Monday, July 30, 2012

Look, Writer, Something Shiny!

Summer usually passes in a blur for writer parents. Kids are out of school and must be ferried here and there. The refrigerator requires regular restocking with ice pops, watermelon, and string cheese. Visits to grandparents no longer take the over-the-river-and-through-the-woods route. Instead, they involve planes and layovers in Atlanta. What's more, despite parents' best efforts to keep kids occupied, the little buggers mutter "I'm bored" a dozen times a day.

For you writer moms and dads, here are three distractions to squeeze in after swim-team carpool and before you set up the slip-and slide.

You know you've compared your writing to that of well-known writers, but you're not a disinterested observer, are you? Why not ask a robot how your style compares to that of best-sellers? (Thanks to writer Alice McKenna Johnson for the link.)

If the entrepreneurship bug bites the kiddos hard, they might keep a lemonade stand going for more than an hour. In that case, check out this twenty-minute TED video of Elizabeth Gilbert, who wrote the memoir EAT, PRAY, LOVE. (Highly recommended by literary agent Janet Reid/via her blog)

If you're on Twitter, you know some writers promote their books every hour on the hour. Agent Rachelle Gardner features a funny but short anti-spamming video on her blog.

I'd have more, but summer fries my powers of concentration. Lemonade, anyone?

Friday, July 27, 2012

RWA 2012 - Thursday Report

Live from Anaheim
I'm at RWA, sitting in my hotel room listening to Sophie Jordan and Tera Lynn Childs talk about their presentation on writing YA trilogies tomorrow. This is such a marvelous conference--so many talented writers, agents and editors in one place!

I'll admit, I have fangirl moments. Today I was trying to ride the elevator to the 30th floor, only to stop at the 17th where Nora Roberts and friends got on. Her friend asked if I was just riding the elevator. I told her I was looking for room 3042 and La Nora in her gravelly voice told me, "Too bad. There are only seventeen floors, dear." And then she and her posse proceeded to good-naturedly bust my chops all the way to the lobby. Loved it!!!

So that's my celeb story so far. Then there was the vodka party, my agency luncheon with some wonderful writers, and inspiring workshops with Shana Galen, Sophie Jordan and Dee Gist, and others. All in all a great day in Anaheim.

Wish you were here!

If you could hang with any living author who would it be?

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

I See Fictional People

I'm writing this in an airport (alas, I'm not traveling to RWA National in Anaheim) while watching the people around me.

A young couple with a child of about four pass by. I decide they're European by the cut of their clothes and the look of their shoes. They're probably from Nebraska, but when I make up back stories for strangers, I get to pick where they're from. I get to name them, too. He's Dieter, and she's Lena. Their little girl is Doro.

Here comes a thirtyish woman in a black jersey shift that skims her knees. A bright green cardigan lends a shot of color, and the black patent-leather flip-flops on her feet sport a flower detail—a simple and smart travel ensemble. I call her Kim and decide she's going to a reunion with her college roommates.

My mother, who's in her eighties, bemoans the passing of the glamorous era of airline travel. She remembers dressing in her best to fly. Nowadays, people dress to pass through security with the minimum of hassle. Who wants to remove a belt, jacket, and jewelry?  Who wants to cope with fussy clothes when packed sardine-like in coach?

I look up and see a father wheeling a tiny girl in a stroller. The tot hunches forward and looks left and right, delighted by the lights, sounds, and people. I'm delighted by her—and by the pink Mary Janes on her feet. I dub her Sophie.

My flight's been called, but before we board, a crew member asks for two adults traveling together and qualified to sit in an exit row seat to volunteer to move there. Two men who look like college students step forward. One of them is rail thin and is wearing a travel pillow like a puffy collar. Despite the pillow, he exudes a wiry energy, and I think he could handle an emergency landing. I name him Danny and decide he's on his way to Houston to visit the Rice University campus because he wants to transfer and change majors.

Uh oh, time to board. I stop writing but continue to people-watch. Kim and Danny may show up as characters in one of my stories. So will the pregnant mom who's been so patient with her fidgety toddler.

For a writer, there are lots of advantages to showing up two hours before a flight.

Monday, July 23, 2012

Read Kimberly Frost's New Series! Now!

This weekend I finished Kimberly Frost’s ALL THAT FALLS, the second in her Etherlin series. I liked the first, ALL THAT BLEEDS, a lot. With the second, I’m totally hooked. In Ms. Frosts' world the descendants of the ancient muses live in a glittering community in the Colorado Rockies called the Etherlin, while beyond the wall live humans and vendala, human-vampire hybrids who crave muse blood. Here are excerpts from the cover blurbs:

Alissa North is inspiration made flesh, so she should never have met Merrick, a deadly half-vampire enforcer, but when they do meet, the connection is instantaneous, and an illicit flirtation is born. The long-distance friendship was never supposed to go any farther. But when she is kidnapped and thrown briefly into his world, everything changes.

As his muse, Cerise propelled her musician boyfriend to the heights of fame, but when he died under mysterious circumstances her powers vanished. Now she’s plagued by disturbing half-formed memories of his final night…until she meets the fallen archangel Lysander who seems to hold the key to restoring her memories and abilities.

I love the world Kimber’s created—the magical Etherlin which is too good to be true and the violent Varden where Merrick and Lysander live—and the characters who go against their natures to connect with each other. These beings are larger than life and yet very human in their capacity for love and loyalty. The villains are deliciously evil, the heroes heroic and flawed, and the action is fast paced, epic and addictive. If you enjoy paranormal romance, you’ll love this series! I certainly do.

Anyone have any book recommendations this week? I'm headed to RWA and would love to pick up signed copies at the 2012 "Readers for Life" Literacy Autographing in Wednesday. Details here. 

Friday, July 20, 2012

Tips for Conference Goers

Watch Out for Stowaways
It's conference season, and no matter what your line of work, the best tips about packing for/traveling to/and getting the most from a professional gathering come from writers, a couple of thousand of whom will descend upon Anaheim next week for Romance Writers of America's 2012 National Conference.

The first four of the following links suit women attending any kind of conference. The last two are specific to RWA 2012. Read on and travel well.

Jami Gold has crafted a packing list I'm going to copy and use and/or modify for every trip I take. (If you run into her in Anaheim, thank her for me.)

Once you've assembled everything you plan on your trip, you have to pack it. At Lady Scribes, Erin Knightley created a video that shows her packing a single carry-on bag for RWA 2011. She fit multiple outfits into a single carry-on, thus avoiding a checked-bag fee. As if that feat weren't enough, she made follow-up video showing the outfits she wore at the conference. I'm in awe.

August McLaughlin recently traveled to Thrillerfest. Luckily for us, she shared her pre-conference preparation.

A follow-up post by August reminds us the best-laid plans can blow up in our faces--but travel bloopers make excellent conversation starters.

If you're going to RWA2012, the following links are essential reading. At Writers in the Storm, Jenny Hansen offers ideas for dining on the cheap in Anaheim plus other conference tips. She also offers the perspective of an Orange County local re things to do/places to see outside the conference hotel.

Wherever you're headed this summer, have a wonderful trip.

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Hello, People, it's Lady Gaga!

What is it with the media and nudity? A recent style news article in People Magazine began:

We thought there was nothing else Lady Gaga could do to shock us, but leave it to the envelope-pushing singer to make jaws drop yet again. And this time it’s not about what she wore, it’s about what she didn’t wear.

So what’s she done now that shocked People mag? She Tweeted a picture of the ad campaign for her new perfume where she’s naked except for strategically placed little men and a black mask.  I’m going to go out on a limb here and guess that the men were Photoshopped onto her body and, really, folks, this is a young woman who calls herself Lady Gaga. But I won’t leave you in the dark. Here’s the ad.

Whether or not you like her music (for the most part I do), she’s a twenty six year old eccentric pop star known for being outrageous. And yet the advert reminded me of the work of several prominent surrealist artists and sculptors. There’s an artistic originality to the concept as well as Lady Gaga’s signature style. I’ll reserve judgment on the fragrance itself which People describes as:  “the first-ever black perfume” (it turns clear once spritzed) the aroma is described as dark, sensual and light according to WWD. The fragrance features notes of belladonna, incense, saffron, honey, apricot nectar, crushed tiger orchid, and jasmine sambac (not blood and bodily fluids as rumored). Hmmmmm. It sounds interesting to me.

I’ll admit I’m all for young artists pushing boundaries, working outside the box, doing new things or old things in a new way. The rock stars of the sixties and seventies shocked parents while thrilling and inspiring young people. The Rolling Stones and Beatles were revolutionary. Eric Clapton was a brilliant junkie musician. Sting, Elton John, David Bowie outraged plenty of “adults” in their youth. And now that these artists are in their 50’s, 60’s and, yes, even their 70’s, we tend to forget the uproar they once caused.

I’m delighted that young artists can still find recognition in being themselves in a world where beauty and celebrity often trumps talent. Lady Gaga, Adele, Katy Perry, Beyoncé and the rest—I hope they mature into their talent and last beyond the sizzle and flash. Youthful outrageousness will be forgiven if these talented women continue to grow.


(Note to Madonna—You, dear, are WAY past being young. Time to wear clothes and behave yourself.)

So what do you think of the the ad? Of Lady Gaga? Of Madonna? Is anything else on your mind today?

Monday, July 16, 2012

Book Review Monday

I press novels into friends' hands and swap books with them. I chat about characters or plot a couple of times a week. I don't, however, write book reviews. Why? It's complicated.

Readers insert themselves into and may bend a theme, ever so slightly, to serve what they know to be true--or need to be true. We tweak characters and filter their actions or inactions through the sieve of our experiences. We don't mean to do this but can't help ourselves.

The good news: what we bring to a novel enriches our reading of it. The bad news: what we bring may result in a review of a book its author doesn't recognize.

I enjoy thrillers, paranormal stories, and frothy romances, but women's fiction is my go-to read. By WF, I mean stories about relationships in crisis, or families facing the kind of challenge that will shatter them or draw them closer. Give me sibling rivalry, mother and daughters who barely communicate, and father and sons who expect too much of each other.

Once upon a time, I told an acquaintance this was the kind of story I wanted to write. She groaned. "You mean a slice-of-life story?"

"Exactly." I was thrilled she'd grasped what I probably struggled to articulate.

"I hate those," she said. "I read for escape."

Hey, I read for escape, too, but just as we prefer different kinds of vacations (mountains for me, beach for you), we pick different escape routes.

The above is my roundabout way of letting you know what I hope to find in a book. That said, if you're a fan of slice-of-life stories, give Lucy Dillon's WALKING BACK TO HAPPINESS a read.

In it, author Dillon introduces us to Juliet Falconer, a young widow who is pushed by her mother into taking the first baby steps past grief. After those first steps, Juliet manages to limit her mother's interference and wobbles mostly forward. Her sister, meanwhile, struggles to maintain a façade of married bliss and uber-competent motherhood. She doesn't share her growing unhappiness because she's sure the pain of Juliet's widowhood trumps what she's going through.

If the above sounds grim, know Juliet has a self-deprecating sense of humor and entertaining if exasperating next-door neighbors, including a clutch of children without boundaries. There's also an intriguing rock-group tour manager, and Minton, a dog so receptive to Juliet's moods, he makes Lassie appear one-dimensional.

I trudged back to happiness with Juliet. More tellingly, when I finished the book, I longed to wipe my memory clean and read it all over again.

Do you have a go-to genre? Have you ever wanted to wipe your memory clean and reread a book? Got a fave right now? What is it?

Friday, July 13, 2012


Convent of the Paraclete
Many years ago I discovered Books-on-Tape at my local library. I had an hour commute in each direction every day so the ten to twenty cassettes it took to record each book kept me entertained in the miserable traffic on I-45.

Listening to the library's offerings, I fell in love with a wonderful series set in medieval France—the Catherine LeVendeur mysteries by Sharan Newman, a medieval historian who also writes a darn good mystery with a bit of romance. The first book, DEATH COMES AS EPIPHANY, opens at the Convent of the Paraclete where Catherine is a young scholar under the Abbess Heloise (yes, the same star-crossed lover of Peter Abelard). The story weaves Catherine’s story in with the history of the famous lovers and their son, and brings the world of the convent, its people to life brilliantly. So, naturally, I decided that a pilgrimage to the Paraclete was a must for a road trip in France in 1998. Easier said than done.
Paraclete Now

Somehow the abbey had fallen into obscurity over the years and after hours and hours of pouring over travel books, all I found was a single mention in a list of historical sites in the Aube. Determined to visit the place that had captured my imagination, I examined page after page of maps at 1”=1/4 mi scale until I finally found in tiny print: Le Paraclet near the town of Ferreux-Quincey. Victory! I knew our detour would take a couple of hours and Steve navigated while I drove the narrow back roads, winding through countryside tourists usual by-passed. And then we were there. A sign in front of the stone wall informed us the abbey compound was open from July 1 to July 31. It was early June. Disappointed, we went on without even taking a photo-- something I now regret.

You might expect that with the massive amount of information now available in the internet, it would be easy to find information and photos of this place that was so famous in it’s own time. It isn’t. Wikipedia has a mention, a couple French websites gives its history  and visit information. Google images only had the old postcard painting above so I resorted to Google Earth for the current pictures posted here. I avoid France in July and so it's unlikely I’ll ever go there again when it’s open. Still, I find it ironic that the internet is filled with information on Dr. Newman and barely mentions the intriguing setting of her book.

Have you ever made an eccentric  “literary pilgrimage”? How did it turn out?

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Don't Look Back

When I was a girl, it cost ten cents to make a call from a pay phone, so I'd stow dimes in my penny loafers' coin holders. (Penny loafers, pay phones? Why, yes, I am older than dirt.) In case of emergency, I always had a dime to call home. Nowadays, kids as young as eight have cell phones and don't have to rely on pay phones.

The publishing industry, among others, is going through an upheaval, and I handle uncertainty by focusing on the positives rather than clinging to the way things used to be in the era of ten-cent phone calls.

Changes I didn't imagine as a girl have come to pass and made my life easier and/or more enjoyable: the Internet, EZ Pass, and e-books, among them. I'm grateful, too, for less obvious improvements, including a couple of low-tech advancements. Here's what I mean:

  1. No-show tennis socks for men. Why shouldn't male shorts-wearers have an unbroken leg line from ankle to lower thigh?
  2. Bans on smoking in restaurants, bars, and workplaces. This one's painful for some of you, I know, but it's a pleasure not to have to wash the scent of burnt tobacco out of my hair at the end of a workday or an evening out.
  3. Scanner thermometers that take a baby or child's temperature in seconds via a touch on the forehead. (Rectal thermometers and squirmy babies never went well together.)
  4. Smart dirt. My outdoor potted plants don't get parched in the mid-day sun thanks to potting soil with moisture-retaining pellets. I still water regularly, but if I skip a day, the plant survives. That's a biggie in the Houston summer.
  5. Renewing and reserving library books online Okay, this last one wouldn't exist without the Internet, but I have to tell you I'm glad to abandon those last-minute dashes to the library to renew a book. Fines, remember those? I haven't had one in a couple of years.
Your turn. What newfangled and not necessarily high-tech advances have changed your life for the better?

Tuesday, July 10, 2012


I have a good excuse for forgetting to post yesterday but it's nothing anyone wants to hear. To make up for my memory lapse, I'm going to spare you any poignant or not so poignant observations and cut right to a video I think is very entertaining. For those of you who love hunky Scotsmen, or Scotch or movie spoofs--here's a William Lawson commercial that's much better than my rambling.

Have a lovely week!

Friday, July 6, 2012

Too Busy to Dream?

A recent acquaintance thinks she's making conversation when she complains about how busy she is. She is busy: she works a regular job, exercises at the same place I do, ferries her kids to karate, gymnastics, and math tutoring, plays Bunco, and is in a book club. What's more, she hosts brunch for her husband's family after church every Sunday.

When I suggested she alternate brunch-hosting Sundays with her sister-in-law, I got a shake of the head and a long-suffering sigh. The sister-in-law's standards aren't up to those of my new acquaintance.   

Last Sunday, a New York Times article, "The 'Busy' Trap," made a distinction between the truly exhausted—those working back-to-back shifts at the I.C.U. or commuting by bus to three minimum-wage jobs--and those of us who willingly pile on chores and obligations in addition to the day jobs and family responsibilities. Tim Kreider, the article's author, says this of the voluntarily over-scheduled: "They're busy because of their own ambition or drive or anxiety, because they’re addicted to busyness and dread what they have to face in its absence."

Kreider links idleness with creativity. "The space and quiet that idleness provides is a necessary condition for standing back from life and seeing it whole, for making unexpected connections and waiting for the wild summer lightning strikes of inspiration—it is, paradoxically, necessary to getting any work done."

Busyness isn't the same as productivity, and productivity-measured by insights on paper--is every writer's goal.

To achieve those insights, carve out pockets of idleness. A writer friend used to describe her drive home from the day job as "dream time." She'd think about the work in progress and plan the next scene. Once in a while, she'd miss her exit and have to double back, but dreaming had helped her accomplish what she wanted to accomplish.

Another sits in her car and writes during her daughter's piano lesson. She writes in the stands at her son's t-ball practice.

We can't do it all. Writers, especially, need to stand back from life to see it whole. If we don't alternate Sunday-brunch duty--my metaphor for whatever task or tasks keep us from doing our real work—we sabotage ourselves.

Let's distinguish between our true obligations and those that flatter us or make us feel important. Let's draw a line between what we want and what wants us.

Where and how do you find dream time?

Wednesday, July 4, 2012


In this season leading to the presidential election, it’s inevitable the debates will get hotter and probably uglier as November draws nearer. There are so many issues dividing our country and our people, tolerance and cooperation often seem forgotten ideals of another era.

So this July 4th, let’s honor the spirit of the celebration—freedom to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness for all whether we agree with each other or not. Live and let live. Agree to disagree. Ours is a grand, diverse and beautiful country from sea to shining sea.

Have a happy, safe Independence Day!

Monday, July 2, 2012

Heard in the Soundproof Booth

Orange Marmalade!

Twelve days ago, my second cochlear implant was turned on, or "activated" as we CI insiders like to say. No heavenly chorus sang, but I heard the phone ring in the adjacent reception area. Could that have been God working through AT&T or Verizon? Nah, I didn't think so, either.

Because this is my second implant (the right side was done last year), I know my hearing will improve bit by bit for the next six months. Who knows? In ten years, I may hear better than Hubs since Father Time doesn't hold much power over metal and plastic replacement parts.

One day after activation, I had to enter the soundproof booth—my least favorite place in the world because it represents all the hearing tests I've failed over the years. With only the new sound processor turned on, I flubbed bits of the first two sentences the audiologist read to me, but the third came through loud and clear: "They like orange marmalade."

The marmalade message was special for two reasons. One, I didn't get it via my ear. A CI bypasses the damaged ear and directly zings the auditory nerve. The auditory nerve sends the signals it got from the implant right to the brain, which recognizes them as sound. In other words, within 24 hours of my implant's activation, my brain pieced together the signals and gave me back an intact sentence. Cool, huh?

Two, the message resonated emotionally because my mom's an orange-marmalade junkie. We had a jar of the shredded orange stuff on our breakfast table every morning when I was growing up.  Nowadays, she opts for the low-sugar versions.

The upshot of last week's activation and subsequent tweaking (we insiders call it "mapping") is gratitude for the advances in medical science that made the implant and mapping possible--and for the people who work to deliver better hearing to those of us who might catch one word in ten without it. Cochlear implants changed my life.

Have advances in medicine or medical science changed life for you?

Do you like orange marmalade?