Wednesday, March 31, 2010

PM + SP + I x $ = OMG!


Last Saturday was a gorgeous day. It was a little windy but the sun was shining and I did not want to sit in my apartment and stare at four walls, especially since the walls in the living room have no art work on them and the only furniture is a futon, a storage ottoman, a TV stand, a small end table and two floor lamps.

I emailed the Playfriends and asked if they wanted to have a Saturday field trip to LOOK at furniture and help me decide on a sofa and chair for my living room should I ever get the money to buy it. Angel and PC were unavailable, but Smarty Pants and Instigator agreed to join me. We met first for lunch and solved the world's problems over steak and shrimp (well, most of them) and then headed to the furniture store whose website I've been perusing for over six months now. SP and Instigator rode together in SP's car and I drove my car since the two of them had other plans after the look-fest.

I had printed out pictures of some art work I have to go over this future sofa and had also painted part of the piece of paper with my wall color so we'd have a point of reference. The store had three sleeper sofas I was interested in from the standpoint of style and color options. They also had a few chairs I thought might work both with the sofas and fit in the available space. One that I'd really liked on the website, though, had been removed from the site, so I'd tossed the picture of it before I left home.

My living room faces east and only gets morning sun, so I knew I didn't want anything too dark. But it couldn't be too light or it would fade into the wall. So armed with those caveats, Smarty Pants, Instigator and I began looking at the sofas and fabric swatches. After we'd been looking for a bit, my favorite sales associate, Lisa, returned from lunch and joined the party. Lisa helped me buy my table and chairs and my bedroom furniture last fall.

I thought I wanted some sort of dark beige sofa and a chair with some red. Well! By the time everyone had finished mixing and matching swatches, I'd fallen in love with a moss green sofa in a fabric that's rather like a wide-wale corduroy. It looks like this (only it won't have the psychedelic cushions because with this particular sofa I can get the cushions in any fabric I want).



I'm still not sure how I made the leap from beige to moss green, but I love it! And won't these pictures look great over it (they'll be side by side instead of one atop the other).



Now remember that this was just a window shopping trip. I don't have money allocated for furniture yet, but I wanted to be prepared for when that money comes in. And four heads are better than one when deciding on furniture and fabrics, especially when one of those heads is mine.

So imagine my surprise when Smarty Pants spots the recliner I'd admired on the website months before.

"It's been discontinued and I only have that one floor model left," Lisa said.

"And it's 25% off!" Smarty Pants exclaimed.

So look what's now sitting in my living room waiting to be joined by the sofa. Nice, isn't it? I just love a great bargain.



And the really fun part was getting it home. I asked how much it would cost to have it delivered because that chair ain't gonna fit in the back of a Honda Accord. Lisa asked if I didn't know someone with a truck or SUV and while I was scouring my brain to think of someone, Instigator piped up and said, "Uh, I do, only it's parked back at the restaurant." A few minutes later, they'd retrieved the SUV, had the chair loaded in the back with the help of another sales associate, Cleveland, and we were caravaning to my apartment. By the time I got the door unlocked, my two able assistants had unloaded the chair and were at my front door.

Aren't good friends wonderful?

Have you ever had your plans take a completely different turn?

P.S. Look at how my plants have grown in a week!

Day lilies beside my patio




Mixed color coleus




Sweet basil




Tuesday, March 30, 2010

What is it and why do I own it?

In case I haven’t whined here excessively about it, I move on Saturday.

Don’t get me wrong… I’m excited about the new house. It’s a lot bigger than the one we are currently in and I’ll have a bigger kitchen, my very own office, and a hot tub on the back porch. It’s in a great neighborhood, with a lovely yard, and did I mention I’ll have my own office?

I’m just not loving the whole moving thing. Right now, it’s the packing I hate, but next week I’ll be cursing the unpacking.

Of course, the sheer amount of stuff we seem to own is quite surprising. I’ve made multiple trips to the local thrift shop, dropping off everything from baby stuff (um, AC is 8 now, I think it’s safe to get rid of it) to books and clothes I haven’t worn in a decade. (And now that I’ve gotten rid of those clothes, they’ll be back in style in six months…)

But the kitchen cabinets have been the worst. I found boxes and cans in the very back of the very top shelf that expired during Bush’s first term. And when canned goods are expired, you know they’ve been up there a while... And then I’m forced to ask myself why I bought a can of olives in the first place when no one in this house likes olives.

But my most amusing discovery in the cupboards was a small blue box that I didn’t recognize the name brand. So I read the box and discover it’s something called “pectin” and that it expired in 2006. Further reading of the box provided the info that pectin is used in the canning process.

Now, how many problems do you see in that paragraph? ~grin~ First off, pectin is used to keep things from going bad. Dear dog, how long has that been up there if the thing that keeps stuff from expiring has expired?

The even bigger question you should be asking is what is such a thing doing in my cupboard to begin with? Y’all know me. Would “Avid Canner and Jelly-Maker” be the first adjective you’d use to describe me? Or even the 45th? Honestly, I think I helped my aunts and grandmother make jam once, back when I was AC’s age. Why the hell do I even own pectin? Does it have another purpose that would explain the purchase?

So, the comment tail is open for the purpose of speculating why I had a box of pectin in my cupboard. Alternatively, you can make me feel better by telling me what’s the strangest thing you’ve found in your cupboards…

PC

Monday, March 29, 2010

Do You Have a Friends List?



I’m taking a class at the moment that explains the mysteries and usefulness of social media outlets for the writer. Facebook, MySpace, Twitter, Yahoo… you name it, they’ve covered it. I can’t believe the overload, I mean wealth, of information.

I came to the world of social media kicking and screaming. All the other Playfriends had Facebook accounts far earlier than I did. I just didn’t want to do it, because I simply didn’t have more time in my day for anything else. Plus, I don't like taking the time to learn new programs. Now, I’m addicted to my Facebook account. But I’ve found that I don’t spend nearly as much time on it as some folks. I open it about 4 times a day, read status updates, and only post 1 of my own about once per day. Usually writing related. Personally, I don’t think anything else I do is that interesting. And I’ve never been good at “social chatter”, so I feel like anything I post along those lines sounds stilted, although I enjoy reading other people’s posts about their everyday lives.

After reading all the class information, I’m really glad I don’t Twitter. Although now I understand the language better, which is important because some author’s have their Twitter posts also show up on Facebook. Before, I’d always tried to decipher the language and symbols, trying to understand who said what and what it was about. Confusing. Makes more sense now, but I’m still not tempted to jump in. Although, I kept all the info in case that ever changes.

To me, the most interesting part has been some author Q&A’s where they talked about why and how author’s use these outlets to keep in touch with readers. As a whole, they agreed that if your feed looks like one long commercial, your readers will lose interest really quick. I think that’s an important point. Yes, I enjoy hearing about author’s new releases, but more than that, I’m learning about the author as a person (no matter how personal/professional their posts). You get the flavor of their conversation, and want to know more (or in some cases, less – and I have defriended a few people after reading their posts). It has also built name recognition. I’ll be looking through books and think, I recognize that name. Where do I know that author from? Facebook! I’m more likely to pick up the book and read the back cover blurb if the author’s name strikes a chord with me.

So tell me, do you Facebook, Twitter, MySpace??? Which do you like best? What do you find most interesting and/or useful about social media outlets?

Angel

Coming Soon!
Author Julie Miller joins us on Thursday, April 1st!!!

Saturday, March 27, 2010

Upcoming Appearance by WP Authors!

Our very own Kimberly Lang and Kira Sinclair will be helping hostess this event, along with our beloved Mavens Linda Howard, Linda Winstead Jones, and Beverly Barton!! Y'all come join us!


Heart of Dixie RWA, the north Alabama chapter, is proud to announce New York Times bestselling historical and contemporary romance author Julia London will be their featured speaker for the annual Romance Readers’ Luncheon, a special event celebrating romance and literacy in the north Alabama community. Registration is now open for the 13th Annual Heart of Dixie event, held at the Von Braun Center in Huntsville, AL, on May 15, 2010, from 11am until 3pm.

Special guest author Julia London will be the keynote speaker, host a table, and sign books at this year's event. Attendees will enjoy a delicious lunch and stimulating conversation with fellow romance readers and favorite romance authors including Linda Howard, Beverly Barton, Linda Winstead Jones, Rhonda Nelson, Lynn Raye Harris, Kimberly Lang, and Debra Webb.

Julia London is the New York Times and USA Today best selling author of more than 20 romantic fiction novels, including the popular Desperate Debutante and Scandalous historical romance series and the contemporary romance Summer of Two Wishes. Julia is the recipient of the RT Bookclub Award for Best Historical Romance and a four-time finalist for the prestigious Romance Writers of America RITA award for excellence in romantic fiction.

HOD's Annual Luncheon also includes door prizes and celebrations. A book fair and autograph session with the attending authors following the luncheon is open and free to the public at 2pm. Profits from the book fair are donated to a local literacy charity.

Join us as we celebrate romance! Registration is $25 and must be received by May 1st. Seating is limited, so register today. More information and registration forms can be found at www.heartofdixie.org or call 256-828-2065.

Friday, March 26, 2010

Look, Ma! No wires!

I like to think that I'm fairly techno savvy. I am Smarty Pants, after all. Its sorta my job. But the one area I bow to another is in the computer realm of my home. That is DB's domain and I don't touch it. He's the one that upgrades memory, installs software patches and keeps our systems running ship shape. I could do it if I really wanted to, but I don't and he likes it, so there.

The one thing we just hadn't gotten going yet was wireless internet. Not that we weren't prepared. We bought a router with wireless capability back in 2006 when almost no one had it yet. I bought the wireless adapter card for my computer. We even had it up and running at one point in 2008. Problem was the service was spotty and kept disconnecting, so we disconnected it.

So we let it go. For like 2 more years. DB insisted that keeping my computer tower in the desk cabinet was limiting the connection. I insisted that our equipment was just old and that if we bought a new wireless router, we'd have a better connection. Much bickering ensues, no progress made. Then, last year, I got an iPhone and we switched over to AT&T service for our home phone and internet. They provided us with a new DSL modem. Stuff worked. It was fine. At home, this wireless network kept popping up on my iPhone to connect via WiFi. I figured it was the neighbors. Then, about a week ago, I threw a tiny hissy fit. Everyone had WiFi. Our idiot neighbor next door had it. Certainly WE could figure this out! I told him I didn't care what I had to buy, I wanted it working.

DB fiddled and cussed and adjusted and googled. And then, wonder of wonders, we had WiFi. Turns out we'd had it ever since we upgraded to AT&T - our new DSL modem had wireless built in and we never knew it. The network that kept popping up on my iPhone was MINE! All we had to do was adjust some of our computer settings, figure out what passcode to use and we were on. The computer, the laptop, my phone... even the Wii. DB is currently googling what kind of access port to buy so we can get our Blu Ray and DVRs online too. Anyone got a recommendation since I'm the last human on the planet to have this stuff setup?

So, I am proud to announce that DB and I have finally made it out of the stone age. The 100 foot ethernet cable no longer runs down my upstairs hallway to my office. My iPhone allows me to play Scrabble with Instigator more efficiently than ever. And maybe someday soon, I'll even be able to stream Netflix or watch shows OnDemand. Hot damn.

Where do you fall in the technological food chain? Have you fallen in love with OnDemand tv or playing on your gaming console with people across the country? Or are you still dependent on the free WiFi at the Books a Million?
SP

Thursday, March 25, 2010

Doing This Alone...Or Not

I've been working on revisions for a new project over the last few weeks. Several people have read the proposal and I've gotten some great suggestions from my first readers, the editor who's working with me and my amazing agent. Seriously, without them this book wouldn't be nearly as good as I hope that it is.

But this has also prompted a recent conversation about the process. And my inability to see some of the problems that these people have spotted. How is it that I can read someone else's book and know exactly what's missing but I can't see it in my own?

To make matters worse, in several instances they've pointed out things that should have been obvious to me. Things that made so much sense I felt like smacking myself for missing them. I think sometimes I get too close to the words and can't see the details that make up the big picture.

Yes, I realize that's why I ask these people to read. My editor has said a couple times that if I got it perfect every time then she'd be out of a job. I don't want that. I rather like her. :-) I know that every story I write could be stronger and I appreciate that there are so many people out there willing to help me make it the best that it can be.

Sometimes I worry that I couldn't do this on my own. Actually, I know I couldn't do this on my own. So many think of writing as a solitary pursuit. I'm here to say there's no way. Without each and every person who helps me along the way I know that I'd fail.

Anyone else ever felt this way?

Instigator

P.S. Anita is PM's winner from yesterday. Please email her at playgroundmonitor@writingplayground to claim your prize.

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Has spring sprung?

Hi! Remember me? I was pre-empted the first three Wednesdays this month, but I'm back!.

Saturday marked the official first day of spring, and it just can't come too soon for me. North Alabama has had the strangest winter in history. We've broken low temperature records and had lots of little snows that didn't accumulate but were enough to mess up the roads and snarl traffic. We even had a tornado in January.

But maybe we've turned a corner. Maybe better weather days are ahead -- at least temperature-wise. Spring brings tornado season to this region so while we may have flowers and sunshine, we can also be assured the weather alert radios will be going off and we'll be heading to our safe places to ride out the storm.


This was taken two days ago. We had big, fat snowflakes falling for a while, but no accumulation.





And this was taken yesterday around noon. The day lilies are poking their heads up and I can't wait to have all these flowers blooming beside my patio.



One of my neighbors, eighty-something Miss Vera, decided to just go ahead and make spring happen with silk flowers.



The red maples that line many of the streets in the complex are sprouting leaves. Soon we'll have those little helicopter things all over the place.



The grass here in the complex is Bermuda, so it won't get green for a while. But the weeds are green!



I started some plants for my patio in indoor pots. Look carefully at the bottom of the photo and you can see the little seedlings. This is multi-colored coleus. I saw the first signs of life here on Monday.



This is sweet basil and I have three plants now. They poked their heads through the dirt on Saturday.



There's pasture behind the apartments and yesterday one of the horses was enjoying the sun.



And a fat robin sat in a tree just outside the gate. That's a sure sign of spring, isn't it?



This, folks, is blue sky! Isn't it beautiful?



You have to look carefully in the middle of the picture, but this appears to be the beginnings of a bird's nest in the tree where I've hung a bird feeder. The greedy little things have already eaten a bag of bird seed, but I love watching them. So far I've had a cardinal, Carolina chickadees, various varieties of finches and mourning doves who graze of the seed the other birds drop on the ground.



And this is where I intend to be camped out once it's warm enough to don a bathing suit. There's nothing like a poolside chair for reading a romance novel.




Has spring come to your neck of the woods yet? If so, what signs of it have you seen? And are you as eager as I am to shed wool coats and sweaters and pull out sandals and short-sleeve clothes? I'm planning my Easter attire now -- one outfit if it's sunny and warm and another if Mother Nature decides to freeze us on Easter. I'm keeping my fingers crossed for the former.

One commenter will receive a book from my stash -- something they can enjoy by the pool or at the beach or just curled up on the sofa.

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Why'd I sign up for this?

There are many reasons I gave up teaching.

Like having freshmen roll their eyes at me isn’t enough reason.

But, honestly, I’m not a very good teacher. Especially if you’re not an enthusiastic student. I lack patience; I abhor willful stupidity (I have no problem with ignorance. Ignorance is simply a lack of knowledge and the reason teachers exist. Stupid is a state of mind and I can’t fix stupid.). I often talk just to hear my own head rattle, and try to avoid talking about things I don’t enjoy very much.

I also fell easily into that “what I’m saying is important” trap that students find really annoying. I really wanted one of those shirts that said, “If I’m talking, you should be taking notes.” :-)

Add in the fact I don’t like grading papers and the administrative BS drove me up the wall, and you see why teaching probably wasn’t a good career choice for me. Hanging out with my computer has been much better for my mental health, and my family appreciates not listening to me whine about students.

So why then, am I booked for four presentations this summer and an online class?

The full truth of this just hit home when I turned in the new book Saturday. I’ve got a lot of prep work to do for these presentations. Outlines, Powerpoint presentations, handouts… What was I thinking?

Now, the issue of unenthusiastic students isn’t a problem. Thankfully, all the people I’ll be speaking to this summer are folks who want to be there and honestly believe I might have something worthwhile to tell them. (How refreshing a change from 18-year-olds who know everything.)

It’s good promotion, I know. And it’s not like I have a fear of public speaking or anything. I just kinda wish now that I hadn’t agreed to all five of these. That’s what happens when the requests don’t come in together and come in months in advance. I lost track of how many I’d agreed to and hey, that’s months away…

At least I don’t have to do a syllabus. Or grade papers. Or deal with administrators. Or put up with eyeball rolling freshmen. Just gotta keep looking at the positive, right?

At least the book is in. Hopefully the revisions won’t be too extreme. The packing up of the house and the accompanying paperwork is coming along. I can plan presentations while I strip ugly wallpaper and paint, right?

~sigh~

So, is anyone else in the “Why did I volunteer for that” hole right now? Or am I alone because I don’t know how to say no?

PC

Monday, March 22, 2010

Remedies for a Rotten Day



Saturday I was reading this article on MSN Lifestyle about coping with a bad day and thought, “Boy, I really need to remember this.” It seems like almost everyone I know is going through something stressful. Some of it is good, some of it is bad, but all of it can lead to stress and a feeling of being overwhelmed. And as I mentioned on Friday, I fall into the “glass half empty” spectrum, so I struggle with positivity.

One pattern in particular that I’ve noticed is that my day can start off perfectly fine. Everyone is happy and energetic, on their way to their various tasks for the day, and then BOOM! Something negative happens: complaining, fighting, something not going as expected, a long line, frustration, or (heaven forbid) someone gets sick. I can usually pinpoint that exact moment when my day is going to go downhill, and fast. This pattern is even more evident since I’ve had a house full of kids and hubby over Spring Break. The more people there are around here, the easier it is for things to go wrong.

That’s why this article intrigued me. Often, I just need something to change the trajectory of my day, to move it up instead of down. Anything to get me off the free fall ride! The author addresses many options in this article, but I’m just going to touch on the highlights.

-Conduct a love or gratitude inventory.
-Haul out the photo albums and reminisce.
-Sing and/or dance.
-Give yourself some time off.
-Treat yourself just as you would a friend in the same situation.
-Eat chocolate (hey, it has endorphins! Do brownies count?)
-Pay someone else a compliment.

Some ideas of my own:

-Work out: This is becoming one of my favorite stress relievers, despite the fact that I’ve never been an exercise person. Whether I do 10 minutes or 45, I always feel less stressed afterwards. Sweaty, but less stressed. ;)

-Clean up or organize something: The messier my house, the more stressed I am, but I’m not inclined to do anything about it. Go figure. But I find that if I just clean or organize 1 thing, then I feel like I can breathe a little easier. And each time I pass that little spot of neatness, I smile.

-Give yourself permission to call a friend: Talking through something with a friend helps me feel tremendously better, but I don’t often do it because I feel like all I ever do is whine about what’s going wrong. But I have to remind myself that often, I’m looking for answers. I’m not just whining to be whining, I’m trying to find a solution, which I think is more proactive than just venting for the sake of hearing my own voice. So I’ve started giving myself permission to talk to a friend, either over the phone or meeting for coffee. It always ends with a smile.

-Open a window: There’s nothing like fresh air to brighten my mood, but I have a confession to make. If I had a choice, I’d live/work in a cave. Ironic, since my office is in the sunroom. I think that’s God’s way of making sure I see sunlight at some point during my day. On these nice spring days (or in the fall, my favorite!), I’ll open a window and let in the light and fresh air. Then I wonder why I don’t do it more often, because one deep breath slows my heart rate and releases tension from my muscles.

-Coloring therapy: My mother-in-law was telling me the other day about a doctor who promotes coloring therapy by offering coloring books for adults on his website. Apparently, the repetitive motion, color, and creativity of coloring helps calm and focus the mind, thereby reducing stress. She teased that our entire family might get coloring books for Christmas. :) But I can see the point. My children and I might need a coloring date sometime soon.

-And let's not forget the best pick-me-up of all: Reading a good romance novel! The only problem with this one is once I've started, I don't want to stop!

Now if I could just remember to use these! It’s so easy to forget when I get caught up in the craziness of life. Hmm… maybe if I post them on my desk somewhere, right at eye level?

Do you have any ideas to help remedy a rotten day? Share them with us!

Angel

Friday, March 19, 2010

So-o-o-o Over It

Over what, you ask? Um... pretty much anything you can think of short of chocolate and my iPhone, and even the shine of my iPhone has worn off a bit.

The first quarter of 2010 is almost over. This year was supposed to be AWESOME. Well, according to my horoscope, at least. So far, the highlights include bad things that haven't happened as opposed to good things that have, like not losing my job. Yay, I haven't caught swine flu or had some other major life tragedy. Let's celebrate. : I'm thankful I don't have anything like that happening, but it would also be nice to have something good and exciting happen. Something. Anything.

Things I'm over includes, but is not limited to:

- Food. Yet I continue to shove it in my face because I'm also over Dieting. I have no interest in anything, good or bad for me. I've been eating what's easy because I just don't care enough to put in the effort. I'm also a stress eater. I've hit the point where my clothes are either too tight or not wearable, but I refuse to buy more. Because I'm going to lose this last 10 pounds that put me over the edge. Right? Right. I was still fighting the last 10 pounds when this new 10 pounds came on, so now I have 20 pounds, probably closer to 40 to deal with. Low carb, no carb, points, glycemic indexes, elliptical machines, pilates... My brain just officially shut down in protest. Anyone have some chocolate? Why are my pants tight again?

- Politics, the Economy, the News, etc. I won't get into my personal leanings, but I am darn tired of hearing about it. Blah, blah, whine, blah, finger point, blah. I'm done. And I have a degree in political science! I usually am not that interested in the Olympics, but this year it was a pleasant distraction from all the crap that's on tv anymore. I may just crawl into a hole and watch Bones reruns for a few years.

- Bad Weather. I live in Alabama. ALABAMA. The kids are going to be making up so many snow days, they'll have a 2 week summer vacation and start back up again. My friend in Wyoming actually posted on Facebook that it hasn't snowed there at all. Seriously? What is going on? No snow in Wyoming and my brother in law is digging out of four feet snow drifts in Baltimore. When it isn't snowing or freezing cold, its raining. And let's not forget that April kicks off tornado season. Time for the daily sirens to go off. Productivity goes out the window when you're constantly stopping and crawling into the storm shelter. By the time that clears up, we'll have three gorgeous days before we hit humid and 90 degrees. Why do I live here?

- My Writing. It doesn't matter what I write, its not interesting. I've got a couple different ideas started but writing them is about as exciting as watching paint dry. I've got a couple things I could edit and submit to another publisher, but its like pulling teeth. I dusted off a proposal I've been meaning to send and noticed the date on the query letter was May. Of last year. I guess I'll get right on top of that. Golden Heart announcements come out the end of this month. Whatever. Agent/editor appointments for Nationals are soon. Yeah. I have a workshop to put together before June. Fan-frickin-tastic. Oh, and the retreat and the Nashville meet and greet and the luncheon and...

- Social Networking. Both on the computer and real life. Lately, it takes all I've got to reply on blogs and Facebook, much less carry a conversation in person. Things I normally look forward to, like our chapter meetings, are now more of a chore than anything else. I don't think I'm the only one. My email loops have been downright stagnant. No one is posting anything. Is this some kind of universal crisis? Is this funk caused by some kind of negative ion cloud that has enveloped me and all my friends? Makes me understand why some blogs and websites close after a few years. When you're posting because you have to, not because you want to, there's no point in continuing.

I am just worn down. I actually chopped about six inches off my hair recently because I was just tired of dealing with it. I'm on the verge of throwing out every third thing I own just so I don't have to deal with it anymore. The mere idea of "filling the well" sounds like a chore that involves water and buckets and I'm about as interested in that as I am with dealing with my spring landscaping chores.

Hmm... sounds like I've thrown a Whine About it Wednesday party for myself. Join me so its not a bitter party of one. What are you over?
SP

Thursday, March 18, 2010

Karma's Sense of Humor

Some of you might remember my post a couple months ago about Zilla's call for jury duty. I commented on his inability to sit still for five minutes straight and remarked on his frustration with the entire process. Basically, I laughed at him.

He promptly returned the favor when I received my own summons (my 2nd in 2.5 years) a few weeks ago. Seriously, he called my cell and cackled - something the man has never done before in his life. I swear this is entirely his fault. I'm half convinced he pulled aside our circuit court clerk and convinced him to send me a summons.

The interesting thing is that my father was called for the same date. He ended up not serving but it turns out I knew a couple people who were in the pool with me. My BIL's boss was in front of me during our questioning for one case. On a break he came up to me in the jury lounge and said, "You must be Beth's sister." I knew who he was but was seriously surprised that he knew who I was. When I asked him how he told me my giggle had given me away. Apparently, my sister and I have the same laugh. *shrugs* Who knew?

Actually, aside from the fact that I spent most of the week fighting a nasty cold, the experience wasn't all bad. I managed to entertain the court and potential jurors with tales of my life. During voir dire one of the lawyers told me I'd lead an interesting life. So totally wrong. It just so happens that their questioning required me to tell them about my writing, my day job, our work as an expert witness, my stint with a criminal defense attorney, Zilla's lab explosion and my treetop canopy tour in Canada. Needless to say I was struck from that jury.

But the most enjoyable moments were in the jury lounge. I met several fun and interesting people. I found a few new readers and passed out several postcards for our upcoming reader's luncheon. I really hope I see some of my fellow jurors there in May.

Have you ever been summoned for jury duty? Did you enjoy the experience? Did you sit on an interesting case?

Instigator

P.S. Congratulations to the winners from Vicki's guest blog. Catslady gets Blonde with a Wand and Jean gets Chick with a Charm. Please send your information to smartypants@writingplayground.com to claim your prize.

P.P.S. Congratulations to Chloe who won Kristi Gold's book from yesterday. Please send your info to playgroundmonitor@writingplayground.com to claim your prize.

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Guest blogger: Kristi Gold



You Ain’t Just Whistlin’ Dixie

Dear Playfriends,

Happy St. Patrick’s Day! I’m thrilled to be back at the Playground for a visit! And in case you’re wondering about the title of this blog, I’m not here to discuss Southern sayings, (although my great-grandmother’s name was Alabama Safronia Brown who hailed from—you guessed it--Alabama). I’m going to talk about music, and the aforementioned title, which happens to be a song performed by The Bellamy Brothers, is among my favorites.

First of all, I have very eclectic taste when it comes to my choice in music—from country to classical and quite a bit in between. Secondly, music has been a part of my life since my mother sang to me as a child. I’ve always marveled over songwriters who manage to convey a story complete with emotion using very few words, when it takes me hundreds of pages to do the same, if I’m lucky.

That love of music seeped into my creative endeavors years ago when I began my first book. I would stick a Jon Secada cassette into the home stereo (remember those?) and write away. Later, I progressed to CDs, portable players and eventually to listening on my computer. With the advent of music downloads, my life is now so much easier. In fact, before I begin a new story, I set up a playlist that carries the same title of the book (before the title changes, as it almost always does). Invariably one of those tunes becomes a “signature” song for the book. I wrote a gothic romance for Silhouette Desire called House of Midnight Fantasies with the Phantom of the Opera soundtrack playing in the background. Wicked Game by Chris Isaak pretty much summed up my hero in my most recent release, His Best Mistake. And Love, Look What You’ve Done to Me by Boz Scaggs somehow always ends up in every playlist as inspiration for love scenes. However, if I’m not careful, I accidentally choose some ditty by mistake that can take me right out of the story. Try writing a hero’s pivotal declaration of love during I’ve Got Friends in Low Places. And don’t get me started on the comments I’ve received from my kids because in my enthusiasm I’ve broken into song. Wearing headphones. I can’t carry a tune under normal circumstances.

On the cosmic front, I’ve actually discovered a couple of those signature songs after the fact. Over a dozen years ago, I began a book that I put aside for another project. A few years later, my daughter turned me on to Sarah Mclachlan, at which time I came across her song entitled Full of Grace. The name of my book? Fall From Grace, that I finally finished and sold a decade later. The lyrics hauntingly conveyed the story. Like I said, cosmic. But then again, I feel there is something very magical about music.

In my experience, I’ve met more than a few authors who--like me—use music to inspire. I even have one friend who made me listen to Pachebel’s Canon in D (her story’s signature song) in it’s entirety before we walked into the post office to mail our manuscripts (which were both subsequently rejected although I don’t blame Pachebel). All that said, I’m always interested in learning if any authors out there find music too distracting. Any readers who listen to music while they read? Any particular song remind you of a book or vice versa? This curious, tone-deaf, music-loving author needs to know.

Again, it’s great to be here!

P.S. Kristi's latest book, His Best Mistake, is on the shelf now from Harlequin SuperRomance. You can comment today and be in the drawing for a free copy. You can learn more about Kristi, her backlist and her take on alpha heroes at her website, www.kristigold.com.

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Just Another PC Rant


~pulls her soapbox out of storage and blows the dust off~

Wow, haven’t been up on my soapbox in a while, but the need to rant has hold of me today. (Hey, I can see my house from here!)

I have to start today’s rant with a grammar lesson. Sorry about that. (But I haven’t done one of those in a while either.)

Tell me what’s wrong with this sentence:

USA Today bestselling author, Kimberly Lang is ranting on her soapbox today.

Um, it’s the comma, gang.

USA Today bestselling author” is functioning as an adjective phrase modifying the noun “Kimberly Lang.” Now, would you insert a comma in the phrase “funky monkey?” No. "Funky" modifies "monkey" and you don’t separate an adjective from its noun with a comma. Period.

Some confusion arrives on the scene (as it often does with commas) when we start talking about appositives. An appositive renames the noun. So, in the phrase “My daughter, Amazing Child,” Amazing Child is the appositive renaming the noun phrase “my daughter.”

You still with me? Good.

However, some appositives are necessary while others aren’t. The sentence “My book The Secret Mistress Arrangement takes place in Chicago” contains a necessary appositive. I’ve written six books, so you need the title in order to know which book we’re talking about.

However, if I change the sentence to “My first book, The Secret Mistress Arrangement, takes place in Chicago,” the title of the book becomes unnecessary, because I can only have one first book. Necessary appositives are not set off from the sentence by commas. Unnecessary appositives are set off by commas. It can get tricky – if you, like me, only have one daughter, the appositive "Amazing Child" will always be unnecessary. Instigator has two daughters, so she always has a necessary appositive after the phrase “My daughter.” (For a full discussion of this, click here.)

And even if someone wanted to argue “Kimberly Lang” was an unnecessary appositive in that first sentence (good luck), where’s the other comma, huh? And no, in no way can anyone argue that “USA Today bestselling author” is some kind of introductory phrase or dependant clause.
So the sentence is wrong. Wrong, wrong, wrong.

But that’s not my rant. My rant is the fact I’m seeing this everywhere these days – and from people who should know better.

Just for example, a publicist sent me a press release she wanted me to send to my RWA chapter. This improper comma construction ran unchecked through the entire thing.

“Bestselling author, John Smith…” “Multipublished author, John Smith…” Seven times in one press release.

I’ll let the author of that press release claim one misconstruction like this as a typo. But seven? That’s not a typo; that’s “doesn’t understand the concept.” And this person is a claiming to be a professional publicist. Since writing press releases and other things are an important part of a publicist’s job, I’m allowed to expect her to write a proper press release.

So this rant is about more than just grammar. I’m so tired of people claiming they know what the hell they’re doing when they don’t. Poor John Smith hired a publicist assuming she could perform an essential part of her job: writing a press release. And it’s not like this structure is uncommon in press releases...

“New York Firefighter John Smith…” “Dog lover and poet John Smith…” “NASCAR fan and belly dancer John Smith…” No commas anywhere.

So this construction of adjective phrase + noun is not unique to authors. I just don’t understand why everywhere I look these days I see this. “Blaze author, Kira Sinclair…” “Presents author, Kimberly Lang…” Argh. I’m pulling my hair out.

Go ahead; call me a Grammar Nazi. But if you’re claiming to be a professional, please punctuate it correctly. Here, I’ll do it for you:

“Grammar Nazi and USA Today bestselling author Kimberly Lang climbed on her soapbox today about commas.”

(Look, I even made it longer and still didn't stick a comma in there!)

~huffs off~

Go ahead, tell me if I’m being unreasonable to expect a publicist to know how to write a press release and punctuate it properly…

PC

PS: And if you're really interested in learning more about commas and other fun grammar things, I have a whole series of articles about Grammar Gremlins here.

PPS: Author Kristi Gold joins us tomorrow!

PPPS: The Playfriends are partying with Barbara Vey this week in celebration of her Blogging Anniversary. Click on the link in the sidebar to check out all the cool things happening on Beyond Her Book all week and all the lovely prizes being given away.

Monday, March 15, 2010

It's Here!




Guess what the topic is for my day this week? Spring Break? I warned you last week. Remember? :)

Yep, it’s that time of year in the south, though it got cold again the past few days. Doesn’t feel like spring, except for all the rain. I’m facing a week at home with 2 munchkins, with visiting munchkins at different times throughout the next 7 days.

Now, my kids are old enough now that this isn’t a total disaster. With lots of focus and discipline, I can get work and writing done, even with them home. (Wonder where I’ll find either of those things?) Of course, it usually takes me twice as long to get it done, but I can get there eventually. The biggest problem? I’m already suffering withdrawal from my ALONE TIME. I didn’t realize how very precious was a full school day alone, to do my work without interruption and chaos, until Little Man started Kindergarten this year. And as much as I’m embarrassed to admit it, I covet that time. Why is Christmas break so god-awful long? Do we really have to have Spring Break? And don’t even get me started on summer. They’ll be lucky if I don’t run away from home!

Sigh. I’m the most selfish mother on the planet.

So tell me, if you have kids, how do you cope with breaks?

Angel

Coming Soon!

Author Kristi Gold visits us on Wednesday, the 17th.

The Playfriends are partying with Barbara Vey this week in celebration of her Blogging Anniversary. Click on the link in the sidebar to check out all the cool things happening on Beyond Her Book all week and all the lovely prizes being given away.

Friday, March 12, 2010

Spring Ahead, Fall Back

I don't know about you, but I absolutely hate daylight savings time. I understand the need to get the most out of daylight hours...but its not exactly the 1800s anymore. These newfangly electric lights make it possible to be productive after the sun sets. All it does is screw up my sleeping patterns and force me to remember how to reset every clock in my house. Those with spring break off next week will be lucky and have some time to transition, but not me.

Next Monday, I'll wake up and drag myself to work like the living dead. It will take about a week for me to get back into the groove. I know its just an hour, like traveling ahead to another timezone, no big deal, but it messes with me. Falling back I do okay with - getting an hour is great - but losing an hour... not so much. DB has worked 12 hour night shifts for the last 3.5 years and I have firsthand knowledge of what a mess body clock fiddling can make. I don't like it.

So I wanted to know who I could blame for this and I googled it. Apparently the idea was thought up by an entomologist named George Vernon Hudson. Although it was partly due to the fact that most people slept through a good part of the beautiful summer mornings in London, the truth of the matter is that he didn't like cutting his rounds of golf short at dusk. Typical. The whole world rearranges itself so men have more time for golf. It didn't catch on until WWI in the US, where the push to conserve energy and fuel was at its peak. Only one state in the US doesn't participate now - Arizona, where I grew up. Living there, the biggest challenge is remembering what time it is in other places that do change, so you don't call someone later or earlier than you anticipated.

Nothing I can do to change it, short of moving back to Arizona, so I have to live with it. The smart thing to do this week would be for me to get up ten minutes earlier each morning and go to bed ten minutes earlier each night until I was fully adjusted for the change. I don't see that happening.

What about you? How do you handle daylight saving's time? Love it? Hate it?
SP

Thursday, March 11, 2010

Guest Blogger Vicki Lewis Thompson

The Playground is tickled to welcome back one of our favorite members of the royal family - Queen Vicki Lewis Thompson! Pull up to a swing and join us as we discuss family dynamics complicated by a little magic...

DOES BIRTH ORDER MATTER?

Wheeee! I’m back on The Playground! Thank you so much for inviting me to spend the day with you. In return, I’ll give away books! One commenter will get BLONDE WITH A WAND and one will get CHICK WITH A CHARM. Good luck to everyone during this month of leprechauns, four-leaf clovers, and pots of gold.

These two books, published back-to-back in February and March, feature a pair of witchy sisters. The older one, Anica, gets angry and turns her boyfriend into a cat in the first book. The second book is about the younger one, Lily, who gives a devotion potion to a guy who frequents the bar where she works. In my family, I’m the oldest and I’m fourteen months older than my sister. I can totally see myself getting angry enough to turn a guy into a tomcat. But I would never administer a devotion potion to a guy I had a crush on. That would be just wrong. My sis, on the other hand, would do it in a heartbeat.
I’ve read a little bit about birth order over the years, and I have to admit the description of the oldest sibling sorta fits me. According to what I remember in the pop psychology books, the first-born is usually the responsible one who goes around checking to make sure everyone else is doing what they’re supposed to be doing. We’re the over-achievers. Yep, that would be me. If you happen to be an only child, then you’re supposed to have a double-dose of first-bornitis.
In actuality my sister is a middle, so she should be the peacemaker, but there’s a six-year gap between her and our little sis, so I think with big gaps the whole thing starts over. Feel free to correct me if you’ve heard something else!

I don’t recall my nearest-in-age sister being exactly the peacemaking type. She was more the let’s-see-how-much-trouble-we-can-get-into type. I’m not making this up. Our family actually moved from one state to a neighboring state to get her away from the boyfriend they didn’t like. Sure, there were other reasons for the move, but my mother eventually told me jettisoning the boyfriend was one of the major issues.

Don’t get me wrong. I adore my sister and she adores me. But we’re as different as night and day, as different as Anica and Lily.

So tell me, do you believe that birth order affects your personality? Why or why not? And where do you fall in the order? First-borns and onlies, you can come sit by me. The rest of you had better behave yourselves, or else.

Don't forget to comment today and pick up fab copies of Blonde with a Wand and Chick with a Charm!

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Guest Blogger: Homer Hickam


What's your dream?

Do you remember the final scene from "Pretty Woman?" The one where the man calls out, "What's your dream? Everybody comes here; this is Hollywood, land of dreams. Some dreams come true, some don't; but keep on dreamin' - this is Hollywood. Always time to dream, so keep on dreamin'."

Today we welcome back friend-of-the-Playground Homer Hickam who talks about his newest release, which just happens to be about dreams. Please give a warm Playground welcome to Homer.



It's always fun to write for fellow writers so I appreciate the opportunity to write for the Playground. This year sees two of my books published, one of them a co-written memoir and the other a novel. Neither are remotely alike which is a good thing as I always like to make each book a challenge and therefore interesting and fun. With that in mind, let me tell you first a little about the memoir and the process I used to write it.

In September, 2006, I noticed in the newspaper that a young Iranian-American woman was about to be launched by the Russians to the International Space Station. The article said she had financed her journey herself, paying around $20,000,000 for the opportunity. I thought to myself—Wow, I bet there's a story there! At the time, I had contracts for two novels and was about to sign for three more so I knew I wouldn't have time to write it. Still, I was moved to email this woman, Anousheh Ansari, and wish her well. To my surprise, I heard back from her assistant who said Anousheh was happy to get my message and hoped to talk to me when she got back. And that's what happened! She called, and then we emailed back and forth with me encouraging her to write her story. She replied that she didn't know how and, anyway, she was immersed in building a high-tech company with her family. I gave that some thought and, against my better judgment because of the other writing contracts, called her and said I might be willing to help. Subsequently, she flew to Huntsville and we talked it over and I agreed to co-write her memoir. We made up an agreement between us, which specified my agent would also be hers, and then got going.

The first thing I did was go down to Dallas where Anousheh lives and works. She invited me to have dinner with her family the night I got there, then I spent the day at her office, interviewing her husband Hamid, her brother-in-law Amir, and Anousheh herself. It quickly became apparent that I was dealing with a very private woman and also a very private family. Anousheh was passionate about discussing her voyage into space but was reluctant to talk about much else. This, then, was my first challenge, to get her to open up on her life in Iran, how she came to the United States, how she made her fortune, and then how she came to fly into space. After awhile, I saw that talking about herself was difficult face to face but easier over the telephone. So, with that in mind, I began to tease out her story over the phone. Actually, that was a good thing. It kept me from having to travel so much!

As we talked, Anousheh dropped subtle hints about her childhood and the experiences that had formed her. One of them was her love as a child of The Little Prince, the novel by Antoine de Saint-Exupéry. I saw that it had influenced her early thinking so it became a bit of a touchstone as I fashioned the story of her childhood. There was pain and heartbreak to the story of her life in Iran, so I had to work diligently and gently to bring her to talk about it. When I didn't think I was getting enough detail, sometimes I would write about an episode telling it the way I thought it might have happened. This always evoked a response from Anousheh. "I don't remember saying that," she'd say, then tell me how the event really happened, dropping in fascinating details. After a while, I began to realize her story was a love story more than anything else. It was about Anousheh's love for Iran and for the United States, her passionate love for her husband, and her love of the stars and space. That's why the memoir begins with these words, Call this a love story.

Another challenge, one that I very much enjoyed, was learning to write in the voice of an Iranian-American woman. I have a good ear for that kind of thing, fortunately, and used phrases and words just as Anousheh would use them. I think she is pleased with the result which is, of course, the highest praise.

While Anousheh and I were writing the memoir, my agent was anxious to get to work shopping it but I asked him to hold off. I was convinced that to fully appreciate Anousheh's story, the entire manuscript needed to be read. I was leery of an editor buying it just for the space angle and I knew there was so much more to this lovely woman's life. Only after I'd finished a complete first draft did I give the go-ahead and, fortunately, it didn't take more than a couple of weeks for Palgrave-McMillan to pick it up. Now, we had a contract! Of course, there was still a lot of work to do but Anousheh and I did it and the result is My Dream of Stars. Its publication date was Mar. 2, 2010.

These days, book tours are the exception rather than the rule, but Anousheh and I are doing a few appearances together. One of them was in Huntsville a couple of days before the book officially came out. Naturally, in the Rocket City. the signings were a great success. Anousheh is such a gracious woman. I'm sending along a photo of her with a young fan named "Commander Paul," and the two of us at our signing at the Jones Valley Barnes & Noble. Interestingly, the Huntsville signings were so successful, Anousheh asked Palgrave-McMillan to set her up with some more. Now, she'll be signing in Los Angeles, New York, Washington, Dallas, Houston, and probably a few more cities. So far, sales are brisk, always a good thing, and it could be the book will break out of the pack. Naturally, this isn't certain and no one understands how it happens when it does, but I think this book is certainly deserving.

My next book is titled The Dinosaur Hunter. It is a novel set in today's Montana, one of my favorite places in the world. I wish I could show you the cover as I think it's one of the best I've ever had for any of my books but it hasn't been completely settled so I have to keep it under wraps. Anyway, The Dinosaur Hunter is a fun, adventurous, romantic tale of murder, mayhem, the beautiful (but lonely) women and rugged men of the ranchlands, cows, dinosaur hunting, Russian Mafioso, and the big Montana sky all told through the voice of a former Los Angeles homicide detective turned vegetarian cowboy who is trying to escape from life which is obviously proving to be an impossible job. Whew! It opens with the c-section of a scared little heifer having a too-big calf. I always like to challenge myself and that scene required some work! The Dinosaur Hunter will be out on Nov. 9, 2010, just in time for Christmas shopping. St. Martin's is really high on this book and has all kinds of marketing schemes which I thoroughly hope will work. Like most writers, I savor a hit. Anyway, we write them to be read, correct? For more on these books and others I've written, plus also some advice to writers, I hope folks will visit my website at http://www.homerhickam.com/. That's also the place to sign up for our quarterly newsletter.

So that's where I am right now in the writing life. Oh, that and the fact I have a delivery date in June of my next novel and I am presently on chapter one which is making my wife Linda more than a little nervous. I'm challenging myself on this one, too. The story takes place fifty years in the future but is being written by a historian looking back after a hundred and fifty years. I get to put in all kinds of spurious footnotes and references. Some fun! And that's what writing is all about, anyway. Fun and more fun, especially if we challenge ourselves along the way. I hope you have fun today!





So... what's YOUR dream? I think we know what Commander Paul's is.


P.S. Here I am with Anousheh and Homer getting my copy at their booksigning.

Tuesday, March 09, 2010

Odds From the End of My Rope...

Ack and Egads and Oh, Dearie Me...


Today's blog is a bit scattershot... there's lots of odds and ends to report and none of them warrant their own blog topic. My brain is also a little scattershot at the moment -- deadlines and mortgage paperwork and when-am-I-going-to-pack and, oh, dear what else have I forgotten? So, we'll put all of today's bits and pieces in a bucket and give it a shake...



Hello Aussies! My Boardroom Rivals, Bedroom Fireworks! is out this month! Squee! I do love this cover! This is my winery book -- you may remember me going on a field trip to the winery up near where my Fabu CP lives to learn about winemaking. Here's the blurb:

The billionaire's business arrangement:
Jack Garrett enjoys biddable women – sharing the vineyard he’s inherited with his fiery ex-wife does not appeal. His agenda is clear: Visit Brenna, make her a deal… and leave. Immediately.
But one glimpse of Brenna’s sun-kissed skin has Jack’s rugged body recalling their fevered nights together…
As their red-hot passion erupts, ten years of ice-cold separation melt away. Now they’re back where it started all those years ago in bed! Suddenly negotiations are looking much more pleasurable…

Brenna and Jack will be out in the US in October.

****
Speaking of my Fabu CP, Pam made a quickie trip to Huntsville last week and we met for lunch. This was awesome timing on her part, as I'd just gotten my copy of her latest release in the mail a few days before.

I've been a fan of His Hotness (both the book and the hero ~grin~) since Pam sent me chapter one eons ago. I'm such a fan, and I was totally honored when I was asked to blurb this book and put my praise in black and white permanently for the world to see. What did I say about it?

Sexy, smart, and fabulous! Everything I loved about chick-lit, but with a grown-up, modern twist. His Hotness is a fun, flirty, page-turning adventure.

And I totally mean that. I mean, our hero and heroine meet when she shanks a golf ball right into his nether regions! What's not to love when the book starts like that! You can get your own copy here. Check back in a week or so and you could win the book Pam's holding in the picture...

****
Smarty Pants has asked me to announce the winner of the Sherrilyn Kenyon Free Book Friday. avalonne83! Come on down! Or, actually, email SP with your snail mail addy to claim the prize.

And a last call for californiameaghan! You were the winner from Trish Milburn's guest blog! You need to claim your prize quick or else we'll have to give it to someone else!

Email: smartypants@writingplayground.com

****
Oh, and I'm guest blogging over on I (Heart) Presents today. I wrote the post last week while I was sick and pounding back some pretty strong cough syrup. If you click over and I'm rambling, just be kind, okay?

****
Since I totally spaced and didn't go wish her well on Facebook, here's a late birthday wish to the lovely Rhonda Nelson. Hope it was wonderful, dahlink!

So that's about it from here. I'm afraid I've been head-down in the book so long, I've lost touch with everything...including reality. So bring me up to date on the news. Share some tidbit of knowledge I've most likely missed...

PC

Monday, March 08, 2010

Anatomy of a Blog Post



Psst… Danniele… It’s Sunday night. Do you have a blog topic yet???

Ugh!!!

Darnit! Blog topics seem to be hard to come by at the moment, because, frankly, I’ve just been doing the same old thing, day in and day out. Taking care of home and family. Working with clients (more than usual). Struggling to write as much as I can (around other commitments and the lack of drive). Yep, same old, same old.

Hmmm… So what to talk about? Well, next week is Spring Break. Maybe I should ask what everyone is doing? Nope. Better save that for next Monday (I call it, Playfriends!) Um, how about how dirty the house is? My first foray into little girl slumber parties this past weekend (doubt you want to hear about the giggling and running that drove me crazy). I’ve read a couple of good books lately, in an attempt to procrastinate with my writing. What to hear about those?

Hmmm… I signed up for National Conference. Can’t wait for that. Start working out with a personal trainer today (bet I’ll be sore!). Still more housework waiting. Why is laundry the chore that never ends? Doubt you want to hear about my late night foray to the grocery store, which we’d already been to twice that day, because I couldn’t remember to buy cat food.

Hmmm… Still nothing interesting. MOANday was just last week, so I doubt I could get away with posting more pictures. Though hot guys are usually a hit. Nope. Still a total blank.

Oh well, guess I’ll just go to bed early. Maybe something will hit me tomorrow…

Anything interesting going on with you today?

Angel

Coming Soon!
Wednesday, March 10th, we welcome author Homer Hickam to the blog.

Saturday, March 06, 2010

WINNERS!

I have winners to announce!

Julie Cohen's winner from Tuesday is Shelley! (Send your snail mail addy to problemchild@writingplayground.com and I'll pass it on to Julie.)

And, as promised I have finally made it to the end of February and drawn a winner for the Beach Break contest... Mary Ann Derbin from Highland, MI! Congrats Mary Ann. I'll get your prize in the mail soon.

Thanks for your patience, everyone! Have a fab weekend!

Friday, March 05, 2010

Free Book Friday - Sherrilyn Kenyon Edition

Today, while perusing my bookshelf, I ran across a gem that I thought everyone would appreciate winning. At RWA National Conference in San Francisco, I got to chat with Sherrilyn Kenyon. From nearby Tennessee, I met her the first time when she came to our local chapter luncheon a couple years ago. When I ran into her at one of the publisher signings, she wasn't swarmed with fans (for once) so I took the chance to say hi and picked up one of her books.

So for this round of Free Book Friday, I'm giving away this extra special autographed copy.


Dream Chaser by Sherrilyn Kenyon

Hades doesn't often give second chances...

Xypher has one month on Earth to redeem himself through one good deed or be condemned to eternal torture in Tarturus. But redemption means little to a demigod who only wants vengeance on the one who caused his downfall.

Until one day in a cemetery...

Simone Dubois is a medical examiner with a real knack for the job. Those who are wrongfully killed appear to her and help her find the evidence the police need to convict their killers. But when a man appears and tells her that she's more than just a psychic, she's convinced he's insane.
Now the fate of the world hangs in her hands...

It was bad enough when just the dead relied on her. Now's there's the seductive Dream-Hunter Xypher who needs Simone's help in opening a portal to the Atlantean hell realm to fight insatiable demons. The future of mankind is at stake--and so is her life. The only question now is: Who is the bigger threat: the demons out to kill her, or the man who has left her forever changed?

Sounds like a great read. I always like dark, brooding heroes that are just a touch too dangerous, but worth the risk. What's your favorite type of hero? If you want the chance to win a copy of this autographed book by Sherrilyn, be sure to comment today with the phrase "I love a dangerous hero."

SP

Thursday, March 04, 2010

Theater Thursday

Considering the advertisements for this movie have been plastered everywhere for weeks, I couldn't resist the opportunity to talk about Alice in Wonderland this month. It looks creepy. I'm intrigued.

They've been hawking this movie for months. The ad for the movie was all over the Olympics and when I went to B&N today the entire front of the store was plastered with posters, window clings, paraphernalia, and book displays. The problem with that kind of hard sell is if the movie doesn't live up to the hype it's gonna be bad.

Sweet Pea has definitely fallen for the marketing ploy. She's been begging me to see it for weeks. This is definitely one movie where I'm gonna have to see it first before I let her anywhere near it. While I think it might be interesting, there's definitely the possibility that it could freak her out. Heck, it could freak me out. Have you seen the movie poster with the tweedle twins? Seriously creepy.

Surprisingly enough, I really am excited to see this. I'm not a huge fan of Alice movies. The story has just never been one of my favorites. But anytime I can see Johnny Deep covered in white make-up with orange clown hair I'm in. I didn't think he could get any weirder than Willy Wonka. I was wrong. Pair him with Helena Bonham Carter and it's gotta be gold. The cast is pretty stacked.

Contrary to what the production company of Alice wants you to believe, there are a few other movies coming out this month too. Actually, there are a couple I really want to see.

Remember Me (yes, with Robert Pattinson) is set for release the end of the month. The previews look amazing. The relationship between Rob's character and Emilie De Raven (of Lost fame) looks steaming hot. However, I have recently learned that the ending of the movie might be hard for me to see. I definitely would have been upset if I'd gone into the movie not knowing. At least now I'll be able to make an informed decision. If you've been eyeing this movie (and don't mind a spoiler) you might want to do a google search before heading out. I still think I'll see this one...just might wait to do it in the comfort of my own couch.

Another one I've been waiting months for is How to Train Your Dragon. This looks sooooo cute!!! As a mommy half my movie hours are usually dedicated to cartoons. Most of the time I go to see the movie because I think the girls will like it (and they beg me repeatedly). I'm actually the one who told them about this one. While they want to see it, I think I'm more excited. I think it's going to be so good...it can't be any worse than Chipmunks the Squeakquel.

There are some other big name movies coming out. Green Zone (which Zilla is excited about), Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, Clash of the Titans, The Last Song. March really does look like a good movie month. I just hope I have enough time to get to the theater and see all of the ones I want to.

Any movies coming up that you're excited about? Are you going to see Alice?

Instigator

Wednesday, March 03, 2010

Walkabout Wednesday goes grave with Julie Cohen

It's Walkabout Wednesday, and my buddy Julie Cohen asked if she could take us on a field trip. Silly me forgot to ask Julie *where* we were going on this field trip, so she's taking us to a graveyard...


Hello and thank you for having me back in the Playground!

One of the greatest things about being a writer is being able to research anything you want and put it into a book. I decided to set my latest book, NINA JONES AND THE TEMPLE OF GLOOM (out this week!) in the North London area of Highgate, just so that I could make a key scene happen in Highgate Cemetery.

Highgate Cemetery is, as far as I’m aware, the best cemetery in the world. And I’m a bit of a cemetery fan, I must admit. It’s a Victorian temple to death, completely over the top and Gothic and wonderfully creepily beautiful. It’s actually two cemeteries; the eastern side is newer and open to the public to stroll about and holds such notable corpses as Karl Marx and George Eliot. The western side is wilder and darker, fallen into picturesque decay, and only open to visitors at certain times and by guided tour.

It’s an important habitat for London wildlife, both plant and animal, and it feels like an alternative universe. The minute you step into the cemetery, by climbing a stair up into a row of gravestones, you can forget you’re in one of the world’s greatest cities; in fact you can forget you’re in a city at all. It is hushed, and green, and special.

It even has its own vampire legend, an undead creature who prowled the night in the 1970s preying on unwary Highgate residents and, er...foxes.

Here’s an excerpt from NINA JONES AND THE TEMPLE OF GLOOM, about the western side of the cemetery. Nina Jones is taken there at dusk by her mysterious upstairs neighbour, Viktor, and they walk along tomb-lined paths to the incredible Circle of Lebanon, a circular construction of mausoleums with a giant Lebanese cedar growing from the centre of their ceiling.

****

The stone stairs in the curved wall climb upwards, and are pitched in such a way that I can’t see to the top of them. “Are we the only people in this place?”

“The only living people, yes.” He smiles at my hesitation and that’s enough to get me moving up the stairs. At the top, I gasp.

Trees loom over the gravel path, forming a canopy. And between them, behind them, around them, through them, a city of graves.

“Holy crow.” I wander forward. You can’t hear the city, only a rustle of trees and our feet on the gravel. The gravestones crowd together, some spiky like jagged teeth, some elaborately carved, piled on top of each other as if jostling for position. In the deepening shadows I see a stone angel, a shrouded pillar, a weeping woman without a hand.

“This way,” says Viktor, leading me up the path. Leaves crunch and whisper. They are orange and brown, and the foliage around us a muted curtain of colour in the fading light. Against this, the graves are subtler hues of grey and pink and brown stone, greened over by lichen and moss.

“It’s beautiful,” I murmur. A slow riot of life and decay. I try to read the inscriptions but it’s difficult in the shadowy light; anyone could lie here, deep beneath, sleeping.

It’s definitely getting darker as we ascend, but my eyes adjust to it and so I can see adequately, within the tunnel of trees at least. It feels as if the cemetery stretches in a labyrinth for miles around us.

“Last week I was spending most of my time in an alley behind a dry cleaners,” Viktor tells me. “This place has more perks, if you don’t mind it being a little spooky. Speaking of which, here we are.”

“Oh, wow.” Suddenly, out of a wall of trees, there’s a big stone gateway, flanked by improbably elaborate pillars. “It looks like a set for an Indiana Jones film.” I point through it, to an upward-sloping stone corridor. No roof, just doors either side, their entrances pitch black. “You can so imagine a big ball rolling down through there to crush us both.”

“Want to take a chance?”

“Sure.”

This is creepy. This is really creepy. I don’t need to be told that these are crypts. There are skeletons lying behind these doors. Skeletons, rotting grave clothes, and lots and lots of spiders. Our footsteps echo slightly and the air has grown distinctly colder.

“Are you scared?” Viktor asks me. The fingers of his free hand brush my arm.

The hairs on the back of my neck are standing up. My heart is pounding. Every shadow seems poised to leap out at us.
“I’m not scared.”

****

What’s the most magical place you’ve ever visited? I’ll give a signed copy of NINA JONES AND THE TEMPLE OF GLOOM to a commenter.

Julie’s website: www.julie-cohen.com

Buy NINA JONES AND THE TEMPLE OF GLOOM with free worldwide shipping!