Friday, June 24, 2011


This weekend I’m going to be visiting my family and one stop I hope to make is Longwood Gardens. During the summer after I graduated from high school this was a favorite evening destination for my friends and me. The gardens and the light and fountain show appealed to our hippie sensibilities. It also didn’t hurt that back then admission was free. (Now it costs $18 for adult admission and $8 for students up to 18.)
Like most young people, we were more interested in each other than the vast gardens, woods and park grounds, but we also spent a surprising amount of time learning about the plants, trees and landscape layout. What I learned then, has given me a lifelong appreciation of formal and not so formal gardens that has drawn me to places like Versailles, Hautfort, Sardy, Castle Howard in my travels.  

Many years later I can still find those special places at Longwood that filled me with youthful awe. And to my delight, they only seem to get better!

If you’re ever in the area west of Philadelphia and just north of Wilmington, make it a point to see these world famous gardens. While you’re there, stop by the Brandywine River Museum in nearby Chadds Ford which has a wonderful collection of paintings by three generations of Wyeths—NC, Andrew and Jamie.
So what were your favorite places to visit growing up? Have you been back lately?

Wednesday, June 22, 2011


Today I’m celebrating something so very simple and yet I feel like it’s giving me a new lease on life. After months of drought—it’s raining and raining hard. The scorching summer weather has been driven out by a drenching downpour and turned our brown world back to green. After watering our 100 year old  live oaks for weeks, seeing the ferns on the branches awaken seems like a miraculous rebirth.
The sun and heat will return again and bake Houston with the oppressive temperatures and humidity we call summer weather. Still, in one stormy day nature reminded me that something as small as a summer shower can bring joy to an entire city.
If the trees could sing, this is what would fill the air today...

Monday, June 20, 2011


Whether you’re a fan or not, it’s hard to deny that the TWILIGHT series did for young adult (YA) fiction what Harry Potter did for children’s literature—capture adult readers. One of my all time favoriteS is the Hunger Games trilogy which transcended the YA genre and proved that a readers of all ages will flock to a well-written story with a serious theme even if the protagonists are teens.
Several of my friends are YA authors who not only write wonderful books themselves, but eagerly introduce me to books by other YA authors. So here are a few I’ve especially enjoyed lately.
FIRELIGHT by Sophie Jordan
Jacinda is a draki (descendants of dragons who can shift into human form) who is force to flee her “pride” with her mother and sister. Soon she finds that living among humans presents its own deadly dangers

FORGIVE MY FINS by Tera Lynn Childs
Lily is a mermaid princess living on land and attending a high school where no one knows her real identity. She needs to find a mate before she turns 18 in order to inherit the throne. A surprise kiss from the wrong boy leads to a tidal wave of unexpected consequences.

DELIRIUM by Lauren Oliver
Lena Haloway lives in a government-managed society where everyone is cured of deliria, a.k.a. love when they turn 18. She looks forward to that day until she meets a mysterious young man who makes her doubt the intentions of those in power.

THE BODY FINDER by Kimberly Derting
Violet Ambrose can sense the unique imprint violent deaths leave on the victim and the killer them. With a serial killer murdering young girls, she chooses to risk her own safety to find him.

Do you have any recommendations of YA books you’ve enjoyed? Please share!

Friday, June 17, 2011


Follow the signs through the vast, lush grounds of Ashford Castle to Ireland's School of Falconry.  Within minutes of arriving, you will have a hawk on your glove and be setting off to fly your hawk in the gardens and woodlands surrounding the castle. The thrill of releasing the bird and watching it soar is unforgettable. The moment when your hawk first swoops down from a tree and lands on your gloved fist is nothing less than mystical.

Wednesday, June 15, 2011


Last week I got an email from my agent with a couple of final “wee edits” to approve on my novel. They were easy and quick—no problem. Then I saw a postscript that made my stomach lurch: “It would be nice to include a synopsis.” Why now? This couldn’t be happening. I broke out in a cold sweat. In that one comment, I was sentenced to the one writing task I hate above all others—writing a synopsis. defines a synopsis as:  1. a brief or condensed statement giving a general view of some subject; 2. a compendium of heads or short paragraphs giving a view of the whole; and 3. a brief summary of the plot of a novel, motion picture, play, etc.
Considering I wrote, re-wrote, revised, re-revised and edited the manuscript, this should be easy, right? Wrong!! A marketing synopsis needs to have voice, emotion, conflict and excitement that convey the essence and tone of the story. Five to ten pages that do what took it 364 pages and months or even years to write. If there was any way to get around her request—donate a kidney maybe—I was eager and willing. But I knew there was no choice, no easy way out. And so I sat myself in front of my computer, opened a creative vein and with great pain and agony wrote an eight page “summary” I hope doesn’t suck.
If there’s one thing I’ve learned, it’s writing for publication takes patience and perseverance. Every writer has to do the hard work whether that’s write the book, send out queries, pitch, promote, set up a website or write the dreaded synopsis. And most of those tasks we do alone with nothing but our determination to drive us forward.
We’re not the only ones who have to continually self-motivate and persevere when the going gets tough. Artists, entrepreneurs, anyone with a dream faces the same hurdles and the same kind of grueling choices. There are few shortcuts on the path and most people make their own “lucky breaks.” Still, would you change the path and avoid the journey? Is success sweeter when it is hard won?  For me the answers are no and the jury’s still out. What about you? What is your personal dreaded synopsis?

Monday, June 13, 2011


Woody Allen’s MIDNIGHT IN PARIS won’t appeal to everyone, but to a writer, literature major and someone who adores Paris the film was nothing short of enchanting.
Gil (Owen Wilson) is a successful Hollywood screen writer with literary dream who has just finished his first novel. He’s in Paris with his fiancĂ© and her parents—all of whom think he should forget the foolishness and go back to writing what makes him a lot of money. While they stick to the chic tourist spots, Gil wanders the city at night imagining what it would be like to live there in the 1920’s when it was the center of the ex-pat literary scene. As he sits on the steps of Montmartre at midnight, an elegant old Peugeot pulls up and Scott and Zelda Fitzgerald invite him to a party where his literary and artistic heroes accept him as one of their own. From then on he lives in the present during the day and travels back to the 20’s at night.
The magic of this movie comes to a large degree from Owen Wilson’s ability to play Gil with innocent wonder and enthusiasm that charm his new friends and the audience. I loved that Gil’s dream of writing a great novel is encouraged by the likes of Hemingway and Fitzgerald while being dismissed by his future family as frivolous. (Isn’t that scenario is all too familiar to a lot of writers?) When Gertrude Stein offers to critique his novel, I nearly cried.
The shots of Paris are gorgeous and the city is as much a character as the actors. If you didn’t pay attention in high school English and have no interest in art, many of the luminaries will be unfamiliar and much of the humor will fall flat. But for me, the film was a delightful surprise and well worth seeing again.
So a question for you writers among us--if you could meet and/or get your manuscript critiqued by a famous writer (living or dead), who would it be?

Friday, June 10, 2011


My husband and I like to take a trip for our birthdays. His is in June which is a nice month to be gone from Houston’s heat and humidity. Last June, however, we had just bought a house and moved while still trying to sell our old house, so twelve days in the French countryside wasn’t on the agenda.
Instead, I took him to Cat Springs, Texas, about an hour outside of Houston. Unlike this June, last year’s temperatures were much cooler—hovering between 70 and 80 in the morning and staying under 90 in the afternoon. I booked a cottage on a ranch and a morning horseback ride, and figured the rest would take care of itself. The cottage turned out to be what I call Texas country tourist—lots of cutesy decoration, a Texas flag theme with cow accents—but with a certain charm. Although it had been a long time since either of us had ridden, the horses were cooperative and the ranch was beautiful with its meadows full of wild flowers and cool, lush woods. It was  a world far removed from the city and the stress of daily life.
In jeans and boots—this is Texas— we set out to explore the environs. Driving around the countryside we discovered a general store with items we hadn’t seen in decades, a trading post where I bought a pair of handmade slippers, and some of the best barbeque we’ve ever eaten. In Fayetteville town square (aka Texas Pickin' Park ) impromptu groups of musicians with guitars, banjoes, fiddles and harmonicas   were jamming everything from gospel to classic country to an occasional pop-country hit. Everyone was welcome to sit in, ages 10 to 90, expert to not so good. As we sat and listened, I felt like we’d stumbled through a time-warp to an era before TV and video games when families gathered with their neighbors in small towns all over the country.
I love living in the city and taking trips to France, England and other foreign destinations, but once in a while it’s nice to appreciate the simple pleasures close to home—an early morning ride through a meadow, music just for the fun of it, and some seriously killer brisket washed down with a cold Corona.

Wednesday, June 8, 2011


I’m not a big reader of poetry, mostly because I don’t get a lot of it. I work with language as a practical tool and, although I hope my word choices and sentence structure are pleasing, my goal is to tell a story. If a reader loses herself in my prose so she doesn’t even realize she’s reading, my writing is a success in my mind.
Poetry is an intriguing mystery to me. There are a few poems that have stuck in my mind over time through no conscious effort on my part to memorize them. I love how so few words communicate so much because they are the perfect words in just the right order. These poems are like a haunting melody--once heard, forever engrained in your memory.
Fire and Ice
Some say the world will end in fire;
Some say in ice.
From what I've tasted of desire
I hold with those who favor fire.
But if it had to perish twice,
I think I know enough of hate
To say that for destruction ice
Is also great
And would suffice.
--Robert Frost
Would you share a favorite poem or lines from a poem?

Monday, June 6, 2011


I loved this book and as soon as I finished it wanted to read every one in the series. Unfortunately Amanda Stevens has written them yet. So I immediately downloaded the free prequel—The Abandoned--to my Kindle and read that. I’ve read other books by Ms. Stevens and thoroughly enjoyed them. THE RESTORER, however, is in a league of its own.
My father's rules.
I've never broken them...until now

Amelia Gray is a cemetery restorer. She also sees ghosts. Since she discovered her ability when she was nine, she's never broken her father's rules. The rules have kept her safe. But when the body of a murdered young woman is found in the graveyard she's restoring, the dangerously attractive Detective John Devlin comes looking for her for help.

Unfortunately he's haunted and Amelia is attracted to him like no man she's ever known. As the bodies pile up, Amelia is drawn into the investigation and closer to the man she knows she should stay away from. Add a secret society, shadows in the night, a cyber-stalker and, of course, Devlin's ghosts and you have a book that keeps you on the edge of your seat from page one to The End.

Amanda Stevens has an amazing talent for writing intriguing gothic mysteries set in the South--in this case Charleston. Her characters are full of quirks and eccentricities, charm and secrets. Amelia is the perpetual outsider who unravels just enough secrets to reveal a darker mystery that underlies the series. Devlin is reminiscent of the great tortured heroes of the classics--REBBECCA's Maxim de Winter, JANE EYRE's Rochester, and even the haunted Heathcliff--and, like them, the reader isn't sure if he's the hero or the villain. And neither is Amelia.
If you’re looking for a chilling mystery with a twist, this one delivers. I had only one complaint about this book--that it ended and I have to wait for the next in the series to get more!

Friday, June 3, 2011


If you’ve seen the movie MADE OF HONOR with Patrick Dempsey and Michelle Monaghan, you may remember Hannah being asleep in a little hotel in the Highlands of Scotland when her cell phone rings. I’m here to tell you--it didn’t happen. My English friends and I tried to get service for a week—countryside, village, middle of Loch Ness, Hannah’s Scottish fiancĂ©’s family castle (the real Eilean Donan Castle)—and discovered the shocking truth. There’s no cell service. Anywhere. Whether it’s the mountains, the sparse population, the lack of towers, we never got more than a fleeting bar—there and gone.
For an American from a huge city, not being able to use my iPhone constituted a major crisis those first couple of days. In France, England, Ireland, Italy, the roaming charges might be exorbitant but, damn it, you could roam. Those $100 data charges to download spam and adverts didn’t seem so outrageous when not a single email could get through.
And yet, after we came to terms with our situation, we stopped checking at every crossroads and hamlet. Okay, I had a slip in a village popular with bus tours and asked the young woman in the Tourist Information Office where my phone might work. Her reply? “In Edinburgh, perhaps. This is the Highlands. We’re almost Amish.” And there you have it. With the pressure off, my iPhone went in my carry-on until we reached Frankfurt airport almost a week later. Not a bad thing looking back. A week unplugged. I’d even recommend a tech break now and then. And it was Scotland.
But don’t even ask me about the Edinburgh Starbucks with no wifi!

Wednesday, June 1, 2011


Confession. Before I started writing for publication, I wrote some less than flattering reviews and posted them on Amazon. Granted they were for wildly successful, mainstream, even literary authors who didn’t need my two cents to sell a gazillion books. None of the reviews were scathing—that’s not my nature—but more of the “I just didn’t see what the hoopla was about” kind of comments.
Now I only review books I like, or more often book I love. This isn’t because I’m a suck-up, it’s because I’ve learned an important lesson. Not everyone has the same taste and preference in books. Books I adore, some of my dear and respected friends hate. Yes, hate. How could this be? Who’s right? The truth is—there is no right and wrong. That’s not to say there aren’t badly written books out there. It just means different people respond to different styles, themes, characters and genres.
This point has been driven home for me by judges comments and scores in writing contests on many occasions. Although I’ve never been a contest diva, I find it hard to understand why the same entry wins one contest and tanks in another. A while back I entered the first 35 pages of a fairly edgy paranormal romance to a very well respected RWA chapter contest. The scores were good, all judges said the writing was excellent, but it was the comments that were telling. One particular paragraph got comments from two different judges. It contained slang and an expression that would be familiar to readers under forty, but not necessarily to someone a bit older. One judge wrote AWESOME!!!! The other wrote “I have no idea what you’re saying here.” Well, there you have it.
So I only write reviews for book I like. That doesn’t mean I write reviews for every book I like—I just don’t have the time. It does mean that what I think is a Five-Star read, may rank One-Star in someone else’s opinion. And that’s fine. My intention here is to share books, movies, travel destinations and other experiences I’ve enjoyed—nothing more.