Saturday, May 31, 2008

Beach Bound

In just a few minutes, my sister-in-law and I are heading south, and we’re not stopping til we hit the aqua blue waters of the Gulf of Mexico. It’s a quick trip -- just overnight for my niece’s bachelorette party--but I’m excited. It’s been a long time since I slathered on the sunscreen and hauled a beach chair to surf’s edge.

Years ago, my extended family rented a beach house for a week every summer. It was a trip we all loved, especially after we figured out how not to get on each other’s nerves. My sister-in-law and I would show up with tote bags full of books--hers were mostly mysteries; mine, romance (of course!)--and bury our noses between the pages while we buried our feet in the sand.

I’m not pretending I can get through a tote-bag full of fun reads this weekend--but I am taking one book. It’s one I’ve been salivating over and saving for treat: Kelley St. John’s To Catch a Cheat.

So if you need me, send me a message by carrier seagull. I won’t be answering my cell phone because I’ll be baking on the snow-white Gulf beaches with my sun-burnt nose in a great book. I can’t wait!

What books do you have on your “Beach Read” list?

Thursday, May 29, 2008

Can You Get a Plain Paper Bag From the Library?

Today I asked my husband to return my library books to our branch. He is a sweetie and since he was already going there, he said yes. Then I did the unimaginable, I asked him to get me a book if he saw any that I would like. Yikes! You would think that I had asked him to get some unmentionable feminine hygiene products from the Quik Stop Market.

Normally I get my own books, but I am trying to catch up on things after wrestling with a stomach virus last week, so he was my best hope tonight for something new to read. The man loves me. I know this because he confessed later that he wanted to find me a book about as much as he wants to go and see the new Sex and the City Movie (an excursion that has him threatening self-inflicted blindness with a dull needle if asked to attend) but swallowing bravely, he agreed.

I vaguely noticed that the half hour trip was taking somewhat longer than normal, but hey, I was busy, so I didn't give it much thought. He came home with a bag full of books by Elizabeth Lowell (wow, he did listen last week when I said she was a great author) and another book that I am not sure I will like, but I will try because it has a chick flick pink cover that I am sure embarrassed him to check out.

This simple act, more than flowers or candy, convinces me that he cares. He cares enough to risk his macho reputation with our ever watchful librarian who somehow seems to remember every book we have read. What would she think of him now? Later, he confessed that he had to explain to her that these books weren't his. As final proof, he held up his current, boring non-fiction title that only he and some research student would read. For him the final insult came when our librarian told him to read the books he checked out for me. They were by a good author and it might do him some good. I guess now I owe him big time.

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Stubbing My Toe Against the Box

This Sunday I'm leaving for Gatlinburg, TN on a couple's retreat. While it isn't the first time I've visited the majestic behemoths known as the Smokey Mountains, it is the first time I've gone with fifteen other couples. On my previous trips, I've always returned with great story plots and ideas (well, on my second trip I returned with something a little more and she's just coming out of her terrible-two's!), but this year, I'm hoping to emerge with something different.

When people use the term, "Stepping outside the box", I envision this cardboard box with "Handle with Care" stenciled in bright red letters on the side. Busting out of that box is supposed to be this great accomplishment, but, for me, it's always been a haven. I know the box intimately. It's secure and I'm never the odd man out--or just plain odd--because there's only me inside. But, now the time has come for me to not only "step out", but to blow that box to smithereens! I'm placing myself in an intimate setting where I'll have to open up to people, voluntarily leaving my heart, feelings and pride vulnerable. And, I'm not ashamed to admit that I'm scared to death!

By now, you're probably asking, why do it? The answer: Because it's time. The haven of that box where I've been handled with care is protective only for a little while. If I stay too long it can become a barrier to experiencing new things and new people. I think back on my writing. For years everything I wrote stayed hidden under my mattress--no, really, under the mattress--because I was too afraid to let anyone read the characters I created that revealed pieces of me. But, the day I smoothed those hand-written pages out and let someone read them was frightening, but also liberating. Or, when I decided to join Southern Magic. Entering that room in the basement of the library, where I knew not a soul, was an explosion of yet another box. Terrified? Oh, yes! But, was it time? Most definitely. And, now, I have a camaraderie with some of the most beautiful, talented, creative women I've ever met. So, I don't know what awaits me up on the mountain, but I'm excited in that this-movie-is-going-to-scare-the-mess-out-of-me-but-I'm-still-peeking-through-my-fingers sort of way.

While I can't guarantee that I won't stub my toe while climbing out of that box--and utter all kinds of agitated adjectives--I can promise that when the blue streak clears, I'll be back in Birmingham a better and stronger person for it.

Sunday, May 25, 2008

Memorial Day

Memorial day is tomorrow.

For many, it's just a holiday; an extra day off from work. Sadly, when I was younger (childhood, teens) I never thought about Memorial day much. It just was.

I joined the Army Reserve when I was twenty. I was so young. Naive. Boot camp was an experience I'll never forget. I can still hear the cadences in my head, feel the heat of the Kevlar helmet, the heaviness of the ruck-sack. I joined for a variety of reasons, because I was told I'd never make it (challenges; I just can't back down sometimes), and I needed to find a direction.

Oh, I got direction.

The one thing I was told before I signed, by my mother no less, in joining the military that I was a soldier first; and everything else second. I didn't understand that for the first 3 weeks. It was when I was low-crawling with live rounds being shot over my head that I realized-truly- this was for real.

What was I to do? Could I really be a soldier? Did I have it in me?

In school I studied the wars, from the American Revolution, all the way to Vietman (and now there have been more). While I finished my basic training I understood that America is what it is because of the sacrifices made. Lives; have been lost (and still are being lost) to keep our way of life for some who are grateful and others who are not.

There are many differences of opinion; about soldiers, war, etc. I am not writing about politics-that is something different entirely-I am writing about people who volunteered and those that were drafted that went forward and did what had to be done. Some didn't have a choice, others did.

I had a choice and I accepted it. I knew I could and would be sent forth for my country. I may not always agree with everything, but I joined knowing that I was a soldier; by the time I finished basic training; I understood that. Granted; I am not nor ever will be the best soldier; but I did what I promised to do-I served.

I've been out of the military now for about ten years. I am happily married with children. Still; I take a moment every Veteran's day and Memorial day to remember those in the Military that have served and are serving for us. I pray for all those that are living and dead that have seen the gates of hell -so we could have our opportunities and options.

Who do you know; friend or family that has been in the Military?

Friday, May 23, 2008

So Many People, So Little Space

About seventy-five percent of my book purchases the last two or three years have been debut authors. I do this for various reasons. First, I want to support new authors, I just think it's the right thing to do. And I'm hoping when my books come out, others will feel the same. Grin. Also, I know many of these authors through various loops or from meeting them at conferences. I'm truly excited for them. Additionally, they are my competition. I want to see what's selling. And, of course, I want to read a good book.

One of the biggest joys I get from buying these books is reading the acknowledgement and dedication pages. Admittedly I cry much more often than I used to...must be my age, but we won't go in to that. But I rarely read a dedication or acknowledgement from a debut author that I don't tear up. Each author has had their struggles, triumphs and pitfalls in their publication journey, and thankfully they've had people who stood by them and supported them. There is just no way to do this all on your own.

I've often joked and once blogged that it would take pages and pages to thank everyone individually who helped me along the way. I know soon I'll be asked for these and I want to be prepared. But there's just so many!

How about you? Do you already have in your mind the people you'll acknowledge and dedicate your books? Have you already prepared yours? If so, feel free to share. I might need some pointers
!

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

The Love Scene

I can't tell you how many interviews I've heard where the man or woman talk about a hot scene in a movie and always say there's nothing sexy about shooting the scene with fifty people standing around watching while the director tells them where to place their hands and mouths and how to move. Yeah, sure. ::snicker::

When I'm writing a love scene in my books, I've gotten to the point I have to be in the mood. Yep, that kind of sexy, let's get it on mood. Yeah, yeah, I know - TMI! But otherwise I hate writing them. Of course, then you wonder "Why put them in there?" Well, I love reading hot love scenes. So I need them to be in my books too.

While I was writing one tonight, I remembered something I read and went back to research it and came across this great article, Hollywood Sex: What's Hot or Not. I think everyone will enjoy it and maybe realize a thing or two. LOL!

Tell me what do you do to help write "those" scenes?

Monday, May 19, 2008

Grand--or Not So Grand--Finales

Tis the season for television finales. There is only one show that grabs me and holds me captive every week: The Office. The show overflows with a myriad of subplots, but the one I love the most is the oft-stumbling romance between Jim and Pam. For the first three seasons, Jim's unrequited love for Pam was heart-wrenching, even though this is a comedy. But at the beginning of this season, they were finally together. And of course, every fan expected Jim to propose to Pam for the season finale.

He didn't. He wanted to, but he didn't, thanks to some unexpected plot twists.

I was so disappointed. "Why would the writers do that to me!" I shouted at the TV. And then I stopped myself. I am a writer. I know why they did that. They did it to make sure I'm parked right in front of my television come the beginning of Season 6. And of course, I will. Because they hooked me. I want to know what happens.

Isn't that just what we all want as readers? To know what happens? And isn't that our job as writers? To make sure our readers want to know what happens?

Saturday, May 17, 2008

Books I Can't Forget

Every once in a while I read a book that leaves me in awe of the writer. I have found that those books are the ones that touch me on an emotional level.

As a teenager I read The Plague, by Albert Camus. His description of the bubonic plague and its aftermath left me with vivid mental pictures that haunted my dreams for months. I still remember this book. Someday I will go back and re-read this novel to see if it still affects me in the same way. I suspect that it will. It is a powerful book.

Recently I read a book that left me in tears. I knew that the characters were fictional. So was the story, but it was told so well that I was moved to the point that I forgot that it was just a figment of the writer's imagination. I was genuinely sad. To my mind this was great writing.

What books have moved you? Did they play on your emotions and make you laugh, cry or just feel for the characters?

P.S. If you are wondering what book moved me to tears---check out: Firely Lane, by Kristin Hannah. It is well worth the read.

Thursday, May 15, 2008

Say it Loud! I've Got Curves and I'm Proud!

Last night history was made.

Okay, maybe not "man-on-the-moon" history, but it was definitely a momentous occasion. The first plus-size contestant won America's Next Top Model. Whoo-hoo!! Thick girls every where pump your fists (I'm doing my best Arsenio Hall "Dogpound" imitation here)!! Whitney, a curvaceous blond from Florida who every one expected to be outed about six episodes earlier, won the whole competition--or shebang, to use the vernacular.

Why am I so thrilled about this?

Because we live in a society where being larger than a size six is considered a mortal, fat sin! Even Whitney, a gorgeous size ten, is labeled Plus Size! Plus Size!! And, here I am, aspiring to fit into a size ten pair of jeans that won't make me look like I'm getting ready to "drop it like it's hot"! But, a woman who isn't the traditional idea of beauty won a contest of beauty. In it's small way, it serves the world notice that a woman can have hips, breasts and junk in the trunk and still be fab-u-lous. And for someone who has (d.) all of the above, it's so refreshing! What's equally wonderful is we're beginning to see the same trend in romance novels. More and more heroines aren't so bloody perfect. They have frizzy hair, a pimple that suddenly arrives overnight and--yes!--curves. Some of my favorite books have full-figured heroines. Sherrilyn Kenyon's Bride in Night Play. Lori Foster's Grace in Too Much Temptation. Clarise in Kelly St. John's Real Women Don't Wear Size 2. These characters have special places in my heart because I can easily identify with them. How many of us have bemoaned the fact that we had to buy that too cute pair of jeans in a larger size to fit over our--ahem--assets? I'll be the first to raise my hand on that one. But, what I love most about these women is each comes to own and love their bodies, discovering a confidence and sexiness that is not only attractive, but awe-inspiring.

And, let's be honest, it doesn't hurt that they end up with the hot guy, either. Or that the hot guy is head over heels, tongue- dragging-on-the-floor in love with their hearts and their curves!

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

Tea

I have afternoon tea once a week with my children. I have it for myself at least three times a week.

Why?

I find having tea comforting and a relaxing time. It was introduced to me by my parents when I was young, who gave it to me when I was ill. I just ran with the idea. Now I use it to calm and to cope with stressful things in my life (it is better than many other things I cant think of).

I like to share tea. For example, when my friend lost her job a few months back; I invited her to tea-she'd never done this before. It was a time to talk, vent, encourage, and laugh. Now it something we share when we can, even after she found a new job.

It is a ritual with my daughters; ages seven and ten. It is a method to connect with them. I had them drink tea (decaf) as soon as they could pick up a cup. I hope as they get older it will be something I can use to bridge the gap as they navigate puberty (I'll probably need a lot of tea).

What type of tea do I like? I prefer black teas with milk; but herb teas are lovely. I like jasmine, and lavender teas. My true favorite, is rose tea. Yum.

Currently I like to make a small pot while I read or write. Sometimes, I don't have time to do it--but when I do it gets me in the mind set quickly.

What do you use to comfort yourself? What do you use to write and focus?

Tell me a bit; those things that have lent itself to your life that you never expected.
Note: I do love coffee too, but there is something precious about tea!

Sunday, May 11, 2008

My First Hero

I have many heroes in my life. People who have touched me in various ways, by their bravery, determination, talent, generosity, etc. But I will always have one special hero and that's my first one...my mother.

She raised three daughters by herself. Took college classes at night and worked full time during the day. She also suffered from debilitating migraines. I don't know how many times she'd drag herself to work, agony in her eyes. Having suffered a few migraines myself, I still can't figure out how she did that. I think I have some wimp genes from a few generations back.

Through determination, grit and sheer cussedness, she advanced from file clerk to buyer at a huge retail store. She was ambitious and determined to succeed. If you complimented her, she'd just shrug in her modest way and say she had no other choice, she had three daughters depending on her.

No matter how busy she was, I don't remember ever feeling abandoned, neglected or resentful, but I do remember the enormous pride in her successes.

My mother also shared with me her love of reading. When she wasn't working or attending an event for one of her children, you could usually find her with a book in hand. She encouraged us to explore our world, and growing up in a small community, exploring often involved the written word.

I will always be grateful to her for not only loving me, but teaching me concepts such as the importance of a good work ethic, kindness, charity and keeping an open mind. She embraces these concepts so much better than I ever will, but I'm learning.

Though she'll probably never read this blog and would be embarrassed by such praise if she did, I'm writing this in honor of my Mom. Happy Mother's Day. Thank you and I love you.

Friday, May 09, 2008

Got Ya!

Encarta Dictionary describes HOOK as “5. something that attracts; a means of attracting or interesting somebody, especially a potential customer.”

Published and unpublished authors want to attract a potential customer (for unpublished, it’s the editor or contest judge, or both). We’ve learned the best way to do that is to draw the reader in from the beginning and to continue to draw them from scene to scene, chapter to chapter. By using hooks, we can keep our plots moving while holding the readers’ interest.

In the spirit of a blog game we’ve played before, let’s show the hook, the first sentence, from our most current WIP or our last finished manuscript or published book. Include the hook we wrote at the end of the first chapter.

Here’s mine from my latest, A Sheriff To Call Her Own

First sentence: Sitting in a graffiti-smeared cell on a Sunday afternoon wasn’t what Molly Hicks would call a good way to end a weekend.

Last sentence: How could a simple touch bring back all the old dreams she had about a man who'd never love her?

Okay, now show me yours.

Wednesday, May 07, 2008

Where in the World?

Once upon a time many years ago, a fan asked Nora Roberts if there was any place in the world that she hadn't been to that she really wanted to see. Her response? Montana -- which shocked me, because I had just finished reading her Montana Sky, which was, of course, set in a very realistic-sounding Montana.

Diana Gabaldon wrote the first book of her phenomenal Outlander series, a good portion of which takes place in Scotland, without ever having traveled to the country.

Both of these authors readily admit that they're researchers. I consider myself a researcher too, but I want to do my research in person.

Several years ago, I decided to write a children's play about Orville and Wilbur Wright. I read and researched and wrote letters and talked to people and looked up stuff and checked out books from the library. But something was missing. So I talked my husband into making a trip to the Outer Banks of North Carolina. Even though Kill Devil Hills--where the first flight took place--bears very little resemblance to what Wilbur and Orville saw, there was still something special about being there. The wind, which was the key element in the success of their experiment, still blows steady and strong across the dunes. I came back with a new perspective, and I knew I had found the mysterious element that was missing. The play was a semi-finalist in a national competition.

On the same trip, I visited the restored Chicamacomico Lifesaving Station. The men who lived in this building were part of the forerunner of the U.S. Coastguard Service and risked their lives to save sailors whose ships foundered on the dangerous shoals. I wandered through the rooms of the venerable building, inhaling the pungent fragrances of varnish and paint, peering out the bubbled glass windowpanes, listening to the surf pound, and letting my imagination take it all in.

I came back from that trip with more story ideas than I'll ever use.

I don't think there's a right way or a wrong way to reseach a place. The methods that Nora and Diana use certainly work for them. But me? Well, I've just gotta be there.

How about you? Are you a stay-at-home researcher or a gotta-go researcher?

Monday, May 05, 2008

The Important Things I Know About Writing Come From Reality TV

Reality TV? You probably think that I have gone around the bend. Who would dare to suggest that Reality TV could improve your writing skills? After all, Reality TV doesn't even have a storyline or script. How could any self-respecting writer say that their writing was improved by watching the likes of Survivor, American Idol or Dancing with the Stars?

My husband laughed when I told him the subject of this blog. Incredulously, he asked me if I was sure that was something I wanted to admit to my fellow writers. Confidently I gave him my reasons:
1. Reality shows are a case study in human nature.
Sometimes you see the best in people and sometimes the worst. You get a glimpse of real people experiencing a myriad of human emotions. On any one night you may see arrogance, humanity, selfishness and generosity. Great fodder for any writer wanting to create believable characters.
2. You learn important life lessons.
It isn't always the most talented singer that wins American Idol, or the strongest castaway who wins Survivor. Popularity, cunning, knowing when to show strengths or even weaknesses,and general likability, ultimately become the deciding factors.
3. Watching encourages involvement.
Yes, involvement. How would my favorite dancer avoid the dreaded red light of shame? Or my singer advance to the next week's competition, without my calls when I vote? They need me!

With the irrefutable logic that leaves me speechless, he nicely reminds me that my book would now be finished if I wasn't so consumed by these three shows.

Does anyone have a rebuttal?

Saturday, May 03, 2008

Walking in the Footsteps

Last summer I travelled to Ireland. At thirty-two years old, it was my first time out of the United States and "God's Country" was as poignantly beautiful as I'd always imagined. I still remember the moment I looked out the airplane window and caught my first glimpse of the vibrant green patchwork fields and hills...I'll always remember that.

My desire to visit the Emerald Isle was first stirred by--you guessed it--a book. Nora Roberts' "Born In Trilogy". I fell in love with the country as hard as I did with the characters. In my mind's eye I could see the small, friendly village, the fertile fields worked for generations by generations. I could hear the crash of the ocean's waves against the black cliffs and feel the whip of the wind sting my cheeks. Nora Roberts transported me there in my imagination, so when I finally arrived in 2007, it was only realizing the places where I had visited so many times through my books.

Of course, I didn't meet Maggie and Brianna Concannon or their sister, Shannon Bodine. Nor did I actually have a pint in the Gallagher's pub from the Irish Jewels Trilogy. But, I crossed the River Shannon as Amanda did before she met the love of her life, Tommy Concannon. I stood on the Cliffs of Moher where the three sisters could have stood as they realized they not only loved one another, but needed one another. And, while I didn't perch on a stool at Aiden Gallagher's bar, I did have fish 'n chips in a pub where music and laughter--and smoke--crowded the air.

I walked in the footsteps of some of my favorite characters. And, while I think it's safe to say I'll never be able to tour Avalon in Angela Knight's "Master" series, to climb a hill where Carrick, the King of the Fairies could dwell is a memory that will always live in my imagination.

Thursday, May 01, 2008

The First Pitch

I am preparing for my first pitch..for a book. I've sent queries for articles and have had one or two published. This is different; I'll be speaking directly to the editor.

I've heard terrible stories, of some getting so nervous they can't speak, some may cry, others blather on.

I think I may be a blatherer.

So; to prevent that; I am writing the rough draft this month--or as much of it as I can and I am going to go over the hook; goal; motivation; and outcome of the two main characters.

Sounds easy. Of course not. Still; it is worth the experience.

Soon; I'll have my war story about a pitch--so how about you? What can you remember of your first pitch? Tell me about it.