Wednesday, December 30, 2015

Confessions of a Techno - Challenged Writer

I am a woman of "a certain age." I did not grow up with the internet. Or cell phones. Or tablets. Or computer programs that change every time some techno genius in California puts down his energy drink, grins at his coworkers, and says "Lets throw this at them." Someone needs to find those guys a girlfriend. They have way too much time on their hands. If they would read romance novels and update their romance techniques as often as they do their software they might have an occasion to use their hardware.

All of this means I am devoutly techno-phobic. De. Vout. Ly. My nephew calls me Aunt Techno-Challenged. He does so because his mother informed him it isn't nice to say "My aunt is an idiot." Isn't that sweet?

My first venture into writing romance was about twelve years ago. I started reading fan fiction based on my favorite character in a soap opera. And then I started writing it. I wrote it longhand on my breaks and lunches at work. Then I came home, typed it into the computer submission form on the fan fiction site, and voila! it was there for the other fans to read and comment on. It required minimum technological skills on my part and I liked it that way. I wrote it on the HP computer Noah used to keep count of the animals on the ark. Or at least that is what my nephew tells his friends.

A little over eight years ago, I decided to return to my first writing love - historical romance. I had a brand new HP desktop computer. I mean, right out of the box. Only took six phone calls to the nephew to set it up. Fortunately I had met some fellow writers online and they helped me to format my documents and get started. What they neglected to tell me was I needed to save said document somewhere other than on the computer. You guessed it. I wrote my entire first historical romance novel without saving it to any sort of exterior disc or jump drive or other saving thingy. (Stop laughing!) When my computer crashed, and I know now they always do, I had a freak out somewhere on the scale of the entire population of Tokyo when Godzilla approaches. It didn't help when I told my brothers about it and they both responded :

You didn't save it????

Fortunately, one Neal Lynn, our own Tammy Lynn's husband, figured out how to salvage my novel from the smoking ruins of my computer. Thank you, Neal !! This particular manuscript went on to final in the Golden Heart in 2008. Which was about the same time I acquired my first cell phone. (I told you to stop laughing.)

Fast forward to the last two years. I now own a desktop computer, two laptops, a tablet, and I recently acquired (GASP!) a smart phone. Okay. Go ahead and laugh. My nephew did. Especially as the damned thing proves on a daily basis it is far smarter than I am. I spent a great deal of Christmas Day handing it to him and saying "Make it do this." As for saving my work, honey, I am a saving fiend. I have a portable hard drive thingy, jump drives, discs - you name it. I carry them all with me everywhere I go in case of a fire or a zombie apocalypse. I do dropbox, e mail things to myself. Paranoid? Moi?

I am certain you are thinking "How did this idiot manage to indie publish two novellas?" She didn't. She wrote the novellas and was fortunate enough to have them published in an anthology with three people who know far more about this procedure than she does! I mean, this stuff is scary! I speak eight languages, but none of them bears any resemblance to something called MOBI. Makes it sound like Herman Melville has gone techno. Frankly I would do better going after MOBI with a harpoon than I would with my brain. And if it keeps raining in Alabama I may need that harpoon to go after the snakes and alligators inviting themselves in for New Year's dinner.

The publishing industry is a brave new world. It is also confusing as hell and changes its mind faster than Donald Trump changes who he wants to ship out of the country. For those of us who simply want to write a good story it is a bit frightening. For those of us who would rather be living in nineteenth-century England it is a pain in the arse. Speed, get it out there quickly, is the name of the game.

Yet, with all of the technology and gadgetry and the all-consuming quest for the quick turnaround we need to remember something very important.

There is nothing to compare to a story well told.

All of the technology in the world will not save a story churned out to feed the masses and make a quick buck. The people may survive on bread. But they thrive on cake. And making a cake takes time,skill, and care and it involves very little technology. Trust me on this. I know a little something about cakes.

I am slowly, but surely, coming over to the techno-side. As a writer I have no choice. However, I still love the feel of a print book in my hands. I often resort to writing with a pen and paper when the words won't come at the computer. I have read a number of very recent articles about the resurgence of print book stores. And, yes, this made me smile. I'll keep working on my computer skills and all of the skills necessary to be an indie published author. But the most important skills I have and those I need to hone the most are those of a writer. Without those, nothing else matters. 

You know the image at the end of Jurassic World with the T-Rex climbing to the top of the building and roaring out over the forest? That's me. I'm old. I'm beat up. I'm not the latest model or the shiniest. But let us not forget - with the help of some clever friends - Old T-Rex whooped that new dinosaur's ass ! 

How about you? Do you have any techno confessions to make? We won't tell anyone. What is the hardest part of the brave new publishing world for you?



Wednesday, December 23, 2015

Santa Baby: A Sentinels of New Orleans Short-Short Story

So, somehow I ended up blogging on Thanksgiving and (almost) Christmas this year. So ho-ho-ho and all that jazz. I'm a slug. I didn't send any cards. I didn't wrap any gifts. I didn't put up a tree. My spirit has been somewhat...lacking, one might say. the real spirit of the holidays, I have a story to offer you. It is short. It has Santa in it. (And a wizard and a faery and a couple of shifters because, you know, it's THAT kind of Christmas.)

Hope you enjoy it!

A short-short from the world of the Sentinels of New Orleans

Suzanne Johnson

I checked the figures my partner Alex and his cousin Jake had painstakingly etched into the wooden floor of my library. Three perfect circles, one inside the other. I could load all three with magical energy and create a summoning space so strong even the most murderous preternatural couldn’t break out and try to kill me.
Killing DJ seemed to be a common prete goal lately.
            “Let’s try it.” Jake sat on my worktable, legs dangling off the sides, while Alex put the tools away. “Summon Louis Armstrong. I’d like to see him again.”
            I shook my head. “He’s still kinda freaked out after that whole turning-him-into-a-spy thing.” Never mind that he’d been the worst spy in the history of the world. But he wasn’t the only member of the historical undead among my list of acquaintances. “I could summon Jean Lafitte.”
            Alex set the toolbox down in the corner with an exaggerated thud and assumed his best French pirate voice, which sounded more like the cartoon skunk Pepe le Pew. “There is no need to summon me, Jolie. I am two miles away in my expensive French Quarter hotel suite.”
            Yeah, yeah, whatever. He was right; I could only summon someone from the Beyond, not from the French Quarter. “Forget the pirate, then. The Beyond is teeming with the Historical Undead. What about William Faulkner or Truman Capote?”
            Alex shook his head. “They’re still pissed off that we turned them into cats that time. Especially Faulkner. He wanted to be a Siamese instead of a tabby.”
            “It’s almost Christmas,” Jake said. “What about Santa Claus?”
            Alex and I stared as if Jake had grown an extra set of ears. “I can’t summon Santa Claus.”
            “Why not?” Jake hopped off the table and pulled my dogeared copy of Beyond Human: Species of the Beyond from the shelf of spellbooks and grimoires. “I was lookin’ at this the other day and Santa has his own chapter.”
            I snatched it away from him and stared at the chapter heading: Father Christmas, Saint Nick, Santa Claus, and Other Holiday Faeries.
            “Holy crap, I didn’t know Santa was fae.” Which probably meant Santa’s elves weren’t elves at all, but some type of faeries instead. Good thing. I hate freaking elves.
            I didn’t know enough about faeries to hate them. I’d heard they could be difficult, tricky, and a tad vindictive. But this was Santa, after all. Santa loves kids and nasally challenged reindeer. Santa loves everybody.
Santa would never try to kill me.
            “Jake, go to the downstairs closet and pull a red bow out of that box of wrapping paper.” I studied the circle. “Alex, dig in that drawer with all the candles and pull out a red one that looks festive.”
            I filled in the etched outer circle with iron filings—the strongest containment medium at my disposal. I might be impulsive but I’m not stupid, and a circle of cold iron would contain even the most malevolent faery. At the northernmost point of the circle, I placed the book open to the Santa entry, and at the south I set a small holiday bell made of ruby glass. Once the guys brought the bow and the candle, I place those items at points east and west.
            Alex crossed his arms and narrowed chocolate brown eyes at me. “You sure about this? Do I need my shotgun?”
            “I got a knife,” Jake said.
            Cancel that order to the testosterone factory. “Give me a break, guys. This is Santa. Why would you need a knife or a gun?”
Alex shrugged and took Jake’s seat on the worktable. Jake leaned against the nearest bookcase with his arms crossed. “Go to it, then, sunshine. Do your thing.”
I tugged my own small silver folding knife from my jeans pocket and made a small slice into my thumb. Grabbing the elven staff I’d named Charlie, I squeezed a dollop of blood onto the circle near the bell, and said the words to summon Santa Claus.
A swirl of mist materialized inside the containment circle, gradually dissipating to reveal…a guy. A tall, heavyset guy. Dark-haired and clean-shaven, with oversized sideburns. A guy wearing a red suit. Not a Santa suit, either. More of an….Elvis suit, from his Vegas cape period. Frilly white ruffles circled his wrists and stretched down the front of the suit jacket.
“Who the hell are you?” Alex slid off the worktable and walked closer to the circle, coming to a halt in front of Vegas Santa. My partner’s fingers twitched as if wishing for a trigger to pull.
“Ho-ho-freaking-ho.” Santa flicked a glance at Alex, then shifted his gaze to Jake and finally rested it on me. His eyes were a disturbing shade of pale, icy green. “What do you want, wizard? I was almost through with my gig letting drunk gamblers sit on my lap at the MGM Beyond-Grand. I have to finish in time for Liberace’s set. He gets overwrought if he has to start late.”
Jake and Alex turned wide eyes to me. Guess Liberace was one of the historical undead now, and playing in some prete version of Vegas. “We, um, had a few Christmas requests for Santa. We were expecting someone a little…fluffier.” And saner.
“There are hundreds of Santas, and I was closest; deal with it.” He waved his hands in circles, giving me the universal symbol for go ahead and spit it out. “You have thirty seconds to tell me what you fools want for Christmas. Otherwise, I’m out of here. The Cirque du Beyond show starts at midnight.”
Who did this overgrown pomegranate think he was? I was the wizard here. “You can’t leave until I release you from my circle.”
Santa stopped fidgeting with his frilly cuffs and stared at me. The longer he looked, the more I saw things in those eyes. Dark things. Moving things.
“Last chance, Drusilla Jaco,” he said, and even the tone of his voice changed to something deeper, richer, with an edge that made me swallow hard. “What. Do. You. Want?”
“Um. I want you to leave?”
Yeah, okay, so I’m a chicken. But at least I’ll live to cluck another day without falling victim to an insane faery Santa in a bad suit.
“Right answer.” His grin was dazzling as he disappeared in a puff of mist.
I reached out a shaky hand to break the plane of the circle.
“He left something behind,” Alex said, and leaned over to pick up a black lump. “I think it’s supposed to be a lump of coal.”
Cheap faery. “Looks like a charcoal briquette to me.”            
Jake held a hand out for the charcoal. “C’mon, let’s go down to the Gator. We’ll grill a steak in the courtyard and watch the Saints get the crap beat out of them.”
Now that sounded like Christmas.

Copyright 2015 Suzanne Johnson

Monday, December 21, 2015

Merry Christmas Week: A Recipe and a Freebie

I thought I'd share a super easy recipe for this week of Christmas. I know a lot of people have been baking and preparing for the good times to come and are probably sick of recipes but this is my day to blog and you can't stop me (hahaha) from posting this. And besides, it's not baking if it's called no-bake éclair cake, is it??

How about a couple of photos to whet your appetite?


No Bake chocolate Eclair Cake

I box graham crackers

2 small boxes vanilla pudding

3 cups of milk

1 container of cool whip


Mix the pudding with the milk. Fold in the cool whip.
In a 9x11 pan, spread a layer of graham crackers.
Put 1/2 of the pudding mixture on top.
Add another layer of Graham crackers.
Put other 1/2 of pudding mixture on top
One more layer of Graham crackers.
Either use canned or make your own chocolate icing. Here's what I make:
1 cup sugar
2 tablespoons of cocoa
1 stick of butter
1/4 cup milk
1 teaspoon vanilla
Sift the cocoa and sugar together. Put in pot on stove. Add milk and the butter. Stir until melted.  Bring to a rolling boil. Boil for one minute only. Remove from heat. Add the vanilla. Put in mixing bowl and mix until spreadable. (I use my kitchenaid as it takes about 12 minutes since it has to cool down as well.
Ice the cake, put in fridge for at least 5 hours (better overnight) - this allows the Graham crackers to get soft.
Serve and enjoy.

And while you're enjoying that, here's a free book (free until December 24, 2016) from my alter-ego, S. F. Chancellor. It's a short story set on Christmas Eve.

Wednesday, December 16, 2015

Writing Rituals

Every time I think about writing rituals I picture Michael Douglas in the movie Wonder Boys sitting at his desk in a pink chenille lady’s robe and a wool ski cap, typing page 1,029 or some much nightmarish number at the top of the manuscript page.  He couldn’t write without wearing that regalia and he couldn’t bring himself to finish his book.
Would I ever do such a foolish thing? Perish the thought.  And yet…there was the hot day in July when I was writing a snow scene and got so cold I had to put on a sweater, leggings and a stocking cap. Suddenly, I noticed the mailman stuffing letters into my box, so I raced outside and nearly fainted from the blast of heat. Naturally, every neighbor I had saw me in my winter get-up in July. I was the talk of the neighborhood until the next time I did something equally eccentric.  It involved a snake in my house, and me in a wet t-shirt screaming at the top of my lungs, but I won’t go into explicit details. This is, after all, a family-friendly blog that encourages nice people to join us to talk about writing and reading.
          Do I have a writing ritual? You bet your boots, I do. Here’s the way it goes:
1.      I have to face a window when I write. Put me at a desk facing a wall, and I can’t come up with a single paragraph, let alone a 90,000 word novel.
2.      I have to have a cup of something warm, preferably green tea chai, sitting on the trivet on my desk. The trivet says, “Give your soul a bubble bath,” and that’s part of the ritual.
3.      I have an eclectic collection of mugs, and I make a ritual of selecting the one that (a) suits my mood or (b) suits the book I’m writing. When I write the Southern Cousins Mysteries, I select one of my Elvis mugs from the Birthplace Museum in my hometown of Tupelo, MS. When I’m writing literary fiction, I’ll go for one with Native American sayings on the side: “May each new day shine brighter than a thousand stars.” When I’m editing my classic romances and romantic comedies for reissue as E-books, I’ll choose a whimsical mug – for instance, one from the Wizard of Oz Museum in Kansas that says, “Dear Dorothy, Hate Oz, Took the shoes, Find your own way Home! Toto”
4.      Sometimes I listen to music while I write, but not always. When I do, it has to be Native American flutes or Opera. Otherwise, I’ll get caught up in familiar music and lyrics and sing along. I’m a musician, you see, and my second greatest love (after writing) is singing with my church choir or sitting at my antique baby grand belting out a Broadway show tune while I tickle the ivories.
5.      I wear caftans while I write, wonderful, colorful, flowing cotton caftans with pockets built into the side seams. Sometimes I’ll have pajamas underneath, sometimes nothing at all; but even if a courier surprises me at the front door, I’m still perfectly presentably. Usually. Unless I’ve just committed murder and mayhem ((fictionally, of course) and go to the door still in that frame of mind.
For the holiday, of course, I’ll add a festive touch to my ritual. - a sprig of mistletoe for my hair and jingle bells on my shoe laces. I hope all of you have a wonderful, safe and peaceful Christmas! Some of my books are on Holiday Sale, so do visit my website and take a look.

Peggy Webb has been writing for so long, it’s getting hard to remember that far back! Theough she has written more than 75 books, she still loves spinning stories and chatting with the people who read them. Do write. She’ll personally answer your letters.   

Monday, December 14, 2015

Writer's and Reading...or Reading Other Writers

As Sylvia Day said at our reader luncheon a couple of years ago, writer's are readers--usually passionate readers. Since that luncheon speech, I have given a lot of thought to how I read as a writer. Of course, when I was a kid, I read for the pure joy of reading and becoming involved (or obsessed) with a story. I was writing as a child, and I am sure I was absorbing and mimicking the things I read, but it certainly wasn't a conscious choice.

However, in my adult writing and reading life, I am very conscious of story telling. Though craft books are valuable, I really enjoy seeing how other writers "do it." Sometimes after reading a really great novel I will go back and write the plot out on paper, chapter by chapter (or scene by scene), just to see what an author did so well that I couldn't stop reading. I do this with fiction, but I  have recently started to do the same with biographies. I find it fascinating to look at "real" lives and see the trajectory of someone else's life--something that often presents a complex plot of its own. It is amazing to see how life unfolds, and sometimes looking at a "real" person's life makes me think about the decisions my fictional characters make and the paths they find themselves on at various points in the novel.

Reading is such a valuable tool in the writer's toolbox--maybe the most valuable. The same exercises and thinking can be applied to television and movies, too, so it is nice to know we have a world of inspiration open to us!

Happy Reading!

Susan Sierra is a historical and contemporary romance writer. She loves books and old letters, adores her dog and family, and has a deep and committed love affair with coffee. She spent time as an undergraduate studying (having fun) in Mexico, went on to work for a large regional magazine as a copy editor, and then decided that she hadn’t tortured herself enough in she went to graduate school. After many years, she walked away with a PhD and an unhealthy relationship with Charles Dickens. She hopes to complete her first full-length novel in 2015. FOLLOW ME ON TWITTER!

Friday, December 11, 2015

Hat Trick, Power Play, and an Empty Net Goal

A few months ago, if you had asked me what the above meant, I would have thought you were talking about a new video game. For those who don't know, they are hockey terms.

You're probably wondering what is a nice southern girl doing becoming involved in a Yankee game.  Heck, there's rarely any ice in Alabama.

Well, first, a couple friends of mine mentioned that they had fallen in love with hockey. They talked about the Predators hockey team located in Nashville. Who knew? Just a hop and skip from north Alabama. *Mind blown* In fact, one is a billet parent (takes in an out-of-town teenage hockey player into her home) and her enthusiasm is contagious.

Then about a couple months or so, I listen to the audios of Sawyer Bennett's Cold Fury Hockey series. *sigh* Loved them! It caught my interest. Not just for the men, but some of things she brought up about the game. I can't pinpoint what, but anyway, I decided to check it out on TV and fell in love.

How in the hell do those big guys fall and get up so fast? Amazes me. So freaking limber! Hmmm...never mind.

So have you read a book or series that interested you in a sport? Or into checking out something you never thought about? I bet a lot of people got into BDSM after reading 50 Shades.


Be sure to sign up for my newsletter. I'm giving away in a drawing 1 - $20 and 3 - $10 gift cards to four lucky subscribers. And Loveswept will be giving away a $20 gift card too. The information on how to win will be in the December 15 newsletter. Winners of my giveaways will be announced December 16 in my blog.

Click below for the meanings.


If you love outlaw biker books, my first one is due out February 16. Be sure to preorder.

Wednesday, December 09, 2015

Holiday Lights

So I completed my first holiday story this year. I love Christmas. I really do. I love baking cookies, decorating the tree, hearing my favorite carols... but I never thought I'd have such a hard time writing about my love of Christmas.

I ran into the added problem of my story being science fiction. Do people of the future  worship the same, much less celebrate the same way we do? I mean, what could people who no longer live on Earth have in common with their ancestors if their planet's environment is different, the seasons deviate, and the people no longer live in the same ethnic clusters?

But when studying end of the year holidays in the United States, one thing shined like a beacon--so many cultures celebrate the light.

There's a good reason for this. December and January are the darkest, coldest time of the year in the northern hemisphere. The changeover from the old year to the new brings to mind the darkening of the night before the lightening of dawn.

In the United States, many Christian households have a lighted Christmas tree with a bright star on top to signify the star of Bethlehem that led the Magi to the Christ child. Jewish families celebrating Hanukkah light the candles of the Menorah to remember the re-dedication of the Holy Temple in Jerusalem after the Maccabean Revolt. The Kwanzaa celebration of unity, self-determination, collective work and responsibility, cooperative economics, purpose, creativity, and faith, also incorporates a candle-lighting ceremony with a kinara. Las Posadas, celebrated in the Southwestern United States, involves a whole procession of people going from house to house carrying candles and re-enacting Mary and Joseph's search for an inn. Mawlid, or the "Birth of the Prophet" is celebrated by Islamic families in a carnival-like atmosphere that includes torchlight processions, decorations in homes and mosques, and charitable giving. The Hindu celebration of Diwali is called the "festival of lights" and commemorates the attainment of nirvana by Mahavira. Small clay lamps are lit to symbolize the victory of good over evil. The Chinese New Year brings in the coming year with a bang as fireworks burst resplendent in the skies.

So with this in mind, I made my end-year celebration on the fictional planet of Celos involve light. The inhabitants fold origami boats and light tapers to burn above them, pushing them into the surf. The lights are part of a remembrance ceremony, a closing of the old year and a dawning of the new.

If you'd like to learn more about my holiday of Spindrift, check out my new release Spindrift Gifts published by MLR Press. In it, my tentacled hero Teo has brought his lover Jimenez home to Celos. But when Jimenez suffers a setback in his medical treatment, the only option is a therapy that will wipe away all his memories of the past including his time with Teo. Teo, torn between supporting his lover's decisions and the good intentions of his family, sets out to teach Jimenez about Spindrift Gifts and how memories are celebrated on Celos even when they are painful. Can Teo and Jimenez weather the storm to find their happy-ever-after on Celos?

Don't forget to let a little light in this holiday season!

P.S. Several Southern Magic members expressed a need for more action movies this holiday season. Here's my suggestions for an action-packed Christmas movie night:
  • Kingsman: The Secret Service
  • Long Kiss Goodnight
  • Kiss Kiss Bang Bang
  • The Final Girls (that "s" is important)
  • Die Hard 
  • Equilibrium
  • RED

Monday, December 07, 2015

Holiday Gifts for Writers

The satisfaction of finding the perfect gift for the writer on your holiday list is rivaled only by the adrenaline rush of placing your last minute online order on December 22 and seeing the message that delivery is guaranteed by noon on December 24.

But what do you get the writer on your list? Creative people are the worst when it comes to finding that perfect gift. You want to blow their mind, so a gift card will NOT do, and notebooks and pens have been done.  Here are some fun suggestions (with links to help with your shopping):

AquaNotes - When inspiration hits in the shower, your favorite author can be ready to capture that thought on this waterproof notepad.

Book-scented perfumes and candles -  Admit it. Nothing smells better than a bookstore. Share that lovely aroma with your favorite writer and help boost her creativity.

Periodic Table of World Literature - Invite the greats to share your favorite author's writing space. They will be jealous of the stories she is crafting.

E-reader/Laptop/Phone Case with Her Book Cover - Customize a cover with your author's cover!

Writer Retreat - if you are feeling generous (or want to use some of your hotel chain reward points), give your favorite writer a night in a hotel so that she can have for her own mini-writer retreat.

Ticket(s) to a Readers' Event - Writers are readers. They wouldn't write if they didn't love to read. Treat your favorite author with a ticket to an event to treat her reader side.  Some suggestions are: Murder in the Magic City, Southern Voices, Heart of Dixie Romance Readers' Luncheon, and the Southern Magic Romance Readers' Luncheon.

What are you getting the writers on your holiday list? Comment below to break the writer's block infecting our shopping lists.

Friday, December 04, 2015

Tis the season to partay...

That's how we say it in my neck of the woods. Truthfully, party and partay are like the difference between naked and nekkid. The latter often includes a little something extra, like booze and being up to something no good.

Lulu is almost always up to something. (Shamelessly flirting with Santa after stealing my milk)

If your holiday calendar isn't filled with engagements yet, perhaps you need to host your own partay. Throw together a tub of redneck caviar and grab a good box of wine to add to the festivities. Or go all out by firing up the backyard grill or ordering smoked meat from your favorite BBQ joint. Now it's a partay.

Honestly, food and setting play a role, but like books, the best ones are where the people make the partay- no alcohol required. Characters I can relate to have always been the key for me to enjoy a read. People I can relate to have always been the key for me to enjoy life. Relationships, romantic and otherwise, are what life's all about. You'll have your greatest fun and your biggest heartaches with or because of the people you surround yourself with. Choose wisely and find more happiness than you can hold.

If your calendar is beyond full with the busyness of the season, don't forget to reach out to those who've made a positive impact on your year/life and tell them you appreciate them. That might mean messaging your favorite author. Wouldn't you love to get a kind word like that?

 Put your partay shoes on and celebrate the season. 

I'm celebrating in a new way by offering a free short story to readers who sign up for my newsletter, Dirt Road Ramblings. I haven't promoted it widely yet, so if you want to be among the first to receive a fast, fun read with a sexy cop, an unexpected ex-con, drugs and dirty diapers, click here.

Just for grins and giggles, tell your favorite partay food or beverage or describe your favorite partay shoes.
May your holidays be filled with love and laughter. #sharethelove

Wednesday, December 02, 2015

Everything I Know About Children I Learned at Walmart


I do not have children. It wasn't exactly a choice. It simply turned out that way. I do have a niece and two nephews - very nice children, or they were before they became very nice young adults. I have two grand nieces who are absolutely darling. This darlingness may be in direct proportion to the amount of time I actually spend with them, but I do like them very much. So far.

I have "fur" children - dogs and one very regal and demanding cat. Lest you think to send in the gentlemen with the butterfly nets and the dinner jacket that fastens in the back, I do know my "fur" children are not real children. I did not give birth to them and they will never be able to take care of me financially when I enter my dotage. One has only to listen to the things I utter in the privacy of my own home to know I do not have "real" children.

Stop chewing on your brother.

Who turned an entire four pack of paper towels into a ticker tape parade?

Do not drink out of the toilet. Again.

Please don't bite the doctor.

There are six toys, same color and exactly alike. Why is it the one she has is the only one anyone wants?

You cannot sleep in your food dish.

Stop fishing in the litter box.

I don't care if it's raining. You have to go outside to pee!

Hmm. Maybe that isn't the best way to illustrate my point. And if any of you have children who fish in the litter box, keep it to yourselves. In my latest novella, A Perfectly Unregimented Christmas, I included four very naughty boys in the cast of characters. What is it W.C. Fields said?

Never work with animals or children.

In this story I worked with four boys, three dogs, a bonnet-wearing goat and a one-eye cat named Attila. Frankly it was difficult not to let the goat and the cat steal the show. When it came to the four terrorists, uhm, young lads, I wanted to make certain I didn't write them too young, too mature, too cute or too nasty. I wanted them to be... well, normal. But what is normal, when it comes to children, I mean? Surely as many children as I see at Walmart on a daily basis I should have a pretty good handle on what they are. Right?

Characteristics of Children at Walmart 

1. The ability to screech for four hours at a decibel between a cat in a blender and a Harrier jump jet taking off from the roof of your house, whilst Mama appears completely deaf, stoned or merely oblivious.

2. The ability to spill a large McDonald's Coke from the front entrance to the back of the store up and down every single aisle in the store. Hey, it takes skill to make one Coke dribble that far.

3. The audacity to sweep every shelf label off into the floor with one finger all the while maintaining eye contact with several ticked off Walmart associates and at least one department manager who is muttering "Must not smack the child. Must not smack the child."

4. The courage to tell mama "No!"  "Shut up!"  and / or  "Leave me alone!" without provoking a single reaction from mama at all. (If I did that growing up I'd wake up in a dentist's chair having my teeth replaced, but I was an "abused" child.)

5. A talent for pulling the one can or box from a display guaranteed to send the entire thing crashing to the floor taking out a maintenance guy pushing a broom and two little old ladies in scooters.

6. A penchant for riding skateboards down action alley after having been asked not to by the department manager, falling hard enough to break a leg, and having parents try to sue Walmart, proving once and for all - Stupid is hereditary.

Hmm. Perhaps I need to do a bit more research. Research that doesn't involve children who can walk through the produce department eating grapes they have no intention of purchasing, and who, when they are stopped, can deliver a look guaranteed to have Samuel L. Jackson in  Pulp Fiction backing away in fear. 

One of the most difficult things about writing historical romance is not being able to adhere to the rule "Write what you know." I don't have children and children were very different two hundred years ago. Children during the Regency were disciplined. They were well-behaved. They were seen-and-not-heard. They were obedient.

They. Were. Children.
And there's the truth of the matter. Romance catches a great deal of criticism for portraying unrealistic men and women in unrealistic situations falling unrealistically in love. What those critics never realize is a great deal of what we write is from our own experience, with the only twist being we write what might be if we only learned from those experiences. Unrealistic is in the eye of the beholder. And the greatest source of research into the human psyche is what we see every day - even if we sometimes have to translate it into historical, paranormal or futuristic characters. Such is the beauty of writing romance. I can turn all of the horrible little monsters, I mean, exuberant little children, I see in Walmart every day into four ruffians intent on chasing a viscount away from his own home by way of pelting him with snow-covered potatoes... and tripping him with a rope across the driveway to his stately home... and having him attacked by a one-eyed cat... and filling his coffee cup with frog's eggs...and his breakfast with black pepper... and well, you know what they say.

Boys will be boys.

What about you? Do you like romance novels that feature children and / or animals as characters? Do you think romance novels create unrealistic expectations? Do you prefer that characters or children be perfect? Normal? Or somewhere in between? Do you draw from your own experience when writing characters? Do you observe people to get ideas for characters? What sort of characters do you like to read about and writers, what sort of characters do you like to write?