Saturday, October 03, 2009


Do you remember your high school’s homecoming week? To be honest, I really don’t. I remember girls would get giant mum corsages, complete with red and white ribbons and little plastic footballs and helmets hanging from them. There was a dance in our gym. I was on our high school’s drill team (in Houston, Texas, y’all), so we were always getting ready for the big half-time show. Every once in a while my parents would ask me how things were going. That’s about it.

To put it simply, my experiences pale in comparison to what’s been going on around here. My daughter’s a high school junior and preparations for Saturday’s dance have been 1) all-consuming, 2) expensive 3) full of drama and…(we really can’t stress this too much) 4) all-consuming. Every time my husband tries to get involved or offer an opinion, he messes things up, so I’ve had to pretty much ask him to be the Silent Participant. He’s allowed to smile, offer compliments, and pay for things.

The drama all started when she almost broke up with her boyfriend. Well, she did, for twenty-four hours. As soon as she did, she was asked to the dance by boyfriend’s best friend (!) with roses in the middle of Algebra. (no, that never, ever happened to me either…but wouldn’t it have been cool?) My daughter took the roses, said yes to the friend, and then dealt with the aftermath. Almost-Ex got jealous, begged her to take him back.

Now, she’s going to the dance with one boy, and leaving with boyfriend. Everyone seems just fine with this arrangement. Except, maybe, me…who’s going to the pre-homecoming dinner party to take pictures of my daughter with the boy who’s only Date Number 1.

After all this got figured out. (and boy, did y’all get the short version), the shopping began. New dress, new shoes. Search for the perfect purse. Yesterday was nail appointment day. Her hair appointment is this afternoon. Flowers have been ordered. I volunteered to make dessert for the 30 kids who are having dinner together at another’s house. She’ll do the dinner and the dance and the slumber party with all the girls.

And then, on Sunday, it will all be over. She works at an orchard, so she’ll go back to her regular job at the apple house selling Honey Crisp apples. My husband and I will look at each other and be so relieved...and then will most likely be sad.

Only one more homecoming after this…and then it will be all over. Done.

We know this because although these last two weeks have been crazy, another homecoming has been on all our minds. Late Wednesday night, our son will come home for five days for his fall break. He’s been in Alabama and we’ve missed him terribly.

Our son’s homecoming will involve a big hug and lots of cooking, I imagine. His goals for the week include sleeping, seeing the weiner dog, and eating pot roast. Maybe a round of golf. As long as he's here, it sounds like heaven.

So here’s to high school traditions and college homecomings.
And to having friends to tell about it all…

I know I’m not the only one who’s gone through all this. Anyone have a good homecoming story to share? About a kid? About you? I’d love to commiserate.


Friday, October 02, 2009


CONGRATULATIONS NICOLERKO! You’re the September winner. To receive your free autographed books please contact Laura Marie Altom and Lisa Childs through their Web sites.

To enter the contest simply leave a blog comment and your name will go into the drawing. Easy and painless. And FREE BOOKS.

So check back often and be sure to leave a comment. Good luck!

Thursday, October 01, 2009

Tuning In

It’s my blogging day, and here are a couple of less-than-thrilling possible topics that flitted through my brain:

· How I’ve avoided running for any sort of office since a humiliating defeat in high school for president of the drama club. I lost even though I’d founded the drama club, it was our very first meeting, and the guy who got elected never called another meeting.

· How I nevertheless decided to serve on the board of my local RWA chapter, and only I’m going to miss the first meeting, so I hope they'll all bear with me.

· How I’ve battled pests in my garden all summer and am on the verge of throwing in the trowel (pun intended) because of white grubs. Any tips?

However, instead, I’m going to talk about something brilliant and intellectual. That is, the new TV season.

If you’re like most of my friends, you a) don’t own a TV set, b) are too busy serving on the school board, homeowners’ board or PTA board to watch TV, or c) are too busy out battling grubs.

That leaves just a few of us. So gather round…

Each fall, my husband and I sample numerous new series, but quickly drop most. However, we’re thrilled when we find one we like. So far, the biggest winner among the new series, for us, is “Flash Forward.” I also like “The Good Wife.” Anyone else enjoy those?

Not crazy about “Mercy,” “Vampire Diaries” (sorry, vampire lovers) or “Eastwick.” Re the latter, I’m a huge Paul Gross fan but I’m not keen on watching him channel Jack Nicholson, plus I also find the premise unpleasant. Basically, as far as I can tell, it’s “Let’s go sell our souls to the devil and have a rousing good time!”

Aside from wonky premises, what turns me off in a series? Biggest bugaboo: generic writing. An obvious opening scene that could have come from any of dozens of movies immediately raises my hackles. So do stereotypical characters and predictable plotlines.

I know there are people who think all romance novels are predictable because there’s always a happy ending. Well, the same is true of murder mysteries, right? It’s a given that the hero/heroine will solve the crime and prevail over the bad guy. The trick is making it all seem fresh.

So here’s to good writing, wherever you find it. And I hope, for you, that includes us hardworking scribblers at Harlequin American.

Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Cowboy Birthday Party

When it comes to kids' birthday partiesit's a struggle sometimes to come up with a fun theme that's affordable. Check out the party idea below found on the The Thomas Ranch website. The Thomas Ranch was founded in Bisbee Arizona in 1902 by Edward E. Thomas. The ranch is located in the South-Eastern section of ARIZONA, in Cochise County, most known for the city of Tombstone. The Thomas Ranch website

For the Do-It-Yourselfers, search and find the Template you want to use, insert information and print. It’s that simple.Sample Layout of Invitations:

Wanted Posters: This is one way to customize your party. Insert your Childs picture and add your custom text. Mail or hand these out. Placing these inside a Straw Western Cowboy Hat and telling them to wear them to the party is one great way to have a special and unique invitation.

Bandanas: What is more Western than the Bandana? Writing directly on the bandana with permanent marker (for those of you who have great hand writing, or have your child write it) is a great Western Based Invitation. Ensure that the kids know to wear this around there neck as an entrance pass to the party. (using tracing paper to ensure all of these turn out the same is a simple way to help elevates ruining some of the Bandanas).

Stock Paper: Stock Paper is in every store around the Country. It is a simple and cheap way to go if you are not talented with a computer. All you have to do is open your word processor and type up a standard invitational greeting and print. Ensure that you test your print on a blank piece of paper, prior to printing on the stock paper. Store away the remaining papers that you don’t use for use later down the road.

Sample Invitational Text Layouts

#1 Howdy Partner! We’all will be needed all of You’ins to be joining us to help celebrate Outlaw (your Childs name)’s __th Birthday. Y’all get ready for the best Rootin-Tootin best time of your life. Come on down to the _Your Last Name Ranch at (add your address).

“So saddle up your Horse and mosey on down to the Barn Party. Give us a Holler at (enter your phone number).

See Y’all there! (date and time)

#2 Yee Haw! The best danged Shindig in town is about to happen. Y’all is invited too. Mosey on down to (your Childs name)’s __th Birthday Party. We will be throwin’ this at Your Last Name Ranch at (add your address).Have your Sheriff give our Sheriff a Holler at (enter your phone number).

#3 Wanted: Y’all to come on down to the fastest, bestest, western hoedown ever. Sheriff (your Childs name)’s __th Birthday Party. Yee Haw! Time for the shoot out is at (enter date and time of party). Give us a shout at (enter your phone number).

It is a simple process, just sit down and think of western based words when you think of a Cowboy and jot down your own “Hankering” words.

Red and White Bandana Tablecloth (you can use any design you want, red and white or blue and white are the most popular). Use Bandanas for place mats.Cut outs of Cowboys, Cowgirls, Horses, Cows, Barns, and ECT. Placing Hay Bales in the backyard and around the house is one easy way to accent the party. Cowboy Hat Center-Piece filled with Candy. Cowboy Boot Cups. Placing Pieces of wood around the house would also create the Old West feeling. Build a Real Old West Town (cut-outs) out of Cardboard. Saloon, Jail, Hotel, Ranch Store are all perfect examples.

Guest Arrivals
Welcoming your guests are one of the biggest and easiest steps that happen during the party. Have someone greet your guest wearing all black and a black Top Hat, have them measure your guest for a coffin.

Favors / Give-A-Ways
Tiny Mint Candies wrapped in a Western Print:
Western Straw Hats:
Deputy Badges:
Toy Give a ways--Gold Coins, Gum or Chocolate, Gold Nugget Gum Bags, Cowboy Ranch Brand Tattoos.

Party Games
Branding the Kid, using Temporary Tattoos
Brand the Steer.
Pin the tail on the Horse.
Rope the Steer.
Make your own vest.
Showdown at High Noon. This uses squirt guns.
Snake in my Boots.

Food and Drinks
When you think about the Old West B*B*Q always comes to mind. So we will focus our attention there. You will have a Western B*B*Q for this Western Based Children’s Cowboy Party.

Salsa and Chips
Bean Dip and Chips
Beef Jerky
Deviled Eggs

Main Course
Beef RibsB
arbeque Pulled Beef Sandwiches
Steak (for those who can afford it)
Hot Dogs and Hamburgers (make sure you have B*B*Q sauce on them)
Chili Dogs (hotdogs with chili on them, makes a messss but it great fun and memories)
Grilled Vegetables
Potato Salad
Baked Beans
Corn Bread

Sarsaparilla – Sioux City Sarsaparilla is the best our family has found.
Root beer

Cake (in the shape of a Sheriffs Badge, Horse Head, Western Theme)
Fruit Cobbler with Ice Cream on top adds a special Old West flair to it. (Apple is the most traditional of fruit cobblers, but you can serve whatever the fruit that is in season, add Vanilla Ice Cream on top)
Moo Cream (nothing more than Ice Cream)

Care to share a birthday-party theme that was a big hit at your house?

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Special Days

While I consider every day a gift, there are some that simply stand out more than others, leaving you with vivid memories of virtually every moment.

Sunday was one of those days for me.

My youngest daughter turned eleven and we spent the first half of the day in New York City. We rode the subway to the American Girl Place where we had breakfast (complete with conversation starters) and shopped. The smile on her face was one I won't soon forget.

When we were done there, we rode the subway uptown two stops to 59th street. We took a very short cab ride to FAO Schwartz where we got to design our own Barbie (hair color, clothes, etc.). When my daughter was done designing her just the way she wanted her, the doll came out as part of a fashion show (lights, cameras, the whole kitten kaboodle). Then it was back outside where we opted for a hot pretzel (from a street vendor) in lieu of the cab ride and walked (in the mist) back to the subway station and, eventually, the car.

It was a good birthday, for her and for me. Because not only did she get a few neat presents but we made a memory--one that will last forever. Sure, the things we remember from that day may be a bit different (different people/different perspectives), but there's little doubt it was a birthday she'll never forget.

For me, I'll remember the look on her face as we rode the subway to the restaurant/shop and then again while in the taxi when she had no idea what part 2 was going to be. I'll remember the way her face lit up when her dessert at the AG Place came with a candle. I'll remember walking beside Central Park sharing a pretzel under an umbrella. I'll remember the way we squeezed hands on the subway platform--three from me for "I Love You," and four from her for "I Love You, Too."

So how about you? What's a recent day that will stick in your mind for years to come? And what will you remember most?

Monday, September 28, 2009

Author Interview--Rebecca Winters

Please welcome long-time Harlequin Author, Rebecca Winters. We're thrilled that Rebecca has recently joined the American Romance line!

How long have you been published?
With Harlequin, 20 years.

What advice for new writers?
For new Harlequin writers, read the line you love until it gets deep in your psyche.

What, in your opinion, are the most important elements of good writing?
Strong emotion, flesh and blood characterization, excellent story telling.

What's the strangest thing you've ever eaten?
Raw eel in a bar in Barcelona, Spain

What comes first: the plot or the characters?
That all depends. Stories have come to me both ways.

When you looked in the mirror this morning, what was the first thing you thought?
Time indeed marches on.

Describe your writing space.
The end of my bedroom. From my desk I look out a front and a side window. Both give me a glorious view of the brilliant blue sky and the Oquirrh Mountains. Directly in front of my front window is a beautiful park surrounded on all sides by adorable new houses that look like they belong in Whoville. Above my desk is a large, gorgeous framed tapestry my mother made in fine needlepoint of Romeo and Juliet done in deep blues and reds. I can’t work in clutter. My desk has the equipment, a phone book and lotion. You’ll usually see my favorite Coke Zero Cherry drink, my cell phone, a little lamp and a beautiful vase with no flowers in it (alas).

Do you ever suffer from writer's block? If so, what do you do about it?
We all suffer from it. I often call my dear friend Bonnie K. Winn, a renown romance writer, and we go through the ‘what ifs.’ That usually unlocks my brain enough to move on.

What books or authors have most influenced your own writing?
Anything by Alexandre Dumas, Victor Hugo, Taylor Caldwell, Anja Seton, James Michner, James Hilton. As for Harlequin writers, three stand out, but don’t forget I started reading Harlequins in the 70’s. Violet Winspear, Anne Mather and Margaret Way.

What are you reading now?
The last novel in the Twilight Series.

Do you re-read your books once they're in print?
Sure. Once in a while I get in a mood and think, hey-- I’ll read one of mine! Some of my favorites I read every year.

What is your work schedule like when you are writing?
I’m up at five a.m. and write all day (with breaks in between to tend grandchildren, shop, chat with family and friends on the phone, go on trips.

How many books have you written? Which is your favorite?
This year at the Harlequin party during the RWA Conference in Washington D.C., I’m receiving an award for having written 100 books. It makes me croak just thinking about it. In the Harlequin Romance series I guess I have to say BRIDE OF MY HEART or CLAIMING HIS BABY. In the Harlequin Superromance series it would be STRANGERS WHEN WE MEET. In the Harlequin American series, I would have to say THE CHIEF RANGER.

Do you hear from your readers much? What do they say?
I get a few e-mails every week. They mostly tell me they like my romances because they are emotional and uplifting.

Tell us about your family and where you live.
I have four children and five grandchildren. I live in Salt Lake City, Utah, the land of mountains, blue skies and the greatest snow on earth.

Are you working on anything at the present you'd like to share?
A rodeo story for American. I’m now addicted to watching bullriding!

Did you ever eat paste or Elmer's glue when you were a kid?
Who didn’t eat both?

What did you do career-wise before becoming an author?
I taught French in secondary school.

How has the American Romance line changed since you first began writing for it?
I can’t tell you that yet. I’m only working on my third book for the line now.

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 often burn my lilac scented candle. I use music a lot. Mostly classical piano concertos of Grief, Rachmaninoff, Mozart, Tchaikowsky, Beethoven, Schumann. I also love flamenco, Gypsy Kings, Luis Miguel, Andre Rocelli. I love opera; Carmen, Aida, Tosca, Madame Butterfly. Any music that pierces or squeezes your heart.

What do you want to know about the future?
I don’t. I can only handle my day to day life. I’d probably have a heart attack to know more.

Can you taste the difference between Pepsi and Coke? If so, which do you prefer?
Absolutely. I prefer Coke. Pepsi taste like medicine.

Have you ever made a crank phone call?
When I was in grade school my older sister used to make me do crank calls and say, “Hey, have you got any pop in the bottle? If you do, let him out!”

Who's you're personal hero--past or present?
If we’re talking romantic, it’s Errol Flynn hands down on the movie screen. The scene with Marion in Robinhood, when he climbs on her balcony window and accuses her of loving him-- Then he professes his love for her, and there’s something about the way he says it and the way he looks at her that thrilled me as a child, as a teenager and as a grown woman. It gets to me every single time. It’s that emotion I try to put in my writing.

What is your dream car?
The Porsche 911.

If you could go anywhere in the world where would it be?
South of France.

If you were locked in a closet for one hour who would you want in there with you?
Errol Flynn as he looked in Robinhood, the Sea Hawk or Captain Blood.

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?
A cowboy. He’s eternal. A man of the earth who knows how to live and survive in any century. My next Harlequin Romance is going to be a cowboy story.


Sunday, September 27, 2009

Déjà vu

Last Friday I moved my sailboat into a small marina in Annapolis, Maryland. It’s one of a dozen or more marinas that crowd the shores of Back Creek. When you step off the docks, you are in the Eastport neighborhood—known locally as the Maritime Republic of Eastport. A less-touristy area than Annapolis proper, Eastport has none of the bustle that accompanies the capitol of a state. If you didn’t know the State House was just a short walk across the Spa Creek bridge, you’d never guess it. The streets are lined with small charming houses. Trees arch out to form a canopy of green overhead. From around every corner you catch a glimpse of water and, of course, boats.

Walking out of the marina parking lot to look around, you find the Leeward coffee shop two blocks to the east. About a half-block west is Davis’s Tavern, a former mercantile store in the 1930’s, converted to a local watering hole. Really, this is about as perfect as it gets for a writer: libations for either end of the day all within walking distance.

The evening after we tied up, we decided to go see what was happening at the tavern, see what the locals do for fun after the long work-week. To our surprise, Davis’s was crowded. Outside, people stood in clusters under the green awnings or sat at the tables. Inside, the barstools were full. We took a table nearby and overheard several lies . . . I mean sea stories being told. Most of the patrons had houses nearby, or boats at the marinas across the street, or both. It was a happy, convivial atmosphere that made you want to stay and mingle.

That’s when my first attack of déjà vu hit: I had been there before. No, I don’t mean that I had ever been in Davis’s Tavern. Before that evening, I didn’t even know it existed. But there was a feel to the place that was very familiar, except I couldn’t figure out the connection. The next morning, writing away on my latest book, I realize that Davis’s shared some striking resemblances to the bar I had created for my characters. My bar—The Laughing Gull—is in an old, historic building on the waterfront. You can see boats from its windows. The vibe I get from the bar I created is a lot like the real one: warm, welcoming and boisterous.

A few days later we stopped into the tavern again. It wasn’t so busy on a weeknight, so we pulled up a stool. As I was sipping my wine, a man walked up to the bar next to me, smiled and ordered a drink. He had a thick accent that sounded Italian. After the bartender served him, he took his beer outside to a table. Through the windows, I could see him sit down with several other older men who all seemed to be talking at once and having a great time. Forgetting my manners, I started to stare. He looked very like my image of Antonio Berzani, patriarch of the Berzani clan and father to my hero, Ian. Did he have an Italian accent? Yes. Did he talk with his hands? Yes. Was he tall, have silver hair and dark eyes with a twinkle lurking in their depths? Yes, yes, yes.


Did one of my characters just come to life? And was he in a bar that came out of my imagination? The universe isn’t supposed to work that way, but what if this is one of those mysterious anomalies? What I love most of all about this “déjà vu” experience (I’m sure there’s a better psychological term for experiencing something you imagined beforehand) is that it shows I’ve successfully translated my experiences on the Chesapeake Bay extracted from a myriad of small communities—Chestertown, Deltaville, Oxford, Easton—into a “real” fictional place, somewhere my characters really would live, laugh and love.

So far, none of my other characters has made an appearance at Davis’s or around the neighborhood, but I’m not giving up. Any day, I expect to see Kate and Patrick with their baby, strolling along Chester Avenue, or Ian lugging his tool box into a boatyard, or Mimi strumming her guitar and singing at a local hangout. I believe that there’s a thin spot in the fabric of the universe somewhere around here and through it, my stories are entering this reality.

How cool would that be?