Friday, July 31, 2009

Going With The Flow

My career path sort of shifted recently. Not in a bad way, but one day I looked up and I was on a completely different road. The destination is similar but none of the landmarks ring a bell. I didn't have much control over the event itself, but I'm rolling with it and waiting to see how it plays out. The universe is unfolding as it should and all that.

It's sort of weird to mentally target a particular genre for so long, then find yourself smack in a different one. You have to change how you think about everything. Less focus on this area, more focus on this. Maybe consider rebranding yourself. (Not that anyone really knows or cares about my brand at the moment.) But at this point, I'm willing to be whatever someone wants me to be. And the switch was actually made because someone said I fit in better someplace else. To hear I fit in anywhere is great. I've always sort of considered myself to be on the fringe of any genre or line I targeted.

So now my priorities have shifted. I stopped working on my current project because I want to see how this all pans out. The story can take a sharp turn in either direction at this point, so I'd rather just wait than write it and have to change things. In the meantime, I'm working on some older stuff with a different destination. Stuff that got shot down a while back but could be viable with a little dusting off.

At least that's what I thought. Going back and reading it, I'm not so sure. This isn't housecleaning, this is a major renovation. Characterization amped up, motivations reworked, sexual tension cranked, predictible plot line scattered. I realized that I edited out the quirky stuff that makes my books 'mine' so I've got to add it all back. When I get done, this thing will be 20k words and an entire world away from where it started. At this point, I'm wondering whether its easier to write a new book than to gut one you've already done.

That's where I am. What about you all? Ever had your path change (by your doing or someone else's) and have to rethink everything you're used to doing? How'd that turn out for you in the end? Ever get started on a project and find you're way over your head?


Thursday, July 30, 2009

Farm Life, Episode...28?

I've been strangely silent on the topic of farm fun and animals lately. There have been things going on but...nothing interesting enough to take up an entire post - at least until this weekend.

Let me start by saying despite the fact I haven't posted about it, we've gained several animals this summer including 4 birds, some turtles, frogs and the latest addition, guinea pigs.

The birds are small, cute, yellow, blue and white. I'm not entirely sure what kind they are but possibly canaries? They reside in the little house which for those not familiar is a smaller replica of our house detached from the main house that has been turned into the man cave. When we purchased our home the intention was to turn it into a play house for the children...Zilla got to it first. Anyway, because the noisy, smelly things are not in my house they have not bothered me. The girls enjoy holding them and therefore I didn't complain when they simply showed up. We had a bird a long time ago and therefore had the cage. I just assumed Zilla cleaned it up one day and decided to make use of it.

We also gained some frogs (I might have mentioned Freddie at some point...the toad who showed up on Sweet Pea's floor one night). Freddie lasted longer than expected, long enough for us to acquire a frog habitat and therefore when Freddie went to the big pond in the sky we had the equipment and the means to fill the habitat again. Frogs are thick on the ground where we live so we've had several occupants since then.

Joining the frogs has been a succession of turtles - including several snapping turtles. I have expressed my concern to both Zilla and Sweet Pea (who seems to have no fear) that they are going to SNAP her fingers, hence their name. Neither of them seem worried. I expect that will change the first time one of them takes a bite at her fingers. They currently reside in a huge Rubbermaid tub and seem rather content. Joining them are several box turtles - in separate enclosures. Actually, Zilla recently built them a beautiful pen complete with pond, small tree and plenty of grass and shade. However, the little devils keep disappearing. We're not sure whether they're escaping or being carried off by birds as they are out in the open. Either way, like frogs turtles are thick on the ground in our neck of the woods.

The final, and newest, members of the family are guinea pigs. Two of them. A male and a female. And yes, this was done on purpose. I went to sleep on Sunday afternoon and woke up to excited squeals of joy that we now had guinea pigs. Funny, I didn't even know we were in the market to purchase rodents. My response to this development was to glare at Zilla. His response was to say, "We had the cage." Seriously? I have yet to come up with a response.

Sigh. The silver lining in all of this is that these animals all live either in the little house, the storage overhang or the yard. None of them are in my house. They make my girls smile and I suppose that's worth quite a bit. All I can say is I'm not bottle feeding guinea pig babies when they're born...and they will be.

Apparently, I'm a sucker (not to mention a push over). Have you ever been a sucker about something? Your kids end up with a pet that you said they couldn't have? Anyone want a guinea pig...or a turtle? I will say this, Zilla might not be abiding by the animal restriction but there is one thing he'd never think of bringing home - a snake. I've put my foot down and he's agreed not to cross that line. I'm thankful for that at least.


P.S. I suppose I can't complain too much as when my parents told me I couldn't have a puppy I just asked Zilla to buy it for me for Christmas. Smile. I got my way. The apple doesn't fall far from the tree I suppose.

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Indulge Yourself

Times are tough, but a woman's desire to be pampered remains. Or at least this woman's does. The occasional manicure and pedicure still find their way into my budget, but facials are out of the question. And a massage only happens if I can get an appointment at the student clinic at the local career college where the prices are slashed in half.

But a little searching on the internet found some very interesting "at home" spa treatments that are effective and cheap.

  • When we were at the conference in Washington, DC, PC's CP told us how she uses olive oil on her skin, including her face, and also uses it to condition her hair. She has a beautiful complexion and her hair is gorgeous. So obviously this works. And best of all? Olive oil is fairly cheap.
  • Another use for olive oil is to mix it with epsom salts and use it as a hand and foot scrub. It'll slough off dead skin and moisturize at the same time.
  • Tired feet? Mix epsom salts in a basin of hot water, add a mint tea bag and soak your feet for 30 minutes. The pleasant aroma of peppermint will rejuvenate you, and the salts and water will soothe your feet.
  • I use lots of styling products on my rather limp hair, and after a while the products build up and make my hair look dull. I asked my hairdresser what to do and she said I could buy a pricey detox shampoo or I could pour shampoo in my palm, add some baking soda to make a paste and massage that into my hair to remove the build-up. You should only need to do this every 2-3 weeks. And baking soda has loads of other great household uses. Google it to find out more.
  • Dry hair? Take a half cup of mayonnaise and rub all over your head. Wrap with plastic wrap to hold in your body heat and sit down with your feet propped up for 15-20 minutes to allow the mayo to condition your hair. The woman who wrote about this said the smell of that much mayo was a little overpowering and when the 15 minutes were up, she had a strange craving for a BLT. Try this one at your own risk.
  • To exfoliate your face, mix 1/2 cup of oatmeal, 2 tablespoons of honey and 1/4 cup of plain yogurt to form a paste. Apply to face and neck. Massage gently and rinse with cool water. The yogurt contains lactic acid, which helps slough off dead skin cells.
  • To firm your face and clean the pores, take an egg white and rub it all over your face. As it dries, you can feel it tightening. Rinse with cool water and pat dry.
  • The simple tea bag has gotten lots of media coverage lately because tea contains anti-oxidants, which help your body fight off free radicals. Additionally, I found a website listing 23 uses for tea besides brewing a cup of the hot stuff and drinking it with a blueberry scone. To soothe tired, puffy eyes, soak 2 tea bags in warm water and then place them over your eyes for 20 minutes. The tannin in the tea reduces swelling. The website has suggestions for soothing a sunburn, conditioning your hair and even tanning your skin. I want to try their recipe for getting the gray out of your hair.
  • Along with tea and baking soda, apple cider vinegar has a multitude of uses, including ones for beauty. Vinegar naturally contains alpha-hydroxy acids, a common ingredient in many facial products. Pat vinegar on your face before bed to smooth your skin. And rub it on age spots to fade them. Mix it with the aforementioned olive oil, add lettuce and... oops! Wrong topic.

Do you have any home beauty secrets you'd like to share? And maybe PC will give us a review of the Yoga Toes she bought on sale a few weeks ago.

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

The Surreal Life...

It’s no secret I love being a writer; it really is my dream job. Sometimes, though, this job – and everything that comes with it – crosses the line into surreal.

I’m not talking about the obvious surreal things: seeing my book for sale on a shelf, getting an email from someone halfway around the world telling me how much they loved the book or getting asked questions about my characters I don’t know the answers to. (I have no idea why Ella’s last relationship ended or how. It just did and I know it ended badly. I didn’t think it was that important until someone asked me about it…)

But there are things that happen in my life that make me wonder how strange my life must look like to outsiders. Heck, it looks strange to insiders sometimes. Just a few surreal things from my life as an author…

  • I think I have the only eight-year-old in America with the words “mistress” and “sexy” in her working vocabulary (my first three books all have mistress in the title and are released in Australia as “Sexy Sensations.” It was bound to come up.) In case you are wondering, a “mistress” is kinda like a girlfriend, and “sexy” means you’re pretty in a way that makes people want to kiss you. Thankfully, the definition of “sexy” drew an “eww” from AC.
  • Not too long ago, I sent an email to another writer friend – in all sincerity – which included the sentence, “I’m so jealous of your cock.” Our husbands found that discussion to be rather amusing…
  • Also in the “Emails I Can’t Believe I’ve Sent” category, we have the series of emails sent while I was on a committee that all shared the subject line “What Bestiality Means To Me.” It sounds like the most inappropriate essay assignment ever. My mom is so proud.
  • The fact my child wanted to help plot my next book, so she brainstormed ideas while in the bathtub last night. Her dad was so excited to overhear that.
  • Explaining to my priest that while I appreciated the support, I didn’t really feel comfortable having my book stocked in the church bookstore. Being handed a copy of my book to sign on the way out of the church was also a bit awkward.
  • Having the clerk at the bookstore congratulate me on my pregnancy as she rung up my purchases. Um, I was buying baby name books to help with character naming.
  • Explaining to the school librarian that yes, I am a published author, but no, I don’t think I should be doing readings from my book to second graders. This was only moments after explaining to AC’s teacher that my arson attempts AC kept talking about were fictional. I love parent-teacher nights…
  • Seeing one of my bookmarks being used to save AC’s place in a Ramona book. The cover of The Millionaire’s Misbehaving Mistress peeking out above the title Ramona and Her Mother… well, that’s a juxtaposition that will cause a double take. Oh, and finding out my daughter wore her “My Mommy Writes Books” t-shirt on the plane home from DC and handed out bookmarks to the flight attendants and pilots…

Hmmm, AC seems to be playing a dominant role in my surreal experiences. I don’t know whether to be pleased AC is so proud of me or afraid Child and Family Services is going to come take her away from me…

And to think I thought the best part of this job was the lack of a dress code. :-)

Any surreal/funny/strange moments from your life or career you’d like to share? It would make me feel better…


**Alas, the fun on the Beyond Her Book blog had to be cancelled. Darn it, I was looking forward to that.

***But my blog post is up at I Heart Presents!

Monday, July 27, 2009

The Next Phase of Life

Now that conference week, and the resulting brain drain, is over (for the most part), I’m moving on to obsessing about the next big event on my calendar: the first day of school. The Worsham house is busy pouring over school supply lists and discussing teacher assignments. For Drama Queen, this time of year has become old hat, though she mourns the end of summer. For Little Man, something very exciting occurs this year: he starts kindergarten.

He’s been in preschool for 2 years, so he is as prepared as he can get for this big event. And don’t worry, Mommy is prepared too. Sorry, but I’m not one of those women who weeps uncontrollably when the baby of the family leaves the nest. I enjoyed the preschool experience from the moment I first dropped him off, and am counting down the days until I can do the same for a much longer period. I know that isn’t how most women feel, but I can’t help being different.

I’ve been looking forward to this phase of my life for several years. So often, it seemed like what little time I had while he was in school got eaten up by errands, calls, and other people’s demands. But I, selfish as I am, want this time to be about me and my writing. How awesome to have uninterrupted hours in the day to write and revise, plot ideas and fine-tune submissions?

But I’m worried at the same time. I don’t want this precious gift of time to be wasted or devoured by other things. Yes, I’ll have to make the occasional run to the bank or grocery store, but I don’t want days to go by before I realize that I’ve gotten absolutely nothing accomplished in the pursuit of my goal. So many women don’t have the chance to stay home and write without worrying about a day job. Though I’ll have my resume writing service to handle, I’m still going to have more time to pursue my writing career than I’ve ever had.

I’d love to hear any advice you have on keeping this time set aside for my writing goals. How do you stay focused and not let others intrude on that precious time? I’ve gotten pretty good at saying no to outsiders, but I have a much more difficult time with family and close friends. Any advice for me?


P.S. The Playground’s Problem Child is guest blogging today at the I Heart Presents blog. Check it out!

P.P.S. Tomorrow is a very special day over at Publisher’s Weekly columnist Barbara Vey’s blog! Barbara told us about this over our annual breakfast at Nationals and you will love it!!! From Barbara: Tuesday, July 28th will be the world premiere of a very special Drive By Video™ that I put together at Thrillerfest. It's starring 8 super men authors and tells a story. This is a not to be missed event. There will be prizes and a poll (a la American Idol).

Friday, July 24, 2009

A Little Goes A Long Way

This last conference was my fifth. I’ve been to Reno, Atlanta, Dallas, San Francisco, and now, DC. Regardless of what happens over those few, frantic days, I always end up coming home with the same general feeling.

That I’m a fraud and I’ll never publish.

I think the exhaustion and emotional overload make me a little irrational, but year after year, it’s the same. Some people come home fired up to conquer the world. I sit through workshops and other gatherings and wonder how I’ll ever make it. I usually get writer’s paralysis for weeks, if not a month or more. And yet, I go back every year.

Part of it is seeing two thousand women in one place that are all scrambling for the same dream. How can we all possibly achieve our goals? It’s true that one person selling doesn’t mean another person won’t, but seeing the crowds gathered together is overwhelming. Especially knowing it’s only a fifth of your competition (and just RWA members at that.) Of course, all the people brushing by with ribbons declaring them as Golden Heart finalists or First Sale celebrants doesn't help either.

I think another part is hearing feedback from agents and editors in workshops. They rarely beat around the bush. They tell you what they want and don’t want. They will flat out tell you that they’ve seen at least fifty different versions of a theme – zombie archeologists, for example ─ and they’re sick of it. If you are sitting in the audience with your hopes pinned on your witty and brilliant zombie archaeology series, it’s bound to bring you down. Its never good to hear that what you write is unpopular or undesirable in the place you're hoping it will find a home. When your plans are suddenly changed for you, it takes a bit to recover.


I am pleased to report that this year, I did not feel like a fraud. I felt like I fit right in amongst the high-heeled masses. I also don’t feel all doom and gloom about my publishing odds. I think as things go, my career is looking pretty good. I’ve also been writing and editing and plotting like a mad fiend. Very unlike me. Why, you ask? Why the sudden change?

To be perfectly honest, I’m an external validation junkie. Sure, I get plenty from the Playfriends and such, but it’s like your mama telling you you’re pretty. Its nice to hear and can perk up your mood when you’re down, but they’re almost obligated to say it whether its true or not. So, when the hunky boy at school tells you you’re pretty, you not only believe it, but you’re floating in the clouds and putting on extra lip gloss just in case. This year at conference, I got the equivalent of the captain of the football team telling my friend he thinks I’m cute. We probably won’t date, but I’ll tell you what... it feels good.

What was the best compliment you've ever received from a non-mama-like source?

Thursday, July 23, 2009

Conference Frenzy

This week we all seem to be talking about conference and our experiences there. I didn't have the excitement that Angel experienced or the lunches/coffees/dinners that PC had scheduled. Nor did I know someone in ever single room like PM (seriously, she even knew the woman who walked onto the elevator with us) or have concrete goals as SP did. I went into this conference a little aimless. I knew that I'd enjoy seeing DC as I'd never gotten the chance to visit before. And I was right. Seeing the capital, the memorials and monuments, the Declaration of Independence, Smithsonian and the National Zoo were all amazing. But once those things were over I had no real direction. It turns out I was pretty busy. I didn't even manage to have a single drink in the bar. Conference sacrilege!

Despite being completely and totally unprepared - read no schedules, no lists, I didn't even look at the workshops before we left - I managed to come home energized and excited. I have a set of goals and a direction I didn't have before I left. I attended several workshops that excited me and started the creative juices flowing. I didn't even mind that I missed all of the publisher book signings. I might not have a pile of books but I came home with something greater. Since I've been home I've experienced what we've loving termed conference crash but despite that I've also managed to write 35 pages in three days.

When all is said and done it was a great conference. Getting to see Harry Potter with several Blaze Babes and my phenomenal editor, participating in the literacy autographing, having breakfast with Barbara Vey, attending the Blaze lunch and the Harlequin Party were all fantastic. But the highlight had to have been watching Angel as she experienced all of the excitement of being a Golden Heart finalist. Sitting next to her as her name and picture flashed up on that screen...I was so proud of her.

I might have to start all conferences this way from now on. Yeah, that sound is the other Playfriends groaning in protest. They were the ones who had to deal with my lack of preparations. Good friends are worth their weight in gold!


Wednesday, July 22, 2009

It's All Her Fault

Prior to 2001 I'd never read a romance novel. My reading tastes ran more toward Stephen King, Sidney Sheldon, Judith Krantz, Belva Plain and Agatha Christie. I should add, however, that I stopped reading Stephen King after The Shining kept me awake all night.

Then in 2001, a fanfiction message board I was on was plagued with several cases of plagiarism. Someone posted an engaging story that captured everyone's attention and praise. She commented that she'd paid her way through college writing for Harlequin and we were all in awe.

Then someone recognized her story as a Harlequin romance novel with the character names and locations changed. Because my town has a good used book store that's heavy on romance, I volunteered to try and find the book in question so we could be sure before we publicly accused this person of plagiarism.

It was plagiarism all right. She copied the book nearly word for word, changing Emily and Beau to Lois and Clark. Our little writing world was shocked and the author was quite gracious when she saw that we were policing the matter by removing the plagiarized material, banning the person from the message boards and posting strong warnings about passing off someone else's work as your own.

But something else happened. I didn't stop reading "The Five Minute Bride" after the first page and I'd confirmed the crime. I kept on til I'd turned the last page. I loved the story and the happy ending. Where had these books been all my life?

I went back to the UBS and hunted down all of her backlist and read those. Because she'd done a series with two other authors, I found those books and read them too. Then I found those authors' backlists and things just sorta got out of hand.

I was hooked, and I've never looked back. So if anyone's to blame for my romance novel obsession, it's Leanne Banks for writing such wonderful books. That's her in the photo. This was taken at the Readers for Life literacy signing last week in Washington, DC. I added her latest Silhouette Desire to my collection and in the process of touching base with an old friend, I got to meet one of my writing idols.

Janet Evanovich is the author of the popular Stephanie Plum series of books and one night in the hotel lobby, Leanne introduced me to Janet. It was my big fan-girl moment of the conference. I shook her hand and gushed, "I'm a Morelli cupcake." Those of you who read the books will understand. Those who don't should read the books. *g* After I'd taken sides in the "Morelli or Ranger" debate, she reached into her purse and presented me with a small pin that has the words I Y Morelli on it.

Squee! Now I'm an official Morelli cupcake.

So who or what turned YOU onto romance? Do you remember the first romance novel you read? Morelli or Ranger?

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

PC's Conference Notes...

Can I just say how impressed I am Angel was able to write a coherent blog post for yesterday? My brain is really fried, so her writing ability just hours after arriving home floors me.

I did have a fantastic time at the conference; it’s hard to pick a highlight – or even three dozen – to share.

Meeting the Executive Editor for the Presents Line, Tessa Shapcott, for a cup of tea and a chat was really neat, as was going out for lunch with the other Presents authors (all of whom are funny, fab, and oh-so-nice). Several of the other M&B editors were around – including Jo Grant, Kimberley Young and Sheila Hodgson – and, seriously folks, they’re sooo nice. (Much more than I would be after listening to dozens of pitches all day long.)

I also happened to be at the RWA registration desk when NPR dropped by to check out the conference. I’m a huge NPR geek, so finding Scott Simon in front of me was a fan-girl moment. He was kind enough to pose for a picture with me. The interview he did with Nora Roberts that day is available on the NPR website. (I can't find the cable to download the pictures off my phone at the moment, so you'll just have to trust me that it's a great photo.)

Quality time with my fabu CP is something I never get enough of, so actually sharing a room this year gave us a little more opportunity to chat and hang out. I love her and she always tells me how thin and talented I am… (but that’s not why I love her. It’s just a bonus.)

Meeting up with Barbara Vey from the PW Beyond Her Book Blog is always a special event for me. She’s so awesome, but we really have to rethink the 8-am-after-the-Harlequin-Party-breakfast for next year. I was a bit of a zombie.

I had a great random chat with Blaze author Karen Anders in the hotel lobby. She told me about this great meditation program she used that really upped her creativity and production. If it works half as well for me, it will be well worth the money I spent just hours after arriving home. (Stay tuned to the blog and I’ll keep y’all up to date as I go through the program. We’ll see how it works.)

Honestly, those random chats in the lobby and the bar are some of the best moments of conference – you never know who you’ll bump into and end up having an amazing conversation with. For me, that included Diane Pershing (RWA’s President), Madeline Hunter, several wide-eyed First Timers, and debut author Beverley Kendall (who became my newest BFF when she saw my name tag in the elevator and told me she’d just downloaded my book onto her e-reader).

Sadly, most of my Modern Heat author friends live in either Australia or England so it was up to me and Julie Cohen to represent the group. Which I think we did pretty well until that last glass of wine I really shouldn’t have had. (Julie is a bad influence on me. But she did give me an awesome glow bracelet since she sold out of her new book at the Lit Signing in about twenty seconds.)

Signing at the Literacy Signing was so cool, but I kind of missed being able to walk around and see everyone. Granted, the lack of a Nora-like line to my table probably meant I could have taken a stroll around the room, but I didn’t. Several people came up to say hello, saying they knew me from here or Facebook, which was nice. Boy, that room was crowded though…

I’m giving Honorary Playfriend Barbara a shout-out here in the hopes she’ll de-lurk. SP and I were in the elevator chatting when the other woman with us mentioned how she already had both my books (she’d gotten the UK version of the one that won’t be out until Oct in the US), and then went on to tell us how she came to the blog all the time. SP and I were giddy at meeting her (and she seemed shocked that we were). Just for the record – any blog readers who see us anywhere are welcome to stop us and say hello. It makes our day to meet the folks who make the Playground such a great place to be!

See, so many neat things and I haven’t even mentioned the Harlequin party, the RITA ceremony, the great response to the workshop I was a part of at the Leadership Retreat, the amazing Lebanese restaurant just a short walk away, the free night at the hotel I scored for being flexible, the fan-girl moments of spotting an author I really admire… the list goes on and on.

But the best news of all – the Problem Child made it through another conference without doing permanent damage to herself. No injuries to report (unless blisters count). That’s two in a row. Now, if I can just work having a conference where I don’t stick my foot in my mouth at least once… sigh.


Monday, July 20, 2009

Golden Heart final, Part 2

As most of you know by now, I didn’t come home with a beautiful Golden Heart win. Though I was disappointed, the honor went to a wonderful woman who recently joined the Heart of Dixie chapter, Kim Law. I wish her the best of luck with her submission, which was requested by the final editor! Squeee!!!

I wanted to do a bit of a continuation from last week’s blog, and let you know what it was like to be a Golden Heart finalist at RWA National conference. It was even more exciting, scary, and stressful than I imagined. I’m completely blessed to have had the experience.

We spent the first two days sight seeing, which was fun, but also painful. For the first time ever in my conference experiences, my shoes rubbed blisters on my feet. Even though I’d worn them at home. And thus began the week of band-aids. I had a great deal of trouble getting them to stick and had to replace them often. I went through 2.5 boxes of Band-Aids within a week. Yuck!

Being a new member of the Golden Network chapter, I was able to attend their conference retreat for the first time, which involved a panel of editors and agents discussing what they were looking for in authors and evaluations of queries. Tough, but a source of great information. Instigator and I also attended their Golden Network Dessert reception, where we mingled with current and former GH finalists and witnessed our friend Lynn Raye Harris’s “booting” ceremony, which bumped her into alumni status, since she is now a published author.

Fellow attendees were incredibly excited for me during the entire week. Complete strangers would cheer for me in the elevator and congratulations were overflowing. Many people asked me about my final, and it gave this shy introvert an opening to talk about my work and my writing journey with others.

Friday afternoon, the RWA National Board invited us to a dessert reception, where they presented all the Golden Heart and RITA finalists with a certificate. It was so exciting to watch everyone receive their certificate, to actually hold that piece of paper in my hands with MY manuscript title and name, to share smiles with fellow finalists. One would think that this would be a more blasé experience for the RITA finalists, but they were just as exuberant and I had the joy of watching several friends and acquaintances accept their own certificates.

On Saturday afternoon, I showed up for my category’s scheduled rehearsal for the evening ceremony and had to face the dreaded jumbotron. I’d been eyeing it with sick fear all week and now I had to grasp the reality of having my picture appear on it. Even worse, we took turns walking up onto the stage and experiencing the glare of the lights while we said our names into the microphones. That’s when the real shock came! You found yourself facing another jumbotron, with your face large and up close. But despite the big picture, the atmosphere shimmered with anticipation and sparkling excitement. I enjoyed chatting about the pitfalls of stairs, high heels, and long dresses. The show’s witty director, Laura Hayden, warned us of the dangers of drinking beforehand and not having our speeches prepared.

Two memories resonate with me from Saturday night: 1) Seeing my name and picture on the screen during the ceremony and hearing the applause and cheers of my friends. Far from the scariness I’d anticipated, I was so proud in that moment. Whether I won or not, my work was good enough to be there. Nothing will ever take that accomplishment from me. 2) The love and support of my people that night. The Playfriends who dressed me, hugged me, and beamed their own pride. Our mavens, Linda Howard and Linda Winstead Jones, who dusted diamond flakes in my hair, provided me with a beautiful goddess dress, and told me I was already a winner. My lovely chapter mates who stood with me that night, cheered for me, told me how beautiful I was, and affirmed their belief in me in so many other small ways.

Despite not being sure I would win, I wrote an acceptance speech so I would be prepared. I didn’t get to say it on stage, but I’m going to paraphrase it here. Because it really wasn’t about winning the Golden Heart, it was about the people who’d gotten me there. I’m convinced that the greatest gift this journey will ever give me – published or not – are these wonderful people who believe in me even in those moments when I can’t believe in myself. That’s another thing that can’t be taken away from me. I pray for everyone reading this that you’ll find the same.

I love you and thank you for the support you’ve shown me and the excitement of sharing this experience with me. It has been a wonderful journey. So much about writing is solitary and just pure work. This was the icing, the excitement and glitter (which I still had in my hair when I touched down in Alabama on Sunday afternoon). :) Now, it is time to get back to work…


Sunday, July 19, 2009

Ask us: Conference Edition

While the Playfriends attend the RWA National Conference, we're answering your questions about life, writing, and everything else on the blog. Comments are open and there are prizes to be won!

Jane asks: Do the Playfriends communicate by phone or email daily? How often do the Playfriends get together in person?

More like seven hundred times a day. :-) Very little goes on in our lives we don't feel the need to share with the others immediately. We have our own yahoo loop, and on busy days there could be fifty emails flying around. As for in person gatherings, that can vary. Sometimes we'll go a couple of weeks without the whole group getting together, but we're usually planning something -- a dinner, a shopping trip, breakfast before our chapter meeting, a movie trip -- and it's not uncommon for us to get together in smaller groups. PM, Angel, and PC went shopping for Nationals, but SP and Insti were at work and couldn't come.

Check in next week to see how conference went!

*Jane, send us your address to claim your prize!

Saturday, July 18, 2009

Ask us: Conference Edition

While the Playfriends attend the RWA National Conference, we're answering your questions about life, writing, and everything else on the blog. Comments are open and there are prizes to be won!

Avi asks: How much time do you spend doing research after you have come up with a plot. Does location play a big part of that research?

PC: Since I'm a pantser, I tend to research on the fly. Usually right after I've written myself into a corner. :-) Location is important, and I do research that up front, because I need to have a feel for where my characters are. I can't really say how much time I spend on research, simply because I'm usually in a panic, trying to figure something out so I can write myself out of the corner!

PM: My book is set in Atlanta, and while I was familiar with the overall layout and flavor of the city, I needed help with some of the details. My nephew attended Georgia Tech and my sister became very familiar with Atlanta during his four years there. Additionally she has to go to Atlanta on business at least once a year. So, she and I took one of our infamous girl's trips to Atlanta last December and scoped out all the places I used in the book. We stayed at the Georgian Terrace Hotel where my hero and heroine had their honeymoon, looked up the house in the Virginia Highland area of town that I'd patterned my heroine's house after and visited the Biltmore Hotel where I set a charity ball scene. After those three days of living in the setting of my book, it really came alive for me. Now let's see... wonder if I can set the next one in Paris?

SP: I am a plotter, but there are only certain elements that I research in advance. I'm not big on tons of research, which is why I could never write a historical. Usually I look up things as I go along, but I try to keep my book fairly general if I feel I'm treading into an area that I could really mess up with too many details. Currently, the book I'm working on involves a poker tournament. Before I started writing, I had to get a general idea of how they're run, the basics of the game, and how anyone could manage to cheat. Aside from that, I set a fictional hotel in a fictional location on the strip (smack dab on top of the Tropicana, actually, but I only know that because I lived there) and only add the specifics I need to make the story ring authentic to readers but not bore them with the mechanics of the game.

In terms of location, I tend to set the stories in places that have the right 'feel' for the story. I throw in seasonally appropriate details and landmarks that I look up online, but I'm not really one to make the location one of the characters. Its important where they are and how it impacts the story, but I don't use it that heavily. I do, however, let the location help me build characters, like proper southern ladies and laid back beach dwellers.

Insti: The short answer is that it depends on the book. I do as much research as I need to. Some require more - like Afterburn. I was dealing with a setting and occupations I didn't know, not to mention the military. I often don't realize I need a piece of information until I get into the writing but I don't want to interrupt the creative flow so I tend to write myself notes. My first draft is dotted with red text reminding me that I need to google this or that.

Location can play a huge part in the book. I do tend to try and stay with places that I either know or with making up locations that I use. Every place has it's own quirks and it's hard to capture those if you've never been there (or don't know anyone who has).

Angel: Since I write contemporary, a large part of my research is simply location. I make up most city or small town names, just to give myself some leeway, but I definitely check out the region. Especially pictures! I'm a visual person, so I love to google pictures and find houses and landscapes that give me a feel for the area. Otherwise, I just make notes in the manuscript about things I need to look up later, and do so.

Avi, please email us to claim your prize.

Friday, July 17, 2009

Everybody dance now

The Playfriends' hotel room looks like a war zone. There are clothes, shoes, make-up items and heaven knows what else strewn about the room.

But we're gonna PARTY!

Film at 11:00. Well, not. What happens at the party stays at the party.

We DO have lots of good books to bring home.

Ask us: Conference Edition

While the Playfriends attend the RWA National Conference, we're answering your questions about life, writing, and everything else on the blog. Comments are open and there are prizes to be won!

Patsy Lynn asks: I know that most publishers/editors have a minimum word count for submissions. I am new to submitting and would like to know if word count alone can get your manuscript rejected. Also, do you have any suggestions on where I could go to help me write my synopsis. What if your book is wonderful, but your synopsis falls short?

PC: Word count can get your manuscript rejected -- but don't panic yet. Part of avoiding this is doing your homework. For instance, Harlequin has a word count range for each line. If the range is 50-55k, your 100k masterpiece will be rejected. Harlequin just doesn't publish that length. At the same time, a story that's only 30k won't be long enough to publish.

But outside of the extremes, I wouldn't panic too much. A great story that's 5k too short is fixable. A great story that's 5k too long is also fixable.

For synopsis help, I recommend Charlotte Dillon's fab website ( You can also Google "synopsis" and find a lot of advice.

As the fabulous Miss Snark used to say, the purpose of a synopsis is to assure the editor that aliens don't suddenly arrive in chapter 14. Your synopsis just gives the editor a chance to see that you know how the book ends, and that it ends without an unnecessary alien invasion. The writing is what really matters. (Remember, you're talking to the girl who cut and rewrote everything after page 50 of her first book.)

PM has nothing more to add since PC did such a great job.

SP concurs. :)

Insti: Slackers. :-) But yeah, I agree with PC. I'd like to add not to let worrying about manuscript length infringe on your creative abilities. Don't get bogged down in minute details that in the grand scheme of things don't matter. What's more important is that you're writing a good book with believable/identifiable characters. Concentrate on that first. When you have a first draft - and only then - worry about things like word count.

As for writing a synopsis I like to use the layer method. Start with the things that are most important - and leave out everything else! Once you know how long the important things are (character, turning points, voice/feel of story, a tiny piece of backstory) you can add anything else that's important if you have the room. Putting a 50K word book into 5 pages can be tough but you need to be ruthless with what's important for the editor to know up front.

Angel: The only thing I have to add is for the synopsis: try to write it with the same voice as your book, so it reflects the tone and word usage of the rest of your writing. AND, if you don't have it by the time you're done writing (and rewriting) it, you haven't done it right. :)

*Patsy Lynn, send us your address to claim your prize!

Thursday, July 16, 2009

Ask us: Conference Edition

While the Playfriends attend the RWA National Conference, we're answering your questions about life, writing, and everything else on the blog. Comments are open and there are prizes to be won!

kimh asks: Who was your inspiration for writing, and if you weren't writing, what would you be doing?

PC: I don't know who I'd list as an "inspiration," but someone told me once I reminded them of Jenny Crusie when she first started out, and that made me very happy indeed!

Realistically, if I wasn't writing, I'd still be teaching. Since I don't like students all that much, I'm very glad that's not the case.

PM: I worked as a book reviewer for a romance website and had so many of the authors there offer advice and encouragement -- Kathie DeNosky, Kristi Gold and Elizabeth Sinclair especially. Leanne Banks was the first romance writer I met online and she continues to cheer me on. I met Roxanne St. Claire at my first conference and I want to be like her when I grow up. Our Mavens at Heart of Dixie RWA -- Beverly Barton, Linda Howard and Linda Winstead Jones -- have been a source of constant help and information (and the occasional boot in the rear when I need it). And last but certainly not least the other Playfriends have paved the way for me as I straggled along behind them in the whole process.

If I wasn't writing, I'd probably still be reviewing books.

SP: My earliest writing influences were writers like Stephen King, Dean Koontz and Mary Higgins Clark. I was definitely drawn to thrillers early on. As I got a little older and got my hands on spicier stuff, I started reading historicals by Bertrice Small and Jude Deveraux. Turns out I couldn't make myself write it, though. Right now, I'd have to say that the work of writers like Maven LJ and Charlaine Harris push me to write better within my genre, which I consider to be quirky paranormals with fun characters.

If I couldn't write, I'd probably throw all my energy behind starting a wedding business. Own my own chapel or coordinator company. Wedding cakes and such. I really enjoy doing it, but I simply don't have the energy to chase both dreams at once.

Insti: There are sooo many influences in my decision to write. Every last author I've read since I turned thirteen and discovered Harlequin and romance novels. They all brought me something different, took me to different places and opened worlds to me that I wouldn't have seen without their work.

I might have met the Mavens after I'd made the decision to write but they are a HUGE part of the reason I'm published. They're also hugely responsible for the fact that I didn't quit and for the fact that I was ready and aware of the industry I'd decided to become a part of.

What would I be doing if I wasn't writing? Probably still doing my day job (office manager for a small company). Although, I'd also need a new obsession to take the place of my writing time. I'm not sure what that would be. It would probably involve something that would drive the girls batty and/or embarrass them to death. Honestly, I'd probably turn into a stage mom. The girls appreciate my editor more than she will ever know.

Angel: Early in my reading of romance, I was influenced by authors like Phyllis A Whitney and Mary Stewart. Since I started writing, my biggest influences have been our Mavens (Linda Winstead Jones, Beverly Barton, and Linda Howard) who have taught us both craft and the business side of writing, and the Playfriends, who are available for a pep talk or to help solve a plot problem at any given moment.

But I have to say my biggest influences aren't writing friends. They are my husband and my mother and sister. Both have encouraged me from the moment I first said out loud that I wanted to write a book. They ask me about my writing and listen when I try to explain the ins and outs of this challenging industry. More than anything, they believe in me. Whether I ever sell a book or not, that belief is something I will cherish for the rest of my life.

Without writing in my life, I'd have a heck of a lot more free time, I can tell you that! But I honestly can't imagine my life without it anymore. So I can't answer that part of the question.

*kimh, send us your address to claim your prize!

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Ask us: Conference Edition

While the Playfriends attend the RWA National Conference, we're answering your questions about life, writing, and everything else on the blog. Comments are open and there are prizes to be won!

Claire asks: How did all of you get started writing? Was it something you always wanted to do? Do you write anything besides romance novels?

PC: It sounds cliche, but I've always wanted to write a romance. I didn't start writing until after my daughter was born, though. I'm not sure what the spark was that was different from all the times before that I said I wanted to write, but it felt like the right time. I'm so glad I found RWA and my chapter, Heart of Dixie, at the very beginning. I learned so much so quickly.

As for writing something else, unless you count blog posts and notes to my daughter's teacher, then, no :-)

PM: I never started out to be a writer. I sorta stumbled into it. Actually you can read about my journey to writing romance on our website this month. I've completed one manuscript and I also write short stories for the confessions magazines (True Confessions, True Story, etc).

SP: I actually started writing in elementary school. I'd take our simple writing assignment and manage to spin it into some melodrama. I got my hands on a typewriter in junior high and started pounding out pages. Although all my stories had a romance element, I never really considered them to be romances. I considered them to be thrillers or mysteries because there was always a whodunnit thrown in with my story. When I got older, I realized that the relationship in the story was so critical that perhaps they were more romance than anything else. Since then, everything I've written has had a romance at its core. (Unless you count those miserable technical documents I write for work.)

Insti: I started writing when Sweet Pea was a year old. I think I needed something that was just for me - something that didn't involve drool and diapers. Honestly, I grew up thinking my younger sister would be the writer in the family so it never occurred to me to think about doing it. But when she decided to be a chemical engineer (yeah, as far from writing as you can get) I thought why not? I grew up with a book permanently in my hand and I have to admit sometimes I didn't like the way the book ended. I thought the story should have been different...MY way. So I decided to try it. It was worth the gamble. I found a piece of myself I hadn't realized was missing.

Angel: As with most writers, I started out as an avid reader. All through my teens and into adulthood, I devoured books and received a Bachelor of Arts in English. I also spent a lot of time day dreaming about the characters and what I would have done differently, but it never occurred to me to write a book until a dear friend suggested I attend a workshop for writers. From then on, I was hooked! Now I write romance, short fiction for the Trues magazines, non-fiction articles, and even resumes (for the day job).

Claire, please email us to claim your prize.

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Ask us: Conference Edition

While the Playfriends attend the RWA National Conference, we're answering your questions about life, writing, and everything else on the blog. Comments are open and there are prizes to be won!

jeanne asks: I would love to know what authors you are all excited about meeting at the conference.

PC: Oh wow. Thanks to RWA conferences, I can say I've gotten to at least say hello to authors I get all fan-girl just thinking about: Jenny Crusie, Susan Elizabeth Phillips, Julie Garwood, Nora Roberts. Most of the authors I'm looking forward to meeting are the ones I've "met" online, but not in person. The Mills and Boon "Newbies" are planning a breakfast meeting and I'm really looking forward to meeting all the authors I've been talking to online for the last year.

PM: This will be my sixth conference and like PC I've had the fan-girl moments meeting Meg Cabot, Vicki Lewis Thompson, Suzanne Brockmann and more. But I'm also always excited to meet the authors who've made their first sale since last year. You can spot them by the pink ribbon on their badge and the absolute glow that surrounds them. Last year PC had her pink ribbon and year before it was Instigator. Our good friend and chapter mate Lynn Raye Harris will be wearing a pink ribbon this year.

SP: Hmm...this is my fifth conference. I've met so many cool people, so its hard to say. I don't know that its any one author that I'm excited about, so much as being in the author-zone. Everywhere I look will be people who 'get' me. People who live my dream. Its a comforting feeling. Its also cool to bump into someone, read their nametag and realize - "Hey! I know you from such and such but I've never met you in person." Those are fun moments. I have to admit though, that I'm glad Stephenie Meyer is not a member of RWA that I know of. I'd hate to go fangirl on her, and I don't think I could stop myself.

Insti: Like the others, I've been to several conferences and have had my share of fangirl moments - Susan Elizabeth Phillips, Nora Roberts, Suzanne Enoch, Jenny Crusie... This year I wish Charlaine Harris were going to be there because I'd completely wig out. But what I look forward to most is seeing people I can only connect with once a year - especially the other Blaze Babes.

Angel: Like the other Playfriends, I've been to enough conferences to have met many of my favorite authors, including Sharon Sala, Sabrina Jeffries, and Mary Jo Putney. This year, I'm looking forward to hearing JR Ward and Jessica Andersen speak during a workshop. Most of all, I'm looking forward to meeting my fellow Golden Heart finalists -- the 2009 Ruby Slipper Sisterhood. I've gotten to "meet" them online, but this will be a chance to see them in person.

*jeanne, send your snail mail addy to the Playground Monitor to claim your prize!

Monday, July 13, 2009

Ask Us: Golden Heart Final

While the Playfriends are away at conference this week, we decided to do a little Q&A with our readers. But I get to answer Monday’s questions all on my own: What is it like to be a Golden Heart ® finalist? Several people have asked me this, and of course, the Playfriends have had to put up with the goofy grin on my face for months. So today, I’ll try to give you a little glimpse of what being a GH finalist has been like.

Let me start off with a little explanation for those of you who aren’t immersed in the romance writing community like we are. The Golden Heart is a contest for unpublished authors, sponsored by Romance Writers of America. It, along with the published author RITA contest, has been described as the Oscars of the romance writing community. The winner of the awards are announced on the final night of National Conference (Saturday) during an awards ceremony, followed by a dessert reception. This is a really high honor in our field. In my case, I consider it an incredible achievement, as my category had over 80 entries, with only 8 finalists. I’m truly honored and excited.

The journey started with lots of excitement and disbelief. You can read my call story in the March 2009 archives. I was practically useless for a week, as I got to enjoy the fun of telling others, celebrating with my peeps, and meeting the other finalists online. The 2009 finalists have a yahoo group, and we’ve been steadily logging in the emails as conference approaches. It has been wonderful to get to know this group of women, whose perseverance, encouragement, and advice have boosted my own writing output and confidence throughout the last few months.

My local RWA chapter (north Alabama’s Heart of Dixie) celebrated along with me and the Playfriends went out to dinner, of course. We have a tradition in our chapter of giving silver charms when authors make their first sale. The Playfriends gifted me with a silver charm bracelet in honor of this momentous event, with a silver heart charm engraved with “2009 Golden Heart Finalist” and the name of my book. I can’t contain my smile every time I wear it. I know that one day, I’ll add that first sale charm to it.

After the initial rush of excitement, I finally had to face reality. Not only had I finalled in this contest, but my picture was about to be seen all over the world on the Romance Writers of America website and on the jumbotron at National Conference before at least 2000 people. Yikes! Luckily, I felt confident in handling this for myself. I gathered my mother-in-law and sister-in-law together and we trekked over to Maven LJ’s house for an informal studio session. We were able to get some pretty good shots, and I didn’t feel like I would completely disgrace myself when my picture flashed up on the screen.

Then came the flurry of decisions about conference appointments. You see, at National Conference, attendees can sign up for agent and editor appointments where they can pitch their books. This year, I’m pitching a single title for the first time, so I had to make choices about who to see. As a GH finalist, I got to sign up on the first day appointments came open. This is the first time I was able to actually sign up on a day that I didn’t have to worry about the server crashing. :)

But one decision leads to another… in this case, the most important decisions of all: what on earth am I going to wear? The dress for the big night was taken care of rather quickly. I’ll be wearing this goddess dress that Maven Linda Winstead Jones so graciously gave me. This isn’t a great picture of it, but I love the peach color. That’s the silver shawl I’ll wear with it. Isn’t it beautiful?


And though I know it sounds pretentious of me, I’ve been really uptight about what I’m wearing throughout the conference this year too. I’ve heard about all the attention GH finalists get and I know that I’ll feel more comfortable with people noticing me if I feel confident in how I look. So I bought some new dress pants, some skirts and cocktail shirts, shoes, and makeup. I even had my sister-in-law over the other day to help me with my eye shadow. I’m not very good with makeup, so she showed me what to put where. :)

Now, as amazing as it seems, I’m down to my last step in the obsessing process. I’m conference-bound (as of today!) and the nerves have kicked into high gear. I’ve spent weeks writing my pitches and my acceptance speech (I wasn’t trying to be presumptuous. I’d rather write it and not win, than win and stumble over myself like an idiot. And I would, trust me.). I have extra events to attend at conference: RWA’s reception for the GH & RITA finalists, the Golden Network (a chapter exclusively for GH finalists) retreat and their dessert reception, rehearsal, and the RITA awards ceremony on Saturday night.

I honestly don’t understand how one person can be so excited and nervous at the same time. I feel like I’ve been smiling for months, even through revisions, finishing my single title, and more revisions. Through writing pitches and angsting over submissions. Yet I can honestly say I feel happier than I ever have about my writing. I think that’s one of the greatest gifts of this unexpected award. It takes a high caliber of writing to become a Golden Heart finalist. And I did it. Me. Little old Angel. I’m amazed and humbled… and so very grateful. Whether I win or not, I’m grateful.

So there you have it, the roller coaster ride I’ve been on since March. It’s been wonderful, exciting, and at times scary, but I wouldn’t miss it for anything. I’ll be checking in with you next week about how conference went. If you have any questions for me today, please feel free to post them. I’ll be travelling, but I’ll be happy to answer them as I get the chance from my iPhone.

And before I go, let me say one last thing. Saying thank you in front of 2000 people at conference would be wonderful, and scarier than one of those inverted loops on a roller coaster. But the people that I want to say thank you to the most are the ones who have gone with me on the journey: YOU. Thank you all for being there. It means more than I can say.


Friday, July 10, 2009

Last Minute Chaos

Although Nationals doesn't officially start until Wednesday evening at the Literacy Signing, most of the Playfriends are managing last minute details before we head off to DC. PC is already gone on some pre-conference site seeing. The rest of us are going a couple days early for the official Smarty Pants's Whirlwind DC tour.

This means the chaos has firmly set in. Despite our planning, our packing lists, our shopping trips and fashion shows, this is the point where everything unravels. Items go missing. Last minute laundry. Grocery store runs to stock up on frozen pizzas to feed the family left behind. Scrambling for manicures and pedicures. Picking up clothes from the tailor or the dry cleaner. Hair appointments and other grooming requirements. For me, the chaos will also include a stop for spray tanning.

I don't tan. Almost not at all. I just turn red, peel, then go back to the same pasty shade I started with. I learned the hard way that its just not in my cards to have a healthy golden glow. Whenever I feel the need to knock a bit off my neon white, I hit the spray tanning booth. I've done it several times in the past with success. I don't turn orange and I don't get so dark that people notice. Its just a nice bit of color.

So I go to the tanning place. I pay for my tan. They take me back to the new machine they've put in. Cool, I think. She informs me the machine will guide me through the process which is a little more complicated than the old one. I get naked, put on the special lotion so I don't end up with freaky hands and knees, put on the paper covers for my hair and feet, then hop inside. I get into the starting position, hit the button, and we begin.

The machine starts to spray. It is supposed to do 4, 30-second sprays while I rotate a quarter turn each time. I hold my breath and wait for it to stop so I can turn to the next position. It stops. All is going well, it seems. Then, it announces in a polite, feminine voice that does not betray my problem...

"Please see attendant."

What? What do you mean, please see attendant?? I'm naked, half-tanned, covered in blocking lotion with a ridiculous looking bonnet on and it wants me to go down the hall in a too-small towel and retrieve the 17 year old girl working at the front desk? Are you kidding me?

Apparently the answer is no. The machine does not have a sense of humor, so it does not follow up with the phrase "Gotcha! Just messing with you, please turn to position 2." So, without an alternative, I get my towel and do as instructed. The two girls working there (who I must assume do not have electrical engineering degrees) hit some buttons, unplug the machine, and decide, after maxing out their troubleshooting techniques, that its broken. Broken. I do not have time for this.

As though this happens every day, they calmly informed me that my only option was to drive across town to the second (and only) location with a spray booth that works. And to do it in the next hour before they closed. I declined. They then recommended I go home immediately and shower, exfoliating well to remove any of the spray tanner. And they'll gladly credit my account for when I want to come back. Come back?! Sadly, the truth is that I probably will since its the only place in town that does it.

As though I don't already have enough to worry about, I have to rush home at the speed of light to scrub off the spray tanner that is busily bronzing ONE HALF of my body so I don't end up looking a fool at conference. That is not the way I want to make impressions on people in the business, you know? I blow past DB without speaking and march upstairs to bathe. He follows me up and I have to admit to the incident through the frosted glass shower door. I can still hear him laughing.

Fortunately, I did not end up half tanned. I scrubbed hard and I think the machine's breakdown caused it not to spray too well to begin with. I would not have heard the end of it from DB, much less the other Playfriends, if I had shown up with half of me pasty, half of me 'kissed' with sun.

Any of you struggling through any last minute preparations? Any similar spray tanning snafus you'd like to share? I haven't had the best of luck with the home tanning lotions, either, but at least they don't break.


PS. Don't forget to pop in while we're gone next week for our answers to the questions submitted by our readers.

PSS. Virginia is Instigator's Winner from yesterday. Please email to claim your autographed copy of Afterburn!

Thursday, July 09, 2009


Between getting ready for conference (still not there yet) and this office move my brain is fried. I completely forgot that it was Thursday until Smarty Pants emailed me to ask where my blog was.

See...I love where the new office is but it's a pain in the rear. It's located in one county and a city in another county. We have yet another city's address and a fourth city's phone number. I spent 3 hours driving all across North Alabama yesterday attempting to have our electric, gas and water transferred to our name. Three different companies in two different cities and counties. And then I spent another hour designing a floral arrangement for our conference room table.

I don't have my pitches ready. I have hair, nail and tanning appointments all in the next two days. I still have pieces in my wardrobe that I need to purchase. I. Am. Not. Ready. For any of this.

So, in order to make up for my lack of brain function and to atone for my sins I am going to give away a book today - a signed copy of Afterburn to one commenter.

Here, have some eye candy too :-)

Wednesday, July 08, 2009

7 Ways to Annoy a Flight Attendant

I'm in panic packing mode for the RWA conference in Washington, D.C., next week, and my brain is just having trouble coming up with a blog topic. Actually, my poor brain has had trouble with blog topics for a while now. I'm not a Golden Heart finalist like Angel so I don't have that excitement to share. I'm not a published author like Problem Child and Instigator, so I don't have that wider arena of the publishing world to draw from. And I'm not witty with interesting skills like Smarty Pants so I can't write about cake decorating or planning fabu parties.

So I'm going to share a piece I saw online about a month ago so that those of you flying to the RWA conference (or anywhere else) can stay in the good graces of your cabin crew.

A veteran flight attendant who works for a well-known airline listed these as her biggest pet peeves with air travelers:

1. Bring your pet on the plane and then act like an animal.
Over the years, I've seen a pet on a passenger's lap, a pet tucked into a seatback pocket, and a pet loose in the aisle (I nearly hit one with my beverage cart). All of this is against federal regulations. People tell me how well-behaved their pet is, but they can't follow the rules themselves! Your pet must stay in its carrier while you're on the plane. Yes, even if you've paid a "pet-in-cabin" fee.

2. Shove your bag into the first bin you see and then walk to your seat in the back of the plane.
You think you're clever, I know. You expect to grab your bag on your way out of the plane, but you're selfishly inconveniencing others. I can't lie and say we flight attendants don't take some small satisfaction when we tell you, "We couldn't identify the bag's owner, so we sent it to cargo." It's a security issue, for real. Carry-ons need to stay near their owners! So don't look so shocked when we say, "The signs will direct you to baggage claim. You can pick up your bag there."

3. Think that because you're on an airplane you're off-duty as a parent.
Stop expecting us to have spare diapers, formula, medicine, toys, playing cards, or batteries for DVD players or Game Boys. It's an airplane, not a 7-11. Take your kid to the restroom before you board. Leave the dry cereal and Legos at home and bring snacks and toys for your kids that won't make a horrible mess.

4. Drag on an oversize bag that's too heavy for you to lift by yourself.
I won't be compensated for any injuries I might sustain if I heft your bag into the overhead compartment for you. (And other passengers shouldn't have to step up and take the risk either.) The guideline is simple: You pack it, you stack it. Try this at home as a test (and this is to you ladies, especially): After you've packed your bag, put on the shoes you plan to wear on the plane and see if you can lift your bag and place it on top of your refrigerator. You can't? Pay the fee and check the bag.

5. Gripe that you haven't been seated in a roomy exit-row seat.
The exit rows weren't created as a reward for people who are tall, overweight, or just plain nice. They were designed to help passengers get out of the plane in an emergency. The people seated in an exit row must be able to see and speak clearly, open the emergency door, and help others. I prefer to see uniformed military, firefighters, law-enforcement officers, or off-duty pilots and flight attendants sitting in those seats. While the gate agent may assign exit-row seats first, the flight attendant makes the final determination about who gets to sit in them. And the quality of our choices is one of the frequent concerns of Federal Aviation Administration officials when they audit airlines for safety practices. So please don't complain. I'm just doing my job.

6. Act like you don't know the meaning of the words "under the seat in front of you."
Someday I will be muttering "under the seat in front of you" in the old-age home for flight attendants. What is it that you don't understand? To be clear, items should not be stowed behind your calves, under your feet like a footstool, in the open seat next to you, or in your lap. It's under the seat in front of you. And it applies to everything you carry on board. Items stored carelessly can trip others, or dislodge during takeoff and get lost, or inconvenience others. And while I'm on the topic: Please don't wrap your purse (or umbrella strap) around your ankle to keep from forgetting it. What will happen in an emergency, when every second counts and there's no time to disentangle yourself from your precious bag? Will you drag it ball-and-chain-style down the aisle of a burning plane?

7. Whine about the high price of flying.
When I hear people complain about coach airfares, I know they're not keeping up with the news. Fares have rarely been cheaper. In recent years, it's not uncommon for you to be able to cross the continent for under $130 each way, with a maximum of one layover. It's a bargain! At that price, you're barely paying for the fuel to get your body there—never mind the cost of shipping your 50 pounds of gear. You're already on the gravy plane. People point to first class ticket holders and want to know why they don't get the same treatment. Wake up folks: You're getting a great deal. If you want even more, pay more!

I won't mention that my favorite airline, Southwest, still does not charge for baggage, allows you two free bags and has the best on-time record in the business. Plus I just love Southwest's cabin crews. You can experience a little Southwest fun with the YouTube video below.

To all conference-goers, have a safe trip and we'll see you there.

Do you have any pet peeves regarding travel? Tell me. Get it off your chest.

P.S. Note that this blog posted at 12:34 on 7/8/09. This is the first time/date numerical alignment today. The next will be at 4:05:06 this afternoon. And to get more specific, the first alignment is actually 12:34:56, but Blogger doesn't show the seconds. Neat, huh?

Tuesday, July 07, 2009

Bet that synopsis doesn't seem so scary now...

As an English major, a teacher, and now a writer, I’ve been asked to read and offer my input on a lot of projects. I’ve read chapters, query letters, synopses, college admission essays, letters of complaint, scholarship applications, thousands of essays, thesis outlines – you name it, I’ve critted it. But I can honestly say I’ve never worked on anything as important as this.

A “Dear Birthparent” letter.

One of my friends from high school has been struggling with infertility for years, and she and her husband are now starting the adoption process. They have to write a letter to the mother of a child up for adoption telling her about themselves and why they should to be the couple to adopt her baby.

And she asked me for help.

My friend and her husband are fabulous people – smart, well-educated, stable in their careers, totally in love with each other and their marriage is strong. They’re funny, loving, and caring, and they will make fabulous parents to the child who is lucky enough to get them. But they want to make sure their letter is the best it can be since it will be one of the first things the birthparent will see.

So she sent it to me to see what I thought.

I could say I’m honored, but that wouldn’t begin to describe it. This is one of the most important things they’ll ever write and they want my help. My input. My advice. I’ve been asked to read a lot of things for a lot of people, but never something that had this kind of import. (That query letter I critted last week – while important to the author – just doesn’t seem the same now.)

My fingers and toes are crossed the birthparent will see this letter and know that my friend and her husband are the right choice for her baby. And if my comments on their letter made it stronger and helped the birthparent see how fabulous this couple is… wow. It makes me glad I majored in English in the first place.

Kinda puts that “Dear Reader” letter I have to write into perspective…


Monday, July 06, 2009

MOANday-Eddie Cibrian

I wanted to post a hunk for MOANday that was as hot as this July has been! I think Eddie Cibrian is our man.

Recently appearing in “The Starter Wife”, Nora Robert’s Northern Lights, and Ugly Betty, he’s also appeared in Invasion and Third Watch. I just think he’s cute. ;)


Hope y’all are recovered from your holiday weekend! I know the start of a new work week can be hard, but hopefully this will bring a little smile to your day.

P.S. I’d like to send a great, big I LOVE YOU to my Little Man, who turns 5 today.

Friday, July 03, 2009

Cole Slaw and Explosives

It's almost here. Even now as I'm writing this, I can hear the pops and bangs of juveniles with incendiary devices run amok in my neighborhood.

Oh yes, the Fourth of July.

I've been dreading it since I saw the first trailers go up in gas station parking lots across town. To explain for those lucky souls who live in states where fireworks are illegal, they're always sold out of rickety looking trailers crammed packed with stuff set in parking lots in every gas station you pass. (Which never made a whole lot of sense to me. Wouldn't it be better to set them up in a grocery store lot or something far far away from gasoline pumps? In case there's some freak tragedy of some kind that would blow up a city block?)

Anyway, I'm all for celebrating independence and all that, but I find that most holidays have evolved to these weird convoluted commercial versions of themselves. Don't get me wrong. I'm all for chocolate bunnies and spiderman costumes, but when it comes down to it, they really don't have much to do with anything. Fourth of July is no exception. How cole slaw and small explosives became the symbols of freedom, I'll never know. Of course, it doesn't help that I really don't like cabbage or fireworks that aren't handled by paid, licensed professionals. Wonder what the 4th of July equivalent of "Bah Humbug" is? :)

At least I get a day off of work for it. (Which I'll probably spend making an American flag cake to take to whatever bbq I end up at.)

A lot of others are probably off today, too, so I'll make this brief...

My heartfelt thanks go out first to the founders of this nation. They had the nerve to do something that had never been successfully accomplished and would've led to their execution for treason if they failed. And to all the soldiers, past and present, who fought to obtain our independence and keep it... thank you as well.

Happy Independence Day.

Thursday, July 02, 2009

Wuv True Wuv

I'm going to break the cycle we seem to have going on the Playground this week. I'm not going to talk about conference (although, I still need to shop for a couple of things and make my packing list and put my schedule together and...)

However, I am going to talk about something else that's close to our hearts on the Playground - Love. We deal with it every day. The push and pull of two people trying to find a way to reconcile their emotions and make a life together. It isn't easy - in fiction or in real life. But it is sooo worth it - in fiction and in real life.

Tomorrow is my anniversary. Eleven years of wedded bliss...or rather eleven years of give and take punctuated by moments of bliss that make it all worth it. I met my wonderful husband fifteen years ago. We've grown up together (We were both pretty young when we met. I'm not telling you exactly because I know you guys can do math...)

I've made mistakes. He has too but I'll be nice and not list them :-). The important thing is that at the end of the day nothing was worth giving him up. Nothing. I'm very lucky to have Zilla in my life.

I'm going to spend today moving my office (pray for me) and won't have internet access all day. But tomorrow I plan to spend the entire day with Zilla and our girls. I can't think of a better way to celebrate the life we've built together over the last several years. I love you, sweetheart!


Wednesday, July 01, 2009

More advice

I love going to the annual RWA conference. I just don't like all the stress of getting ready to go. You have to pay your registration fee right after Christmas. Then you monitor airline fares and pounce the moment you see a great deal. You have an email loop with you and the others in your chapter who are going too so you can all obsess over the new baggage rules and how to get enough clothes for a week into one suitcase -- especially when you have to have not only business casual but sightseeing clothes and formal wear as well.

But once I've pared the clothing down to bare minimums, squeezed it all into the bag along with shoes, toiletries, jewelry, et cetera, flown to the conference city, negotiated that city's transportation system and checked into the hotel, the stress falls away (mostly) and I'm ready to learn and see old friends and make new ones too.

This year I get to go to something new -- the PRO retreat. And I've been pouring over the other workshop listings to see which I want to attend. Wouldn't you know that a couple I really like are the same time as the PRO retreat? Thank goodness for the conference CDs.

Anyway, I thought I'd borrow from my last year's conference blog and offer a few tips I've gleaned from both past experience and some of my ever-so-helpful writing friends from around the world.

* Volunteer because it's a great opportunity to meet other writers. And you'll be giving back to the organization that gives us so much.

* Wear comfy shoes. Mine this year will be not only comfy but ugly. My leg cast will come off three days before I leave for DC and I don't want to stress my foot. So I'm going to polish up my boxy-looking black shoes with rubber soles and wear them for everyday so I can don my new Kenneth Cole sandals for the awards night.

* Take a jacket or shawl to wear in the conference rooms. They keep the temps at a level comfortable for a man in a wool-blend business suit, which means a woman in slacks and a blouse will have blue lips and goosebumps before you can spell Antarctica.

* The workshop schedule is online at the RWA site. Take an afternoon or evening and go through it. Make a chart with Word or Excel for every day you're at the conference. Write down the workshops you want to attend. Add the get-togethers with various groups of friends you only see once a year. With a schedule, the whole affair seems a little less overwhelming, especially if this is your first conference.

* Do not do as I did at my first conference and try to attend a workshop during every slot of every day. By Friday night I felt as if I'd slammed into a concrete wall. I had major brain overload. Select the workshops you really want to attend, and if it's a popular one, arrive early to assure you get a seat. Then when there's an hour where no workshop really calls to you, visit the Executive Conference Room AKA the hotel bar or the hotel coffee shop and rest.

* If you are targeting a particular publisher, be sure to attend their spotlight session. You'll get a world of information straight from the horse's mouth.

* Speaking of mouths, be careful what comes out of yours. You never know who may be at the back of the elevator car. It could be the editor who has your manuscript or her best friend. Be especially careful not to enjoy the ECR too much because loose lips sink ships -- and writing careers too.

* If you see someone who looks lost or scared, walk up to them and say, "Hi, my name is _______ and I'm from ________. Is this your first conference? What do you write?" Invite them to sit with you at lunch. Introduce them to your friends. A big part of this business is networking and just saying hello may lead to something big.

* One of my writing friends is really big on goals -- even at conference. She doesn't leave home without a goal in mind. I try to do this too and come up with something that is tangible and can be measured, such as networking with five new people or learning about several publishing houses you were not familiar with before the conference.

* I always take a new bottle of over-the-counter pain reliever. I carry it with me everywhere for my own aches and pains or for the editor in the elevator who complains of a splitting headache. This is a great way to make a new friend too.

* Remember to take your camera and remember to use it so you can take home memories of the week. I have photos of myself with favorite authors and love to go back and look at conferences from years past. Remember the charging cable too!

* If you take your cell phone, be sure to TURN IT OFF during workshops. Put in on vibrate and stick it in your pocket. You'll know when someone calls but it won't disturb the speaker (unless you shriek when it vibrates). And remember the charging cord for it too.

* Leave your favorite perfume at home. Many folks have allergies, and even if they don't, fifteen women all wearing different perfume in an elevator can be olfactory overload.

Have I forgotten anything? Please tell me if I have because right now my brain is beginning to turn to mush.

P.S. How on earth can it be July already??? Check out the new contest at our website. I'm going to help one person Run Away from Home.