24 August 2011

Another Leap

Dear artists, agents, and publishers,

More than two years ago, I decided to set out on my own as a freelance editor through my company, Bluebird Works. Now, it's time for me to take another leap. It’s time for me to focus on my own writing projects. To this end, I am officially shutting down Bluebird Works and hanging up my editing hat as of August 31, 2011.

Many thanks to you all for your support over the years; I hope we'll continue to keep in touch as I move into this new phase of creative life. You can reach me from now on via my author email, karalareau@me.com, and you can follow me via Facebook, Google+, Twitter, and my new author-centric website.

Be well and be creative!

-Kara : )

02 August 2011


As many of you know already, I'm on sabbatical for the rest of the summer, so my blogging here will be few and far between. Please refrain from sending along submissions for the time being; I'll be sure to make an announcement when I'm ready to get back to work.

Also, FYI, I've decided to create a more author-centric website, as I take a step away from my editorial pursuits. Be sure to visit me here.

Enjoy the rest of your summer!

21 February 2011

A Timely Quote

Experience is not what happens to you. It is what you do with what happens to you. —Aldous Huxley

15 February 2011

Eulogy for Ralph

Written for my grandfather's funeral last May. Posted in honor of his birthday today.

He was a quiet man, someone who did his very best to listen, even if he couldn’t always hear. He was someone who commanded your attention when he spoke. He was a self-made man, someone who liked having an active mind and busy hands, and he inspired us all with his work ethic. He was a patient teacher. He was an excellent dancer. He knew how to mix a drink. He knew how to grow a good tomato. He knew how to have a good time.

He liked to fish, and to golf, and to play cards, and to feel the sun on his face. He was always eager to offer anyone his help. He was generous, with his money, with his hands, and with his heart; it is safe to say that just about everyone here has benefited from his altruism. He gave his family not just everything they needed, but MORE than they needed. He liked to wrap his gifts, especially the expensive ones, in newsprint, empty peanut butter jars, and old cereal boxes. He hid dollar bills under our dinner plates, and waited, gleefully, for us to find them. He liked to surprise us. He liked a good joke, even if it was at his own expense. He liked to peel and eat grapefruit while watching TV. He liked to eat steamers dipped in butter, particularly those he dug up himself on Cedar Beach, when it was legal, and sometimes when it wasn’t.

He was resourceful, and he could fix anything. He loved music, and he could play any musical instrument you put in front of him. He had an extraordinary mind for numbers. He had an extraordinary heart, which was strong enough to love all of us for over ninety years. He lived through the Great Depression. He was a cancer survivor. He had a beautiful, wavy head of hair, which turned white later in life, perfectly matching the white slip-on shoes he liked to wear.

He had a difficult childhood. He was a cocky teenager, until he met a woman who set him straight, for the most part. He was married to that woman, to Louise, for over sixty-nine years, and he showed her he loved her every day of their life together. He liked to be his own boss. When he couldn’t find the right tool to solve a problem, he made his own. He loved his calamari calabresi. He loved taking us out to breakfast. He loved puzzles. He loved raisins, even if they reminded some of us of chitamales. He hated when seagulls did their business on the roof of his house. He disliked air conditioning. He seemed happiest in the summertime, with his family around him.

He smelled like a combination of garlic and olive oil and WD40 and the ocean. But mostly garlic. Always garlic.

Like the scent of it, of garlic sautéing in our family’s kitchen, he was strong and comforting and welcoming and enduring. He continues to endure in all our memories of him, in all the things he was to all of us who knew him, respected him, and adored him as our brother, our husband, our father, our uncle, our grandfather, our great-grandfather, our neighbor, our friend. Our Papa. Our Ralph.

03 February 2011

The Getaway

At a certain point in my revision process, I was feeling stuck. I was at the very point in the endeavor where I was far enough in to feel overwhelmed, but not far enough in to be able to see the light at the end of the tunnel. What did I do? Well, I have a few tricks up my sleeve for getting unstuck, but one of my favorites is "the getaway."

This can take many forms. Most simply, I put the work to the side and distract myself with something else — checking email, poking around on etsy, blogging (how meta!), or making myself a snack. Or it can involve getting out of the house altogether, going for a walk around the block, or going to my neighborhood bakery for a latte and a croissant and some creative thinking time. Or, every once in a while, it can mean taking my writing with me, and changing the scenery altogether.

A few weeks back, I made a date for one of these mini-retreats with one of my writing buddies. Not everyone has the time or the opportunity or even the inclination to join a writing group, but I do think it helps to align yourself with at least one person with a similar goal, who makes you feel inspired. This particular WB had the inspiring idea of a field trip to the Redwood Library & Athenaeum in Newport (pictured above), a gorgeous, quiet space where we could get some writing done. Turns out, I managed to meet my three chapter revision quota, revised an extra chapter, did some useful journaling, and went back and noodled with an earlier scene — and my WB was able to relieve herself of a sticky revision problem. By putting ourselves in an elevated writing environment, my WB and I elevated our creative sensibilities. And by getting ourselves away from our normal surroundings, we gave ourselves a fresh sense of perspective.

And then, of course, we treated ourselves to a lovely celebratory lunch. Part of working hard is knowing when (and how often) to treat yourself right.

Do you allow yourself "getaway" time, with or without your writing?

24 January 2011

Creative Nesting

For those interested in hearing about some of my revision experiences, I present the first in a four-week series. (For those not interested, you can stop reading now. Thanks for playing.)

The week before I started revising, I found it helpful to spend some time organizing...or, as I like to call it, "creative nesting." First, I made a To-Do list for all my non-writing tasks. As you may know, I'm a huge fan of lists; they keep me calm, they focus my brain, and I get a certain thrill from crossing things off.

After the To-Do list was made and out of sight, I downloaded Scrivener (at the recommendation of many writing friends), and now that I have the hang of it, I find it indispensable. The program invites you to break up your novel into bite-sized scenes, which makes the whole process seem more manageable, in a Bird By Bird sort of way. And it allows you to keep all your research and notes (family trees, maps, photos, etc etc) on-hand, so there's no toggling between multiple applications. I have a little notebook I keep in my bag, where I scribble down revision thoughts and ideas when I'm on the go, but when I'm at home, I transcribe most of it into my project file.

Also, I love Scrivener's outline function, which boils your story down to its bare bones...it's quite list-like in its way. I used this to plot my revision schedule; looking at how many scenes I needed to revise vs. how many days I'd given myself, I started with a five-chapters-a-week mini-deadline. I later adjusted this to three chapters a week, which feels more comfortable. And so far, I've stayed on target.

For me, organization goes beyond the manuscript itself. I need to feel that my environment is neat and organized, too. So I'm engaged in the ongoing process of cleaning my house top to bottom, starting with my office. I clean and organize a different room or area every few days; there's something about the sense of everything being in its proper place that motivates me creatively. On a smaller scale, merely doing the dishes or a load of laundry or making the bed can give me the peace of mind I need to get back into my story, especially when I have a thorny scene to get through.

So...those are a few of my pre-revision rituals. What are yours? Or do you just jump in?

Next Week...The Getaway

21 January 2011

Quitters Never Win

Have I mentioned I wrote a novel while I was going through chemo? During each of my four treatment cycles, I'd have one good week, and I'd write as if my life depended on it. Because it did. Really, keeping my mind active and focused on creative pursuits helped me get through the not-so-good days, and there were more than a few of those. When I was feeling particularly crappy, I'd just remind myself, "Your story is waiting. And another good week is coming."

Before I knew it, I'd finished a draft. This seems like an accomplishment in and of itself, but of course, it's just the beginning of the process. And now that my treatments are behind me, and I'm on the road to recovery, I have a revision to face without the same sense of immediacy. I have a lot of experience helping other writers with their novel revisions, but this is relatively new territory for me. For those who have been reading this blog for a while, you might remember I finished a draft and attempted a novel revision (for a completely different story) about a year and a half ago, before I got sick. At a certain point, I got stumped by a fundamental flaw in the story, and then I psyched myself out, and set the story aside.

I've realized this is my m.o.; while I consider myself a go-getter in every other part of my life, when it comes to writing longer fiction, I've been a low-down, dirty quitter. Over the past few weeks of this new year, I've looked through my old project files, and guess what I found? The beginnings of no fewer than FIVE novel first drafts. And many of them are not terrible! I think I've just lacked long-term confidence and focus. Also, I have a tendency to get discouraged just when things are getting challenging, aka interesting.

Well, NO MORE, I say. This time around, I absolutely refuse to quit. And I refuse to allow my precious creative energy to be compromised by fear or insecurity, or the unwillingness to make my own writing a priority. From now on, I'm going to do whatever it takes to keep myself motivated, and positive, and brave.

Are you with me?

12 January 2011


I always like to start the year with about ten resolutions, knowing I have about a 30% retention rate. Already, I can see a few clear winners and losers, and at least one I shouldn't have attempted in the first place. Not necessarily in this order:

1. Revise at least one of my novels and send it to my agent. Slowly, carefully, sometimes painfully, I'm making this happen. This weekend, I'm going away on a mini writing retreat with a good friend of mine, and hope to make some serious revision headway. More on my progress (and my revision process in general) next week.

2. Exercise every day. This one's easy; per my physical therapist, I HAVE to do a series of specific exercises every day, to keep my arm and shoulder limber. Beyond that, I actually enjoy the treadmill; it's one of those places, like the shower, where I let my mind go. That's when the best ideas happen. Recently, I had a client who needed some ideas for a new title for her novel. I hopped on the treadmill and had 4 or 5 ready to go. (Mind you, they weren't GREAT titles, but they were a good jumping-off point for further brainstorming.)

3. Be up by 8:30 each morning and in bed by 11pm each night. This is a tall order. So far, I'm mastering the "in bed by 11pm" part pretty well. Not so much for the "up by 8:30" part. Maybe I'm just not meant to be an early bird; sometimes, we just have to accept who we are (and aren't).

4. Drink more water and less coffee. I don't know what I was thinking. Have I even met me? I can't even quit the decaf.

5. Travel. Fact: I have not been on a vacation longer than a long weekend since the summer of 2000. That includes my honeymoon. It's clear I really need to get away more than I usually do, and experience some new points of view. Where should I go this year? Any ideas?

6. Eat more healthily and locally. Farmers markets. Thoughtful shopping lists. Local dairy with delivery service. More grains and legumes and fruits and vegetables, less sugar and fried food, no red meat or fast food or HFCS. I can do this. And now that my arm is feeling a little more mobile, I actually feel like cooking again. Last weekend, I cleaned and re-organized my pantry, which sounds pretty mundane, but was an extraordinarily satisfying experience. It was also when I came across the petrified gummy bear pictured above. Bye-bye, little ursine sugar-blob!

7. Entertain more often. If you know me, you know I love a party. And yet, we rarely entertain at our house. Why is this, when there is so much in life to celebrate?

8. Live more simply and frugally. An ugly secret: we maintain a collection of disorganized, unused stuff in our basement and on our second-floor landing. Some of it is still in boxes from when we moved in! Finally, I think we're ready to face our surplus, and let go of most of it. I can't wait to turn those over-stuffed areas into usable space. And I'm looking forward to living a more unencumbered life.

9. Read more, watch less TV. This may seem like a no-brainer, but really, there's just SO MUCH brilliant storytelling on television. Don't believe me? Watch the last season of Dexter, or Men of a Certain Age, or Damages, or Nurse Jackie, or Friday Night Lights, or Mad Men. And then there are my own personal faves, the true crime/forensics shows, like Most Evil and City Confidential and Forensic Files and Cold Blood, or the recent stunner The Will: Family Secrets Revealed. See what I mean? It's a wonder I get anything done! Thankfully, I bought myself a nice, big, juicy stack of books for Christmas, and I maintain a running list of "must-read" titles — which is now a good deal longer, thanks to this week's ALA Youth Media Awards announcements. But having great books on-hand is only half the battle. The other half is gifting myself with time for pleasure reading. In general, I'm going to try to be more generous with myself this year.

10. Keep writing. Believe me, I'm workin' on it.

Have you made any resolutions this year? How are you doing with them so far?

04 January 2011

Onward and Upward

Happy New Year, everyone. I don't know about you, but I was ready to put 2010 in a drawer as of...oh, probably last New Year's.

Now more than ever, I'm in a very "onward" sort of mood. I have lots to do and lots to look forward to this year, and I can't wait to get to it all! I've been organizing and list-making, doing everything I can to give myself the peace of mind I need to make it all happen. I'll post a list of my "resolutions" next week, and then I'll take you behind the scenes and show you some of my favorite organizational tools. This month, I have a whopper of a novel to revise; I'll be talking about that process, too.

In the meantime, I thought I'd let you know that I'll be back to work at Bluebird Works as of February 1. If you think you need some editorial assistance, take a look at my website and drop me a line. I'm eager to help, and I have plenty of creative energy to spare!

K : )