Friday, November 4, 2011

My Big Adventure

So. I took this little trip. I hadn't been planning to run off and leave my husband behind. My stepmother called last spring and asked if I'd go along with her on a vacation.

To China.

It was completely amazing. After an insanely long flight, we arrived in a country which was both like home and totally foreign. Fabulous coffee was served with breakfast. The streets were packed with people walking their dog, rushing to work every morning just like here. But I couldn't read the signs, or even the label on a package. Even the beer and the Coke tasted different. The cities we visited were surprising.  Both older and more modern than I had expected.

Beijing's old quarter

Shanghai at night

Can you see how worn those steps are in places? Pretty scary  on the way down.

We climbed the Great Wall.

We ate amazing food one afternoon, prepared in our cook's home.  Lotus root - who knew you could eat that?

We strolled around markets where busy families bought their dinner.

People were gracious and patient with us, as we fumbled our way through a Starbucks order. We chatted with university students eager to practice their English on us.
Just like home!

Monday, October 10, 2011

What a Wonderful Year

My New Voices entry is finally up!

What a different experience it has been this year. Last year, I sat alone at my computer and hit enter, sending my story off into the world with little idea of what would happen. I didn't know anyone in the romance community, in real life, or online. It was one of the scariest things I'd ever done.

 I was so hesitant to enter last year, intimidated and a bit scared that I didn't measure up against such accomplished women (and men). Afraid that I wouldn't fit in. It all seemed an impossibly hard to achieve dream. I'm so grateful that I tried anyway.

Now a year later, I've learned so much. I've read and studied, written and practiced and read some more. And just as importantly, I've met other romance writers. People who have made me laugh with cheesy or sometimes smutty jokes. People who have inspired me with their dedication and perseverance. People who have touched me with their honesty and generosity. The friendship and support I've received from other writers is amazing. It's truly changed my writing and my life.

If you're sitting on the fence, watching the last few hours tick away until the deadline, don't miss out. Submit. You won't be sorry. Even if you're not entering, there are loads of great first chapters waiting for you. Join the party!

Sunday, October 2, 2011

An Unforeseen Pleasure

Last night my husband and I ditched the kids and went out on a date night, something we haven't done in ages. We headed over to EPCOT's Food and Wine Festival, thinking we'd walk around World Showcase, have a glass of wine and maybe stay for fireworks.  Apparently everyone else thought that too. The line of cars waiting to be parked was past the entrance, something rarely seen, even in the morning. We gave up on that as soon as we could turn around. I was pretty annoyed that our plans had fallen through, but Mr. B was undaunted. We ended up parking at the Magic Kingdom and walking around the Seven Seas Lagoon.

It was cool and breezy and just a lovely night. Making our way back to the car, we stopped and grabbed a lounge chair and watched the Electric Light Parade. It was so nice just sitting there together with no long list of chores nagging at us,that we hung around until they did the fireworks show at the Magic Kingdom. Yesterday was the 40th anniversary of the Magic Kingdom, so they did an extra huge show with perimeter fireworks. It's been a very long time since I've seen the Magic Kingdom fireworks from a distance like that. In some ways, it's almost more awe inspiring from far away.

Here's hoping you are as happily surprised by your weekend.

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

But Everyone Loved It

There is a fascinating discussion over at Smart Bitches, Trashy Books about the books everyone loves. The books that are praised and feted and recommended. No matter how beloved a book is, someone out there hates it. A lot.

With a fiery burning passion.

As I write this, the post has well over two hundred comments. That's a lot of passion. What struck me as I started to read the comments is the inconstancy of popular opinion. All of the most popular books and authors have their detractors. What some people love about a book is the exact same thing other commenters hate.

The heroine is weak. The heroine is heartless. The world building is complex. The world building is overwhelming. The pace is too slow. The plot moves so quickly there isn't time to get to know the characters.

It might sound like you can't make anyone happy. But that isn't true at all. You can't make everyone happy. Not everyone will love what I write. Even if it's good.

Instead of discouraging, I find it really quite liberating. I am freed from the shackles of trying to appease everyone. If I simply write a great book some readers will like it.

And some won't.

Friday, July 15, 2011

The End

I took my daughter, Prudence, to see Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part Two last night. We went to a midnight show at our favorite theater. It was a carnival like atmosphere with costumes and performances. The theater was packed there were moviegoers in capes and carrying wands. There were house colors and faux British accents.We saw a dozen people who we knew. I waited in line for thirty minutes to buy a five dollar soda.

Despite the air of frivolity, my daughter cried throughout much of the movie. This series isn't just  a story to my daughter. A friend's older brother was obsessed with these books way back in 1999. He counted down the days to the next books release and talked to me of plans for the movie. So one weekend  in the spring of 2000, I started reading Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone to her. I read the whole book in one weekend. We did nothing else that weekend and at the end of the book I has nearly lost my voice and she fell in love with Harry and his friends. She was six years old.

She taught herself to read just so she could read the Harry Potter books to herself. There have been several midnight release parties at the bookstore and movie theater alike. Since then she has reread the books and watched the movies many times. The characters of JK Rowling are like old friends. She has shared much with them through the years. She has celebrated and mourned with them each time she has reread those books. Each book was bought and promptly devoured. Often she stayed up very, very late reading.  Reading Harry Potter and the Half Blood Prince was one of those nights. Near the end of the book, she came out of her room. It was after midnight and I started to scold her until I saw her face. She sobbed inconsolably in my arms while I held on tight. She cried even harder through the last book.

Although there were no more Harry books, a whole new world of magic and imagination opened up to her. Not all of the other books she has loved have had a paranormal element to them, but they have all been a portal to another world.

She cried through much of the last movie last night. Yes, it was a story of much loss, but I think she was really saddened by something else. She is seventeen now, nearly eighteen. The release of the last movie is the end of her childhood. Like Harry, Ron and Hermione, she has to face the adult world and it's sometimes ambiguous questions. She has to face loss and betrayal. She has to find love and friendship and navigate their sometimes winding path. No more can a kiss from her mother soothe all ills. She is eager to go out into the world and I find it so hard to uncurl my fingers and let her go and follow her heart, which doesn't lead her where I might wish her to go.

In the end, in that theater packed full of people it was just she and I. This time when she cried she didn't even hold my hand.

Sunday, June 26, 2011

Reader's Romance

Since I've started the blog, I have thought of writing on this topic several times. I have heard a great number of romance readers share how they discovered romance, or how they rediscovered it. Every time I hear the stories, I reflect on my own reading past. The most recent one I've read is by Megan Mulry. Megan writes at length about the intellectual shame attached to reading genre literature and romances in particular. If you haven't read her post yet, go and read. I'll wait. It's that good.

I don't know why romance novels are so particularly despised. Perhaps because they primarily are connected to women's concerns. Perhaps because happiness is so suspect among the intelligentsia. Perhaps because of a puritanical disdain for all things sexual.

I was very young when I first started reading romance novels. I wasn't a very early reader, but once I could read on my own, I read incessantly. By fifth grade I had read everything in our local library's children's section. Then I discovered Barbara Cartland. I loved everything about those novels. They were short enough that I could read a couple on a summer's afternoon, but filled with people in a past so distant and foreign to me. From there, I moved on to other category romances and then the bodice rippers of that era. I devoured them all. Straight on into Judith Krantz.

It drove my father crazy. That wasn't why I chose to read romances, but I think in the end it was at least some of the reason why I stopped reading them. He didn't disapprove of romance in particular. He didn't really read any popular literature, except for a few notable exceptions (John Lecarre being the one he loved most). He was the son of immigrants, the first in his family to graduate from college. Our house was filled with books when I was growing up. I once counted them when we were taking them all off the shelves of the book cases that lined the walls. I stopped after two thousand.  People who don't love books always think that it must have been awful growing up in such a stuffy house. It didn't feel that way at all. Books surrounded our family and were a place to escape. They were loved and discussed, but revered. My father was still miffed about a copy of  a Cheever novel that I crayoned as a toddler.

When my friends and I were caught reading an especially filthy Harold Robbins book, in disgust my father gave me a copy of Pride and Prejudice. Of course I loved it. I then went on to read all of Austen. There were others after her. It wasn't a hard end to it. I slid into the world of 'adult' books. I read some science fiction for a bit longer, but even then there was Lewis and Wells to entice me away. Perhaps it was because of my father's books, but I didn't usually dislike the books we were required to read. With very few exceptions, I loved them all. The Red Badge of Courage. The Raisin in the Sun. Whitman. Shakespeare. Orwell.  I left the books of my youth behind to embrace a more formidable intellectual life. There are so many books that I opened thinking I would have to endure them only to fall in love with them. Most of them were sitting there on the shelves I walked past every day. Then in college there were still more books, some I'd never even heard of before, waiting for me to fall in love with them.

I don't love those books any less today than I did then. I still have many of them on my shelves. But they are sitting there next to some much more modern writers. Those other  books have covers that are bright and cheery. And inside those covers is a sweet and open embrace of happiness and love.

And, yes, sex, too.

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

June TBR Challenge 2011: Lead Me On

June is the month of contemporaries. I have quite a few contemporaries in my TBR pile. I wasn't really sure when I started the TBR Challenge which one I would pick there are so many I've been hoarding, even more on my list of books to buy. As the months went by my choice became a lot easier.

I hang out on twitter. A whole lot. I follow some of the smartest and funniest people in the romance community. Some of them are actually twitter friends; others are just people whose twitter conversation is full of useful information or timely links. Or in the case of Victoria Dahl, fun. Dirty, smutty fun. If you haven't seen her around twitter you really should check her out. She's hilarious.

So when June rolled around I picked up her 2010 release, Lead Me On. It's the final book in a trilogy. I didn't realize it when I bought it and it undoubtedly is part of the reason I was so slow to get around to reading it. I tend to be pretty uptight about reading a series in order. Based on how fun it is to read her tweets, I wanted to give Victoria's book a try. I'm so glad I did. I'll even go back and read the earlier books.

Here's the lowdown: Jane Morgan is trying her damnedest to repress her past, her family, even a part of herself and live her perfect life. She isn't perfectly happy, but it isn't for lack of trying. Then her younger brother gets arrested and her carefully constructed lies begin to unravel.

Adding to her family problems, is the hot, hard, tattooed Chase. In a great twist, it's Chase who falls for Jane, despite her desperate attempts to remain uninvolved. They have amazing, raw and passionate sex and Jane does her best to make sure it stays nothing but sex. Chase is the one pursuing a more real emotional attachment.

This is a book that deals with some very serious issues. Family issues are hard to escape. Hard to make peace with even years later. Jane is a mess. Watching her futilely flee her past should be painful. Jane certainly faces some harsh problems. But layered over that, the book is sensual and playful. When Jane is near tears, Chase always manages to make her laugh. In the end that is the my favorite part of the book. Even when things seemed grim, I never doubted that Jane and Chase would somehow find a way to be together.

Saturday, June 11, 2011

Books for Precocious Readers

This began as a reply to Morton Gray's comment. But then there were too many links to include in a comment. And once I get started talking about kids' books, I do get a bit long winded. I had the same troubles for many years. Patience was a precocious reader, but at eight years old found even Nancy Drew books too intense. In her defense, we had a Nancy Drew computer game. Prudence was bad at it and I was worse. Poor Nancy routinely died from our bad choices. Patience had good reason to worry over Nancy.

I found some of the most satisfying books for the kids at that age were some of the older titles. They have a complexity of language and story that is satisfying, while skirting some of the darker bits. Swallows and Amazons never caught with my kids, but is often recommended.  The Eager books however were much loved at our house. There are Mr Pooper's Penguins which is a new movie and other award winning books. Andrew Clements books are amusing and fun but still hold a place in my kids' bookshelves.

As he gets a bit older, there are some more modern books as well that appeal because of the interesting content, even after the reading level is a bit unchallenging, but still have that reassuring feeling that nothing bad would happen.

Anyone have anything else to recommend to a young reader who doesn't want to read anything too dark?

Friday, June 10, 2011


This week, there has been a lot of talk online about an article in the Wall Street Journal. The article claimed that the dark themes in the current popular YA books are bad for kids. There was a huge outcry. I won't repeat all of the arguments here. The #YAsaves on Twitter and a subsequent article in WSJ answer these questions better than I can as an author who doesn't write YA.

I don't have anything much more to add as an author, but I do have thoughts as a parent. I think the article approaches the question in completely the wrong way. My teenaged daughters have read  scads of the more sober themed YA books.

Some they  didn't like the difficult themes. Some they didn't finish because they felt uncomfortable. Some they loved despite the darkness. Some changed their lives.

But those are my kids reactions. Even my kids, who are fairly similar in tastes, don't agree. Prudence loved I am the Messenger. But it broke her heart so she won't touch The Book Thief, Patience's most favorite book ever. Not every kid is the same. The Goosebumps series was wildly popular when I volunteered in the school library. My girls never read Goosebumps and aren't going to see any of the latest horror movies. They are easily spooked. That isn't an indictment of RL Stine. That is just my children.

As parents, it's our job to know our children's limits. And YA literature covers a broad age range. Not many 17 year olds are reading what their 13 year old siblings enjoy. And it's supposed to be like that. I have sent books back to the library or book store unread. It wasn't a popular choice, but after a couple that slipped past me lead to nightmares, they understood.

Now that they are older, my kids censor their own reading. There are a few  books that went back unfinished to the library. It's very hard to find Urban Fantasy or Paranormal Romance with relatively light sexual content.

There has been rape and eating disorders, murder and casual sex, violence and mental illness. But I don't think my kids were harmed by all of the things that they have read.

The book that cause the most tears to be shed in our house is an autobiography. I think the real tragedies of someone's life are worth my daughter's tears. I know she is a better person for having a literary relationship with that author.

Monday, May 16, 2011

Patience and Prudence

I have two teenaged daughters. It is all the angst and tear filled fun that you would imagine. I call my daughters Patience and Prudence online.

 I started calling them nicknames online after participating in some school related email groups. Some of the parents in the group had had problems with school administrations spying on them online; that information was then used to undermine the parent's efforts to get school services. i have been lucky enough never to have had that kind of relationship with my kids' schools, but it's a habit I have kept.

They both have had various nicknames through the years. This pair of names is one we've all always been especially fond of because of how the girls got them. One of our family's favorite places to go is Sanibel Island. One fall our family went to the island with my mother-in-law as she recovered from surgery. We had a cottage on the beach and the kids were little enough that they lived to collect the shells. 

One night we went out to eat. The restaurant had a musician. The girls were enchanted and sat perfectly attentive in their seats at out outdoor table. They had braids to tame their hair still wet from the beach. When they tipped the man to play some song for them he called them Patience and Prudence.

 As he got ready to play their song, he told the story of the original Patience and Prudence and picked my elder timid and cautious daughter to be Prudence. He named my younger carefree and easy-going daughter Patience. Our family thought the names so accurate that they have just stuck. Even know, nearly a decade later, my girls will still answer to those names.

Monday, May 9, 2011

Watching my Kid Cry

Yesterday was Mother's Day. I had a lovely day. Coffee in bed. Handmade cards from the girls. My husband made dinner and the kids cleaned up. I read a lot and even wrote enough to have felt productive. It seemed a perfect day.

Until my daughter came to me in tears. A friend of hers told her that she had attempted suicide. The girl doesn't even live in the same city as we do. The suicide attempt is long over and the girl is seeing a therapist. There really was no reason to fear it would be repeated.

It was hard for to imagine Patience. Her friend, who I'll call Sally, is just the sunniest and most fun FB friend that Patience has. Although they haven't seen each other in a couple of years, their internet friendship is strong and it is a rare week when they don't talk to each other. It was hard for Patience to realize how little we really know of what someone truly feels.

It is an awful thing to see my child so sad and know that there really is nothing that I can say to make it better. It's awful that kids feel that alone, even when they have friends who love them so. It's awful to know that you can't fix everything for your friends.

My heart hurts.

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

TBR Challenge 2011: Her Singapore Fling

I cheated a little bit this month with the TBR Challenge 2011 book I chose. It is a new release, so obviously not something collecting dust on the night table. In my defense, it's the last book in a string of connected books about the Bennet siblings and I have had to wait some time for it to be released! Right off the bat, I can tell you I think it was worth the wait.
The Book Her Singapore Fling  by Kelly Hunter

The Particulars an April 2011 Harlequin Presents title (published as Red Hot Renegade in the UK)

Why it was my next had to read? I loved the other Bennet family books. Enough that I went back and hunted down the first in the series after jumping in the middle, something that I rarely bother to do.

The Blurb:In desperate need of protection, Jianne Xang-Bennett reluctantly turns to her estranged husband, martial arts expert Jacob Bennett, for help. But there are problems: they've been separated for twelve years and cannot be in the same room together without arguing or ripping each other's clothes off—often at the same time!

But Jacob will go to extremes for those he loves, and Jianne is the only woman who can bring this honorable warrior to his knees. Can they delve beneath their red-hot desire and blazing anger to find the love that has always been hiding?

Review: I was a bit nervous about reading this book. Jianne is mentioned by the other siblings as the biggest source of guilt and regret from their wild youth. I didn't really want to read a book where either the heroine had made a huge deal of something minor or beloved characters from other books were villainised. Hunter walks that fine line of keeping me happy in both respects very well. Jianne is a sympathetic character with real complaints about her husband's past treatment, but she's not above acknowledging her own part in the failure of their marriage. She is also a great study in how to make a quiet and non confrontational heroine something other than a doormat. She politely and resolutely stands her ground and backs down her larger, louder ex-husband.

Jacob is taciturn and even veering into sullen. But he knows it and he's trying hard to do the right thing, even if he isn't always correct about what that is. I had a real soft spot for him and I enjoyed seeing his interactions with his siblings which are appropriately brief. I loved watching him as he rediscovered the wife he never stopped loving. Slowly he learns to bend enough to meet her halfway.

It's not a flawless book. The suspense element is wrapped up a bit too easily at the end to fit into the brief word count, but, as with most Presents titles, the couple is more interesting than the plot.

One of the reasons that I wanted to write about this book in particular is the surprising things about this book. The heroine is Chinese. She's the first Asian Presents heroine I can recall reading and it really worked well here. It defined many things about Jianne's character.  Hunter even uses the language on the page to evoke that musical cadence that native Chinese speakers have when they talk.

The hero isn't wealthy. He's not a business tycoon at all. Make no mistake he's successful by any measure, except that of the Presents hero. And the heroine? Tons of money. Loads more than her husband. And Jacob has a problem with this the way many men would. What's more, the antagonist is more the model for traditional Presents hero: an absurdly wealthy man who won't take no for an answer. A delicious bit of irony there. And yet Jacob is clearly cut from the same cloth as the Presents hero. 

Honestly it didn't bother me at all. The money thing actually added depth to the conflict between Jianne and Jacob. It all ended up feel surprising unpredictable. It seems to me that the category romances that I've read lately have been surprisingly fresh and innovative, while still honoring what I see as the core of expectations. Sharing the shelves this month with Hunter's book are other books that even from the blurb are clever twists on the traditional tropes.  One has a secret pregnancy that happens through IVF; the parents had never even met. Another has the book opening with the heroine rescuing the hero from drowning. I love the play on our assumptions that is occurring here. That just means my TBR pile is growing taller.

Friday, April 15, 2011

Pretty Posterboard

So I have my lovely posterboard filled with multi-colored post-its. I actually do feel that I noticed things about the book doing it this way. (Yes, Lani you were right.)

Anna DeStefano has a great post up about editing. It's filled with questions to ask about a scene as you are editing.

The ever smart Kristin Lamb has a post on structure which I'll be refer to more than a couple of times I think.

And, in case all this editing is making you feel a bit defeated, remember to be kind to yourself.

Monday, April 11, 2011

You're Not Alone in your Despair

Editing is hard. It's difficult to find fault with a manuscript I loved so much while I was writing it. It's painful to accept the changes that ought to be made to improve the book. Just because I can see that it's going to be better doesn't mean that I like having to make those changes.

 Some of the changes are simple. I have several characters whose names begin with the same letter. That can quickly become confusing to the reader so some of those names are getting changed. Some of the changes are more complicated. I have a cast of a gazillion minor characters. Some will be merged into a single character. Some will sadly have to go.

And some of the changes are more complicated. My hero does something that doesn't really work. Can I give him a better motivation for his action? Will it be better to cut that part altogether? Does that scene work better if I move it later in the story? Those are the kind of things that can leave you doubting yourself and your book. That is the struggle that is editing.

Storywonk's revision class was very useful in trying to organize the process. Lani has a podcast where she talks about what we learned in the class. You can listen to the podcast as streaming video or download it as an mp3.

In brief, Lani says you have an opening scene, three turning points, a climax and a resolution. These things are sometimes given different names by different people, but when defined, they refer to more or less the same thing. The turning points are simply the scene that ends one act and sets up the problem for the following act.

Most stories and books, plays and movies have a three act structure. In simplest terms, a beginning, a middle and an end. It sounds so simple and really it is pretty straightforward. In theory anyway.

If you click through the links on three act structure, you'll see that the Harlequin article uses a movie as an example and Paula Graves refers to a book on screen writing. Take their advice and really spend some time thinking about the story structure in the movie or TV show you are watching. It's easier to see the structure in a movie. It's shorter than most books and the turning points are often clear. So you can sit on the sofa, eating popcorn and claim that you are working.

The nifty posterboard is to hold post-its for all of my scenes. I've got all my stuff and I've made all my notes. Now I get to make something pretty.

Friday, April 8, 2011


I finished the first draft of my work in progress. I set it aside for a little bit. That was hard, but well worth the effort. I spent the time off going to the beach with the kids and reading tons. Sadly, I think I added even more to the TBR list than I crossed off.

Now the real work on the book begins. I took a class with Lani Dianne Rich on revising a manuscript that gave me a road map of how to do this. I'm nearly done with my first read through the book. I've been taking pages of notes and I've got my post-its all ready to map out the plot. I'm going to do a variation of my classmate Kay Elam's posterboard.

Mine will lack the detailed notes, color coded sticky dots and visual representation of the rising action of the story arc. I'll make do with a few post-its on the wall. But I'm hoping that being able to look at the story like this will give me a good feel for how the pace of the book is slow or perhaps too fast. During the class, I just did this in Scrivener (despite Lani's excellent advice not to), but I think this might be a different and easier experience. Should have listened to Lani.

I struggled revising the book I had finished before Lani's class, but I am still ever so glad that I took it. I learned so much about pacing and the structure of a novel just clicked for me that I can't believe how much easier this draft has been to write. So far the editing is easier, too. Lani is offering a free spot in one of next month's classes, in case you're feeling lucky.

I'm lucky that I have some writer friends who are editing as well, so I have no shortage of moral support. Teresa is even blogging about her editing as she goes along. It can seem a bit overwhelming to have a whole book to revise the first time, but there is a lot of advice out there when you get stuck.

Any other great editing advice?

ETA: Serenity Woods reminded me of a helpful page on her blog about editing.

Monday, April 4, 2011

Writing Challenges

The last few weeks I've been hanging out on Twitter a lot. It's not what you think. I'm not procrastinating. OK, I'm not alway procrastinating on Twitter. I have been following the 1k1hr hashtag. Writers jump in and try to write a thousand words in a single hour and then come back and report the outcome. It's been wonderfully productive for me. I finished my first draft, writing at a pace that I hadn't duplicated since NaNo. More importantly, it didn't feel like work at all. I'm far enough along in the book that I won't be doing much in the way of 1k1hr for a while. Which sounds like a wonderful thing, but I'm a bit conflicted.  I'm a bit disappointed not to have the camaraderie and motivation of  my writing buddies.

I saw the link to this  blog via @Lili_Tufel  and it got me thinking about why the 1k1hr challenges worked so well for me. The author raises some really good problems with these writing sprints or even the longer challenge of something like NaNo. Some of the ways I deal with these problems were just luck, but some were a choice and some where the result of the cool writers that are doing 1k1hr.

The race is the point I think part of the appeal of contests for unpublished writers is that external deadline. It is hard for me to make the writing a real priority when there is no deadline. It's pretty easy to ignore the writing and  distant goals in favor of the army of dust bunnies invading my house and the piles of laundry right in front of me. For me the fact that I have to check back in at the end of the hour means that I can ignore the phone and emails for a bit and just focus. Pushing hard, knowing everyone else is writing, gives me that extra competitiveness to get writing. I don't always win. There are a couple of writers who I know will double my word count most days. The wining isn't the point, it's the race that pushes me to try harder.

The quality varies Some days I read over what I wrote and I'm very pleased. Other days I know I'm going to delete half of it. But the other half is something unexpected and wonderful. All of it could use some tightening, but I tend to be pretty wordy in the best of circumstances. The easiest scenes to write that quickly are the ones where I know just what happens and I just type the words. But some of the best things I've written have been when I have a crap word count and little idea of what comes next.

Huge pressure for only 60 minutes For an hour you are writing full out.  Sometimes the time flies by too quickly. Sometimes I am interrupted. Sometimes I can't believe the time is up because I've been so caught up in the story. Sometimes I am counting the minutes at the end trying to put enough words on the page to get even close to a thousand. But if I don't make 1K, I don't worry about it. The other participants cheer when you've hit the goal, but are quick to point out that even if it's only 500 words, it's 500 new words. Or even 250. If it goes well, I'm extra happy and there are people to celebrate with. If it doesn't go well, I just let it go. I do another sprint. Or just figure that tomorrow is another day.

I think at the end of it, that is what makes the 1k1hr work so well for me. Even if it is a complete failure, it was only an hour. If I delete the entire scene because I want to go in a different direction, it was just an hour of my life. That doesn't seem such a terrible commitment.

Saturday, March 26, 2011

What's for dinner?

I am the mom of teenagers. This means we eat a lot of pizza.  It is the food of choice for slumber parties and study groups. Delivery pizza. Frozen pizza. Mini bagel pizza. The kids aren't picky.

I on the other hand am picky. I like a thin, but not crispy crust. And something besides just cheese and pepperoni. In search of better pizza I started making my own. I've made a variety of crusts and this is my current favorite. It doesn't require the bread machine. It has some whole wheat for better flavor, but is lightened with all purpose flour. It's quick and easy and requires a minimal rise time. Easy and yummy.

NYTimes Whole Wheat Pizza Dough

2 teaspoons active dry yeast
1 cup warm water
1/2 teaspoon sugar
1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil, plus additional for brushing the pizza crusts
1 1/4 cups stone ground whole wheat flour
1 1/2 cups unbleached all-purpose flour, plus additional if necessary for kneading
1 1/4 teaspoons salt
1. Combine the yeast and water in a 2-cup Pyrex measuring cup. Add the sugar, and stir together. Let sit two or three minutes, until the water is cloudy. Stir in the olive oil.
2. Combine the whole wheat flour, all-purpose flour and salt in a food processor fitted with the steel blade. Pulse once or twice. Then, with the machine running, pour in the yeast mixture. Process until the dough forms a ball on the blades. Remove from the processor (the dough will be a little tacky; flour or moisten your hands so it won’t stick), and knead on a lightly floured surface for a couple of minutes, adding flour as necessary for a smooth dough.

And that's it! Hop on over to the Times for ideas on toppings. Or click through to the other Recipes for Health. Always an inspiration to me in the kitchen.

What are  you cooking? What's inspiring for you when you are planning your menu?

ETA: Great timing! Here's a new recipe for  a new topping for your pizza dough.

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

TBR Challenge 2011: Bayou Moon

The Book: Bayou Moon by Ilona Andrews

The Particulars: urban fantasy, Ace 2010, book #2 of the Edge series of connected books. This isn't actually a sequel, rather the story of a secondary character from the first book in the series, On the Edge. Although the book has some spoilers for the first book in the series, it isn't necessary to read them in order.

Why was it in my TBR pile: I bought this the month it was released. I bought it because I'm a huge fangirl of the Kate Daniels series by the same author. I have no idea why I didn't pick this up to read right away. I did read the first Edge book and I liked it as well, although not as well as Kate and friends.

The review: Bayou Moon is the story of William, a shifter hunting down an old enemy and Cerise. Cerise Mar and her family live in a swamp in the Edge, the world between the magical Weird and our ordinary world the Broken.Cerise is poor and her large extended family struggles for everything they get. A rival family is threatening Cerise and her parents are missing, leaving her to save them all.

William and Cerise meet as they both are sneaking their way back into the Edge in disguise. William's enemy is hot on their trail, but it is Cerise who is being hunted. To complete his mission, William convinces Cerise to take him back to her family's compound. From there he can hunt the men hunting her.

The thing that Ilona Andrews really excels at I think is the world building. All the details of the magics and changelings (shifters) are fascinating. The world is fully realized, yet leaves room for still more to surprise in any future novels in the Edge series.

I think perhaps one of the things that worried me about reading this was Williams character. I had such a strong image of him from the first book, and I wasn't sure how he would work for me as a romantic hero. He actually is probably my favorite part of the book. William is a broken and betrayed man. Everything that he had  is gone and he is a bit lost until he is handed the opportunity to hunt down an old adversary. I totally loved watching him fall in love with Cerise without losing the side of him that is more beast than man. Cerise and William both are characters who refuse to be beaten down by their circumstances and I longed for their happy ending.

One thing I didn't love about Bayou Moon is the many points of view. It's all well done - no random head hopping. It's just me.

I did really like the book. I'll have to say I don't like the Edge books quite as much as the Kate series, although I'm not sure I could say why. Kate is actually written in first person, which I don't as a rule enjoy. The Edge books might also edge more into Paranormal Romance which I prefer to Urban Fantasy. That said, I'm really glad I read both of them. Bayou Moon is fun and clever, with a whole cast of amusing characters.

For more from the TBR Challenge 2011, check out the award winning  Wendy the Super Librarian.

Thursday, March 10, 2011

A Summer Workshop

I've been having a lot of fun this week setting up summer projects for my teenagers.

Last summer my 15yo daughter Patience took an online summer class on short story writing. It was a great class and she learned a lot. All of the students ended up producing a story which the class "published" for the families. Her story was among the shortest, but was really moving. Most importantly she learned a lot while having a great time working that hard. This summer she wants to work on writing a novel. We haven't found a class that would be suitable so we're making up our own. Since she didn't break 5K on her NaNoWriMo, she's accepted that she's not going to write the whole thing in the couple of months we spend working on this.

My elder daughter Prudence did win NaNo this year. Sadly, she picked up a virus and lost all the data. (Let her be a warning to you all. Back up your work now!) She wants in on this. It's her chance to rewrite the story she lost when she didn't heed my numerous reminders to backup her work.

We're going to follow somewhat the outline of the short fiction workshop. I want to have a  novel we read, instead of several short stories. We'll also read on about craft. I have about a dozen writing books on my shelf. I'm thinking maybe Bird by Bird or Writing Down the Bones. Or maybe I'll get a copy of Stephen King's book? It's been a long time since I read it, but I remember it being smart, but a straightforward read.

Next we need to have some writing exercises or prompts. I have a couple of books with prompts and I have Ursula LeGuin's Steering the Craft. It has what seem the perfect type of exercises for our purposes. They are short and focused. But I've never used them before.

The thing I am most undecided on is the novel we'll read. I may end up with two different novels. I read fast enough that I won't mind. Prudence is certain that she wants a more adult novel since she's outgrowing a lot of her old YA favorites. She wants a Paranormal/UF book though and that is my problem. Much of that genre is  a bit more adult in theme and sexual content than she'd enjoy, even if she and I weren't planning to discuss the book. I haven't read much of that sort of book for several years now and I feel a bit out of touch.

I have been eying Kelley Armstrong's Waking the Witch. Prudence loves the Darkest Powers series so I know she'd enjoy Armstrong's writing, but I don't know anything about the new series. I'd be comfortable with a bit of sex, but anything to hardcore is probably going to lose her. She also really loves Melissa Marr and Ilona Andrews.

Any thoughts on Waking the Witch? Any other suggestions for books?

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Thanks to the ever wonderful Jenni Merritt I have my very first blog award. Isn't it shiny?

The rules:

1. Thank and link back to the blogger who bestowed the award.
2. State seven things about yourself.
3. Pass the award on to 15 newly discovered bloggers.

First of all, thanks Jenni!! I always look forward to reading your blog and it was fun taking a tour of all of your other award winners.

Seven things about myself?

  1. I am a native New Yorker.
  2. I've lived in Florida so long, I'm not sure I could survive a northern winter any longer.
  3. I am an excellent baker. Breads, cakes, cookies. Pie crusts are a little iffy, though. I have ruined my kids for grocery store cakes and packaged cookies. A lot of their friends, too. 
  4. I love coffee. All coffee: espresso, lattes, iced coffee, ordinary diner coffee. I need coffee. My kids know not to talk to me about anything meaningful before the first cup.
  5. I can't tan. I'm too fair. Any color from the sun will be pink.
  6. I drive a minivan. I know you envy me.
  7. I have made a tutu. More than a couple even. Classical and Romantic. 

And finally, I'm to pick some bloggers to award this to. I'm not following anyone who is particularly new to me. I think I should fix that. Blog reading is my favorite way to procrastinate. Tell me who you're following that I should be checking out. Help me add some bloggers to my list of interesting people to pass the time when I should be doing laundry instead.

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

I'm bowing out of this month's TBR Challenge. My TBR pile is no smaller but I have other obligations this week that must come first.

I have things to read for my critique partners and I have the eHarlequin Valentine's Secret entries to read. Even more fun than that we're having company tomorrow, beloved family who we rarely see.

As a treat, I'm making homemade bread to go with our two pans of lasagna-- we'll have four teenagers. I'm making homemade bread. Not bread machine bread, but a cold rise baguette. I've made lots of bread at home over the years. In a bread machine. Whole wheat. Oatmeal. Kneaded by hand. Kneaded in a heavy-duty mixer.

The lovely Lynn Rae Harris and I were talking about baking bread and she confessed to being a bit leery of bread. There are so many things that have to be correct. The yeast has to be fresh or the bread won't rise. If the water is too hot or too cold, it still won't rise. If the room is too hot, the dough could over rise and then fall before it's even in the oven. If the room's too cold, the dough will be too dense. Baking is part science and part craft. I've had all these things and still more things go wrong (our Labrador mix really liked bread).

This cold rise method is hands down, my favorite way to make bread. It's forgiving. If I have to run an unexpected errand, the dough can wait a little bit for me. As long as the water is cool to the touch, the bread will eventually rise. The crumb and the flavor of the bread is truly superb, better than most I can buy locally.

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

The Inherited Bride by Maisey Yates

Isn't the cover for this book yummy? The actual book is so much more beautiful. I'm so lucky that I won a copy of this, since it's only just available in UK. Maisey Yates' book is a wonderful fairy tale of a princess and a sheik.

If the hero of a story is too strong, the heroine can be overshadowed. This is especially true of very young heroines. Bella is young and overly sheltered. She's struggling to stand on her own before her arranged marriage takes place. She's a girl with no experience and no control over her life. Although at the beginning of the story she is naive and a bit timid, she matures into a more assured young woman. That was fun to see and it also really made me believe in her happy ending.

Adham is very, very alpha. Very alpha heroes can be a challenge. Sometimes they can edge into something a little too: too bossy, too menacing, too rude. Adham sometimes crosses those lines, but his honorable motives make it possible for me to forgive him just about anything. Over at Samantha Hunter's blog there was a great conversation about what makes an alpha hero work. The one thing that came from the conversation was that an alpha hero who was constrained by a code -pack laws, military rules or in Adham's case a code of honor -  is more balanced than the guy who just runs around yelling and throwing his weight around. That unshakable honor makes it easier to forgive him when he's too bold and easier to believe in his softer side.

The Inherited Bride is an emotional read packed into a slim category book.

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

TBR Challenge 2011: Exposed: Misbehaving with the Magnate

I am participating in the 2011 TBR Challenge being hosted by Wendy the Super Librarian
Each month participants read one novel from their TBR list and post a review. I’m hoping this will help with the large number of books I have that I haven’t read yet, but can’t seem to part with. I mean to read them, but I find something else to distract me and somehow never get back to it.

There are a series of suggestions for each month’s post. There’s no obligation to stick to the suggested categories, or even to post every single month.

I have a few rules for myself. I’m only going to post about books I liked. If I didn’t like a title, I will pick another book or just skip that month. If there are bits that didn’t work for me or flaws, I’ll point them out. But if my overall feeling is that the book just was off, I don’t wish to post paragraphs on why it’s not for me. It’s not that I feel that the authors aren’t adult enough to take the criticism. It’s not that I don’t support the rights of bloggers to be honest in their reviews. I just don’t want to waste my blogging time writing something so negative. 

The first suggested read is a category romance. I actually read a fair amount of category so I didn’t have any unread laying around the house.  I did have a bunch of free ebooks from Mills and Boon that I’d never even opened over the holidays and when I looked through these, I did find a reissue of an 2009 Kelly Hunter book I had never read. I had read the sequel to this 'Hot Bed of Scandal' duo. It was actually my first ever Hunter book and I adored it so much that I hunted down all of her Bennet family stories as well.

Exposed: Misbehaving with the Magnate is a reunion story. This is a trope that I love, but that can have so much go wrong. The book opens with Gabrielle's return to her childhood home and her first love Luc. The opening does a great job of setting both the plot of the book and the feeling of the story. Hunter's books for me all have a huge emotional punch without feeling too dark and heavy. And that's really saying something considering some of the issues in this book.

Here's the blurb from Hunter's website.
Forbidden desire... unleashed passion!

Seven years ago Gabrielle was the housekeeper's daughter, and Luc Duvalier, as the heir to a vast fortune, was forbidden! One hot kiss got Gaby banished, but she's returned home determined to face Luc as an equal - in every way!

Both know it's only a matter of time before they give in to their passion - despite the scandal this will cause.

 I loved that she didn't go away and pine for Luc. She lived her life. Gabrielle had a full personal and professional life. She didn't come home a 25 year old virgin. Having had that kind of full life, it's all the more poignant when she realizes what is missing. Gabrielle is a real and flawed heroine. She had plenty of problems in her past (I won't divulge to much here), but she didn't always react well to them. The fact that she recognises and accepts that fact made me love her even more.

The relationship between Gabreille and her mother is complicated and painful. The end of that plot line did feel a little rushed, not surprising given the constraints of a category word count. It was a believable and satisfying ending, where again the heroine refrains from self-pity.

Luc's sister Simone plays a fairly large part in the story, enough of a part that she's more than just sequel bait. And I loved her just as much here as I did in her book Revealed: A Prince and a Pregnancy.

Wednesday, January 12, 2011


Doubts are in the air. There have been many people talking about the ways that writers can combat them. Maisey Yates compares them to crows, big ones that are just waiting to peck at you. There are certainly more than enough reasons to doubt. When I'm all alone in front of the screen, the crows seem menacing. Writing is lonely indeed. Some days the crows seem more like vultures.

They circle around overhead as I wander the wilderness of my manuscript. Their very presence seems confirmation of some weakness that I hadn't noticed before. They drift ever closer as the day goes by. Even if the word count is getting larger, they taunt me. They aren't the right words. The words aren't good enough. The dialogue is stilted. The pacing is off. The characters are boring me, who will ever want to read this?

Thoses big black birds peck away at our confidence. It's so hard as writer to keep going with so little feedback. When you do get feedback, it isn't always what you'd hoped for. There are harsh critiques, revisions, maybe even a rejection from a publisher. Writing is pouring your mind, heart and soul into a story knowing there will be rejection. Not everyone will like the story. Perioid. For sure. For every wildly popular author, there are groups that hate that author's work. Someone is going to hate that thing in my novel everyone else loves.  That will hurt.

And then the scavengers come back, drawn by the smell of blood. Like wild animals, they can sense my weakness and there they'll be ready to pounce on me. In the past, I didn't have the courage to face them down. Rather than accept that I might not be good enough, I just stopped trying. I was busy doing other things and just didn't get back to the story that was attracting those scary birds. I came out of it whole, but what I gave up was the thing I most wanted: to write.

So, as they circle over head I'll keep an eye on them, but this time I won't turn and run.

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

Happy Birthday to me!

My birthday was Sunday. Monday morning a woke up to the best present. I won a spot in Lani Diane Rich's Revision class over on StoryWonk. I am so excited!! I've been listening to her weekday podcasts and aside from being super fun, she manages to get the big concepts about what works in a story into brief, laugh-filled 10 minutes bites. Seriously. At the very least, you should listen to her talk on owning your greatness. Go on. I'll wait.

It is such a struggle to believe in yourself as a writer. No matter how great your manuscript, there always seems to be room for improvement. To the unpublished author, getting an agent or a contract seems a well-nigh unattainable goal. Even published authors face lousy reviews and rough revisions. Everyone seems willing to line up to tell you no. It is hard to pick yourself up when you're feeling battered and bruised. It's hard to try again with no promise of success. The only thing I no for certain is that if I don't try, it's a regret I can't live with.

That's true of all of the things that really matter to me in life. When I had my children, there was no promise that they'd be okay. Or even that I'd be a good mother. There have skinned knees and tears. There have been awkward questions. There have been heartrending things I've had to tell my children. Maybe I haven't always been a good mother, but I've been a good enough mother. They are both in high school now and they are young women of whom I'm as often proud as I am provoked. I think those are pretty decent results.

When I got married, there was no promise, beyond our vows, that our marriage would last, that we would be one of the lucky couples. But I believe in my husband and I believe in love. We've been married nearly twenty years now. I just can't even imagine my world without him.

It's obvious that I believe in love: I write romance. It's easy to believe that loving someone can change your life for the better. It's so much more frightening to have that faith in myself.