Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Happy 2009!

Normally I post on the 30th, but I wanted to let Kara's great Q & A stay up an extra day. As I am currently spending my break between first and second semester writing and catching up on reading my TBR pile, I'm going to keep this short and simply wish you a happy 2009.

If you are going out and about tonight, or even if you are staying home with a loved one and watching the ball drop, have a wonderful and safe New Year's Eve. I'm thrilled to be the last post of 2009, and may all your resolutions and goals for 2009 be met.

Monday, December 29, 2008

An Interview with Kara Lennox

In honor of Harlequin American Romance's 25th Anniversary, authors old and new have answered a series of questions. Here are my answers--but I only answered the questions I liked!
1) How long have you been published?
20 years. Is that scary or what?
2) What advice would you give a new writer just starting out?
Don't take everything so seriously. If you're in this for the long haul, there will be ups and downs. Go with the flow.
3) What, in your opinion, are the most important elements of good writing?
Telling a good story. So long as you can keep readers turning the pages, nothing else matters.
4) You can erase any horrible experience from your past. What will it be?
The time I sent a private message to a friend--only I hit the wrong button and it went public.
5) What's the strangest thing you've ever eaten?
A fish eye. It was dark.
6) What comes first: the plot or the characters?
For me, plot.
7) When you looked in the mirror this morning, what was the first thing you thought?
Who is that old lady in my bathroom?
8) Describe your writing space.
A total mess. Post-It notes everywhere. Can't see the top of my desk.
9) Do you ever suffer from writer's block? If so, what do you do about it?
I did for the first time this year! I waited it out. Eventually it went away.
10) What books or authors have most influenced your own writing?
Victoria Holt and Mary Higgins Clark. Later, Janet Evanovich.
11) What are you reading now?
A Lisa Gardner book.
12) Do you re-read your books once they're in print?
Never.
13) What is your work schedule like when you are writing?
It's a pretty normal 9-5 workday, writing more in the morning and editing/brainstorming/plotting and problem-solving in the afternoon.
14) How many books have you written? Which is your favorite?
I've sold 57 (as Kara Lennox and Karen Leabo) but I've written lots more that haven't sold. My favorite is a Silhouette Intimate Moments published in 1995 called INTO THIN AIR.
15) Do you hear from your readers much? What do they say?
I get letters and e-mail now and then. Many of my readers are teenagers and people from other countries. I've corresponded with readers from Africa, India and Bulgaria, and I love to hear from them especially.
16) Are you working on anything at the present you'd like to share?
I'm playing around with a young-adult paranormal romance.
17) Did you ever eat paste or Elmer's glue when you were a kid?
No. Blech.
18) What did you do career-wise before becoming an author?
I was an art director for a magazine, then a freelance nonfiction writer. I also did some crazy odd jobs. I was a blackjack dealer and a hamster wrangler for an entertainment company.
19) How has the American Romance line changed since you first began writing for it?
My first American came out in 1999. I think it's broadened a lot. You see more diversity in the line. It's more author-driven, I think.
20) What helps inspire you when you write? Do you have any ‘rituals’ (like music, candles, a favorite scent) that helps you find your writing zone?
I like groceries, that's what inspires me! No rituals. I just like it quiet.
21) What do you want to know about the future?
Nothing--I'd rather be surprised.
22) Can you taste the difference between Pepsi and Coke? If so, which do you prefer?
Yes, and I prefer Coke, though I seldom drink any kind of soft drink.
23) Have you ever made a crank phone call?
Yes. I was a horrible child.
24) What is your dream car?
A silver Nissan Roadster.
25) If you could go anywhere in the world where would it be?
Any place with a beach and umbrella drinks. No, seriously, I love to travel, and I love going to strange, out-of-the-way places like Bulgaria.
26) If you were locked in a closet for one hour who would you want in there with you?
My husband. He has a black belt in Tae Kwan Do, and I would get him to kick the door down. I'm claustrophobic.

Saturday, December 27, 2008

Dreaming of a White Christmas

Kids around the world dream of a white Christmas – just ask Bing Crosby, Thomas Kinkade and Frosty the Snowman. It doesn’t get much better than sledding on your favorite hill, sipping hot chocolate and building a snow fort. And to that I’m tempted to say bah humbug – not that I’m a Scrooge, au contraire, I love the snow but this year we endured 12 days of frozen precipitation – snow, ice, and freezing rain. We shoveled, scraped and de-iced but that wasn’t the worst of it. When the white stuff falls in the Pacific Northwest absolutely everything comes to a standstill. Schools and businesses close, buildings collapse, busses don’t run, trains freeze up, airplanes are grounded and freeways are littered with abandoned cars. We had folks stranded at the airport, the bus terminal and the train station for days prior to Christmas. Oh wow - that has to be cabin fever on steroids.

But now - hip, hip hooray - we’re in the middle of a big thaw and life is returning to normal. Stores are packed and the traffic is a killer. All’s well in our little corner of the world. So the moral of this story is the next time I start talking about a white Christmas I think I’ll simply whack myself upside the head and buy a ticket to Maui.
Wishing you a wonderful New Year
Ann DeFee
The Man She Married, HAR, February 2009
Top Gun Dad, HAR, October 2009

Thursday, December 25, 2008

Merry Christmas

We would all like to give you a big hug and a cyber chorus of We Wish You a Merry Christmas and A Happy New Year.

Joy to all and may today be merry.

The authors of Harlequin American Romance

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Deck the Halls

It’s Christmas Eve! I love the holidays, and I so often find myself wishing that time—which is already a precious commodity—would slow down so I could enjoy the preparations and shopping even more than I already do.

I especially love to decorate for the holidays, even though I’m not particularly creative in that area. But by combining some natural greenery with everyday things I have in my home, I can decorate almost nook and cranny...on a shoestring!

Here’s a smattering of the things I use, starting with locally collected holly and cedar boughs, an assortment of cones, various glassware items, and a selection of floating candles.

I found this metal moose-and-tree sleigh at a Boxing Day sale several years ago. It’s quite plain looking until it has been lined with cedar and filled with cones and pillar candles. In this picture it’s on top of the china cabinet but I might also use it as centrepiece for one of our holiday meals.

This big sea-green bowl is lined with more cedar and filled with pears (the fake kind from the dollar store) and pine cones. I think there are some redwood cones in there, too, and when we decorate the tree later today, I might add a few colored glass balls.

I really love this combination. The footed glass bowl is from a secondhand store, and I use it year round for fruit, flowers, etc. Here it’s filled with water that floats holly leaves, holly berries and a floating candle. It might be hard to tell from the photo, but it's a green Christmas-tree-shaped candle.

Continuing with that theme, this cylindrical vase is also filled with water and holly branches and topped with a floating candle. This is a deep red beeswax candle. Could anything be simpler?

My daughter suggested using wine glasses as candle holders, and I think it’s a great idea! Right side up or upside down, they make fun tea light holders. Add a few sprigs of greenery and I’m done! This arrangement is on the window sill above the kitchen sink.

For me, Christmas is all about creative fun and a festive home filled with family. If I can accomplish that with relatively little fuss and bother, great. If I can do it on a shoestring budget, even better!

How do you decorate your home? Any last-minute tips for sprucing up the house?

Wishing you a happy, happy holiday!

Lee
Lee’s blog
Lee’s website

Monday, December 22, 2008

The Baby Who Came To The Meet

So, last Friday night, there I was-at a wrestling meet-doing my usual thing. Sitting with boys and my husband and the usual crowd of parents who have become friends after hours and hours of gymnasium sitting, concession duty, and pancake breakfast flipping.

I think I’ve mentioned that I’ve been pretty melancholy lately. Our son is a senior and while there were many, many times over the years I ‘couldn’t wait for him to grow up’ now that he has- I’ve been feeling a little blue. He’ll be going to the University of Alabama next year. It's GREAT for him. It feels a little far for me.

Anyway, there I was, sitting and wincing as some kid’s nose started bleeding. (really, I never imagined myself watching such things!) when a girlfriend plopped a baby in my lap.

Yep. A baby!! And a baby girl, at that! She was tiny-just eight weeks old-and she was asleep and wrapped up in so many cozy layers that she looked like a pink and yellow penguin. She smelled sweet and cute, too!

That baby was kind of a 'surprise baby'. My girlfriend’s oldest had a baby a little unexpectedly early, you might say-and now she’s on grandparent duty a bit earlier than she ever imagined. For all of us wrestling moms and dads, that little thing was truly magical. See, for all of us there, it had been over a dozen years since even our youngest kids were hold-able.

Even my senior son smiled at the way I fussed with the little girl’s tiny foot, oohing at those tiny toes, then covering them up just so. And somehow I began that little rocking sway that had been dormant for fifteen years.

Now, suddenly, in between yelling for ‘pins’ and wincing at injuries, the whole crew of us were playing a delightful game of Pass The Sleeping Baby. What a joy that was! She was light! She molded to our bodies! She sucked that pacifier like nothing you ever saw!

Then the inevitable happened. She got tired of our fussing and woke up, stared at the strangers, and promptly let us know that a wrestling meet was not her thing. Not one bit.

We did what you might expect then. We passed that baby right back to her grandma.

Late that night I went to sleep thinking about that little girl, and about my daughter who’s almost sixteen. And, of course, I thought about my boy who now has been taller than me for a couple of years. Thinking about what a joy they are. What miracles they’ve been to me. How much happiness they’ve brought.

So, during this wonderful Christmas week, I hope that each of you has someone to hold on to, too. Even if just for a bit. In the end, family and friends are really all that matters. Merry Christmas, and God bless!

Shelley

Sunday, December 21, 2008

Author Interview: Victoria Chancellor

This interview is with Victoria Chancellor, who has written eleven books for Harlequin American Romance and nine books for other publishers. She resides in Richardson, Texas, a suburb of Dallas, with her husband of 37 years and a variety of pets. Her daughter, son-in-law, and two granddaughters live right next door! She wishes everyone a very Merry Christmas and Happy New Year.

How did you make your first sale?
I’d been seriously writing for about a year when I attended a regional writers conference in Beaumont, Texas. Author Susan Wiggs was one of the judges, and she insisted that her editor, Carolyn Marino of Harper, take a look at my book. Luckily for me, Harper was launching a new women’s fiction line, and less than three weeks later, Carolyn bought my book on proposal to be part of the launch. That was a historical romance, All My Dreams.

How long have you been published?
I sold my first book in November, 1990, and it came out in November, 1992. By then I had sold a short contemporary on proposal to Meteor Publishing, which is no longer in business. I thought writing was pretty neat, so I quit my day job to write part time and work for my husband’s business part time. After my first two relatively easy sales, I didn’t sell another book for over a year!

How many books have you written? Which is your favorite?
I’ve written eleven books for Harlequin American, three short contemporaries for other publishers, one historical romance, and five paranormal romances for Dorchester Love Spell. I must admit I really love paranormal romances, especially time travels. Unfortunately for me, they aren’t popular right now. My favorite book is probably Miracle of Love, the story of a struggling Irish immigrant who brings her dying baby into St. Mary’s Cathedral in Galveston, Texas in 1896 and prays for a miracle. Although I’m not Irish or Catholic, and I’ve never had such a trauma in my life, that character became extremely real to me. My father passed away while I was in the midst of writing this book, and somehow, his faith seemed to make the story stronger.

Why did you target the American Romance Line?
My good friend Judy Christenberry was writing for American, and I had read many Americans, especially the Heart Beat and More Than Men series. Although I knew they weren’t publishing paranormals any longer, I still liked the line. I submitted a proposal about a small town police chief who had been stood up at the altar twice to Melissa Jeglinski and she bought it.

What did you do career-wise before becoming an author?
I’ve done a little bit of everything except working as a waitress. (Believe me, you don’t want to trust me with a plate of food around demanding or obnoxious people!) I started working in fine jewelry at age 14, then got married and had a child. When I was younger and lighter, I even exercised horses at Churchill Downs. I worked in offices, military security, volunteered for political campaigns, and finally went to college when I was in my 30s. My degree is in Economics and Finance, and I had a career in financial systems and analysis at EDS before getting bit by the writing bug.

What comes first: the plot or the characters?
Neither, really. The inciting incident comes first. I see something and try to think about what characters would fit into that scenario, and then I try to think about what choices they would make. If it seems interesting, then I start doing character sketches. For example, in Miracle of Love, I saw a man startled awake by a baby crying in the living room of his secured, high rise condo. He sees a woman dressed in period clothing holding a crying child. That scene made me ask a lot of questions, such as why is the baby crying? How did the woman and child get into his condo? What’s he going to do next? Romance writers should always remember that the characters must drive the story, not the other way around. If things are happening to your hero and heroine rather than them influencing what happens, you’re on the wrong track.

What do you like to do when you're not writing?
Since I live next door to my granddaughters, I spend a lot of time with them. I also love to scrapbook; I take a lot of photographs. I work part time as the financial manager of my husband’s company. We sell and install school furniture, and we are extremely busy every summer. I love to travel, but don’t get to go as often as I’d like.

What is your writing routine?
When I’m on book deadline (i.e. I have a contract to complete a book by a certain date) I write four to seven pages each morning, then get dressed and go to the office in the afternoon. I’m not a morning person, so I don’t get started until nine or ten o’clock. Then after dinner, I write another four to seven pages, depending on my deadline. When I don’t have a contract to turn in a book at a particular date, I’m a complete lazy bones. It takes me longer to write a proposal than it does to finish a book!

If you were stranded on an island for a month and could bring three books along, what would they be?
I would bring Rachel Gibson’s The Trouble With Valentines Day, almost anything by Susan Elizabeth Phillips, but most likely Natural Born Charmer (or This Heart of Mine or Nobody’s Baby But Mine) and Anne Stuart’s HAR Heart Beat, Falling Angel.

What is your dream car?
I still have my 1978 Formula Firebird, which we ordered in 1978 and I never could make myself sell. However, I’m planning to put it on eBay soon. My whole life I’ve wanted a 1963 to 1967 Corvette, but I’ll probably be too old to climb in and out by the time I could afford one. Plus, the older I get, the more I think about safety – things like air bags and seat belts take on new significance.

Are you working on anything at the present you'd like to share?

I’m writing the proposal for the last book in the Brody’s Crossing series, tentatively titled Texan in Her Heart. It’s the story of what happened when Troy and Cal Crawford’s mother left them when they were teens. I knew all along that there was a good reason, but it didn’t come to me until a few months ago.

What are you reading now?
Every year between Thanksgiving and Christmas, I re-read Anne Stuart’s Falling Angel. It’s a wonderful holiday story about redemption and love. If you can find a copy online or in a used book story, you should get it and read it. I know it’s a paranormal, but really, Harlequin should release that book again! Anne Stuart wrote many Harlequin American Romances, but that is my favorite. I hope to write a book someday that people will feel that strongly about.

Saturday, December 20, 2008

Tis the Busy Season

Merry Christmas and Happy New Year, and Happy Holidays.

This is always my busiest season. I finished school yesterday for two weeks. I only worked three days last week because of snow. It's been a bit crazy here in St. Louis. Yesterday once I got home, I painted my daughter's room. Redoing her room (new bedding and such) is her Christmas present (one she picked out), and I spackled, taped, painted and cleaned up. I planned on taking a few days to do it, but figured I could simply get it all done in one nonstop dash. I quit about 1 AM, but her room is now blue instead of pink and she likes it. As I write this, I'm still covered in little paint flecks that I hope to get off today, or else I'll be at my book signing with little blue dots on me.

As for my kids, they are sleeping in. My cat however still worries if I'm in bed past eight and comes to wake me up. Thus, I'm up.

For me, Christmas is all about my kids. My daughters are 12 and 13 (14 in March) and love the holiday. We bought a new tree this year, a $35 prelit 6 1/2 footer from Wal-Mart. It's a bit shabby looking, but the cats don't climb it like they did the last one, so the fact that the ornaments are staying on this year (except the very bottom branches) is a huge plus. We'd go to bed last year, wake up, and in the morning find cats in the tree and all the ornaments all over the living room. They were having party time.

So, as I rush off to get ready for my book signing, may you all have a joyous holiday season filled with blessed memories.

Friday, December 19, 2008

A matter of perspective

Seattle is experiencing record cold. For the past week the temp has not climbed over freezing. The other night our thermometer read 19 degrees!

I was in Eugene, Oregon last weekend, which is also experiencing temperatures well below freezing. I always stay at a wonderful bed and breakfast called the Oval Door (www.ovaldoor.com). What a place—the cookie jar is always filled with homemade, freshly baked cookies, and the wine bottles are open and waiting. In the living room, comfy furniture and an inviting gas fireplace. Talk about a home away from home! Best of all, the breakfasts—hearty, homemade food and all the coffee and tea you can drink. Melissa and Nicole, the co-owners (and trained chefs!) are friendly and accommodating. And the interesting people who stay there! But I digress...

Several mornings I shared the breakfast table with a man from Alberta who developed the coolest software for internet car sales. In Alberta the temp recently dropped to a whopping -40 degrees, the temperature at which Celsius and Fahrenheit are the same! Talk about c-c-cold!

For him, 19 degrees is mild. For me, it’s frigid. All a matter of perspective.

Which got me thinking. I can choose to moan and groan about the cold or enjoy the clean, invigorating air. I can play in the snow and appreciate the beauty of snow-covered trees and lawn, or let it ruin my day.

I choose the positive route. What about you?

Wishing you a Merry Christmas, Hanukkah, Kwanza and Winter Solstice, and gratitude for everything coming you way,
Ann
www.annroth.net

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Holidays and Blessings

'Twas a week before Christmas...

Already?!

Time really does fly, doesn't it? It wasn't that long ago that the air conditioning was barely keeping us cool, and now we're hurtling toward the big day in a flurry of last minute activities. It's also the perfect time to think about the blessings of the past year and throughout our lives.

My best friend of forty-five years has a box made and given to her by her great-niece. Inside, it contains small pieces of paper and a pen. It's called a Blessings Box, and each time she thinks of something she's blessed with, she writes it down on one of the papers, folds it, and leaves it in the box. When she's feeling down, she goes to the box and reads the blessings she's written, remembering that even through the tough times, there are those small things that make us smile.

Although I've started painting my own Blessings Box, it isn't finished. I've made a mental list of the things I'll write and add to it when it is. The blessing of my family will be the first. Without them, life wouldn't be as joyful. My friends will be second. Without their humor, strength, and giving hearts, each day would be a little emptier. I'm blessed to have a career I love and readers who give me the opportunity to share my stories with. I'm sure before this holiday season is over, I'll think of many more to add to the list.

Holidays can be crazy times, but there are always a few blessings in each day, if we take the time to look close enough. Have a wonderfully happy and blessed holiday season!!

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Happy Holidays to You and Yours

The tree’s not up, all the presents have not yet been bought, and the holiday greeting-card list is nowhere near ready to be checked. I may not accomplish every item on my To-Do list--and this won’t be the first time!

I just don’t get it. December rolls around at exactly the same time every year, and somehow it still manages to sneak up on me.

One thing I'd never miss, though, is the chance to say thanks to all of you for stopping by the blog during this year, for reading my posts, and for sharing your thoughts with me.

I hope this holiday season is extra-special for you and that you have a wonderful, happy, and healthy year ahead!

As for me, I’m determined not to let January 1st sneak up on me, so I’m making my New Year’s resolutions now: to find balance in all areas of my life--and to keep an accurate, up-to-date calendar!

I’m giving you a jumpstart, too, because, of course, I’d really like to know...

What’s your New Year’s resolution?


All my best to you,

Barbara

~~~~~~

Barbara White Daille
http://www.barbarawhitedaille.com

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

The grumpies

Okay, I admit it, sometimes I can get pretty grumpy during the holidays. Call me Mrs. Scourge. For the past few years I've had book deadlines hanging over my head and find myself trying to squeeze in writing time when I'd rather be doing something fun like drinking spiked Eggnog.

And it doesn't help any that my birthday is Christmas Eve and I have to turn a year older. The kids groan and complain about having to buy me two gifts during the holiday season. I don't get many cards--most of the Happy Birthday wishes are added to the Christmas cards people send. My birthday cake always has red poinsettias on it. And try to find a restaurant that stays open past four so hubby can take me out for dinner--we now call my birthday dinner....lupper (in between lunch and supper).

So this year I've decided not to worry about getting older--can't turn back time. I'm not going to stress out about keeping the house clean in case neighbors pop in unannounced. I told the kids to get me one thing for Christmas and for my birthday a "Coupon" that says they won't argue during Christmas break. And I'm really looking forward to my Birthday Margarita!

How about anyone else....do the holidays make you grumpy?

Happy Holidays to you and yours!

Marin
RT Top Pick
The Cowboy and the Angel (Nov 08)
www.marinthomas.com

Monday, December 15, 2008

Back on Our Feet

I recently returned from Nashville, Tenn., where I helped my 91-year-old mother return home from a convalescent facility. Those of you who follow this blog might recall that Sylvia Hyman is a well-known ceramic sculptor who fell in September while we were attending an international ceramics conference in Xi’an, China.

The good news is that she’s back on her feet, using a walker but able to descend the stairs to her studio. The not-so-good news is that her eyesight is falling prey to macular degeneration.

However, she’s still brimming with creative ideas and a fiery spirit. With the help of her wonderful assistant and friend, Cathy Moberg, she hopes to return to work by January. If you’d like to see photos of her work, check out the lower left corner of my home page, www.jacquelinediamond.com.

It occurred to me that a lot of us would like to be back on our feet after the economic tumble of the past months. I can’t work miracles but, while reading Sunday’s newspaper, I came across positive news I’d like to share.

1) Kind stranger. In Fullerton, Calif., a man found a wallet containing $300 cash. He called the emergency number inside and restored the money to its owner. When offered a reward, he declined, even though he said he needed money.

2) Cut-rate pandas. Four giant pandas will be staying at the San Diego Zoo for another five years, thanks to a half-off deal negotiated with the Chinese government. The previous charge was $1 million annually per adult panda. Zoos in Atlanta, Washington, D.C. and Memphis also get the reduced rate.

3) Sexy pirate. Four actors playing Jack Sparrow got laid off their jobs at Disneyland. That’s the sad news. The entertaining part is the explanation given by a former portrayer of the Pirates of the Caribbean character. He said Jack is such an irresistible rogue that women patrons couldn’t resist flashing him. (No specifics mentioned. Or maybe I should say, no unmentionables mentioned). Disneyland denies that girls behaving badly had anything to do with the decision.

4) Take it all off. Those clothing-optional ladies should read the article about Huntington Beach, Calif., which rents out the city pool for private nude swims by a naturist group. In support of nudism, one member told the Orange County Register that getting rid of designer-label clothing “does level the playing field.” Another commented that after spending time on European nude beaches, “It became very hard to put on a bathing suit.”

5) No bathing suit for me. Honesty compels me to report that I haven’t put on a bathing suit in years. Of course, I haven’t gone into a pool in years, either, although I’ve waded in the ocean a few times. However, my agent sent me a lovely array of bath beads for the holidays, so it looks like I’ll be immersing myself au naturel soon – in the privacy of my bathroom.

There’s a lot to be said for getting off one’s feet. And on that note – happy holidays!

Friday, December 12, 2008

Covers & Titles--Part Two


Since I talked about titles last time, I figured I'd toss out one more post but focus a little more on covers. Above is the cover for my 20th book, Twins for the Teacher. My working title for the book was Educating Hank. My editor came up with Twins for the Teacher, which I liked.


We weren't sure about the cover, so I sent in three ideas. I even described the two twins.
Then the gurus at Harlequin took over. I know Kathleen and Johanna have explained cover process before, so I won't get into that again. All I know is that I got a pdf a few weeks ago, and then the jpg after that. My editor sent one "note". I'd specified a white board, but for artistic reasons, they kept it the old fashioned blackboard.


As to the back cover copy, I'd seen that months ago, but seeing it with the cover is a lot more fun. I set this book in Branson (remember Victoria's post?) and let Hank graduate from Kickapoo High School in Springfield, alma mater of one Missourian named Brad Pitt. Whether you like Brad or not, we're happy to claim him here in Missouri.

I do have to say, though, I thought the artists did a great job with Hank. He even kinda looks like the grown up version of an old college boyfriend whose name I used--although Hank the hero in the book is nothing like my ex.

Have a great day,

Michele

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Too Much Stuff!

As I'm working on my house in preparation for putting it on the market, it's really hit home that I have too much stuff. Stuff is stacked everywhere, in every conceivable nook and cranny. I have drawers, closets and an attic full of stuff.

Much of it is good, useful stuff, or stuff given as gifts that has sentimental value, or stuff inherited from parents. But do I have to keep everything that I remember from childhood? My dad's high school beanie, my mom's old jewelry box? Yes, I remember that jewelry box sitting on her vanity, and it evokes happy memories of watching her put on her makeup and fix her hair. But I already have a jewelry box. Do I need this one, too?

My house is filled with dozens of such quandaries. Do I keep all those crystals I dug from a crystal mine with my own two hands? How about the stacks of paper manuscripts that will never sell? (Pre-computer age manuscripts!)

The media has us confused about what we "need" and what we merely "want." They've even told us that it's our civic duty to spend ourselves into a frenzy over the holidays, to boost the economy. But wasn't our quest for more stuff NOW (better cars, bigger houses) part of what got us into this mess?

This holiday, I've put a moratorium on stuff. I've told everyone, if you want to give me a gift, make it consumable (food, wine, soap or lotion) or, better yet, donate to a charity in my name. (Okay, I did ask my husband to buy me a frying pan. I'm convinced I really need one, since my old one is no longer nonstick.) My critique group, instead of buying gifts, is going on an overnight to a B&B as our gift to each other. I'd rather have memories than stuff any day.

I hope you'll consider rethinking your own holiday gift-buying blitz. Don't lose sight of those simple pleasures that make holidays truly special--being with loved ones, sharing hot cocoa, singing carols, decorating the tree together. Build memories instead of stacking up more stuff.

* * *

In other news, my newest book is out this month! THE PREGNANCY SURPRISE is Book 2 of the Second Sons trilogy. Book one, RELUCTANT PARTNERS, was just named a finalist in the RT Bookclub Reviewers Choice Awards for best Harlequin American Romance of the year. It's an honor to be among such fine company--you can see the whole list of finalists in a blog post below this one--one or two days back.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Traditions: Stress or Success?

This is a time of year packed full of holiday traditions. In my mind, traditions are things I look forward to doing -- things that remind me of happier times and put me in a celebratory mood.

And I think that's how all traditions start out. But then, somewhere along the way, some traditions evolve from 'want to' to 'have to.' We feel the pressure and stress of cramming so many activities into the crowded days that we often don't have time to truly enjoy what's happening.

Now, I want to stop here and say that Christmas is my favorite time of year and I do have a number of traditions that remain enjoyable. But as I face this holiday season with a long to-do list and a book deadline, I'm trying to reevaluate traditions and focus on the ones that bring me true enjoyment.

Here are some of the keepers:
The tree -- we cut our tree in the National Forest each year. For $10 we purchase a permit from the forest service and on our assigned day we venture forth into the snowy woods with our dogs in two and a thermos of hot chocolate to find just the right tree. It's a fun outing and something we look forward to every year. Back home, we string the lights and adorn the tree with ornaments collected over the years. Almost all have sentimental value and looking through them is a fun trip back in time.

Christmas movies: We've already talked about Christmas movies on the blog. I have my own stash I watch every year, including A Christmas Story; Love, Actually; While You Were Sleeping and Christmas in Connecticut. Even though my schedule is jam-packed, I am going to take a day off to sip cocoa, eat popcorn and enjoy a movie marathon, on the sofa in front of the fire.

Decorations:
yes, it's a pain to hang those outside lights and wreaths, but every time I come home after dark (which is after 4:30 these days) I smile and feel wonderful looking at my little house lit up. So I did it.

Christmas books: I just put in a big order from eHarlequin.com for a bunch of new Christmas romances. Between Christmas and New Year's day I try to take off and read as many of these as possible. Besides, it's research -- right?

Traditions I'm cutting back on:

Baking. I still want to give cookies to friends and neighbors, but instead of elaborately decorated sugar cookies, this year I'm doing cookie bars and recipes where the dough is made ahead of time and frozen, then sliced and baked. Much less time consuming. In years past I've also done little loaves of fruit bread, which were also fast and well received.

Shopping: I did it all at sales earlier in the year or online the day after Thanksgiving. What a great feeling to be done so painlessly.

Wrapping. Last year I bought a bunch of Christmas fabric on sale and sewed a lot of different sized cloth bags. Now I just pop a present in, stuff in some tissue paper and tie on a label. I'm done and there's a lot less garbage on Christmas morning.

Cards. I'm still fighting this one. I like sending and receiving cards, but they take a ton of time. I want to cut back, but haven't figured out how yet.

Christmas dinner. One dessert, not three. Skip the relish tray. Fewer side dishes. We don't need to make pigs of ourselves to enjoy a good meal, right?

How are you handling Christmas traditions? Any must dos you don't want to miss? Anything you're giving up this year?

Tuesday, December 09, 2008

Congratulations to our Romantic Times finalists!

Romantic Times Magazine has announced the finalists in its 2008 Reviewers' Choice Awards.

For Best Harlequin American Romance:
FOREVER HIS BRIDE
Lisa Childs (Aug.)

RELUCTANT PARTNERS
Kara Lennox (Jun.)

THE RIGHT MR. WRONG
Cindi Myers (Feb.)

THE PILOT'S WOMAN
Ann Roth (Mar.)

TEXAS HEIR
Linda Warren (Sep.)

For Best First Series Romance:
MARRYING THE BOSS
Megan Kelly (Apr.)
Congratulations on your outstanding achievement!

Monday, December 08, 2008

NEW COVER


Well, it’s that time of the year again. We all seem to be so busy, but this year I’m taking time to enjoy the important stuff like family, faith, and friends. And the fact that I have a writing contract. That always lifts my spirits.

I'm excited about my March 2009 release, The Sheriff of Horseshoe, Texas. It’s part of the Men Made In America Series. I received my cover the other day. (It should be to your left if I clicked the right buttons.) Before I look at my new covers, I close my eyes for a second. What I‘m really doing is praying for the best cover ever and bracing myself to accept what I see on the screen. I take a deep breath and open my eyes. Boy, did I get a surprise. It was perfect—just as I had the hero pictured. Kathleen and the art department are doing a fabulous job with the American covers and I hope you’ll agree. Take a peek and let me know what you think.

Wishing you a happy holiday season. May you enjoy the things that are important to you.
Linda
http://www.lindawarren.net/
Texas Heir – Sep ’08 AR
4 ½ RT TOP PICK
The Sheriff of Horseshoe, Texas – Mar ’09 AR

Sunday, December 07, 2008

Because of a man I recently met, I can't let this day pass unnoticed.
This past summer, I spent several hours with the husband of my mother-in-law's cousin. He's a fascinating man, a volunteer at the seminary where he used to work for over 20 years, who grew up as a farmer. Now he's an avid cross-stitcher, who creates beautiful works with thread and patience.
Another thing that really stands out, other than his kindness and old-fashioned courtesy, is the story of his time in the Navy. He's a Pearl Harbor survivor. He showed me his page at Pearl Harbor Stories (http://www.pearlharborstories.org/), and filled in more details throughout the day.
I'm not going to give you his name because all of the stories there are worth reading. I am going to encourage you to talk to the older people in your life and learn more about them. Never would I have guessed this gentle man was such a fascinating piece of living history.
I'd like to take this opportunity to thank all the servicemen and women, past and present for their service and their sacrifice. And to extend my thanks also to their families.
If you know an older person, ask them about the memories of their past. My aunt once mentioned casually about having to clear the street in Kansas because a herd of cattle was coming through town, which of course sparked an idea for a historical romance LOL.
Have a great holiday.
Megan Kelly
megankellybooks.com

Friday, December 05, 2008

My New Volunteer Venture.. Part Two

A month ago, I posted about volunteering as an after-school tutor for a foster boy or girl. Since then I’ve tutored three times, twice working with a seventh-grade girl and once with an eight-year-old boy. The experience with both kids has been both rewarding and difficult. With the girl, I tried to help her with math. I say “tried” because things didn’t go well. While she struggled with some of the problems and I attempted to explain what to do, her eyes filled with silent tears. And I wasn’t even raising my voice or anything! As a foster child she’s been through a lot (stuff I can’t even imagine) and apparently expresses her frustration by crying. I’m not sure how to deal with that, and the other adults don’t, either. Be kind and give her lots of positive strokes, I guess. The boy was more challenging. He’s pretty smart and whipped through some of his work. Then dug in his heels and refused to do more. Apparently this is his usual way, and it’s frustrating! I’m planning to talk more with some of the adults who work there for tips and help.

However... No matter what happens, I’m learning that flexibility is key. That and love. These kids need tons of it. So that’s the latest from me.

Until next time and wishing you satisfying volunteer activities,

Ann
www.annroth.net

Wednesday, December 03, 2008

Wanted: Christmas Movies and Books

Once again, our December is a hodgepodge of activities. While I love the busy-ness of it all, I can’t help but wish that just a little of it took place in say, April…when things at our house are really quiet. Luckily, this year I think I’m ready for the chaos. I put up our Christmas tree two weeks ago- much to my neighbors’dismay-and finished the Christmas cards last Sunday afternoon.

Why am I doing so much so early?

One reason. Wrestling and basketball season have begun.

As of last week, my daughter either has either cheer practice or a game four out of five school nights. My son has practice late every day, and each meal time is a constant give and take according to his weight. This Friday night, we’ll go to the basketball game and watch the cheerleaders. Saturday morning will take us to another gym, where we’ll spend way too many hours among a crew of sweating, spitting boys.

Ah, parenthood. Yes, we’ll love every minute of it. But all those sporting events makes me yearn for a bit of ‘Shelley’ activities.

In December, that means watching as many Christmas movies and reading as many Christmas themed books as I possibly can. While I’ve always loved Christmas movies-The Bishop’s Wife is my all time favorite-I’ve gotten pretty hooked on Hallmark Channel movies. Last Saturday night I watched Silver Bells. Have any of you seen that? I cried the whole last thirty minutes.

Christmas romances were the first type of Harlequins I ever read. I just finished Marin Thomas’s lovely The Cowboy and the Angel and Jillian Hart’s His Holiday Heart. My To-Be-Read pile includes more Harlequin Americans and a Regency anthology put out by Signet. Those books just make you feel good no matter what, I think.

Of course, I definitely need some more titles of books and movies-I can only take so many basketball games and wrestling meets! So, please chime in and give me some titles…either of favorite Christmas movies or books. I’d love an excuse to get to Borders Books.

Shelley

Tuesday, December 02, 2008

November winner!!!

This month's winner is Magdalena!!!!!! Congratulations!!! To get your free, autographed books, please contact Marin Thomas and Tanya Michaels through their websites.

Tell all your friends to visit us. For your chance to win, simply comment and your name is entered in our drawing.

Monday, December 01, 2008

Movie star me -- sort of

I’ve never been accused of looking like a movie star, although I sometimes identify with Eeyore from Winnie the Pooh.

However, one of my writing critique buddies, Jean Riddell, creates short edited videos for special occasions. In launching her business, she decided to practice on me.

So there I am, featured in half a dozen very short videos, talking about how I get my ideas, how I organize my writing schedule, and other topics that readers ask about. They’re posted on my Web site, www.jacquelinediamond.com, and you don’t need the latest computer operating system or browser to view them.

Over the course of a twenty-five-year writing career, I’ve been interviewed before, mostly for print publications. The few times I’ve appeared on TV, I’ve felt very self-conscious, but Jean helped me relax.

The old advice to just be yourself can lead people astray, though. I certainly didn’t want to provide a glimpse of me filled with remarks like “uh,” “you know,” and “oh, wait a minute, what was the title of that book?”

I did have to stop and think when Jean threw questions at me. However, I tried my best to look intelligent while doing this, and she claims I succeeded. Guess I’m a better actress than I realized.

Hope you’ll take a look and let me know what you think. Also, I wanted to share some good news: my January release, Million-Dollar Nanny, earned 4 ½ stars from Romantic Times, which called it an “extremely touching, beautifully written story.”

Let me tell you, that made me feel even better than a movie star!

Sunday, November 30, 2008

Recharging the batteries

If you are reading this on my blog date of Nov. 30, I'm driving home from Kansas City. I took the weekend to visit with friends, do some shopping (post Black Friday) and brainstorm the plots for three new books. My younger daughter enjoyed the water park attached to the hotel.

We stayed at the Sheraton at the Kansas City Sports Complex. The place was crawling with Mizzou fans who were there for the Border Game against rival KU. Unfortunately the Tigers fell by three points in what was a very wet and miserable day for those in the open air stadium.

So this is a short blog post, rather like my short working vacation to recharge my batteries.

Michele

Saturday, November 29, 2008

Yikes! It's the 29th ...



... And I haven't yet posted a blog. How many excuses can I come up with? I'm very good with excuses. Being a creative excuse-maker is handy if one is as scattered and forgetful as I am these days.

Here is my list of excuses:
1. My Microsoft Outlook calendar is supposed to remind me, and it didn't. What's up with that?
2. I have a Thanksgiving hangover. I made the whole dinner this year, turkey, dressing, cranberry sauce, pie (okay, my husband made the pie) and I entertained my family for a whole day without yelling at any of them. The decompression period after such an effort is at least a couple of days.
3. I had to get my car inspected before the end of the month (tomorrow) and, to get that done, I had to get up at the crack of dawn and take my car in to the mechanic's place or he wouldn't be able to squeeze me in.
4. It's the second-to-last day of NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month) and I still have six thousand words to write if I want to finish and win my certificate.
5. (Here is the real reason.) I'm putting an offer in on a house in California, and I've been on the phone, the Internet, reading long legal documents and standing over the fax machine (so it doesn't jam) for two days. It's all I can think about. I tossed and turned for hours last night, wondering if we're doing the right thing (so I got no sleep, another fine excuse).

So there you have my list of, in my opinion, very credible excuses for why I didn't post a blog this morning when I was supposed to.

Yes, all right, I could have written it a long time ago and scheduled it to run so I wouldn't have to worry about it. But I don't plan ahead that well!

In other news, my new book will be out in December. THE PREGNANCY SURPRISE is Book Two of the Second Sons trilogy about a trio of New York cousins who move to a small Texas town to collect an inheritance from their black sheep uncle, a fishing charter business. THE PREGNANCY surprise is Reece Remington's story. If you like geek heroes, you'll love Reece and his rocky romance with free-spirited Sara.

Now, I'm off to write another eight or ten pages today. I hope you'll forgive me and my fried brain. I'll be back on Dec. 11 and I'll try to be on time and have something relevant to say

Happy Holidays,
Kara

Friday, November 28, 2008

Interview with Tanya Michaels

Hope all our US readers had a great Thanksgiving! I wanted to post earlier but was having internet troubles. Better late in the day than never...

This month, it was my time to answer some interview questions about myself. It was lots of fun, and as always, I'm thrilled to be among so many other HAR authors!

How did you make your first sale to the line?
I used to write for Harlequin Temptation, which I enjoyed, but once my husband and I had children, I noticed family and community sneaking into more of the stories. For Temptation, which was a steamier line, the editors (and readers!) preferred that the focus be more on the couple than secondary characters like siblings, kids or lovably meddling neighbors. My editor suggested that American Romances—which definitely tell the story of a man and woman fall in love, but have more room for the supporting cast that I have so much fun with—might be a better fit. Boy, was she right!


Tell us a little about your family and where you're from.
My dad was in the Army, and we moved around a good bit during my childhood, which made it hard to be “from” anywhere. I always craved a sense of home, and creating that for my characters—a place to belong, someone to belong with—is one of my very favorite parts of writing for American. I’ve particularly had fun writing my Four Seasons in Mistletoe miniseries (the first, Mistletoe Baby, is in stores now) because they’re all set in the fictional town of Mistletoe Georgia and returning for each of the three subsequent stories feels like a homecoming to visit old friends. My husband, two children (a kindergartener and a first grader) and I live in Georgia. We’ve only been in our current house for a couple of years but in the state for a decade now, so Georgia officially feels like home!


Tell us about your book.
This particular book is something I’ve never tried before—a story about a couple who are already married. In Mistletoe Baby, David and Rachel Waide had temporarily separated but agreed not to tell the rest of the family until after the holidays because they don’t want to ruin a Christmas wedding (the hero’s brother is getting married). So for the duration of the holiday season, they’re having to pretend that all is well. And in doing so, they start to remember why they fell in love in the first place. By the way, I did a November podcast about this book which you can listen to at eHarlequin.com, a wonderful site where you can learn even more about Harlequin American Authors and even buy our books if you’re so inclined *g*

What was the hardest part of writing your book?
Well, I sold the four-book series way before it was time to actually write the stories (I had other projects that had to be completed first). Oddly enough, when the time came to work on the manuscript, we were coping with an illness in the family, the stress of which was really taking a toll on my husband and me. It was bizarrely ironic that during my only book about a husband and wife, my husband and I were weathering the roughest patch in our ten year marriage! So some days, I just felt emotionally raw. The good news is, I think it made the book even better. And the really good news is that writing about a couple coming that close to losing each other was a daily reminder not to take my own spouse for granted! I am firmly of the belief that romantic happily ever afters are completely realistic in life—as long as you’re willing to put in the effort—and also of the belief that romance novels have a lot of value, whether it’s to help you smile through a difficult time or a reminder to cherish those you love.

What do you like to do when you're not writing?
Aside from spending time with my family, I like to read and watch movies! (Come to think of it, I often read to or watch movies with my kids or husband, so those can be family activities, too.) I read in all genres, books from my fellow Harlequin American sisters to fantasy to young adult to nonfiction. I couldn’t possibly list all the writers and books that I’ve enjoyed (I was trying for a while to keep a running tab of the books I read just this year on my personal blog, but it got away from me—I read far more that I update) but a few of the authors I enjoy include Holly Jacobs, Jennifer Crusie, JD Robb, George RR Martin, Dave Barry, Stephanie Bond, Elizabeth Hoyt, Eloisa James, Laura Marie Altom, Jane Graves, Dorien Kelly, Kresley Cole, Juila Quinn, Jennifer LaBrecque, Shelley Galloway, Teresa Medeiros, JK Rowling and Trish Milburn.

Some of my kids’ favorite books include Click, Clack Moo and related tales, the Magic Tree House books by Mary Pope Osborne, the Geronimo Stilton chapter books, Peter and Fudge stories from Judy Blume, the hilarious “Pigeon” and “Knuffle Bunny” picture books from Mo Willems, and, for early readers, beginning stories featuring lovable dogs Biscuit and Noodles. I think it’s important to instill a love of reading early!

What is your writing routine?
What is this “routine” of which you speak—I know it not. My work schedule looks more like something out of chaos theory—getting up early (only to have the seven year old hear me and wake up. 7 tries not to bother me by pouring milk without asking for help…a white lake leaking beneath the kitchen appliances and tears ensue), I get the kids off to school, but only have an hour because kindergartener’s class is going on field trip and each child needs an adult escort, get home at about 3, write for fifteen minutes before refereeing sibling squabble. Write for a whole two hours (glory be!) before must stop to fix dinner (there are only so many nights I can tell themselves to grab a Lunchable from the fridge before the school nutritionist and our pediatrician hold an intervention). After dinner, I help with homework and baths and bedtime reading and accidentally nod off myself before hubby wakes me up and asks, “Aren’t you on deadline?”

True story—two weeks ago, while I was trying to use the comparatively quiet nighttime hours to work on a book, 7 woke up at a quarter to ten with a sick tummy. Then 5 woke up with a nightmare two hours later, followed by 7 waking up to ask for a drink of water and later 5 also waking with a sick tummy. (Neither went to school the next and, coincidentally, I got no writing done.) Routines are great if you can swing them, but I’m also a big believer in staying flexible and creating opportunities. The other moms in carpool line know not to come knock on my minivan window and chat if they see my laptop propped against the steering wheel. Heck, all these interview answers were typed while at Chuck E. Cheese.

How long have you been writing?Since grade school, children’s book I still read to kids. Wrote first full length (400+ pages) manuscript my freshman year of college (I was 17) and sent it, unrequested, to an editor at Pocket. They never even acknowledged it with a rejection (in retrospect, the writing was so bad, I can’t say I blame them). In college, I got my first writing related job which I followed with a string of freelance jobs either writing or copy-editing. I joined RWA in 1998 (Romance Writers of America, which helps educate writers in both craft and business matters), then sold my first book to Harlequin in 2001! But it was just last year that my first Harlequin American was released.

I hope for many more HARs in the future!!! And I wish you all a lovely weekend and happy reading.

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

The story behind the story

Last week, I met my agent in New York City for a meeting with my young adult editors. While in the city, we went to see Wicked. I'd heard many good things about this Broadway production, and I came away wishing I could see it all over again.

I'm a fan of reimagined stories, so this depiction of Oz in the years prior to Dorothy's arrival was right up my alley. For those of you who don't know, Wicked is the story of when the Wicked Witch of the West and Glinda the Good Witch were in school together. It's an imagined origin story in that we see how these two witches came to be who they were at the beginning of the Wizard of Oz. There's even a romantic story thread, which made my romance writer heart flutter.

What I found interesting was how the play showcased how no one is all good or all bad. Each of us has elements of each in us. Elphaba (the future Wicked Witch of the West) wasn't all bad, and Glinda wasn't all good. To me, they were much more three-dimensional in this play than in the original story. This is a good thing to keep in mind when we writers craft our characters, to not rely on two-dimensional stereotypes, to make each character as real and three-dimensional as possible.

In addition to the story, I really enjoyed the music in Wicked. My two favorite pieces are "Popular" and "Defying Gravity." I even bought a "Defying Gravity" T-shirt, but considering I drove through a snowstorm in Virginia today on my way home from Washington, D.C., it'll be a few months before I can wear it. Here are a couple of YouTube videos showcasing these songs from the play:






Have any of you seen Wicked? What did you think?

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Our 25th anniversary—thanks for being part of it!

The Harlequin American Romance authors wish to thank everyone who took part in our 25th anniversary celebration, especially the editors and guest authors who took time from their busy schedules to blog with us. In case you missed any of them, here’s the list, complete with links back to their original posts.

Editors:
Johanna Raisanen, September 6
Kathleen Scheibling, October 9


Guest Authors:
Karen Toller Whittenburg, September 12
Elizabeth Sinclair, September 20
Judith Arnold, September 30
Vella Munn, October 6
Barbara Bretton, October 12 and October 19
Debbie Macomber, October 20
Ginger Chambers, October 30
Anne Stuart, October 31

Thank you for making this anniversary such a special and memorable one!

Monday, November 24, 2008

A 100-Mile Holiday

This year my family has decided to celebrate the holiday by being a little kinder to the environment, and to ourselves.

I must start by saying we have never been extravagant spenders at Christmas. My husband and I have been married for thirty-one years and raised two amazing children, and our one “rule” about the holidays has always been that if we couldn’t afford to pay cash for gifts and other holiday items, we didn’t buy them.

This year we’ve decided, as a family, to take this one step further.

We’re having a 100-mile holiday.

As much as possible, everything under the tree and served at Christmas dinner will come from a 100-mile radius of where we live. This might not save much money, but that’s not really our goal. The things we buy will not be shipped halfway around the world, so we hope to minimize our ecological footprint and support our local economy.

At first I wasn’t sure we could pull it off—and I’m still not one hundred percent convinced we can—but we’re going to give it our best shot.

Christmas dinner shouldn’t be a problem. I always buy a locally raised, organic turkey, and there’s lots of fresh, local produce available. A number of local vineyards produce stellar wines, so that’s covered, too! The flour in the bread stuffing will have to come from afar–no wheat fields here on the west coast—but we’ll be sure to use locally baked bread.

So what about gifts? Believe it or not, that’s been the really fun part. Without giving too much away—my family reads these posts!—I can safely say this will be an interesting Christmas.

Local craft fairs offer lots of options—hand-knitted socks and scarves and mittens, unique works of art, consumables (pickles, jams and hand-rolled beeswax candles, etc.), and gorgeous one-of-a-kind Christmas ornaments.

We’ve even purchased wonderful little stocking stuffers that have an added bonus—the sellers are donating all proceeds to a local charity.

And after thirty-one years of marriage, my husband and I are enjoying the quality time spent choosing gifts at craft fairs. Who knew?

A few people on my gift list will receive gift certificates this year, and I'm kind of hoping they plan to reciprocate ;). The possibilities are practically endless. Grocery stores, thrift stores, house cleaners, manicurists, massage therapists, hair dressers, auto mechanics, gardeners, university bookstores, daycare centers, dog groomers, etc., all offer gift certificates.

So, can my family do this? Will there be compromises? Exceptions? You bet there will. We’ve already decided we can live with a few.

Books make great gifts but there are no publishing companies where we live. However, we can buy books from locally owned, independent booksellers.

Recycled items are often just as good as new, so if something comes from a secondhand store, or a thrift store that supports local charities, the item itself can have originated more than 100 miles away.

Christmas is my absolute favorite time of year—I really do love it—and I’m looking forward to this one more than any other I can remember. For me, it’s all about family. I love to decorate the house and prepare the food and spend Christmas Day with the people I love. And when you think about it, isn’t that what the holidays are all about?

This year I also hope to do the holidays in a way that’s eco-friendly and stress free, and I hope for the same for you and your family.

Until next time,
Lee
Lee's blog
Lee's website

Sunday, November 23, 2008

Welcome to the Family, Ozzy

Anyone who's even casually acquainted with me knows I'm an animal lover. Unless I have a bunch of four-footed creatures sharing my house (and my yard!), I'm not happy. This past August, my daughter started college. She moved out and got a small apartment near campus with one of her friends. She took her dog and cat with her - which meant my indoor pet family was suddenly cut in half.

Since then, I've gone back and forth on getting another cat or dog. Part of me told me to hold off. My dog is beautifully trained and a great companion and the old cat is an "easy keeper". The other part of me didn't listen and would visit the local humane society or county animal control web pages, viewing the adopable animals.

Two weeks ago, I made the mistake of stopping by PETsMART on my way home from work. Halo, a no-kill animal rescue organization, was at the store and conducting a drive, attempting to find as many homes as possible for their "unadoptable" cats.

Oh, boy.

Well, you can imagine what happened.

I don't know what made Ozzy so unadoptable, other than he's quite plain. He and his three, possibly cuter, siblings were found on the streets at four-months-old. Four months later, all his siblings had found their new forever homes. Not Ozzy.

I'm always amazed when an animal with such a rough start in life or that has been mistreated can still be loving and affectionate to people. Ozzy quite literally spends twelve of every twenty-four hours purring, cuddling, and following me around the house. If I sit down, he's in my lap. Even now, I'm gently nudging him away because he's alternately rolling on top of and walking all over the keyboard.

He really is a perfect addition to my pet family. I guess going into PETsMART that day on my way home from work wasn't such a mistake after all.

Warmest wishes,

Cathy McDavid and Ozzy

Saturday, November 22, 2008

Moms and Movies

On Thursday night, my fifteen year old daughter attended the midnight premiere of Twilight. For those of you who aren’t around teenaged girls, Twilight is the movie adaptation of the book of the same name, which is a paranormal love story involving vampires.

My daughter has been counting down the days for almost a year. To say she was excited was putting it mildly. We’re not one to let our kids do things on school nights…or parents who ever look forward to being part of a two am carpool-but my husband can never resist when she asks him for favors…and well, we figured going to the midnight movie with a group of girlfriends was pretty darn tame, all things considered.

So, Tom took the two am pick up and I took the morning after. On the way to school I took her out to our all-time favorite breakfast spot, the Holtzman donut shop. Boy am I glad I did. I heard all about Edward (EDWARD IS SO CUTE) and the crowds of girls and the excited text messages that zipped through the theater. But, I kind of expected that. Again, she is fifteen.

But what really made me smile were her descriptions of the other people at the theater. Boys? No. There was a group of Moms. Yes, to her dismay-and my amusement-there was a crowd of mothers (Mom, some as old as you!) at the midnight showing.

No, they weren’t with their daughters. They were with their own crew of friends.

I told her how even Moms still like love stories. After all, Harlequins are all about this. But I couldn’t help but laugh when she told me that the moms at the theater…acted like moms.

It seems these Mom Twilight Fans couldn’t help but try to put some Mom orderliness in the throng of teenagers. They reminded girls to not cut in lines. To control their giggles. Asked that they stop screaming and talking so much. Oh…and watch that texting. We’re in a theater! Usually, I’d be right there with them…I love rules.

But I have to admit this time I was on my daughter’s side. There still are times in a girl’s life when nothing can be substituted for an opportunity to laugh a little too loudly with six of your friends. If it’s not at a midnight showing of the ultimate chick flick, I’m not sure when it is.

In a few weeks, Jane Porter’s movie adaptation of Flirty with Forty will be on Lifetime. My girlfriends and I will be having our own party. I imagine we’ll be talking during the movie and laughing a little too much. Who knows, I may even squeal when I see that hero surfing.

But our daughters aren’t invited. Actually, neither are our husbands. We’ll be silly in private. I just don’t know what I’d do if someone told me to settle down…and stop acting like a silly girl.

Since I’m on the subject of books made into movies…anyone have a particular favorite? I have to admit to loving the Harry Potter movies, Emma, and Little Women.

Shelley

Friday, November 21, 2008

Welcome to Mid-America

Hello and Happy Thanksgiving! I apologize for this late post. Since returning from our trip to Branson, I've been mixed up about the dates. This month is cruising by so fast. It's hard to believe Thanksgiving is less than a week away.

This is the first year in about 37 that I'm not fixing Thanksgiving dinner. My father-in-law doesn't drive or ride in a car any more (he's 90) and we have no other close relatives nearby except our daughter and son-in-law. And he's going hunting!

This month has been a huge culture shock for me. First Branson, then hunting. I'm a baby boom city girl. (Okay, I'm a grandmother in the real world, but in my heart, I'm still 19.) Have you been to Branson? I expected the retirees and the crowds, but still, seeing is different than imagining. Did you know it was filled with buses? Huge, fancy tour buses? They are everywhere. They take up all the spaces in restaurants and line up for what seems like hours coming out of shows. I can't even imagine what it's like in the summer, when there are also many families and bigger crowds. I'm not a country western fan, and I told my husband I wasn't going to any shows that my parents would have liked (Lawrence Welk, Perry Como, etc.) so I was rather limited. I know that's narrow minded of me, but I am a little hard headed at times.

Then my son-in-law announces that he's leaving for a hunting trip on Wednesday, the day before Thanksgiving. We were all shocked. Thanksgiving is a big holiday for us. Elk hunting is a big event for him. There doesn't seem to be a compromise. My question is this: Which numbskull Arizona beaurocrat schedules hunting season for Thanksgiving? That's crazy! The elk will be there next week! I know, I'm ranting, but really, turkey, dressing, mashed potatoes and pumkin pie compared to staying outside in the cold and eating canned food or whatever over a campfire?

So, this month I was confronted with mid-America in the form of Branson culture and hunting on the holidays, and I got the impression maybe I don't know as much about small town life as I thought. But then again, I'm writing fiction, so perhaps in MY small towns no man would ever consider going hunting on a major holiday. Or, if he did, he'd immediately rethink his options and remember his wonderful wife. And maybe his mother-in-law! And there are no long lines, bad buffets and lumbering buses in my small towns. Or maybe the buses block the roads, and the hunters can't get out of town .... Hmm. Worth considering for a future plot.

In any case, we'll be thinking of him, sitting outside in the cold, as we go to a very nice restaurant for Thanksgiving this year. The food won't be the same, but I may like it so much that we'll go next year, too. Have a very nice Thanksgiving with your family and friends, if you're so lucky to be with them this year. Eat a piece of pumpkin pie for me! Happy holidays,
Victoria

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Conference!

This past weekend I had the great opportunity to "vacation" in my hometown of St. Louis. Along with 8 of my journalism students, we attended the Journalism Education Association/National Scholastic Press Association fall national conference at the convention center/Renaissance Grand Hotel.

Over 5,000 attended, and of that number, over 4,000 were high school students with some middle school students added to the mix. We attended breakout sessions, all day workshops and bonded by going to lunch and a fancy dinner at Kemoll's (yum!).

The cool thing is they come back to school on Monday and they are all revved up and ready to go. Me, I was tired. Saturday night I had a yearbook company dinner. We got to tour Busch Stadium and eat dinner in the Stadium Club. Stadium Club seats cost around $15,000 a year, so being in the "club" even though there was no ballgame was a real treat--and the food was delicious. After dinner, instead of hanging out with friends, I was tucked into my bed and fast asleep. I didn't even hear my roommate Susan when she came back in later that night.

I haven't done much writing, but as of later today, I hope to squeeze out some time as I finally see the light at the end of the tunnel with the yearbook initial deadlines. Today I'm getting all the seniors who haven't already had their picture taken for the yearbook out of class and sitting them in front of the photographer, who is coming to our school just for them. That way they aren't left out. But today marks the end--we will have finished senior ad submissions, senior photos, club photos, cookie dough sales/credits, and picture retakes for underclassmen. We put out our third edition of the school newspaper yesterday. Whew. Amazingly enough, the December 1 we are at school for a 13 hour day, closing out the December issue of the paper.

Since I don't blog again until after Turkey Day, I hope all of you have a great Thanksgiving! I plan on getting some sleep, and writing.

Michele

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Cleaning my office

I don’t know about you, but mess and clutter suck the energy right out of me. My office, the place where I spend so much time and where I create the books I love to write, is a mess. I have finally decided to clean it up. A daunting task, considering the piles of papers everywhere. On the floor. On the work area where my computer sits. On the adjacent desk. In the closet. Plus there are three 2-drawer filing cabinets and one file-size box that are bulging with stuff—papers, but who knows what info they contain? Every file needs to be cleaned out. I thought about posting photos of the mess, but I’m too darned embarrassed!!

Just thinking about that gives me a mega case of dread. A friend once told me that when she faces a monumental task, she pats herself on the back for what she completes every day, rather than on what’s left to do. Wise advise, indeed, and I’m taking it to heart.

Last weekend I made a to-do list and have pledged to complete every task by the new year. Here are some of the things on the list:
Paint the walls
Organize and clear the bookshelves of books I don’t read and don’t use
Move the inspirational sayings tacked all over the bookcase shelves and covering many of the books (blocking the titles, etc.) to a different location
Purchase a 4-drawer, vertical filing cabinet
Buy a bulletin board
Sort, file and toss papers on work spaces, the desk and the floor and the filing cabinets, and get rid of all piles!

Here is my progress report to date:

On Veteran’s Day I painted the office a lovely, pale apricot color. I bought really cool paint that has little odor—a plus since it’s too cold to open any windows. The room looks clean and warm now, and I really like it.

I found a four-drawer, cherry wood vertical file cabinet at Office Max online for a great price. Twenty-four hours later, they delivered it . My husband assembled it without my even asking. Now that’s what I call support and encouragement. I labeled each drawer and am ready to file.

I tossed a good chunk of paper from the file cabinets. (Still a ton to go—but I’m focusing on the great work accomplished to date, not the piles left…)

The crammed bookcase is now clean and organized, with the inspirational sayings in a pile (yeah, I know—another pile). That will change, just as soon as I get a bulletin board. Soon!!
Lots of empty bookshelf space, which is a good thing, as I know more books will come. This time, though, I’ll be careful about what I stick on the shelf. And I’ll periodically weed and clean. Weed—isn’t that a great word for clearing clutter?

So yes, I’m making good, but slow, progress. Hooray!!

Until next time, and wishing you a clean, pleasant work space and a Happy Thanksgiving,

Ann
www.annroth.net

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Thinking Turkey

I can't believe Thanksgiving is almost here. As usual, time flies...when you're having a good time, of course. Or maybe it just seems to be that way as we get older. I don't even know what family plans are for this T-Day. I do know that my youngest believes that I should roast a turkey, even if it's the two of us sharing it. I'm really not looking forward to eating every form of turkey sandwich and/or casserole known to woman, if that's the case. But what's a mother to do when most of her chicks have pretty much left the nest and have "another" family to spend holidays with?

I promised myself that I wouldn't be the kind of mother who would insist that her offspring (daughters, in my case) spend at least one holiday with the family. I saw and heard too many arguments about going to this family or that family-in-law holiday dinner to last a lifetime. I did NOT want to repeat that with my own. So far, I haven't, and we usually find a way to all get together, even if late in the day for a second meal, sometimes lasagna instead of turkey.

And I find myself looking back at the holidays from my childhood. Unlike most of my maternal cousins, I lived in the city, while they lived in the country. I adored going to my aunt's or cousin's or great-aunt's homes for Thanksgiving and Christmas. It was a day away from the mundane, and there was always something different and often special to do. At my great-aunt Dorothy's (my mother's mother's sister), we were allowed to feed the lambs by bottle. At my great-aunt Lucy's (Dorothy's sister), we once had fresh milk straight from the cow, and there was an outhouse. There were trees to climb (on nice-weather days) and hay wagons to play on. There were eggs to gather and the best food imaginable to eat. But best of all, there were kids to play with and, as an only child, this was what made holidays special for me. Of the six of us within twelve years of age, there were two cousins older than me--both girls--and three younger--one girl and two boys. It was heaven! And even though I was a city girl and went to school in the city, while they were all country kids and went to school together, we were never strangers. Later, when I moved to the country, I had an advantage. I was related to many of my fellow students. I wish I could see them more often now, but we've all grown up with families and families' families of our own. I'm happy that my daughters were able to at least attend school with some of their cousins (sons and daughters of my cousins), but I wish we hadn't abandoned those memorable holiday dinners.

So whether we all get together--the four daughters and their spouses and intendeds and four children of their own--or not, and whether I'm asked to fix the turkey or not, I hope in some way we make new memories of our own this Thanksgiving. And I hope your memories of this holiday are the best ever!

Sunday, November 16, 2008

Author Interview with Marin Thomas

Interview with American Romance Author Marin Thomas

How long have you been published?

Not that long really. My first book came out June 2004.

What, in your opinion, are the most important elements of good writing?

Story-telling ability of the author. Each writer has her unique voice, unique way of stringing words and sentences together but if the author isn't able to tell a good story that engages the reader, creates characters that the reader cares for, cheers for, cries with, celebrates with…then it's just another story.

If you could erase any horrible experience from your past, what would it be?

I narrowly escaped being abducted by a city cab driver while walking home from elementary school. I had stayed late to help a teacher with a bulletin board. It was during the winter and I left the school at dusk around 4:00. I remember the cab pulling up along the curb, the driver rolling down his window calling me to get in. He said my mother had told him to pick me up. I knew that couldn’t be right because my mother would never waste money on a cab. The school was about a mile from my house and I was halfway home when the cab showed up. So I ran. Tears streaming down my face I ran like my tights were on fire. The driver kept pace with me and I remember hearing his laughter. Once in a while he sped up then would stop the cab and wait for me to catch up. To this day I don't know why he didn't get out of the cab and just grab me. I was so exhausted and terrified I doubt I would have been able to put up a fight.
When I made it home and ran up the front porch steps, the driver stopped in front of the house and opened the passenger door. He waved a bag of candy at me and tried one more time to get me in the cab. When my mom opened the door, I practically fell into the house. I was so distraught I couldn’t talk. By the time I was able to tell my mother what had happened the cab was gone. Needless to say I never walked home alone again for a long, long time.

When you looked in the mirror this morning, what was the first thing you thought?

I paid too much for that wrinkle cream at Walgreen's.

Describe your writing space.

When I sold my first book my husband bought me a Texas Ranger's desk. It's huge and I love it. It has Texas stars on the front and the drawer pulls are antique stars. There's a real buffalo skull on one wall, a painting my father did years ago of a blacksmith framed in old barn wood, I have an Indian rug on the wood floor and two flea market specials--a battered chest and a storage cabinet made of metal and wood. In one corner stands a Texas coat rack on which hangs an antique sombrero, a gun holster with a "fake" six shooter, cowboy spurs and a rope. In another corner stands an Indian spear and rain stick. The room is painted Life Vest Orange by Ralph Lauren. I did a faux leather technique on the lower half of the wall beneath the chair rail using an Elmer's glue and water mixture to paste pieces of ripped butcher paper to the wall. Once that dried I painted over it with a Tobacco glaze by Ralph Lauren. I've never been afraid to use bold colors in any of the homes we've lived in. Now that we're in the Chicago area I especially appreciate the warm colors during the long dreary winter months.

What are you reading now?

Decembers HARs. I belong to the monthly book club. It's always fun to see what the other authors in the line are writing.

How many books have you written? Which is your favorite?

I've written 12 books so far for the line and I have a few favortites. My first two books, The Cowboy and the Bride and Daddy by Choice are special to me because of the positive feedback I received from readers. For the Children is my favorite out of my Hearts of Appalachia series. And my current release The Cowboy and the Angel is special because I wanted to show that Christmas is more than gifts--it's about a time of year people can and should touch the lives of others in need--especially children. I chose Detroit as the backdrop for this story because the city often gets a bum rap due to its economic troubles, political turmoil and crime….but often the true spirit of Christmas is strongest and more heartfelt in the trenches of our larger cities, which are mostly made up of smaller, tight knit communities.

Are you working on anything at the present you'd like to share?

I'm finishing up the third book in my Cartwright series. Matt's story (A Cowboy's Promise) comes out April 2009 and Samantha's Cowboy is due out in August 2009.

What did you do career-wise before becoming an author?

I worked as an AT&T team manager at an 800-number call center. When I had my son I became a stay-at-home mom. When the kids entered elementary school I became a substitute teacher. Now I write full time.

What is your dream car?

A 1959 Cadillac Convertible classic. Here's the link (if it works) of the car http://rides.webshots.com/photo/1466353978010957762ARFFWY

If you were stranded on a deserted Island what kind of hero would you want with you--A Cowboy, a Viking Warrior, a CEO, a Forensics investigator, a Chef or an Accountant…and why?

Definitely a Cowboy. Because the only way he knows how to get off the island is by horseback, which pretty much guarantees we're going to be stranded for a very long time!

For more information on Marin Thomas and her books please visit www.marinthomas.com And stop by http://www.seekerville.blogspot.com/ on Tuesday November 18th when Marin shares her "Call" story and discusses the American Romance line.

Marin Thomas
RT TOP PICK The Cowboy and the Angel (Nov 08)

Saturday, November 15, 2008

Booking my expenses

Despite the popular perception that all romance writers are rich, most of us struggle along on a budget like everyone else. These days, for almost everyone I know, matters have gotten serious. If we don’t pinch pennies until they squawk, how will we afford to buy all the books we want? Not to mention giving books as gifts this holiday season.

Since I’ve always been the queen of cheap, I thought I’d pass along a few tips. I hope someone will find them helpful!

So here goes.

· I use credit cards – Borders, Amazon – that pay me back in gift certificates with which I can buy books.
· When planning meals for the week, I check out that forgotten stuff in the freezer and pantry. Sometimes I can squeeze out a couple of almost-free meals. At least, they feel free, since I paid for them long ago.
· As some of you will recall from previous blogs, I’m an avid vegetable gardener. Not only do the big crops like tomatoes and zucchini pay off, but bountiful basil makes for pesto dishes all summer and fall. It can be grown in pots, too.
· Energy savings add up. After our son left for college, I went around the house unplugging his appliances. Also, I turned off the waterbed heater – a foam pad keeps us plenty warm.
· Sometimes buying in bulk makes sense, and sometimes it doesn’t. Take a calculator to the store if necessary, and don’t forget to factor in the cost savings if buying in bulk translates to fewer shopping trips.
· Remember those Borders and Amazon credit cards? My son’s university lets us charge his tuition at no additional fee. I pay off the charge promptly, and let me him use the gift certificates to order textbooks.
· If you grind your teeth at night and your dentist recommends an expensive night guard, try buying a mouth protector at a sporting goods store for less than $10. This saves me hundreds of dollars.
· But: Avoid false economies! I’m keeping my newspaper subscription. In addition to the fact that I enjoy reading it, the subscription makes economic sense because of the free coupons and sales ads.

Feel free to add your favorite tips. And good luck to everyone who’s working hard to make it through these challenging times.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Title Me!





My 21st book is Bachelor CEO. However, like most of the books I’ve written, it didn’t start out being called that.

Titles are extremely important, and often what the author sends in isn’t what goes on the cover. Take the covers on the right. They weren't called that at first.


In fact, my very first novel sold as Temporarily Yours, and Melissa Jeglinski decided to call it A Little Office Romance. She just picked it, told me what it was and I was like, okay, since it was a great title. I also had a great cover and my debut did well. Catching the Corporate Playboy was my title, but many of them are a result of brainstorming and a back and forth between the editor and the author (me). I’ll talk a little more about that in a minute.

Continuity series books are different. All of my three titles were already assigned, and those were The Simply Scandalous Princess (I got to work with the very talented Jacqueline Diamond and Kara Lennox) and then the NASCAR series Tailspin and Out of Line.

Once I’ve fought to keep my title. I loved Hart’s Victory (Harlequin NASCAR) and my agent went to bat for it, especially after marketing wanted to change it. When they couldn’t come up with anything better, they stayed with Hart’s Victory.

But often, titles can be made better. I’ll admit, I don’t stress over the title when I submit the proposal. And sometimes I come up with the new title, and other times my editor does.

The Marriage Recipe didn’t start out that way, but that title is one I came up with. Together my editor and I came up with The Christmas Date.


All of my linked series The Marriage Campaign, The Wedding Secret and Nine Months’ Notice were something else, although I don't remember what. Funny how after a while, I can’t remember. I do remember that Redeeming the Wayward Playboy became About Last Night, a title I came up with. Twins for the Teacher (out in March 2009) was my editor’s much better replacement for Educating Hank. One time I sent in Capturing the Cop’s Heart, and it became Capturing the Cop.

So back to Bachelor CEO. The first title was The Reluctant CEO, but really, once I wrote the book that title no longer fit. The book is part of Harlequin American’s Men Made in America series. I wrote the CEO book, which is why it was essential CEO stay in the title.

So I got the email asking for new titles and the brainstorm began. I sent in these:

The CEO Dilemma or CEO's Dilemma
The Hot & Bothered CEO
Sex & the CEO
Loving the CEO
Marrying the CEO
The CEO's VP Problem
Promoting the CEO
CEO in Charge
Small Town CEO
The Millionaire CEO
Capitalizing on the CEO
Casting the CEO
Cultivating the CEO

At this point, you sent in anything and don’t worry if it sucks.

My editor sent back these:
The CEO's Proposal
The CEO's Secret Wish
Taking on the CEO
The CEO's Secret Love
The CEO's Family Business
The CEO's Surprise
The CEO's Dream
The CEO Takes a Partner

We both realized we still were batting zero. Then we learned that Kathleen decided that the best title would be something like The _______________CEO, so we started with adjectives. My editor sent back this list:

Obstinate
Steadfast
Ultimate
Driven
Bachelor
Substitute
Convenient
Reliable
Passionate
Betrayed
Ruthless


I sent back my reasons for and against each choice and said I really liked The Bachelor CEO. So my editor sent that one to Kathleen, who sent back that after reviewing the books out that month that she wanted to drop the article, and thus Bachelor CEO was titled. It debuts in July 2009.

I’m currently working on Baby on Board, a title we just might get to keep. Or not.

Michele