Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Routines and Revolutions

Do you crank up the Foo Fighters before you knead bread, light a votive candle in preparation for writing morning pages, or practice yoga before you open your sketch pad? Those routines or rituals don't just set the mood, they anchor you for the creative task ahead, making it easier to accept the uncertainty that accompanies the creative process, says marketer and entrepreneur Jonathan Fields in his new book, Uncertainty, Turning Fear and Doubt into Fuel for Brilliance. Read an excerpt on media professor Jane Friedman's blog.

A recent post by Mike Shatzin, a digital-publishing guru, is a must-read for anyone interested in the ways ebooks are changing readers' habits and publishers' business models.
This coming November marks the four-year anniversary of Amazon's Kindle, and it appears ebook sales now make up twenty percent of the revenues for some publishers. If growth continues at the current rate, ebook sales will account for close to eighty percent of publishers' revenues two years from now.

Writers reluctant to embrace social media need more than a pep talk, and marketing consultant Laura Barnes offers a list of tools that makes it easier to connect.

Reading, Writing, and Rambling's own Lark Howard is en route to France. In her honor, check out Vivian Swift's The France Blog. The illustrations are charming, and the blog's a romance wrapped in a travelogue. It should hold us until Lark posts her first vacation pictures.

I'm in the mood for an ebook set in France. What real and virtual voyages are on your wish list?

Monday, September 26, 2011


In two days I hop on a plane to Nice, France. I love traveling and have been to France countless times, yet there’s always the rush of excitement when I realize I’m really going. Soon. This time the anticipation is tinted with disappointment that my husband won’t be able to go. For business reasons he had to cancel and now I’ll be on my own for a few days before I join up with friends. Traveling alone is no problem, I’ve been doing it for years, still we’d looked forward to the time together.
Funny thing about traveling for fun—I never quite know what to pack. Business travel—no problem—but deciding which jeans, sweaters, tees, shoes, jacket to spend my limited suitcase space on...totally, absurdly stressful. To use a favorite Texas expression, “This ain’t my first rodeo.” So what’s so hard about picking out what I’m going to want to wear for two weeks? EVERYTHING!!
First there’s the weather. The average temperatures this time of year are 50’s nights and 60’s days. This year is much warmer—mid 70’s to even low 80’s. Tees, jeans and sandals? Sweaters, jeans and boots? Two very different wardrobes. We’ve rented a house so we’ll have a washing machine (which in France takes about 5 hours to do 1 load!), and yet putting on the same white shirt and blue jeans, even clean, the fifth time is hard to take. There have been times when I retired clothing items or left them behind because I couldn’t bear to ever look at them again.
Second, French women are tiny and French clothes are very expensive. My sister wears an American size 2 and a French medium or even large sometimes. Extra large? Doesn’t exist. If I don’t pack it, I probably won’t be able to buy it.
Third, what are we going to do and what clothes will be appropriate? A stroll through the chic streets of St. Tropez requires different clothes than a hike in the countryside. A nice restaurant or Monte Carlo casino requires a more polished ensemble than a village bistro. Decisions, decisions. And don’t get me started on shoes!! Comfy walkers? Stylish pumps? Sandals? Boots? How can a girl choose?
Don’t get me wrong, I’ll it figure out or at least fill up a suitcase with things I think I’ll need and let go of the angst by the time my bags are loaded in the car. Still, why does it seem that everyone else brings exactly the right things while I agonize and hope that this time I got it right?
 Got any tips you want to share? Love to hear them!

Friday, September 23, 2011


The internet offers endless options for wasting time. Email, Facebook, Twitter, blogs, tabloid trash—all that marvelous messing around can be done so discreetly on your PC, laptop, iPhone, iPad that one can be entertained almost anywhere. And don’t even get me started on the glories of my Kindle! But I also check in on BBC news, the New York Times headlines, NPR, and other information sources daily. Although I believe it’s important to be informed, there’s an ulterior motive to scanning the news stories. I’m looking for material. Yep. Ripped from the news inspiration for stories current and future. And when I find something intriguing, I print it out and stash it in a notebook so it won’t be lost.
These items aren’t about bizarre crimes or acts of valor, of accomplishments or warm, fuzzy human interest stories that make you go aaaahhhh. They’re, well, irresistibly odd bits that strike my imagination with titles like these:
Antimatter caught streaming from thunderstorms on Earth – I mean, how cool is that?
Playful dolphin strands New Zealand woman and NZ dolphin rescues beached whales – inspiration for my Caribbean set WIP about disappearing marine mammals
Will we all be tweaking our own genetic code? – Can I make my legs longer and avoid turning into my mother? I mean, what a fabulous sci-fi premise!
Suriname, South America’s Hidden Treasure – Suriname’s in South America? Really? Who knew? I’m seeing another offbeat setting coming on.
New emotion detector can see when we’re lying – This story is dated 9/13/2011 and yet Hollywood did this in SALT last year. But the story has back-up and pictures! Schwing!
‘Multiverse’ theory suggested by microwave background – A multiple-universe theory I can so use for something
Do Narcissists Know They Are Narcissists? – What writer isn’t going to jump on this one?
So has anything struck you with inspiration lately? (Photos of Hugh Jackman and Paul Walker don’t count unless you post them!) 'Fess up. Inquiring minds want to know!

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Rage Appropriate

I needed a frock for an upcoming event, so, despite the fact shopping for anything but books, groceries, and greeting cards gives me hives, I hit the stores.

After trying on twenty-one dresses, two skirts, and three evening jackets, I slipped into a dress I didn't hate when I looked in the mirror. The saleswoman, who'd already proven her worth with remarks such as, "No," accompanied by a pained expression. "Not right," followed by a shake of her head, and "That jacket's wearing you," looked at me and nodded. "Good."

Reader, I bought it.

Later, at home, I tried it on for my husband. Am I the pathetic, insecure type who needs outside validation when it comes to clothing choices? Yes

Hubs blinked, cleared his throat, blinked some more. He's of the If you can't say something nice, don't say anything, school. I know that, yet I pressed.

"You think it's an old lady dress, don't you?"

More blinking and throat clearing. "I think the dress is age appropriate."


How many times had I used "age appropriate" to convince then-teen daughters to change out of what looked like hooker clothes? Karma's got a long memory, and she insists on payback.

I'm not returning the dress but might take up the hem an inch or two. What's more, I'm now determined to buy a pair of four-inch heels—from Rockport, a company usually associated with thick-soled walking shoes. The heels come with a thirty-day "walkability" guarantee. How age appropriate is that?

Have you done/bought anything age inappropriate recently?

Monday, September 19, 2011


Last night I awoke to the crash of thunder. Lightning flashed outside my bedroom window and rain beat loudly on the skylight in the bathroom. The Live Oaks outside my window, those valiant trees which barely clung to the live part of their name, sung the Halleluiah chorus (at least in my fantasy) as they drank in the storm. For the first time since last November, the sky had opened and given us the drenching Houston so desperately needed. And at last all was right with the world. 
Okay, that’s a bit melodramatic, but in truth, our city has been desperate for rain for months. We’ve celebrated even the lightest sprinkles, prayed Tropical Depression Lee would pay us a visit, mourned the death of thousands of beautiful trees and grieved for the devastation caused by Texas wild fires. In a city accustomed to flooding and violent storms, the drought made us aware of the fragility of our environment when the water didn’t come.
Perhaps the drought has passed and more showers will come to restore and revive the trees and plants and wildlife. At least for one night, Houston was washed clean, nurtured and lulled back to sleep by the patter of glorious, precious rain.

Friday, September 16, 2011

You Must Remember This

Memories are tricky tricksters. I say this after unearthing a late 1980's photo of myself. In it, I'm wearing a mid-calf skirt, a striped blouse topped by a cable-knot vest, and a floppy tie at the blouse's collar. To my 2011 self, the tie looks costume-like, the clothes add bulk, and you don't want to know about my big hair. Drat. I'd have sworn I passed the eighties in relative cuteness, but, no, I was channeling Annie Hall a decade after Annie was cool.

When my daughters reminisce about their childhoods, I don't always recognize the places, people, and events they describe. Most women have selective memories that take the sting out of childbirth and reduce the terrible two's to one challenging week, but if, as my children claim, I served the family chicken five nights a week, I've blanked it out. (I do, however, know at least thirty-five ways to prepare poultry.) My kids blame me for their hatred of road trips. They say I insisted we stop at every scenic overlook. Every overlook? Surely they exaggerate.

"Some of our memories are true, some are a mixture of fact and fantasy, and some are false -- whether those memories seem to be continuous or seem to be recalled after a time of being forgotten or not thought about. "-from the website of the False Memory Syndrome Foundation.

My false memories aren't dark and don't touch on abuse. No, mine are everyday, ordinary cases of looking back through rose-colored glasses. Perhaps that's why I remember certain movies and books with a fondness that doesn't always hold up to re-viewing or re-reading. The Year of Living Dangerously, a movie I loved in the 1980's, didn't thrill me when I viewed again a few days ago. Oh, Linda Hunt's performance still mesmerized, but the plot seemed to have grown holes, and I wasn't impressed by the Mel Gibson character's journalistic ability. Worse, I wasn't convinced he and the Sigourney Weaver character belonged together. What had changed? My perception of the movie has been altered by world events, the skepticism that comes with age and experience, plus every film I've seen since.

Have you ever re-read a book you adored in your teens, twenties or thirties only to be surprised that there's more description and less dialogue than you remember? Does your old favorite feature lots of adverbs and adjectives rather than the spare prose style that's in favor now? I almost stopped reading after page two of a book I'd long revered, but then I rediscovered the magic—terrific characterization--that had made me a fan the first around.

Our memories tell us more about ourselves at a particular point in time than they do about the thing or event recalled. We infuse things, people, and the places with our enthusiasms and hopes. Once upon a time, I did want to look like Annie Hall. What's more, I have a thing for mountains and probably overdid the scenic-overview stops. (Now that Texas is parched, I fantasize about lakes, waterfalls, and rivers. Heck, I'd pull over to gaze at filled-to-capacity stock tanks.)

The Year of Living Dangerously appealed to my younger, travel-hungry, up-for-adventure self. The beloved book tells me good characterization has been my go-to in books for decades.

I still serve a lot of chicken. Hey, what's wrong with lean, relatively cheap protein?

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

EXPECTATIONS: The Wisdom of Hedda Lettuce

Over the weekend I caught a few minutes of a reality show on which drag queen/pop philosopher, Hedda Lettuce, was ordering a new costume from the show’s designer/star. He told her he was sure he could create something she’d love and she replied, “Expectations are resentments waiting to happen.” It sounded like a adage from a 12-Step program, but then a light went on and I realized it was true. Nothing sparks resentment quicker than disappointed expectations, especially when you feel someone has dropped the ball or blown off something that’s important to you.
Maybe this is part of our problem as writers trying to get published. Every step of the way is hard—querying, getting an agent, waiting through the submission process, selling—and at every point we have expectations, not to mention fervent hopes. At first those expectations are high, but eventually they’re battered often enough to become far more modest. We hope for requests to come from our queries then expect responses to requests for full submissions. We hope to sign with an agent then when we do we expect to get her full attention and expect her to sell our masterpieces. This isn’t to say our expectations aren’t reasonable, they are to a point. But it doesn’t take long for those expectations to ferment into resentments when weeks and months go by and nothing seems to be happening.
When my agent sent my manuscript out into the world, a wise author friend told me, “You’ve done everything you have control over so let it go and work on your next project.” It was exactly the advice I needed. Instead of obsessing over the days and weeks passing without much news, I’ve parked my expectations and concentrated on making my WIP the very best it can be. Sure, some days I’m tempted to grumble—we all know someone who sold in a week and never looked back. Then I remind myself that I made this choice and the only person I should have expectations of is myself.

Monday, September 12, 2011

I'm Powerless against Books

Rodney Dangerfield used to say, "I don't get no respect." English majors and heavy readers have adopted his complaint as their own--after swapping the "no" for any.

Have you corrected song lyrics before belting them out? Picked up a Sharpie to add or cross out apostrophes on restaurant menus? Lectured anyone within earshot on the correct uses of they're, there, and their?

Congratulations. You're a candidate for the following quiz, A Self Test for Literature Abusers. Here's the link.

Whew! Sobering. Not to worry, though, because interpreting Shakespeare's a growth industry. Don't believe me? Click

Friday, September 9, 2011


A couple years ago my husband and I took a short trip to France for Easter. Following a couple days of business in Paris, I booked a lovely carriage house in Champagne for three nights. On our first morning, our French hosts insisted we tour DOMAINE POMMERY in Reims. Reims itself is a city with a mixed history—a bit more industrial than the towns and villages of the Burgundy and Bordeaux regions. The Pommery Estate with its numerous buildings occupies a lot of acreage in the city. The vineyards, however, are elsewhere.
The tour covers the processing part of the operation, the underground caves where the wine is stored, and the bottling. To our surprise, there was also an extraordinary contemporary art installation en route. At each stop we found the paintings or sculptures more interesting than the tour itself—delighting in the lighting, the placement, the surprising juxtapositioning of the edgy art and the ancient industrial architecture. We lingered, bringing up the rear of the group which was eagerly anticipating the Tasting Room at the end of a very long walk.
I’ll never forget the last installation. In a long, softly lit tunnel, the artist had carefully placed electric and acoustical guitars and microphones along the sides with a path down the middle. And among this odd assortment of items, dozens of finches flitted—dancing on strings to make their own music, chirping into microphones that amplified the cheery sounds and broadcast them from speakers in the ceiling. Of course the finches were just going about their bird business, oblivious to the result of their movements and sounds. But for me the cacophony was enchanting!

Eventually we had to leave, to follow the others up monumental stone stairway into the Reception Room and back out into the warm spring sunshine. It was a lovely weekend full of interesting people, and excellent food and wine. Still, whenever I think of Champagne or champagne I will always remember the musical finch magic of Domaine Pommery.

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Weathering Change

Joe Btfsplk, a character in the cartoon strip Li'l Abner, always appeared with a rain cloud over his head. Pigpen, of the Peanuts strip, moved beneath a perpetual cloud of dust. Marketer and entrepreneur Jonathan Fields suggests we're blinded by our own micro-climates.

Fields writes, "When you watch the weather forecast for San Francisco on TV, you don’t just get the weather for the city, you get different forecasts for the vast variety of micro-climates in and around the city. On any given day, the Mission might be blazing sun, while Haight is cold and cloudy. Mill Valley in Marin might be cold and gray, while Sausalito, two miles away is sunny and warm."

Instead of cursing the cold and gray sky, Fields suggests we change attitudes and altitudes. "What might happen, I began to wonder, if we viewed darkness and challenge more as micro-climates, circumstances that may well blanket our experience and thinking, but are also entirely 'drive-outable,'" he writes.

We all know someone who's stuck in a rut and can't or won't get out. We know someone who's scared of losing a job or a house--or frightened of changes in the workplace or in relationships. Apathy, anger, or fear can smother a person or make lightning shoot from the thundercloud over his or her head. Fields isn't minimizing challenges or suggesting change is easy. He is, however, advocating taking off our blinders long enough to study the lie of the land—and take advantage of it. "What if we assumed the clouds weren’t high in the sky blanketing all the land, but rather low on the ground, engulfing only the small slice of land upon which we stood. And undertook to take whatever action was needed to find, then move into a sunnier place?"

Fields didn't aim his blog post at writers, but writers are prey to the driving rain of doubt. Publishing is in flux. Digital book sales are on the rise. Nothing's the way it was even two years ago.

Grab an umbrella, pack sunscreen, and get proactive. There's better weather out there, but we have to shake off our doubt and fear and look for it.

Tuesday, September 6, 2011


Amazing release day today!! Some of my very favorite authors have brand new releases today and I can’t decide where to start reading!
In the Young Adult section look for the first in a new series from Tera Lynn Childs'—SWEET VENOM—and the second in the FIRELIGHT series,  VANISH from Sophie Jordan.
If suspense is your thing, Colleen Thompson’s PHANTOM OF THE FRENCH QUARTER is sure to keep you on the edge of your seat.
Or if historical romance is your guilty pleasure (I confess it’s mine), run out and get LORD AND LADY SPY by Shana Galen.
And if you can’t get to a book store, download them to your iPad, Kindle or Nook. So many great books, all out today! And check out the author websites for upcoming signings.
Did I miss anyone?

Monday, September 5, 2011

An Eternal Truth from Mick and the Boys

Monday. Labor Day. Temps in Houston are down 20 degrees. Didn't win the lottery, but what the hell....

Girl-Night-In Indulgences

My husband went out of town for a few days last month, and I held a girl-night-in party every evening of his trip. Neither men nor martinis were harmed during his time away: I watched movies, read books, and got hooked on a television show recommended by Younger Daughter.

Movies with too much pondering and not enough plot put my guy to sleep. He doesn’t find romantic comedies particularly funny, and he’s bitter that I put Black Swan into our Netflix queue.

While the Swan-hater wasn’t around, I re-watched Love Actually and The Holiday, and saw Eat, Pray, Love, all thanks to Netflix. The three movies proved a fun, zesty treat-- the zero-calorie equivalent of Key Lime pie.( Love Actually might be more like Sticky Toffee Pudding, a dessert I adore. Look for it at the menu at Feast in Houston.)

My night-time reading included Jojo Moyes’ The Last Letter from Your Lover, a touching, heart-breaking read. The letters from fictional Anthony O’Hare made me swoon, but neither lamps nor small breakables were harmed.

When Younger Daughter told me I had to watch TLC’s Say Yes to the Dress, I thought she was hinting at an upcoming wedding. Wrong. She thought I’d like the internal and external conflicts brides-to-be and their families and friends take to the bridal shop when hunting for dream wedding dresses.

Thanks to Younger Daughter, I’ve gotten half a ream of ideas from the show. Some moms chip, chip, chip away a their daughters’ self-esteem, some bridesmaids hijack attention from the bride-to-be, and for every Bridezilla, there’s a girl who’s reluctant to claim as much as five minutes of limelight for herself. The program’s a mother lode for writers of women’s fiction.

After a few days of girl time, I was ready for ESPN. Marriage is about compromise, a shared remote control, and separate lights for reading in bed.

What movies, books, TV shows are your favorite indulgences?

Friday, September 2, 2011


At the end of a ten day sojourn in the Bordeaux region of France, one of our traveling companions proposed a visit to the tallest sand dune in Europe. The Great Dune of Pyla (in French: la Dune du Pyla) is located in La Teste-de-Buch in the Arcachon Bay area, 60 km from the city of Bordeaux.

I’ll admit I wasn’t enthralled with the prospect of climbing a mountain of sand, but enjoyed the drive along the coast where we stopped at quaint seaside towns along the way. Arcachon Bay is on the Atlantic coast of France where the water level varies dramatically with the tide. At high tide, boats large and small sail or motor merrily in the bay. At low tide, they list in the sand like beached whales miles from the sea—a curious and strangely disturbing sight.

When we finally reached the Great Dune, this is what we found:  


We climbed the stairs to the top along with a steady stream of people ranging from small children to old women. Some visitors wore shorts, tee shirts and sneakers; other arrived in their Sunday best (probably because it was Sunday.) From the peak the bay spread out three hundred feet below—a spectacular view worth the climb. On the sandy plateau families picnicked, couples napped, groups of teenagers played ball or Frisbee as though it was a beach.

The day was sunny and warm, but we didn’t stay long.  The slide back down the dune, a swift and exciting falling through fine white sand, beckoned and didn’t disappoint. All in all, the Great Dune was well worth the excursion—a memorable experience off the beaten path.