Thursday, August 31, 2006

The Mystique of Men

As writers of romance we're constantly trying to breath life into our characters - both men and women. As a woman I find writing believable men much more difficult. No shock for anyone I'm sure :-) While I love men (and my DH in particular) watching and studying another "species" isn't the same as living in their skin. Until there really is something that can switch personalities and bodies a la Freaky Friday I'm going to have to content myself with good observation skills and well thought out questions.

Writing men that women can fall in love with is difficult. We each love different things about the men in our lives and look for different things in a good mate. It's difficult to find that balance between a guy we feel could be a good man to have at home and an alpha that can dominate us - just a little - and protect us when we need/want it.

So help me out here - who are your favorite heros and why? What made you fall in love with them?


Last Day to Enter

Today is the last day to enter our Sizzling Summer Nights Contest! If you haven't entered already, go online to : and enter by noon CST. You could win this:

Wednesday, August 30, 2006

Sex and Fried Green Tomatoes

That certainly got your attention, didn't it?

And now that I have your attention...

Some of the Playfriends have blogged lately about balancing family and jobs and writing and everything else that life entails. Sometimes you have to engage in something called multitasking.

The term originally came from the computer world and meant running two or more computer programs simultaneously. I remember the old days of DOS-based programs, and how, after the first stabs of dread over learning something new, I was excited about that new program called Windows, which allowed you run two or more programs at once and flip back and forth between them. As I'm typing this, I have three tabs open in my Firefox browser: this tab for Blogger, a tab for my photo storage website and a tab for Google, so I could find a definition of multitasking. I also have my email program open as well as a Word document with my current WIP.

A less technical definition of the word is doing two or more things at once. Like taking a phone call from the bank while making a PBJ sandwich, pouring milk into sippy cup and juggling a toddler on one hip . Or addressing Christmas cards while you wait in the carpool line at school and listen to a New York Times bestseller on tape because the book club is meeting in two days and you're responsible for leading the discussion. Or... I don't have to tell any of you women about multitasking. We are the original multitaskers and could probably have taught the computer folks a thing or two about it.

Because I'm an empty nester, I find I have to do less multitasking because my life is simpler in many ways. I can usually cook dinner without interruption. I don't have to carpool anymore. I'm at home alone all day long.

Stop throwing things or I'll send you to your room!

Monday night I was in the middle of writing the sex scene in the short story I'm working on and I was really in the groove. Things were popping and I was thrilled because it was going so well.

The DH was mowing the grass and as long as he gets his two bottles of Gatorade during the process, he's usually a happy camper. I'd fixed those ahead of time and was so proud that I didn't forget him out there sweating away over the mower. Then I realize he's finished the back and is in the front and that means it's only about 20 minutes until he's through. He'll be starved and I haven't started dinner.

Last spring I planted two tomato plants in an area of my backyard that I laughingly refer to as "Green Acres." I picked a hybrid variety of tomato that had been engineered to resist disease. It also seems to resist ripening. And if by chance one does turn an orangish-red, it's not that tasty. I believe they also engineered the flavor right out of them. But I have a passel of green tomatoes right now (for those of you outside the south, that means I have a lot) and I had decided to try my hand at a southern dish called Fried Green Tomatoes. They're pretty simple to make -- slice the tomatoes, sprinkle them with salt and pepper, dip in flour and fry in hot oil. We're talking instant calories and as I read the different recipes on I could feel my arteries clogging. I did use canola oil instead of lard and we don't eat fried stuff very often. I know -- excuses.

So I'm thinking to myself, "Self, you can put those tomatoes in the frying pan and put your notebook on the other counter and keep writing this hot sex scene while those tomatoes get all golden brown and crispy on the outside."

My hero and heroine have met in a popular new jazz club in Savannah called Volcano Alley, shared a drink I created called a Savannah Eruption and after a little whirl around the dance floor, they've slipped away to an office in the back of the club. There's a little chit-chat, clothes start coming off, the tension builds, the kisses are smoldering, passion flares and the air is filled with the smell of...


And my hero and heroine have to stop in the middle of their tete-a-tete while I turn on the exhaust fan at top speed, slide the frying pan off the burner and pray I don't set off the smoke detector.

I put away the notebook and concentrated on finishing dinner. The fried green tomatoes were salvageable and were quite tasty -- much more so than the ripened version. And once the meal was eaten and the kitchen cleaned up, I returned to my writing while the DH worked on something in his office.

Obviously sex and cooking don't mix -- at least not when there's hot oil and a frying pan involved.

Are you good at multitasking? What's your best (or worst) multitasking story?

And just so you won't be disappointed, here's snaxy Lenny in the kitchen making my fave dessert, peach cobbler. Isn't he... uhm... the cobbler yummy?

Tuesday, August 29, 2006


Last week was a bad week, and it’s spilling over into this week. Sigh. I’ve played many a round of “Anywhere But Here” and “If I Was Queen of the Universe” as the water rises and the fires burn and I jump from the frying pan into the spilled milk.

It was appropriate, then, when the assignment for an on-line class I’m taking was to write my own fantasy bio. While the teachers of the class said to print out the fantasy bio and tape it above the computer, I’m really not in to positive affirmations all that much. An inspirational quote is about as good as it gets around here. But, oooh, a chance to be Queen of the Universe…

So here’s my fantasy bio:

Best-selling author Kimberly Lang has a full staff to see to the mundane details of life while she writes her award-winning books, spends quality time with her Amazing Child, and travels extensively to exotic locations with her Darling Geek. No longer in need of a pesky day job due to her six figure contracts, Kimberly’s stress level is remarkably low. Known for her great hair and amazingly thin thighs, Kimberly also looks much younger than her years and has a fabulous tan.

A girl can dream, right?

So while I’m off today seeing to day jobs and mundane details of life, let’s hear your fantasy bio.


Sunday, August 27, 2006

What's Writing Got to Do with It?

Last week I had several occasions to rant and rave about the state of things in my life. Most of the upset stemmed from frustration over household projects that just don't seem to be going anywhere.

So today I've decided to give you my feelings about why I'm addicted to writing. I know my family must often wonder why I'd prefer to fritter away my time putting words on paper rather than doing their dirty laundry. Well, they'll find the answer in the following (too bad the two-year-old can't read):

#1: Writing stays done.

Once those words are on the page, they stay there. When I turn my back, they don't disappear. No one messes them up. No one erases them. I don't have to rewrite them every 5, 15, or 30 minutes. It's permanent (as long as I backed them up on disk).

#2: It never complains.

My writing doesn't turn its nose up at what I cook for dinner. Doesn't turn into a prima donna when it doesn't get its way. Doesn't collapse to the floor in a tantrum of tears. Doesn't make seemingly innocent comments about being neglected.

#3: It shows up for an appointment.

Writing is always there. It never stands me up when I'm ready to work. Sure, I've suffered from writer's block plenty of times. But that's not the writing's fault, that's mine. I never have to worry that I'll set aside time to work and end up with no characters, plot, or ideas to work with.

#4: Writing Friends are willing to help.

I've never had a fellow author refuse to answer a question. Never had a brainstorming or critique partner tell me it was too much trouble to work on my book. Never had a Playfriend look exasperated when I asked for help or advice.

#5: Writing never makes me feel guilty.

It doesn't have a "poor pitiful me" look. Doesn't beg, whine, or tear up. Doesn't give me the cold shoulder. And is its own reward for hard work.

#6: Which brings us back to #1: Writing stays done.

It doesn't disappear like my nice, neat flower beds after I've spent weeks digging grass out of them—only to have it grow back in two days.

And they wonder why I want to waste my time writing? Because it makes the frustrations in life easier to deal with; it shows me the hope beyond the pain; it celebrates the love of friends and family (despite the dirty laundry); it takes me on a journey away from the mundane. Life wouldn't be life without it.

How does writing help you cope with everyday life?


Friday, August 25, 2006

The "Eyes" Have It

Smarty Pants is back and pleased to report that despite all the catastrophizing she did about her eyeballs exploding or going blind, she’s fine. Better than fine, actually. My follow up appointment today measured my vision at 20/15. Can’t complain about that. Today is also the last day I have to put in eye drops or wear those goofy goggles to bed. They sure kill the mood, I’ll tell you. Good thing DB is working nights.

Although unrelated to writing, several people were interested in how it went, so I’m going to write up a brief summary. I’m going to be honest, so if you’re squeamish, be warned.

I went to a local Lasik clinic here in Huntsville. I opted for the CustomVue Lasik, which measures the contours of your eye and targets only those areas that are causing the visual distortion. I also opted for the new Intralase method, which is blade-free. Traditional Lasik gives the same treatment to everyone regardless and uses a tool called a Microkeratome to create the corneal flap. I liken it to a potato peeler and had avoided Lasik for years just because of that thing. Mine was completely done with lasers.

The morning I showed up, I filled out all my consent forms, paid, then they took me back. I got a hairnet and shoe slippers, they bathed my eyelids in iodine, put green sticky dots on my forehead and stuck tissue over my ears. (Not my finest moment, thank goodness there were no cameras). They put some drops in my eyes to numb them. The doctor gave me a pill to relax me, then they took me into the surgery room. (I could’ve used a few more minutes for it to kick in, honestly. I was freaked out.)

They laid me down on this bed-type dental chair of sorts and fit this pillow snuggly around my head so I couldn’t move it too easily. They added a few more drops to my eyes, then swung me over to the first laser to cut the corneal flaps. Then came the part I didn’t anticipate. I’d heard they use these clamps to keep your eyelids open. I wasn’t thrilled, but I was prepared. Instead, he put this plastic ring in my eye that sort of looked like a bubble wand kids use. The outer part kept my eye open, then the inner part fit perfectly around my iris. Not too comfortable, but ok. Then he said something to his assistant about turning on the suction.

What’s that you said?

Suction. Yeah. They sucked my eye up through that ring. Not out of my head, of course, but it drew the curve of my cornea up through the center ring so they could cut around the edge with the laser. Fortunately, that made my vision go dark. It didn’t hurt, but it was unnerving, like someone was wrapping a rubber band around my eyeball. 45 seconds later, the flap was created on one eye. Then they removed the ring and made the flap on the second eye.

They took the ring out and swung me over to the other laser for the actual procedure. He taped my eyelids open and told me to watch this orange light. Apparently with the Intralase, the laser just perforates the flap, then the doctor goes with a little tool to actually flip it up. As he moves your corneal flap around, the orange light moves, so I was following it and I got chastized for not keeping my eye still. Apparently, I’m not good at that. Anyway, they finished that, then I had to stare at the orange light again while they did the actual procedure. No big deal except for the smell of burning flesh. 15 seconds on each eye and it was over. They removed the tape and did some other stuff and of course, in the interim, I got yelled at some more for not keeping my eye still. Whatever. The bright lights in the room made my eyes want to roll up into my head. I kept them still during the part with the laser and that’s what was important.

They flipped back the flaps, put some drops in my eyes and took a gander at them through a scope of some kind. All looked good, so they gave me my take home kit and that was it. All in all, I got there about 10 minutes to 9 and left by 10:15.

I went the next morning for a follow up and a week later for another. I go back in 3 weeks for a 1-month checkup. Totally worth the money so far and nothing about the procedure was so awful that I would say to anyone not to do it. My vision is fairly clear now. Sometimes I have to tell myself to focus, but when I do, I see great. I’ve also got some night halos which they said would dissipate in time.

The worst thing so far has been these steroid drops I have to put in every 4 hours. They run back around my eyeball and down my throat (who knew they were connected?) and they taste totally funky. I drink a soda or eat some crackers or whatever and it goes away. Not bad, all in all.

The best thing (other than great vision) was getting my three days on the couch. I made the most of it, napping at every opportunity. Heck, I couldn’t read, get on the computer or watch tv, so naps were the only thing left to do. Plus I was pretty tired for some reason. My brain got the break I was hoping for. Now it’s back to revisions. Sigh.


Thursday, August 24, 2006

The importance of staying in your neighborhood

Pluto's looking pretty happy. Apparently he didn't get the news. He's been kicked out.

What? Ohhhhhh. That Pluto.

PRAGUE, Czech Republic (AP) -- Leading astronomers declared Thursday that Pluto is no longer a planet under historic new guidelines that downsize the solar system from nine planets to eight.

For now, membership will be restricted to the eight "classical" planets in the solar system: Mercury, Venus, Earth, Mars, Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus and Neptune.

Much-maligned Pluto doesn't make the grade under the new rules for a planet: "a celestial body that is in orbit around the sun, has sufficient mass for its self-gravity to overcome rigid body forces so that it assumes a ... nearly round shape, and has cleared the neighborhood around its orbit."

Pluto is automatically disqualified because its oblong orbit overlaps with Neptune's.

Instead, it will be reclassified in a new category of "dwarf planets," similar to what long have been termed "minor planets.

So long, Pluto. We'll miss ya.

Can you name the planets (including or excluding Pluto)?

Mercury, Venus, Earth, Mars, Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus, Neptune, Pluto

Crazy Cat Lady

Seriously, when did I become the crazy cat lady? I'm only 30, way too young for that title. But apparently, the three cats living at my house right now did not get the memo.

They fight over who gets to sleep with me (cause you know, the bed just isn't big enough for me, DH, and 3 cats). They follow me around the house. I turn around, there's a line of cats three deep. I can't tell you how many times I've tripped over one. I guess I need to start signaling when I change direction. If I'm ignoring them they plop their furry rears right in front of my computer monitor so I can't see a bloody thing. They jump into my lap at inappropriate times, not to mention stick their wet noses in my face. The cats don't bother my husband. Oh no, not the man who started this whole thing by taking our girls to visit a friend and coming home with a cat - but that's another post all together.

They don't even do this to Sweet Pea, who would love it. Nope, they only do it to me. I seriously think it's because they know I'm allergic. I never had a problem with one cat. I guess adding 2 just overloaded my system.

The funny part is our cat (we're babysitting the other 2 while my brother and his wife are in Alaska for several months) has suddenly developed allergies. Seriously, the vet thinks it's to the other cats since it didn't start until after we got them.

I used to like cats and don't get me wrong I still love ours (and my brother's aren't really bad either :-) But I want my life back! I feel like I've gained several children instead of cats. My girls leave me alone more than these things do. I can't even take a shower in peace. If I close the door they sit outside the bathroom yowling. If I let them in they wait right outside the shower which just creeps me out.

We'll only have them through the end of Sept (and if I needed to keep them longer I would. I love my brother and his wife.). But I'm looking forward to regaining my life. And to the day when my darling, angel of a husband stops calling me the crazy cat lady!!


The picture is of Alex our wonder cat. His hobbies include killing rabbits and birds and fighting with snakes in my front yard. Looks likes a killer doesn't he?

Wednesday, August 23, 2006

Sweet Home Alabama

The recent developments in an unsolved 1996 murder prompted a local television station to air a segment titled “The JonBenet Ramsey Case: The Alabama Connection.”

I was truly shocked. NOT! It seems that every Looney Tune in the world has a connection to Alabama: he was born here, her mother’s people are from here, he spent time stationed here in the Army, his wife’s first cousin’s uncle taught school here, she traveled through on I-65 on her way to Panama City. You get the picture. We’re the butt of redneck jokes and country bumpkin humor.

So I am declaring today Sweet Home Alabama Day * and here are just a few of the many tidbits I gleaned from my research about the state where I live.

A plethora of famous authors live or lived in Alabama. Of course there are our fabulous Heart of Dixie authors, but have you ever heard of Truman Capote? Winston Groom? William Bradford Huie? How about Harper Lee, the author of the classic “To Kill a Mockingbird?”

In the field of music, we have Alabama, Nat King Cole, W.C. Handy, Lionel Ritchie, Hank Williams and Jimmy Buffett among others.

On the movie and TV screens we’ve seen Tallulah Bankhead, Fannie Flagg (who is also quite a darned good writer as well), Kate Jackson, George "Goober" Lindsey and Polly “Kiss My Grits” Holliday.

Have you read a newspaper lately and seen the name Condoleeza Rice? Or Jan Davis and Mae Jemison who both flew on Space Shuttle missions.

George Washington Carver discovered some 300 different peanut products and 118 new ways to use sweet potatoes. Waldo Semon invented vinyl. Percy Julian discovered how to synthesize cortisone from soybeans, thus reducing the price for this drug used in the treatment of many diseases including arthritis.

And Alabama has given the world its share of world-class athletes and coaches including Olympic champion Jessie Owens, football coach Bear Bryant, baseball great, Hank Aaron, Bobby and Davey Allison of racing fame, women's soccer standout Mia Hamm and Vonetta Flowers, the first black athlete (male or female)--from any country--to ever win an Olympic Winter Games gold medal.

Many important historical events have happened in Alabama. The Montgomery bus boycott was a major turning point in the civil rights movement and changed Rosa Parks from an unknown seamstress into a heroine in her own right. The US space program was developed at Redstone Arsenal and later at Marshall Space Flight Center under the leadership of Werner von Braun. And September 1969 saw the opening of the biggest, fastest and most competitive superspeedway in the world - - Talladega Superspeedway.

Need some place interesting to visit? Try Ivy Green, the Tuscumbia home of Helen Keller. See the cabin where Annie Sullivan isolated the wild child from her family. And believe me when I say it’s humbling to stoop beside the water pump where young Helen made her breakthrough and learned to begin communicating with Annie.

Cathedral Caverns located in Grant has the world’s largest known cave entrance and has evidence that the ocean once extended this far inland.

Dismals Canyon in Phil Campbell, AL is home to "dismalites," tiny creatures that glow in the dark and exist only in this canyon and in certain parts of New Zealand and China.

Ave Maria Grotto in Cullman contains miniature replicas of religious places from around the world, which were built by Brother Joseph Zoettl, a monk who came to St. Bernard Abbey from Germany.

The Rosenbaum House in Florence, is the only Frank Lloyd Wright house in Alabama and the only FLW house where he designed not only the original house, but the later addition.

The Mercedes-Benz visitor center in Vance is the only Mercedes-Benz museum outside of Germany.

And Rickwood Field, the oldest ballpark in the world and Vulcan Park are both located in Birmingham.

Oh… and don’t forget the US Space and Rocket Center and SpaceCamp in my hometown of Huntsville.

Here’s a website that will give you plenty of places to visit.

Alabama is a place where football is a religion and grown men still visit their mamas with regularity. It’s hot and humid, with tornado alley on one end and Gulf of Mexico access on the other. We have mountains, plains and beaches. Heck, we even have a Coon Dog Cemetery near Tuscumbia, a Boll Weevil Monument in Enterprise, a peanut statue in Dothan and a rattlesnake round-up in Opp. The celebration of Mardi Gras started in Mobile and spread to other cities such as New Orleans and other Gulf Coast cities. We’ve had two American Idol winners (Reuben Studdard and Taylor Hicks) and one runner-up (Bo Bice) and they’re all from the Birmingham area. The AI powers-that-be were so impressed that Birmingham was added this year as an audition city.

So the next time someone besmirches the name of our state, remember its famous people and happenings, give them a little history and geography lesson and make their Alabama connection a positive one.


* War Eagle!

Tuesday, August 22, 2006

A real, live Playground friend

I've been on the Internet and active in various chatrooms and message boards for going on ten years. Most of the time, all you see of a person are typed words on a computer screen. Sometimes they'll post a photo. What's special is when you get to meet an e-friend in person.

Today I got to meet our latest contest winner, Cassie. Turns out we live in the same area and we arranged to meet during her lunch hour at the library. She's real, folks! Flesh and blood and very nice! She even let me take a picture of her holding her prize from the blog contest.

Congrats again to her!

The books, they are a-changing...

My CP gave me a copy of The Flame and The Flower to commemorate our first in-real-life meeting. (I, being a total doofus, did nothing for her. I’m ashamed.) I’d heard of this book before but never read it. Since TF&TF was such a favorite of so many people, I sat down to read it with great expectations.


Heroine in a bad situation—great.

Heroine’s situation gets worse—excellent.

Heroine shows some spunk in getting out of worse situation—very good.

Heroine gets in another bad situation that takes her to the hero—I’m there.

Hero is quite alpha—woohoo.

Hero rapes Heroine multiple times even as he's shocked to find her a virgin---WHOA, back the truck up. Are you kidding me? WTF?

I thought this was a romance! Hel-lo, kind of hard for me to like a hero who not only rapes the heroine, but shows little, if any, remorse for the act. The heroine, who is forced to marry the hero when she turns up pregnant, spends much of the first half of the book scared to death of him. Yet they fall in love and live happily-ever-after.

I’m not saying I didn’t enjoy the book. Oddly enough, I did. It’s just not what I’d expect to pick up off the shelf and call a romance. Rape seems like a bad thing to build a relationship on.

Now TF&TF is the same age I am—thirty-three. And, for me, it’s a prime example of how much romance has changed over the years. I wonder if this book would fly with readers today (if it wasn’t already a “classic”)?

I grew up reading steamy historicals—Bertrice Small, Johanna Lindsey, Julie Garwood, Judith McNaught—and there are plenty of rather forceful seductions in those. Call me a hypocrite, but I have to draw the line somewhere. Seductions—okay. Rape—not okay.

It would be an interesting sociological project to look at how romance has changed as women’s roles in society have changed. How did the same women who put TF&TF on the bestseller list also change the view of a woman’s “place” and raise daughters who wouldn’t put up with that kind of crap for any reason? The same women who liked their heroines virginal and timid now want heroines who show some spunk and fight back—and they don’t have to be virgins when the hero enters the picture, either.

Literature changes as society changes. The style of writing changes (compare the fabu Jane Austen with any modern author—literary or commercial), but the characters and content change as well. Books get dated very easily when changes in reader expectation occur. I wonder what tastes will be like 30 years from now. Maybe the heroes will have to be virgins :-).

My mom, after listening to my mini-rant, wants to re-read TF&TF. I’ll be interested to hear what she thinks. I’m also eyeballing my keeper shelf wondering what I’d see if I picked up some of those books I adored as a teenager.

My CP hoped I’d enjoy the book—and I did, really. But it gave me a lot to think about and sparked some interesting discussions, which is also good. So I thank her for two things.

Have you ever gone back and re-read a favorite only to find that it’s just not as good as you remembered for whatever reason?


Monday, August 21, 2006

We have a winner!

But only one because our Canadian guest never checked back in. :-(

Somewhere in the world, one of these is opened every 4 seconds. What is it?

And the answer is

A can of Spam.

The winning entry came from Cassie England, who also added "Personally I think that's gross, but my husband wouldn't agree." And is a strange quirk of geography, Cassie lives very near to the Children in northern Alabama. Congratulations, Cassie!

We had several other answers, which I thought were quite good: a book, an email, and from someone near and dear to the Children, "My mouth." *grin*


I've spent the past three days revising my newest work-in-progress. I should have started this almost two weeks ago, but one thing after another kept coming up. Excuses, really. I knew I needed to get started because I'd gotten a request at Nationals, so it needed to be done to get that puppy in the mail.

Whenever I keep putting off something that really needs to doing, there's a reason. Usually one of those yucky, subconscious reasons that's going to make me learn something about myself. Sigh. Yep. There was one here too.

Every time I'd thought about even opening the notebook that held the rough draft, I'd feel nervous and worried. The root cause should have been obvious, but I was procrastinating, so I didn't examine too deeply. Unfortunately, a diligent critique partner reminded me that I needed to get underway, so I cracked open the notebook and took a peek.

What I found made me boneless in relief. Instead of the cr*p I'd been secretly fearful of finding, I discovered something that wasn't so bad. I could definitely work with this. Thank God!

Now, you may be one of those people who just jump right into things that I put off. Good for you! But at least my hesitation helped me better appreciate the quality and quantity of that rough draft. And maybe next time I'll be less fearful of getting started. I definitely know that even if I do come to pages that are cr*p—and there will be many—it won't be such a big deal because the entire manuscript isn't worthy of a garbage can. It's ready for my favorite part of writing—revisions.

So, what have you been putting off lately?


Friday, August 18, 2006

Contest Update

I've had several correct entries to the trivia question. You have until 11:59 tonight (Central Time) to email your entry to me.

However, no one has come forth to claim the 15000th hit prize. It's a nice book -- Kensigton Brava trade-size paperback, hunky motorcycle guy on the front and autographed by the author. Oh Canada! Tell me who you are!

Easy on the Eyes

As you read this Friday morning, Smarty Pants is having surgery on her eyes to correct her nearsightedness. Exciting stuff. Here's to the hope that I end up with a beautiful set of 20/20s and that my cornea doesn't rip off or get infected or anything else icky. In the next few days, I'll be scarce. I don't think I'm allowed to stare at a computer for hours at a time, at least initially.

I guess it goes without saying that I'm nervous. A laser pointing at one's head is always a bad thing, especially when my mind can come up with half a million things that could go wrong. I've only got two eyes, you know. Plus I'm an eye rubber, so I'll have to sleep in these rubber goggles for a week. SEX-AY! I am looking forward to it, though. Not only will I get to ditch the glasses and contacts, but it is offering me a much welcome break from working on my books. Even something you love can wear on a person after a while. My six week first draft blew past and for all intents and purposes, the draft is done. I didn't hit my page goal, I'm only at about 90% there, but the main scenes are there, they just need to be fleshed out more. Then came Nationals. Then my full request, so I've been editing and going over that story over and over and over...

I'm tired.

My creative juices are starting to dry up. Plus, the other day, I had a great idea for the next book, so its hard to focus on the other two, although the third book in a trilogy means nothing without the first two. I could use some time to think about it, though, so I can build up the characters a bit towards the end of book two. Three days on the couch sound pretty good. I can think, plot, sleep, whatever, and not feel guilty about it.

We've talked about activities to work around writer's block and refilling the well. What do you do when your brain just doesn't want to play along anymore and you're not inclined to force it? A weekend at the beach? Go see the latest Johnny Depp movie? Law & Order marathon on TNT? I know not everyone stoops to surgery to get some peace...

Don't forget to scroll down and see our cool new contest to commemmorate our 15,000th blog hit. That's just crazy. :)


Zokutou word meterZokutou word meter
62,750 / 70,000

Thursday, August 17, 2006

Hit Me Baby One More Time

Famous Day in History

August 17, 2006
15,000th Hit on the Writing Playground Blog

And to commemorate this special day, I'll be giving away a hardcover copy of SOPHIE METROPOLIS by Tori Carrington to the person who can answer this question correctly:

Somewhere in the world, one of these is opened every 4 seconds. What is it?

In case of multiple correct answers, a winner will be drawn randomly from all correct entries. Contest ends at 11:59 P.M. Central Standard Time, Friday, August 18, 2006.

Email your answer to

Winner will be announced Monday afternoon, August 21, 2006

P.S. I know that the 15000th hit was from Ontario, Mississauga, Canada, uses Windows XP and the Firefox browser and logged onto the blog at 7:10:51 PM Central time. If you think you're that person, email me and if your IP number matches the IP in my tracking software, you'll receive an autographed copy of HELL ON WHEELS by Karen Kelley.


The buzz word at this year's national conference seemed to be branding. I can't tell you how many times I heard someone say, "You have to brand yourself and your writing."

This isn't a foreign topic to me not by any stretch of the imagination. I'm in business. I've taken marketing courses. In fact, when I designed my business cards, website, and slogan, branding myself as a writer was exactly what I was considering. Sensuality and Spark. That's me :-)

Even before we left for Atlanta I was considering redoing my website. After we got back I knew I needed to bite the bullet. I've been stealing a few minutes here and there for the last few weeks - in between crisis control. I've been searching high and low, looking for pictures, backgrounds, colors, and fonts that helped sustain the overall feel I wanted. And I've been pretty pleased with what I've got so far. But I was beginning to wonder whether the hours I've spent searching the black hole of cyberspace for that perfect graphic could have been better spent on some other endeavor - like actual work since I'm designing while on the day job.

But today Sweet Pea uttered several choice words that convinced me the effort was not in vain. While holding the bright, golden colored box of Honey Nut Cheerios - that she talked my mother into buying at Wal-Mart - my precious five-year old daughter sang me the entire Honey Nut Cheerios jingle. Word for word. Now, I understand that the catch phrase is printed right on the side of the box, however, my Angel can not read. She had to have been reciting it from memory.

I didn't even know she'd seen the Honey Nut Cheerios commercial. Apparently, she had. At least once.

I figure if General Mills (or whoever makes that cereal - I'm not getting up out of my chair to find out) can have my five-year old singing their catchy little song and buzzing like a sugar-crazed bee with little exposure, then I should definitely be expending energy on branding myself as a writer. Apparently this stuff works.

So, if any of our loyal readers happen to be song writers, I'm looking for a catchy jingle I can start singing whenever I walk into a room. Until then, I'll just have to content myself with searching through thousands and thousands of photo sites trying to scrounge up that perfect photo to match the eye-popping background and beautiful (yet readable) font.

As a reader, does author branding influence your purchasing decisions? Are you even conscious about it? And writers, is branding yourself something you've given much consideration to?

Instigator - who really needs to know she's not the only one who can lose an hour surfing the net looking for that perfect picture.

Wednesday, August 16, 2006

Bees Do It

Okay, get your mind out of the gutter. I’m not talking about IT. I’m talking about buzz. And I mean the kind of buzz that seems to surround certain authors and certain websites and certain books.

So how do you start being like a bee?

First I’ll start by saying there are two kinds of buzz. There’s ordinary buzz and then there’s BUZZ. I didn’t realize the delineation until I started talking with a friend of mine and she asked how you create BUZZ, the kind where a reader asks a friend, the other mom in the carpool line, her sister or her favorite bookseller about what’s the latest new hot book.

I was only thinking in terms of regular buzz and that’s not a bad thing. Bees spread pollen while they buzz and writers spread the word about their websites and new releases when they buzz.

For example, Debra Webb said “A couple of things I do are workshops for writers and visits with reading groups. Talking to people about what interests them is a great way to introduce something that interests you--your book/s. Reviews are important as well. Send your book out to as many reviewers as possible as far in advance as possible. A good review, even a bad one, will generate lots of buzz!”

Kelley St. John wrote, “Any time you can mention your book in a fun, unique and different way, people will listen. Also, having a supportive family member (in my case, a cute Cajun hubby) to talk up your book really helps. Here are three ways he has promoted my books:

1) He told the CEO of his company about my book. The man then surprised my hubby (and me) by purchasing a copy for everyone in the company and including it with their Christmas gifts last year! All I had to do was autograph them, which was really a lot of fun.

2) When I attended BEA in Washington, D.C., I had dinner at the Olive Garden. The town was filled with people attending BEA, and that night, an entire Borders Book Group from one of the local stores also went to Olive Garden. The group came in while I was in the restroom. When I came out, they all mobbed me, squealing, "You're THAT author! You're Kelley St. John! Sign my shirt!" Then they proceeded to hand me Sharpies and asked me to sign their work shirts! I did, and I asked my hubby if he had anything to do with this bizarre scene. At the time, he shook his head as though he didn't, but later on, he confessed that when he saw them come in, he told them his wife was an author and that her books were probably in their store. They then waited on me, and then mobbed me, while the entire place gawked. It was a wild, freaky and incredibly fun moment. (PS -- My agent was there and thought this whole scene was terrific.)

3) Any time we go out and have dinner in one of those restaurants where they let you write on the table (rather, the white paper covering on the table), my hubby writes "Read Books By Kelley St. John." And then he includes my newest title and my web address. Too funny. Gotta love that Cajun ;)”

I think that man’s a keeper!

“I think the best way to generate buzz is cultivating good relationships with readers, booksellers and maintaining an active Web presence. The blog phenomenon is a particularly useful tool with minimum time investment for authors as well.” This came from Rhonda Nelson and reiterates what I’ve heard before about befriending your local librarians and booksellers.

Of course another factor is publisher support. Where are you marketed? How many of your books do they print and how aggressively do they sell? Homer Hickam spoke at our RWA chapter meeting last Saturday and said he was amazed that his book ROCKET BOYS wasn’t sold in airport book stores given it’s a perennial favorite in-flight movie.

Then we get back to BUZZ, the kind that surrounds oh… say… Nora Roberts. Why is her name a household word, discussed in supermarket aisles, known to almost everybody on Planet Earth? Aggressive marketing? Her publisher prints lots of each title? Longevity? Productivity on her part? All of the above?

And let’s not forget negative BUZZ. Getting plastered at the local bar and grill, dancing naked on the bar and then stumbling down the front steps and shouting at the top of your lungs “I’m Wilma Flintstone and I wrote “Bedrock Bedrooms” will definitely put you on the radar.

Barbara McCauley told me, “being one of the first to try something new and different” probably helps create buzz.

We always hear that editors are looking for “something new and different” but it’s not easy to figure out what that is. If you do, that breakout book will stand out from the crowd because of its content or packaging or both. The writer will most likely have taken risks and the editor will create such a furor over the book that the BUZZ becomes a BUZZ and isn’t that what every author dreams of?

So… if you’re a writer, how to you promote yourself? How do you get your name and website in the public eye?

And if you’re a reader, how do you find out about new authors? And when you find a really good one, do you tell everyone? Or keep a great new book to yourself?

Tuesday, August 15, 2006

Dreams and Nightmares

Two things you need to know in order to fully understand this blog post.

Thing 1.) I currently have two full manuscripts out with editors. I know the lecture: put them out of your mind and work on something else. Yeah, right. Like I’m going to forget they’re out there. I am working on other things, but the back left corner of my brain still obsesses about those manuscripts daily.

Thing 2.) I’m totally addicted to the TV show So You Think You Can Dance. I’m obsessed; I TiVo all the episodes so I can watch them again and again. I’ve never watched any kind of reality show before, but I’ve even VOTED for folks on SYTYCD.

Okay, with that knowledge, let’s continue.

I had a dream the other night. I was a contestant on SYTYCD. I was out in LA, living with the dancers, going to rehearsals, the whole shebang. EXCEPT, I was never allowed to dance on TV. Everyone else danced on TV, but not me. Finally, one of the judges pulls me aside (Mary Murphy, in fact) and asks me, “Aren’t you wondering why you’re never on TV?” I mutter something about understudying, how I figured they’d let me know, etc, while inside I’m saying “hell yeah, I wanna know why I’m busting my butt yet I'm not allowed on TV.”

Mary tells me, “It’s because you’re not supposed to be here. You’re a mistake. We’re not sure how you slipped through the cracks, or who screwed up, but you were never supposed to be here. You’re not good enough. We hoped that if we just ignored you, eventually you’d get mad and go away. But obviously you haven’t taken the hint.”

All the other dancers are looking at me with this amused pity on their faces. A “bless-her-heart-she-thought-she-was-as-good-as-us” look, because they’d known all along that I didn’t belong there. I was hurt and mortified, but thankfully, I woke up at that point.

Now, does anyone really need to contact Counselor Shelley for an analysis of this particular dream?

Down, Playfriends. There’s no need to go into Support Mode. I’m not looking for ego bolstering. It was only my subconscious working out fear and insecurity, blah, blah, blah.

I think we’re all afraid that one day, someone’s going to come up to us and say, “Honey, you just aren’t good enough. Go find another hobby.” (Hopefully, it won’t be in public in front of the ones who *are* good enough.) I’m afraid some editor is looking at my manuscript and saying, “Was I on crack the day I requested this?”

I wish I knew how to make that little doubting voice in the back of my head shut the hell up. I just have to tell myself (in a louder voice), “Self, you don’t suck.” When that little doubting voice asks me, “So you think you can write?” the only thing I can say is “Yes, as a matter of fact, I do.”


Monday, August 14, 2006

More winners!

Boy, we've got a lot of winners lately :-) Can you tell the playfriends love to give stuff away? I had several entries from my impromptu contest last Thursday. Let me just say that you guys are expert beggars and name droppers. I honestly couldn't chose so everyone will be getting an email from me in the next several days with a list of book choices. But there were a few that need a specific mention.

Kim W wins for sending in the last email at exactly 8:59 PM :-) Great timing.

Zara wins for shear flattery and a tug at my heart strings since her daughter also started Kindergarten last week.

And Lis wins for furthest away and the best - and most appropriate - joke:

You Know You're a Romance Writer When ...
1. You make out your grocery list with chapter headings.
2. Instead of P.S. you use epilogue.
3. You start editing yourself while you speak.
4. You correct emails and send them back with suggestions on how to make the ending stronger. 5. You reject the family photos because the hero doesn't look strong enough.
6. You send back the family Christmas letter with a statement that you don't do straight Science Fiction. Add a titillating piece between the captain of the ship and the terrestrial hunter and you might be interested.
7. You re-name your children after romance characters.
8. In your "real" job, your annual report to the board begins "Her nipples peaked at the very thought of him."
9. You're in the middle of a make-out session and you stop to take notes.
10. You refer to your friends as "secondary characters".

Thanks everyone for entering! You have no idea how much reading your emails cheered me up. And last week I really needed it :-) If you entered be watching for an email from me sometime later this week.


Computer Issues

This week, fear and sorrow choked the heart of this writer. Why, you ask?

My computer died.

Well, it didn’t die completely, but it started doing weird things like saying certain files weren’t where they were supposed to be, claiming my screen saver file was empty, and-heaven forbid you should ever experience this-my email disappeared!

That’s right. Imagine me crying like a whiny baby. Hey, it was scary!

Luckily, my brother-in-law had warned me that this catastrophe was on its way, so my husband had already been looking into new computers. Still you can’t imagine the full extent of the fear you’d experience if your computer started doing strange things and you realize the end is near.

First thing you look at is “What am I going to do if I lose everything?” Now, I’ve gotten really good at remembering to back up my files and my husband bought me a flash drive- and taught me to use it. But there were little things I didn’t know how to save. It took me forever to save my internet favorites list. I never could figure out how to save my inbox emails. My brother-in-law had to do that for me. Genius that he is, he even transferred them to the inbox on my new computer.

But I did have moments when I worried he would open my email box and it would be empty. Currently I hold onto between 200 and 250 emails in my inbox. Why? Because I think I just have to have them.

Just like all the paper around my desk. I figured I’d be nice and sensitive to the fact that my brother-in-law was giving up his Friday night to set up my new computer and clean out my desk so he could actually work on it. He wouldn’t have to shove my junk aside in order to do anything.

Do you know how much paper writers save? How much we use? Little scraps everywhere with notes written on them that I look at and think, “Is this important?” Why do I keep all this stuff?

Of course, after tackling the main computer area, I’m really scared of decluttering the shelves. Soon I won’t have a choice, since my favorite (and only) brother-in-law has informed me that my computer isn’t getting adequate ventilation. Who knew?

There isn’t much I can actually do about it until we move. Our house is very small and I have a little alcove I’ve created with my desk in the living room. (I used to have my own office, but turned it into a nursery for Little Man when he came along. I figured I should make the sacrifice.) I’m just glad to have some small space to call my own, a space that isn’t the kitchen table.

Hopefully the new flat screen monitor will give my computer more breathing room, because I’m not giving up my down-graded space.

Anyway, keep me in your thoughts this week as I learn a new computer and get to know all its little idiosyncrasies (they have them, you know, not just people). I’m even thinking of naming mine, like Smarty Pants. My husband said it should be forever known as “She Who Must Be Obeyed’s Computer.” I like the implied meaning, but it is a mouthful.

What’s your computer horror story?


Saturday, August 12, 2006

Please Join Me in Saying...

To our Atlanta Contest Winners!
Sharon Sobel from Connecticut has won the special Atlanta Prize Basket.
Billie Jo Case from Ohio has won the Squee blog prize of several signed Samantha Hunter books.
If you didn't win don't despair! There's still a chance you could be the lucky winner of our Sizzling Summer Nights contest. If you haven't entered (by email or through the Atlanta Goody Room) be sure to enter here. The deadline is fast approaching.
And if you participated in my impromptu contest earlier in the week stay tuned because I'll be announcing those winners later this weekend.
The playfriends are off to our monthly chapter meeting.
Behave while we're gone ;-D.
Better yet, tell me what your favorite 'I'm not behaving and you can't make me' behavior is. Mine's eating brownies for breakfast.

Friday, August 11, 2006

Worry Wart

By looking at me, you might never guess that I’m a worry wart. Someone can announce any number of exciting or tragic things and my expression might stay the same unless I make a conscious effort. (Ever seen those "emotions of a cat" posters where the face is the same for happy, sad, angry...?) You might get an eyebrow arched or an eye roll to give away how I really feel. I guess it takes a while to figure me out sometimes. (It took DB 2 years.) This gives the appearance, however, that all is calm on the inside. Oh no. I’m probably not as bad as Angel admits to being, but I do hold all the stress on the inside. I’ve got the ulcers to prove it.

My blog last week is a case in point. Completely freaked out about my work, my reputation...for no good reason, really. My stomach just ached at the anticipation of a disaster that (as of yet) hasn’t arrived.

In the meantime, something else did arrive. An envelope from the publishing house that has my partial. It was a thin envelope. My stomach rolled at the thought that at last, my fears had been realized. A rejection. I ignored the envelope for about ten minutes, not wanting to open it and be confronted by the reality of it. When DB finally worked me up enough to open the envelope – lo and behold – a full request. The letter was so simple – “Hi, I’ve taken over this project from your previous editor. I’d love to see the full.” I’d had rejection letters longer than that.

I wasn’t ready to deal with it that night, so I just went to bed. (If you recall from my post back in February, DB has this bad habit of stacking up the mail and not telling me if there’s something critical in it. I found the envelope under a credit card offer and an insurance claim by the sink in the master bath at 10 as I got ready for bed. And no, I don’t know why he puts my mail there.)

This week, I’ve been busily dusting off the manuscript to make sure nothing has gone awry. My CP (thanks Kathy) and the other playfriends have rallied to read chapters. So far, so good. I hope to have it in the mail next week. baby, my WHOLE BOOK in the mail to someone who actually asked for it. Oh boy. This is scary for me. I’ve never sent anything past a partial or contest entry, so this is especially hard. Once I drop it in the mail, it’s out of my hands and I’m at the mercy of the editor gods.

Anyway, I guess worrying doesn't do much good. Action is the only thing that can help or hurt you. So, I've stopped worrying - about the sky falling at least - and have been working my best to get this book ready to go. It may not be what the publisher said they were looking for, but they requested it and maybe it will just be too darn good to pass up. :)

What do you worry about most (that you can't do anything about)?


PS. I'm not posting my word counter this week. I think I got 4 or 6 pages in before my letter arrived and I've been in the zone ever since. If this book doesn't sell, the sequel makes no sense!

Thursday, August 10, 2006

One of Those Weeks

It's been one of those weeks. The kind where nothing seems to go right. The kids are acting up. Everyone has a doctor's appointment, dentist appointment, school registration, a major work project... And not enough time to squeeze them all in. It's only Wednesday night and I'm done. My brain is fried. I'm stressed to the max. And nothing coherent is flowing. So, I'm going to wimp out on my blog this week. I'm really sorry! I promise to make it up.

Anyway, PC's contest last week seemed to get an excellent response so, I've decided to hold a contest of my own. I've got several of the same books she listed, about 30 or 40 in all, that I brought back from nationals. I'm going to give a choice from the list to several people:

1. The person who emails me from the farthest location.
2. The person who emails me with the best begging, name dropping, joke, etc. - hey, I need a pick me up :-)
3. The person who emails me last

All entries must be received by 9 PM Central time and winners will be announced over the weekend. Please include your name, email address, physical address, permission to list you on the blog if you're a winner and anything else you'd like to

And, if you were in Atlanta and entered the playground contest in the goody room, we'll be announcing our Atlanta prize winner this weekend - stay tuned!


Wednesday, August 09, 2006

A Decade Later

Angel's and Problem Child's posts have started me thinking (which is sometimes dangerous). While they are sending their children off into the great big world of school, I am at the opposite end of the parenting journey. My children are grown and out on their own. I started making notes for this blog and realized that I've been "retired" for ten years now. I still have my letter of resignation on my computer. Wanna see??

July 22, 1996

TO: Department Head's Name

THRU: Group Leader
Immediate Supervisor

FROM: Marilyn L. Puett

SUBJECT: Resignation

This is to notify you of my resignation as a Customer Service Agent for Computer Sciences Corporation effective August 2, 1996. My resignation stems from the opportunity to devote full time to my children and our family business. My position with CSC has been both challenging and rewarding, and I have enjoyed my association with CSC employees and managers. Thank you for the opportunity to be a part of your team and I look forward to continuing the friendships developed over the past two years.

I am willing to assist in any way possible in effecting a smooth transition for the individual selected to fill my position. *


Marilyn L. Puett

It's been exactly ten years and a week since I left the corporate world behind and re-joined the ranks of Stay-at-Home-Moms. And while the extra money was nice, I've never really regretted the decision. You'll notice I said "re-joined" because I was a SAHM for a long time, then spent six years in the workforce because of family economic issues.

I remember the two-page "To Do" list I made during my last week at work. I planned to accomplish all the things I'd let slide during my six-years on the job plus I thought up new things to do. At the time I retired, my older son was a high school senior and the youngest was in his last year of middle school.

I'm not quite sure what happened to that list. I think I threw it away when we moved last year. But I can assure you that only a mere fraction of it got accomplished. I thought I was going to have spare time galore. HA! And it's not that I frittered my time away. Okay... not all of it. Somehow the routine and mundane filled up some of the time, while the joy of just being with my children again took up some of the rest. And all my good intentions flew out the window.

Fast forward ten years and I still haven't catalogued all those old photographs and slides. My Christmas shopping is usually accomplished sometime between Thanksgiving and the second week in December. I have rekindled an old love -- writing -- and I'm having a bit of success with it. And today, for the first time, I had a story start to run away from me in a direction I had not envisioned. Gosh has it been fun!

I guess what I'm trying to say is that there's no perfect stage of life. There's no perfect ages for your children. There's no perfect time to do anything. Don't fall into the guilt trap. Guilt doesn't solve any problems; it merely creates more. You just do what you can and enjoy the moments. Trust me when I tell you that time flies and it flies quickly.

And pretty soon this

becomes this

And then he has one of his own.

For everything there is a season,
And a time for every matter under heaven:
A time to be born, and a time to die;
A time to plant, and a time to
pluck up what is planted;
A time to kill, and a time to heal;
A time to break down, and a time to build up;
A time to weep, and a time to laugh;
A time to mourn, and a time to dance;
A time to throw away stones, and a
time to gather stones together;
A time to embrace, And a time to refrain
from embracing;
A time to seek, and a time to lose;
A time to keep, and
a time to throw away;
A time to tear, and a time to sew;
A time to keep silence, and a time to speak;
A time to love, and a time to hate,
A time for war, and a time for peace.

Ecclesiastes 3:1-8

What's your "guilty" pleasure? What have you spent time on instead of laundry or scrubbing the toilet that made you feel good about yourself?

* In a twist of fate that could only be attributed to karma, CSC went into a hiring freeze right after I left and they couldn't hire anyone to take my position. So my co-worker, who spent two years telling our supervisor that I did nothing all day, got to take on all that nothing and add it to her job duties. Ain't karma grand?

Tuesday, August 08, 2006

Post-National Contest Winner

Wow! I've never had so many entries to a blog contest before. I was so impressed by the sheer number that I added a runner-up prize: a hardback copy of Christina Dodd's Some Enchanted Evening.

I was also very impressed by the creative bribery, outright pleading, shamless mention of a CP relationship with a Playfriend, and upscale flattery. None of those things, however, affected my impartiality. ;-) Everyone's name went on its own piece of paper and into my little yellow bucket. Amazing Child drew the winners before she went to bed.


The 3-book grand prize goes to Maureen Emmons!

The runner-up prize goes to Cheryl Strange!

Congrats to you both. (Maureen, you'll need to send me your mailing address.)

Stay tuned for more contests to come. Thanks for playing, everyone!!



My baby started Kindergarten Monday. Now, she’s been in daycare a couple of days a week for a while now, so we’re not suffering from separation anxiety or anything. It’s just the Momentousness of the situation. MY BABY IS IN KINDERGARTEN. Yikes. She’s no longer a pre-schooler. She’s a schooler.

Life is going to be different from now on. A school calendar will control my schedule for the next thirteen years. I can no longer put AC in the tumbling classes that start at 10:30 am— instead I wait in the lobby with masses of other people at a noise level that makes it impossible for me to work (because we have to do this after school). And sitting in the lobby typing on a laptop seems to be an open invitation for people to read over your shoulder. Like I need these soccer moms reading the love scene I’m writing or editing—that would go over well.*

So, as we’re adjusting to this new schedule (I also have to get up very early now…school starts at 7:40 am.), I’m also adjusting to the fact I’m about to be unemployed. One contract ends this week; my other contract ends September 14th. And I don’t have another contract lined up. I’m also not teaching. Ummm, does this mean I’ll be a full-time writer? I understand it’s the dream of most unpubbed folks to be a full-time writer, but I kinda hoped money would be coming in...

So, we’re in for some changes. Home alone every day without papers to grade, events to plan, etc, etc. I’ll either be writing a lot, or I’ll have the cleanest house this side of the Mississippi as I practice avoidance.

I keep telling myself that change is good. Okay, so how do I put myself on a schedule when no one is breathing down my neck and I don’t have fourteen other things that need to be done? (Although the PTA** would like to give me fourteen or fifteen things to do…)

Change is good.


*I wrote part of this blog entry while AC was in gym class, and there really was a soccer mom reading over my shoulder. I’d hoped that when she read that, she’d quit reading over my shoulder, but she didn’t seem embarrassed or anything...

**We’re already fundraising. Anybody wanna buy a coupon book? :-) Kidding...

Sunday, August 06, 2006

In Praise of Refilling the Well

For those of you who are completely new to the Playground blog, I'll let you in on a little secret. Okay, it isn't a closely guarded secret, but I'd like to think it isn't completely obvious. Wishful thinking, I know.

Here it is… I don't handle stress well.

Collective gasp.

And… just about everything stresses me out. Realizing I'm stressed out stresses me out.

Now, the laughing I hear from the Playfriends just isn't nice.

I like to believe that my acknowledgement of this problem is a step in the right direction. That I'm learning to work with this particular personality flaw, rather than spending all my energy wondering why I can't take things in stride like my way-too-laid-back husband.

The fact is, I am the way I am, whether by nature, nurture, or some mysterious combination of the two. Why spend my life paralyzed by the desire to be different? Just learn to cope with my own needs and flaws. (Easier said than done, but we're talking about baby steps here.)

This personal problem was aggravated last week by Conference Brain Drain and settling Drama Queen in a new school. I planned ahead and gave myself the week off from everything but my paying jobs, because I knew my introvert self would be exhausted after six days amidst 2000 other writers (see last week's post).

Still, I felt surges of guilt about not writing and spending the unexpected free hours reading some great books. I spent time just cuddling with my kids on the couch while they watched television. I took several naps. On Saturday, I made a spontaneous decision to see a movie and do some window shopping, which is all I can afford after traveling so much in July. As I ambled slowly through the crowded mall, I had one of those lovely AHA moments. I realized I was refilling my well.

We've talked about this before on the blog, about those things we do to rejuvenate our creativity, like read, watch movies, take baths, garden, etc. I knew all that stuff-in my head. But not in my gut. It took a week for me to realize what I was doing and how good it was for me, for my family, and for my writing. But refilling your well isn't just about the writing, it's about you as a person. Deep down inside, I believe we all have a well, a depth of living water that provides our souls with sustenance. This is the energy we use to cook, clean, listen, cope, nurture, write, lend a helping hand, and perform dozens of other day-to-day activities. When the well runs dry, we get grumpy, tired, impatient, and depressed. In short, we need to refill this well to be good writers AND healthy, happy people.

That's a nice thought, you may say, but I don't have a whole week to recuperate like you. I know. I normally don't either. And it has been a goal of mine for quite a while to build small spaces into my day that rejuvenate and revitalize me (not to mention CALM ME DOWN). I'm not great at it… yet. But one day I hope it will be as natural to me as breathing.

Here are a few things I've tried to incorporate:
*5 minutes of deep breathing
*5-10 minutes of mentally imagining myself in a happy, peaceful place
*8-10 minutes of self-guided meditation (there are also some great meditation CDs out there, if I have more time I like to do one of these)
*bubble baths
*browsing through catalogs
*cleaning out a drawer or shelf (I'm kind of amazed at how good this feels)
*having a 5-10 minute conversation with someone I love, a REAL conversation
*taking a nap

Now, obviously some of these take longer than others. I rarely have enough uninterrupted time to take a nap, except on the weekends when my husband is home to run interference with the kids. But I often have time to stop and just breath. The problem is, I don't remember to do it. I wish I had an alarm that would go off to remind me, instead of waiting until I'm wound tighter than a rubber band and everything and everyone is getting on my nerves.

So my question for you today is: How do you remember? How do you recognize that need to refill your well?

Here's wishing you a few minutes to breath and time out to enjoy something relaxing today.


PS I just noticed that this is post # 300!!! Awesome!

World's Greatest Hits

As I write this, the Writing Playground Blog has received over 14,000 hits from five of the seven continents. Come on Africa and Antarctica! Let's get you on the map!

Never in our wildest dreams did we expect such response. Of course some of you (hint, hint) never post in the comments section. We'd love to hear from you if nothing more than a friendly "Good day" and a smile.

Saturday, August 05, 2006

Post-National Contest

I'm kind of glad National is over. It's a lot of fun, but it consumes a lot of time and energy. I don't regret one bit of the time and energy, but it's time for me to get back to work.

But to celebrate our successes in Atlanta, I'm giving away books from three ladies headlining this year's event.

First up, you get a copy of Meg Cabot's Size 12 is Not Fat. Meg was our keynote speaker, and she's a total riot. One day, I'd like to be half as funny as she is.

Next, you get Christina Dodd's The Barefoot Princess. Christina gave a very inspirational speech at our Friday luncheon about the importance of persistence.

Finally, you get Susan Elizabeth Phillips' Ain't She Sweet? SEP received RWA's Lifetime Achievement Award. Another funny lady who isn't afraid to laugh at herself. She's classy, too.

If you weren't at National this year and would like to get these three books, drop me a line at between now and Tuesday at noon. I'll pick one entry at random and put the books in the mail.


Friday, August 04, 2006

The Agony of De-Feet

Photobucket - Video and Image Hosting Everyone has been sharing their conference stories this week, so I thought I would do the same. I didn't conquer any fears or strike up a new friendship with a random stranger, but I did have a good time. I'm an introvert, so its always difficult. I got to try out some great new outfits, jewelry and shoes - which are great conversation starters by the way. Random strangers stopped me and complimented me on various parts of my outfit. I got to strut around in the sort of bling that doesn't make sense in the normal world. That was pretty nice. And for the most part, my feet didn't hurt. The new gray sandals I broke in Friday made my black jeweled sandals hurt more than normal after a night of dancing Friday night, but I only limped a little. Plus, I wasn't the only woman walking through the Marriott Marquis lobby with her shoes in her hand. Thank goodness they had clean, squishy carpeting.

I honestly spent more of my conference socializing than hovered over a spiral pad taking notes. I hit the couple important workshops I knew wouldn't be taped, then scuttled down to events like the publisher booksignings, eHQ PJ party, the Blaze Birthday Party, and the Nocturne premiere. I brought home 40+ books, so I think between the six of us, about 200 books came back to Huntsville (you lucky blog readers, you!).

Nationals is a roller coaster of emotions. You laugh, you cry at a touching speech, you have ah-ha and oh-no moments, you want to crawl under a rock and die, you fly on cloud 9...its really an exhausting ride, especially for the normally even keeled, like me. I do have to say that I feel a little discouraged after conference each year. I know I should march home and jump onto my computer jazzed up and ready to go. I guess I'm just not the optimist Instigator is. I've been told this is called "Conference Brain Drain."

Honestly, I've returned home with this unshakable sense of impending doom. That something dumb I said or did is about to come crashing down on my head. The weird thing is that I didn't have a bad conference. I'm just waiting for a shoe to drop and trying not to flee in advance of something that isn't going to happen. I've got no claims to psychic abilities, so this is just me being a ninny for the most part.

One thing that didn't help was a publisher spotlight that kind of brought me down. I realized that the line I was targeting was looking for something I'm not sure I can deliver (BTW - these are the people with my book). The editor belabored about what she was looking for and although the playfriends have assured me otherwise, I don't think my manuscripts deliver the feel she's looking for. It may, but it has left me with this nagging sick feeling in my stomach...what if it doesn't? Where will it fit? If not category, then single title? Very few people charge successfully into the single title market without an agent. So what...I need an agent?

Stomach ache number two. I've never given much thought to agents because I've focused primarily on category publishing. Several workshops I went to emphasized the importance of getting the right agent. One that is excited about your work, fits with your personality and will fight for you. They said not to take on an agent just because they agree to represent you. It's hard enough to find an agent at all, much less find the professional equivalent of a soul mate. Now, after struggling to find one, I'm supposed to turn them down because they aren't the best fit?? Great.

So this has brought me back home with a feeling of restlessness and defeat on top of the normal numbness from the neck up. My MS is still up at the publisher awaiting its fate. The conference has made me even more nervous about the fact that I haven't heard anything. If and when a letter comes back, one way or another, I guess I'll progress from there and keep chugging along. I guess that's all any of us can do. In the meantime, if you see me hiding under my desk like an air raid siren is going off, its just me anticpating the worst.


Zokutou word meterZokutou word meter
60,750 / 70,000

Thursday, August 03, 2006

What I Learned on My Summer Vacation

1. A cut that appears not to be life-threatening should probably be seen by a doctor if still seeping blood the next day.

2. In the perfect words of SEP, "You don't have to write a perfect book. Write a compelling book."

3. A mother's heart can break at the sound of a crying child she'd can't hold and console.

4. A daddy can make them both feel better.

5. Getting old sucks. I can no longer stay up until the wee hours of the morning and still be able to function the next day.

6. Naps are good and trump almost anything besides an appointment with your dream editor.

7. Six women in two rooms can make a huge mess.

8. Six women in one suburban can pack in a hell of a lot of luggage.

9. Everyone stumbles on the sidewalk of success. The great ones get back up, dust themselves off and keep chugging.

10. There's more to the care and feeding of the big black moment than just opening up a gaping hole of disaster and watching your characters fall in.

11. I can speak in front of a ballroom full of people and not disgrace myself. I count it as practice for future endeavors.

12. I still have a few moves left for the dance floor. They aren't as good as they used to be... But then neither am I.

13. Red is my color. Many people told me so.

14. My hair, while normally flat, can be teased to add about four inches to my height.

15. I'm perfectly happy at my normal height.

16. Hair disasters can bond.

17. Piling your hair on top of your head can make you look inebriated in pictures.

18. Gayle Wilson has wonderful comedic timing and a stage presence that would make any actress proud.

19. I need to seriously study structure and perhaps spend a tiny bit of time plotting my books before I begin to write them.

20. Each conference I learn something new about myself, my writing, my friends and the industry. Every penny, moment away from my family, and lost hour of sleep was worth it.

When can we do it again?

Tell me what you learned on your summer vacation.


Wednesday, August 02, 2006

Close Encounters of the Random Kind

This is the first of two posts for today. Normally I'm angsting all over the place, trying to come up with a good blog topic. Today I have two. Normally I'd keep one until next week. But since they both are kinda related to the recent RWA National Conference, one or the other won't really be relevant next week. So here goes.

Several months before the conference, RWA sends each member a booklet outlining the workshops available at the conference. Each year I've gone through that book, read the blurb for each workshop and then taken Post-It flags and marked the ones I want to attend. A week or so before conference, I transfer the info to a table in a Word document and I have a day-by-day, hour-by-hour view of my schedule for the week. It folds nicely and fits into my tote bag and keeps me reasonably informed of what I'm supposed to be doing and where I'm supposed to be going.

But every so often there are close encounters of the random kind that aren't part of the regularly scheduled programming but turn out to be some of the neatest moments of the conference.

Cases in point:
  • I sat down in the lobby on Saturday afternoon to nurse my tired feet and sip a cup of chai. I recognized the lady sitting beside me as the author of a very funny women's fiction book about wearing red hats. She was writing in a notebook and I let her write for I know how I hate to be disturbed when the old juices are flowing. Not long after, she put the notebook away and another woman sat down to rest as well. Soon we were all engaged in a lively conversation about her books and her life and afterward I called my mom on my cell phone and said "Guess who I just spent an hour talking with???"
  • A while back I stumbled across a blog by a woman who reviews romance for WNBC. I posted and also emailed her about something and she commented quite positively about our website. I happened to run into her in Atlanta, had a wonderful discussion with her and she offered to do a little cross-promotion between her site and ours later in the summer.
  • At the Harlequin Party I was resting my tooties in the hall and chatting with Heart of Dixie author Peggy Webb. Another woman sat down and Peggy introduced her as Patricia Potter, a former president of RWA. It turns out Patricia grew up right here in the town where I live. Small world, huh?
  • On Thursday I volunteered to help set up for the luncheon. This involved putting books and favors on each seat in the HUGE dining room. But the reward was that we could pick out seat ahead of time and I'm thinking "For once I won't be at the back." I plopped my tote bag on a chair and then went to man the doors. We had to check badges to make sure no one sneaked in. When I went to take my seat, someone had moved my bag. Because there were SO many tables in the room, I wasn't exactly sure which one I'd put my bag at, but I knew the general vicinity. Anyhoo, the Playfriends noticed me looking around and asked what was the matter. About that time RWA Prez Gayle Wilson started announcing from the stage for folks to indicate empty seats and I went up and told her my dilemma. Where do I end up sitting? Way up closer than the seat I'd picked. The table was surrounded with the PAN retreat chair, the executive editor of Publisher's Weekly, the managing editor of Library Journal, three RWA board members and little ole me. The Playfriends stayed after the luncheon was over to help me look for my bag. The only thing I was really concerned about was my digital camera. When we went back to the area where I thought I'd left it, there it sat on a chair. Someone had put it on the floor, taken my seat and then put my bag back on the chair afterward. I hope their lunch was cold. Anyhoo, I had my digital camera and used it a few minutes later to get my picture with speaker Meg Cabot and I got my copy of "The Princess Diaries" autographed to my baby granddaughter. She and I are going to have such fun reading that book together.
  • On Wednesday a friend invited me to join her and a couple friends for lunch. I already had a lunch date but it wasn't for another hour or so. So she told me to just join them for drinks. I knew everyone at the table but one woman and she was introduced to me. On Saturday night I saw her face on the screen as a RITA finalist. Oops! I shoulda studied the finalists' list closer.
  • At one of the publisher book signings, I stepped up to a table and had the author say, "Marilyn! I know you! You did that marvelous review of my book!" Kinda was a warm fuzzy moment.
  • I said hello to a fellow Heart of Dixie member one day and she had two other women at the table with her. One was another Blaze author and the third turned to me and said "Hi Marilyn. I'm Dee from the TrueWriters group." We both write for the confession magazines and we had an opportunity to sit down for a nice chat a day or so later. I also met three other confessions writers from that same loop during the week.

None of these were planned into my schedule but they're part of my conference highlights. They are priceless serendipities that make life exciting and special.

Did you have any serendipities during the week? If so, tell us about them.

When I Grow Up...

... I want to be a romance novelist.

I didn't realize until last Saturday night at the Rita and Golden Heart awards ceremony that for the last twenty-two years I've harbored this deep, dark desire to be...

Joan Wilder.

What's it gonna be, Angelina?

It was Grogan: the filthiest, dirtiest,
dumbest excuse for a man west of
the Missouri River.

You can die two ways: quick like the tongue of a snake,
or slower than the molasses in January.

But it was October.

I'll kill you, goddammit, if it's
the Fourth of July! Where is it? Uhh. Get
over there!

I told him to
get out, now that he had what he came for.

Not quite. Take 'em off. Do
it! Come on!

[Angelina kills Grogan by throwing a concealed knife]

That was the end of Grogan... the man who killed my father, raped and
murdered my sister, burned my ranch, shot my dog, and stole my Bible!

Cue the music from "How the West Was Won"

And thus begins the tale of plain-jane Joan Wilder, award-winning romance novelist who lives in New York City with her cat, Romeo, and lives vicariously through her novels, which feature a hero named...


When Joan's sister is kidnapped by a drug lord looking for a treasure map, Joan must garner every ounce of courage and fly to South America to deliver the map, which her brother-in-law had mailed to her. She's directed to the wrong bus, endures a shoot-out and must negotiate safe passage to the proper city with the very man she'd imagined to be her hero -- Jack T. Colton.

Who the hell are you?

Well, I'm a romance novelist.

You're what? What are you doing here?

I told you, my sister's life depends on me.

Ah, don't give me that. I thought you were donating a kidney or something.

Of course there's the treasure map, which Jack secretly discovers.

And after a few rounds of escaping from the bad guys, Joan begins her transformation from shy, cringing novelist to strong and assured adventuress.

Naturally sparks fly between her and Jack.

What woman wouldn't fall in love while in his arms?

But there's still the map and the treasure it leads to. What's a man to do? After all, the "T" in his name stands for Trustworthy.

More chases, more adventures, Jack leaves her to pursue the treasure and soon Joan is left to deal with the enemy who asks her...

How will you die, Joan Wilder? Slow, like... a snail? Or fast, like a shooting star?

She doesn't die. Instead she returns home and turns the adventure into a romance novel that has even her editor weeping. But Joan has turned from a hopeless romantic to a hopeful one and...

... they lived happily ever after.

Isn't that just the most romantic movie? It was a keeper on my Tivo until my Tivo box died and now I'm just waiting for it to come on again. This time I'll be able to transfer it to DVD and really keep it. And I can relive the adventure (and quote the dialogue) over and over in my own quest to be Joan Wilder.

And why do I want to be Joan Wilder? Certainly not to slog through a rainy jungle, dodging bullets and avoiding crocodiles. Jack T. Colton wouldn't be such a bad traveling partner, but I think CZ-J might object to my carrying on with her beloved.

I want to be Joan Wilder so I can give others a chance to be a hopeful romantic. Roaring 20's novelist Elinor Glynn wrote, "Romance is the glamour which turns the dust of every day life into a golden haze." I wanna make the world so hazy you can't see your hand in front of your face. Of course that takes dedication, persistance and talent, and I'm a little short of all three. I keep hoping the serious case of "conference crash" that I'm experiencing will wear off soon and motivation will strike like a bolt of lightning. I have my fingers crossed.

So what's your favorite romantic movie? Can you quote dialogue from it? Does it touch you in a magical way? Tell us about it.