Friday, January 30, 2009

Ready for Spring

I'm one of those people who hates the dark days and gray colors of winter. As I write this on the 28th, two days before my blog will post, my yard is covered in six inches of white snow and the sun is shining. So everything is bright. I'm waiting for my neighbor to come take his tractor and dig me out--but he's going right on by. (His wife will remind him.) Until then, my yard is pristine and smooth, marring one set of deer tracks. I'd show you a picture, but all my cameras are at work--which is closed. There's no way I can dig out this driveway. I've done it before and didn't love any of it.

I live in the country on five acres, which I love. I'm surrounded by an 11 acre horse farm, and 26 acres of land that no one uses and really can't be developed. So at most I might see one more house. The only time life out here is trying and somewhat annoying is during the winter, but no one expects to go anywhere so it's usually okay. So far we've been off for 2 snow days, and my district where I teaach has used a total of four. The school district I live in has been off for 5.

While I get tired of drab winter pretty quickly, I like Missouri. For the most part we have all four seasons, although we can have them all in one week, and some years it seems like we skip spring. Hopefully this March I'll be back at work on my current project--clearing out the brush and extra trees that block my view of the pond. When I moved in you couldn't see anything at all, just a sliver. Now this is the view once you get to the edge of the grass part of my backyard. This project is going on about three years now, depending on extra $$, time, that sort of thing.

Lastly, since I'm sharing photos, my feral outdoor cat, who adopted us and who we've called Doofy, is finally out of his igloo and braving the snow. He's spent the last two days battened down. He's my sweetheart, although he wasn't happy to spend two nights in my garage when it got to -17 one night. But I want him around for another year.

Everyone have a great end to January, and be safe and warm.

Thursday, January 29, 2009

Through a Visitor's Eyes

About three years ago, my stepson decided to move to Australia. Strange decision, coming from a kid who previously couldn't move himself far enough to attend college classes. Turns out there was a girl involved. He met her on the Internet.

Could have ended in disaster. But instead, Nick and Dani fell in love. He lives with her and her grandmother in an Adelaide suburb. She's a zoology grad student and he's in college (actually attending this time) studying psychology. They are both on summer break from school and have come to America to visit for a few weeks.

It's Dani's first trip to America, and it's been a great deal of fun to experience our country through a visitor's eyes. Of course, being curious types, my husband and I pepper the poor girl for her impressions.

Several things stand out in her mind. The terrible traffic and the huge, multi-lane freeways are alien to her. Super Walmarts and gigantic shopping malls are overwhelming. Then there's the weather. Since she hit Texas, she's been hit with temperatures ranging from the 20s to the 80s. She's had snow, sleet, ice and hail, rain and wind and heat.

Despite all that, she likes it here, or at least she says she does! But the thing that has made the biggest impression on her?


No squirrels in Australia. She finds it freaky-cool that they're everywhere, in the yard and on the roof and running in the streets, and that you can get so close to them. She thinks they're very cute. (Clearly she's never experienced them chewing holes in her house or emptying her bird feeders!)

In a couple of weeks, Nick and Dani are headed for California and Disneyland, the quintessential American tourist experience. I imagine squirrels will fade into the background then.

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Viewpoint and Perspective

If reading and writing books are among my top two pasttimes, a close third would probably be talking about books (and how to write them) with others. I had great fun last Saturday teaching a workshop about Point of View and how important POV is in a story. I want, as an author, to really bring my character's perspective to life, to help the reader relate to what that character is going through, why that character is behaving a certain way, and to more fully bring that character's world into three dimensional life for the audience.

And the fact of the matter is, learning to see things through another person's perspective is a great skill to have in life, not just in building my stories. I am reminded of my mother-in-law and The Soup.

My husband grew up in a very small town (no bookstores, the horrors!) in an insular family. They've all stayed pretty close to home. Except then he married me and not only did we move several states away, we don't even live in the same time zone! Not long after we married, his parents drove to see us and I was nervous. My husband and I come from very different cultural backgrounds and I wasn't sure what my in-laws would think of their daughter-in-law, the Aspiring Romance Author. The day we expected them to arrive, I spent hours slaving over a meal I hoped would impress them. I wanted them to know I was trying to take loving care of my new husband.

When my father in law knocked on our door, my M-i-L stood behind him with a vat of homemade soup (she not only makes her own stock, she makes her own noodles) that she had transported cross country. It was her son's favorite she explained and she'd brought it just for him, so we could warm it up for dinner. My husband asked if we couldn't accomodate her and reheat my efforts the next night, and I felt crushed.

In fact, I may have--deep down, you understand--harbored the tiniest smidge of resentment when, every visit afterward, she brought along homemade noodles and told me just to let her know which night we wanted to have soup for dinner. Well, less resentment and more relief two years ago, when they visited us in the dead of winter and I caught a bad cold and the sheer volume of peppercorns she adds to that soup gave me the only five minutes of clear breathing I had all day! I decided then I could learn to love the soup, which has always been a family tradition for them and now, a gentle source of amusement between us.

This fall, I watched my little boy walk into public school for the first time--it looks so BIG and he looks so TINY among the much taller third, fourth and fifth graders. And I suddenly had a clearer perspective on what it's like, as a mother, to let go of a son--whether it's watching him start school or the much more daunting task of seeing him marry and move away.

It's cold and rainy today, the kind of weather that makes one feel introspective and melancholoy, and to tell you the truth, I could really use a steaming bowl of that lovingly made soup.

Sunday, January 25, 2009

Author Interview with Judy Christenberry

Please welcome one of Harlequin American's most popular authors Judy Christenberry. Along with writing several best-selling series for the American Romance line Judy also pens cowboy stories for Harlequin Romance.

How long have you been published?
Twenty years as of 2008

What advice would you give a new writer just starting out?
Write. That’s the most important thing. You may not like what you write, but that’s the building blocks to everything. Your couple can’t have a happy ending if you don’t get to the end.
What's the strangest thing you've ever eaten?
I don’t eat strange things! Nothing that swims, and I don’t write about vegetarians or other eating habits I don’t understand.

What comes first: the plot or the characters?
I don’t do characters sketches for my hero and heroine. Once I establish them, I try to stay consistent.

Do you ever suffer from writer's block? If so, what do you do about it?
No, I’ve always had deadlines and I never had time for writer’s block. Usually, if I know where the book is going, I can keep on writing.

What books or authors have most influenced your own writing?
I loved reading Zane Gray, but I was always frustrated about the romance. Now I write about cowboys who have a believable romance. Georgette Heyer was a big influence on my regency romances, and Nora Roberts, because her characters always come to life for me.

Do you re-read your books once they're in print?

What is your work schedule like when you are writing?
I write about a chapter a day, which is sixteen pages. I usually write four days a week, although sometimes more if I need to. Since I write for two lines, Harlequin American Romance and Harlequin Romance, sometimes the deadlines can be very close together.

How many books have you written?
85 for Harlequin, and 10 for other publishers

Which is your favorite?
The Lemon Cake, my first Regency romance for Harlequin. When the editor said she only wanted me to change two things – a description of an aunt and one other minor detail – I was thrilled. It was a difficult book to write but easy to get to print.

What did you do career-wise before becoming an author?
I taught high school French for twelve years in Highland Park, Texas, and before that I taught eight years in middle school.

How has the American Romance line changed since you first began writing for it?
The first thing I learned when I sold to American was that good heroines don’t cry very often. Unlike real people, they can’t be emotional watering buckets. When my editor told me she wanted humor, I was relieved. I could write humorous scenes that people could really enjoy reading. After I wrote my first Randall book, my editor told me that although she didn’t like cowboys very much, they really sold well, so that’s what she wanted me to write.

Who's you're personal hero--past or present?
Many of my books are based on my late father. Not only did he have great integrity, but he was an outdoorsman and a firefighter. He was raised on a farm in East Texas.

If you could go anywhere in the world where would it be?
I’d love to go back to Wyoming. The only time I went there I visited the small town I based my Christmas book on. The actual town was very different, much more rural and smaller than I’d imagined. Now I make up all my towns.

If you were locked in a closet for one hour who would you want in there with you
Someone with a flashlight, so I could read!

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?
A cowboy, of course!