Tuesday, March 31, 2009

The right words...

Sure, my mom thinks I’m a great writer. So do the Playfriends (or at least that’s what they tell me). DG and AC fill the stands in my cheering section as well. But these are people who love me. They have to say the nice things (or else deal with the horrible depression and witchiness that follows.)

But second only to my editor, there’s one person whose opinion really makes me think. That’s my Fabu CP. Sure, we’re friends now and I love her like my luggage, but that’s not how our relationship started. It was a business relationship –one built around saying not nice things to each other when the situation called for it. She had my respect long before she had my love.

My CP has to read through some rough stuff. She’s the first set of eyes on everything I write. If it’s wrong, it’s her job to tell me. If I go too far – or not far enough – she has to be the one to redirect me. She read at least four complete drafts of The Secret Mistress Arrangement before it sold – that’s commitment to the cause. She’s had a hand in the plot of every book I’ve written (and been the reason at least one has been archived on the hard drive because she finally had to tell me that it just wasn’t working at all. That takes guts and a long view of the situation as a whole.). Trust me, I’m a much better writer thanks to her guidance over the years. I owe her a lot.

So I trust her, but more importantly, I respect her. I’m often awed by her – and not just her incisive critting skills, either. She’s an amazing writer who often leaves me gaping at the way she strings words together. For the record, Pamela Hearon ROCKS.

I’ve been struggling with the current WIP. It’s been hard to find my groove with this one. And Pam’s been handholding me through it, dog love her. But in her notes from the most recent chapter she critted was exactly the thing my ego needed to hear, even if she didn’t know it at the time.

I remember writing the paragraph her comment referenced. It was getting close to time for AC to come home, so I was winding down my writing for the day. I like to end in the middle of something or on a strong note so I’ll have something cooking until I can get back to it. This paragraph was that stopping point. And I was kinda pleased with the image and the wording.

And when it came back from Pam, she’d written in red next to it “Man, I wish I’d written that.

That got my attention. Yeah, it’s great when someone points out a nice phrase or some clever wording, but to have another writer – a writer you respect – wish they’d written it? Wow. That’s pretty damn cool. That’s high praise. That made my whole day. Made me think I’d finally gotten a hold of these characters, and that we all might get a happy ending after all. Made me feel the hair-pulling and teeth-gnashing might have been worth it. Six words, probably just off the cuff to let me know the image worked, made me feel like Nora Freakin’ Roberts.

And that my friends, is why good CPs are worth their weight in gold. Not only because they can tell you what’s going wrong, they let you know when it’s going right.

What’s the best compliment you’ve gotten recently?


Monday, March 30, 2009

Process Progression

Over the weekend, I read this post from the talented ladies over at the Plot Monkeys blog that got me to thinking about my own process. (scroll down to the Saturday's Craft Series post)

Like Julie Leto’s, my process has changed over time. The biggest development in my process came last year when I was finally able to begin creating my rough drafts on the AlphaSmart, instead of writing them out freehand first. But there have been smaller changes, as well. Timing, for instance. Just as I’ve grown in my writing, so has my family grown as well. I’ve gone from having small babies or being pregnant to having school age children. I used to catch small pieces of writing time here and there while they were playing or asleep. Now I can actually create while they’re awake and work for longer periods of time. Later this year my process will probably change again, because I’ll have both children in elementary school for most of the day. I might actually get days to write hours at a time… Wow!

Some parts of my process never change. I start with plotting (even though the HOW of it is different than in the beginning). I write a rough first draft, then revise several times. I can’t create when I’m too tired or sick and I need relative quiet with minimal background noise.

The most important thing to me about process is: 1) I have one and recognize what it is. Beginning writers can take quite a while to reach this milestone. 2) I’m adaptable enough to change it if I need to. This is saying something, considering how resistant I am to change. 3) The speed at which my process works is slowly increasing, allowing me to complete more books and projects each year. Now I don’t feel like the slowest writer in the world, just the next-to-slowest. ;)

So today, tell me what’s on your mind. Read anything cool or informative lately? Changed something about your own process?


Cool bit of trivia: This is the 1,150th blog post on the Writing Playground. Wow! :)

P.S. PM's winner from last Wednesday is Caffey. Please email Playground Monitor with your snail mail info. Prizes not claimed in seven days will be re-awarded.

Friday, March 27, 2009

Oops, Part 2

So, I'd like to be able to say that I wanted to give Angel's post more time as the top blog. That I deliberately didn't post so that more people would read about her fabulous news. Yeah. That's what I did.

Truth is, I spent time with friends last night, got distracted, and slept late. My new job gives me every other Friday off and to be honest, until about 10 minutes ago... I was asleep. I'm so naughty.

Sleep is just one of my indulgences. I don't have kids, so I don't get the 7AM pitter patter of feet to wake me up. On the days I work, I'm up by 6:30AM and at work by 7:30. No naps. I just charge straight through my day. But on my days off... I just love a 10 hour sleeping session. I can always sleep. No insomnia in my house.

So, many apologizes for my tardiness today. I was up far too late. To make up for it, I'll give away an autographed copy of Jacquie D'Alessandro's Confessions at Midnight and Sleepless at Midnight to a commenter today. So tell me, what's your favorite indulgence?


PS. But I'm not too sleepy to forget it's Maven Linda Winstead Jones' birthday! Happy Birthday, LJ! :)


Yeah, my day to blog. My bad. Post coming, I promise... writing it as we speak.

Thursday, March 26, 2009

An Amazing Moment

I’ve pre-empted Instigator’s blog today, because I couldn’t wait until Monday to share my good news. Yesterday, I was one of the lucky authors to receive a call telling me my manuscript is a finalist in the Contemporary Series Romance category in the Golden Heart! This contest, held by Romance Writers of America, is the most prestigious unpublished romance author contest and placing in it is the best thing that’s happened in my writing career to this point.

Of course, when I got the call I’d just finished exercising, so it didn’t take much to turn my legs to jelly. Fortunately, Region 6 Director Terry McLaughlin was very understanding of my tears and inability to breathe. Honestly, it felt like being told I’d been nominated for an Academy Award. :) I was completely useless for the rest of the day, spending it in front of the computer answering emails, getting to know other finalists, and on the phone SQUEEing with my people. I even received these lovely flowers from the Playfriends and authors Rhonda Nelson and Lynn Raye Harris. Aren’t they beautiful?


My mind is whirling with ideas, plans, the revisions I need to finish, and anticipation of what will happen when I go to National Conference in July. There is no way I'd miss Nationals as a GH finalist! Luckily, author Lynn Raye Harris, who was a 2008 finalist, can fill me in on what to expect. I like to be prepared, but I don't know if I can prepare for this. :)

So in celebration of my Golden Heart final, we’re gonna have a true party in the Playhouse today! Break out the chocolate martinis and petit fours! PM, snag us some hot cabana boys. In the words of that sexy rocker, Bon Jovi:


Is there anybody out there lookin’ for a party?
Shake your money maker, baby, smoke it if you got it
We just wanna have some fun, if you don’t wanna (kiss this)
Everybody raise your hands, come on, I need a witness

We got it going on

(We Got It Going On by Bon Jovi)


Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Extra! Extra! Read all about it here tomorrow!

Today was an exciting day for many RWA members and one of our very own received an exciting phone call this morning. Check back tomorrow for the news and party with the Playground gang. If you celebrated with us at Barbara Vey's anniversary shindig, you know that we can bring down the house.

Put on your dancing shoes and join us tomorrow as we celebrate and have a good time!

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National Cleaning Week -- No kidding!

Angel blogged on Monday about clutter, though her's is good-for-a-cause clutter. And when I went looking for a blog topic for today I discovered that March 23-29 is National Cleaning Week. Honest. I have no clue what idiot came up with this but he was obviously scraping the bottom of the barrel for some activity to celebrate. And I say "he" with assuredness because no woman would declare a week for cleaning. Evah.

Because I'm scrapped for time (finished the first round of edits yesterday and have to enter them into the Word document as well as write one more scene for the end), I'm going to re-cycle an article I wrote for a newsletter a few years ago and hope it helps you in your spring cleaning.

It’s invading suburbia -- an insidious ogre, creeping silently and often accompanied by the words “But that might come in handy one day.”

Its name is clutter and it may be caused by bad habits, a packrat attitude or chronic bargain shopping. Whatever the cause, clutter leads to lost time while you search for your keys or the bill that’s due tomorrow.

Most of us would de-clutter this minute if we only knew where to start. First, begin with yourself and set a good example. Next, schedule regular de-clutter sessions. Spend ten minutes a day cleaning up, or decide to remove a certain number of items each day. Don’t stop until they’re in a garbage bag and tossed.

Major clutter may call for a marathon session. Schedule this on your calendar since having adequate time increases the odds of success.

One method involves three boxes and a trash bag. In the clean-up area pick up each item and decide which place it goes.

Box #1 is the “put away” box. These items can be saved; they just need to be put in the proper place.

Box #2 is the “give away or sell” box. Store these items in the garage or trunk of your car til you take them to the thrift store or hold a garage sale to avoid incorporating them back into the household.

Box #3 is for “storage.” Designate a place for this after marking the contents on the outside.

The trash bag is self-explanatory.

Move from room to room until you’ve de-cluttered the whole house. Don’t forget the attic, home of hidden clutter. Several years ago we cleaned ours and discovered boxes for long gone electronic equipment along with an orphaned ski pole.

After spending most of a Saturday hauling stuff to the curb, it was easy to keep the attic free of clutter; when I was tempted to stash something up there, I remembered how hot that attic gets during an Alabama August.

Getting rid of clutter doesn’t mean it won’t reappear. Sadly, it’s like a bad penny that keeps returning.

One solution uses that old adage “a place for everything and everything in its place.” As long as stuff has a “home” it won’t clutter the house.

Another solution is to establish routines. For example, always put your purse away when you return to the house. Put the newspaper in the recycling bin as soon as you finish reading it. Sort mail when you bring it inside. Toss the junk and file the rest in its “home.”

Adopt a “one in and one out” attitude. When you buy a new pair of shoes, get rid of a pair. Want that colorful vase on sale at the mall? What will you discard if you buy it? This method not only tackles clutter but can save dollars as well.

With some scheduling, the right tools and a few rules, you can drive the clutter monster from your home and keep him away. Happy spring and happy cleaning.

Share a tip with us today and you'll be entered to win a book from my stash and a dollar bill to buy a reusable shopping bag, because in addition to keeping our houses clean, we need to keep the planet clean and green. Reusable shopping bags are a great place to start.

P.S. Golden Heart and Rita nominations are being announced today. Judi Fennell will be posting finalists on her blog just as soon as she hears of them. If you or someone you know gets a call from RWA, please tell them to notify Judi. The full list will be posted on the RWA website as soon as all finalists have been notified, but it's fun to watch the results dribble in throughout the day.

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

PC ponders...

I try not to think deep thoughts very often because they make my head hurt. I'll stay in the shallow end, thanks.

Here's my current list of wading-pool depth ponderable topics:

1.) How do three people create six loads of laundry in one week?

2.) Why, when I hit "Send/Receive" on my email program and nothing comes in, do I hit it again? Do I think it missed something?

3.) Why do people not from Alabama like to sing "Sweet Home Alabama?"

4.) Why is the power button on the back of my printer, requiring me to contort myself to turn the silly thing on? All power buttons should be on the front, right?

5.) What in the hell does an Amazon sales ranking mean? And does anyone know how it works?

6.) Where does all the damn dust come from? I just dusted, for dog's sake.

7.) Why is this book so hard to write?

8.) Why do the networks cancel TV shows two episodes after I get interested in them?

9.) Why can I remember my 8th grade BFF's phone number (her parent's house circa 1985, mind you, not her current one), but I have leave myself notes to remember my online banking password?

10.) Why is every garbage truck in America in serious need of a break job?

Answers, anyone? Bueller? Jump right in. Or tell me what you're pondering today.


PS: And a very Happy Birthday to my mom today!

Monday, March 23, 2009

Calgon, Take Me Away!

It’s that time of the year again. The Playfriends are gearing up for our local RWA chapter’s 12th annual Romance Readers Luncheon. We’re really excited this year because the guest speaker is Vicki Lewis Thompson from over on the Soapbox Queens. And, well, we just have a good time with this “ladies’ day out” every year.

Most of us have a hand in either coordinating something for the luncheon or helping out in some way. You know we can’t just sit back and not be involved! I, myself, take on the task each year of creating the baskets and goodies that are raffled off to the participants. Last year, I ended up creating 25 of these raffle prizes that had to be coordinated and schlepped down to the Luncheon space.

This leads me to my blog topic today: my office. You see, in order to create these baskets in May, I have to start collecting filler items and books in January. We get lots of donations from chapter members and authors that have to be stored somewhere until assembly begins. As of last week, I couldn’t see the carpet in my office from all the stuff stacked in there. There was one little pathway leading from the doorway to the office chair.

Here is the now cleaned-up version. Just a little extra floor space.



Now, don’t get me wrong. This is actually great, because it means I’ve been given lots of basket items and will be able to create some pretty incredible giveaways. On the other hand, my out-of-control office is making me antsy. It is hard to work with all the visual clutter, and I’m distracted by the desire to start organizing. Problem is, if I get started, I may not be able to stop. Won’t get a lot of writing done that way.

Do you have a hard time working with lots of clutter around? Does it make it hard for you to focus or can you pretty much tune it out?

The Playfriends would love for you to join us at Heart of Dixie’s 12th Annual Romance Readers Luncheon! Check out the details at www.heartofdixie.org .


Saturday, March 21, 2009

Contest Reminder!

Just a little reminder that we’re in the middle of a new contest for March/April. My Good VS. Evil contest:


Here’s a look at the prize pack. You can also find out more about entering the contest and the contents of the prize here.


Don’t forget this month we have an interview with editor Lucy Gilmour from the Harlequin Mills and Boon London office. Instigator’s article Characterization Through Motivation and my review of Kresley Cole’s Kiss of a Demon King. Enjoy!


Friday, March 20, 2009

Please Don't Feed the Gryphons

So the other day, I got a gift. I did a friend a favor and she told me she had the perfect gift for me. Yay, presents! We had trouble getting together with schedules and such (nevermind she lives less than a mile from me) so she had a friend bring it to me. I get an unexpected gift bag one afternoon with a peculiar thing inside...

A little stone statue. Some kind of gargoyle, I figured.

Honestly, I don't know much about this sort of thing. As far as I knew, they were creepy little statues on old buildings, steeped in mythology. They sang in Disney's version of the Hunchback of Notre Dame (which I refuse to watch). Skymall magazine sells ones that fit on your downspouts and shoot water out of their mouths. That's about all I had on the subject. So I was surprised to find out this guy below is the guardian of the writer! Who knew?

Curled up in his beak was a scroll of paper that explained it all...

This is Alkimos.

His name means "valiant." He is of a very rare group of Story Gryphons related to the gargoyle family.

His kind have been raised since their creation as defenders of the two most valuable things to this world: the story and the writer.

His razor-like beak and ripping claws drives away all that is the anathma to a writer: procrastination and writer's block.
With his wings he protects you from the harshness of critics, while ushering in the warm winds on inspiration, urging you to write.

Alkimos looks like a statue, but he is not. He gathers all of the creativity in the room and focuses it on you. His world is you.

There is only one warning! Alkimos, like any story gryphon, needs you, the author, to write. If you do not, beware! He does not fade. He does not die. Instead, his unhappiness grows until it turns to rage. He focuses his fury on your most treasured object, the manuscript that is sitting there, waiting for you. He will shred that manuscript in his frustration. (The trainers are working on this flaw with little success.) It is up to you to make him happy by writing.

May the words constantly flow and your creativity always burn because... Alkimos is watching you, and will gladly use your story as a snack.

Very cool. I didn't know there was something like this! Given as much as I was whining about lucky charms a few weeks ago, one landed in my lap. Mo (which is what I've taken to calling him because Alkimos is far too big a word) is my new good luck totem. He sits on my desk looking quite regal amongst all the other crap I keep there. He looks down on me as I work. Watching. Waiting.

There have been no casualties as of yet, although there may be shortly if I don't get on it. :) I'm horrible at getting gifts - I never know what to ask for. I sort of foolishly hope people know me well enough to pick out something without me pointing and grunting like a 2 year old. I'm usually wrong, but every now and then, I get a very pleasant surprise. What's the coolest or most unexpected gift you've ever gotten?


Thursday, March 19, 2009

A New Obsession

Well, my life has been taken over my a new obsession, planning for Disney World. Most of the Playfriends - and Playkids & a couple Playhusbands - are heading to the World later in the fall. There are plenty of things I need to be doing (and if my editor is reading this I swear I'm working on my syns too!) however, I've lost hours of my life gathering information lately.

I think this is a flaw in my personality, my ability to become obsessed with a project. If anyone has a 12 step program for this, or a pill I could take to remedy this, I'm open to suggestions. I mean I can and do split my focus...I just know that the few free hours of my day will be filled with whatever my newest obsession is.

In the absence of a magic pill, I have adjusted my daily plan to allow for at least 2 hours to indulge in comparing touring plans, dining options and character meals. To researching trading pins and budget tips. I've hunted designs - one of them here - that I'll probably end up making into t-shirts for my girls. I've even requested some customized designs for the Playground Family Invasion.

I'm excited about this trip, and so are my girls. I know in a couple weeks the euphoria of just booking will have passed and my obsessive personality will have moved onto something else (like writing my next book in 4 weeks). But until then, anyone have good sources for Disney information? Or any trip tips - specifically for a group of 12? How do you plan for vacations? Do you plan everything down to the last detail or do you just wing it?


Wednesday, March 18, 2009

The View from the Pitcher's Mound

(1) Pitcher, a playing position in the game of baseball or softball. See also:
Starting pitcher, the pitcher who pitches the first pitch
Relief pitcher, a pitcher who enters the game after the starting pitcher has been removed
Middle relief pitcher, relief pitchers who commonly pitch in the 6th or 7th innings
Setup pitcher, a relief pitcher who regularly pitches before the closer
Closing pitcher, a relief pitcher who tries to get the final outs in a game to secure victory for his team
Power pitcher, a pitcher who relies on the velocity of his pitches
Control pitcher, a pitcher who relies on the accuracy of his pitches
Groundball pitcher, a pitcher that relies on getting hitters to hit into ground outs

(2) Pitcher, a container with a spout used for pouring its contents.

(3) Pitcher, a very nervous writer who had less than seventy-two hours between being named as a finalist and having to answer questions from a New York editor.

Last week I announced in my blog that I'd been picked as one of eleven writers to pitch a novel to the editor of Silhouette Special Edition. I got the word on Monday afternoon and then learned the day before the pitches that I was second in the line-up. That meant I had to be ready to go into the eHarlequin chat room at about noon Central time.

I emailed everyone I knew who'd ever done an online pitch and got some great advice (thanks to the Brainstorming Desireables!). I also emailed a couple other friends who are multi-published and got even more good advice. I was advised to be able to hone in on the characters' conflict, to be able to verbalize what made my book perfect for Special Edition and to be able to rattle off the hooks used in the story.

Someone told me they'd been asked what authors they read and what Harlequin/Silhouette lines they liked. "Tell them what else you've written," one person said. "And let them know about all the stories you've sold to the confessions magazines." "If she asks, let her know you're involved in RWA," another suggested.

Smarty Pants read the first three chapters for me in case I got asked to send a partial. Lynn Raye Harris read them too and even met with me at the coffee shop to drill down the conflict to its core. And one of my RWA chapter mates read the entire book for me and offered some very constructive criticism that will make the story stronger.

Because there were so many of us, we each had ten minutes with the editor. "Let her take the lead and ask questions," we were told. So that's what I did. I also took all the other advice and I made a cheat sheet -- a Word document open in another window so I could cut and paste if applicable.

After telling me she had a giggle over the title (and adding she hoped I wasn't offended by that -- and I definitely wasn't) the editor said she loved the premise and it was "classic SSE."

Score one for the home team. I'd studied the line just like I'd been told to do.

"Can you tell me a bit more about the characters and conflicts?" she asked next.

Score two. I had that on the cheat sheet and was able to cut and paste. Thank you again, Lynn.

She then asked me to clarify a bit of the external conflict and I answered that one off the cuff.

Score three when she said it made sense.

Next she asked about a turning point in the book and I answered that one off the cuff too because it's one of my favorite parts of the book. "They seemed to have such an intense emotional connection I wondered if this was about the sex or the relationship, but I see you just answered that! :) His plan adds an interesting subtext."

Score four despite not knowing I had interesting subtext. Sometimes you just get lucky.

After she asked me what the hero did for a living and I explained, she said, "Well, I would definitely like to see the full ms for this, since it's got so many classic elements which do well for SSE. Can you send it to me at the New York office?"

Uh... well... mmm... er...


Score five!

And if they buy it and let me design the cover, it'll look something like this. Don't you just love my hero? ;-)

I'm editing and polishing and working to make this the best story I can send her. So if I'm a little bit absent for the next week or so, don't worry that I've fallen off the edge of the earth. I'm just busy and nervous and anxious and still completely gobsmacked that I got this far. The Playfriends have been a big part of this -- explaining things I didn't quite understand, brainstorming, helping me with the story board I put together, reading some sample chapters and just being all-round terrific cheerleaders. I'm buying them all new pom-poms for Christmas because they wore theirs out rooting for me and holding my hand.

I also felt all those good vibes I asked you to send last week. I had a whole army behind me, and I thank all of you. I could tell you believed in me, and that helped me believe in myself.

Now I'm going to put y'all on the pitcher's mound and ask the question I didn't get asked: What are your favorite Harlequin/Silhouette lines and why?

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Are editors evil?

I haven’t been on the published side of the fence long enough to forget what it’s like to be subbing and waiting and waiting… I still have all my unpubbed haunts bookmarked. All those blogs and boards I read trying to educate myself about this business. And yes, those include the places where the rejected, disillusioned, and frustrated vent.

The one thing I saw a lot of on those boards/blogs was editor bashing. Not necessarily a specific editor, but editors in general. Yes, publishing can often move at a glacial pace, and waiting six months to hear from an editor can seem like an eternity – even worse is if after six months you get the dreaded form rejection.

Hey, I can relate. Really. Been there, done that, and I have the extra ten pounds on my thighs from all the chocolate I ate in my misery to prove it.

But what disturbs me are the people who seem to think editors are evil beings, only here to make a writer’s life hell. Interestingly enough, the vitriol seems to come most from people who have been asked by an editor to make changes to their book.

Gasp! Horrors! How dare some editor think your book needs changing! Dog forbid you should be told your characters don’t have enough emotional conflict to sustain your story or that your pacing is dragging. (Trust me, they’re right 99.9% of the time. If the editor says it isn’t there, it’s not there. This isn’t a graduate seminar where you’re supposed to sit around a table and second-guess whether the bird on page 23 is a symbol of the Resurrection or not. You don’t get to explain stuff to your readers outside the words on the page. It has to be there. We wouldn’t be arguing about that bird if there wasn’t something in the story already to suggest that it might. )

These are often the same people who turn to vanity or self-publishing because they don’t want one of those evil editors “messing” with their story. (But that’s a whole ‘nother rant for another day…)

I’m reminded of this recently, because I really, really (heart) my editor right now. She’s fab, and I (heart) her every day anyway, but especially now. See, even with all the fun of field trips and plotting sessions with the Fabu CP (and everyone else who made the mistake of having coffee with me), I was really struggling with this book. And by struggling, I mean I was being sucked into the Giant Black Hole of Crap (tm) from I was sure which my book (and my career) would never return.

These are the times, my friends, when your editor becomes your Most Favorite Person Evah. Editors can make your book better – that’s the purpose of revision letters. They see the thread in your plot that didn’t get tied off, the motivations that seem crystal clear to you because you know your characters but aren’t actually clear to anyone else on the planet, the part that just doesn’t ring true, or the part that you left out. By pointing these things out to you so you can fix them, they help you make your book stronger, more interesting, and well, better.

And you’re the one that gets to fix them, so it’s still your story.

Most importantly, though, editors know the line and they know you. Thirty-something minutes of brainstorming with my editor solved weeks of angst and worry and crap-production. What we came up with is different from my original vision of the book, but hey, that vision wasn’t working real well for me anyway. Plus, it was producing large amounts of stress (as those who live with me can tell you). The new vision of the book fits me better, fits my voice better, and I’m pretty sure will produce a much better book in the end.

I’m going to be rewriting a lot. Many of those golden drops of brilliant prose (snort) will be sent to the deleted scenes file. And that synopsis thing? Gone. You know what, though? I’m looking forward to it. Simply because my editor can look at the line, the book, and me and see the place where they intersect. When they don’t intersect, she’s able to point me in a different direction – probably one I couldn’t see before – and that pulls me out of the Giant Black Hole of Crap (tm). I’m happy, she’s happy, my readers are happy. There’s no bad there.

So, no, editors are not evil. No one likes to hear there’s something not working in a book, but the fact someone pointed it out to you doesn’t make that person evil. If I told you that you had spinach in your teeth, you wouldn’t think I was evil, would you? I hope not. I’m just trying to help.

I’m a much happier camper this week. I’ve got a lot of work ahead of me, but it should be easier because I’m not fighting my own voice and style and comfort level to try to write the *other* book.

How well do you handle constructive criticism?

Monday, March 16, 2009

I'm a Pepper...

Lately, I’ve had a craving for Diet Dr. Pepper. Though I’m not technically supposed to have soda because of a stomach condition, I broke down and bought a 2-liter anyway, considering this the least of my food infractions. I’m not sure when I developed a taste for this drink, but I love it. To me, it has the least “diet” taste of any diet drink.


This is actually kind of funny, considering I hated Dr. Pepper growing up. My sister always loved it. Then I married a man who is addicted. I buy quite a few 2 liters every week for at home, and he drinks the 20 ounce bottles at work. Trust me, I don’t use the term addicted lightly. When health issues forced me to make the switch to diet drinks, I taught myself to like Diet Coke, though it was a long time coming. I still can’t stomach Diet Pepsi. Diet Mountain Dew is another favorite. But at home I usually drink decaffeinated tea made with Splenda or Crystal light. Unfortunately, making myself drink water is a chore I constantly struggle with.

But every so often, I’ll indulge that need for bubbly sweet goodness for just a little while. Besides, it is spring break week. I could use all the caffeine I can get with the munchkins at home 24/7.

What’s your Go To drink every day? What do you find yourself craving every once in a while?


Friday, March 13, 2009

Calling Caroline...

Technically it's been more than seven days, but I'll give Caroline an extension on her blog win from our guest blogger Heidi Rice last week. Caroline needs to email her snail mail addy to me asap to claim her prize or we'll have to pick another winner...


Friday the Thirteenth, Again

We had one last month, then again this month...another Friday the 13th. If you're the superstitious kind, you're probably completely freaked out. Myself, I've never had much trouble with the day. I actually court trouble by choosing 13 as my favorite number. Can't really pin blame for anything bad on it. I think its funny that hotels skip the 13th floor and such, as though the people on the "14th" floor aren't really on the 13th anyway. Found an interesting article on it here, if you'd care to read up. Apparently, the fear of Friday the 13th is called paraskavedekatriaphobia. That's a mouthful.

Instead of talking about superstitions today, I'm actually going to go in another direction and talk about movie remakes. Apparently they've released a remake of Friday the 13th that came out in theaters on February 13th. (I know, I'm a month behind, but I don't really do horror flicks.) But it's not a 27th sequel, but a remake of the 1980 original.

This seems to be the trend anymore. They're remaking Nightmare on Elm Street. Footloose. The Birds. Clash of the Titans. They're even remaking Rocky Horror Picture Show (which I must say gives me cold chills at the mere thought of the cast of the Hills equivalent adulterating my favorite film.) Horror flicks tend to be the most popular choices for remakes - Prom Night, The Hills Have Eyes, The Haunting of Hill House, The House on Haunted Hill, etc., but even more mainstream movies are being redone. Journey to the Center of the Earth, The Day the Earth Stood Still, The Longest Yard.

I don't get it. It always seems like they choose either movies where the original was just fine, thankyouverymuch, or where the original was so terrible, it really didn't warrant a second attempt. There are so many remakes, you might not even know the movie is a remake. They change the name and if you don't pay attention, you don't realize "I Am Legend" is a remake of "The Omega Man" from 1971, which is a remake of "The Last Man on Earth" from 1964.

Some say its because every story has already been told. As a writer, I know that's crap. Of course, there are basic hooks that most stories contain (secret babies, woman in peril, etc.) but given 10 authors that same three hooks and you'll get 10 wildly different books. I think it has more to do with movie executives wanting to put their money behind a proven product. Who needs to pay a screenwriter to come up with something new when some studio flunky can tweak an old script and make it new?

I'm indignant on behalf of the screenwriters of the world. I wouldn't mind writing a screenplay one day. Have you seen a remake that you really loved? I think The Thomas Crown Affair with Pierce Brosnan was better than the original. How about one that was just dreadful? Any films that shouldn't be remade under any circumstances? Curious minds want to know. One commenter today will pick up a DVD of the original Romeo and Juliet by Franco Zeffirelli. The best, in my opinion.


Thursday, March 12, 2009

Cough, Hack, Wheeze

I'm sick as a dog at the moment and a bit loopy on meds right now so I figured I'd share something that always makes me feel better. I'm posting pictures of hot men. Sorry, ladies, I'm keeping pics of DH for my eyes only so you'll have to content yourselves with these. Gonna go cuddle with my baby and feel better.


P.S. I've got a TV show theme going here in case you're wondering.

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Good Times and Good News

Our very good friend, Barbara Vey of Publishers Weekly, is celebrating the second anniversary of her successful blog, Beyond Her Book. She's having a party to end all parties, and today is "publishers/agents/publicist/editors/bloggers/librarians Day."

We are bloggers so today the Playfriends are Bartending with Barbara. Click the link above, hop on over to Barbara's blog and mosey on up to the bar for one of Problem Child's famous chocolate martinis. We're also offering a nifty bar-related prize.

And in the Good News Department, I found out Monday that I was selected as one of eleven finalists in the Special Edition Online Pitch Challenge. I sent in a one-page synopsis last week and I'll be pitching my book to Special Edition editor Susan Litman in the eHarlequin chatroom on Thursday around noon.

I'm thrilled to pieces, shocked beyond belief and have moments of sheer panic. Keep me in your thoughts tomorrow. Send good vibes my way cause I'm sure gonna need them.

Do you have any good news to share? Share it here and then join us at Barbara's party.

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Research, research, research.

Historical writers do a lot of research. What people wore, what they ate, how they danced, whatever. Most historical writers are walking experts on their time periods, because they know that if they get the tiniest of detail wrong, someone will send them a nasty email (“There’s no way Lady Hawkshore could eat roasted quail with sage potatoes as sage was not a common spice in 1066 as it was not brought over from the Holy Lands until after Richard I, blah, blah, blah, etc.”)

This is one reason why I don’t write historicals. I didn’t enjoy research in college, and I’d rather write books than research details.

Then I decide to set a book in a winery. I have two great characters and a fun plot. I’m writing a synopsis and I’m feeling pretty good about the whole thing.

Then I realize the only thing I know about wine is how to get the cork out, and even then, I’m not always 100% at removal techniques.

So, I’m rather screwed, as the WHOLE book takes place at a winery where the heroine is a winemaker. Hmm, you think that wine stuff might just come up in the book at some point?

Cue images of Kimberly banging her head against her desk because ugh, I’m going to have to do massive research just to figure out what I need to know for the small bit of realistic detail this book is going to need. ~whines and wails, gnashing of teeth, rending of garments~

Fabu CP to the rescue!! Pamela lives in a wine region within driving distance. She knows a guy who grows grapes. He, in turn, calls one of his friends at the local winery, and next thing I know, I’m headed up to Illinois for the weekend for a crash course in Winemaking For Romance Novels.

Have I mentioned how fabu my Fabu CP is?

This is Frank LaFoon of LaFoon Vinyards in Anna, Illinois. He grows grapes for Owl Creek Vineyard (they sent wine to the Presidential Inauguration!). He was my tour guide and info man – and he certainly has the info!

Frank set me up with a personal tour of Blue Sky Vinyard by their winemaker Karen Hand. (No picture of me and Karen to share– I was too busy taking notes and asking questions and I forgot. Sorry Karen!) Instead, I have a picture of me and Pamela in front of the building.

There’s a lot more to growing grapes and making wine than I ever expected. My brain was exploding from information overload after just a couple of hours. There’s a lot of science and a lot of art (and I suspect just a smidge of voodoo as well) that goes into growing good grapes and making good wine. I’ll never just casually open a bottle of wine ever again, that’s for sure!

What really blew me away – beyond the *really* unbelievably cold temps possible in Illinois – was how wonderful everyone was. How generous they were with their time and their knowledge, and how willing they were to answer my questions, no matter how stupid or strange they were. (And I don’t want to give away a major plot point to my book and spoil the surprise, but let’s just say I asked a couple of questions no vintner or viticulturist would ever want to even think about, much less answer.) And when I finally left them, I had email addresses and an open invitation to email them if any questions came up later on.

That’s so awesome. It’s times like this I really love my job.

Thanks to Frank and Karen, I spent the rest of the afternoon in deep huddle with my CP reworking all the things that were WRONG in my book – like timelines , yikes! – and hopefully this means I won’t get irate emails from readers telling me how wrong I was about just about everything. I now know what the inside of a fermentation room smells like, how tall grape vines actually are, and most importantly, how passionate the people who make wine are about their craft.

(That's Karen in the fermentation room.)

Thank you, thank you, Karen and Frank (and Pamela and Hubby) for a great research trip…

Oh, and that “deep huddle?” We were in the hot tub, so that didn’t exactly suck either. Did I mention how much I love my job?

So, do little mistakes pull you completely out of a book? Would you email the author and let her know she’d messed something up? How much factual detail do you like in your books? Just a flavor, or do you want to really learn something?

Monday, March 09, 2009

Series or No?

This past year, I’ve found myself reading a lot of series, especially paranormal ones. J.R. Ward’s Black Dagger Brotherhood, Jacqueline Frank, Twilight, Sherrilyn Kenyon’s Dark-Hunters. Most recently, I’m hooked on Lara Adrian’s Breed series, featuring a set of hard-ass vampire warriors at odds with the rest of the vampire race.

I’ve noticed that the series I’m drawn to are the type where each book could stand alone if it had to. Each installment features a different couple finding their happily ever after. Though one common theme or conflict might arc over the entire set, each one has a unique problem to be solved in the course of one book. I did avoid the Dark-Hunter books for a long time, because there were so many of them. But found that to be a good thing once I started, because then I didn't have to wait months for the next one to come out. :)

There is another type of series that features one couple over the course of several books, finding their happily ever after and facing whatever major conflict overrides the series, along with smaller conflicts during each installment. My sister is currently raving over the Karen Marie Moning Fever series, which is set up this way. But I find myself reluctant to read them. I have a hard enough time making it through one book. 1. Because I’m impatient. 2. Because I have little reading time. It is hard enough to get through a single title, much less 4 or 5 to find out what happens in the end. The Twilight series was set up this way, and I admit I postponed starting them because the books were long and I knew I wouldn’t want to stop until I reach the end of #4.

Do you have a preference for the kind of series books you prefer? What is the most memorable that you’ve read?


Friday, March 06, 2009

Spring Cleaning

There are several things that I avoid. Lately, its my manuscript, but usually, it involves various forms of housework. I hate to clean. Hate it. Especially when everyone conspires to make it worse but no one will help. I remember, at one time, when it was just me and the cats, the house was always clean and quiet. I could clean up as I went. Then a boy and some dogs moved in and I've been chasing dirt ever since. Heaven forbid I add kids to the mix. The house will be condemned.

But there is one time of year that I want to clean. The spring. I get all antsy. I don't know if its being cooped up all winter, but the minute it gets remotely warm, I want to open all the windows, air out the house and scrub every inch. I clean out closets. Wash all the towels. Wash curtains. Clean miniblinds. Baseboards. Really neurotic stuff that I can ignore the rest of the year.

We're experiencing a warm snap here in Alabama. It's a fluke I'm sure. Happens every year around this time. Sends everyone scurrying to Lowe's to buy plants for their yard and without fail, we get a cold front, it drops below freezing, and all their plants die. I don't know how long it will last, but the Weather Channel says it will be in the 70s this weekend.

It's not spring yet, but the time has come! I am cleaning this blasted house all weekend. All weekend. And I'm going to make DB help me. (insert wicked laugh) Maybe, just maybe, after I make my way through the house, I'll be able to post pictures of my office or do some of the little things I've put off since moving in, like painting the bathroom. Or not.

Do you get fired up to spring clean? Is there anything you do that you don't normally bother with the rest of the year? Are you as itching for spring as I am? I can't stand it anymore. I want to run out and buy tulips!


Thursday, March 05, 2009

The Three Things

So, in staring at the blank screen of my computer trying to come up with a topic for my blog today I realized something. I can basically break my life down into three topics of conversation that keep reoccurring: illness (mine, the girls, the animals), Animals (goats, cats, dogs, chickens) and family (Zilla, the girls, the Playfriends). This flash of insight came while I quickly ran through and discarded several topics all centering around these three things.

This makes my life seem very boring. And perhaps it's the pounding headache and experience of trying to hack up a lung that's affecting my general optimism...but I'm not exactly happy about that.

I mean, don't get me wrong, I have a fantastic life. I'm living my dream - difficult as it might be sometimes, but everything worth having is worth working hard for. I have a fantastic husband, 2 amazing children, amazing friends and on occasion I get to feed a baby goat a bottle of milk. No one is deathly ill. No one is unhappy. No one spends the day crying - although I really do need to break Baby Girl of her nasty habit of whining. In my head I realize that boring is GOOD. Boring means everything is going fine.

And I suppose I do have my writing to escape to when I need adventure and pulse pounding moments. And books, there are always books to read if I feel the need to slip into someone else's pretend world for awhile.

So, I'm going to take some Tylenol, head to bed and be thankful for my boring life (and lack of interesting blog topic. You knew I'd get to that, right?). While I do that, why don't you tell me what three topics your life would boil down to?


P.S. The winner from Heidi's guest blog with us on Tuesday is Caroline. Please email Problem Child with your snail mail address to claim your prize. As always, prizes not claimed within 7 days will be re-awarded.

Wednesday, March 04, 2009

And maybe they lived happily ever after

Shortly after the first of the year I tuned in to the season debut of “The Bachelor,” not because I’m a huge fan (I’ve never watched before), but because one of the contestants was a woman from my hometown. Many years ago I was in a Sunday School class with her parents. The hometown connection drew me in.

While I questioned a houseful of estrogen and national television exposure as a way to find true love, I watched out of curiosity. Some nights it was the train wreck you couldn’t turn away from. Other nights I thanked God I’d given birth to boys and didn’t have to deal with this sort of drama as a parent. When Jason, the first single-dad bachelor in the series' history, didn’t give Hometown Girl a rose a few weeks ago, I was somewhat disappointed but impressed with her grace and dignity, unlike some of the other contestants who cussed a blue streak in the limo ride home. And even with her gone, I’d invested a month or so in this series and wanted to see who he proposed to and if the spoiler sites were correct.

The finale aired Monday night and yep, the spoiler sites were right. But in the “After the Final Rose” show that aired after the finale, viewers got a shocking twist of events they didn't expect (unless you follow the spoiler sites). In the course of one hour – less than that if you subtract the time for commercial breaks – Jason broke up with the woman he’d proposed to six weeks earlier and announced to the world that he was in love with the woman whose heart he’d broken and finished as first runner up. And when heartbroken woman was brought out and he told her he was still in love with him, they proceeded to swap spit on national television and start working things out.

Oh. My. Gosh. This sucks, but what makes it suckier is he was jilted in the finale of last season’s “The Bachelorette” and women everywhere petitioned the network to bring him back as this season's bachelor. He’d had his heart broken and then did the same thing to someone else. The man went from adored to hated in a split second. And I’m not so sure viewers are all that sympathetic toward the-one-he-didn’t-choose-first-but-still-loved either. Conspiracy theories abound as they always will, and unless notorized documents outlining the whole series of unfortunate events show up, I doubt we'll ever know for sure.

This might be the stuff of reality TV, but ladies and gentlemen, it’s not the stuff of romance novels. I’m not sure an author could ever motivate a hero enough to let him get away with behavior like that. The Bachelor took six weeks to fall in love and six more weeks to fall out of love. Most romance novels take place over a short time and go from “Hi, I’m Joe Hero” to “You’re the love of my life and I can’t live without you” in sixty thousand words. But a romance novel is fantasy and I read one with that in mind. I want entertainment and a happy ending. They don’t necessarily have to walk down the aisle in the last chapter, but I darn sure want some assurance they’re headed in that direction. I don't want no maybe they lived happily ever after. I want it for sure.

Unlike a paper and ink novel, that TV show had real people with real feelings, real emotions and real tears. While part of me thought the dumped fiancĂ©e shouldn’t have pinned all her hopes and dreams on a man she’d only known for six weeks, another part wanted to cry along with her and inwardly shouted “Right on, sister!” when she publicly called him a bastard and handed back the ring. Personally, I'd have kept the ring and sold it on eBay. I can see the listing now: Dumped Bachelor Fiancee's Ring - New without Tags or Box. Platinum setting encrusted with 170 small diamonds and a center 1.9 carat marquise cut stone. Total carat weight: 3.18. Designed by Neil Lane. D color (low end of colorless rating), VS1 (contains a slight inclusion not visible with the naked eye). Includes GIA certificate. Starting bid $15,000. Shipped by Priority Mail Flat Rate. Insurance recommended.

Did you watch this season of "The Bachelor?" If so, what are your feelings about the outcome? Feel free to disagree with me. And how about your romance novels? Do you want assurances there will be a HEA?

Tuesday, March 03, 2009

Guest Blogger Heidi Rice

I'm tickled to welcome back fellow Presents/Modern Heat author Heidi Rice!

Thanks so much for inviting me back to play. As I’m currently mired in writing the book from Hell any excuse to kick back and ignore it completely for a few hours is much appreciated. To get myself in the mood and come up with some sort of usable topic to waffle about today, I took a quick look at recent blogs here at the playground.

And what do I find: Kate Hardy Re-Filling the Well, Nat Anderson climbing mountains, Smarty Pants talking about her motivational coconuts, good news stories for the week and Problem Child on the YouTube time-suck phenomenon (and yes, thank you PC, you time-sucked at least 10 minutes of my very valuable time with those Buffy/Spike videos!).

And straight away I’m back at square one. You guys are nothing if not completely eclectic.

So, I was going to do a very informative piece about Research and how it can become a writer’s black hole then decided that would be way too dry (hours spent Googling hot tottie while researching your latest hero not-withstanding, of course). Then I had a brief flirtation with the idea of reporting on my first ever library talk – but decided that scones and tea in Essex and questions like ‘who does your proof-reading’ probably wouldn’t engage you lot either.

All of which left me with only one option.

To shamelessly plug my new book that’s due out this month in the US. (You see, I just want you to know, I didn’t come to this decision lightly, it took a lot of thought and prevarication first).

So, the book’s called Pleasure, Pregnancy and a Proposition and although it’s my fourth book for Harlequin Presents, it represents a number of firsts for me.

At my editor’s insistence, Luke Devereaux was my first British hero. Prior to that I’d done three American heroes and my editor was getting a little concerned about my obsession with Steve McQueen-style Bad Boys. Had I ever thought of doing a sheik or a European billionaire, she asked me ever so casually during my first Richmond lunch (after I’d foolishly told her my sister works for the Aga Khan). Given that I knew I couldn’t do a sheik or a Greek shipping magnate I had to opt for a British lord (although I did cop out a little and do a Vegas childhood for Luke just to keep myself happy).

Luke was also my first full-on alpha hero. He’s cynical, controlled, closed off, arrogant, expects to be obeyed at all times, has a deeply sarcastic sense of humour, is frankly a bit of a sexist and on several occasions is fairly hard to like. Of course he’s also incredibly handsome, fabulous in bed, vulnerable, wounded, nurturing, deeply protective of the heroine and an excellent chef (good cooking skills in a man being one of my hero prerequisites) but believe me only his super-sexiness was coming across loud and clear as a positive at the start of the book.

PPP was also my first linked book, because my heroine Louisa DeMarco had appeared in my second book The Mile High Club (as the heroine’s best mate). As she kept butting into the story all the way through I knew as soon as I’d discovered her I’d have to write her her own story. Reckless, impulsive, drop-dead beautiful (and boy does she know it), and hugely successful in her career as a London magazine journalist, Louisa was also a hard-sell. Although she was open, warm-hearted, smart and funny, she didn’t have any obvious vulnerabilities for the reader to connect with. Not only that but my ed had already told me to steer clear of journalists because readers don’t like them (apparently). Of course, having been a journalist myself for 20 years, as soon as I heard that, making Louisa my next heroine became a no-brainer.

One thing in my favour was that I did have a cracker of an opening chapter. Luke marches into Louisa’s office in Camden North London and then goes all cave man on her and kidnaps her in front of all her workmates. She is furious with him. Three months ago they’d had a one-night stand which had left her hurt and humiliated (and sexually fulfilled for the first time in her life, blast the man). And she never wanted to see him again. So what the hell was he doing there and why? Ha, you’ll have to check out the first chapter on eharlequin to find out.

But even with that great opening hook — surprise, surprise — the book turned out to be a total bugger to write. In fact I made so many wrong turns with this story, I ended up having to re-write two-thirds of the damn thing during a week’s holiday to New York. So while hubby and sprogs were busy eating pizza and checking out the Empire State and being wowed by The Little Mermaid on Broadway, I was holed up in our hotel room hunched over a laptop (thanks a bunch Luke and Louisa, you totally ruined my holiday).

But in the end, I believe all the angst was worth it (although I’m still pretty pissed off about missing The Little Mermaid). I was incredibly proud of the book that finally emerged. And PPP topped the Waldenbooks Series Romance Best Seller list last week so I’m not the only one that thinks so (which is always good to know).

The moral of this story?

Do not under any circumstances plan a once-in-a-lifetime family trip to New York when you’re in the middle of writing a complete bugger of a book!

Thanks for reading the whole of my waffle.

So now it’s your turn to tell me about the hardest story you’ve ever had to write. Why was it so tough? Did it turn out well? Or did you have to abandon it in a drawer?Enquiring minds (and nosey parkers like moi) want to know. And as an incentive to share your pain, I’m giving away a copy of PPP to one lucky commentator.

Heidi's Website: www.heidi-rice.com

PS: Angel's winners from yesterday are kh and crystalgb. Send your snail-mail addy to angel@writingplayground.com to claim your prize!

Monday, March 02, 2009

MOANday-Hugh Jackman

After seeing Hugh Jackman host the Oscars, I couldn’t resist revisiting this sexy Aussie for March’s MoanDay. Join me in drooling over this built hunk with all his fabulous qualities. Starting with those striking muscles. Just enough definition without being over-the-top.

He’s definitely a man. One to make you look twice, if not a third time. I don’t know about you, but I happen to love a little scruffiness around the edges.

He also has a sense of humor. Though I don’t find gold lame pants sexy (and thus didn’t post them), I do appreciate a man who can dance in them without belittling his masculinity.

I mean, look at that grin. He’s just luscious, if you ask me.

He even fits the paranormal profile, with his exceptional performances in the Xmen movies as Wolverine.


Can you slip that towel just a little bit lower? Yum!


So let’s talk about our favorite hunky qualities today, whether from film or your favorite reads. What makes heroes lovable? Sexy? Stand out from the rest? What makes your favorite hunk a “keeper”?
I found these calendars celebrating sexy men at the store the other day and couldn’t resist grabbing a few for our readers. Two commenters will be chosen to enjoy one sexy man per month for the rest of the year! Just comment to enter.




P.S. Join us tomorrow with special blogger Heidi Rice, author for Modern Heat!

PPS: housemouse88 is the winner from last week's blog with Kate Hardy. Contact PC at problemchild@writingplayground.com with your snail mail addy. Prizes not claimed after seven days will be claimed by PC -- um, given to someone else...