizona. She took a few photographs of the decay, a sample of the staining sap, and made a note of the location for her report.
So much and so little had changed in the wood at Bailey Towers since she’d left. Expansion of the hotel itself meant the forest served as inexpensive waste disposal for the blasted limestone from the hillside. Still, with piles of rubble haphazardly dumped without regard to the growth in the wood, life flourished. If she hadn’t remembered so exactly the paths and rises, she might not have even noticed the dumping ground. Now covered in ivy, ferns, and rampant holly bushes, the rubble blended in. The forest had claimed it with the most basic of motives—life. Now something threatened that life.
Closing her eyes, she tried to remember that sense of connection from all the years past. Silence surrounded her, the intensity of it punctuated by the light thrumming of drizzle on the canopy above. She shook her head and continued her trek back toward temporary shelter from the increasing spring rain. Bluebells, vibrant drops of sky scattered throughout the thick green carpet of the forest, swayed and bobbed in the wake of her passing. This was how she remembered the wood, vibrant and glorious.

Posted on Sunday


Erin Kane Spock


On Mar 31, 2019 at 4:07 PM
Susan Kane said:
The magic of the woods is there, I love it, enjoy it. This will move into a venue where mystic past meets a sobbing present.

I will enjoy it.

Dumping and destroying the woods is criminal.
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