Saturday, August 29, 2009

Life's Unexpected Treasures

After months of living in a fairly limbo-like state, my daughters and I are settled in our home in New York...or as settled as we can be when the actual home we're moving to is still about 6 weeks in the distance (and 99 percent of our belongings are in storage). But we're getting closer.

Now, while I don't consider myself a "stuff" person AT ALL, there are some things I'm dying to reclaim from the 10 by 10 storage closet they currently call home...

*My recipe box (along with my crockpot and my favorite pots and pans). It's amazing how much you can look forward to cooking/baking when the opportunities to do so have been few and far between.

*My ankle boots. While I realize it's still flip-flop weather, my favorite pair is almost worn to the ground...making me keenly aware that boot season is right around the corner.

*Framed pictures. Nothing says "home" to me more than pictures of my kids around the house.

*My desktop computer and printer. Although I have my laptop, I miss the scads of files I have on my desktop. And having to run to Staples whenever I need to print something is getting a little old.

*My white standalone shelf unit. Now before you scratch your head on this one, let me explain. When one of my earlier small-press mystery novels sold to Harlequin's Worldwide Mystery a few years back, I used the advance to buy myself some office furniture. Nothing expensive mind you, but stuff that was MINE. One of those things was a standalone shelf. On it, I prop the books I've published (face out, of course), house the spine-out titles of some of my closest friends, and proudly display photographs that mean a lot to me.

And I am counting the days--the days--until I can set this unit up and decorate it from top to bottom once again...

This time with new pictures (I have a great one of my daughters and me from my launch party a few weeks ago) and new books (my first-ever mystery with Penguin's Berkley Prime Crime Line and a special reserved spot for my Harlequin American debut, Kayla's Daddy), and new keepsakes (a collage of notes from my editor highlighting some very cool accomplishments over the past few weeks).

So how about you? What are some possessions you'd miss terribly after months of doing without?


Friday, August 28, 2009

Contest Opportunity

Anyone who's talked to me about writing knows I learned a lot about writing while traversing the contest route. If you're aspiring to write category and looking for feedback to improve your writing, here's an opportunity you need to know about. Harlequin American Romance's own Laura Barth is the finalist judge in the Contemporary Category division of the Gateway to the Best contest, sponsored by my home chapter, Missouri RWA (MORWA). Read on to discover what Laura's looking for.

Here's the info you need.

Attention Contemporary Category / Series Romance Writers!

The deadline for the Gateway to the Best Contest is coming up on September 11th!

The final judge of the Contemporary Series category is LAURA BARTH at HARLEQUIN.

This is what LAURA says she's looking for in a contemporary series:

"For me, the most important elements when considering a contemporary series
submission are fit, voice, characterization, conflict and freshness.

"The first thing I look at is whether or not a new submission fits the line
to which it's targeted. ... If the submission is a good fit, I look at the
author's voice and writing style. The prose should be smooth, clear and
natural. The tone should be right for the story and the author should engage
the reader without intruding into the story.

"Characterization is also very important. The hero and heroine must
ultimately be likeable and believable. I want to see a heroine who's strong
enough to stand on her own, but vulnerable and human enough to make me care
about her plight. I want to see a hero who's masculine, but self-aware and
mature enough to show compassion and concern for others.

"A good romance cannot be compelling without conflict, and this conflict
should be organic--it should not be based on misunderstandings and
coincidences. For home and family lines, especially, there needs to be true
internal conflict, not just external conflict.

"Finally, it can be difficult, to say the least, to come up with a totally
new idea for a romance novel and still have it fit within the parameters of
your targeted line. But your approach still needs to be fresh. And hopefully
your story will at least have a new twist, something that makes it stand out
from the crowd."

Enter the first 25 pages of your manuscript for $30 (non-MORWA members).
BUT...enter any ADDITIONAL manuscripts for HALF-PRICE: only $15 each!

Check out our website for more information on the Gateway to the Best

Don't write contemporary series romance? We also have dedicated paranormal
(et al), historical, romantic suspense, and single title categories with
great final judges, wonderful prizes, and half-priced additional

Don't wait. As a courtesy to all our volunteer judges and final judges, our
September 11 deadline will not be extended for any reason.

Good luck to all who enter!

Megan Kelly

Thursday, August 27, 2009

Fall-ing in Love

I love Fall.

I can feel it coming, though here on the Chesapeake Bay, Summer is far from over. The days are still hot and sticky. Most evenings, wild thunderstorms generated by all the land-heat push out to sea and crash over the boat. The storms are like grand temper tantrums staged by Mother Nature herself: rumbling thunder flaring to a wild pitch of rain, wind and lightning, then over quickly, leaving calm. The waters are filled with jellyfish galore—a product of the higher salinity this time of year—all the way to the northern end of the Bay. Still, Fall is on its way.

The first harbinger is all the “back-to-school” sales. Advertisements for everything from Notebook computers to notebook paper everywhere you look. Pencils, erasures, backpacks, sweaters: all necessities of the new school year. Though I am long out of school, it makes me want to go out and buy shoes; a new pair to celebrate the new year. Because, for me, Fall is—and always has been—the start of the New Year.

Soon the weather will match my mood. The air will lose this humidity and become crisp. The skies will be a crystal blue, all haze swept away in the northerly winds. Leaves will turn brilliant colors and slowly fall to the ground to be shuffled under our feet and raked into piles. The season I love the most will truly arrive and—here in the mid-Atlantic—linger and laze its way into Winter.

So, I’m sending you all a bouquet of No. 2 pencils, to celebrate Fall. I hope you enjoy their heady aroma of new beginnings. Perhaps they will inspire you to sharpen one, pull out that new notebook, open the cover and write a few words. As for me, I think I’ll go look at shoes.

Monday, August 24, 2009

Canines with Careers—Tipper: Office Dog

Working with families in crisis requires a whole lot of patience and compassion, and office dog Tipper has oodles of both. She works two to three days a week with her owner, Diane, at a family justice counselling office in Vancouver, BC. I’ve had the privilege of meeting them and seeing firsthand how Tipper interacts with her colleagues and clients, and how she enriches her workplace.

Tipper’s Stats
Breed: lab/collie cross
Age (in human years): 11
Weight: 50 pounds
Food: dog food, once a day
Treats: a daily dog biscuit, or two
Favorite Toy: tennis ball
Favorite Activity: going for a walk and fetching a ball at the local park; swimming at the beach
One Word that Best Describes Tipper: compassionate
Tipper has been extremely well trained and she never jumps up on people or makes overtures, so Diane’s clients are not afraid of her. She’s great with kids and will occasionally spend time with children while their parents are being interviewed. She welcomes attention but doesn’t demand it, although she will gently lean in on people, hoping to be petted. I can tell you from experience that being leaned on by Tipper can make you want to slow down, take a deep breath, and realign your perspective.

On the rare occasions when a client is loud, upset or even aggressive, Tipper remains calm and alert and keeps that person in her line of sight at all times. She’s very good at diffusing situations and she generally has a calming effect on clients who are upset.

When she’s not working directly with someone, Tipper will claim a central spot in the office where she can keep tabs on what’s happening with all the counsellors and their clients.

Her co-workers say she’s the most enthusiastic “person” in the office and, like most of us, her office decorum is different from the way she behaves at home. For example, she will bark at home when someone comes to the door but at work she often assists at the reception desk.

If you’ve ever had a pet, you know all about the benefits of having an animal in your life but until I saw Tipper on the job, I hadn’t realized that workplaces could reap so many benefits from having a dog on staff. Especially a dog as delightful and engaging as Tipper.

To meet more canines with careers, please join me and police dog named Panzer at the Wet Noodle Posse, and me and guide dog Kimo on The Writer Side of Life.

Until next time,

Sunday, August 23, 2009

My Recent Research Trip

As some of you may know, I'm currently working on a book that centers around a rodeo family. It's Harlequin American's first ever continuity, and I'm book three (coming out the summer of 2010). I've attended plenty of rodeos but not for a number of years. So, another writer friend Libby and I went to the nearby town of Payson (Arizona) this past Sunday to watch the last day of a small but well-known local rodeo and research. In fact, it was the 125th anniversary of the rodeo, so a good day to go!

We had a great time. More importantly, I was able to gather gobs of information for my book, small details that will give it a sense of realism.
Something else that was fun, I got some pictures of the sheriff's station in Payson. Another of my books coming out in 2010 (The Accidential Sheriff) is set in Payson, and the hero is the Acting Sheriff (not by choice). This is the building where he works. Okay, he doesn't really work there, he's a fictional character. But in my mind, he's real, and inside this building is his office.

Lastly, I got some pictures of the girls' equestrian drill team. Two of my previous books, Cowboy Dad and Waiting for Baby, also taking place in or near Payson and feature a secondary character named Briana who is captain of her high school equestrian drill team. Somewhere is this group of girls is the inspiration for that character.
For me, this trip on Sunday wasn't just research, it was like visiting my books. Very cool!
Naturally, I got ideas for more books while I was there :) How could I not?

Cathy Mc