Friday, December 29, 2006
Thursday, December 28, 2006
Many people write out goals, and I will too. Some I'll achieve and some I won't. Some I'll carry over from year to year - like losing those pesky 15 pounds I can't seem to drop. Each New Year I have the chance to start over on those unaccomplished goals, to drop the guilt for not getting them done and to renew my resolve and reevaluate why those things are important to me and the people in my life.
It's so easy, especially during the holiday season, to let the day-to-day demands overshadow the things that are important to us - not our children, husband, boyfriend, boss. I love the fact that this week between Christmas and New Years always sets a slower pace, with plenty of time to remind us of what those important things are. I don't think it's accidental.
Here's hoping your New Year is filled with laughter, happiness, good friends and health. And that each and every one of your goals and dreams comes true.
What are you looking forward to the most in the New Year?
P.S. Ellie is our blog winner from yesterday. Please email PM at firstname.lastname@example.org to claim your 2007 Book Lover's Calendar.
Wednesday, December 27, 2006
Problem Child wrote a great post yesterday about setting goals for the new year and having a tangible list of things we can mark through to show our progress. I'm all for making lists and there's nothing quite like the feeling of taking a #2 pencil and striking through the items on a list one by one.
I've been working on some 2007 goals. Most are still in the mental stage; I haven't commited them all to paper yet. But let's pretend that I have and that I now am in possession of a beautifully typed list titled "Playground Monitor's Goals for 2007."
Obviously those goals won't get accomplished simply by being on that list. There are some steps I need to take so I can grab that #2 and mark them off.
Here's a list (what else?) of ways to help make those goals become a reality. And as an example, we're going to use one of my goals.
This is an elliptical trainer. There's one just like it in the bonus room over my garage which is also my DH's office, painting studio, music conservatory and now, exercise room. It was our Christmas present to each other. It's supposed to give one a great all-over workout -- upper and lower body -- plus give you weight-bearing benefits for your bones without the pounding and jarring to your joints that jogging or even walking a treadmill causes.
I need to exercise. I've gained weight. My clothes don't fit. My thighs rub together. I don't want to wait until I have a dowager's hump to start worrying about bone density loss.
So one of my goals for 2007 is to use this machine and sculpt a new body for myself. Oh, I'm not fooling myself into thinking I'll end up looking like Hilary Swank did in "Million Dollar Baby." I don't want bulging muscles. I'd just like to be able to fit back into the dress I wore to my son's wedding last year and wear it at awards night at RWA in Dallas next summer.
I've done some research online about elliptical training and found that 20 minutes of elliptical work is like 30 minutes of jogging without the stress on your feet and joints. I've also read that I need at least 20 minutes of exercise that raises my heart rate and I need it at least 3-4 times a week. So I've marked on my calendar the days when I plan to climb the stairs to the bonus room and hop on the machine. I doubt I'll be able to suffer through 20 minutes straight at the beginning. But if I do two 10 minute sessions a day I'll still get benefits and I'll be increasing my endurance as I go. And regardless, something is better than nothing.
Of course, I had to plan around things. I have a little medical procedure (which I lovingly refer to as the Roto Rooter job) coming up in mid-January, so I know I will not be hopping anywhere except the bathroom on the day before the procedure. And at some point I have to have surgery for a bone spur and partial rotator cuff tear in my left shoulder.
I've also talked with the DH about how to use the machine to achieve what I want. He's been using an elliptical trainer at his gym for about 5 years. I'm sure he'll nag... uhm... encourage me to follow through with my program. And I should probably take a photo of myself before and tape it to my bathroom mirror along with a photo of the dress I want to fit back into. And I need to repeat to myself daily "I WILL fit into that dress by next July!"
I have no doubt I'll have some obstacles, especially if I take my eye off my goal of wearing that dress again next summer. But with my mentor encouraging me and the photo posted on the mirror and my schedule written in my calendar, I should be able to get my eye back on my goal and knock those pesky obstacles out of the way.
So... that's my goal. And in the course of telling you about it, I've given you the tools for achieving your goals. What are those tools?
Have a Plan (my research and the schedule for my workouts)
Be realistic (not expecting Hilary Swank's body or that I can do the max workout right away))
Be flexible (accepting I won't be able to work out that day in mid-January or when I have the shoulder surgery)
Seek help/have a mentor (talking with the DH about the machine and doing online research)
Believe/Visualize your goal (putting up a before photo plus a photo of the dress)
Be Accountable (the DH nagging... uhm... encouraging me, not to mention Y'ALL nagging... uhm... encouraging)
Write it down (the schedule in my planner plus the photos)
Affirmation (repeating to myself that I will wear that dress next July)
Last but not least, stay focused. Henry Ford wrote, "Obstacles are those frightful things you see when you take your eyes off your goal. " So keep your eyes on the prize.
I also will have some writing goals as well this year and I've been careful to make them goals I can control. They're writing goals, not selling goals because I can control my writing but cannot control an editor. My sister and I are going to do another girl trip this year and we're talking about a Caribbean cruise. And I have some shoulder surgery I need to schedule and get done before I damage my rotator cuff any more. Plus I have another goal I'm toying with but I'm not ready to publicize it yet.
A journey of a thousand steps begins with a single step. -- Lao-Tzu
But just how many steps do I have to take on that elliptical machine until I've lost weight and my thighs don't chafe???
Have you come up with a plan of action to make sure you achieve your 2007 goals?
P.S. Tell us a little about your goals and how you plan to achieve them and one lucky commenter will win a prize!
P.P.S Carol and Karen T are the winners from yesterday. Please email Problem Child to arrange for your prize.
Tuesday, December 26, 2006
And make goals for 2007.
Y’all know I love a list. I love to map out what needs to be done and then place a line through each item as it’s done. If I do something not on my list, I add it to the list simply so I can check it off as well. Lists are good. They show me my accomplishments. But the down side to a list is that they can keep growing and get out of hand. And if your list runs to multiple pages, it’s easy to see what you HAVEN’T done and get depressed over your slacker-ness.
No, my goal list for 2006 doesn’t have everything crossed off, but that’s not necessarily a bad thing. It forces me to look at what those goals are and evaluate them. Was the goal to high-flying? Maybe I need to rein it in and break it down into smaller, more achievable bits. Maybe the goal wasn’t as important as I thought it was this time last year. If I managed to avoid it for twelve whole months, maybe it’s not something I’m ready or willing to do. Unmet goals are re-evaluated and re-assessed; those that are found worthy are rolled over to 2007. Those that aren’t, well, I trash them with no regrets.
Then there are the things I get to add to my list—things I didn’t know I wanted/needed/could do this time last year. So I didn’t sell a book this year (sob), but three editors read my stuff and told me I didn’t suck. There was no “GET TOLD YOU DON’T SUCK” goal on my 2006 list, but it was certainly nice to achieve NOT SUCKING status. That “goal” was retro-added to the list.
All in all, 2006 wasn’t that bad. I achieved some things; I missed out on some others. Before you let yourself wallow in all you didn’t accomplish this year, take a minute to remember all the things you did.
And be proud of yourself.
Are you making your 2007 goals/resolutions yet? Or are you still in a turkey-chocolate-presents induced coma today?
To celebrate surviving Christmas, I'm giving away a prize today. Comment on the blog with "I survived Christmas" to enter!
Sunday, December 24, 2006
I'm actually writing and posting this blog on Christmas Eve, the most meaningful time of Christmas for me. Though one of the darkest nights of the year, it sparks with the gaiety of family gatherings, the warm intimacy of preparing for a magical morning with my husband, hushed anticipation of surprises... but most of all, this night glows with the twinkle of Christmas lights in the dark. Whether from our own Christmas trees or the millions of lights put up by others, we are surrounded with tiny lights bringing smiles into the darkest hours of the night.
I've often wondered about my fascination with Christmas lights. I'd have them up all year round if I could. Growing up, despite living out in the back of beyond with no traffic in front of our house to speak of, we still strung the front porch and bushes with strings of lights. Metaphorically, lights represent hope, happiness, good. When we decorate the world with them during the season with the most nighttime hours of the year, what are we saying to ourselves and each other?
As a child, Christmas was about the parties and presents for me. As an adult, it brings light and hope. Yes, it is hectic, at times overwhelming, and a lot of work for the women of the world. But it is also magical, twinkling, fresh, and fun. It represents the fulfillment of hopes and dreams. I hope dreams come true for all of us at the Playground this year. Yours and mine.
And if your holiday season has had its dark moments, I hope the light finds you once again.
Happy Holidays to you all!
Saturday, December 23, 2006
Your little friends are wrong. They have been affected by the skepticism of a skeptical age.
They do not believe except what they see. They think that nothing can be which is not comprehensible by their little minds. All minds, Virginia, whether they be men's or children's, are little.
In this great universe of ours, man is a mere insect, an ant, in his intellect, as compared with the boundless world about him, as measured by the intelligence capable of gasping the whole of truth and knowledge.
Yes, Virginia, there is a Santa Claus. He exists as certainly as love and generosity and devotion exist, and you know that they abound and give to your life its highest beauty and joy. Alas! How dreary would be the world if there were no Santa Claus.
There would be no childlike faith then, no poetry, no romance to make tolerable this existence. We should have no enjoyment, except in sense and sight. The external light with which childhood fills the world would be extinguished.
Not believe in Santa Claus! You might as well not believe in fairies. You might get your papa to hire men to watch in all the chimneys on Christmas Eve to catch Santa Claus, but even if you did not see Santa Claus coming down, what would that prove? Nobody sees Santa Claus, but that is no sign that there is no Santa Claus.
The most real things in the world are those that neither children nor men can see. Did you ever see fairies dancing on the lawn? Of course not, but that's no proof that they are not there. Nobody can conceive or imagine all the wonders there are unseen and unseeable in this world.
You tear apart the baby's rattle to see what makes the noise inside, but there is a veil covering the unseen world which not the strongest man, nor even the united strength of all the strongest men that ever lived, could tear apart.
Only faith, poetry, love, romance can push aside that curtain and view and picture the supernal beauty and glory beyond. Is it all real? Ah, Virginia, in all this world there is nothing else real and abiding.
No Santa Claus? Thank God he lives, and lives forever. A thousand years from now, Virginia, nay 10 times 10,000 years from now, he will continue to make glad the heart of childhood.
—Francis P. Church
Friday, December 22, 2006
Let the quest begin.
So now I’m on the prowl for a subdivision and floorplan that catch my eye. They’re building some new ones closer to town that I’ve watched them build for a few months. They have city sewer (I hate my septic tank!) and curbs with gutters. Big kitchens and a master bath bigger than my bedroom now! May just have to snatch me up one of those. The square footage and the price are hard to deny. It’s not as much land as I have now, but its also not as much yard work. Woo hoo.
This also means I have to sell my current house. Unless I trip over some artistic spirit who thinks eggplant is an appropriate color for a room, I have to paint. I have to patch and spackle and sand. I have to get the carpets scrubbed to see if they’re salvageable. I have to clear out about 60% of the junk from my house and put it in storage. Can’t just shove things in a closet like when guests come over. The house is only 4 years old, so the roof and the HVAC is fine. Everything works just fine. Just too small for me, my Darling Packrat (I should change him to DP instead of DB) and our ever growing herd of furry beasts.
Then there’s the whole real estate game. I’m intimidated by the entire prospect. Open houses, people stopping by, offers, counter-offers, fees, closing costs, escrow, lawyers, warranties. Makes me quite queasy. I’ll take any recommendations for a low key real estate agent to help me out.
Of course, the first night I sleep in my new house, hopefully it will all be worth it. And my new study/office where I will sit and write my masterpieces will be reward enough. And maybe I can host the 2008 HOD Christmas Party. It will all be worth it then, right? I hope so. I fear I’m about to get on Mr. Toad’s Wild Ride. I need to just put aside all thoughts of this until the New Year. That's the sensible thing to do. Of course, I do have a week off of work, so I could start painting...
Thursday, December 21, 2006
Every time I leave my house or office I end up frustrated at the traffic, everyone else seems to have the same exact things on their to do list as I do. I've never seen so many cars out on the road headed for the same places.
I know I do this to myself, trying to make Christmas perfect everyone. I even took everyone's advise from last month and cut several things off the to-do list. It hasn't seemed to help :-) Something else simply jumped into the empty space.
Someone asked me yesterday if I was ready for Christmas. My response? "I'm ready for it to be over." As soon as I said the words (which I really, really meant) I felt bad. This is supposed to be a happy time. And once I get through this week and can spend several days with my family I know it will be. It's the preparation to get to that point that's gonna kill me.
There have been many joyful moments along the way - like dinner with the playfamilies or attending our local chapter party. But the moments in between seem to be dwarfing those memories. It's hard to hold onto that fun, happy moment when you're cursing the line of traffic and the fact that you've had to sit at the same red light for 4 cycles. I know I shouldn't get upset but I do, and then I feel terrible for getting frustrated.
So, this morning, I'm taking a step back :-) I'm writing this from home. I should be scurrying around, getting myself and the girls ready for work. I'm going in late. I'm taking my time. Today, I'm not rushing.
Wednesday, December 20, 2006
I've been obsessing a bit over goals lately. When I sold my first short story earlier this year and realized that yes indeedy somebody thought I could write worth a darn and would pay for it, I set a goal to make ten sales in 2006. As of today, I've made nine. In addition to these nine stories and articles, I have seven short stories and six articles out there in submission-land to three different magazines and one publishing house. And any one of them could sell at any moment. I could meet my goal yet because there's still time left in 2006. Not meeting my goal isn't for lack of trying. But maybe I could have tried harder. Written a couple more pieces. Not taken time off when I visited my sister and when she visited me. Written in Atlanta instead of spending time with friends from around the world.
What is a goal, anyway? It's a dream with a deadline. A specific task. To say "I want to be a writer" is a dream. Add some parameters -- a specific number of pages written each day, a certain number of queries to editors -- and it becomes a goal. And once you have your target clearly in sight, it's a lot easier to hit.
Why have goals? So you have something to ignore! Just kidding. Goals give us direction and increase our motivation. Having that big number 10 sitting out in front of me made me write when sometimes I'd rather have grabbed a good novel or just done nothing. Goals can benefit you in all areas of your life -- personal, professional, spiritual. A goal lets you control your activity. It must be realistic, however, as well as flexible and measurable. And most importantly, it must be YOUR goal -- not your best friend's or your spouse's or your critique partner's goal.
Write it down too. Put it somewhere you can see it every day and focus on it. But don't become so obsessed by the goal itself that you don't do the work to achieve it.
Sorry for the digression.
My goal made me start a list of ideas for stories. It made me search out other places to submit short fiction. I've learned what I love to write best (short romance stories) and have begun to write more of them, but if I stumble upon an idea for a good "confession" I'll write that too. I try to seize every opportunity.
One of my favorite quotes is this: Shoot for the moon. Even if you miss, you'll land among the stars. I met with Problem Child today and over a couple cups of chai latte we talked about this, that and the other. One comment she made stuck with me. She said she often gets so caught up in the goals she didn't meet that she forgets the ones she did. Don't forget to celebrate the accomplishments, no matter how small.
- Decide on a goal
- Write it down
- Make it realistic and measurable
- Set a deadline
- Set a reward for meeting it
- List possible obstacles and how you might overcome them should they arise
- Review your progress regularly
- Learn from your failures and successes
Did you have goals for 2006? Are you planning to set goals for 2007? How do you stay on track during the year?
P.S. Amy S is yesterday's winner! Please email Colleen to arrange for your prize. Congratulations!
P.P.S. White Christmases are a rarity here in Alabama but here's a place where you can Make your own White Christmas. Have fun!
Tuesday, December 19, 2006
Love Buffy the Vampire Slayer? Love historicals? Ever wonder what would happen if those two went into the writer blender? Well, you get a really cool series by the Playground's newest friend, Colleen Gleason.
Please give a big Playground welcome to Colleen and make her feel at home. With her first book coming out in January, we're tickled she's taking the time to come blog with us.
I’m very excited to be guesting here at Writing Playground! This seems like a great place to hang out and meet new people, as well as talk about some of my favorite subjects: books and writing. Thank you so much for having me, and I’ll be delighted to answer any questions about my book or my road to publication…or anything else!
I wrote nine books before selling to a major New York publisher (New American Library, which is a division of The Penguin Group), and worked with a reputable, well-known agent for more than two years before she called to tell me that NAL wanted to buy the first two books in my historical vampire slayer series.
It was a dream come true—something I’d strived for off and on for more than a decade—and the culmination of lots of hard work.
But the fun—and education—was just beginning. I got the phone call in September 2005, and my book, The Rest Falls Away, is just being released on January 2, 2007. Fifteen months later!
I did a lot during those fifteen months, including writing the second book, but one of the most interesting things that happened during that time is the epiphany I had in relation to book covers.
As an author, I have a certain idea of what I think the cover of my book should look like, based on personal preference and the type of book it is.
Colleen’s Personal Criteria for Her Book Cover(s):
- The design should be eye-catching
- The characters should be depicted accurately
- The scene portrayed should actually have occurred in the book
- It shouldn’t be cliché, and I’m not fond of clinch covers (especially since my books aren’t strictly romance)
- I’m not crazy about cartoon covers either
I couldn’t, of course, give this list to my editor; and even if I had, she wouldn’t have passed it on to the art/marketing department. Besides, NAL’s Signet Eclipse line has, in my opinion, some of the best covers I’ve ever seen.
Thus, I was blessed (and I do mean blessed) with a fabulous cover for The Rest Falls Away. I really couldn’t have asked for anything fresher, more unique or more eye-catching. It fit all of my criteria, and then some.
So…I was very excited to see what NAL was going to do with the second cover in the Gardella Vampire Chronicles series. The book Rises the Night will be released in June, and it’s a continuation of the story of Victoria Gardella Grantworth, who learns that she is the next in a long family line of vampire hunters.
And here’s where I really began to understand book covers.
When I got the cover for Rises the Night, I wasn’t nearly as crazy about it as I was for cover of The Rest Falls Away. Oh, it’s very striking and beautiful in its own way, but there were things about it that weren’t “right”—in my naïve, inexperienced opinion.
First, there was a man with a bare chest on the front cover. (I’m not fond of covers with clinches, as I mentioned above…nor am I particularly fond of bare chests on them either.) (Not that this bare chest wasn’t lovely to look at…it is! It definitely is!)
Secondly, the man depicted, who was supposed to be Max—a prominent character in the series—looked too young, and his hair was wrong, and the expression on his face wasn’t quite right.
Plus the cover has a sort of manga look to it, which, although it’s different, I did realize isn’t necessarily a bad thing.
As you can imagine, I was a little disappointed. After all, based on my criteria, despite the bold color and that fabulous stake he’s holding, it just didn’t fit.
And that was when I had my Cover Epiphany.
That was when I realized that I was only the author of the book (and I don’t mean “only” in a derogatory sense). Although I have a background in art and design, and I also spent eighteen years in sales and marketing, I’m not an expert in this area. I’m really not. I can write the book, I know who the characters are and what’d going to happen and boy, can I put words on paper…but as for positioning it and marketing it on a global basis…my experience is limited.
Once I recognized that, I relaxed.
The art and marketing personnel at NAL do this for a living. The sales reps and my editor and my publisher all know much better than I do what makes a cover pop off the shelves, draw attention, and what sets it apart.
And isn’t that, ultimately, what we want? The absolutely most important thing a cover needs to do is to draw attention. It needs to make the person pick it up.
Pick it up.
Because once someone has picked it up, or seen the cover image somewhere and wanted to find out more…we’ve taken the first step toward that all-important sale.
And these are facts:
Covers with bare-chested men sell really well
Covers with dark-haired men on the cover sell really well
Covers with bold colors sell really well
Also, manga is becoming so popular, especially with the younger edge of my target market, that having a cover with a bit of that feel to it can only help in catching the attention of those fans.
I’ve learned that it doesn’t matter so much whether the cover accurately portrays the book, characters, or events within…it’s most important that the cover attract attention and give the potential buyer a feel for what the book is about.
After all, how many times have you picked up a book (because of its cover) and, after reading the book, stared at the cover and said, “But that didn’t happen in the book!” or “Well, I don’t think he looks like so-and-so!”?
I know I don’t. If I like the book, I like the book, and the cover has little to do with it once I’ve made the purchase decision. But the cover has a whole lot to do with whether I pick it up in the first place!
And that, my dear readers, is what I learned in my Cover Epiphany: as the author, I expect the cover to show exactly what’s going on in the book, what the characters look like, and what happens.
But it doesn’t have to. All it has to do is get someone to pick up the book. The rest of it—whether the book holds their attention, whether the characters are well-drawn and the plot tight and interesting—is up to me.
Colleen will be giving away a copy of her debut book to one lucky blog commenter today. The Rest Falls Away is the first book in the Gardella Vampire Chronicles, which is about a family legacy of vampire hunters.
In an era where women are meant only to marry, in a time where they cannot even speak to a man unless they are properly introduced and couldn’t even dream of being out and about alone (let alone at night), Victoria has to figure out how she’s going to hunt vampires on midnight streets, how she’s going to carry her stake, and how she’s going to slip out of a ball in order to stake a vampire…all the while juggling the demands of her beaux and her match-making mama.
The book straddles the tenets of most genre fiction. It’s not a horror novel, it’s not a romance, it’s not historical fiction. It’s an amalgam of all three, with some suspense, humor, adventure and history all tossed in with a bit of a love story.
Tell me that's not a cool book. (The Playfriends are bummed 'cause we're not eligible to win.)
Monday, December 18, 2006
It has finally happened! I've run out of blogging topics. As of 7 am this morning, I still didn't have anything I was enamored of. Oh, well, at least it waited until the end of the year before it happened. :)
I've spent the last week trying to work on my revisions in between errands, wrapping, cooking, and various Christmas fun. This was my second Sunday in a row to spend making goodies, this time for my husband's business Christmas party. Since he's the owner, I'm completely in charge.
I've made some small progress on the wip. May be a snail's pace, but at least I'm moving. This coming week was supposed to be a little slower. Now I've got plans four out of five weekdays. Yikes! Here's hoping I can stay sane until Christmas weekend.
But it will all get done somehow. I've already done a few Christmas things I enjoy. Sitting 45 minutes in line to see the Galaxy of Lights wasn't one of them, but we enjoyed it once we actually got in.
So, totally random thoughts this morning. Don't you hate it when your brain doesn't cooperate like you want it to? As I mentioned earlier, my family toured the Galaxy of Lights (a Christmas lights show at the local Botanical Gardens) after dinner with the Playfriends. What did everyone else do this weekend?
Sunday, December 17, 2006
Counselor Shelley's Clinic article about celebrating with family without bloodshed is up--just in time. Read it before the relatives arrive and save yourself some holiday stress.
There's also a quick recommendation for Maven Linda's newest book.
Don't forget--Colleen Gleason will be guest blogging on Tuesday!
(who STILL has last-minute shopping to do...sigh)
Saturday, December 16, 2006
But I'll tell you a Christmas tale that never has been told.
Well, you may think you've heard it all but you ain't heard nothing yet.
About that crazy Christmas that the North pole can't forget.
So he got on the horn to his cousin Leroy, who lived out in the sticks.
He said: "Santa's really counting on me and I hate to pass the buck."
Leroy said "Hey I'm on my way," and he jumped in his pick-up truck.
When Leroy got to the North Pole all the reindeer snickered and laughed.
They'd never seen a deer in overalls and a John Deere Tractor hat.
"And like it or not, Leroy's in charge, and he's gonna be leading you."
And it was Leroy, the red neck reindeer,
Hooked to the front of the sleigh.
Delivering toys to all the good ole boys and girls along the way.
He's just a down home party animal, two-stepping across the sky.
He mixed jingle bells with a rebel yell, and made history that night.
Before that night was over, Leroy had changed their tune.
He had them scootin' a hoof on every single roof, by the light of a neon moon.
Santa wrapped his bag with a Dixie flag, he was having the time of his life.
And you can hear him call Merry Christmas y'all, and to all of y'all a good night.
And it was Leroy, the red neck reindeer,
Hooked to the front of the sleigh.
Delivering toys to all the good ole boys and girls along the way.
He's just a down home party animal, two-stepping across the sky.
He mixed jingle bells with a rebel yell, and made history that night.
Friday, December 15, 2006
This is one of the traditions we have that is usually more heartache than its worth, but we just have to do it. I must bake. My butt insists that I must NOT eat (although I will) but I must bake. I’m not anticipating giving this stuff as gifts, maybe to an unappreciative neighbor or two, but otherwise, it’s for our family and co-workers. I’ll take a tray of goodies in Monday. As with most offices, all of it will be gone in approximately an hour. I wonder sometimes if they even taste it before they swallow and grab another cookie.
I’m also hoping to take a swing at gingerbread this year. I might make a couple gingerbread men to test out the dough, but really, one day (most likely not this year) I’d like to make a gingerbread house. Now, I’m not talking about the little kits they have at the craft store. I’m talking a Martha Stewart, two-story, Victorian mansion with all the neurotic details I live for. I can do it, of that I’m sure. I even have a post card with a picture of the house I’d like to try.
I wonder why I even bother with all this, sometimes. I was talking to someone the other day and said that all the baking and the decorating and the gift giving and wrapping and planning...all an attempt to make Christmas whatever it’s supposed to be. The romantic in me wants to build up my holiday expectations to the point that no matter what happens, I’ll be disappointed because my life is not a Norman Rockwell painting.
I, for example, know that DB will wait until the last minute to buy my gifts. I will not go caroling (unless you count singing with the radio on my commute). I will probably decorate the tree alone while DB falls asleep watching football on the couch. Christmas morning will not be magical. The stuff in my stocking will most likely be the leftovers I put in there after doing other people’s stockings. My gifts will be anticlimactic because they gave me exactly what I asked for and my family will not be half as appreciative of the time and effort I put into their gifts as I’d hoped they would be.
This makes my family sound horrible, but they aren’t. They’re normal. I’m the one with these insane expectations. I’m the one that makes a list of things I want for Christmas, then gets upset because they got me what was on my list...sigh. Is it too much to ask that they actually listen to me and know me well enough to come up with something I would like without having to come out and say it? Almost nothing I got my family is off their list. I think and plot and plan and...waste my time, apparently.
Anyway, I guess I shop, bake, decorate and fuss over the holidays in an attempt to make it as special as I want it to be. If I don't grasp onto the holiday spirit now, it will be a year before it comes around again. So...it’s ten days until Christmas. What special rituals or traditions do you have to make the holiday seem more special? Baking cookies? Decorating the tree? What was the best gift you've ever gotten that you didn't ask for?
29,000 / 90,000
Thursday, December 14, 2006
I don't cook. Seriously. I can make maybe five dishes, all of which are almost fool proof. DH prepares our dinners, he has for most of our marriage.
So why, might you ask, did this idiotic idea even occur to me? I honestly couldn't say. All I know is when it popped into my head, logic shut off. I thought it might be fun, a good way to spend some time with the girls while saving some money.
The girls lost interest in baking days ago - about the time this doomed project started. We've made over 100 buckeyes (peanut butter balls dipped in chocolate), 2 batches of chocolate fudge (because the first was too hard), 2 batches of peanut butter fudge (because the first was too soft), 2 batches of pecan pralines (because the first hardened in the bowl before I could get it on the wax paper). Do you see a pattern?
I've blistered my thumb, melted a supposedly microwave safe bowl and gone through a sea of sugar and marshmallow fluff. I am never, ever, never doing this again!
Have you ever started a project only to have it turn to dust in your hands?
Wednesday, December 13, 2006
In 1953, Ian Fleming, a former assistant to the director of the British Department of Naval Intelligence, published a novel. The subject matter was drawn from his days in the DNI.
Its title: Casino Royale.
Its main character: Bond. James Bond.
In 1964, I saw my first Bond movie. I was 13 years old and in the throes of puberty. The movie was Goldfinger. Sean Connery portrayed James Bond. And I fell in love with a tall, dark and handsome man who drove an Aston Martin, drank vodka martinis shaken, not stirred and had a license to kill.
I was not the only one in love with this man. Miss Moneypenny, his boss's secretary, was completely smitten with Bond, but despite her longing gazes and dreams of smoldering kisses, she never got her man.
Through the years I kept up with James's film escapades and followed him all around the world as he chased the bad guys while armed with gadgets provided by the Q division of MI6, the British Secret Intelligence Service. Through the years I also bemoaned the changing face of James Bond -- literally. When Sean Connery left the role, I swore I could never love another Bond. When George Lazenby appeared on screen in On Her Majesty's Secret Service, I knew my fears had come true. A male model from Australia does not a 007 make -- not even when he wears a kilt. The powers that be agreed with me (and a bazillion other fans worldwide), gave George the boot and found another Bond.
This time it was Roger Moore who had also played Simon Templar AKA The Saint. Moore brought back the joie de vivre of James Bond and began the move toward a more campy style of movie. He was suave and debonair, handled the ladies with finesse and always, always defeated the villain and won the girl in the end.
Then Roger Moore retired and my heart leapt when Pierce Brosnan was announced as the new Bond. I'd loved him as Remington Steele, but alas, he had to turn down the job because of his contract with the TV folks. Timothy Dalton was brought in and because his debut as Bond coincided with the age of AIDS, it was felt that Bond should be a little less anamored of the ladies, shall we say. So the Bond of my dreams who bedded every woman he met became a "safe sex" Bond and safe sex notwithstanding, I quite frankly wasn't very impressed with Dalton's portrayal of my favorite spy.
Then happy, happy, joy, joy! Dalton called it quits and TPTB offered the role to Brosnan again. Oh dear Lord, I was in heaven. After six long years, James Bond was back on the screen and in GoldenEye, the first Bond film made after the collapse of the Soviet Union, we had yet another casting change.
In a brilliant stroke of casting, Dame Judi Dench was signed to portray "M," the head of MI6. "M" makes no bones about the fact that she despises Bond and called him a "sexist, myogynist dinosaur, a relic of the Cold War." Yep. That's my 007.
I thought Pierce and I would go to the grave with him playing Bond and me watching him on the silver screen, but alas, those darned powers that be had other ideas. They decided he was too old to play James Bond. Ahem! He's younger than me and I'm not old. Despite protests from Pierce's fans worldwide, they let him go and began the search for a new James Bond.
When Daniel Craig was presented as the new 007, my first response was, "Huh?" Who was he? A quick search pulled up a... blond man??? But... but... James Bond isn't blond. How dare they mess with my James?
They might cast this tow-headed boy as 007 but that didn't mean I had to see the movie. Boycott! That's what I'd do. Yep, that was my plan until I started hearing from trusted friends who'd seen the movie and were raving about not only the film but the new 007. So last Sunday the DH and I went to see Casino Royale, which is an unusual occurrence in itself. The DH hated Bond movies. I mean H-A-T-E-D them. But a male co-worker had told him the movie was great so he agreed to go with me.
I settled into the theater seat, determined to dislike the blond Bond. But when the last scene ended and the credits began to roll, I turned to my husband, grinned and said "Bond is back! Yesssss!"
Make sure you click on this photo and look at this man's beautiful blue eyes. Who cares if he's a little blond when he has eyes like this??? Oops! I'm drooling on my keyboard again. Forgive my total fangrrl moment, will ya? It's just that he SO fills out a pair of pants.
When I was 13 I saw Goldfinger and fell in love with a tall, dark and handsome man who drove an Aston Martin, drank vodka martinis shaken, not stirred and had a license to kill. When I was 55 I saw Casino Royale and fell in love all over again with a man who has a license to thrill.
As an interesting aside, two years ago the DH's company was acquired by a British firm called Qinetiq (pronounced like the word kinetic). Qinetiq came into being when the British Ministry of Defense research labs were privatized so they could bid on US government contracts. Those research labs were the basis of the "Q" division in the Bond novels and movies -- the folks who dreamed up all those neat-o gizmos Bond used.
So that begs the following question: If my DH works for Q, does that make me "M?"
Are you a Bond fan? If not, who's y our favorite movie hero? And what makes him heroic for you?
Tuesday, December 12, 2006
You can learn a lot about a person by what’s hanging on her corkboard. It shows you what inspires her, what makes her laugh, and what’s important to her. Of course, looking at my own corkboard above my desk, I think I might be just a little twisted.
I have a Gary Larson Far Side cartoon that’s a particular favorite and always has a place of honor. (I considered scanning in the cartoon, but with copyright issues, I decided against it.) It shows a spaceship surrounded by Earthlings and several aliens standing at the top of the steps descending from the craft. Another alien lies at the foot of the steps, upside down, obviously having just fallen ungracefully down them. The caption reads, “Wonderful! Just wonderful! …So much for instilling them with a sense of awe.”
This one is a favorite of mine for two reasons.
1—I’m a bit of a klutz myself, as regular readers of this blog know already. In addition to slicing myself with sharp objects on regular occasions, I also tend to trip over my own two feet quite a bit. (Yes, most people think the whole ballet thing means I’m graceful poetry-in-motion. Nope. Put on some music and strap me in to some pointe shoes and I’m good. Put me in tennis shoes on a flat surface and I’ll fall on my ass.)
2—My mother instilled in me the importance of a good first impression and the lack of a second chance to make one. Yet, like the poor alien at the foot of the spacecraft’s stairs, I, too, have made first impressions upside-down wondering if I’ve broken a bone.
My M-I-L’s first impression of me wasn’t all that great, and it took me years to quit being “That Girl.” There’s an editor I made a whopper of a first impression on; I can only hope she doesn’t remember my name the next time I try to query her. We’ve all made less-than-spectacular first impressions that we spent ages trying to live down (or at least move beyond).
And, no, I will not be sharing the details from either of those situations here. Sorry, but no. Don’t even ask. Let embarrassing moments die the deaths they deserve. (And those who do know better keep the details to themselves as well.)
I’m thinking about this because I’m judging a contest right now. Granted, the presentation of the manuscript is not a score-able item, but I can’t help but be negatively influenced by the entry that is littered with typos and a disregard for some pretty basic ease-of-reading and professional presentation techniques. My first impression isn’t great, therefore I don’t want to keep reading.
And the Playfriends wonder why I nitpick them to death on things they give me to read—it’s because I care. I only do it out of love, you know. It sucks to be the alien at the foot of the stairs. I speak from experience.
So how important are first impressions to you? Have you ever made a really bad one? (You don’t have to share all the embarrassing details—unless you want to, of course.) How did you try to make up for that not-so-stellar first impression? (Or are you still living it down?)
Monday, December 11, 2006
After the partying this weekend, I managed to get quite a bit of work done. Unfortunately, it wasn't the kind of work I wanted to be doing. Instead of writing, I was cleaning the kitchen and cooking and wrapping and cleaning... You get the idea.
I ended Sunday with a sense of accomplishment, because I did get a lot done, but I also went to bed with a familiar sense of disappointment and guilt. While other writers can make the excuse that the holidays are too busy to focus entirely on writing, I know the holidays aren't my only problem.
Lately, I've been trying to get my house on the market, keep up with kids, work, and do for family and friends. So I get caught up in whatever the project of the moment is and forget about most everything else. Well, not entirely. Everything else that needs to be accomplished mocks me from the far corners of my mind, reminding about priorities and being true to myself. Sometimes, it is easy to push that voice aside and focus on the task at hand. Other times it isn't.
What does this have to do with anything? Well, I know the holidays aren't the only thing keeping me from my writing. Since about July I've let external forces propel me in other directions, putting my writing on the backburner. I haven't neglected it entirely, but it hasn't occupied the place of honor I would like it to on my To Do List. And I'm not really sure why. I'm in the rewrite phase of this book and that's usually the phase I enjoy the most.
But what can I do about it? How can I get back into the writing flow I enjoyed earlier this year? Once again experience that burst of energy focused on my story? I looked back through some writing handouts I had to refresh my memory. You can also find some helpful hints in my article Writing Smarts for This Holiday Season in the Writing Playground School archives (see, just because I write it, doesn't mean I always live it).
1. Find a buddy.
This could be a critique partner, fellow author or chapter member, online contact, or mentor. Give this person your goal (make it reasonable for this time of year!!!), and ask them to help you stick to it. Not just accept your excuses when you don't meet it, but gently nudge you in the right direction when you backslide.
2. Keep track of your progress on a calendar.
I keep a calendar right next to my desk and record daily writing accomplishments on it. That way I can look back and see my progress. Unfortunately, I've had more blank days than I'm proud of in the last few months. But it feels really great when I do get to jot something down at the end of the day.
3. Just write.
When you are writing with a goal of publication, you can't sit around and wait for the muse to strike. Well, you can, but unless your muse is a very busy sort, you'll get nowhere fast. So sit down and work on something, anything, even if it is just a page each day. Eventually the fire will relight itself.
4. Oil the gears.
Sometimes I'm just not able to write, but I can prewrite all day long. Prewriting includes brainstorming your plotline, thinking about your characters and how they would react to different situations, concentrating on a particular scene and trying out various ending scenarios until you find one that fits... you get the idea. I love to prewrite and it will get me in the writing mood faster than just about anything. Plus, I'm actually accomplishing something toward finishing my book. Mondays are pretty much a non-writing day for me, because they are just too full. But if I take notes and THINK about my characters and plot while I'm running around, then by Tuesday I'm ready to go.
Okay, this all sounds great, but what am I REALLY going to do about getting back on the writing wagon? Well, I think I'll employ a couple of the above techniques and ask my fellow Playfriends to keep me accountable. I want to write SOMETHING, ANYTHING on my book five out of seven weekdays throughout December. May just be one page, maybe five, but at least turn on the Alphasmart and do something. What do you say? Are you with me?
Sunday, December 10, 2006
First place goes to Maureen with "I is for Ilex." That one had folks running to the dictionary. Because of some recent landscaping projects, I knew that it was the botannical name for hollies, but the others were stumped. And what's more Christmas-y than green holly and red berries? Our blog is even decorated up top with holly.
Good job, Maureen!
Our runner up is Jennifey Y with "Q is for Quirinius (The Roman Governor of Syria at the time of Jesus' birth...mentioned in Luke)." Lots of other folks came up with words for "Q" but this one had a great historical link and had me Googling to learn more.
A big thumbs up to Jennifer too!
Maureen needs to contact Problem Child to arrange for her book and Jennifer needs to contact Instigator for hers.
Thanks again to everyone for playing. We had 210 comments and that might be a record.
Saturday, December 09, 2006
While the Playfriends are off partying, they're going to turn you loose in the playground with a Christmas alphabet game. I'll start with the first letter and y'all take it from there. One letter per comment, but no limit on the number of times you can comment.
Let's see how many times we can go through the alphabet.
A is for Angel.
Now it's your turn.
P.S. Problem Child and Instigator are donating a book each as prizes. The winners will be the most unique Christmas-related word. Or as PC put it "the one that sends us all running for the dictionary kind of thing." Somehow that kinda leaves me with a nervous feeling. :grin:
Friday, December 08, 2006
This officially kicks off my busy holiday season. Yes, last week was the big board meeting trip, but I can’t officially call that holiday related, it just timed out that way. Tomorrow is our HOD Holiday Party and dirty Santa. That’s a day trip to another part of the state, so that’s it for the day. The following Tuesday is my work potluck and dirty Santa. I’m taking off the next Friday to bake cookies and make candies. I have a chocolate and champagne party at a friend’s house that Saturday. Yes, there’s a dirty Santa there too and I promised her I’d make chocolate covered tuxedo strawberries. Next thing I know it will be Christmas Eve and my in-laws will be at the door. I’ve totally got to scrub my house from top to bottom in between all these parties, setup the bed in the guest room... we haven’t even touched on going to get a Christmas tree, decorating it and rearranging ALL my living room furniture to fit it in. I have to mail my gifts to DB’s brother and his family. Oh, and the last three blog winners of mine (sorry!).
At least my Christmas cards are out. I was about two cards short though, so I may have to go buy another box (which means another book of stamps when I finally hit the PO again).
Oh, and I forgot to mention that I aggravated my carpal tunnel and my right arm has been useless for 2 days. Yeah, that’ll slow you down.
Notice there hadn’t been the single mention of me writing anywhere. This time last year I was on restriction and had to write (and post) 1 page a day so the other Playfriends knew I was actually getting something done. I may have to unofficially enact something of that nature. I had told myself I’d finish this book by the end of the year. HA! 250 pages to go...that’s what? 11 pages a day? Doable. At least by someone. Not me. Especially in the middle when I’m not sure what’s going on and the story usually changes drastically.
Ok. My arm hurts, so I’m going to stop now. I'm sure everyone else is busy too. What upcoming events are you excited about? Any you’re dreading? What’s the worst Dirty Santa gift you’ve ever given or been stuck with? I've been known to give a few Mr. Potato Heads in my day...
27,750 / 90,000
Thursday, December 07, 2006
I even had a budget (which I only went over by a teeny, tiny bit). I don't know why I go overboard...well, yes I do. It's a combination of Christmas spirit, shopping joy and a smidge of guilt thrown in. In my heart I know it truly doesn't matter to them what they get for Christmas (at the moment anyway. They're five and two after all). They still find so much excitement just from unwrapping those brightly papered packages.
But it matters to me. The problem is I'm not sure if that's a good or bad thing. I mean it isn't like I neglect them (although, I'm certain I'm not alone in the feeling that I could be a better mother - not lose my temper, spend more time with them).
It's about pleasing them. Seeing that smile in their eyes when they open that one thing they really wanted (or in our case five things). Growing up there were years I was disappointed and there were years I was so surprised and excited. I can't help but want only the excitement for my girls.
I suppose that's normal. However, I'm not sure it's good for them. Having some disappointments in life make you better appreciate the surprises when they come.
Okay, my New Year's resolution (yep, making one already) will be not to go overboard next Christmas. Let's see how long this one lasts.
P.S. from the Playground Monitor
Congratulations to newbie commenters Amy S, Cathie and Snowflake! You've each won a copy of NASCAR HOLIDAY and welcome to the Playground. We hope you'll visit again and often.
Congratulations as well to Joan, readingissomuchfun (Linda H) and RobynL for referring your friends to the Playground. Joan and Linda H each win a copy of Roxanne St. Claire's KILLER CURVES, which she referred to in her comments. Trust me -- it's H-O-T! Robyn wins a copy of Debra Webb's A COLBY CHRISTMAS, the 25th book in her award-winning Colby Agency series. And Santa is sending some racing-themed goodies to them too for spending the time to promote the Playground blog.
All of you need to send the Playground Monitor your name and snail mail address to claim your prizes.
Wednesday, December 06, 2006
That speedway is now called the Lowe's Motor Speedway and the Memorial Day weekend race is called the Coca Cola 600. I'm sure if my daddy were still alive, he'd still be cussing the snarled traffic.
Harlequin signed a deal with NASCAR last year to publish racing-related romance novels (I’ll be giving away some copies of NASCAR HOLIDAY today to new commenters on this blog) and I’ve been curious about why they picked NASCAR to pair up with romance. What’s romantic about motor oil and fiery crashes?
Fellow Heart of Dixie author Debra Webb, whose novella Unbreakable appears in NASCAR HOLIDAY, told me the draw of racing is the excitement: the speed, the sound and the energy of the crowd. She said the drivers are a different kind of draw because a man capable of handling the raw power of a race car is a real turn-on. Debra said while writing Unbreakable she learned just how skilled a driver is, and he must have an unbreakable focus to stay in the race. Mix in some danger and you have a winning combination, not unlike the gladiators of old who fought to the death before cheering crowds. “Bottom line, a man who can handle a car like that, especially one who can triumph over danger and his competitors and win, can surely handle his woman with the same expert focus and attention to detail.”
But he drives a car for heaven’s sake. I drive a car. My seventy-nine-year-old mother drives a car. What makes this hero more special than a CEO, a cowboy or a bad boy biker? According to Abby Gaines, whose book BACK ON THE TRACKS will be out in May 2007, the NASCAR hero embodies the qualities of all the above: the aura of wealth and power, sharp intellect, courage that’s rough around the edges, and a thrill-seeking, individualist mentality that makes him irresistible to women. Plus, he wears a “uniform” so that sticks him up there with cops and firefighter heroes in some readers’ minds.
“A NASCAR hero has reached the top ranks in an incredibly tough sport through grit and determination. By the time he’s racing the NASCAR NEXTEL Cup Series, he’s proven he’s a winner. He’s a team player, but when he’s in that car out on the track, it’s mainly down to him whether he wins or loses – he’s got to have the confidence (and the ego) to handle that week after week. There’s huge pressure involved in earning that multi-million dollar paycheck, but at the same time there’s the thrill of setting a race strategy, picking off the competition one by one and, of course, driving at incredible speeds that most of us would be too scared to attempt. All that is pretty sexy.”
Okay… unbreakable focus, aura of wealth, courage, thrill-seeker, uniform. But all they do is drive around and around and around. I heard a surprising response to that from an acquaintance whose son is autistic. He loves NASCAR and can spout off statistics like a seasoned television sportscaster. According to his mom, watching the race allows him to give into his need to watch things go round and round, but in a socially acceptable manner.
According to a press release from Harlequin and NASCAR, women are drawn to the family-friendly atmosphere of racing and to the charisma of the drivers. Some immerse themselves in the culture and follow a driver or team. NASCAR estimates that 40% of its fans are women, more than the NFL and Major League Baseball. And in 2006 they predict women will buy $250 MILLION in NASCAR-licensed merchandise. Now they have romance novels to accompany the t-shirts, coffee mugs and ball caps. One friend told me “if he’s that fast on the track, what moves could he make in bed?”
And then there’s the whole NASCAR racing lingo thing. What romance author could resist writing about revving engines, hot-lapping, handling and that ever-desirable pole position? However, if you’re looking for racy writing, no pun intended, look elsewhere. Because of that concern for the family-friendly atmosphere, any book with the NASCAR logo on it won’t have sex, violence, cursing or cheating. But they’re still packed with racing action and romance and they deliver the promised happy-ever-after ending.
I suppose it’s all about what cranks your tractor. Or your stockcar engine as the case may be.
So… are you a NASCAR fan? How did you get into racing? Where have you traveled to watch your driver chase the checkered flag?P.S. Three lucky NEW commenters (tell us who referred you!) today will receive a copy of NASCAR HOLIDAY by Kimberly Raye, Roxanne St. Claire and Debra Webb. And three people who referred them will receive a copy of KILLER CURVES by Roxanne St. Claire or A COLBY CHRISTMAS by Debra Webb plus some racing-related goodies.
Ladies and gentlemen… start your engines!
P.P.S. Kimberly's winner from yesterday is Rachael. Please send your snail mail address to Problem Child to arrange for your prize.