Thursday, May 31, 2012


School's out.  Summer is finally here...along with ultra high temperatures in Alabama.  I've managed to get my first (and hopefully only) sunburn of the season.  We've gotten our season passes to the local water park and already used them several times.  The next few months are going to be filled with fun, home improvement projects and bar-b-que.

Today I'm turning in my next Blaze (Yay!).  Of course this means I've been a mad woman for the past couple weeks juggling everything.  This weekend I have a long list of things I need to catch up on.  Yes, laundry is there, but so is sitting at the pool with a good book in my hand.

I hope you get to do the same!


This song is older, but somehow it's what I always hear in my head when I think of summer.

Wednesday, May 30, 2012

We interrupt this programming...

I had another blog mostly written for today but it's just going to have to go on the back burner because...

My older son and daughter-in-law are expecting baby number two and learned yesterday that it's another girl.  BabyGrand, who will turn 6 next month, is DELIGHTED (because someone told her little brothers were mean).

I think the kids found a great way to break the news to her.  What do you think?

The search for a name is on, but they have until roughly the first of November to decide.   If she's born on Halloween, at least #1 son is grown up enough not to name her Jaysona or Freddye.  We got a female cat on a Friday the 13th once and the boys wanted to name her Freddy.  I nixed that quickly, but she ended up being named Spook.

I'm excited about another granddaughter.  I've LOVED shopping in the pink department but I'd have been just as excited about a grandson.  After all, I have years and years of experience with little boys.

Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Once again, I've been spending too much time on YouTube (I'm avoiding revisions, can't you tell?).

I must now share these videos with you so that I can say I was doing blog research and not just killing time.

So here are the videos that made me smile this week.

Fighting Baby Ballerinas:

Stella's first big audition:
(You may want to skip to about 3:05 if you just want to see Stella, but the whole thing is quite sweet. Stella has talent!)

Another SYTYD audition:
(Skip to the one minute mark for the drool-worthiness to start. He's a phenomenal dancer as well.)

The Chihuahua's Escape:

And just because I like to make Smarty Pants squirm:

Monday, May 28, 2012

Memorial Day 2012

Some days, I feel like an imposter. Yes, I know today is Memorial Day. Its been all over Facebook with poignant pictures like this one.

They're beautiful, and remind me to feel truly grateful and proud of my many family members (including my father and several uncles) who served in every branch of the armed forces except the Marines. I even grew up in a town centered around a navy military base.

But I also feel slightly unpatriotic. You see, as an adult (and even in my teen years), we never celebrated these holidays in the traditional sense. We don't go to any local parades or Memorial Day events. My husband (in his former career and his new one) has always worked on these patriotic holidays. The kids and I are on our own for most of the day, so we rest, hang out, maybe catch a movie. Some years we'll get together with extended family or friends for a BBQ, but for the most part our holidays are simply a break from the rush of our normal routine.

And I'm very grateful to the men and women who gave their lives so I can enjoy this time with my family! What about your family? How do y'all normally spend your Memorial Day holiday?


Saturday, May 26, 2012


Happy Memorial Day weekend! The winner of my "Win It Before You Can Buy It" giveaway of a copy of More Than He Expected, my July Desire, is.... JANE! Email me your information at author (at) andrealaurence (dot) com. Congrats, Jane!


Friday, May 25, 2012

Book of Your Heart

Everyone talks about writing the book of your heart. That when you're frustrated or not feeling like your career is moving forward, that maybe the thing to do is stop and let yourself write the book you really want to write. The story and characters that call to you while you're writing what you 'should' write.

I have that book. Its the one I've been tinkering with for years. The one that has always been special to me, but that I always felt was a little too out there. It needed work, which is part of the reason it was rejected in the past, but it also didn't fit into any of those neat marketing boxes that the publishers like so much. Yes, it is a special snowflake book. But I love it. Everyone who reads it loves it, including my agent, who signed me after just reading the first few chapters. I don't think there's anything quite like it on the market right now.

Which is why I'm holding my breath. After years of polishing, multiple revisions and incarnations, the book of my heart is being shopped. Today. I'm so nervous. This book has definitely grown up and gone to college since most people saw it. So I'm hopeful. I'm not expecting news to come any time soon. It takes time. While I'd love to have a couple of my top publishers fighting over me in an auction that lands me a "nice" deal, right now, I'll be happy to have any publisher take a chance. Self-publishing, if nothing else, has shown publishers that a book can be commercially successful without fitting neatly in a box.

So, we'll see. I'm going to be a wreck for weeks. Have you written the book of your heart yet? Any luck getting it out into the world? As a reader, can you tell when an author is really and truly in love with their stories and their characters?

Thursday, May 24, 2012

May Best of the Bookshelf

Summer is starting.  What does this mean? BEACH READS!  I know I"m looking forward to some serious time lounging next to the pool with a book in my hands.  Our local water park opens this weekend and I intend to be there for three days straight.

Angel is reading My Reckless Surrender by Anna Campbell.
I love, love, love this author – even though I rarely read historical romance any more. Her characters are always out of the box and powerfully motivated! I can’t help but be drawn into her impossible situations where love triumphs when you least expect it. In Reckless Surrender, widow Diana Carrick ached to own the house where her family has always worked, but it will soon pass into the hands of rogue Earl Tarquin Vale. Imagine her surprise when she offers her body to him, and he turns her down! What kind of rogue is that? Her desperate plans force her to tempt him in other ways, leading to all manner of naughty exchanges and unconventional circumstances. But it is ultimately her secret motivations that might cost them their love. Reading Reckless Surrender will lead you down a fascinating path with a surprise ending!

Smarty Pants is reading Redemption of a Hollywood Starlet by Kimberly Lang

I know what you're thinking - this book isn't out until June. But lucky me scored a copy at the Romantic Times conference and I couldn't wait to find out how the Marshall Brothers trilogy would end. If you read the first two - The Privileged & the Damned and the Power & the Glory, then you've probably been waiting impatiently for the youngest brother Finn to have his shot at love. Readers won't be disappointed as he finds it on the front page of the tabloid news with Hollywood bad girl Caitlyn Reese.

Playground Monitor is reading A Deeper Darkness by J.T. Ellison
As a medical examiner, Samantha Owens knows her job is to make a certain sense of death with crisp methodology and precision instruments. 
But the day the Tennessee floods took her husband and children, the light vanished from Sam's life. She has been pulled into a suffocating grief no amount of workaholic ardor can penetrate—until she receives a peculiar call from Washington, D.C.

On the other end of the line is an old boyfriend's mother, asking Sam to do a second autopsy on her son. Eddie Donovan is officially the victim of a vicious carjacking, but under Sam's sharp eye the forensics tell a darker story. The ex-Ranger was murdered, though not for his car.
Forced to confront the burning memories and feelings about yet another loved one killed brutally, Sam loses herself in the mystery contained within Donovan's old notes. It leads her to the untouchable Xander, a soldier off-grid since his return from Afghanistan, and then to a series of brutal crimes stretching from that harsh mountainous war zone to this nation's capital. The tale told between the lines makes it clear that nobody's hands are clean, and that making sense of murder sometimes means putting yourself in the crosshairs of death.

One of my fave TV shows is about a medical examiner and this heroine is an ME too. The book involves the recent floods in Nashville. And J.T. Ellison will be our luncheon speaker next year. Sounds like a winning combination of reasons to read this book!

Problem Child is reading Fifty Shades of Grey by E.L. James

There’s an awful lot of hype about this book, but I’ve heard mixed reviews.  One person I know is convinced I’ll hate it, but wants me to read it anyway because she hates it and wants someone on her side in the fight. Another friend loved it and is convinced I’ll love it too.  Throw in the number of people who love it and think I’ll hate it or vice-versa, and you can see why I’ve put it on my TBR pile.  There’s obviously something there that’s attracting and polarizing people, so I’m curious.  Plus, most people assume I’ve read it and are then surprised when I can’t carry on a conversation about it.  So, I’ve gotta see for myself what’s going on.

Instigator is reading Insurgent by Veronica Roth

I've been waiting for the release of the second book in the Divergent series for what feels like forever.  It released at a dangerous time - when I had my own deadline to worry about - and I knew the moment I started it I wouldn't be able to think about anything but tearing through the pages.  And I was right!  Insurgent is a face paced read that hooked me from the first page and just wouldn't let go.  But the secret to this series success is in the main character Beatrice Prior.  She's what every person wishes they could be - strong, honorable, selfless - while still managing to struggle with the same issues we all do - love, loss, self-understanding.  Her struggle to find her place in the world is interesting to watch and something everyone can relate to.

So, what are you reading this month? 

P.S.  I'm blogging about baby cougars at the Blaze blog today. Stop by!

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Gnilleps *

To say I've been under stress for a couple years would be an understatement.  According to the Holmes and Rahe Stress Scale, I score pretty high.

Here's their list of stressful life events and the points associated with each.  Add the number of "Life Change Units" that apply for the past year to get your score.  Interpretation of the score is below the list.

Death of a spouse 100
Divorce 73
Marital separation 65
Imprisonment 63
Death of a close family member 63
Personal injury or illness 53
Marriage 50
Dismissal from work 47
Marital reconciliation 45
Retirement 45
Change in health of family member 44
Pregnancy 40
Sexual difficulties 39
Gain a new family member 39
Business readjustment 39
Change in financial state 38
Death of a close friend 37
Change to different line of work 36
Change in frequency of arguments 35
Major mortgage 32
Foreclosure of mortgage or loan 30
Change in responsibilities at work 29
Child leaving home 29
Trouble with in-laws 29
Outstanding personal achievement 28
Spouse starts or stops work 26
Begin or end school 26
Change in living conditions 25
Revision of personal habits 24
Trouble with boss 23
Change in working hours or conditions 20
Change in residence 20
Change in schools 20
Change in recreation 19
Change in church activities 19
Change in social activities 18
Minor mortgage or loan 17
Change in sleeping habits 16
Change in number of family reunions 15
Change in eating habits 15
Vacation 13
Christmas 12
Minor violation of law 11

Score of 300+: At risk of illness.
Score of 150-299+: Risk of illness is moderate (reduced by 30% from the above risk).
Score 150-: Only have a slight risk of illness.

My score for the past year is 206.  Ugh.  If you add in events that go back three years, I top out over 400 points. 

My divorce, a move and change in financial status and living conditions, a new job, death of a close friend, my mother's two surgeries, the auto accident and my injuries, holidays, vacations -- it all adds up.

So it's no wonder I've struggled with some stress-related health issues.  And that's what led me to watch a fascinating National Geographic documentary called STRESS:  The Silent Killer.  What an eye opener!  And sometimes in a scary way.

I'm going to recap some of the info I found most interesting.  (CAUTION:  Geek Alert!)

Stanford neuroscientist Robert Sapolsky says that that people, apes and monkeys are intelligent and sociable creatures with a lot of free time.  So why do we suffer from more stress-related illness than other animals?

"Primates are super smart and organized just enough to devote their free time to being miserable to each other and stressing each other out," he said. "But if you get chronically, psychosocially stressed, you're going to compromise your health. So, essentially, we've evolved to be smart enough to make ourselves sick."

Not encouraging, huh?

We respond to stress by releasing hormones that increase our heart rate and energy level.  It's the fight or flight response.  These hormones help us survive threats.  But we also release these hormones during non-threatening stress.  And the long-term exposure to them increases our chances of cardio-vascular disease, diabetes and gastrointestinal disorders.  The immune system can be compromised and brain function related to learning and memory can be affected as well. 

Children who suffer massive stress often exhibit a syndrome called stress dwarfism because normal growth hormones are suppressed.

Sapolsky studies baboons, which live in social environments where there are type-A baboons and low-ranking ones -- very much like our society.  He found that social rank and personality play significant roles, but social isolation may be even more important.

Another scientist, Dr. Carol Shively of Wake Forest University, has studied macaque monkeys for over thirty years and found that psychological stress increased the amount of visceral fat (AKA belly fat) in her subjects.  This same phenomenon is found in humans.  I have only to look around the divorce recovery group I facilitate to see woman after woman after woman with extra weight around the middle.  It can't be coincidence, since divorce is #2 on the stress list.

What was very encouraging, however, were the findings that social support can help reverse some of the deleterious effects of stress.  According to Sapolsky, happiness and self-esteem are important factors in reducing stress.  And contrary to popular opinion, neither are necessarily related to money.  Some of the poorest countries have some of the happiest citizens.

Studies have also suggested that chronic stress affects our DNA.  The ends of our chromosomes are called telomeres.  They shorten with age and the exposed ends begin to fray.  Stress accelerates the shortening process.  Telomerase is an enzyme that heals stress damage to the telomeres.  This is getting pretty technical, but hang with me folks because there's good news.

Dr. Elizabeth Blackburn, the 2009 Nobel Prize winner for medicine, has found that connecting with others helps increase production of telomerase. Compassion and caring for others can help us heal ourselves.

Several of us here at the Writing Playground have blogged about Random Acts of Kindness.  You can go up to the top left corner of the blog, type in "random acts of kindness" and find all the blog posts about it.  Well, it seems those RAKs really are good for us.

Getting together with others and talking about your problems is good too.  Dr. Blackburn visited a group of mothers, all of whom had children with special needs.  She found that their fellowship and camaraderie helped them cope with the brutally stressful roles they played.  These mothers laughed and cried with each other and left each meeting feeling uplifted and a little bit better about the day.

I have the Playfriends to get together with.  We're actually in the process of planning a dinner and sleepover soon.  We'll talk, we'll plot and brainstorm and no doubt we'll bitch.  But we'll all feel better when our time together is over.

I also have my divorce support group.  We talk, we help and encourage each other and we bitch.  And we always feel better when our time together is over.  I also act in the capacity of facilitator, and invariably helping someone else deal with the grief of divorce helps me chip away at the grief of mine.

Do you have a group you get with to help you cope with whatever it is that stresses your life?  Just remember that stressed spelled backwards is DESSERTS!

*Gnilleps is one of the spelling challenges in the board game, Cranium, which is a favorite pasttime of the Playfriends.  And in case you haven't figured it out, gnilleps is spelling spelled backwards.

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

A week left to enter...

Like these...?      

What about this...?

To celebrate the release (next week!) of Redemption of a Hollywood Starlet, I'm giving away autographed copies of all three books in the Marshall Brothers' series and this beautiful jewelry set designed especially for this contest by Renee at RazzMaTazz. 

Entering is easy. Pop over to my website for the rules and the entry info. Mention in your entry that you're a Honorary Playfriend, and I'll give you a second entry! 

The deadline to enter is June 1st, so don't delay!

Monday, May 21, 2012

Don't Bother Me... I'm Sleepin'

I hate being woken in the middle of the night. Whether its by my muse, my hubby, the kids (usually when its storming), or a crying baby (once upon a time), there is nothing more sure to make my mood take a nosedive.

 I've always found this kind of weird. After all, if I didn't have children and a day job, I'd be nocturnal. Stay up really late at night and sleep half the morning. That's my natural sleep rhythms. So I should be happy to be up during the night, right? But once I fall asleep, I don't like being woken up. At all. And as an 8-hour-per-night girl, there's a lot of opportunity for it to happen.

I do think there are a few things that contribute to the interrupted sleep melodrama: 1. I sleep really hard. I can usually fall asleep within a few minutes (15 at the most) and sleep very deep until early morning, when I start to toss and turn. 2. Once interrupted, I have a very difficult time going back to sleep. Especially if I have to get up and move, which can lead to hours of wishing I was asleep but simply laying there. I've tried getting up and doing something, but then I'm just grumpier from being up in the middle of the night, because with kids, you're up by 7 whether you want to be or not.

 At least, that's my explanation, and I’m sticking to it. :)

 So tell me, after you noctural, or one of those weird people who love daybreak?


 P.S. This blog post brought to you by the cat that threw up in my bed last night!

Friday, May 18, 2012

New Book Love

The end of Februay, I was a nervous wreck. I knew, I just knew, the first copies of my book would show up at my doorstep any day now. I watched. I waited. I stalked the UPS guy. No luck. I went out of town, and of course they showed up while I was away. But what a great thing to come home to!

Lately, I've been so busy, I haven't had time to obsess. March and April were a blur of promotion for What Lies Beneath. Answering fan mail. Going to RT and other booksignings. Writing and naming my third book scheduled for January of next year. Busy, busy.

So imagine my surprise when I noticed that my July shelfmate, Sarah M. Anderson, had posted a picture on Twitter of her newly arrived book. It snuck up on me! I rushed home, but no books. Waited around for a while. No books. Went to the store and came back. No books. But finally, finally, my hard-working UPS guy rang my doorbell and brought copies of my July book - More Than He Expected!

Here's the back cover blurb:

The Exception to the Rule

Playboy Alex Stanton likes his relationships short and without strings. But his fiery fling with Gwen Wright left him craving more. So when a holiday weekend getaway provides an opportunity for another taste of the tantalizing woman, he grabs it. Only, things have changed since their last encounter….

Besides being noticeably pregnant, Gwen insists she’s sworn off men. As if the challenge weren’t tempting enough, Gwen’s enticing new curves have made the sexy spitfire even more appealing. But how can the footloose bachelor hang on to his heart when he can’t stop longing for the soon-to-be mama?

I love getting mail, especially when its my book! I bet you like getting mail, too. So to celebrate, here's a 'win it before you can buy it' contest for a copy of my July release. To enter, comment on the blog today and tell me about the best package you ever received.

Thursday, May 17, 2012

School Days

For those with kids, you know that the end is in sight.  Sweet Pea is finishing her first year of middle school by exempting all of her exams (which means her last school day is tomorrow - however, it hardly counts since she's going on a field trip to a nearby theme park).  Baby Girl has field day and parties and fun stuff planned for the next week.  Neither of them have done much of anything ever since they finished standardized testing and got back from Spring Break.  And really, I'm fine with that. 

What I'm not okay with is the new law our state just passed setting parameters for when our schools must open and close for the year.  All of our school systems already had their 2012-2013 calendars in place.  They're now having to all go back and adjust them.  Under the new law our school system has to move the first day of school from Aug 9th to Aug 20th without the ability to adjust the end date. 

What this means for my kids?  They're losing a huge chunk of days off through the middle of the year.  Our school system hasn't published their adjusted calendar yet, but several systems around us have.  Weather days (admittedly we didn't use them last year, but we used more than our allotted 3 the year before and had to extend the school year) are gone.  Thanksgiving and Christmas break are shortened.  Fall break is gone all together.  A couple of minor federal holidays will now be lost.  And there's even the possibility that our week of spring break might because a long weekend.

I'm not thrilled.  And neither are most of the teachers that I know.  The state did it to extend the summer and hopefully increase tourist revenue.  The problem is they've taken our ability to travel at other times of the year away.  

And making a full circle, they're forcing my 11 year old to make some really tough decisions.  In order to exempt her exams she had to make an A  and not have missed more than 3 days in that class. She had the most trouble with the classes at the end of the day since she was checked out a couple times for dentist/doctor appointments.  Several times, when she didn't feel wonderful but wasn't sick enough to go to the doctor (a headache or a little cold) she had to make the very mature decision that going to school was the best choice.  Our family worked around her school schedule when planning our vacations so that our plans wouldn't force her into taking exams if she didn't want to.  Next year we're not going to be able to do that.  I'd already scheduled a trip and there's just no way I can rearrange it - because there isn't a good time to go now!  Sometimes summer just isn't the best time to travel. 

I won't even get into the argument that taking breaks away from the kids will be detrimental to their ability to concentrate and retain the data being taught to them. 

I don't know many people who are happy about these changes.  What do y'all think? 


Wednesday, May 16, 2012

What Happened Wednesday

On May 16...

1770 - Marie Antoinette, at age 14, married the future King Louis XVI of France, who was 15.

1866 - The U.S. Congress authorized the first 5-cent piece to be minted.

1868 - U.S. President Andrew Johnson was acquitted during the Senate impeachment, by one vote.

1888 - The first demonstration of recording on a flat disc was demonstrated by Emile Berliner.

1888 - The capitol of Texas was dedicated in Austin.

1914 - The American Horseshoe Pitchers Association (AHPA) was formed in Kansas City, Kansas.

1920 - Joan of Arc was canonized in Rome.

1929 - The first Academy Awards were held in Hollywood.

1939 - The Philadelphia Athletics and the Cleveland Indians met at Shibe Park in Philadelphia for the first baseball game to be played under the lights in the American League.

1946 - Jack Mullin showed the world the first magnetic tape recorder.

1953 - Bill Haley and His Comets made it to the Billboard music charts for the first time with Crazy Man Crazy. The tune went to number six and became the first rock ’n’ roll record to make the pop music chart.

1960 - Theodore Maiman, at Hughes Research Laboratory in California, demonstrated the first working laser.

1963 - After 22 Earth orbits Gordon Cooper returned to Earth, ending Project Mercury.

1965 - Spaghetti-O's went on sale.

1971 - U.S. postage for a one-ounce first class stamp was increased from 6 to 8 cents.

1975 - Japanese climber Junko Tabei became the first woman to reach the summit of Mount Everest.

1985 - Michael Jordan was named Rookie of the Year in the NBA.

1988 - A report released by Surgeon General C. Everett Koop declared that nicotine was addictive in similar was as heroin and cocaine.

1988 - The U.S. Supreme Court ruled that police do not have to have a search warrant to search discarded garbage.

1991 - Queen Elizabeth II became the first British monarch to address the U.S. Congress.

1992 - The Endeavour space shuttle landed safely after its maiden voyage.

2005 - Sony Corp. unveiled three styles of its new PlayStation 3 video game machine.

2010 - A 5.8 magnitude earthquake is felt on Puerto Rico.

2011 - After 23 years running and 1151 fugitives caught, the FOX network cancels America's Most Wanted.

2012 - Playground Monitor blogs about this day in history and bores her audience to tears.

Famous May 16th birthdays:

Janet Jackson, Pierce Brosnan, Liberace, David Boreanaz, Henry Fonda, Debra Winger, Olga Korbut and some other people I either didn't know or really care about.

Got any exciting May 16th news?

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

I've come a long way, it seems...

My current project is on my editor's desk awaiting her opinion, so after I cleaned house and restocked the pantry, I had a little time on my hand. So I decided I'd go back and read a project I'd written a very long time ago to see if I could rework it into something else.

Some things should be left under the bed -- or left languishing on your hard drive.  Some of the stuff I've written is just bad. I know that. I accept that. These things have deep flaws that simply cannot be fixed. But there's some stuff on my hard drive that's not too bad. It might be rough and full of rookie mistakes, but there's something there. Something fixable through the magic of revision.

So I pull out a project that's special to me. I love the characters, and even though it wasn't quite right, I'm just not willing to let it go without at least trying to fix it.

Are parts of it really wrong? You bet. Shaky conflict, slow pacing, not enough tension.  But the thing is, I see it now. I've written enough books that I can see where and why this one is wrong. Time, distance, and a bunch of other books have given me the perspective necessary to see the flaws.

And, amazingly enough, I knew how to fix them. So I'm having an absolute ball taking two characters I truly love and fixing their story. Making it into something I want others to read -- and that I think they'll enjoy.

So it's very cool to see how far I've come.  Sometimes I feel like a total hack who has no clue what she's doing and only gets books written out of sheer luck. Maybe that's not the case, after all. I mean, I'm looking at this and saying, "Wow, that's wrong. I really should have done this.  I'll move this scene here, move that section over there, add a scene in the middle of that, and voila!" Conflict is stronger, tension is higher, pacing clipping right along.

But that's not even the coolest -- or maybe I should say strangest -- part.  What's freaky is that I can see the beginnings of my voice in this project.  It's quiet and unsure of itself and often buried under things like the "should dos" and the "way to write," but it's there. I look at a sentence or a phrase or a scene and think "that just sounds kinda wrong." Because the one thing I have found in the intervening years is my voice. This is the way I write:  some folks are going to hate it and some folks are going to love it. But that's me. My voice. What makes my books MY BOOKS.

I didn't have that confidence when I wrote this the first time, so I toned my voice down, buried it under cliches and awkward phrasing that sounded "writerly." Needless to say, I'm having to rewrite a lot of it. But it's easy writing because the bones are there already. I don't really feel like I'm revising. I feel more like I'm just freeing my voice.

And freeing my voice makes this project completely different and much better than it was before. And that's kind of cool...

Monday, May 14, 2012

MoanDay: A Little Inspiration

We all need a little inspiration once in a while... Like the start of a new work week.  :) Hopefully today's offerings will perk you right up!

Enjoy! Angel

Friday, May 11, 2012

The Great Balloonfest of 2012

I can always count on an evening with the Playfriends and the Mavens to be anything but boring. Whether we're playing board games, doing bizare crafts or running through Walmart at midnight in our own twisted version of a reality show, I will eventually laugh until I cry.

All I need say is *cocktail dress* and we'll all burst into laughter with an image in our minds that can simply not be described if you weren't there.

Friday night before our annual luncheon, we volunteered to blow up balloons. It was an anniversary year, so we were doing some special decorations. Our luncheon coordinator rented a helium tank and brought us Hi-Float, ribbon and 150 silver balloons. Oh, she also brought three bottles of wine and some glowsticks. I guess she imagined us huffing helium and drinking wine until we broke out into a balloon rave.
After a few speedbumps, we seemed to get the process down. PM filled the balloons with Hi-Float. For those who don't know, Hi-Float is a liquid you put inside the balloon to keep it floating longer. We had no intention of getting up at 6AM to blow up these balloons. Maven LJ massaged them. (More to come on that.) Angel filled them with helium. Instigator put clips on them. Maven Linda and I tied the strings. Angel's sister cut ribbon, and PC gathered them into bundles and tied them to the weights. Simple, right?

Well, maybe. After our first few balloons were a little limp and floating low across the floor like little silver sperm in search of an ovum, we realized we were using too much Hi-Float.  I was so tempted to draw little faces or "X" and "Y" on the wandering ones. We decided to read the Hi-Float instructions and maybe it's just because we're romance writers, but that was some really dirty stuff. We had to insert tip into the balloon and plunge it deep. Then, the number of times we pumped depended on how big it is. One pump for 9 inches, two pumps for 12 inches and 3 full pumps for 16 inches. Note: if Hi-Float leaks out of the balloon, you haven't thrust it deep enough. Um... kay. Then you had to slip off the balloon and gently massage the fluid into the latex.

With each step we read and each glass of wine we imbibed, it seemed to get worse and worse. Eventually, the giggles got the best of us. I feel bad if the people in the room next to us actually wanted to sleep. The next day at the luncheon, Maven Linda discussed how that had become her favorite luncheon memory. I love how with the right group of friends, even something as simple as blowing up balloons can become a memory you can cherish forever.

What's one of your favorite memories with your best friends?

PS. Kira's winner of the Island Nights trilogy is Scarlet Wilson! Email her at kira (at) kirasinclair (dot) come to claim your prize!

Thursday, May 10, 2012

Guest Blogger - Anna DeStefano

I'm thrilled to welcome Anna DeStefano back to the Playground! Not only is she a neighbor and fellow Southern girl, but she's fantastically talented and amazingly generous.  So grab a swing and give her a warm Playground welcome.

A Dark and Story Night. Happily Ever After.
What’s your favorite part of a thrilling story?

Best-selling, award-winning author Anna DeStefano wants to you stop, look, and keep digging, until you find the soul of your own fantasies. Her latest release, Her Forgotten Betrayal (available digitally and in print on June 15th), one of the launch books for Entangled Publishing’s Dead Sexy romantic suspense line, is a psychological thriller she hopes will creep you out (she’s really playing up the Gothic imagery and spooky nightmares with this one). But she’s also dying (heh) to inspire you with another of the happily-ever-after romance ending she’s famous for. No matter how moody the setting or impossible the dilemma, Anna’s characters and stories challenge you to hope and dream for your own exciting future, the way her strong heroines and hunky heroes do!

Join her today as she talks about her love for the extremes that compel her to write: all things dark and light, difficult and easy, those troubled beginnings and happy endings, and every struggle and triumph in between. Read on to discover what inspires her to create, then share what you love most in your favorite novels!

For more about Her Forgotten Betrayal, visit her Pinterest page (, which Anna updates weekly with exciting articles, exclusive excerpts, play lists, and the images that inspired her moody, Gothic setting. And follow her to her blog (, where she writes about a range of topics such as The Soul of the Matter, Dream Theories, How We Write, and Things My Teenager Says. Oh, and leave a comment in today’s Playground post, for your chance to win a FREE download of Her Forgotten Betrayal!


Thanks for having me over to play, ladies! You’re one of my most fun stops on every blog tour. It doesn’t matter what direction my latest release takes me, you’re always super welcoming and excited, and you make me smile for days and days. Here’s hoping you find as much joy in this post and my latest novel ;o)

Today’s question--What’s your favorite part of a romance novel: the fight or the finale?

I write about struggle and triumph with equal passion. I’m that kind of writer. I actually like the down-and-dirty fight and the black moment of every story, just as much as I do the thrilling, magnificent happy ending that my hero and heroine get to bask in when their work is done.

When I decided Her Forgotten Betrayal’s Shaw Cassidy was going to fight her way out of a passel of trouble, I didn’t waste any time throwing her into the soup. From the first scene, she’s been shot, but she can’t remember by whom. Actually, she can’t remember anything—not even the spooky family estate atop a winter mountain that she’s been exiled to, so she can get better. Or is the government that’s supposed to be protecting her actually investigating her, because they think she’s the traitor they’ve been looking for, someone who’s leaking national security secrets from her research empire to third world countries the US can’t afford to allow the upper hand. I gave her a stalker…or did I? No one believes she’s still in danger, at first not even the childhood friend who’s offering to help keep her safe—only he never seems to be telling her the truth, at least not any more of it than he absolutely needs to. Can she really trust anyone?

And Cole Marinos, our under-cover agent and Shaw’s former lover who’s volunteered to watch over her even though the past that nearly destroyed them once before still feels too close—he’s never let anyone or anything close enough to interfere with the completion of a mission. Just how long do you think I’m going to let that calm, controlled facet of his heroic but closed-off personality rock on, once he and Shaw are thrown back together?

You see, here’s the thing. I don’t find happily ever after endings nearly as satisfying to read, unless characters have been digging as deeply as they can to uncover the work they’ve put off doing for a long, long time. Individually and together, the most memorable heroes and heroines are the ones with the longest roads to healing those core places inside them that they’ve resisted facing.

Some authors write with more humor, some choose lighter themes than I do, but we’re all playing with emotion and growth and a character’s drive to embrace the hopeful future she’s always longed to live. Me, I like to feel everything I can, both the good and the difficult things, from the very beginning of a story.

I wanted to know what it was like for Shaw Cassidy to discover that the reason she couldn’t remember her life, just might be that the life she was fighting to return to had been a lie all along. And I wanted to feel what Cole Marinos feels, when he accepts that he has only himself to blame for not fighting harder for Shaw’s love all those years ago, no matter how much he thought at the time that she’d let him down.

These brave, riveting personalities are larger than life—this is a romance after all ;o) But I wanted my readers to find themselves in this story, too. I wanted to write another real journey, like all the other journeys I’ve created, that we can all learn from, while (I hope) Her Forgotten Betrayal’s spooky, Gothic, thrilling mystery and sexy love story keep us on the edge of our seats, wondering just who is toying with Shaw and setting both her and Cole up to lose everything they hold most dear—especially one other.

Join me this June for two dark and stormy nights, a day of shadows and shocking discoveries, an epic romance rekindled from the wreckage of the past, a truly terrifying villain hell bent on revenge, and a rich setting that comes alive in every scene, as Shaw’s mountaintop home at times seems to be literally trying to killer… But before you do, stop a minute in the comments and share your favorite part of a story’s journey: the stormy beginning; the heavenly happy-ever-after; or, like, me, all the emotional discoveries in between?

And before you go, check out Her Forgotten Betrayal’s cover copy and one of the great quotes it’s already received, from New York Times bestselling author, Caridad Pineiro

"Reunited lovers battle an unknown enemy in DeStefano’s thrilling HER FORGOTTEN BETRAYAL."


Remembering will save her life. But will the truth destroy their love forever?

When the CEO of a global technology empire retreats to her ancestral mountain mansion to heal from a brutal shooting, she discovers the danger has just begun. Suffering from amnesia, she is at the mercy of nightmares that soon morph into something much more well as a menacing stalker determined to toy with her sanity.

The FBI suspects her of illegally selling top-secret research, and has sent an agent to find evidence of her treason. She doesn’t realize the man who sweeps in from the cold claiming to be her protector—and her former lover—is keeping dangerous secrets from her. She begins to trust him, unaware that he is about to repeat the most painful betrayal of her past—a past she doesn’t remember...a past that may kill her.

Wednesday, May 09, 2012


Writing can be a solitary endeavor with lots of time spent dressed in sweat pants and a t-shirt in front of a computer screen. The activity is frequently called BICHOK -- Butt in Chair, Hands on Keyboard. It's just you and the story. You and the characters -- characters who sometimes get minds of their own and wander off where you don't want them to go.

And you sit there in your sweats and t-shirt, with no make-up and your hair pulled back in a ponytail or pushed back with a headband, mindlessly snacking on cheese doodles or jelly beans or microwave popcorn while you and you alone try to figure out how to tame these characters and make them behave.


That's how most writers spend a lot of their time.  And that's what I thought of when I snapped photos of these flowers one day.

All alone.  The only one seeing what you see.  The only one hearing these characters. 

The.  Only.  One.

Do you ever get the feeling you're the only one out there?

P.S.  We'd like everyone to join us today for a birthday celebration.


Tuesday, May 08, 2012

Today I'm off to the Huntsville Public Library to teach a workshop to aspiring authors.

I call it "Publishing 101: The Least You Need To Know." I know that sounds rather weird, but I only have an hour.

I joined RWA in 2003. I finished my first book and started submitting it in 2005. So, for the better part of the last decade, I've been submerged in the  wild and wacky world of publishing. And I'm still learning.

So trying to tell people all they need to know about publishing in an hour is simply impossible.  The only thing I can hope to accomplish in an hour is some groundwork.  Something for folks to stand on as they start looking for that clue.  The attendees might be a little disappointed, because there's no magic spell, no secret handshake, no easy way. The only thing I can really hope to accomplish is to give them a place to start their research.

Publishing is a strange business. Every person's experience is going to be unique. No two people will have the same career path. You have no idea how much money you'll make. The only thing you can do is educate yourself as much as you can so that you can at least make good decisions.

I'm indebted to all the wonderful folks at RWA and Heart of Dixie who have taught me over the years.  Some of it has been very straightforward teaching -- like how to write a pitch or how to read a royalty statement. Some of it was just picked up randomly -- you can't put authors in a room and expect them not to talk about writing. Most of it, though, has been taught by example. Authors I respect and admire living their life and career and letting me watch. It let me see the kind of author I wanted to be and the kind of businessperson I wanted to be. Authors like Linda Howard and Linda Winstead Jones may not have realized they were being mentors just by being themselves and letting me watch.

I know I would not be where I am today without the authors who were willing to give their time and lead by example.

So workshops like today's are a one way I try to give back.  Or to Pay It Forward. I don't really see myself as the mentor type:  I've always been more the horrible warning than the good example. But it's the very least I can do, considering all that's been done for me.

So if you're in the Huntsville area, you can catch my workshop today at noon at the downtown library on the second floor.  It's free, and you can bring a brown bag lunch.

Monday, May 07, 2012

Luncheon Memories 2012

PhotobucketThis past Saturday, the Playfriends participated in the 15th annual Romance Readers Luncheon, hostessed by our home RWA chapter, Heart of Dixie. We've each contributed in large ways to this chapter event over the past 10 years, with those contributions changing over time. We've gone from some of us organizing this event, to serving as frantic Girl Friday's the day of, introducing speakers, creating raffle baskets, to finally hostessing tables of our own as published authors. This year Smarty Pants created the anniversary video celebrating both the luncheon's 15th anniversary and our 25th anniversary as a chapter. Many of the returning attendees recognize us and have celebrated awards, first sales, and even babies with us through the years. Its one of the busiest, most rewarding events for ourselves and our chapter.

 This year was no exception.

 In addition to reconnecting with readers from all over the South, we also got to reconnect with each other, as lots of travel, drama, and just plain work have eliminated the opportunity to simply hang out together, enjoying each other's company. And there's nothing like blowing up 150 balloons with helium to create some interesting bonding moments! So I came away refreshed, even though Friday and Saturday each had To Do lists miles long.

 But this weekend meant even more to me, for this was the first year my daughter was old enough to attend the luncheon with me. (She's on the left in the picture below, with Awesome Niece on the right.)

 I was excited for her to see what the Luncheon was all about, rather than just that weekend in May where Mommy disappears for 2 days. She was excited to be a part of the fun, and meet some authors that she'd heard about but had never seen in person. She even won a raffle basket! We sat at debut YA author CJ Redwine's table, and Drama Queen couldn't talk enough about how cool she was and how much she looked forward to reading her upcoming book, Defiance!

 So even though I'm glad to have the work of the luncheon behind me for another year, I treasure the wonderful memories I now have of connecting with my daughter, my chapter sisters, excited luncheon attendees, and my dear Playfriends and Mavens. (But I totally took a nap on Sunday.) :)


Friday, May 04, 2012

Bienvenido a Reality

Last week, I ran away from home. I cashed in some airline miles and hopped a plane to Puerto Rico, the Isle of Enchantment. More accurately, the Isle of bad drivers, loud frogs, brightly-painted houses and good sangria. At least, that was my takeaway.

I met up with a friend and we spent 5 nights in San Juan in a funky 300 year old mansion converted to an inn. We shared the place with 5 exotic birds, about a dozen cocqi frogs and a group of war reenactors there for the weekend to battle at El Morro. I don't know about their fighting skills, but they're horrible singers when they get drunk.

I'm a planner and my friend is not, or was too busy to, so we flew by the seats of our pants. It was painful for me, and probably cost us the opportunity to do a few things that required advanced reservations, but we still had a good, relaxing vacation. We walked around Old San Juan and saw the old forts. We shopped, dined and drank. We rented chairs and an umbrella and sat on the beach reading for an afternoon. We rented a car and drove around the entire island. We got routed through an unsavory part of the island and ended up at a police checkpoint. (Thanks, Garmin! Seriously, there should be an option to avoid routes through high crime areas, like high traffic areas.) Fortunately, I was a licensed, insured citizen, so we continued on our way.

But the highlight was kayaking in a biolumiescent lagoon on our very last night. Sadly, there are no pictures. Our cameras weren't waterproof and the little glowing plankton don't photograph anyway. But it was one of the coolest things I've ever done. There are fewer than ten places in the world where these little guys can thrive and three of them are in Puerto Rico. Imagine kayaking through a still, silent lagoon in the dark, surrounded by mangrove trees and a clear, star-filled sky. Then imagine that every swipe of your paddle or dart of a fish creates a green-silver fog through the black water. Damn near a religious experience, I have to say.

But now I'm back. *sigh* We got up at dawn Tuesday morning and I got back that afternoon. That left me precisely 3 days to unpack, do laundry, go to the grocery store, work, bake and decorate a two-tiered, filled cake for Baby Girl's party, get all my HOD luncheon stuff together and pack, and prepare for the follow-on 3 day plotting retreat. Talk about a big change from leisurely strolling down cobblestone streets and watching the waves crash on the rocks. Work is a zoo. I need to do some last minute edits before I send in my book. Oh, and I just got the email requesting titles for my new miniseries and the art fact sheet due next week.

I've told myself for a while now, that if I can just make it through to the middle of May, I'll be golden. Almost there. Have you experienced any vacation whiplash lately?

Thursday, May 03, 2012


I think I've probably mentioned that I come from a big family. And by big I mean HUGE.  Last week the girls, my mom and I spent Spring Break in Orlando.  While we were there I got the chance to visit with my mom's family.  I love spending time with my family and don't get a chance to do it often enough!

To give you some perspective, my mom is the oldest of 14.  What this means for me is that I have roughly 30 something cousins (no, I do not know the exact count).  Some of my cousins are actually younger than my own kids.  At one point Baby Girl asked me just how many cousins I had since she'd been playing for hours with some kids she thought were my nieces and nephews (obviously they weren't but she's used to kids her age being related that way...).  I told her the number to which she stared at me with disbelief.  I then asked her how many cousins she had.  The look on her face as she slowly said four was pretty dang funny.

My family is loud, fun and amazing.  We only got one day with everyone and it wasn't nearly enough.  I stayed up way later than I should have considering I drove 12 hours home the next day, but it was so worth it.  Getting down for visits is hard to fit into our crazy schedule but when we do I'm also reluctant to leave.

I want to say thanks to my grandma, aunts, uncles and cousins for coming to see us.  I try not to name names for people that haven't given me permission, but you guys know who you are.  And a special thanks to one of my cousins who was gracious enough to share her birthday party with us since we crashed into town at the last minute.

Love you guys!


Wednesday, May 02, 2012

Varmints. Again.

If you've been with us for a few years, you'll remember my battle with rabbits at the house I lived in with my now ex-husband. They were eating the flowers I planted in the yard.

Flash forward a few years and I'm (1) divorced, (2) living in an apartment and (3) dammit, I have varmints again. And this time whatever it is has demolished a tomato plant and some petunias.

I planted a small grape tomato plant around the first of April and it had blossomed into this.

Then I came home one day to find the main stalk cut off. I posted on Facebook and folks suggested I had cutworms and after doing some Googling, I bought snail killer and put a piece of plastic around what was left to protect it. It was coming back too.

And then last Saturday, this.

I don't think it's cutworms. I think it's a MOUSE. Or mice actually. I've seen a big fat one and a little teeny one. Actually I saw the teeny one nibbling at the d-Con I placed on the patio on Saturday. Hehe. Bye-bye little mouse!

Only the pots sitting on the patio floor are affected (they've eaten some potted petunias too). The flower boxes on the rails and a pot of basil sitting up on an upended crate are okay.

And I hope this is okay too. I bought it yesterday after church and put it on a plant stand I had. I decided to just cut to the chase and got a plant that not only had blooms, but a couple of tomatoes too.

So... to all the gardeners out there... DO mice eat petunias and tomato plants? I saw Big Mouse sitting in the petunia pot, but is that just circumstantial evidence that his attorney will easily dismiss?

Tuesday, May 01, 2012

Romance Trivia

At the RT Booklovers Convention in Chicago earlier this month, the Harlequin series authors hosted two (fabulous) events. At these events, we played a trivia game.

I'm posting the questions below.  While I was very evil and told people they couldn't cheat at the event, I can't really stop you. :-)

How many do you know? (Highlight to see answers).

1. What is the name of the heroine in The Flame and the Flower?  Heather Simmons

2. Which 1996 Harlequin  book has appeared  on the recommended  reading list for breast cancer survivors by cancer support services?  Barefoot in the Grass by Judith Arnold

3. True or False: On average a human will spend up to 2 weeks kissing in his/her lifetime. (True)

4. In the film Bull Durham, Kevin Costner states to Susan Sarandon that he believes in “long, slow, deep, soft, wet kisses that last…” – how many days?  3

5. Who is the most prolific romance novelist on record?  Dame Barbara Cartland, who penned 723 titles

 6. In the famous scene from Ghost, where Patrick Swayze and Demi Moore are sculpting clay, what is the song playing in the background?  Unchained Melody

7. What movie carried the tag line "A romance on the brink of reality."  (Benny and Joon)

8. What movie carried the tag line” Believe in truth, beauty, freedom, and above all things, love." (Moulin Rouge)

9. Name the movie:
a. "I'm just a girl standing in front of a boy asking him to love me" Notting Hill
b. "I gave her my heart and she gave me a pen" Say Anything
c. "I promise I'll come back for you. I promise I'll never leave you." THE ENGLISH PATIENT
d. I'm very discreet but I will haunt your dreams" 40 year old virgin
e.      "You make me want to be a better man." AS GOOD AS IT GETS

f.      "...When you realize you want to spend the rest of your life with somebody, you want the rest of your life to start as soon as possible ." HARRY MET SALLY
g. “God was showing off when he made you.” Keeping the Faith
h. "Listen to me mister, you're my knight in shining armor and don't you forget it." ON GOLDEN POND

10. In the song “As Time Goes By,” finish the next line of the song—“You must remember this…”: “A kiss is just a kiss…”

11. After Nicholas Cage tells Cher he loves her in the film Moonstruck, she promptly slaps him and tells him…  Snap out of it.

12. Oldest Harlequin series:  Harlequin Romance

13.  Newest Harlequin series: Harlequin Nocturne

14. Bestselling Harlequin series: Harlequin Presents

15.  Which Harlequin author has written the most books; Marie Ferrarella—224 by the end of 2012….

TIE BREAKER  How many books did Nora Roberts write for Harlequin:  102
TIE BREAKER: How many books did Linda Howard write for Harlequin:  23