Saturday, September 15, 2018

Overcoming Professional Jealousy

Here's a topic that is uncomfortable and sometimes embarrassing and can be utterly debilitating.

It's also something that is widely prevalent in publishing although seldom spoken about.

Unless you are living the existence of a "hermit" writer--perhaps living in a shack in the woods with no Internet service, maybe a small herb garden, and perhaps a couple of wiener dogs...

(Sorry, I got side-tracked by my fantasy life!) are aware of other authors.

In fact, once you get going with marketing/promotion you realize that comparing yourself to others is actually part of the process.

Who are your "comps?"

That's how publishing companies market you. They compare you to similar authors and market you accordingly.

The downside of this is that you are in danger of having your ego crushed when you discover that similar authors sell more/have better reviews/win awards/[FILL IN THE BLANK ABOUT ANYTHING THAT MAKES YOU FEEL BADLY ABOUT YOURSELF]. 

This is professional jealousy.

This can affect your motivation to write.

Or even to continue with this career.

This is especially an issue in romance publishing where everyone is writing the same themes/tropes, copying each other, jumping on trends. Writing "unique" fiction is not the end-game, which was explained to me in condescending fashion by an agent many years ago.

It's all about the comps.

So, what to do?

First of all, don't feel guilty. It's natural to compare yourself to others, and it's normal to sometimes feel envious of other peoples' success.

But this is the thing you have to remember...

Other people may write the same genre, or have similar interests/branding/series, etc., but no one else can write your book but you.

That's what you have.



That's it. That's what you own. Your story. Other authors might write similar things, even the exact same topic, but only YOU can write YOUR story.

No one else is you. Want to be yourself, not others. Want to write YOUR stories, not someone else's.

Your story is your power. Don't give it up.

Wise words from an old hermit writer...



Wednesday, September 12, 2018

New Ruts in the Road

I realized something this summer.

Writing romance is a default setting for me.

What does this mean?

It means that it has become a habit. When I start writing, I easily slip into alternating hero POV/heroine POV, banter/dialogue, focusing on their relationship. Creating setting as texture. The writing flows easily. It's second nature, uncomplicated, effortless.

The writing has always been the easy part for me.

It's the thinking/planning that's tough.

Writing romance is painless. I've been doing it for twenty years, and so's easy. It's habit. It's my default setting.

I spent months and months working on my current WIP--which is NOT romance--and it became a hellacious struggle.

I couldn't figure out why. Writing the words is usually not such a challenge. But the structure for this book is different, the themes are more subtle. I have a lot more decisions to make. Those decisions were taken out of my hands when I wrote romance.

This summer when I attempted to work on a romance story...voilà! 4000 words popped right out without a sweat.

Forming a 20-year habit means that I have brain pathways that have become extremely ingrained. They are ruts in the road. 

It's tough to make a new path when ruts are already there.

It's also tough to figure out a new writing process when one is already in place.

I'm 52-years-old. I'm forcing myself to make new pathways. I'm forcing myself to find a new process. I'm working on a totally different type of fiction, and there is no default setting for this.

It's all new.

Some days I think about how easy it would be to just chuck this project and go back to romance.

Pop out that word count without batting an eyelash.

But this challenge is good for me as a writer. It's also good for my brain.

I am forcing myself to make new ruts in the road, bushwhacking a new path.

I can do it. But damn, it's hard.

Using this Stephen King quote as inspiration right now...

In the meantime, I did a little re-write for Henry Miller's Daily Program and 11 Commandments. I adjusted it for a mom with kids.

Here's my personal take on his approach...

Henry Miller Daily Program


Henry Miller: If groggy, type notes and allocate. If in fine fettle, write.

Me: Get daughter up and drive her to bus stop.

Get organized for the day: make bed, clean kitchen, start laundry, etc.

Walk. Think about work-in-progress while walking. Make plans for next section. BRAIN-STORM! Walk Time = Brainstorm Time.

Write FRESH WORDS. Aim for 1-2 hours of fresh writing. (This is my best time of day for brain to work creatively).


Henry Miller: Work on section at hand, no intrusions, no diversions. Write to finish one section at a time, for good and all.

What I like about HM's approach...I also like finishing one section at a time before I move on. I need that part settled and fairly well-edited before I can move on to the next section.

However, my brain is not always up for FRESH WORDS in the afternoon...

Me: Do low-brain-capacity errands/chores. Go to post office, pay bills, fold laundry, shop/prep/cook dinner.

For writing: Re-read morning section, do edits, take notes. Possibly work on alternate WIP if I need a creative bump.

MAKE PLAN FOR NEXT DAY WRITING. Think of next scene, section. Do edits/clean up writing. Take notes for next section.

Pick up daughter at bus stop.


Henry Miller: See friends, read, explore, bicycle. Write if you're in the mood. Paint, make notes, corrections.

His extra note: Make time to visit museums, bike rides, sketch, library once a week for research, CUT OUT MOVIES. (hee hee! I think movie-watching was his weakness)

What I like about this: I think it's CRUCIAL to have a life and do things that spur on creativity. Like seeing people, enjoying art/engaging in other creative outlets, travel, trying new things. YES TO ALL OF THIS!

Me: Evening is for family, down-time.

Have dinner, finish household chores. Read, walk again. Walk dog if she's willing. Socialize with friends. Sleep early if possible.

Henry Miller 11 Commandments

1. HM: Work on one thing at a time until it's finished.

Me: I've discovered that working on a secondary WIP in the afternoon is a good break/reinvigorates my creative well. 

2. HM: Don't start a new book.

Me: Agree. I am trying to focus on primary WIP, and back-up project only as needed.

3. HM: Don't be nervous. Work calmly, joyously, recklessly on whatever is in hand.


4. HM: Work on program, not according to mood. Stop at appointed time.

Me: Disagree with this. If you have a family, it's almost impossible. Be flexible. If family needs/health needs crop up, that's okay. If you're exhausted, the words aren't flowing, that's okay. Do other things. If the words are flowing, keep going.

5. HM: When you can't create, you can work.

Me: Excellent advice. Yes. You can still take notes, do research, work on promo, etc.

6. HM: Cement a little every day, rather than adding new fertilizers.

Me: I like this. Tighten up your manuscript/edit as you go along instead of adding tons of new raw words. I like this a lot because it means your manuscript is in fairly decent shape at the end instead of needing tons of edits/revisions.

7. HM: Keep human. See people, go places, drink if you feel like it.

Me: YES YES YES. Drink beer on weekends.

8. HM: Don't be a draught-horse. Work with pleasure only.

Me: This is so true for me. The magic happens with joyful writing not forced word count.

9. HM: Discard program when you feel like it, but go back the next day. 

Me: Good advice.

10. HM: Forget the books you want to write. Think only of the book you are writing.

Me: Slightly disagree. If you have creative inspiration for something, take notes and keep a file folder for later on.

11. HM: Write first and always. Painting, music, friends, cinema, come later.

Me: I don't completely agree with this. Sometimes you need these things to replenish the creative well and then the writing flows better. Trying to force words when they're not happening is like lying in bed trying to force yourself to sleep when you have insomnia. Sometimes it's just not happening. That's okay. Do something else for a bit.

I would love to hear from all of you! What do you think about Henry Miller's advice? Is it important to stay a bit flexible?

Have any of you worked on establishing new brain pathways for your writing?

Let's chat!



Monday, September 3, 2018

Quick Pickles!

End of summer project...quick pickles!

This is for 3 mason jars, but you could double/triple the recipe easily.

3 cups water
1 cup apple cider vinegar (or white vinegar or white balsamic vinegar)
1 T. sea salt
1 T. peppercorns (I used green and black)
1 T. mustard seeds
1 T. coriander seeds
fresh dill
bay leaves
garlic cloves, peeled
Veggies of choice...I used cucumber, green beans, carrots, and biquinho peppers.

Mason jars, washed and dried. They do not need to be sterilized since these will be refrigerated.

Make brine: Put salt in a pot with vinegar and water, bring to a boil. Remove from heat and allow it to cool while you chop your veggies, etc.

In a small bowl, mix together peppercorns, mustard seeds, coriander seeds.

Line up mason jars. Put a couple of sprigs of fresh dill in the bottom of each jar. Add 2-4 garlic cloves, according to taste. Add 2 bay leaves and 1 T of spice mix.

Pack in veggies. I sliced cuke with skin on, trimmed beans, sliced carrots. Kept the biquinho peppers whole. You could also add hot peppers for more kick!

Pour the cooled brine over the veggies and seal with lid. Put into the refrigerator and wait at least 2 days to "marinate."

This recipe said the jars are okay for 6-12 months, but I'm not sure about that. We kept our jars for about a month. Delicious!

Ready to go!

Dill, garlic, spices, bay in the bottom!

Fill up with veggies!

Pour brine mixture over veggies.

Add lids. See photo on top!




Wednesday, August 29, 2018

A Round of Applause for the Good Guys

I saw some frustrated sentiments on social media this week, and I thought I would chime in.

This pertains to the world of publishing, but it could probably apply to almost any profession.

It's human nature to crave the satisfaction of "fair play." 

We like to think the good guys will win, and the bad guys will lose. Unfortunately, life doesn't always work out that way.

It's incredibly frustrating to see folks who lie, cheat, and steal get ahead and "win."

There are plenty of folks in the publishing world who are engaged in shady business...slick, manipulative, and unethical marketing techniques; plagiarism; copying brands, story concepts, book ideas. Folks lie about their true identity, use people under false pretenses, ghost people when they're finished.

And then...there are people who DON'T do these things.

People who are transparent, who come up with their own original story/branding concepts, work hard, and engage in above-board promotion.

It can be really discouraging to see the folks who engage in the crappiest behavior rise to the top of the pile.

It's especially discouraging if you are on the receiving end of some of this bad behavior.

It's even more discouraging when you and all of your ethical behavior are not accomplishing the same level of success.

I have two bits of wisdom about this...

1. Redefine success.

It's a dangerous thing to define success in an art field by the numbers.

Number of books sold. Amount of dollars earned.

And yes, I consider writing an art.

I know there are folks who only see it as a business enterprise, and plenty of writers who depend on their income to live.

But the slippery slope here is that if you see publishing romance novels only as an unlimited cash cow, you are creating a monster. There are folks who will push that to the limits. And beyond. They think nothing of crawling over other people to get that magical pot of gold.

If you are an author who is clinging to ethical behavior, I have a few things to say to you. Things you might not hear a lot...


Great job!

Way to go!


Excellent work!

Your success does not need to be defined by numbers. You need to stop comparing yourself to others. 

This leads me to Bit O' Wisdom #2...

2. Own your path.

Comparing yourself to others is extremely unhealthy in this business. You will never be proud of your own accomplishments, because someone out there has accomplished MORE. Bigger things. Better things. And not always by honest means.


If you are committed to being transparent, authentic, and hard-working...good for you.

Own it.

Don't worry if you don't make a million bucks this year.

Be proud of who you are and what you are accomplishing.

The two most important things in a writing career--in my humble opinion--are quality and integrity.

If you can stick to these principles, and also sell a million books, do it.

If you can't, that's okay.

Be your authentic self, and own it.

Sending out positive vibes to the good guys...


Tuesday, August 7, 2018

Summery Update Part B

Hubby on Annual Fishing Trip!

Q: Dear Nina, what's been going on in your neck of the woods?

A: A whole bunch of stuff!

1. Hubby did his annual fly-fishing trip to British Columbia. See photo above. He caught numerous fish and had only one near run-in with a family of Grizzly bears. Success!

2. Took the family to Portland, Maine for a quickie summer trip. Here are the kids in Cape Elizabeth...

And here are a few pics from the GREATEST botanic garden, the Coastal Maine Botanical Gardens in Boothbay. I fell madly in love with this place.

3. My hubby took me to Newport, Rhode Island for my birthday. We had a lovely tour of The Elms, and then had a lobster roll for lunch. Happy Birthday to me!

4. I flew to Pittsburgh to visit my sister and mom, and to give a talk to the Three Rivers Romance Writers. It was so much fun to see my family. Favorite activity: dressing up in crazy outfits and dancing to Madonna. 

The Roth Girls Reunited

5. My office make-over is pretty much complete. It involved cleaning out the junk, painting the walls cheery yellow, and redecorating with colorful, quirky items.




Much better!

6. My main gardening project has been harvesting the overgrown raspberry bushes. Yummy!

7.  Unfortunate Home Apocalypse: Not sure why, but my house starting falling apart this summer. Fence broke. Phone broke. Washing machine broke and flooded basement. One AC broke and leaked through ceiling. 2nd AC broke and leaked through ceiling. 3rd AC leaked...onto carpet. We're about 3/4 of the way through fixing things, removing things. The biggest project was removal of wet, moldy stuff in the basement. It took 2 days, multiple dump trucks. But the deed is done!



8. What are you guys doing this summer? Any fun trips, gardening projects, home projects? Let me know!

Love to all, 


Monday, August 6, 2018

A Few Summery Updates: Professional (Part A)

Time for A Few Summery Updates: Professional (Part A).

Part B is Personal Updates...coming tomorrow.

Part A: Professional 

1. My first announcement has been a long time coming. 

I have decided to temporarily retire "Penny Watson."

What does this mean?

It means that I have a boat-load of stories floating around in my head, but they are not romance-driven. They still include love and friendship and romance, but they are not fitting into the "romance genre" box anymore.

My interests have changed over time, and my writing has changed over time. 

I finally realized that the reason I was struggling so much with my current WIP was that I was trying to squeeze it into a box where it did not belong.

So, I stopped squeezing. And I just let the story unfold organically in my convoluted brain.

And I realized it wasn't romance.

Furthermore, all the other stories I was working on were also struggling to break free. The whole idea of the main storyline following a central romance was no longer the driving force for my creative ideas.

And that's okay!

My voice is still the same. Quirky, whimsical, optimistic. But I have other ideas to explore, and other types of formats to try.

My current WIP will be published under my real name, Nina Roth Borromeo. It includes twelve-year-old characters and their extended families, a bit of a paranormal twist, and a funky format. There is plenty of humor and whimsy and quirkiness (think Wes Anderson movies), as well as a serious reflection about the relationship between humanity and nature.

I will keep you updated here about my progress and eventual publication date.

If you would like to check out a sneak peek of BLUE, here's a snippet.

Thank you for your support and patience and all that good jazz!

P.S. I'm not totally closing the door on PW. It's possible she might crank out some more stories in the future. Never say never. xoxo

2. Speaking Updates...

I had a busy spring and early summer. I gave a talk to the Southwest Florida Romance Writers group about creating a unique writing plan. What a great group of writers! I love it when there is a lot of discussion, and this group was so engaged and thoughtful.

I also chatted with some high school students about writing novellas. They were highly interested in the romance world and asked many questions about publishing. 

Finally, I visited Pittsburgh and enjoyed a low-key chat with the Three Rivers Romance Writers group. They are lucky enough to meet in the charming Sewickley Library. We talked about self-care for authors and simple living. They were right on board with mindfulness and meditation and being kind to ourselves. Really enjoyed this day!

Now for some disappointing news. Unfortunately, I had to cancel my last two workshops of the in Toronto and one in Atlanta. Some family issues have come up, and I will not be able to attend those conferences. I'm really disappointed. Maybe next year? *fingers crossed*

Coming tomorrow...Personal Updates. Includes photos from Maine, Newport, Pittsburgh, my office, my garden, and more tales about the Home Apocalypse. 

Hope all of you are having a good summer!

Love, Nina

Tuesday, July 31, 2018

There's A Monster In My Basement

The first time my basement flooded, I was living in Wellesley, Massachusetts, in a tiny rental house. My husband had just started a new job outside of Boston, and we had a new baby, adopted from the Philippines. 

I was feeling overwhelmed and clueless. My son was one-year-old when we brought him home. What did I know about babies? Nothing!

Case-in-point: At the local supermarket, I went up to a stranger with kids and asked, "WHAT DO YOU FEED THEM?"

She looked at me, and then my son, smiled, and dragged us around the grocery store pointing out blueberries and Cheerios and string cheese. (File this under: THE KINDNESS OF STRANGERS and MY SON LOVES BLUEBERRIES).

Around that time, the bottom of our hot water heater disintegrated and flooded our entire basement. I stood on the rickety basement stairs and surveyed the carnage with tears in my eyes. 

My voice cracked as I said to my husband, "What are we going to do?"

With not an ounce of sentimentality, he said, "EVERYTHING MUST GO."

I stammered, "But...but..."

Husband said, "It's just STUFF." 


Boxes from college...GONE.

Love notes from college...GONE.

Old books, pictures, everything that was soaking wet was gone.

Because I was so overwhelmed with being a new mom, I just blinked and moved on. I didn't have time to despair over lost things.

Jump ahead twenty years...We are now living in another house.

Summer vacation. I had PLANS. Big plans. I was going to finish AN ENTIRE BOOK. I had visions of me in front of the computer with a cup of coffee and notes about wildlife in Maine and a daily word count that would make your head spin.

And then...

It started to rain from the ceiling. 

First, it rained from the living room ceiling.

Then, it rained from the basement ceiling.

And then, just when I thought typhoon season had ended inside my house, the washing machine malfunctioned and it flooded my basement.

But that wasn't the worst of it.

The worst of it was THE MOLD.

At first I didn't realize there was MOLD. And then I noticed a smell.

A musty, bad smell.

Upon closer inspection, I found colonies of microorganisms happily living in my basement.

I should now take a brief moment to say that although I have no fear of spiders or snakes, I have a thing about...microbes. An irrational fear of stuff I can't see. It makes me feel helpless and afraid and...itchy.


I felt like there was a monster in my basement, growing, laughing, inviting his friends over for coffee.

And my family was living over the monster.

How was I supposed to take care of my family when there was a monster in the basement?

If you're wondering how I was handling this, I have one sentence for you...

I cried making eggs.


The yolk broke.

And I broke.

My son (who is now twenty-years-old) said, "Mom, are you okay?"

My 15-year-old daughter said, "Are you okay?"

My husband said, "You're not okay."

Every night I had stress dreams about my miniature dachshund Lucy.

She was in trouble. She was drowning. She lost all her fur and looked like a strange weasel.

I called the garbage removal service guy, but he didn't call back.

I called again.


My husband said, "He's probably on vacation. He'll be back soon."


Finally, he called back. My last message had sounded rather desperate. He was apologetic and promised to come first thing in the morning.

Have I told you that garbage removal guy is my FAVORITE GUY IN THE WORLD? 

In the meantime, my kids and I donned rubber gloves and attempted to organize the monster in the basement.

We started to go through "the boxes."

My son said, "Is this a box of my homework from first grade?"

I nodded.

He grabbed the box and chucked it onto the garbage heap.

Clearly, he was lacking sentimentality just like his father!

"Mom, never save homework."


Finally, we sort of gave up. It was obvious the mold had spread over almost everything, and so everything had to go.

As I sifted through the boxes, it was like going back in a time machine of my life. Things from high school, college, grad school (the kids laughed at my old computer), married life, when the kids were babies, and on and on.

And it all went onto the garbage pile.

I was numb. How could I throw away my life?

When I made this pathetic observation to my neighbor, she said, "This is a good thing. Your life is your family, and you take care of them every day. You don't need the stuff in the basement. You get to throw away all the junk and start fresh. This is a cleansing."

I thought about what she said.

A cleansing.

Sort of the ultimate decluttering project.

Did I really need my son's kindergarten drawing?

My wedding dress from 1990?

Antiques I bought in grad school?

I thought about our dinner the night before, which involved a hodge-podge of mismatched food items and plenty of jokes. How nice it was.

Just hanging out with my family and living in that moment.

And it had nothing to do with my puffy wedding dress from 1990.

I have to admit, when the garbage guys were all done, and my basement was EMPTY, I felt...calm.

The fear and stress were gone. Maybe that whole thing about emotional well-being and decluttering is real! 

Cleaning the basement was a symbolic cleansing, as well as a literal cleansing of my mold-infested basement.

And...interesting that it was the basement. The foundation of my home. And my life?

Am I starting over?

I am currently in the process of shedding my Penny Watson persona and writing as Nina Roth Borromeo. And switching from romance to something totally new and different.

So, yeah. Sort of starting with a fresh foundation.


Another thing I learned this summer...I'm usually the go-to person in my family when problems crop up.

I'm the rock. The calm one. The rational one.

So when I started crying about broken yolks, I wasn't sure what was going to happen.

Guess what happened? Everyone else in the family stepped up. My kids slapped on rubber gloves and cleaned the moldy boxes. They calmed me down. They made me laugh.

My husband told me a story about living through a typhoon in Guam, when their house flooded with water up to their waist, and they lost electricity for MONTHS, and needed food/supplies brought in.

And he said to me, "Guess how much mold we had then?"

Horrified, I nodded and thought to myself, "This isn't so bad."

My husband calmed ME down and made me believe everything would be okay.

Which it was.

And my daughter made the observation, "It's like mom and dad just switched places," and that was true.

It made me feel safe and good, knowing that when I needed it, my family had my back.


And so, here we are. With an empty basement, and a chance for a fresh start. 

And hopefully no more stress dreams about Lucy.

And a very grateful mom, who knows she has two fantastic kids, and a grateful wife who appreciates her husband of almost-30-years.

I don't recommend starting a mold colony in your basement, but I do highly recommend a life-cleansing if you need it.


Happy Summer Days,