Friday, October 24, 2008


If you love Hallowe’en, then you and I have something in common. It's that one time of year when we get to be a little outrageous, possibly push the boundaries of political correctness, and maybe even get away with it. But I think the best part is giving free rein to our creativity.

I enjoyed dressing up when I was kid but when I had children of my own, I loved making costumes for them even more. Most were sewn from scraps, remnants, and hand-me-downs. Occasionally I’d use a pattern, but I usually made things up as I went along.

This is my son—circa 1983—in a clown costume that was literally pieced together from whatever I had on hand.

Instead of using a wig, I made a red yarn fringe and tacked it inside a cone-shaped hat.

The next year he was a pirate, complete with a cardboard sword and swashbuckling black eye patch. For safety’s sake, I didn’t want to completely obscure his vision in one eye, so the eye patch was just a piece of black felt attached to the bandana.

Of all the costumes I’ve made over the years, this next one is my most embarrassing creation and greatest achievement, all rolled into one. As my daughter (who is currently at university doing a double major in anthropology and environmental studies) likes to point out, it’s both historically inaccurate and politically incorrect. What was I thinking?

What can I say? It was 1985 and I was completely clueless. And apparently I wasn’t alone, because my son came home from school with a ginormous bag of candy—first prize for the best costume.

In spite of the inappropriateness, I must say that the wig turned out quite nicely. I made it myself from long strands of yarn stitched to a section of pantyhose.

These next two were a lot of fun to make.

My daughter’s red crayon was super easy. Patterns for this type of costume were available, but I simply made hers from a tube of red felt. And remember that red cone hat from the clown costume? Here it is again, minus the fringe.

I made the skeleton by having my son lie on some black fabric while I traced around him. From that I stitched up a jumpsuit, allowing enough room for warm clothes underneath, and used white fabric paint to draw on the bones.

Next up is an intergalactic princess, also affectionately known as our adorable little space cadet. I used a pattern for this one, and the fabric came from a ‘70s gold lame evening dress we’d scooped at a garage sale for a dollar. Anyone remember those dresses? Gack! Much better suited for space travel.

That year the intergalactic princess went trick or treating with a vampire, and it was also one of those rare occasions when I tried to do some creative photography. I don’t remember what we used to make my son’s hair black—he’s a redhead in real life—but I do remember that washing it out was not easy. The next day he went to school with some very dark highlights.

Over the years that black cape saw a lot of use. For example, with the red collar tucked inside, it worked as a witch’s cape.

Speaking of witches in black capes, this wasn’t Hallowe’en, but here’s my daughter (on the right) as the Witch of the West in her elementary school’s musical production of The Wizard of Oz.

By then it was the ‘90s and political correctness had come into play, so she wasn’t Wicked, she just wasn’t very nice. And instead of meeting her demise at the end of the play, she was tossed into a caldron, reduced to a tiny version of her former self, and then she ran away. Instead of “Ding dong, the witch is dead,” the chorus sang “Ding dong, the witch has fled.”

The last time I made a costume was two years ago. Meet Marilyn. The intergalactic princess might be all grown up, but that didn’t stop her from asking Mom to make a rendition of that oh-so-famous white dress. And Mom happens to think she’s every bit as gorgeous as the original wearer.

And just for fun, this is our neighbors’ cat, Peter. No costume for Pete. He’s wearing his everyday tuxedo, tastefully accessorized with a pair of jack-o’-lanterns.

I’m sure I have more photos around here but these are all I could find. They certainly provided an entertaining stroll down memory lane. What about you? Did you have a favorite costume when you were a child? Or did you make costumes for your children? Please tell us about them!

Happy Hallowe’en!

Until next time,

Lee's blog
Lee's website

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Ode to the Library

Every so often I rediscover the public library. We have a number of small branch libraries near us. I have four to choose from within a thirty minute drive, since we’re in the middle of two counties. Like many of you, my books of choice are rarely in our libraries-at least not right away. I usually get my Harlequins from our neighborhood Kroger. However, every now and then I get in the habit of reading something new-and that’s where the libraries come in.

Does your town have a good library? The best one I ever lived near was in Mesa, Arizona. Right after I graduated college, I took a one-year contract to teach fifth grade and moved to Mesa, sight unseen. Looking back, that year was certainly a transition one for me. I had just gotten engaged, but my fiancĂ©e was living in Dallas. I didn’t know anyone. In addition, my dad helped me pick out my apartment-which, unfortunately, took exactly half a month’s paycheck. So, I had no friends, no boyfriend, no family, little money, and spent most of my time in the company of twenty-five rough-around-the-edges ten-year-olds.

When I wasn’t grading papers or developing lesson plans, I hung out at that Mesa Library. What a place that was-they had a whole section of romances! Plus, there were cozy spots everywhere to sit and read and look at magazines. It became the highlight of my Saturday morning routine.

I know exactly where my love of the library came from-my mom. When we first moved to Houston, our suburb only had a very small library in a single-wide trailer. My mom took me to the library almost every week. They switched out the books on a pretty regular basis, so entering those stacks was like Christmas-almost all new books every month! My first favorite book was The Little Match Girl. I still remember the drawings of that poor little girl, selling matches in the cold! I think the librarian made sure that book was one of the few that never ventured far from the trailer. I checked it out as often as possible.

When I was in middle school, the trailer was replaced by a beautiful big, stone building! By the time high school came around, it was the perfect place to do all our research and study. Well, pretend to study. There’s nothing quite like sitting across a rectangular table with a boy you like…all while pretending to research honey bees or the Alamo. That library also had the most delicious sets of Harlequins and regencies by Barbara Cartland. I still recall how grown up I felt checking out those regency romances for the first time.

In our libraries in Cincinnati, you can now get Internet access, check out CD’s and even get whole seasons of television shows-all for free! My son, a high school senior, just went to ‘study’ at the library for the first time the other day. I later found out there just ‘happened’ to be five or six of his friends there, too.

Maybe going to the library isn’t a thing of the past, after all.

So, what am I reading now? A whole series of mysteries by Margaret Maron. I picked one up because there were twelve of her books on the shelf-Series Reading Bliss!
What about y’all? Anyone still go to the library? Have a favorite library book? And what about your kids? Have they discovered the wonders of old books, stacks of unread novels, and the giddy feeling of having to whisper just to have a conversation?

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

My Small Town Fix

This past weekend I attended the Hwy. 80 Garage Sale with my friend and fellow writer, Rebecca Russell. This is a garage sale/flea market along US Hwy 80 from Mesquite, TX to the Louisiana border, all through East Texas. I'd never heard of this event before looking on the Mineola, TX website, It's similar to the "world's longest garage sale" held annually from Ohio to Alabama. In Wills Point we ate lunch at the Bluebird Cafe, a rustic little restaurant with great cheeseburgers and an impossibly sweet coconut meringue pie. We went to sales in people's front yards, in church parking lots, sold off flatbed trailers at the side of the road, and took advantage of some specials at antique stores along the route. I even bought a 1950s two seat glider that I'd seen when in the area back in July.

We stayed Friday night in Mineola, one of my favorite small towns, at the beautiful and gracious Munzesheimer Manor B & B, The Perry Room was large and the breakfast was delicious. We ate dinner on Friday night at Kitchens, a former hardware store and deli that is now a wonderful restaurant with a courtyard and aged brick walls. On Saturday we stood in line for burgers at East Texas Burger Company, a very old and popular restaurant that sells homemade fried pies and other desserts in addition to country cooking.

I've been to Mineola several times. It was one of the first small towns I'd ever spent time in because I'm a city girl. I grew up in Louisville, KY, a city of approximately half a million people when I lived there, and much larger now. After I married we moved to Denver, CO, where I was happily learning to garden, can, and make jelly when my Texan husband dragged me kicking and screaming to Dallas. After living here for 30 years, I'm no longer fighting to escape across the norther border, although I do threaten to rent a house in Maine ever summer.

But back to Mineola ... I organized a few writers' retreats there when I was program director for my local RWA chapter, Dallas Area Romance Authors, We stayed up late on the second floor veranda of the (now private residence) Noble Manor B & B and talked about writing and our lives, complained about rejections and fleshed out characters and plots. We went during the Iron Horse Festival, an annual event that celebrates the railroad. After watching marching bands, prancing horses, and little princesses on flatbed floats, we ate from the carnival-type booths at the festival. Judy Christenberry and I even rode the twirling teacup ride! We shopped at the stores and enjoyed the atmosphere. I think perhaps I got the most out of the retreats because I was like a dry sponge, soaking in the small-town flavor. I even interviewed the police chief for the character I was developing for my first Harlequin American Romance, The Bachelor Project.

Whenever I need my small town fix, I go back to Mineola. Oh, I go to other towns also. I believe I saw a depiction of one of my photos from Graham, TX on the new cover of my December release. (Look at the picure to the left and compare it to my December cover for A Texan Returns!) Small towns just fascinate me. I listened to many stories of growing up in towns like Lipan, Lingleville, Mineral Wells, and Dennis, TX from my husband and in-laws. I learned a lot about what made a Texan from them. I learned a lot about what makes a successful small town from Mineola. So thanks, and I really enjoyed the Hwy. 80 Garage Sale. See you next year, East Texas, or before if I need another fix!

Monday, October 20, 2008

Happy 25th Anniversary--Q & A with Debbie Macomber

Michele Dunaway says: Thanks to Ann Roth for securing the following interview from Debbie and for yesterday agreeing to host Barbara Bretton in her blog spot. Thanks Ann. You're tops.

Here we go!

Author: Debbie Macomber

Bio: Debbie Macomber, the author of BACK ON BLOSSOM STREET, SUSANNAH’S GARDEN, A GOOD YARN, THE SHOP ON BLOSSOM STREET, BETWEEN FRIENDS and the Cedar Cove series, is one of today’s leading voices in women’s fiction. A regular on every major bestseller list with more than 100 million copies of her books in print, the award-winning author celebrated a new career milestone in September 2007, when the latest in her Cedar Cove series, 74 SEASIDE AVENUE, scored #1 on the NEW YORK TIMES, USA TODAY, Publishers Weekly and Bookscan bestseller lists. Her popularity is worldwide with her books translated into twenty-three languages.

Debbie loves to tell the story of her struggle to get published, and the five-year search to find a publisher who would buy one of her manuscripts. Dyslexic and the mother of four young children, she wrote those early books in her kitchen on a rented typewriter. But her hard work and determination paid off. Her first manuscript, HEARTSONG, acquired by Silhouette Books in 1982, became the first category romance ever to be reviewed by the Publishers Weekly. She was soon featured in Newsweek—and demand for her books quickly exceeded her wildest dreams.

Debbie is best known for her ability to create compelling characters and bring their stories to life in her books. Drawing on her own experiences and those of her family and friends, she demonstrates an almost uncanny ability to see into the souls of women and to express their emotions, values and concerns. In every book her sense of humor enlivens her writing.

An avid knitter, Debbie has parlayed her passion for the craft into garments for her grandchildren and bestselling books about women who knit. In her May 2007 hardcover, BACK ON BLOSSOM STREET, which debuted in the #8 slot on the NEW YORK TIMES bestseller list, Debbie welcomed back some familiar faces and introduced her readers to delightful new characters in the Seattle neighborhood introduced in THE SHOP ON BLOSSOM STREET. There, the author continued her moving exploration of complex relationships and the special bonds formed by a group of diverse women who meet in knitting classes and face the challenges in their lives. The next book in the series, TWENTY WISHES, will be published in May 2008.

In 2005 Debbie’s dedication to the writing craft—and to her loyal readers—brought her the first-ever “people’s choice” Quill Award for Romance for 44 CRANBERRY POINT, the fourth book in her highly popular Cedar Cove series.

The author is delighted that her readers respond personally to her books. She maintains a 75,000-name (and growing) list derived from personal correspondence from her fans, those who have come to her book signings held in bookstores across the country and those who have signed her guestbook at

A typical day in the life of Debbie Macomber begins long before the sun comes up. Rising at 4 a.m., she uses those early hours as a time to reflect, write in her journal, read inspirational materials and organize her schedule. At 6 a.m. she swims half a mile in a local Olympic-size pool. By 7:30 a.m. she’s already at work in her office, devoting her day to her true calling: writing novels. Readers around the world clamor for her heartwarming books about small-town life, home and family, women who knit, enduring friendship and even stories of humorous angels with earthly missions.

In 2008, Leisure Arts, the company that publishes “Knit Along with Debbie” pattern booklets, will introduce Debbie’s line of knitting notions. All Debbie’s proceeds from the sale of the products will go to knitting charities and World Vision.

When Debbie takes a break from her writing, knitting and charity work, she likes to throw herself into research for upcoming novels. She’s willing to try anything and go anywhere. In fact, she overcame her natural sense of caution to take kayaking lessons so that one of her heroines could benefit from the experience. Recently, she threw out the first pitch in a Seattle Mariners game at Safeco Field.

Debbie and her husband, Wayne, are the proud parents of four children and grandparents of nine grandchildren. They live in Washington State and winter in Florida.

Q & A:

My first published book was Starlight (Silhouette Special Edition, #128) in November, 1983. My first Harlequin title was The Matchmakers, published in 1986. It’s being reissued in March of next year.

Janet Dailey was writing then, and I loved her books. I also liked a number of the British (and Australian authors), like Anne Mather, Margaret Way, Violet Winspear, Charlotte Lamb. I wanted my books to be as engaging and heartwarming as theirs. The most challenging aspect was trying to break into Harlequin and Silhouette lines when they already had so many talented writers. The most rewarding was when I did!

Writing The Wyoming Kid (HAR 1121) was a nice break from the lengthy women’s fiction novel I’d been working on prior to that. I enjoyed returning to the characters I’d first introduced in a Special Edition, Denim and Diamonds, years before. Readers had asked for the heroine’s brother’s story, and I decided this was the opportunity to tell it. I particularly enjoyed the character of Lonny Ellison and the banter between him and the heroine, Joy. And I liked the emphasis on place—in this story, the ranching community of Red Springs, Wyoming—which I know is a hallmark of American Romance .

Frankly, it wasn’t that different from other series books I’ve written, in that I was able to include a comedic element as well as a dramatic one. Obviously, given the shorter word length compared to my MIRA titles, The Wyoming Kid was a less complex story but it’s one that really appealed to me.

One letter I received from a reader years ago said, “I’ll buy anything that has your name on it, so thank you, Betty, for writing such wonderful books.” I realized the reader had confused me with Betty Neels, but I wasn’t disturbed by the mistake and, in fact, considered it a compliment.

Gee, I don’t really know. I create the hero who best fits the story. Plot and character are, of course, interdependent. Lonny, the former rodeo cowboy known as the Wyoming Kid, was the right hero for that story and that heroine (and she was equally right for him). I would by no means describe him as an “alpha male,” but he’s a competent and confident man—until he falls in love!

Well, this is my life when I’m writing and trying to meet deadlines, not when I’m traveling or on tour.
4 a.m. Up and out of bed
4-5:30 Bible reading, devotional and journal time
5:30-7 Swimming
7:30 Arrive at office
7:30-10 Read Guest Box entries, reader mail and blog
10-4 (Approximately) Work (If I’m writing a book, I always set myself a certain number of pages to complete each day. I stay at the office until I’m finished and then head home.)
5-9 (Approximately) Dinner, knitting, reading and then to bed

Hmm. Sounds rather boring now that I look at it.

I’m currently working on the 2009 Cedar Cove title, 92 Pacific Boulevard, and on the Cedar Cove Cookbook (and gaining weight just thinking about the recipes!). In the next month, I have trips planned to New York, California and Leavenworth (the one in Washington, not the prison town!).

To all the readers, I’d like to say that these books come from some of the best writers in the industry. In the years since its inception, Harlequin American has grown and changed—and attracted some very fine writers. To the writers, I’d like to say—keep up the good work. Happy Birthday, American Romance!

Sunday, October 19, 2008

More with launch author Barbara Bretton

For the first part of the feature on launch author Barbara Bretton, please see October 12.


Top: Barbara says, "The badly edited picture is the Big Dinner invitation to celebrate HAR's launch. The venue was changed to Sign of the Dove. Elda Minger and I shared a cab with Sandra Brown who was then and is now one of the nicest (and most beautiful) women I've ever met. Elda writes for Harlequin and Berkley these days and I can say quite honestly that I wouldn't have survived that first big conference and the launch without her friendship."

Center 1: Vivian Stephens, the creator of Harlequin American.

Center 2: This is the "command invitation" Barbara received to a business meeting that will remain burned in her memory forever. She wrote: "When they locked the doors behind us and said, 'You don't need an agent,' at least thirty un-agented writers made plans to immediately connect with representation. I was agented seventy-two hours later!"

Bottom: A photo of the original oil painting for The Sweetest of Debts, Barbara's second book.

Q & A:

1) How long have you been published? What was your very first book?
Twenty-five years this year. My first book was LOVE CHANGES, a launch title for Harlequin American.

2) Describe your favorite Harlequin American Romance(s) that you wrote. How many total did you do?
My favorite was SENTIMENTAL JOURNEY, one of the Century of American Romances (known as Nostalgia books at the time.) It dealt with the home front during World War II and remains one of the most perfect writing experiences of my life.

3) How was the Harlequin American Romance line different from the other Harlequin lines?
American was an anomaly at the time. We were dealing with a kind of romantic reality that didn't exist anywhere else in the early 1980s. Beta heroes, flawed heroines, characters who went to the supermarket and struggled to pay bills, and even had other lovers in their past. It all sounds kind of ho-hum from our 21st century perspective, but trust me, it was news back then.

4) How did the Harlequin American Romances line change over the years you wrote for it?
As a writer, I loved the more realistic focus but we were out-glitzed by Loveswept and Intimate Moments, both of which launched the same time we did. They provided larger than life romances while we provided slice of life. Our readers loved us but we didn't have as many of them as we (or Harlequin, for that matter) wanted so the changes began. The heroes became sexier. The heroines, less flawed. I was able to introduce action into the books with my PAX series of "spy" novels (PLAYING FOR TIME was the first). Then the doors blew wide open and HAR became the home for romantic comedies, dramas, even paranormal titles. Dallas Schulze (a good friend) wrote a book about a genie! I wrote about an invisible man. Anne Stuart wrote about absolutely everything! And there's Cathy Gillen Thacker, whose romantic comedies and warm family stories have become a mainstay at American over the years.

5) Has writing for Harlequin American help you in your single-title career? (or where have you gone since HAR)
Did writing for HAR help me in my single-title career? Let me count the ways! Category teaches you discipline, pacing, the importance of characters a reader can identify with on page one.
The phrase "breaking out" as applied to moving from category to single title has always bothered me. The implication is that category is some kind of jail from which a writer needs to escape. I moved away from category because writing longer was my natural voice and always had been. I had to work harder than most to make sure I concentrated on the romance between the hero and heroine and not veer off into one of those tempting sub-plots. Except for a half-dozen Janet Daileys, I had never read a category when I sold my first book to Vivian but that quickly changed and I was hooked.

I still come up with category ideas that I don't have time to pursue. I still love and respect the genre. Everything I know about writing popular fiction I learned while writing category. It needs no validation from me or anyone else. It's a great place to start, a great place to be, and a great place to stay.

Instead of asking us when we're going to break out, our critics should be asking themselves how they can break in.

6). Describe a moment you remember related to Harlequin American Romance, either reading one, or a fan moment, or an editor moment, or….

I've told this many times but here we go:

Mary was my very first not-related-to-me reader. She sent me my very first fan letter back in March 1983. (You'll have to excuse the number of times I use the word "first" in this post but there's no way around it. It was a time of firsts for me.)
Let me set the stage. LOVE CHANGES was one of the launch books for Harlequin American and had come out in Reader Service but was still a few weeks from hitting the book stores. I was published . . . but not really. Somewhere out there I hoped people were reading me but if they were they were being very quiet about it.

We were living in North Babylon on Long Island at the time and every morning I would drop my husband off at the LIRR station in Babylon then stop by the post office at Sunset City (a strip mall on Deer Park Avenue with, among other delights, a video store and the wonderful Italian Food World) and check my PO box for mail. I don't really know what I was expecting but I was a brand new author and hope truly springs eternal. So can you imagine my absolute shock when I unlocked the box that morning in late March of '83 and found one small letter waiting for me!

It was from Mary Preisinger who was living in West Islip at the time, written in bright green ink, and her words made me cry. "I loved your book," she wrote. "Reading it took me back to the time when my husband was still alive and we would drive out to Montauk and walk the beach. Thank you for giving me back those memories."

I'm telling you winning the Pulitzer Prize (For romance? Not likely!) or hitting the New York Times could not have made me happier than that one small letter did. My words had touched a stranger's heart! It was the most amazing, wonderful, powerful, exhilarating experience of my life.

Now here's where it gets a wee bit weird. I turned into a stalker. Not in a bad way (don't all stalkers say that?) but West Islip was just one town over and I was really, really thrilled about my fan letter so I ran home, looked Mary's phone number up in the directory and called her. I know I should be embarrassed but I'm not. I didn't know a thing about author etiquette back then. I definitely didn't have a clue about how to be cool. I just did what my heart told me to do and thank God! That impulsive phone call resulted in a twenty-five year friendship that enriched my life in ways I can't begin to count. She knitted some gorgeous afghans for me. I fumbled my way through shawls and lap robes for her.

Mary and I talked like old friends. She invited me to visit her one day for lunch and I did. Over the years we shared books and laughter, secrets and tears. I moved to central NJ. She moved to Salem, Massachusetts, then back to Long Island and then finally to Ohio. But we never lost touch. Not for a minute.

Mary's death this spring was a tremendous loss.

7) Do you hear from your Harlequin American readers who have also read your single titles or other works? What do they say?
Not too often. It's been ten years since my last American but when I do hear from a reader who remembers my time there, they're usually writing about SENTIMENTAL JOURNEY, my 1940s book for Century of American Romance. My category readership was separate from my time travel readership which was separate from my single title readership. I'm not sure why it happened that way for me but it did.

8) Harlequin American Romance is 25 years old. Describe writing some of the first books for the line. Were there any taboos? Words you couldn’t use? What were the covers like? That sort of thing….
We didn't write on proposal back in the beginning. We sent in completed manuscripts and crossed our fingers. Initially, babies and children weren't welcome in the books. I think Anne McAllister was the first to break that particular taboo. My first book (LOVE CHANGES) featured a heroine who was sterile and remained so. No miracle pregnancy happy ending. Probably not the wisest choice from a sales standpoint but Vivian gave me free rein and the writer in me was delighted.

Our covers were elegant and understated in a time when flashy and sexy was coming into its own. Our books were more realistic in a time when larger than life was taking over the entertainment world. This was the DYNASTY/DALLAS era so you can understand we were definitely bucking the trend set by Intimate Moments and Loveswept. We were the underdog, the one who metaphorically hung on by the skin of our teeth but now, twenty-five years later, look who's still standing!!

9) Anything else?
American launched back in the era of Editors as Stars and Vivian was the Star of Stars. It's been twenty-five years but her advice (not to mention her charisma!) still resonates.

"Run your own race. This isn't a contest to reach the finish line first. Work at your own speed and don't apologize."

"Your readers will find you. They may not be as many as Writer X or Writer Y enjoys but they'll be yours. Don't disappoint them."

She believed that where you came from informed your work in ways that I'd never thought about. I mean, I was a working class kid from Queens, living in a working class suburb on Long Island. What could my experience possibly bring to a romance novel? Vivian's guidance led me to find out.

She asked me a question early on in my career. A simple question but probably the most important one I've ever been asked. "Where do you see yourself in five years?"

I didn't have to think about my answer. "Still writing," I said.

And I am.

Thanks, Vivian

And now, Michele Dunaway notes: Thanks Barbara! Readers, stay tuned to tomorrow, when we'll feature Debbie Macomber's thoughts!