How Working in a Hardware Store Taught Me About Writing

I come from a family that loves to hone our do-it-yourself skills, analyze projects seen on HGTV shows, and critique how houses are built. Since childhood we often stopped by a local hardware store to gawk at some new lighting or the latest DeWalt gadget after dinner out. Asking if anyone needs anything from Home Depot is part of our daily vernacular.

For years I resisted partaking in those, “Well, it’d be better if they’d done this way” musings. My Libra nature doesn’t like hyper critical conversations. But when I started writing my novel, I realized I needed a mind like that. As a result, I’m slowly learning to look at my writing objectively, so I can set up any scene with the right details in mind.

Before 2019 I was a “pantser,” rarely finishing stories because they lacked plot and contained equally aimless scenes. There comes a time in a writer’s life when having too many ideas can completely ruin a story. Next time you’re in a hardware store, go down the nuts and bolts aisle. There’s 3/4 of this lock washer, or you can choose a 5/16ths lock washer. There’s flat screws, rounded screws, Phillips’ and everything else.

When the idea for THE FIREDAMP CHRONICLES was born, I had a few character names, a concept, and my chosen genre. I knew who my villain was, how he came to be, and what effect he’d have on the other main characters. Just like the nuts and bolts aisle. The problem was my research phase, and that continued until my concept became a jumbled mess of “what if’s” rather than a solid foundation for the rest of the story.

There comes a time in a writer’s life when having too many ideas can completely ruin a story.

There comes a time in a writer’s life when one good idea can help correct many bad ideas. After three years of research and “pantsing” through a shelved novella, I realized I had one too many screws. I had to let go of my original villain. I needed to embrace my hyper-critical Hartman genes and take a hard look at everything I’d researched and cut out what I knew truly wouldn’t work. Over-researching is a trap many historical fiction writers fall into, and to this day avoiding that rabbit hole is a full time job. Frustration made me want to give up many times, and that’s when I turned from “pantsing” to “plotting.” Having structure forces me to bring all those nuts and bolts and separate pieces together. It forces me to decide what truly works for plot advancement and what doesn’t.

#writetip: Take a look at your own work and start thinking how one step in the process affects the next, and even the next after that. Is there anything keeping you from writing a pivotal scene? Or some detail that just doesn’t fit a main character, but works perfectly with a secondary character? Don’t be afraid to play around with possibilities, so long as those new ideas add to, rather than detract from, your original concept.

I don’t think I’ll ever stop over-analyzing a contractor’s building choices – after all, I now work in a hardware store. Writers have multiple building blocks and tools at our fingertips, but it’s up to us to decide what we’re going to use and how we’re going to put the story together. You can choose to put a washer and a nut with a screw, or skip the washer and nut entirely. My point is, whether you’re a “pantser” or a “plotter,” whether you prefer a visual representation of your project or a detailed outline, all those nuts and bolts will eventually fall into place and you’ll have a story you can call your own.

Mine will come one day.

I just need some manpower to sort through it all!

Eight Things I’ve Already Researched by Jan 8th

The new year’s just begun but I didn’t take a break from researching at all. In fact, since removing one of my villains late last year, my work level increased ten fold as other characters rose to the challenge. With this change came the need for deeper character development, and the need for more research. No “histfic” writer would be worth their salt if they didn’t dive deep into their chosen time period. As such, I’ve already researched at eight new things that may (or may not) affect the story or my characters in some fashion.

  1. German confections
  2. Secret orders that really existed (or did they?)
  3. Small town populations of Southwestern Pennsylvania in the 1890s
  4. How to candy almonds
  5. Merchant supply lines
  6. A history of American currency
  7. Known allergens in the 1890s
  8. How to create character arcs

With historical fiction, one always seems to take two steps forward and three steps back. And even though my genre is historical fiction, I’d still like things to have accuracy. This way, I’ll know the kind of world my MCs could’ve come from, and the world the’ll end up in at journey’s end. Whether you write historical fiction or another genre, what have you learned so far in 2020?

Music That Drives My Writing – Part 2

You’d think my music choices would be reflected in what I write. There’s lots of sci-fi, fantasy and epic battle music involved. However, I write historical adventure fiction, so I suppose it works for the adventure part? This post is a rehash of one I did earlier in 2019, but things have changed. National Treasure’s and Dragonheart’s themes are still high on the list, but here’s an updated collection of music that drives my writing.

Title: One Million Voices
Artist: Thomas Bergersen
Genre: Epic

Title: Believer
Artist: Imagine Dragons
Genre: Pop Rock

Title: Thunder
Artist: Imagine Dragons
Genre: Pop Rock

Title: Breath of Life
Artist: Florence + The Machine
Genre: Indie Rock

Title: Victory
Artist: Two Steps From Hell
Genre: Film music

Title: To the Faeries They Draw Near
Artist: Loreena McKennitt
Genre: Celtic, New Age

Title: Forgive Me Friend
Artist: Smith & Thell
Genre: Pop/Folk

Title: Federkleid
Artist: Faun
Genre: Neo-Medieval, German folk

Title: Heart of Courage
Artist: Thomas Bergersen
Genre: Epic

I thought I’d end with an oldie but a goody – STAR TREK!

Title: Star Trek Mega Suite: 50th Anniversary Tribute
Artist: Various
Genre: TREK (of course!)

All right. I admit, ten songs is a lot. The problem is I’ve got such an eclectic taste in music I couldn’t showcase just one or two genres. Did you find some new loves or discover some old favorites? What music drives your writing?

My Seven Writing Goals for 2020

2019, for me anyway, was a rather directionless year. Every time I tried to set a schedule, or curb my procrastinator nature, my laziness grew by leaps and bounds. Yes, you read that right. I am a lazy writer. And I don’t want to be.

2020. Not only do those numbers roll right off the tongue, they begin a new decade. My overall goal for the decade is to become a published author (dear God…if I do it within the next ten years I’ll be 44. Excuse me as I have a pre-mid life crisis). I digress.

They say that having seven items on a to do list is a magic, accomplish-able number. I kept trying to think of an eighth, but I decided to stick with seven. Do any of them look similar to your own goals? We shall see! Let’s start with finishing Project Firedamp:

1. Finish Project Firedamp
I recently read somewhere that it can take ten years (or MORE) to finish a writing project. Oh my! I officially began my journey in 2016. So, going into 2020, this will be my fourth year of dramatizing, character building (and killing, ha), outlining and researching. I think that world building for fantasy, sci fi and historical stories are the hardest of all the genres.

It took J.R.R. Tolkein twelve years to complete The Lord of the Rings. Whether you prefer the book over the films and vise versa, you can still see why his story resonates with so many people. I think that every writer strives to create worlds as realistic as Middle Earth.

My story isn’t as fantastical as Aragorn fighting with a horde of cursed, dead soldiers, but one of my other goals within the “Finish Project Firedamp” umbrella is to increase my skill in that department.

2. Tour more historical sites
As my story takes place in the 1890s, I’ve got some fantastic, real locations around my own hometown to explore. The problem is, I haven’t properly explored them as an adult.

When my sister and I were kids, our parents would take us on “Destination Unknowns.” Sometimes they were to historical places around the city of Pittsburgh, sometimes to a Pirates baseball game at Three Rivers Stadium (now demolished and replaced with Heinz Field and PNC Park. See? I can’t help but offer information like that!) At the time we’d get annoyed because we weren’t told where we were going.

If we were told, it’d defeat the “unknown” part, right?

Eventually, Dad stopped taking us on those ventures, but we’d still tour museums, Mt. Washington in South Dakota, etc. when we went on vacation. Here’s something I never told my dad – I think all those “Destination Unknowns” planted this historical adventure seed inside me as a child. It’s waited years to sprout. Now’s the time.

Now Dad’s retired, and my sister’s kids are a bit older. I think it’s time for Destination Unknowns to return!

3. Bring more story themed decor into my home
Although Project Firedamp is set during the Victorian Era, I can’t seem to bring myself to go all ham on decorating my home with the Victorians’ style. Throughout my research journey, it seems like they appreciated clutter, deep jeweled colors with gilded elements, dark polished wood and floral patters enhanced with lace.

As much as I want my writing environment to reflect that setup, my minimalist-centered brain won’t allow it. So I’ve settled on shabby chic; the cheaper(?) cousin to true Victorian style. I can live vicariously through the upper class Victorian ladies in Project Firedamp, and incorporate Victorian-on-a-budget in real life.

4. Visit the Library of Congress for a day
I have family down in Maryland, so it’s entirely plausible that I can spend a weekend exploring the famed, marbled grandeur that is the Library of Congress. During the initial stages of Project Firedamp research, I ran into several road blocks when it came to certain places. When my local libraries had very little on a subject, I discovered the Ask a Librarian link on the website for the LoC.

Let me tell you – they’ve got some fantastic researchers working there! Depending on the demand, and if there isn’t a government shut down happening, they’ll send you multiple links, documents, and titles of books they think will be helpful for your project. Sometimes it ends up going nowhere, but there’ve been times when I’ll open a link and it’s information solves EVERYthing.

So not only do I want to spend a day in those same stacks, I want to see if there’s some crazy book on the upper levels that will point me towards a national treasure.

5. Build a paper organizer
This may seem like a silly goal, but I really want to custom build a paper organizer for my office. Between crafting and writing, I’ve got a LOT of paper. The problem with pre-built ones is, not only are they super expensive, but they come in standard sizes that won’t work in the space I have.

Enter in my job at a home improvement store!

Granted, I don’t get a discount, but I also don’t need super expensive materials to complete the project. Earlier this year I built the table I’m typing on, and put together nearly every piece of IKEA furniture I own (not without at least a LITTLE bit of help along the way). At least, with my organizer, I can specify measurements and cater it to my needs as a creator.

Or it could just, you know, downgrade into this:

6. Write in Tennessee (aka go on vacation)
This one’s pretty self explanatory, albeit a pretty important hope of mine for 2020. I don’t go on vacation as often as I’d like (because priorities), but every few years my family and I trek down to Tennessee and spend a week tucked away in a cozy cabin surrounded by the Great Smoky Mountains.

If you’re a forest person like I am, and that sounds AMAZING, because it is.

Picture writing in a screen-enclosed porch (to keep out the mosquitoes of course, a couple snacks, and the Tennessee summer. If I ever won the lottery (that I never play), I’d buy a cabin in Tennessee and summer there just to write every year.

A girl can dream, right?

7. Hand copy a novel
This may seem like an odd goal; hear me out. If you’ve spent any time online, deep in the trenches of the #writingcommunity tag, I’m sure you’ve seen tweets from folks who do this type of thing. I always thought it odd as well, until I thought more on it.

As someone who knows she has trouble with grammar, hand copying a novel, or even just a few chapters, can help. One of my biggest problems is I’m personally drawn to longer sentences and words used in the Victorian style. However, that form of writing just isn’t widely accepted in the modern age and I’d greatly limit my audience if I went that route.

The challenge with this goal: choosing WHICH novel to work from. I have a couple in mind (none of them are The Lord of the Rings), from a few favorite authors. Maybe I’ll finally figure out why I love them so much!

Do any of my writer goals for 2020 reflect your own? What are your goals? Are you further along in the journey than I? Share some of your thoughts in the comments below and let’s complete some writing goals by this time next year, or even sooner!

Good luck!

The First Ten Bookmarks in My Writing Folder

Quick links, bookmarks and folders, oh my! If you’re a writer who prefers keys at your fingertips rather than a typewriter, then you know exactly what I’m talking about. Bookmarks are incredibly useful things when you want to save a link for future referral in your web browser, or even as an icon on your desktop.

Last night, when I should’ve been sleeping, I decided to go through all, and I mean ALL, my bookmarks. I organized them, deleted a couple dozen, and rediscovered old favorites. As you can see, I’m definitely one of those folder//folder//folder people!

So it got me thinking – what are the top ten bookmarks in my list? Not my most used, as those are in a different blog post you can read here if you like.

For me, these links aren’t even what was added first or last, because I recently alphabetized them. I’m sure you know, just by that, how I keep the books on the shelves in the office! I’m also certain you’ll quickly ascertain what time period my work in progress is set in. With, ahem, many folders to choose from, I decided to go with my Research folder, and skip all the “1892/3” links.

1. “Writing Accents and Dialects” via Quick and Dirty Tips
I apologize for the ad-riddled website, but I suppose they’ve gotta make their money somehow. (I recently had to remove an adblock extension because it was using SO much RAM that all tabs kept refreshing). Ads aside, this is still a great resource for first time writers attempting to capture somewhat difficult character traits on paper.

2. Age.
I went through a phase where I was trying to boil down all my links into one word descriptions, as I hate super long bookmark links in my drop down menus. The proper title for this bookmark is “45 Buttoned-Up Facts About The Victorian Era.” Many things on this list I already knew, but some facts still surprised me. Have a read if you love all things Victorian!

3. Allegheny Observatory
While the history of the Allegheny Observatory isn’t as colorful as the rest of these links, it’s still fascinating. I never knew the observatory’s backstory, and my church attended sunrise services there during the Easter season for years. You don’t have to look far and wide to learn. Sometimes the richest tidbits of history are right outside your doorstep.

4. Gaelic and Irish Blessings
In an effort to be as true to history without falling into the oh-so-cliche trap, I looked up SO many cultural references during my initial research phase. First sad truth: the “trap” is painfully obvious, especially in things like historical tv shows. The second sad truth: while America in the 1800s was a great melting pot of ethnicity and religion, prejudice and separation reigned supreme. Ever wonder why loads of major cities have “German Townes” or areas heavily populated by one group? (Pittsburgh’s Squirrel Hill comes to mind). Okay. I greatly digressed here. Dive deep into the heritages represented in your city and you’ll find out surprising things.

5. The Canal That Made Pittsburgh Great
Modern roadways in Pittsburgh can be treacherous to navigate, but did you know that its historical landscape was full of trains, tracks, canals and rivers? Before my town became known as “The City of Bridges,” it was serviced by all other forms of freight-carrying machines. It’s hard imagining a canal where a popular tourist and commerce destination now sits. It followed E. General Robinson Street and curved around where PNC Park was completed in 2001. Oh there’s some exciting history right there!

6. Phrases & Abbreviations Catholics Use
Growing up in the Christian churches/Churches of Christ, I only ever knew, well, Scripture of course, but we never attended a Catholic Mass or learned Latin phrases. As religion was very much a part of daily life for Victorians, and certainly Victorians in Southwest Pennsylvania, it’s important to know what role religion could’ve played in your character’s life.

7. Historical Emporium – A Victorian Portrait Gallery
Fashion changed constantly, and dramatically, throughout the Victorian era. When my WIP was a three part series, spanning thirty years of history, I’d no idea how I was going to nail down general information like fashion. Of course, that’s what I first thought about fashion; that it was general. However, it’s as intricate a topic as anything else in the era! Sites like Historical Emporium are fantastic resources for historical fiction writers.

8. Victorian Crime & Punishment – The Development of a Police Force
If you’ve done any historical research, I’m sure you’ve come across the name Allan Pinkerton. Heck, there’s even a one season show on Netflix called The Pinkertons (it made me cringe so hard, but it’s there). While we can’t deny Pinkerton’s contribution to institutions like the CIA and FBI, histories of other forces have always fascinated me.

9. Victorian Decorating Colors | LoveToKnow
At one time I was working on a short story web series for this site. If you know any history of the Southwest PA area, you know smog reigned supreme. All I can think about is muck, steel and smoke. What I oft forget is the Victorian’s love of color. One day I may revisit The Gilded Conspiracy. For now, Project Firedamp is my main focus! And it’s time to include some COLOR in with the fire.

10. Delicatessen
Back when my story was going to take off out of New York City, I really wanted to research the history of delis in the United States. Unfortunately, I don’t recall when any of the MCs were going to visit one. Or maybe someone’s parent was going to own a delicatessen in Germany? Either way, it was an idea nixed early on but I somehow saved the bookmark.

And there you have it. The first ten links (so to speak!) in my writing folder. They may not be my most used, but they’re so dang informational that they were never deleted.

What are the first ten bookmarks in your writing folder? I’m curious to know! Happy writing and, if I don’t get another blog up before Christmas, have a safe and happy New Year!

Why I Stopped Reviewing Books

Reviews. They’re as good as gold for authors, publishers, agents and potential readers. While some look for a good story or lovable characters, others thoroughly enjoy dissecting and catching every mistake. How do you find the right balance between glowing praise and hateful cynicism? That’s just one of the many reasons I decided to stop doing book reviews. Here are three more reasons why:

1. It became a failed addiction.
I’ve got this annoying tendency to latch on to something and, very soon after, I lose interest. After seeing loads of others on Twitter post their own reviews of books, it seemed like the popular thing to do. I made journal pages and crafted things for Instagram posts. The reality is, I gave myself more work than what was necessary to complete a simple task. Truth be told, I’ve never been one to follow the crowd. I’ll leave others more eloquent than to shine in this department.

2. I couldn’t decide where to get books.
Disclosing where a book came from should never be a shame-inducing thing. Through working in the retail biz for much of my adult life, I’ve become such a people-pleaser. I want to support the authors but exactly how? I can’t always afford to buy directly from the author or from an indie shop. Did I borrow a book from the library? Buy off Amazon? Get a free copy from NetGalley or ARC before it’s released? Once again, disclosing where I got a book shouldn’t be that difficult. It’s always great supporting authors by buying directly, but many understand that libraries are the only source of literature for many readers. The library was a life saver during a time I didn’t have a job. I’ll be forever grateful for it.

3. How can I provide constructive criticism if I know the authors through social media?
Number three boils down to being able to provide unbiased reviews. Transparency is in a major spotlight these days. Let me explain. One of my guilty pleasures is watching “beauty community” videos on YouTube. These videos include reviews of makeup I’ll never wear, “unboxings” of services I’ll never order, and drama about people I’ll never watch.

A channel I watch recently started talking about the aforementioned transparency issue with his own channel. He spoke on how, if you post something that includes an “unpopular opinion,” you’re almost shunned by the crowd for not being, well, agreeable. It also opens the door to wanting to gain attention for something as simple as, well, a book review.

I realized I couldn’t be unbiased. While networking online is fantastic and gets your name out there, I feel many forget what their original intentions are and never finish what they set out to do. I refuse to be a part of that statistic, and possibly losing friends in the process of writing a review.

For every individual who loves to casually read books, there are a dozen more who have the voice to make public their opinions about the stories. While many involved in the writing process love seeing a physical review (the pros AND the cons), formulating an opinion on someone’s blood sweat and tears, and then compiling it into a coherent summary is not for me.

And so, for my last topic-led blog post of 2019, I’ll leave you with this.
No matter what type of reader, or writer, you are:

How Removing One Villain Solved Everything

I’m one of those people who learn lessons the hard way. It’s a stubborn streak I inherited from three of my grandparents. As much as I love them – thanks guys. Some cycles are harder to break than others. This can be applied to characters you create for stories as well. You fall in love with them, paint them in your mind, and think about them as you work your 9 to 5 job or cook dinner for the kids. But what happens when a character says goodbye? Not you. The character.

Work on THE FIREDAMP CHRONICLES began nearly four years ago. I thought this particular character was, well, brilliant. His storied, embattled past, who his ancestors were and mannerisms. Little did I know my most thought-about character held back the entire story. My own personal villain.

I cried. Literally, not figuratively. I’ve got the “receipts” to prove it. Please excuse the typos – I’m only human!

Emotion is something I don’t oft post online in any manner. However, November 19th, 2019 called for it. I didn’t realize, until today, just how much he was holding everything back. I suppose that’s the very definition of a villain, isn’t it? They’re nefarious, whisper self doubt in your ear, and can be quite ridiculous in the things they choose to latch on to. For years he had me wound so tightly ‘round his finger I couldn’t see potential in other’s stories. So I’ll end this post on a high note. Here’s an embed of the pros of leaving my original villain behind. And maybe, just maybe, he’ll make an appearance in future stories!

When a Character Says Goodbye

I always thought writers were crazy when they Tweeted about their characters “speaking” to them. For the first time since my novel’s conception, I experienced a “sayōnara” moment with my original villain. Now I know what all those “crazy writers” were talking about. And you know what? I’m now one of them. Yay!

The downside to saying goodbye to a villain is, who do I put in his place? An entire plot line is now poof, gone. Destroyed during a ten minute research session on a chilly November Saturday morning. He’s gone after my mind’s played with his family history for three years.

I looked at my villain in the eyes; he looked back. Then he gathered up his crown and jauntily walked out of the story.

Fighting with him, I called him back, reaching for his cape as it billowed behind him in the wind. “NO! Did these past three years mean nothing to you?!” Just like the villain he is, he ignored my pleas, blood, sweat and tears, and disappeared into the morning sun. He left me in the dust. In a pile of words, scenes, plot lines and intrigue only he can solve.

Sometimes characters will do that to you. You’ll discover that they’re just not right for the current story that needs telling. I was going to pull my own form of villainy and out him for his treacherous, turncoat nature but you know what? I think I’ll just lock him in the story vault and feed him with facts of what he hates the most – news that the Union Army won the Civil War.

When Minimalism and Family Clash

Only you can change yourself. It isn’t something anyone else can do for you. The same is true for people in your life. You can’t force them to change to your mindset, because they’ll resist just as much as you know you would.

Where is this coming from? It’s got nothing to do with writing. I know.

Over the past few months I’ve taken on a new minimalism mindset – being thankful for what I have, keeping what’s useful and gifting/donating or storing things I no longer need.

There’s something I’ve discovered about my family recently that I think I always knew, but never quite paid attention to before. We like to hang on to the past. We’re very much set in our ways and we’re resistant to change. I include myself in that because there are some things I’m still working on in my own life.

But when it comes to physical objects, they’re just things. Someone close to me recently expressed “concern” for all the stuff I’m getting rid of and, quite frankly, I was incredibly confused. Example: there’s a neighborhood based website where one can post things for sale or free for curbside pickup, discuss happenings on the block, etc. I put a laptop desk out and came back from work to find it gone. I was happy. I thought some neighborhood kid snagged it for their room. But no. Where did I find it? In said family member’s basement.


I don’t get it. I really don’t. It’s my stuff, not theirs. I don’t understand their need to keep things I’m getting rid of. Subsequently, I shouldn’t be too hard on them either because I *thought* I already let it go. Why should it matter to me what happens to the stuff after it goes away from my house?

I try to think of what I should’ve done differently in that situation – should I have just popped the desk into my car and taken it directly to a Goodwill donation center? That way, it’ll curb said individual’s temptation to hoard the things I’ve gotten rid of? Or do I just let the individual’s piles grow in their basement till someone else gets mad about all the stuff?

And so we return to the opening line of this post: only you can change yourself. But what happens when, in the process of changing yourself, you make others mad?

Seven Single-Use Things I No Longer Buy
62 Things I’ve Decluttered or Stopped Buying

Top Ten Posts of 2019

There’s three more months left in 2019, but with my site’s recent anniversary of being live, I thought this was the perfect opportunity to highlight some of its most popular posts from 2019. Let’s rewind and take a look in the vault and resurrect ten of them!

Read Count: 100
Post Type: Interview

Read Count: 93
Post Type: Interview

Read Count: 33
Post Type: Interview

Read Count: 29
Post Type: Interview

Read Count: 29
Post Type: Informational

Read Count: 29
Post Type: Informational

Read Count: 29
Post Type: Interview

Read Count: 27
Post Type: Interview/Informational

Read Count: 25
Post Type: Informational/How-To

Read Count: 24
Post Type : Interview

I love the analytics my web host provides. It shows me what works and what doesn’t, where I may need to improve and where my readers are from. I’ll admit that I get super excited whenever someone from across the globe stumbles upon these pixels.

So thank you everyone, for making 2019 a great year for! I’ve got PLANS for 2020.