Suspense in the Novel

“In any work that is truly creative, I believe, the writer cannot be omniscient in advance about the effects that he proposes to produce. The suspense of a novel is not only in the reader, but in the novelist, who is intensely curious about what will happen to the hero.” Mary McCarthy


Having finally completed the three volumes of the Beryl Series, suspense still hovers in my mind like a pesky gnat. Even though the hero, Megan McEller, is set free from the ethereal forces plaguing her throughout the three volumes, I’m still wondering if I should follow her into the future.

When I began writing Dancing Naked in the Rain, volume one, Megan was a complete mystery to me, but as I began piecing her together, I could see she was nothing more than a ghostly figure of myself — not just the bland figure of Theresa Cavender, but, perhaps, maybe someone more complicated, someone more daring, someone more intriguing, someone who wants to experience more in life, maybe like many of us would like to do. And, as I wrote, she unfurled onto the page all by herself. Not only that, but I loved the suspense of not planning her future (I’d tossed my outline aside).

In Stars Walking Backward, volume two, Megan was indeed my hero. She’d taken a risk in her professional life, weathered a torrid love affair, dealt with desertion, searched for a lost love, and endured the torment of the supernatural, which was no small undertaking — and, by the way, with no urging of my own.

With the completion of Voices in the Dark,  volume three, I’ve come to realize that writing provides the opportunity to create something new of myself. It doesn’t matter if the story is age old. It doesn’t matter because it’s borne from a new perspective. Mine.  How else could I become that beautiful, intelligent, somewhat crazy, and daring woman? How else could I face rejection, hardship, and daunting voices from the past?

Several readers have asked me what I have planned next for Megan. The truth is I’ve felt somewhat determined to wash my hands of her with the completion of Voices in the Dark. Yet now, a year later, I can still hear her humming in my ear. And, yes, I am intensely curious.




We Work in Our Own Darkness



We work in our own darkness a great deal with little real knowledge of what we are doing.–John Steinbeck

Yesterday, while I was wallowing in the on-going drama of Voices in the Dark, (Vol. 3 of The Beryl Stone Series) the back of my mind continually rolled into the action with a steady reminder I was going to have to end this horrifying situation for Megan, the main character. It has been an on-going dilemma for a number of months, and she wanted out as much as I was eager to end it all.

Well, Mr. Steinbeck, out of my darkness, the conclusion to that dilemma suddenly appeared with the addition of only a few lines of dialogue. All the characters were as shocked and delighted as I was.

And that’s how most of my stories go.

I suppose that’s not entirely true, when I begin a novel, I do have an overall picture in mind, and, following standard procedure, I even outline the basics of the plot. But, I’ve never followed through with any outline I’ve made because in the process of writing, a better idea surfaces, and I go with it. As yet, I have never gone back to the original or subsequent outlines. I haven’t figured out it I’m just too damn lazy or if I enjoy the thrill of not knowing where I’m headed.

As Kurt Vonnegut said, “It’s like making a movie: All sorts of accidental things will happen after you’ve set up the cameras . . . all these opportunities will show up.”

And when the opportunity showed up yesterday as I was wallowing in despair about how to end Megan’s ordeal with Muoghda (one of her ancestors from the past), Megan says to her husband:

“Jake, he’s finally going to be at peace. Don’t you see? We won’t have to worry about him anymore.”

And that ends my story of Muoghda, I’m happy to say. And, since Laura never showed up for a tête-à-tête again, we never learned how it was she’d ended up with the diamonds, but I imagine that another story in itself. (from Voices in the Dark)



I know it’s totally confusing to you. I guess you’d have to be there.

So, to all the outlining writers out there: You must be a heck of a lot smarter than I am. Some of you just know where you’re headed from the very beginning.  I still haven’t figured out how to make that process work. I just let it alone. The characters seem to do the work for me. The darkness works for me.

Damn Near Impossible: On Writing


For God’s sake, don’t do it unless you have to … it’s not easy. It shouldn’t be easy, but it shouldn’t be impossible, and it’s damn near impossible. (Frank Conroy)

Hard to believe that a writer as well-known as Frank Conroy would have the same feelings I do, but that’s what he said. Conroy, who published only five books, including Stop-Time, which was nominated for the National Book Award, said that he had to reread everything he’d written the day before so he’d know what to write next. I feel pretty happy about that, Mr. Conroy, because that’s exactly what I find myself doing on the rare day that I can force myself to sit down long enough to get back into my main character’s head. Spending hours trying to figure out how to squeeze out just the right words, seems like a big waste of time.

Conroy also believed that the work leads the writer. Amen! I’ve been saying that for years. But what I want to know is why it’s leading me so slowly? Admittedly, Dancing Naked in the Rain, took me five years to write—a bit of an exaggeration, but close enough. The main character, Megan McEller, did manage to prod me along more quickly in the sequel, Stars Walking Backward, and, together, we managed to complete that journey in half the time as Dancing Naked in the Rain.

Now, the third of the trilogy, Voices in the Dark,  is a romantic mystery beginning with Megan’s struggle to … oh, never mind … just read Voices after you finish the other two. That is, if I ever finish it. Once again the written word has me staring at a blank sheet of paper—a bit of an exaggeration as it’s well over 50,000 words, but I just wish I could write faster—that it would come more easily. Conroy is right. It ain’t that easy.

Staring at the Page

So I must end with the words of another well-known writer, the playwright and poet Richard Brinsley Sheridan. He was Irish, by the way, just as I am. At least Irish blood runs in my veins, along with German and English. Anyway, he said you write with ease, to show your breeding,/But easy writing’s vile hard reading.

Hooray! Maybe I’m doing something right.

Trout Fishing (or, if you prefer, self-publishing)



something stinksSylvia Plath said that “nothing stinks like a pile of unpublished writing.” You might say it’s a bit like a pile of smelly fish. Well, I’m holding my nose around my desk right now. I’ve been piling up the pages the last few years and (duck my head) have even self-published a couple of novels. They’re published, but it still stinks!

Admittedly, I’ve ventured on an agent’s doorstep only once, and that was before I’d finished my first novel. She said she didn’t think there was a market for what I’d written. So I trashed it and started over again. That stinks!

On Self-Publishing

On Self-Publishing

I’ve gotten caught up in the self-publishing venue now, or what I’ve recently decided is Trout Fishing. Actually, I thought the term appropriate. You see, I got the idea from Richard Brautigan. I’ve never met the man, but he was well-known for his novel, Trout Fishing in America, and used the term quite freely. Thus, I’ve decided that until my novels start to sell to the general public, I’m just Trout Fishing.

To be truthful, Trout Fishing offers a bit of satisfaction even if it is what 200some might call poaching, but, let’s face it, this is 2013, and in just the past week, there were more books published than in the entire year of 1950. Excuse me, but my line’s getting tangled up with someone else’s right now … .

Back to Richard Brautigan: In his day (1945-1984), he wondered if “what we are publishing now is worth cutting down trees to make paper for the stuff.” And he was talking about the stuff written fifty years ago. He didn’t have a clue about the twenty-first century and self-publishing … uh, I mean Trout FishingJust think, though, he wouldn’t have to worry about the trees. We have Kindle.

The truth is I really do love writing, but I don’t care much for marketing … it just takes up way too much time. Believe me, I have better things to do (I won’t bore you with the details), but my days are full enough without all the social media.


However, if you’ve read this far, you might want to take the time to check out my books on Amazon and/or Barnes & Noble. You might even want to read through the reviews.

Dancing Naked in the Rain is Vol. I of The Beryl Stone Series.

Stars Walking Backward is Vol. 2.

Voices in the Dark, Vol. 3, is still swimming around in my head. Actually, I have completed about one-third of it, so you have time to read the other two before I start Trout Fishing again. Hey, what’s a person to do?

Anxieties and Desires & Then Some: Writing Advice

instead-of-writing-down-your-next-idea-draw-itI’ve been asked several times how I came up with all of the ideas for Dancing Naked in the Rain.  At first I said that a walk through a Celtic graveyard in Scotland gave me the basic idea–but, when I really think about it, I realize that’s not entirely true. That experience eventually became the nucleus for the setting, but, to be honest, I believe it’s a combination of forces that catapults the basis for most writing.

Iris Murdoch, an Irish-born British author and philosopher, best known for her novels about good and evil, sexual relationships, morality, and the power of the unconscious, says that “Any writer is inevitably going to work with his own anxieties and desires. If the book is any good, it has got to have in it the fire of a personal unconscious mind.” And I definitely agree.

Writing Advice Tip #1: Combining Desire/Experience

Both of my novels, Dancing Naked in the Rain and Stars Walking Backward,  grew out of a number of my own desires and anxieties. First of all, and, most obviously, my desire to write sneaked its way into the life of my main character, Megan McEller. At the beginning of the novel, she resigns her job as a teacher and takes off to Scotland to begin her life as a travel writer. Well, I didn’t resign my job as a teacher. However, as soon as I retired, I began writing, got stuck, took a trip to Scotland, and was fortunate enough to visit the very farm where I knew my story would begin.

However, this is where desire ends and experience moves in. As soon as we began the tour of a five-hundred-year-old farmhouse, my mind began spiraling. Everything I looked at, the big, cold rooms, the fireplace, the old wooden table in the kitchen, and even the pictures on the wall began to take on new life in my mind. I knew immediately that the setting for my story had begun to take shape. A desire to travel may have led me to Scotland, but the experience itself was a major influence in my story.

Writing Advice Tip #2: Combining Sexual Desire/Experience/Imagination

Sexual relationships? Yep. We all have those–and what would a good romance novel be without them? Or, for that matter, what would ordinary life be? No one ever asked me about that, but, one reader said she figured I had a wild affair while visiting Scotland. “It was just too realistic,” she said. I was flattered. That’s what I call good writing and imagination. Strangely enough, some of the male readers asked my husband about the love scenes. He just laughed and said, “I taught her everything she knows.” Good answer.

Writing Advice Tip #3: Combining Morality Anxiety/Experience-Imagination

Morality. This one’s the onus for most anyone. I don’t care who you are or what you do, morality’s going to poke its head in from time to time.  And it certainly does for Megan. She fights hard to do the right thing, and stumbles once in a while. Nothing serious, mind you, but enough to keep her scurrying between her seemingly unobtainable goal and the temptation that almost, at times, seems the easiest solution to her problems.

Writing Advice Tip #4: Good and Evil Anxiety/Unconscious Mind

Just as Murdoch says, and we probably already knew, Good and Evil are also major players in our stories. Where did they come from for me? I’d have to say right out of a Celtic graveyard. I’m serious. Well, maybe that’s part of my personal unconscious mind, I don’t know, but the tour bus almost left without me. I was too busy playing with the spirits that were swirling around me. Fortunately, I didn’t get caught up with any of the evil ones, even though I’m sure they were there. I’ve left that to Megan.

When it comes to the Unconscious Mind, I have to say, it’s a wonder. If it hadn’t been for the slippery edges that worked their way passed my conscious into my stories, the entire experience wouldn’t have been fun or interesting. I say, “Sit back and let the unconscious mind rule.” It’s not easy, but it can be done if you’re willing.

We all have desire and anxiety, but if we’re going to be successful as the fiction writer, we’re going to need a heavy dose of imagination, and, at least, some basic experience. So sit back and relax. You’ve got it in you. You’ve just got to ignite that imagination and let the sparks fly. Happy writing!


Are my first two novels good? Absolutely! Dancing Naked in the Rain won an Editor’s Choice Award AND a FIRST PLACE WIN in the 2010 Indie Book Awards Contest, Romance Division. And, my editor says Stars Walking Backward is even better.  I think that Iris Murdoch would like them. There’s definitely fire within the pages. I guarantee you that.


Readers Reviews—–

“A teacher and a traveler, Theresa Cavender brings a lifetime of experiences to this tender tale of a love strong enough to overcome an ancient curse dividing two haunted hearts.”

“I didn’t want to put it down.”

“I just finished the book.  It was bewitching!  I just couldn’t put it down once I got going. Your imagination is amazing.  Will there be a sequel?”

“Wanted to let you know I really enjoyed the book. It’s one of those books that I’d complain about if it was turned into a movie. I have very strong visuals of the country farm, the characters, the cairn, etc. Funny, we’ve been wanting to head to Scotland for the golf history, but now I know I’ll have something to do, too. Also, from the very beginning, I could tell something wasn’t quite “right” with how drawn Megan was to Jake, but you didn’t give it all away. I kept thinking I was imagining it, very cool.”

”Mom just finished your book and said it was fabulous.  I’m next!!  Congratulations.  I had no idea.”

“I just wanted to tell you that I finished your book.  I enjoyed it a lot.  I must say, it’s very well written and it makes me realize just how difficult it must be to write a decent book!  My hat is off to you.”

“Thank you so much for visiting and sharing your newest creation. I took it home Thursday night and finished over half of it and have NOT been able to get back to it’s…grrrrt…I’m getting ready to put on my jams and finish. IT’S GOOD!  VERY, VERY GOOD! You’re word pictures are amazing and you have a story that keeps me engaged with characters I really like. You fleshed them out, and made me care about what happens….I am soooooooo trying not to read ahead. (yes, I know…it’s a bad habit of mine)”

”I received 5 emails from staff saying how much they enjoyed your Thursday visit. I really think our staff needed this time to share and make community and…serendipity…you were the catalyst! After many of us finish reading, please promise to stop by for a visit. It will be a great post read time with the author. Congratulations to you Theresa! I look forward to more published success!”

”I finished this book almost overnight. Loved it! I’m ready to book a trip to Scotland! Beautiful love story, and without giving toooooo much away…I really enjoyed the supernatural twist that added intrigue. Characters had breadth and depth and I hope there are more books to come. This author knows how to tell and write a good story. Very well written and just enough description to let you get to know the characters and want to meet them again.”

“Finished the book, loved the book!! Imma gonna dance naked next time it rains!!”

“Theresa Cavender’s characters are endearing, her prose so natural it seems you are witnessing the story rather than reading about it. If you have a large imagination you will find yourself completely entranced with the Scottish folklore this story is created on. If you have a small imagination you will find yourself caught up with the characters and their romantic endeavors. This romantic fiction story is beautifully written and a very enjoyable read.”

“‘Dancing Naked in the Rain’ is a wonderful love story with an unexpected twist. I truly enjoyed this novel. The author’s writing submersed me in the story and made me feel like I was a part of it. I feel like I have traveled and seen the beauty of Scotland. A very well written and fun read!”

“I ordered this book, with some trepidation, because a friend recommended it. I loved it! I took the book to Costa Rica and really enjoyed reading it. The characters are well developed. There is intrigue, a good amount of mystery and some magic too. It is well written with some limited but thoughtful references to classic literature, and if you know Jungian archetypes— reflects some classic concepts. It can be read and embraced on many levels. But you don’t need to know any of this to enjoy the book. I have already passed it on to a friend.”

“I heard about this book through a friend, and when I had the chance to read it I couldn’t put it down. I was extremely impressed with the author’s ability to make me feel like I knew Megan, and hoped she would overcome the tragedy that faced her. The writing style is absolutely beautiful! A true author!”

“Megan and Jake’s story is very compelling. I really had to find out what happened to them, and I enjoyed their Scottish love story. I was hooked by the adventure that Megan faced when she left the ordinary world of her classroom to move across the world to Scotland to have a different life. Becoming involved with a handsome hunk who’d been cursed was icing on the cake! You’ll want to jump into Dancing Naked in the Rain” and experience this wonderful story for yourself.”

“Dancing Naked in the Rain is a wonderful love story in which you become involved with the characters as the plot unfolds. It is written in a way that as you read the words, your mind can visually explore the setting. There are twists and turns that make the reader want to continue the book to see what will happen next. I highly recommend this book to others.”

I thoroughly enjoyed it!  It was a good read.  Do you have another on the back burner?

Review Links:

Austin Writing Examiner 

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Writing Thinks for Me

MM900046559Writing the third book of my trilogy, The Beryl Stone Trilogy, has been an experience quite opposite from the first two. Dancing Naked in the Rain and Stars Walking Backward were an experiment of the unknown. All I really knew was that the main character, Megan, was a part of me. She personified that missing piece in my life that was clawing desperately to be seen–not particularly for anyone else, but for me.

Strange as it may sound, I didn’t know myself. Hidden deep within were little pieces of a puzzle that hadn’t found their place in the big picture. This isn’t unique. I think there are a lot of people who have been scurried into a life and then live it bravely. I’m also aware that many rebel and fight furiously to replace the missing pieces.

Writing showed me who I wish I’d been all my life–someone willing to take chances (without fear–well, maybe a little, but not the kind that stops you dead in your tracks and shoves a dream away to a place hard to reach). I’m not talking about dare devil stuff–don’t care to be Evel Knievel or Harry Houdini.

In Dancing Naked in the RainMegan puts down her chalk (yes, she’s a teacher just as I have been) and dares to attempt her dream. (Hence, the title, daring to do something a bit out of the ordinary.) Aww, rather slobbery, I know. But I think you’d probably agree: when we look back on our lives, we realize that there are things we wished we’d done.  I always wanted to write. Of course, there’s a difference, I don’t think I even knew how much until I began Megan’s adventure. See, I told you I didn’t know myself.

In Dancing Naked, Megan’s off to Scotland, writing her way across the Highlands, when she meets a man and circumstances that make her dig deeper within herself than she knew possible. She finds she must be not only a lover, but a detective, an explorer, and, yes, even a bit of Knievel. (When you’re dealing with the underworld, you either tuck your tail and run or brazenly attack the unknown.)

My apologies to Shakespeare, but Why didst thou promise such a beauteous day,/ And make me travel forth without my cloak/To let base clouds o’ertake me in my way,/Hiding thy bravery in their rotten smoke? Yes, I’ll blame it on the smoke, all those excuses that hamper the way.

In Stars Walking Backward, the second of the series, Megan’s tested again. Just at the point in life when she is ready to settle in to enjoy her dream, her stars begin taking steps in the wrong direction. So, she’s off again on another adventure, and this time she’s without not only her cloak, but also without her wizard. Whoops! Did I say wizard? Well, he’s not really, but he’s something like that. Guess I shouldn’t have told you that.  After all, I  don’t want to spoil it for you. However, I will give you a hint. He’s really there. She just can’t always see him.

Now I’m working on the last of the trilogy. I’ve entitled it Voices in the Dark. And, again, there’s a valid reason for that. You see, Megan has been curious about her Irish ancestors for some time, and she feels that since she is living in Scotland, searching for information on her ancestors would be most timely and convenient.

I had a heck of a time figuring out how to let her do this and keep it interesting for the reader. I contemplated, mused, and talked about it obsessively with my husband before it came to me. Yes, it came to me after I’d read a non-fiction book that a gym friend suggested. It’s funny, after I read the book, I decided it hadn’t helped me at all, but it was right after that that my idea materialized (in my head, of course). The idea was nothing like the book, but somehow it led me to a wonderful idea. And, I am now letting those voices in the dark be heard.

I’m a bit resistant to reading other novels like mine. I just don’t want to be influenced by them. I figure if I don’t read them, I won’t have that problem–obviously. I know, I know, I hear all the time that I should read this author or that author. I just can’t do it. I know how it is. My sneaky little mind would wrap onto an idea and then convince me it was my own. I want it to be mine. Just mine.

As I continue to write, I learn about myself and, somehow,  I learn to think. Oh, my goodness, I’m hearing my teacher voice. How many times have my students and I sat and talked about a piece of literature? How many times have I steered the discussion to the why’s and the how’s of critical thinking? Many, many times. They learned and were better off for it. And now I’m learning.


“The Less You Write, the Better It Must Be” –Jules Renard




Oh, Jules Renard, could that possibly be true for me because I seem to be writing less and less, especially now with Christmas approaching. After having read an article about how we writers should keep a log of our dreams, goals, time we spend writing, how many words we write per day, hour, week, and year, etc., etc., I just have to shrug it off. Writing 1500 words a day every day for a year while logging every minute will supposedly produce 5 plus novels. I can’t imagine in what condition such novels  would be, certainly not worth reading if I wrote them. So, who out there can write 5 novels a year and still be sane enough to brag about it on December 31st?

Maybe it’s just sour grapes. I finally finished my second manuscript, Stars Walking Backward, and it took me a year. Of course, I didn’t write every day. In fact, some weeks I didn’t even sit at the computer. I tend to work in the garden, clean house, wash and iron, dance naked in the rain, go on a trip,visit with friends, or whatever else strikes my fancy.  There’s this little place in my mind that says I’ll get to it tomorrow. Yet, when I write, I’m in heaven, wishing I’d do more of it.

So for now, I’m going to support Mr. Renard’s theory–the less you write, the better it must be.



Starting With a Memory

Holding Glasses over BibleAs children we are reared on stories of faeries, superstition, and magic—all sorts of fantastical myths. Why? Because myths are important to our culture, our values, and our belief system. They’re simply resplendent with lessons of life. And I think you would agree that we don’t outgrow the need for them.

Picture yourself as a child, sitting on your parent’s lap, storybook in hand. Hmm, let’s say it’s the classical story “Pandora’s Box.” Colorful pictures show a gruesome Zeus handing over a box to Pandora with the strict warning “Do not open the box.” HA! Well, we know what she does—and, more importantly, why. It’s all about curiosity. She, of course, opens the box and releases all the miseries of the world. Can’t you just see them flying out of that forbidden box and onto the splendidly illustrated pages of the book? And even today this archaic myth has meaning in our own world—one that could stir up a bit of discussion, don’t you think?

Nietzsche, the controversial but well-known German philosopher, believed that all stories are myths. And it’s partially true. Think back to your school days … to your classroom. Remember your English teacher harassing you with questions: What is the meaning of this story? What is the significance of so-and-so’s actions? Why do you think the author uses this setting? Well, you know what I mean. And I know that as you read novels today, some of those same questions come to mind. Well, okay, at least some of the time.

With that said, I would like to share with you how my novel, Dancing Naked in the Rain, came to be written:

Many years ago (actually three), a lady who had always dreamed of becoming an author finally sat down to begin her first novel. And she wrote and wrote and wrote. She wrote 50,000 words (enough for a short novel). But she knew it wasn’t the book she wanted to write. So, she wrapped a rubber band around the stack of papers and threw it in a box in her closet.
Then she went on a trip to England’s Lake District and the Scottish Highland. She walked walled cities, explored Roman Amphitheatres, and marveled at 14th century wood carvings of dragons, kings, angels, human caricatures, and monsters. She walked 50 million-year-old valleys and lakebeds and reread Wordsworth’s “Daffodils” as she sat in his garden overlooking hundreds of the golden flowers “fluttering and dancing in the breeze.” She walked the bonnie banks of Loch Lomond and even peered into Loch Ness with the hopes of a glimpse of the monster. But what really caught her fancy? No, it wasn’t the Cairngorms or Pitlochry or Edinburgh or Inveraray Castle. It was an unscheduled stop in a Celtic graveyard.

‘Woven from the many centuries of decayed debris of fallen limbs, leaves, and sphagnum, the soft earth sank like a richly nubbed carpet under her feet. The woodsy scent wafted up to fill her nostrils, carried by the simultaneous disturbance from her physical presence and the wind’s sinuous movement. She breathed in deeply, delighting in the fragrance. The towering trees whipped above, casting flickers of sunlight and shadow. She spread her arms, leaning back, her face tilted towards the sky. She fancied something, maybe some spirit …’ –from Dancing Naked in the Rain.

Anyway, that experience filled her (that’s me) with ideas, ideas that would speed my novel’s protagonist on to an adventure of her own, one involving an unfulfilled dream.
So I returned home and pulled my manuscript out of the box. In the end, I axed 20,000 words and added 60,000 more, spinning my story out of the Scottish folktale “Tam Lin,” a story that should definitely be one of our own. In the tale of Tam Lin, a young laddie is stolen by the faeries, and a lassie, as luck would have it, decides to save him because she decides she must, yes, I say must have him. (You know how that story goes.) In the process, she suffers through many horrific trials. Sound familiar?

Amidst the struggles of the young lassie in “Tam Lin,” as with the struggles of Megan McEller, the heroine of Dancing Naked in the Rain, is a moral, a lesson to be learned—that anything worth having is worth fighting for. You can choose to ignore the lesson if you like. The story is still entertaining. If you choose to look deeper, you’ll find some questions on my web site to help you along the way.

I wish you the best. Hold on to your dreams and don’t let go—no matter how many monsters wag their heads.